So, this is day three of my twenty-four day sojourn across these United States.
First things first. An early, nice, moderately strenuous hour and a half on the treadmill, because you must exercise every day that you can. Enough said about that.
Today I met my old friend and one time employee Dr. Diane Misch at a quaint and delightful little place just off Lake Michigan in Evanston called Jilly’s Cafe. Read more about this little North Shore gem here. After circling the unfamiliar neighborhood three times, trying to decipher the little red writing-hood on the NO PARKING ANYTIME ELSE YOU WILL BE DRAWN AND QUARTERED signs, I found a spot. I was assured by a nice lady returning a library book that I did not have to feed the menacing meter, and I began a leisurely two block stroll down toward the lake and my destination.
When I got to Jilly’s and approached the glass door, I could see through the window that my friend Diane was already seated at the front of the place. Then, to my surprise, a rather menacing looking man in a tight, bright purple shirt and tie leaned over past her, shook his hand at me and gestured wildly toward me through the plate glass. Then, just as quickly, as Diane turned around and saw me, he broke into a huge grin and laughed and laughed. I entered the restaurant, not sure what I was about to get myself into.
I had just been introduced to the wit and spunk of Mr. Nicolae Marian, owner of Jilly’s Cafe.
Thus began one of the most delightful catch-up dinners I’ve had with any friend in a long time. We were a little too early for the champagne part of the lunch deal, but I had a four hundred mile drive in the early afternoon anyway and didn’t want any alcohol, so the bottomless coffee cup presented to me served my needs just fine. Diane told me that everything on the menu was excellent, and just for kicks, we considered ordering exactly the same thing, flummoxing our host for two seconds at least, followed by a swift recovery of his usual blustery self.
“He will correct you if you order things wrong off the menu,” Diane told me as he walked off to give us a few more minutes to decide.
He was very funny the entire time we were there, which spanned a few hours, and he often served us himself.
“We do engagement parties, christenings, birthdays, showers, all of that you know,” he said in a thick accent that did nothing to mask his Soviet roots, looking first at me, then at Diane, raising one eyebrow and smiling at her mischievously. “Godfather, we can arrange for godfather if necessary too, hmmmm?”
We smiled at each other and then back at Nicolae, ordering the crab cakes and salmon and wondering already what kind of dessert would be presented to us later.
What followed was a recap of what had happened to us over the last year (“Has it really been since last October that we had breakfast together in Augusta, really?”), swapping stories about relationships and children and jobs and the stress of practicing medicine in this day and age. I once again reminded Diane that she had little more than an internship under her belt when she worked for me in Aiken, SC, years ago at the mental health center, and that she was now quadruple boarded (I think!) and could run circles around me with her knowledge of child psychiatry and her specialty area of children ages zero to five years.
The brunch was delightful, punctuated by Nicolae’s jokes and ribbing and admonishment that I had to come back. Once, as he saw me putting sweetener in my black coffee, he again looked Diane’s way and said, “Oh, really? You need sweetener, you need sugar for that coffee when you are seated next to one as lovely as her? Really?”
We both tried to assure him that ours was a close friendship and nothing more, and that if we ever had a celebratory party there (“No more than fifty people, okay, fifty people!”) that it would be for one of us celebrating the other’s good fortune or maybe a joint venture of some sort. I don’t think he bought it, or he was just having too much fun ribbing us.
An outstanding chocolate mousse topped off the excellent brunch and we shook hands all around and said our goodbyes.
Afterwards, Diane took me on a short but nice driving tour of the area, including the sprawling Northwestern campus, the lighthouse nearby, and a wonderful though by necessity brief look at the vast blue expanse of Lake Michigan. It was a splendid visit with an old friend.
I realized once again that it is very, very important, the older you get, to have that handful of people you can always talk to, call on if you need them, and trust will be there if there is ever a crisis and your back is to the wall.
As my friend dropped me at my car, I said that to her, simply and plainly, and I meant it. She reciprocated.
I was reminded of this very point over and over on my drive today. The Canadian geese are everywhere, flying in their trademark V patterns, combing the turf of golf courses and sitting beside urban lakes to rest.
Remember the story of how geese take care of each other? They draft behind the lead flyer, rotating the point position in the formation, and dropping back to offer individual help to a bird that for some reason can’t keep up with the rest of his group, staying with him until he is strong enough to rejoin his fellows.
None of us can do it all, alone.
Now, was my day all somber and full of inspiration and heavy life lessons?
Of course not!
I will leave you with the words I read on a hand-lettered sign on one of two pumps at a little Mom and Pop in Wisconsin where I stopped to gas up this afternoon. Remember that although it is relatively nice weather up here right now for my trip, within just a few more weeks, it’s likely to be extremely cold and harsh as winter comes to the northern United States. I hope you will find this as amusing as I did.
“When it’s very cold out, it takes our machinery a few minutes to warm up.
Just pull up and down on the handle a little bit,
Give it few minutes to get going,
And then start pumping.”
I don’t think I should need to explain that to most of you.
Tomorrow, I go in search of one of the finest coffee shops in the land, Spyhouse. After a brief interlude there, it’s another four hundred miles to Bismarck, North Dakota. On the way, I’ll stop at Fargo, ND (yes, that Fargo, ND) to meet another online friend in the flesh, Julie Kuehl. Read some of her stuff here. It should be another very nice day in a part of the land that I’ve never seen before.
I’ll meet you back here tomorrow night, and I’m sure I’ll have something to tell you.
Good night, dear readers, from Minneapolis, Minnesota.