Rosie and Me: Day 20. Visiting Relatives

Some observations as I made my way from Little Rock to New Orleans today.

The hotel in Maumelle, Arkansas, was one of the nicest of the properties I’ve been in on this trip. It looked brand new, smelled of new construction, had nice carpeting and furnishings, and the staff was warm and welcoming. My room was large, well-appointed, was directly across from the fitness center, had modern NFC access built into the door and just seemed to be brand new. When I asked the clerk how long the hotel has been open, she said since 2011.

I have had a chance to meet several online friends on this trip, people I have come to know very well but had never met in person. I have known them for 1-5 years, and I dare say I’m closer to a couple of these friends than to most of my “real life” ones.

When I attended the dinner given by Elizabeth for my high school friends in Seattle, it was almost like we picked up right where we left off. After almost four decades, we could tell stories, joke and kid each other, and act like goofy teens again for awhile. We were in many ways the same people, but with lifetimes of experiences since our last meeting.

I drove into New Orleans today, marveling at how busy and active everything looks. When I drove down the same interstate in 2005, with a Red Cross on my rental car, we were the only people on the road except for the National Guard troops who let us into the city. I counted the number of windows blown out of the Sheraton Hotel building and heard gunfire down by the levee. Today, I heard the roar of traffic and the sound of streetcars. That visit saw New Orleans bruised and battered. This trip will see it happy and beckoning.

I have been very busy and active on this vacation, so much so that some of you have repeatedly told me to slow down! I have been following an itinerary that I set for myself. I’m doing things that I choose to do in places I want to go. Contrast this with work, when I am driven by schedules and job needs, and when I feel tired and worn down many days, not energized.

Tonight I had a wonderful New Orleans meal and great conversation with my old high school friend Mark Vanlandingham and his wife Becky at Boucherie on Jeanette Street. Tomorrow will be full of coffee, good food, walking, parks, art, military history, and just being out in the good warm southern air.

Things I’ve learned from all this?

Everything is relative.

Everything has context.

Everything is transient.

Everything has importance.

Everything will end.

As one of my regular readers often says to me, “Carpe diem!”.

I will do my best to make tomorrow one of the best days I’ve ever had.

Will you?

Good night, my friends, from New Orleans, Louisiana.

Rosie and Me: Day 8. (Not) Sleeping in Seattle

Okay, for those of you following along at home, this is actually Day 11 of this round the country magical mystery tour. Do not adjust your set. Just know that I am way behind on posting my thoughts and reviews for your viewing pleasure. I will attempt to rectify that this morning. I am sitting in Ristretto Roasters in downtown Portland, Oregon, in the shadow of the iconic bridge, just out of view of Mt. Hood. I’m savoring a fig scone and drinking an excellent Americano, Costa Rican specifically, and feeling more than just a little awesome.

IMG_7514

IMG_7515

Now, how can I describe Day 8?

First of all, the day started with a visit to my now favorite little sister, Elizabeth, in Seattle. We had known each other for about a year and change online, and we had talked on the phone a few times, but we had never met in person before this trip to Seattle. This was super. It is so much fun to walk up to the house, knock on the door, and suddenly be friends, “real” friends, with someone you feel like you’ve known for years, not months.

Elizabeth then proceeded, in true little sister fashion, to kick my butt. She took me on her usual walk route, with a few more hills thrown in I think, just for kicks, and showed me Lincoln Park, the ferry docks,

IMG_7351

the islands in the distance (she told me they were there, like the mountains, but I’m still not sure because there was so much freakin’ FOG in Seattle, you know?) and assured me that Mt. Ranier did indeed exist. (Yep, FOG, clouds, grayness) This was a good walk unspoiled, a nice, damp, green, lush, talk-about-the-problems-of-the-world walk. A get-to-know-who-you-really-are-and-now-I’m-sure-I-like-you walk. A boy-am-I-glad-I-finally-got-to-meet-you-in-person-and-you’re-awesome walk.

My very first coffee shop visit in Seattle was at Bird on a Wire, Elizabeth’s neighborhood shop, and it was of course wonderful.

IMG_7420

I met the barista, and later on (at another visit) was even privy to the Christmas Tree story. I cannot relate it here, for fear that at my next visit she might intentionally overcaffeinate me, but it was awesome too.

IMG_7349

Before I go on, I’ll tell you that I like to shoot for six thousand steps a day at home, unless I’m working a sixteen hour day and just can’t get that much exercise in. On Friday, Elizabeth, my new sister, tried to kill me. We walked 19,088 steps, 318% of my usual goal.

IMG_7364

Oh, we did not stop at one coffee shop. Heavens no. We visited Cafe Umbria, Cherry Street Pioneer, and several others during this visit.

IMG_7382

IMG_7380

You know how much I love coffee and coffee shops and the whole culture that involves, so this part of the country is a little piece of heaven.

IMG_7386

There was shopping at the Pike Place Market, a wonderful place that hosts the very first Starbucks coffee location, wonderful flower vendors and of course fresh fruit and vegetable stands and fish markets. We bought four Dungeness crabs for the Seafood Fest that night with friends, and these were processed and cleaned on the spot for us. Cool!

IMG_7371

IMG_7370

IMG_7402

IMG_7403

There was shopping for the grand kiddies at a wonderful toy store, shopping and looking at other stores all around town. The day is not complete without being a little wild and crazy at Magic Mouse Toys.

Of course, one of the highlights of the young visit to Seattle was the Seafood Extravaganza at Elizabeth, John and Zoey’s house on Friday night. This was a mini-reunion for me, Vickie Vanlandingham Stoddard, and Steve Stallings, along with his wife Darlene. I had not seen these guys in almost four decades! Elizabeth went way over the top in the good hostess category, cooking and baking and helping Vickie and me celebrate our upcoming birthdays this month. It is always fun to be with friends, but there’s something very special about seeing old friends and making new ones all at the same time, and just enjoying each other’s company. It was a special night. As I know you’re reading this, Sis, I have to thank you publicly again for making that dinner party so very special and fun for us all. Thanks to Zoey for singing for us too. What a treat!

IMG_7419

IMG_7416

IMG_7415

IMG_7411

IMG_7410

Yes, Day 8 of this cross-country trip was a special one. New friends, old friends, walking, shopping, eating, coffee, singing, celebrating. It makes me very humble and grateful to think how much friends and experiences with them make up the fabric of our lives, and how much we need them to be happy.

Thank you guys, for making this leg of my October journey so much fun.

Rosie and Me: Days 8 and 9

Yes, dear readers, I’m still here!

Haven’t fallen into a crab tank or slipped off the Space Needle or climbed Mount Ranier yet (can’t even see it yet because of Seattle’s signature clouds and fog)

I’m just having a blast with my friends Elizabeth and John and Zoey and Steve and Darlene and Vickie, eating way too much, walking miles to offset the eating (I hope!), buying gifts for grandkiddies and a few others and drinking a lot of good Seattle coffee.

Elizabeth has me out walking again at eight AM today, then it’s off to the university, more coffee and who knows what. A dinner theater show will cap the day and this wonderful visit to a lovely city.

My friend Ruth has planned another chock-full day in Portland tomorrow.

Don’t worry, the Field Notes notebook is full of scribbles and cards and receipts, and I’ll fill you in on all the details soon. I just may have to reach a hotel in Boise before they let me sit down long enough to write.

In the meantime, enjoy these glimpses into the fun with friends in Seattle.

Oh, and scandal be dammed.

GO DAWGS. Beat Mizzou!

IMG_7410.JPG

IMG_7349.JPG

IMG_7411.JPG

IMG_7386.JPG

Rosie and Me: Day Three

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.

Rosie and Me: Eight Days and a Wake Up, or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Lower Forty Eight

My father was, to my knowledge, the first person in his family to go to college. He and my mother grew up in rural Georgia, a place where men were farmers, women could cook fried peach pies that would melt in your mouth, children played in the rushing waters of swollen ditches after a rainstorm and great-grandmothers could send a stream of brown tobacco juice fifteen feet into a Prince Albert can on the floor by the pot bellied stove.

My dad co-oped, that is, worked and went to school in order to be able to earn his degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology, a school he loved with a football team he loved more. (Dad was at Tech from 1950 to 1953, in the Bobby Dodd era, when Tech was a powerhouse and lots of games were won at Grant Field,many attended by a much younger yours truly in the sixties. The 1953 team went 9-2, was ranked 8th in the land in the final AP poll and beat West Virginia 42-19 in the Sugar Bowl)

In order to get back and forth to school in Atlanta from middle Georgia (which might as well have been Saudi Arabia at that point), Dad hitchhiked. Imagine that. Putting your thumb up in the air, waiting for a complete stranger to have pity on you, pull their 1946 Ford over and offer to take you as far as Macon. It was pretty commonplace for students to hitch or thumb rides back then, and no one thought much of it. I’m sure there were the mothers and fathers who worried obsessively about their progeny on the roads, but from what I hear it was a pretty safe practice back then. It was the accepted way to get from point A to point B if you were not affluent enough to own a car. I’m sure many a tall tale was told in those cars during those rides, friendships may have started up, or at least amiable conversations were enjoyed along the highways and byways of an America that was fresh off a victory in a world war and didn’t have much to fear.

Today, we travel a different way. We hop onto the internet, thumbing and hitching and tagging along with chats, boards, list serves, podcasts, E-magazines and E-books, text messages and Skype. We meet new people at every turn, most of them good folks who like peach pies just as much as we do, some bad apples that hang out in the dusty corners of the world wide web, but mostly, good folks just like us. We might leave a comment here, a line or two there, we might chat a few minutes or even over a few days. We might never connect again. Sometimes, some sweet times, words are exchanged, a joke is told, a turn of phrase catches our ear, a gentle reminder to be safe or watch out or tweak this or change that font hits us just right, and we know that the person on the other end of the clothesline, the person with their ear on the tin can opposite our own, is somehow the kind of person we want to know more about.

It’s hard to describe, this cyber-connection that happens between people who have never met. It’s hard to help a regular person, much less the occasional Luddite, understand that close personal connections, meaningful relationships, caring partnerships can be forged not only IRL (in real life, for the uninitiated) but on line. It happens. It is real. It is strong. It is lasting. As real and strong and lasting as any friendship or connection even made on sold ground and sealed with eye contact and a firm handshake.

As I head out next Friday, I anticipate seeing at least two dozen friends across the country, people I know from almost four decades ago when we were small children right up to people I’ve talked to on line but have never even spoken with on the phone. Of the two dozen, at least six I have never met in person. A couple I have talked to on the phone once, twice, maybe three or four times.

Funny thing, these half dozen and their counterparts already know as much about me as any friend I’ve ever had, some probably more. They’ve told me their stories and they’ve heard some of mine. They’ve told me what they get angry about and I’ve told them what I’m afraid of. We’ve shared recipes and we’ve talked about how broken the health care system is. We’ve rejoiced, virtually, over the wonderful successes of our children, and we’ve comforted each other when losses of physical health, marriages, and jobs have set us back. We have shared parts of our lives that are very real. All while thumbing and hitching that wilderness that is (still) the internet.

I will enjoy sharing a meal and a glass or two of wine in Chicago, IL, with my friend Jordan Grumet (@jordangrumet on the Twitter for those of you so inclined), physician, art guy, thinker, writer, and all around compassionate man. I have heard him speak, read many of his blog posts, talked with him on the phone, sought his advice, and have never met him face to face. We will fix that soon.

I will have lunch in Fargo, ND, with Julie Kuehl (@JulieKuehl), a lady I first heard of while listening to the International Mac Podcast (it disbanded on June 29, 2013). She has a presence elsewhere in the podcasting world, and most intriguing, she rides a motorcycle. She knows IT and is a smart lady. I very much look forward to picking her brain about what it’s like to live in the northernmost part of our nation.

My hostess with the mostest in Seattle will be none other than the brilliant and fascinating Dr. Elizabeth MacKenzie. We have become friends over the past year or more, swapping tales of mental health treatment dilemmas, sharing recipes, sending each other birthday gifts, and having a chat or three on the phone. Elizabeth has very graciously offered to host a Seafood Extravaganza at her home for me and several of my high school friends who live in the Seattle area. What fun that will be! We are also going to explore as many coffee shops as we can (my request) until I get caffeine toxic and have to stop. Other shenanigans will follow.

I will catch up over breakfast with Diane Misch MD, a friend who worked for me at the mental health center in Aiken way back in the day when she was pretty fresh out of training. Now, she is quadruple boarded (I think, at last count) and can run circles around me.

I will see my daughter and her new husband in Denver for the second time (my first visit was over the Fourth of July weekend and was fabulous), one of my oldest high school friends who is now a professor at Tulane, Mark Vanlandingham, and will have dinner with Dr. Ramona Bates (@rlbates) and her husband, who even offered to get tickets to see the DAWGS play the Razorbacks in Little Rock if I wanted to go. (Alas, the tight itinerary won’t allow it this time) She is knitting me a beautiful black Möbius scarf, which I may need to wear if fall keeps coming on as cool as it has the last couple of days.

Do you see, my friends, the richness of this landscape? Do you see the possibilities for friendships to blossom and grow, for stories to be shared and places visited and enjoyed together? We have never, in any other time, been able to connect to so many people in so many ways as we can now. The thumb in the air has given way to the DM, the hashtag and the follow.

I feel so very blessed to be able to meet up with all of these folks and more, to share a moment or a meal or a day or two days with them. I feel honored that they would trust me enough to invite me to enter their worlds, and that they want to be a part of mine.

We live in rapidly changing times, but some things never change. The need to connect, to belong, to share, to love and to be loved will always be the same, as long as man lives.

I am going to reach out, as best one man can, and make those connections that will lead to a richer, more productive, more satisfying life.

I look forward to sharing more with you here over the next month.

Thanks and Giving

I can read articles and blogposts very early in the morning, which I am wont to do. I can pitch them as retweets on Twitter or shared posts on Facebook, and  maybe throw a little comment or question in there. Then, do you know what happens? 

I can sit back and watch the growing, changing, idea-inspiring stream of comments, rants, supports, challenges and new ideas that come, always, from my friends and family. 

In this season, I am very thankful that I live in a country where I can express myself in writing for all the world to see.

I am thankful for smart friends and supportive family members who have marvelous ideas. 

I am thankful that those very same friends and family will call me on the carpet when I write crap, or when my logic is faulty. 

I am thankful that even when we disagree, sometimes vehemently and fundamentally, we still remain friends and keep the dialogue open.

I am thankful that I learn something new every single day. 

There. 

That’s all the sentimentality you get from me today.

Yeah, right. You know me too well. 

Happy Thanksgiving season, my friends. I love and appreciate you all.

 

I originally posted this on Facebook today, but I wanted to make sure all of my readers saw it. I mean what I said. I love and appreciate the time we give each other, the support, and the time it takes to read, absorb, discuss and challenge each other. Here’s to a great season of thanksgiving and celebration of the year fast coming to a close, and the hope that we all have a wonderful 2014. 

We’re Losing It

Image

As some of my friends continue to point out to me, I am very excited about an event that is coming up this weekend in Rome, Georgia. A couple hundred of us, if we’re lucky, will gather at the Rome History Museum downtown and eat, imbibe, swap stories, dance, and try to recapture those feelings that we had when we were sixteen, seventeen, eighteen years old. We’ll tell tales. We’ll mourn the loss of classmates. We’ll gaze excitedly into the eyes of those we still hold dear after three or even four decades, picking up on old conversations like we had stopped them to run to the store on an errand and now are back to finish them.

The past few weeks have been fun for us. We have collectively posted pictures, reminisced, found old class rings, learned of the passing of friends, located friends long-since moved on, and shared all of this in a way only the modern Internet allows. One of us (and you shall remain nameless here!) has posted song after song from the seventies, video clips of our past, snippets of song and flashing lights and wild hair and mouth guitars. Funny, that. Every time I watch a video or hear a song, my brain recalls a memory. Mostly good ones, mostly fun ones, but sometimes sad, sometimes “what if” memories that make me wonder what my life, what your life would have been like if I’d only…if you’d…if we’d…

I hear the song, and I smell wet grass on the football field in the fall. I see my old high school with its space station-grey round buildings, looking like something from Mars in the middle of a field a few miles outside my hometown. I smell perfume. I feel chalk dust on my hands. I feel the heft of textbooks. I feel the cold mouthpiece of a silver trumpet on my lips, so cold that it sticks. I feel the smooth felt of a tennis ball as I toss it into the air, my old Jack Kramer wooden racket ready to launch it over the net. I remember teachers who were so young then, much younger than I am now, who were the symbols of authority, the ones who would impart wisdom to us, if we would let them. The wisdom to go far beyond Shannon, Georgia, to see the world. 

Some of us ride motorcycles now. Some of us hike, ski, play guitars, sing, write. Some of us are teachers. Some of us are doctors. Some are college professors. Some of us have had massive setbacks, physical, emotional, financial. Some of us are sad, depressed, bitter, and barely find the strength to make it to the next day. Some of us have traveled the world. Some us have hands that touch and comfort and heal. Some of us play the piano and sing. Some of us paint pictures of color and birds and flowers and children and bring to the fore the brightness that is life in their own mind, so that we may all share it. 

Some of us are here and there, scattered like so many leaves on a chilly fall day in the mill village right down the road from the old school houses we remember so well and so fondly. We laugh, love, raise children, bounce grandchildren on our knee and live. 

Some of us are gone. We mourn them with an intensity we don’t even understand. They have taken a piece of us with them. 

I went to a show last night at the local University, just five minutes from my apartment.

An Evening With Hal Linden” was a fun, fast, toe-tapping, joke-telling hour and a half that brought back memories of old Broadway shows, television sit coms, beautiful songs, and a time when America was what we remember it as, a time when we were mill village kids, Model High School kids. Mr. Linden, he of Barney Miller fame but oh so much more, is now eighty-two years old. Hard to tell that last night, as he danced, played the clarinet, spun off one liners and crooned songs from Broadway shows that brought him fame, if only fleeting. He exited the stage to wipe makeup from his face after one number, a revisiting of one of his Broadway triumphs, and came back to huge applause from the audience. 

“I would have come back anyway,” he quipped, obviously enjoying the accolades. “You know why? Because I just love being up here. I just love it.”

He then said something that inspired me to write this post. I paraphrase a bit if that’s okay with you, dear readers.

“What is it about nostalgia? What is it that makes us keep going back, remembering, enjoying these old songs and memories from the past?”

“You know what it is? It’s the loss of innocence.”

We were all innocent back then, weren’t we?

We were kids, just kids, full of laughter and smiles and learning and guts and glory. We wooed our girlfriends and played our songs and danced and caught touchdown passes and wrote papers and pushed the limits to see just how far we could go. 

I think that’s what we are always looking for. I think that finding that class ring in the bottom of a drawer, seeing a color picture of yourself up on that stage receiving a high school diploma, thinking about a favorite teacher you’ll see at a reunion, or reliving that game-winning touchdown all take us back to one thing.

Once upon a time, we were pure. We were carefree. We were not yet aware of how cruel the world can be. 

We were innocents.

I truly hope that my friends and I can recapture, just for a few hours, some of that innocence that we all shared.

I hope we can feel the ties that still bind, the bonds that cannot be broken by age, time, distance or even death.