Thursday, April 22, 2010

Chance Encounters

D'y'ever see someone on the train and want to know their life story? Well this happened to me tonight and granted, I had a few in me, but regardless, he was a story waiting to be told. After a lovely dinner with good friends Angie and Barry, I got on the 6 to transfer for the R to Queens and saw this large Black man with amazingly braided dreads standing behind me reading his book. A book, I might add, that was secured in one of those B&N-type vinyl holders. So I thought to myself, "it must be an important book to protect as such, maybe a bible of some sort or just a special novel?" So I watched him for a while on the platform and he seemed to be distracted by every noise and every person rushing down the stairwell but never once looked in my direction which was RIGHT in front of him where HIS train would be arriving. Odd, I thought. So we got on the train. Me first because I wanted to position myself so I could continue to watch him read his book. He stood exactly opposite from me on the train. Me at one side's door, him at the other. He kept wiping his brow because beads of sweat kept flowing down his forehead and from his sideburns. But it didn't stop him from reading. He only took short moments to use his bundled tissue to wipe his face. Back to reading he went. But the next drips that trickled down his center were too much to ignore and I think at this point, he felt my stare. He took out his smooshed-up napkin and wiped again and looked straight at me. I smiled BIG and he smiled back but in that way where you are trying not to smile but it keeps breaking through in a BIG way even though you're trying especially hard not to smile. But it was inevitable. He couldn't stop. So he programmed himself to not smile and go back to reading JUST as I was about to tell him that I absolutely love watching people read at the very end of their book because their expressions almost tell the passerby whether it's worth reading or not. But just then, we got to Queens Plaza and he exited. Not even looking back to smile again at me. Just got out. No turning back. I still want to know.... what was he reading?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How it made me feel when I touched it

[NOTE: This is a writing assignment I had to do for my job. We went on a Design Excursion to SoHo, NYC to look at various shops that sell interesting items with differences in cultural significance, functionality, utility, and price range. Here is my essay.]

Industrial design fascinates me. The textures, the curves, the thought put into making it functional, yet beautiful. It’s all very intriguing. For me, the items I purchase in my everyday life are so often mundane. They don’t possess those unique features that we only notice when someone did take the energy to think about how something is used and what frustrates people about its current state of design. The items that always stand out for me are the ones that feel right to my sense of touch. While gallivanting around SoHo, we made our first stop at Pylones (pronounced pee-lone), a French company who boasts that they have “delighted customers with thoughtful designs and innovative twists on everyday objects.” I’ve always felt a bit overwhelmed by all the colors, shapes, sheens and almost psychedelic patterns on everything from toasters to staplers whenever I’ve passed by in recent years. I mean c’mon, if I walked into someone’s apartment and they had it decorated with Pylones purchases, I’d be a little concerned. But since our mission was to focus on the design integrity or the innovative slant on something typical, or typically boring, I concentrated on those aspects that make me say “hmm.”

The single item that struck me as “feeling good” was the nail clippers. We all have that standard issue set at home that we don’t even think to question. They’re just nail clippers, right? They serve a very simple task that isn’t something we normally chat about when discussing good design. Instead of just peering at its nutty swirls and pastel-colored bug handle, I opened it up to simulate using them. I quickly realized that someone took a lot of thought to make that section where your thumb lives, a concave, smooth dip that cradles your big finger so comfortably that you don’t slip while you’re attempting to access those hard-to-reach places. Manicures are serious business and we all have those horror stories of the hangnail gone awry, so it’s essential that the tools we use are slip-proof and snug, so we don’t cut off the wrong bits. Ouchy! Placing my virgin thumb on Pylones’ nail clippers made me appreciate industrial designers even more and hope there are more innovators out there who will focus their energies on improving the feel of everyday objects so we can all get the job done better, quicker and easier.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

HOME SWEET HOME: NYC Skyline has never looked so good

All good things come to an end and this cross country trip has done just that. I spent my last night on the road in Virginia visiting with friends from NYC that moved out there last year. Had stayed in West Virginia the night before but didn’t really do much there. I think I just wanted to get home. It was a great night catching up, drinking wine, not eating much because we were laughing too much. Approaching Virginia, I fell into the same antique mall trap I did years ago when I visited an Oswego buddy, Jennifer, in Blacksburg, VA. Route 81 is dangerous. There is one on practically every exit and they just draw you in with the amount of square footage. It’s insane, overwhelming and so much fun. Bought lots for the cottage and some fun trinkets for memories.

Ended my trip up in Saugerties where it sort of started. Saw my niece’s “under 8” soccer game and spent the day rearranging things at Kippagh. I think I’ll need a few more days to process the trip and have reflections. But for now, I think the highlights were Rod in Mansfield; Mike in Decatur; Bill, Al and Carol in New Ulm; Milty in Custer State Park; Mike, Paul and Brian in South Dakota; the two bison in Yellowstone (yikes); Matt, Wendy and entourage in Five Points; Paula in Conifer, Sherry and Heather in Salina; the two friendly cops who didn’t give me tickets; the other motorist who paid for my car wash after splattering roadkill all over my Subaru; the blade sharpening mother/son duo who didn’t chop me up into bits; and catching up with Kathy and Mike in VA.

Thanks for reading. Maybe I’ll keep this up even though I’m back home and back to the ol’ job on Monday. We’ll see…

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Losin' Steam: This post covers MS, AL, TN, KY and WV (woah!)

First horrible motel experience thanks to being placed right across from the housekeeping room. Now, I have sympathy for chambermaids, having been head of housekeeping at a summer hotel at the tender age of 21, but these ladies were just obnoxious. Granted, I could have written a short story about their failed relationships, incarcerated children and lack of money for rent or even smokes but I truly wanted to take full advantage of the 11:00 a.m. checkout time. Again, people share a lot around here and at a volume that easily surpasses the teens on the subway when high school lets out in New York. Corinth was nice. They had this walking and driving tour of town that took you past all the historical homes and told you all about who lived there and why they were important. It was actually kind of neat. First tour type thing I’ve done on this trip actually. It took me into the residential area, which was really nice and I found my first yard sale. I thought I would have run into many more of these on my travels but I guess because I was always in a national park or at a friend’s place on the weekend bits, I didn’t see that many.

I ventured into Borroum's Drug Store on my walk and learned from my pamphlet that it was the oldest drug store in Mississippi, still owned and run by the same family. I noticed immediately that they, too, had Golden Guys sitting and having some coffee. I asked the girls at the counter why it was that mostly men monopolized this ritual and not the ladies. They had no idea other than, “maybe the women kick them out for a few hours each day to have peace and quiet.” Could be. But these fellas were adorable like all the rest. Sitting around talking about whatever was going on in town, or with their families. Happy to be retired and enjoying each other’s company. So sweet.

I also ran into the area’s Masonic temple. It wasn’t all that but they had a thrift store and I found the coolest stinkin’ purse there. I think it will accompany my dress very well for the wedding. Cha-ching. $4 and it’s vintage. Would probably go for close to $100 in Manhattan. Easily. Did I say cha-ching already? Remember, I’m not robbing these people blind. I’m stimulating the economy one small town at a time.

Near Borroum's was the county courthouse and although no one was going in or coming out, it was Thursday so court must be in session. I went in and opened one of the doors and sat down. As in Manhattan, there aren’t windows on the doors so you can’t see what you’re about to walk into. Sure enough, it was a tiny little room and all eyes were on me, even the judge’s. A court officer immediately came up to me, not because I was doing anything wrong but simply because he figured I was lost. I explained that I worked in the courts in NYC and just wanted to observe if that was okay. That explanation made its way to the entire room in seconds, mostly because when it was relayed to the judge, everyone could hear. I think my living room is bigger than this courtroom. There wasn’t much going on. Just motions and hearings so I wasn’t going to waste precious time listening to stuff that I can see back home. But it was still neat to go in and ruffle up some feathers.

Before leaving Mississippi, I saw in the distance, the words “falafel” and “kebab” and had to investigate. This was literally my first discovery of anything Middle Eastern on my entire journey. Granted, I wasn’t necessarily seeking it out but this was a sight for sore eyes. I immediately drove over to this little “house” by itself beside a department store parking lot. I instantly thought, ‘Oh good. I can ask this guy what he thinks of all the Christian stuff all over public grounds.’ I walked up and he opened his “ORDER” window and asked if he could help me. I ordered a chicken kebab and a Vimto, “a raspberry drink you can’t get here.” Uh, no duh. You can’t even get good Chinese here so I’d assume a soft drink with Arabic writing on it is hard to locate too. I introduced myself as being from New York and being thrilled to see an eatery serving this type of food. I asked him where he was from and he immediately started listing New York, New Orleans which was nice and all but I meant ‘where are you from originally?’ He said Jordan. So I asked if he’d mind me asking a personal question. He shook his head. “How do you feel about all of the Christian billboards and radio programming here?” He said it was a very nice place to raise a family and that he himself is Christian. Oy vey! I felt like a heel. Not that I was putting it down but I still felt bad to have brought it up as if it was an annoyance (which it sort of is to me, but that’s beside the point). I think I’m just so utterly curious to know how it feels as someone of another religion to live in an area that bombards its residents with Christian-centric messages at every corner, on every station, at all times of the day. That’s all. I guess I will have to ponder this alone or find a Southern States/Midwest Support Group for Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Atheists, etc.

Okay, forget that, guess what happened next? I’m leaving Mississippi and I see this huge sign off the side of the road, “INSIDE FLEA MARKET,” and there’s this warehouse-lookin’ building with the door open. I pull over and go in. Now, I did see the “Mower Blades Sharpened” sign at the door but for some unknown reason, it didn’t even phase me. I entered a mess but those are sometimes the types of sales that you find a gem among trash. And sure enough, I found one of those 60s sunburst wood/chrome clocks on the floor, cobwebs and all. Awesome, I thought. But then I looked to the end of the room through this pass-through window and saw what appeared to be the scariest looking man with missing teeth and spooky eyes and they were following my every move. Ick! I think he asked me if I needed help with anything but his mumbling was hard to comprehend let alone pay attention to when faced with such a sight. I hate to be so mean but when his mother came out from the back, also sans-dentures, I thought I would die. Had I just walked into Alabama’s version of the Bates Hotel, except that she was alive and kickin’? So I asked how much the clock was and sure enough, it wasn’t theirs so they had to call someone to find out which prolonged my stay in this godforsaken place and gave Junior ample opportunity to tinker with my car out front and make me have to stay the night. Okay, I’m going overboard here but if you had seen this guy, you would have been on board with my exaggeration. It turned out to be a whoppin’ $5 so I said, “I’ll take it!” Gave her the cash and was on my way. Phew! Survived that one.

Driving through Alabama, I also saw a young girl driving a beat-up hearse. It was still primarily black but it had some purple bits on the right side. Not sure if she was a fan of Six Feet Under or just got a hand-me-down from her pops who ran the local funeral home but I started thinking, not a bad idea. With all the garbage picking I do (furniture finds and the like), it might be a good choice for my next set of wheels. Mine of course would have to be painted hot pink. I would have contemplated a light pink but then I saw this Escalade that color and did not like it one bit. Apparently, if you sell enough Mary Kay, they give you one of those beauties. Well, I’m sure the teen hearse driver has lots of friends in rural Alabama. Poor thing. I hope she finds her other tortured souls on St. Mark’s Place real soon.

Not so strange but not an ego-booster either, I came across two young men in Athens, Alabama who mistook me for (1) their teacher at college and (2) their own mother! This was two different boys but needless to say, I won’t be wearing my hair up ever again! Huh? I just realized, maybe his mother was a teacher at the college. Whatever, who cares. Athens was nice enough but nothing exciting to report there. This is the point in my trip where I started to lose steam: wasn’t as willing to strike up conversations with folks, didn’t enjoy driving long distances anymore and wanted to be around people who I could understand the first time around. This is the same point (3 week mark) where I started getting homesick when I was in Southeast Asia back in March. NOTE TO SELF: Only make vacations that are 3 weeks or less next time.

Heading into Tennessee, I stopped for some BBQ at Whitt’s in Ardmore and it was yummy and cheap! I knew this was a favorite of locals because there are many of them and folks are usually lined up in their cars for the drive-in window. Got a pork sandwich with beans and sweet tea. It hit the spot alright and I needed to fill up on food and gas because I was heading out to find Nameless, Tennessee, a town I had read about in Blue Highways, a book some girl gave me when she heard that I was taking this trip. The title refers to the color of the country roads on the atlases back in the late 70s. Not quite rural roads but not interstates either. They are the type of routes I was taking in the beginning of this trip but now had no patience for the stop and go action when you enter a little town and have to go from 65 to 25 mph.

So I had Google Mapped the town and had my directions written out. They were complex because this place is in the hills of Tennessee. I won’t bore you with the details but let’s just say, these folks could care less that their little no-name town is of interest to some lunatics who read about it in a book and think it’s neat-o to drive through for shits and giggles. I went down some of the scariest roads to locate this blip on the map and for what? Not much I tell ya. But whatever, it was an experience. TIP to the next idiot: When you see Dead End signs, turn back quickly! All wasn't lost though. I did come across this spooky graveyard with an abandoned house next to it. All the headstones had the family name Lee on it and some were current. I thought that was kind of cool. The earliest was someone who was born in 1844. I didn’t enter the house because the porch was no longer and I would have fallen in and gotten eaten by the termites that were crawling all over. Gross! What struck me as funny though, when I was entering the town, were the house numbers. They were large. For example, one I saw said “11492 Martin Creek Road.” I hadn’t seen a population sign anywhere but there sure as hell were not more than 20 families in this town. You’d think that just 1, 2, 3, 4, … 20 would suffice.

Leaving Nameless, I was stupid and took what seemed to be the straightest point from A to B and that is not always the smartest thing to do in the mountainous areas. Those red or dotted lines signify gravel or winding mountain roads and I should have taken the interstate even if it would be “out of the way.” Along those nutty roads, I saw quite a few grown men and women having cans of beers on this Saturday night in the parking lots of car washes, convenient stores, etc. but all closed with overhead lights on. Did this town not even have a bar for these folks to go to? WOW. Now that’s small. It reminded me of high school when kids would hang outside of Lou’s Corner Store and drink beers and smoke. But these were people in their 30s and 40s. Shame.

Without cell service and almost on ‘E’, I kept on going and finally reached Somerset, KY, where I settled in for the night. I found a Days Inn and for a moment, my friendly, way too honest self, came back to life. The young man behind the counter was Indian and maybe I thought I’d bring up the whole Christian bombardment issue again and be successful this time, but instead, my knowledge of India sent him swooning. Minutes before, he saw that I didn’t have a ring on and asked if I was single and I stupidly said yes. Instead of handing me my key, he said there was something wrong with that door to that room so he walked me to my room and asked if he could call me sometime. I thought I would be kind by jokingly saying that I was “geographically undesirable” since he seemed so young and impressionable, but he didn’t understand that phrase. So I simply said, “oh I’m sorry, I have a boyfriend” and closed the door.

I woke up to a beautiful day in Kentucky and it was Sunday. Time for church. I promised myself that I would attend a Baptist service before I left the South and this was my only chance. I went to the First Baptist Church of Somerset off of Route 80. Let’s just say, I was extremely underdressed in my jeans and white T-shirt but it didn’t matter. The sign was right, “Everyone Welcome.” I sat in the back and observed for a while but felt a little bad, like I was at a zoo looking at the animals interact. I’ve always wanted to go to one of those gospel brunches in Harlem so I guess I thought this would be similar but it wasn’t so I left. Check, off the list. Now all I had to find was a livestock auction.

On the road, I heard that new Miley Cyrus song, “Party in the USA” for the umpteenth time and listened intently to the lyrics to see why it had been ripped to shreds on the news the prior night by conservative Christians in the South. Apparently, in addition to dancing on a pole somewhere recently, part of Miley’s song refers to going to a club and dancing. Oh no! Horrors! What is this ‘Footloose’ all over again. So what people? She didn’t say anything about downing beers in a parking lot at least. So this gave me a business idea. Now I’m sure others have come up with this before and failed but of course my idea won’t. TEEN CLUBS. Why aren’t there more of these? Is it because the fear that they will bring in alcohol or drugs or is because parents wouldn’t let their kids go? Well, I think it’s an untapped market and everyone should try to start them up in their town. Teenagers WISH they could go to bars or clubs to hang out with friends and dance and eat and drink. Why not give them a place to dance, drink juice or cola and eat overpriced snacks? Hire some bouncers that will frisk them for contraband and maybe even parental chaperones to wander around the dance floor. But at least they’ll have a safe place to hang out where their parents can pick them up from afterwards. It can be set up like Friends with Salvation Army sofas and end tables and the music can be DJ’d by some popular kid whose iPod is ‘da bomb.’ (I know, I’m so old). If anyone’s in, contact me. We could make a killing! Otherwise, they’ll all just go to house parties and the woods for keggers and get sloshed and drive home drunk. Is that a better alternative? I think not! I’m so sure my constant aloneness is getting me to formulate business plans on my long stretches of road. BTW, the Daniel Boone National Forest (in West Virginia) is stunning and even still, folks were tossing full bags from Wendy’s and McDonald’s out their car windows onto the interstate. Isn’t that unreal?!

Things I learned since I last posted: (1) Fruit of the Loom undies are made in Bowling Green, Kentucky and Walt (Something) is employee of the month. Isn’t that sweet? They put up the EOTM on the marquee thingy by the road, (2) Awana is a newish religion started in Illinois and it’s spreading to the South, (3) Folks don’t seem to have Subarus down here. I actually had a woman ask me what type of car I was driving. I guess they’re all Fords and Chevys in these parts, (4) Southern porn retailers don’t mince words. The local “adult store” in Elkton, Tennessee is called “Boobie Bungalow.” Gotta love it! (5) Peyton Law Firm in Nitro, WV wants you to know that when you are faced with a jury, choose them because they’ve “been there, done that.” Okay, not sure that came across the way they wanted it to. (6) In that same town of Nitro, overheard two men in their 40s talking about having lost their jobs but said things were looking up because “they say industry’s movin’ in soon.” I wonder who THEY is and what INDUSTRY means. But I wish them all the best, (7) saw a billboard which makes me think West Virginians prefer Wonder over the brown stuff. It read, “Whole Wheat Nutrition with the White Bread Taste.”

Staying in Beckley, WV and heading to Woodbridge, VA to see Kathy tomorrow night. Then New York-bound. Home Sweet Home.

Radio highlights: “Easy Like Sunday Morning (Lionel Ritchie), “Moondance” (Van Morrison), The Doors, “Round & Round,” “Goodnight Sweetheart Well It's Time To Go,” “Get Together” by the Young Bloods (I wish we all would all “try to love one another right now”), “99 Red Balloons” (did you know how political this song was when it came out? I didn’t but now I actually listen to lyrics I guess).

(As you can probably tell, I think I am losing steam with writing too. Sorry if this is just hard to follow. Nitey nite.)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Junktique, Soul Food, Toad Suck Park and “too many foreigners”

Woke up to lots of rain, which totally does put a damper on being a wanderer. Regardless, I went to historic Morrilton’s downtown and donated my stuff to the shelter and headed to the junktique stores to fill up the car again. Junktique was a term I learned at the rest stop when I asked about where antique shops or flea markets might be along Route 40. Let’s just say, the term is accurate. There were some stores where I wasn’t sure it was an area to shop in. Kind of like that damp corner of your basement where you just don’t go anymore. Gross! But those can be the best places to find treasures because they don’t know what they have. So sure enough, I did find one piece for $4 and it was McCoy. Cha-ching! The tag said “old ashtray” but meanwhile, it’s totally a candy dish. There aren’t even those valleys for a cigarette to rest so obviously the previous owners just used it for ash. Needless to say, I will wash it thoroughly. I can see it now… all my friends reading this will now question any dish I serve things in from now on.

On my way out of Arkansas, I stopped at one last town known for their antique shops, Brinkley. Unfortunately, this town also has been hit hard by the economy and doesn’t seem as booming as I’m sure it once was. I had to get gas and the strangest thing happened. I pulled up to the pump and realized that there was no gas station, just pumps. Now that’s cutting back, right? Took a turn to the left and saw this Soul Food restaurant. No one else was in there but the food looked great and I had smothered pork chop with beans and mac & cheese with cornbread and sweet tea. YUM!

I parked myself down at a table and watched The People’s Court on the big screen. This place probably used to be hoppin’ back in the day. You could tell. Shame.

And after lunch, I ventured into the last shop I saw on the strip and was met with an “Obama Sale” sign advertising 40% off everything. I wondered. Is this meant to say, “Thanks a lot Obama. Now we have to put everything on super sale” OR “Isn’t it great that Obama is President! Let’s have a sale!”

Oh and in this town, I saw a John Deere bureau. I asked the shop owner if someone would actually buy that and he rolled his eyes and said, “oh yea” but fully understood my disgust. He was as gay as the day was long so he had taste. He he.

One place I went into today had a man and woman chatting in a living room set in the front of the store. I was their only customer so it was super quiet without the typical Christian radio station blaring throughout. So I could hear their conversation and it was a doosie. The woman (owner) was telling this guy that she was “done” when it came to her daughter. She had already given her $42,000, “$18K for a house and the rest for the lawyer and cigarettes and food and stuff.” I love how cigarettes figured into the budget recollection. Anyway, I was soooo curious to find out what she did to get into a court situation but the shop didn’t have anything I was interested in so I moved on. I hope it wasn’t meth-related because I’m getting depressed hearing these constant radio addresses about the evils of meth. It’s so sad. But when I walked out and said ‘thanks’ to the couple, she hollered, “Come back and see us, k?” Everyone, and I mean everyone, says this when you leave a store or restaurant. It’s so stinkin’ cute!

Some highway/radio observations: at Exit 129 on Rt. 40 the area is called Toad Suck Park. Nice, eh? And what is up with all the torn up tires on the highway? How did the car survive that? It just blew and they left it there on the road? If someone knows what this is, do tell. Great bumper sticker on a filthy pickup that drove past me: “This vehicle is undergoing a scientific dirt test.” There was an ad on the radio today for a jeweler that is buying gold but they used an Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonator to say that his state was in economic distress and if you go and sell your gold at this store, you can give California the money afterwards. Now, why would an Arkansas jeweler choose this to market their gold buying deals? Who knows? But it’s especially insensitive right now due to the fires that are making the deficit even worse and the recent loss of his uncle-in-law. Oy vey! That impersonator must have cost a pretty penny to keep that spot running.

I also saw a billboard that read something like, “Use the rod on your child and you will save their life.” Underneath was a bible passage. I couldn’t get my camera out soon enough to shoot it but trust me, it was very odd to read on the interstate. Then again, I also saw an 18-wheeler drive by and on its rear was a HUGE sticker that had a bible passage. And that is on a commercial vehicle representing a company. I just find it so odd that companies are fine with putting religion and business together. But like I said, all the shops I go to have Christian music or commentators on all day long. While listening to some of the radio around here, I wondered whether they would think it was just as shocking to listen to Brian Lehrer or Leonard Lopate or NPR in general. Maybe that would sound completely maddening to them. Who knows? I did get angry though when one shock jock said that “Americans had all lost confidence in Obama.” I was like, “WHAT?!”

Checked into a motel in Corinth, Mississippi and the young man at the counter reminded me that there are still lots of folks in this country that forget that we were all foreigners here at one point. He saw my ID and asked where I was from in New York. He said he had been there and Niagara Falls. I asked if he liked NYC and sure enough, shook his head. I said, “Too many people?” and he nodded but added, “too many foreigners.” Wow. To add insult to injury, he gave me my room card and said, “Thank you ma’am.” MA’AM! What about ‘miss?’ I thought all of my kids got MISS from their Southern roots. I hate ma’am. UGH.

Just hit 5,000 miles. Crazy! Had to drive through suburban Memphis area to get to Mississippi, which by the way I keep singing the spelling of this state in my head [ok, out loud]. The housing developments there are so icky. I mean, they’re nice to some but too cookie cutter for my taste. Thank goodness I live in Queens where the architecture varies from house to house, even within a house). Variety is the spice of life I say. Oh wait, someone else must have said that first. I’m sure of it.

Off to the Waffle House for din-din. Who knows what I will find there. It’s open 24 hours though so it’s gotta be good. Right?

Radio highlights: “Open Arms,” Tina Turner, “Jump (for My Love),” “Hard Habit to Break,” “Dead or Alive” (Bon Jovi), “Open Your Heart.”

Twisters, armadillo roadkill, brassiere assistance, Obama haters and blue hair

Oklahoma is Cherokee Nation but it's also tornado nation. I drove through this state scared for my life. I had never known or been told what to do if you are in the car and there is a tornado going on nearby. No one else seemed to be phased by it but I was having flashbacks to Helen Hunt watching those twister-chasers swept up in the Oklahoma’s Tornado Alley. I saw one car pull off the road and sit under an overpass made of cement so I did the same but it was getting dark and if the storm didn’t let up soon, I didn’t want to be driving in this Armageddon in pitch black. So sans-Bill Paxton, I mustered up the courage to forge on and drove into the light. The light was Tulsa. I left the storm in my dust and found a place to bunk for the night. I had intended to stay in Muskogee, Oklahoma because I saw that name on the map and it reminded me of a song from the film “Good Morning Vietnam.” Sure enough, now armed with the Internet, it was Merle Haggard's "Okie from Muskogee.” Yea, well, the song didn’t mention how desolate the town really was so I had to hightail it out of there and head to Sallisaw instead. This was a Cherokee Nation area and it wasn’t all that fun to hang out in but I just needed a place to rest my head after a treacherous evening of driving through hell.

I had stopped in Blackwell, Oklahoma earlier in the day and that town was a bit depressed, as are many small towns that have lost some industry and folks don’t have the money to be out shopping. But it seems that there is an oil industry there. The farms, among the grain fields, have oil pumping out of the ground. Not sure how it all works but they are scattered among the wheat grain. The scary thing about the storms here is that you can see the bolts of lightning since the area is so damn flat in all directions. If I hadn’t been driving, I would have loved to capture some of these zig zag wonders on camera. Down the road some, I think I saw what was the result of lightning hitting a field and burning it to a crisp. So sad. I can’t imagine seeing all of your hard work burned to bits in one fell swoop thanks to Mother Nature. Ugh, she can be a bitch!

Two asides: Before the storm had begun, I saw a dead armadillo on the side of the road and it reminded me of that cake in the film “Steel Magnolias” with Julia Roberts but that took place in Louisiana so they must have armadillos too. I also saw a great roadside billboard near Tulsa that read: “Bust Stop. Supporting Tulsa since 1992.” Of course you’d pull over for a bra or two after reading that stroke of advertising genius.

Upon entering Arkansas, the rest area women gave me some good tips on where to find antique or flea markets in the state along Rt. 40. She also pointed out some wineries where there are tastings daily. I had just told her I was alone since they ask for government statistics once they hand over the free map so why would she think I could get boozed up along the way? Strange. But anyhow, she was very helpful and I was off to do some more shopping in Van Buren, Russellville and Morrilton.

Van Buren was great. They had just restored their historic downtown area and Main Street was very picturesque. I discovered a lot of gems in the shops along the way but my best find was a vintage silver dress that I will be wearing to Fred and Antigoni’s wedding at the end of the month. I saw it hanging there and was in awe of it. There was no size tag since it had been handmade so I had to try it on. There was no dressing room but there was a back room of the store so I simply closed the door and guess what? IT FIT! When I was checking out at the counter, I told the very friendly shop owner that I was so excited to find it because I had previously found this neat old hat to wear but didn’t have the perfect dress to pair with it. She insisted that I send her a photo after the party so she could see how well it looked on me. How sweet is she?!

For lunch, I popped into Carol’s Café and what a great choice. Not only was the chicken fried steak divine but the conversation in this Alice-esque diner was what movies are made of. Two women waited tables but the three ladies that were finishing up their lunches at opposing booths were a hoot! One was talking about dying her hair jet black but the man that walked in with a “Van Buren Old Timers” T-shirt on said, “That’s what we call blue hair. Your hair will really turn out lookin’ blue.” Now, I was having a hard time understanding these folks. Not the content of what they were discussing but their accents were so thick that many times, I had to mull over the sentences a few times before I got the gist of it. And I am not exaggerating. The ladies were also talking to themselves. Well, not really. But they were doing that thing where they’re reading the paper, reacting to the ads and saying something aloud hoping that someone will say, “huh?”

What struck me most was how much they shared with one another in public even though they might not even be close friends. They were talking about relatives that had to see counselors due to arrests and such. One of the waitress’ pregnant teen came out from the back and started talking about how much she has to pee lately and that her boyfriend and her were going to get a place together real soon. The woman reading the paper eager for conversation appeared to be a Crawford County Volunteer for Literacy, yet her English was consistently incorrect grammatically. I was worried for those learning the King’s English from this character. But at least she was volunteering. I should not judge. I felt like I was watching an SNL skit when the discussion came to what sex the baby was and if there were any names picked out. It was a girl but if it had been a boy, it was going to be Jackson Lee. The explanation for choosing that combination was too in-depth for me to keep up with so I will spare you the details.

The meal hit the spot though and I was so glad to have interacted with these fine ladies on a rainy day in Arkansas. Everyone is so super friendly here and it seems totally genuine. No reason for it not to be I guess. When I saw that chicken fried steak was the special, I ordered it with mashed potatoes, mac & cheese. When asked if I wanted white or brown gravy though, I was stumped. I felt like there was a wrong answer in the South so I hesitated and sure enough, my waitress said, “Most folks get white.”

Down the road a bit, with a full tummy, I was in this antique flea market and the shopkeep had the most unusual exchange with her neighbor. She simply said, ‘Whadya know?” and then the other woman answered, “I don’t know nuthin’” I know that sounds odd to read but it was as if it was their typical greeting. Like ‘what’s up?’ with the answer, ‘nothing”? Who knows. But another standard that I now love saying is “will gawwwlee” when I see something I like in a store. When in Rome. And by the way, this is the same store where I saw the John Deere handbag with black feathery accents. Someone went way too far here folks.

Another shop I walked into was manned by a husband/wife team. They had to be in their 80s and were the sweetest folks around. I bought this crocheted poncho (Matthea and Cara are laughing right now because I have an actual poncho collection. I know, RIDICULOUS). The woman went into this long drawn-out monologue about how she’s been telling her daughter to come down here to see THAT poncho because she would have loved it. Mind you, clothing is not really sold here. It’s mostly old Ball jars, guns, dolls, lunch boxes, etc. So she was doing this as a way to tell the customer that they just got there in time to snag this great deal. It was sweet. She asked where I was from since my non-twang stood out like a sore thumb. I told her and she immediately said, “Oh my gosh, my daughter lives in Maine.” I had to contain my laughter at how stinkin’ sweet this lady was to think that Maine and New York are practically the same because they are both on the east coast. I guess to her in Arkansas, they are. Before I came to the counter, I had been listening to the radio program she had on in the store. It was this über-conservative radio host spewing out lies about Obama’s health care plan. Saying that he pretty much wanted senior citizens to just die already. I heard her tsk-tsk-ing and wanted so badly to say, “How could you even entertain such an insane thing?” But I refrained. Instead, I asked her what this pin that was hanging by the register meant. It had a piece of rice with initials underneath and she couldn’t recall the manufacturer’s name but informed me that Arkansas is one of the largest producers of rice for the country. That I did not know. By the way, that radio host actually told this joke on the air, “How do you know when Obama is lying about conservatives? His lips move.” Hardy-har.

On my way to Morrilton, where I stayed for the night, I saw a sign for an upcoming livestock auction. I think I want to go to one of those before I leave this part of the country. That would be interesting to say the least. Maybe I can raise my paddle right away for a steer just to participate. Only if it’s got 4 legs though. I wouldn’t want to get stuck with something too big for my Subaru. Speaking of which, “Ain’t No Junk in This Trunk” is being donated to “The Safe Place,” a domestic violence shelter for women and children. I need more room for the obscene amount of stuff I’m accumulating. I look at it this way. I am singlehandedly stimulating the economies of many small towns across America so it’s a good thing.

Radio highlights: “Don’t Be Cruel” (Bobby Brown), “When Doves Cry,” “Hurts So Good,” “All Night Long” (Lionel Ritchie), “Ghostbusters,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “Separate Ways”