Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Recession, Lingerie Football and Mortgage Brokers, Oh My!

Woke up in another time zone. Wish I had realized that before going to bed because it would have made me feel better to know I was getting an extra hour of sleep. Little did I know that I would need comforting after what I was about to see.

If I though I knew what the recession in the United States looked like back home because friends or family have been laid off or times have been tight, Gary, Indiana was a huge eye-opener for me. This place needs some serious help and I surely hope it gets it because otherwise, it may just become a ghost town. Some parts are already on their way to that classification. I felt so bad taking photos around town but initially I just wanted to shoot the amazing signage all around but once I got into the inner city, it was just depressing. Broadway, the main drag, which you can imagine being a bustling street back in the day, with all its shops, restaurants, etc., was slowly creeping along with a few people on the sidewalks maybe. Mostly, it seemed that they were either going into the housing authority office or the job center honestly. But I finally found the people of color, that’s for sure. In the first part of town (toward Portage), I went to a bistro that was listed on Yelp and it was all white. I had the crab cakes. They were alright, nothing to write home about.

But I saw this book next to my table about the best Indiana restaurants and they were in it. The only other Gary restaurant was on W 11th Street. So I asked my waitress where this was and she said she thought it had closed down but really I just wanted to know where the other “downtown” was since this little street couldn’t be it. She started telling me but then interrupted herself and said, “it really isn’t very nice.” I figured I’d be the judge of that, just tell me where the damn area is. Even on her street, there were a lot of closed stores. Miller’s Pharmacy seemed to be a family owned drug store that had been shut down for a while now from the likes of the overgrown shrubs all around. What’s Poppin, the gourmet popcorn shoppe seemed to survive for some unknown reason? But Lake Street didn’t seem to be all too “nice” either. I’m sure when the Obama Shop down the road was open, there was more activity and then there was the Michael Jackson memorabilia shop opposite that. And the gas station sold adult DVDs for $4.99 and I’m sure they were getting business considering they made the special sign and all.

So I drove down to the “other downtown” and found a plethora of cool signs but really felt terrible for all of these people. There were makeshift tag sales on the sidewalk and it looked like folks were just selling everything and anything they still owned. Some houses’ porches had moving boxes piled up as if they had just been foreclosed on and had to get out quick. Many entire streets were boarded up or had homes with windows broken. There wasn’t even graffiti on the boarded up buildings which made me think kids couldn’t even afford spray paint to have their fun. I couldn’t even find a postcard anywhere to send another indication to my niece and nephew as to where I was on my trip so far. Found the post office though and asked to buy two books of postcard stamps. The clerk could only find one. She looked and looked but finally, I said one was enough. The waitress back in the good part of town had said that the city was trying to develop down here in the next couple of years but I can’t imagine how a few years will turn this all around. I do hope so. Maybe Jackson's estate can help his hometown because they surely have not forgotten him.

Another thing I noticed were a lot of older men riding bikes around. Not your typical sight in larger cities that actually have public transportation. But I fear it’s out of necessity. Let’s hope their politicians are competent because they aren’t going to be able to rely on the federal government to get them out of this one. After all, on the radio leaving Gary, the local Chicago DJ was saying how experts were reporting upward mobility in the economy and wanted listeners to call in to express their feelings on that notion. I was so tempted to call and tell them they were crazy because I had just left Gary, Indiana and there was no relief coming for those folks for a long time. Stimulus was a word they didn’t understand. And they sure as hell would have laughed at the “experts” saying that folks are now spending more.

So on my way through Chicago, I was reminded of my 7 months spent flying to this town from NYC to stay in Schaumburg, Illinois. Ick. Worked on Motorola’s e-business site at their compound there. Not fun. But didn’t recall lingerie football. Is this new or unique to Chicago? Do tell readers. And Hooters is everywhere too around these parts. But what I did think was how I wished I hadn’t been attached when I had that job back in 1997 because I could have been spending each weekend flying to a different state on my IBM miles and exploring the country back then instead of going back home to Queens each weekend and getting right back on the airplane Monday morning. Oh well, no regrets.

Right as I reached Wisconsin, my “At Oil Temp” light went on (blinking) and it freaked me out. I got off at the rest area immediately since I didn’t know what that meant. I pulled over into a gas station in case I needed help and immediately called the only person I knew who knew anything about cars, my brother-in-law. It went right to voicemail so I left a welcome home message since they just got back from vacation yesterday. No need to worry them since I knew it would be fine. I had a full workup on my car before heading out on this adventure. Next, I went through my cellphone address book to see who else I might call to reassure me and realized that very few of my guy friends knew much at all about cars. Correct me if I’m wrong fellas and no offense to the girls, but… But then it struck me, Row knows all. So I called him and Suger and I spoke for a bit, she put in her two cents and then Row got on and gave me the skinny. Granted, I had already read in the manual that this didn’t even require stopping the car. And if the engine was just running when it happened, simply don’t go up steep grades or be in stop and go traffic. So I took Row’s advice and checked my levels. Opened the hood, took out my towel to wipe the stick and sure enough, a man came over to help me. I knew what I was doing but why not let him get dirty instead. All was fine. I’m actually meticulous about maintaining my car and read the whole manual when I first bought it so I’d be informed in these situations. Back on the road, the light never came on again. Phew!

Spent the ride listening to Fresh Air with Terry Gross on NPR. Mike Judge was on talking about King of the Hill and Beavis and Butthead and his new film “Extract.” Funny stuff. Especially since his experiences with folks in rural America were what started him writing King of the Hill. The situations were ones I felt I was experiencing or overhearing at diners and drive-ins myself now. Cool stuff. Will have to check that movie out when I’m home or in the next drive-in I come across.

So I arrived in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin at around 6:00 p.m. and thought, “Dave, what were you thinking recommending this place to me? I wanted old small town with no Starbucks and character coming out of the seams.” Then I realized that I had to drive a few miles down the road to hit the old downtown bit. Phew! Sorry I doubted you Dave. My first stop was at the Karakahl Inn or Motel. Who knows what they call themselves. The place should be condemned today and then used in a horror film. It was scary shit and they were seriously charging $50+ for a night there. Check out the photo. It doesn’t even show how spooky this place was. Luckily, down the road some, I found the Village Inn, a cute Catskill-esque strip motel that had those awesome multi-colored metal chairs out front of each room. I hearted it immediately. Went into the office and they even had WiFi. Now I’m convinced that everyone does. Paid for the night, got my troll information and Norwegian town guide and was on my way to dinner. Adorable town. Can’t wait to start walking around today. I think I saw 3 antique stores and plenty of other cute shops to pop into. So last night, I got a Wisconsin cheddar burger at Bistro 101 and headed down the road to the Firehouse for my first beer with the locals. And thank goodness I did! What a trip! Sat down next to Pat, an excavator from Madison who was on his way home from his family’s farm in Iowa. Nice guy. I asked him if he knew how much pool was and he said he thinks 75 cents or a dollar. Then Jen, the waitress outed him as a regular who definitely knew how much pool costs. I asked if he’d be my partner if the couple playing now wanted to play us. He agreed. The couple was Shauna and “her man.” That’s how she referred to him to others. He seemed a bit younger. She was 38, Class of ’89.

Apparently Pat was really good at pool because Jen was shocked each time we lost. But that was my fault. He was really good but I kept messing up. Brandon, I needed you by my side. So we lost 3 times and Pat really needed to end on a good note so I said I could stay for one more and we won (thank goodness). But before that game was over, the best thing ever happened. Shauna opened up. This song came on that she had put into the jukebox called, “In Spite of Ourselves” by John Prine. She kept saying, “it’s a love song, just listen to the lyrics. This is going to be my wedding song. Granny will be allllll ‘wha?’ but I’ll just shrug like I have no idea what they’re sayin’.”

Here are the lyrics for you so you can appreciate what I was listening to as she swayed back and forth dancing to her future nuptials.

She don't like her eggs all runny
She thinks crossin' her legs is funny
She looks down her nose at money
She gets it on like the Easter Bunny
She's my baby I'm her honey
I'm never gonna let her go

He ain't got laid in a month of Sundays
I caught him once and he was sniffin' my undies
He ain't too sharp but he gets things done
Drinks his beer like it's oxygen
He's my baby
And I'm his honey
Never gonna let him go

In spite of ourselves
We'll end up a'sittin' on a rainbow
Against all odds
Honey, we're the big door prize
We're gonna spite our noses
Right off of our faces
There won't be nothin' but big old hearts
Dancin' in our eyes.

She thinks all my jokes are corny
Convict movies make her horny
She likes ketchup on her scrambled eggs
Swears like a sailor when shaves her legs
She takes a lickin'
And keeps on tickin'
I'm never gonna let her go.

He's got more balls than a big brass monkey
He's a wacked out werido and a lovebug junkie
Sly as a fox and crazy as a loon
Payday comes and he's howlin' at the moon
He's my baby I don't mean maybe
Never gonna let him go

In spite of ourselves
We'll end up a'sittin' on a rainbow
Against all odds
Honey, we're the big door prize
We're gonna spite our noses
Right off of our faces
There won't be nothin' but big old hearts
Dancin' in our eyes.
There won't be nothin' but big old hearts
Dancin' in our eyes.

(spoken) In spite of ourselves

So Shauna used to bartend at The Firehouse for 5 yrs. She had also been a horse trainer and a roofer before her current job as a senior mortgage broker at a local bank. She had even met my partner Pat before but she had no recollection. Her man wore those massive washer-looking things in his ears to expand the lobes and a Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt. He was the quieter of the two. In order to bond with him, I told a little white lie. I said I used to paint that design (his T-shirt) on the backs of jean jackets back in high school. I think Steve actually did this for real but I was channeling him for now. He immediately high fived me and we were BFFs. That’s how I learned when Shauna graduated because she asked me how old I was.

She seemed to know a lot of the folks walking in and kept lifting up her shirt to show them her new tattoo. I had already seen quite a few even though she had jeans and a T-shirt on but this one was clearly hidden. To her surprise, “this one hurt like a mutha fucker. Granted, I was hungover from my birthday the night before but I’ve never had it hurt this much before.” She said that she woke up the next day in pain, but not from the tattoo, from clenching and being so tense throughout the 4 hours it took to do the damn thing. “It was like how you feel after a full day of exercise and I don’t exercise.” Now this was a girl I could relate to. I’ve totally woken up after some odd occurrence like that and felt like I was in a gym for a day and meanwhile I hadn’t done a lick of exercise. So I’m nodding telling her how I hate exercise too. And she says, “the only time I run is when someone’s chasing me.”

So she goes on about the flabbiness under her arms and how she needs to get rid of that and her bagel. Her bagel is the space around her belly button that she shows us that when you squish it together, it totally DOES look like a bagel. So she joined a gym again, even though years ago, she had done the same and only went 3 times in a year and was paying $60/month. Again, I sympathized. She laughed because she had won a year’s worth of golf at her job for being selected for the President’s Club but she said, “what am I going to do with a full year’s worth of golf when all I would do is ride around on that cart drinking vodka.” So she gave the pass to a friend.

She still couldn’t get over the fact that when she applied for this job, they asked if she had any experience and she said, “if bartending, training horses and roofing is experience, SURE!” She had to take the state test and did very well. “I guess I still had some brain cells left over because I rocked the test.” Meanwhile, she didn’t even know what a mortgage was. She said she had grown up on welfare mostly and was now a renter. But she figured it out and the real reason she was doing so well was that all the customers liked her spunkiness. She never even sat down when she had customers in her office. She paced and talked with her hands a lot the whole time. She said it “put people at ease. Even though I was the only tattooed freak in the office, I’m doing really well there.”

I seriously adored Shauna. She was my kind of girl. Talked a lot. Shared too much and sang Journey out loud when it came on the jukebox. Apparently, I wouldn’t have to nudge folks to do this with me.

Radio highlights from yesterday: “Jukebox Hero,” Whitney Houston, Tom Petty, The Cure, the Go Gos, Peter Frampton, Van Morrison, Van Halen (with David Lee Roth) and Lenny Kravitz.


Shannon said...

The title is funny, but what will you do when you get to Kansas? The motel IS spooky, the song lyrics are awesome, and your trip is sounding great. Hope you're having the time of your life!

Elizabeth said...

i'm sure kansas will be fine. i'm actually taking a little detour to visit my friend's family in Salina, KS before heading to your neck of the woods. I want to visit Leavenworth. Any chance of that? he he. I am having the time of my life. It's really just so much fun doing whatever whenever and meeting all these characters. I just went to the pool and they had a spa tub. Sooooo nice and much needed after a long day of driving. Keep emailing ... :-) I love getting notes from home.

Wallis said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Elizabeth said...

Wallis, thanks so much. That's so nice to hear. Where are you from? How'd you come across my little blog that I thought only friends were reading. I'm thrilled that others are but it's such a surprise. CHEERS!