Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Americana 101

It's been 24 hours since last I was here and 24 hours can be a long time in the land of viral infections. My nose has finally stopped trying to run away. The eyes have ceased weeping. Perhaps I am not totally healed, considering I came home from work and laid down to read for a moment and awoke an hour later. Still a bit tired and in need of rest. A friend asked me, at work today, if I had taken any time off for the illness. Hey, why waste good sick days on actually being sick when you can use them for cool stuff, like Cubs games when it gets warm, right?

I was driving back to Streeterville from work and it was 41 degrees and rainy, with 10-15 mile per hour winds. This is what I like to think of as Arkansas winter. As a child, I remember my childhood in January and February as one of absolute misery. It was always 35-45 degrees and raining. This played hell with my sinuses and I had a runny nose for many years before I realized upon moving north that "Hey! When it's colder outside and snowing, instead of raining, my sinus condition improves." Of course it really improved during the two years that I taught school on a tropical island. There are drawbacks to living on an island where it's 85-88 degrees every day of the year, but sinus conditions are not one of them.

When I got back to the 14th floor, the view was decidedly not of the Arkansas Winter type, however. The wind was kicking up large waves that were crashing over the concrete barrier and over the shoreline onto the running/biking path. One never sees that on the Arkansas River.

A few years back Babs and I took in a foreign exchange student from Belgium for a year, Marie-Laure, just Marie to us. Marie, for some reason, became attached to the phrase, "The sea is angry today." She used that expression often when Lake Michigan was acting up. Well the sea is really angry today, something of a serious snit, if you will.

During the year that Babs and I had a teenage daughter, we tried to enrich her life through various truly American experiences. As I recall, watching Southpark on the Comedy Channel was a truly unique American experience. Apparently they don't have crude juvenile humor disguised as satire in Belgium. Marie really loved the Southpark movie and that stellar moment when everyone shouted "Blame the Canadians!" We all need someone to blame right now. Of course for a great many of the loyal left in America it has come to be, "Blame W, the dumb @#^&*!"

The truly American experience occurred, though, during Spring Break. Marie wanted to see Indians. Babs and I concocted a road trip via Route 66 (much of which no longer exists) to New Mexico. We were going to see some Indians alright and a lot of America on the way. It's amazing how Europeans have no idea how big the U.S.A. is. Driving to New Mexico from Chicago takes 2 or 3 days, depending on how fast you drive and how many stops you make. There is a lot of America on the way.

On the first day out we stopped in Collinsville, Illinois. We wanted to see the water tower shaped like a giant ketchup bottle. Drove around for a while and couldn't find it. Moved on. Did see the Gateway Arch in St. Louis on the way through. Somewhere in Missouri, west of St. Louis and East of Kansas City we stopped at some cheesy caverns. Went on a guided tour through the caverns and saw where Jesse James and his gang supposedly hid out and escaped, etc., etc., etc. Americana of the first tier.

We spent one night in a hotel in Amarillo, Texas which is a veritable fountain of Americana. We went for dinner to The Big Texan Restaurant. While waiting for a table to open up you can peruse the gift shop and buy rattle snake stuff or assorted Big Texan paraphernalia, orrrrr see actual live rattlesnakes and stuff. Inside the restaurant there is a big stage with one table and chair on it and a big clock for all to see. The thing is, if you order The Big Texan steak (It's really big.) with all the trimmings and can eat the whole thing within an hour, it's free. You have to sit on the stage so everyone in the restaurant can see you, while the timer runs. It's a big production. The little girl from Belgium thought this was just too too cool.

The next morning on the way out of town we stopped off at a local piece of history and art, "The Cadillac Ranch." Most of you have probably seen photos of it. In actuality, you have to stop off the side of the Interstate and park on the side of the road, so you can walk across a cow pasture (Watch out for the cow chips. Some are still steaming.) to see a bunch of old Cadillacs, big fins and all stuck in the dirt on end and graffiti painted to beat the band. First class Americana.

End of Part I. Tomorrow: Santa Fe and Taos, Real Indians, Anasazi ruins, Mesa Verde, and one heckuva snow storm. This post has been brought to you by Cursory Cleaning Services. "When you're willing to settle for less than the very best." Formerly, Single Guys Cleaning Services.

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