Showing posts with label Characters. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Characters. Show all posts

Friday, November 04, 2011

In a Fog

I am standing in the IHop waiting to be seated.  An IHop is not a dance hall nor a kiddie zoo with rabbits, for those who live outside the United States, Canada, Mexico or Guatemala.  An IHOP is a restaurant famous for its high-calorie, salt-fat-sugar rich breakfasts.  They also serve standard dinners and lunches.  It is very popular (especially with old farts) because the servings are large, the service is usually fast and the prices are not high.  It takes a really bad restaurant to screw up a breakfast of eggs and pancakes.  I am rewarding the healing of my ankle with my first trip to the outside world.  I admit that I am a fan of the International Crepe Passport breakfast.  (Doesn't THAT sound sophisticated? -International Crepe Passport*  Two eggs, two crispy bacon strips and two pork sausage links served with your choice of two crepes with fruit)  I do not eat both sausage and bacon, my heart-attack-waiting-to-happen husband is happy to help with those.  But I do order a side of hash browns which I split with him as well.  I do not weigh 250 pounds and this meal, over 2,000 calories, is usually eaten about 9 to 10 AM and pretty much the only thing I eat all day except for snacking at dinner!  Sinful to have such an abundance of food in a world where many are starving, I know.  Sorry, but like most liberals I carry my guilt to the food table.

Anyway, while I am standing waiting for the hostess, I notice a really sweet little 4-year-old girl in front of me with a 250 pound mom carrying a new baby.  The little girl is focusing intently on something in her hands.  The hostess returns and takes the mom to a booth.  The little girl remains standing in front of me.  I tap her on the shoulder and tell her that her mother is down the way.  The girl looks up at me and I see she has been intently focusing on an IPhone.  (IHop, IPhone?)  She is moving images and links across the screen like an expert.  She looks back down and continues her screen activities.

The mother gets seated a short distance away and gets the baby in a high-chair and then turns back to the little girl and calls her.  The girl does glance up, has heard, but still does not comprehend.

The hostess returns to seat us and I point to the mother as I place my hand on the little girl's shoulder once more before we begin to scoot around her.  The little girls looks up at me again with clear blue eyes and then back to the phone.  We walk around her and head to our booth and I will be darned but she follows us not looking up at all!  Clearly she is joining us for breakfast.

It actually takes some effort on the part of the mother and me to convince the little girl that she is at the wrong booth. Actually the effort is on getting through the fog of technology.

I hate these technological babysitters...they are a drug!  Thank goodness they were not crossing the street and it is amazing they made it across the parking lot.

(For a more enlightening day in the fog...go here.)

Monday, July 04, 2011

Friends and the Roles We Play

Here is another take on people that help us.

I first met Oscar about 4 years ago when we were putting in our lawn to this new house. (The lawn in the photo looks much nicer than it is...mostly mowed weeds.) I had already started a few flower beds and it was early fall and I was attempting to clean out some of the areas around the larger plants.  I could tell he was interested in my work and so I attempted a conversation in simple English.  Oscar spoke Spanish but was able to give me some advice on some of my plants as he assisted with the lawn.  Perhaps there was an ulterior motive to his attention, because later that month when we wanted to move some larger plants my husband gave him a call and asked if he worked outside the landscape company.  Fortunately, he said he could work on the next Sunday.

Later we started that large paving project which disrupted that blue bird nesting I had written about.  Oscar and his brother and other workers spent over a week in our front yard tearing up the concrete sidewalk, aligning the driveway, installing pavers and putting down a composite to hold them.  They had to re-work some drainage and adjust a retaining wall.  The supervisor, who was not Spanish but an overweight good ole' boy, rarely moved his butt from the tiny earth moving bulldozer as he provided advice to the three laborers through arm waving and calling out.

Oscar was smart, followed instructions exactly, even gave some good advice and we ended up with a lovely driveway.

Over the years Oscar has been an irregular Sunday visitor to our home whenever we needed help with a project that hubby could not do alone but which was too small a project for the landscape firm.  He moved enormous plants, reset brick edgers, moved tons of earth, set up a small patio beneath my arbor and helped repair our deer fence.  He is always gracious and his English has gotten better.  Oscar has a generous smile and is a handsome man; I have watched him go gray.  He has two daughters the age of our President's that he has to leave back in Mexico with their mother for months at a time while he works in the United States.  He works at the whim of the landscape company.  Today he told us that they are laying him off for three weeks because of the slow down in demand.  He cannot afford to live here without a paycheck so is returning to his family during that time.  I cannot help but think how expensive this must be.  Expensive in monetary ways as well as expensive in personal ways.  His daughters have grown up and he has been far away most of the time.  He has had to live in a foreign land to earn money so that they can go to school, have clothes and a home.  I wonder how much they miss him.  I wonder if they will realize the sacrifices that were made when they have families of their own.  This lifestyle is somewhat like the lifestyle that military families must face.  Long days, perhaps even dangerous days, far away from their precious families.  Except our military does get benefits in terms of retirement and health care.  Oscar only gets an irregular paycheck.  I am sure (?) that the company would hire local laborers if they could find people who were willing to work under such arbitrary conditions and at such a low pay level.

I get a deep seated guilt (such is the disease of the liberal heart) when he is here.  We pay him slightly more than the landscape company and he is happy for the work, but I cannot help but feel uncomfortable in my safer lifestyle.  I feel like I am in one of those Hollywood movies and I do not fit the part, or if I am in denial...I do not like how well I fit the part.  I am blessed to celebrate the 4th in this country when I see the struggles other countries face trying to determine their path to a form of democracy that fits their culture and economy and with citizens that willingly come to our country for any job because they are aware of our unique freedoms and opportunity.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Sane (and Insane) Characters

Part II on the Rally to Restore Sanity:  

When we arrived at the metro station our first clue that we might have to eventually walk was when we saw the mass of people standing in front of the ticket machines. There were about 7 machines and all of them said NO BILLS which meant they only took change...anyone got $6 in change for the round trip?!  There were two machines that took credit cards. What a nightmare! We stood behind a nice looking young man in his 50's with perhaps his son in his 20's. They needed a little help with the ticket machines which we 'tried' to provide as we pulled out our credit cards. They had driven for about 5 hours coming from Kentucky. He explained that mostly angry people attended rallies there and it was hard to have a civil conversation on issues.  He needed this rally was to help him realize that the whole country hadn't gone crazy.  (An example of this type of anger that you can meet anywhere was also be found on Peruby's recent post...Being a gardener I was surprised to find they even blame the pumpkin shortage on this adminstration!)

We finally got to the very crowded metro platform, and after waiting 25 minutes, a train arrived that was so full of people it couldn't open its doors.  We then realized that more time even hours would pass before we could get on a train.

Standing nearby we got to talking to a couple our age that had flown in from Monterey California two days earlier.  He had a business meeting, but they had decided before they left California to stay for the rally. She was an American citizen born in France and he was an American citizen born in in India.  She was as round as he was thin, but both were full of energy.  All four of us decided we had to walk to the rally.  Good thing they were regular bikers and we were regular hikers because it was at least 6-7 miles before we could catch a cab to take us the last 2-3 miles closer to the mall.

Once at the mall we had to wiggle and squeeze between many bodies to sneak closer to the front just to see the screens and be able to hear the speakers.  I stood mostly in a group of young people perhaps 18-25 years in age, but in front of me was a young couple with a baby (!) and directly behind us stood a retired couple.  My feet did go numb after standing for 3 hours...but that passed once I started walking again after the rally was over.

We waited almost two hours after the rally (getting some chocolate and cabernet savignon at Co Co. Sala's) before deciding to try to catch a metro home.  The crowds were still large but manageable.  On the metro we met and assisted two young college kids from Boston with directions.  They had to ride the metro out our way as they had a gift certificate for free meals at a restaurant on our metro stop.

This was NOT a political rally (no political speeches--no politicians) but a few signs carried by rally attenders made fun of the conservative Fox News Channel which had been caught reporting news using inaccurate videos or by focusing repeatedly on inaccurate re-statements said by their pundits.

As a famous liberal columnist said :  "The rally was a simple reminder that certain things bring out the best in people, and certain things bring out the worst. It's not that the people who attended the rally or watched it enthusiastically on television were nicer or better than those who didn't. It's that the rally tapped into the humanity we all share, but that is rarely called forth, shown, or celebrated by our media or our political leaders. As promised, the rally was non-partisan -- making the mainstream media's unwillingness to allow their reporters to attend all the more ludicrous. Not surprisingly, many in the media seem to have totally missed the point of the day, even though Stewart clearly laid it out in his brilliant closing speech. Better to miss the point, and dismiss the event, than deal with the witty but powerful indictment the Daily Show host delivered."

Having never attended a rally, I am glad that I went to this one. I still think that the reasonable people of this world will emerge as leaders and statesmen and that those of the angry rhetoric will be seen for the immature and uncreative approaches they are using in these trying times.  

I must say that I am gloomed by the fact that among those re-elected to high office recently was a Senator that believes that carrying AK-47 weapons is 'normal' and a right at a political rally, believes that repealing the Civil Rights act is not dangerous but a good thing for American business, and that stomping on the head of a small women by a grown man as another grown man stands by yelling is "unfortunate" but not necessarily something he has control over among his supporters, they are just so passionate and ardent about their beliefs.   He will soon be a very powerful person in our government in that he will be able to stop legislation single-handed via filibuster
(Apologies for the screwy fonts...Blogger has me on the ground with its foot at my neck.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Small Towns Never Change. Characters #4

(This is not the town in the post below.)

It was already 8:45 A.M. and the air was just starting to warm up.  I am normally an early riser, I was hungry...really hungry.  Since hubby is a big breakfast person the minute he gets up, whenever he gets up, he was verging on famished already.  We had to find food in this small Canada town which reminded me of the town I where I grew up.  There wasn't much here.  Train tracks along the outside edge, auto parts dealerships,  a hardware store, a real estate office, something called an 'underground galleria', another store with a sign 24 Hour Cash and a place that sold John Deere with John Deere toys in the window.  We did see a restaurant that advertised Chinese/Western food.  My stomach almost bolted.

Yes, there was a Dairy Queen (closed at this hour) and a MacDonalds...puleeze, I wanted food, not something to plug up my plumbing.  No pause for the challenges of travel when you are old.

We made a u-turn and did the whole town again finally finding a cross street with something that looked like a Tombstone version of Main Street.  I had read that Whifs Flapjack House was ranked as the #1 restaurant in town.  (Tabor, you aren't in Calgary anymore!)  We couldn't find that flapjack place, but as we cruised further down the quiet street we saw a restaurant with a few cars out front and a sign that said 'best bakery... something'.  Maybe we could get breakfast there?

Inside the restaurant of VERY SIMPLE decor (plastic chairs and tables and plastic flowers on a counter) was a small area the counter to the left and maybe six tables in a small open area on the right.  One table had four old-timers, 2 women and 2 men, sipping coffee and staring at each other.  As we entered, what little conversation they had been having ended, and they stared at us.  Clearly we were the break in Monday morning boredom they had been looking for.

Behind the counter was a chunky woman with a pony tail giving out change to another customer.  (I had the biggest deja-vu from when, as a teenager, I had worked two summers at Frank's cafe in my small hometown in Colorado...OMG I was going back in time and I had evolved and small towns had not and I wasn't all that comfortable about this revelation.)

The fact that no one talked and everyone watched our every move, made us even less comfortable.  We look questioning at the middle-aged woman behind the counter and she just stared back as well and then turned to the back wall to do something.

We walked up to the counter and studied the menu high on a board above her, at least to fill the uncomfortable void.  It listed a few pastries, a few sandwiches and drinks including something called "espresso."  Right!

When she turned back to face us, I asked what pastries she had.

"Just what is in that case behind you.  I have not had any time to bring anything up."  This was related in her best on-stage speaking voice so that everyone and anyone in the restaurant could hear.  

(Up?  From where?  Pastries from the cellar?  Fresh pastries from the former wine storage room?  More likely there was a former coal mine below.)

I saw a few sad rolls, two muffins and a cinnamon bun in the old fashioned case.  I asked for the cinnamon bun and coffee.  She handed me a white mug and pointed to the coffee pots on the side near the door.  I poured a cup of something, not really caring what as I wanted to just sit down and disappear.  I tried to pour from the cream jug and it appeared to be empty.  I tried the milk jug.  "Sorry but it looks like both of these are empty." 

"Hon, you will have to wait, I am the only one here until noon."   The only other four customers were drinking coffee and also waiting...  She was really busy.

Hubby ordered the fried egg sandwich but made the mistake of asking for tea.   

"That is going to take some time, outa hot water right now."  We both looked at each other in concern and I retreated to the far table for two against the wall.  Hubby then asked if she had Earl Gray (!)  She looked at him and replied: "If you want me to look in the back you will have to wait. " He suggested he would drink whatever tea she had available and then joined me at the table. 

Finally one of the old-timers (yeah, they were the same age as me and what?!) got tired of staring at us and returned my tentative smile and asked where we were from.  We told our little tale of coming to the badlands to take photos and maybe see the dinosaur museum.

The waitress behind the counter turned away from frying the egg and asked me if I wanted my bun heated, and I assume she meant the one I ordered for breakfast.  Knowing it was probably made last Friday and dry as toast, I said yes.

The old guy at the table turned to the waitress and asked her if the museum was open on Monday.  He wondered aloud if they were now on the winter schedule.  She looked up at him and I think she was thinking...either about what he said or whether she was going to throw the spatula at him.  He turned to the women sitting next to him and asked the same question.  She responded with a similar expression on her face.

As we waited the other one of the two women, dressed in a flower print dress and sweater that reminded me of what my grandmothers wore, stood up, and lifting a cell phone out of her purse, asked in a voice loud enough to be heard in the 'wine cellar' if she could get a bus ticket for mid-morning. (Was everyone in this town hard of hearing?)  The contact on the phone must have said 'yes', because she hung up and hugged the other women and said good-bye to the two men and headed out the door.  As she reached the door one of the men said something to her.  She turned and waddled back to the table and then around to where we sat and pulled a wheeled basket with a grocery sack inside from behind my chair and then headed back out the door as her companions stoically watched.

The waitress brought me my warmed cinnamon bun and I actually apologized (fully intimidated by her at this time) and said I could have come up to the counter and gotten it myself.

As the egg sandwich cooked and the water boiled the man at the table began to relate various places we should see while visiting their little town including their very interesting coal mine and its' museum and the homestead antique museum.  While these were probably very nice, we really just wanted to see the dinosaur bones.

I looked up as the waitress behind the counter picked up the phone and in her normal (loud) voice asked 'Betty' at the other end of the phone line if the dinosaur museum was open on Monday.  She listened and then hung up and turned to us and said 'Betty' would call back.  As luck would have it, during our gourmet breakfast we learned when Betty called back that the museum was indeed on winter hours and not open on Mondays.  But, by this time, we were beginning to get the 'rhythm' of this New York style of hospitality in a small town in the Badlands of Canada.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Grizzly Repellent Characters #3

As I have written at least once before, the magical thing about travel is that you have an increased opportunity to meet interesting and diverse people.  When I was young my travels usually brought me to the homes of other's parents and that meant good food and good stories. Now that I am a 'gray beard' I usually meet the odd ducks and adventurers, like us.

We passed this fellow at right in the photo above at the bottom of the highway.  He was trying to hitch a ride up the mountain on a cool Canada morning.  His funny bear hat drew my attention as well as his smile.  Hubby was not that comfortable about stopping for him and drove on by.  As the fates would have it we met him at the bottom of the Larch Valley hike just a little while later.  The park service had been seeing grizzlies in the area and had a sign at the bottom of this rather strenuous hike telling people that they had to hike in groups of four.  (I think since this was one of the most popular hikes in the area at this time of year that any grizzly would attack only because the crowds going up and down were driving him nuts!)

The young man asked if he could walk up with us.  Hubby commented that made us only three, but I argued that this tall young man counted easily as two if we encountered a grizzly.  Since there was no ranger in sight nor any sign indicating a fine, we started off as three.

To protect his privacy I will call him Sandy.  The first thing I learned from Sandy is that he taught CPR in Australia.  He went on to say that the CPR exercise really did not work, but the electronic defibrillator would be the tool that will save someone's life and then add CPR after that!  He told me if I ever had to use one to not worry about lack of training as these AEDs are well designed for success.  Of course both my husband and I were panting and had to stop every 10 minutes on this steep trail to catch our this was a little more than idle chatter for us.  He was such a sweetie, waiting for us so patiently each time we paused to take in the views.

The more we climbed, the more I learned about Sandy.  He recently was working as a bartender and left his job to travel around the world until the money ran out.  He was almost certain he could get his job back upon his return.  Then I later learned he actually was just a few hours short of a Ph.D. in biotech and had given that goal up because he realized he did not want to write grants for the rest of his life.  He also was not a rule freak and clearly the pharmaceutical industry was full of rules for its researchers.  Sandy was young and free and currently enjoying the life of a vagabond.  He had parents and siblings back in Australia that he spoke of fondly.  We talked about politics and science and nature on the way down the hill.

Since his camera battery had died I took a number of pictures of him in the larches (I will post something about this interesting conifer on my other blog).  I offered to tag him on FB and he gave me his name.  When I got home and brought up his profile, he had written on it that he liked men.  When I saw this it made me feel very odd and embarrased because I had asked him if he had a girlfriend waiting for him at the end of this sojourn.  We always see the world through our eyes and I can imagine how many times some little old lady sees this cute charmer and wants to fix him up with a young lady and asks if he has a wife or girlfriend.  So tedious, I am sure.

Sandy was on his way to do volunteer work in South America for some organization when we parted at the end of the day.  I would love to run into him again some day and see how his adventure unfolded.  (I'll bet you thought this post was going to be about a grizzly...;-))

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Characters #2

Travel provides the opportunity to see common things in a new light. When in unfamiliar territory, people-watching becomes an opportunity in character development and a dedicated pastime for me.  I have a few stories from my recent exploration of Western Canada, but first one last anecdote from my August trip to Baltimore, which happened on a terribly hot, hellish weekend.  We spent as much time as we could being outside walking the city, but by mid-afternoon we sought the shelter of an air-conditioned store and ended up spending money on iced drinks regardless of our carefully pre-agreed upon budget.

We had drifted down to the historic Fell's Point.  The Internet states that Fell's point has "The unique to the unusual...the conservative to the wild." Fell's Point was named after a Quaker in the 1760s which might be the reason for its extreme nature.  It certainly is an interesting part of Baltimore. I became familiar with Fell's point many years ago when visiting an indoor aquaculture facility.  My visit was to a project showing that you could grow fish in the heart of the city.   This particular weekend the air was oppressive and we decided that the hole-in-the-wall coffee shop we were passing was the best place to collapse for a while.  (No Starbucks for us!)

This shop was very small and L-shaped...a long narrow L with tables along one wall and the checkout counter and pastries and teas and coffees on the other wall.  At the base of the L were two more tables and chairs, a couch, a small corner with children's toys, and a shelf of used books and magazines.  There was a man drinking an iced drink at a table near the door where we entered.  On the sofa at the far end of the hall past most of the tables were three men passing around a guitar and playing music. One of them was very good and played and sang a familiar country tune and we listened as we let our sweat dry.

There was a nice looking dark haired man about 35 behind the counter and he was talking to a 20-something gal with a brown pony tale leaning at the edge of the counter when we walked in.  They both broke off their conversation and the young woman asked what we wanted.  We both ordered an iced chai, and my husband being the gregarious soul started up a conversation about the heat.  The man agreed how unbearable the summer had been while he fixed the tea and the gal took our money.  When I mentioned we were tourists  and wondered about the water taxis, the gal, who was quite talkative and charming, took my arm and directed me to a small brochure rack behind the door.  She was clearly knowledgeable about Baltimore as she passed various brochures my way.

While we waited for our drinks she indicated that the heat was really hard for her as she lived in a third-story apartment...with no air-conditioning!  I felt so sorry for her and my mind drifted to how working in a coffee shop must pay very little.  She said she spent most of her time trying to keep cool with a fan.

We took a nearby table and perused the water-taxi schedule and the various stops while we sipped our tea.  My back was to the door, but I could see that hubby was intrigued watching the girl and guy.  The door opened a few times more and other customers completed orders.  The guy with the guitar walked by on his way out and apologized to us for singing so loud.  We loved his music, so were surprised at this.

Then the store got quiet.  The gal was outside on the sidewalk talking to someone.  I could not hear the conversation between the man who had been sitting at the table drinking when we entered and the guy behind the counter.  But hubby was intently watching them and interpreted this for me later.

The man at the table:  "Who is she?"

The clerk:  "Hell if I know.  Maybe she is doing her laundry across the street."

The man:  "  You don't know her?  She is in here every weekend."

The clerk:  "I know...don't have a clue!"

The gal came back into the store and rearranged some of the things on the counter, collected plates from a table and moved them to the counter, and then headed to the bathroom chattering with the man behind the counter most of the time.

My husband and I just smiled and shook our heads.  Pehaps this was her way of being able to stay cool on a Sunday and avoid the lack of AC in her apartment.  She was smart and brave and opportunistic.  (My next post will be about Canada...I promise.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Pat---Characters #1

Our country neighborhood recently got a new Olive Garden.  Now if you live in the city you are thinking...yeah, big deal?  But out here where every restaurant is fast food or fried something, this chain ups the bar on interesting food.  The place is huge and had been opened about three weeks already.  Last week we decided to stop by and eat (on a Friday night) and when we got there the parking lot was filled.  The lobby was full of patiently waiting people and the host told us there was an 80 to 95 minute wait!  We did not want to spend that much time waiting for our dinner and went somewhere else.

OK.  So on a Wednesday two weeks later, and over a month after it had been opened in this very rural area, we decided to try again.  This time there was only a 30 to 40 minute wait!  Geesh.  Someone has a gold mine here!  We went to the bar and actually ended up ordering dinner there.  I don't usually like eating at a bar but the atmosphere was cozy, the bar staff were wonderful and very charming and the food was delish and arrived much sooner than it would have otherwise.

While sipping my wine and waiting for our salad there was a young person sitting at the end stool next to me.  I turned and smiled at him/her.  Perhaps you are wondering what I am getting at here.  If you ever saw Saturday Night Live and saw Julia Sweeney's terrific rendition of the character 'Pat' you will understand what I am talking about.  Pat was a sexually vague character and each skit was a set-up where someone tried to figure out if he/she was a man or a woman.  Sweeney is perhaps one of the most underrated comedians and played this character memorably.

Well, this person looked like a 19 (could have even passed for 16) year-old.  He/She, whom I will now call Pat was drinking a coke and waiting for his/her takeout.  Pat was so much nicer looking (handsome, pretty) than TV Pat.  Dressed in a T-shirt and slacks and wearing a baseball cap with a man's haircut that covered orange-died curls in the front, made it impossible for me to resist making small talk.  

I learned that 'Pat' was 29!  I commented that while he/she probably did not like looking so young, they would welcome this in later years.  'Pat's' voice did not provide a clue as to the sex.  'Pat' was very nice and I found out that he/she did technical/mechanical work on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for the Navy!  Pat loved this work and had been shipped all over the world at times because of his/her exceptional skills.

Pat had served in the military in Iraq and liked it there but now worked for a contractor and was able to die 'their' hair orange just to drive the old command officer nuts.  I also learned that 'Pat' had an estranged relationship with his/her father who had left when he/she was only four and hated that the father now knew where he/she was living because of a regular security check that the contractor has to run every time there was a promotion.  (I obviously have a trusting face as we had an intimate conversation on all this while Pat waited for take-out and I waited for breadsticks.)

Pat made a very good salary because of his/her skills and told me that he/she owned a town home and 4 vehicles but was unhappy to be living so far from the maddening crowd of the city.  Pat was a really interesting person with a great sense of humor and made me confident that our defense pilots were in good hands and I thanked Pat for his/her service to this great country.

And, of course, just in case, I did not ask and Pat did not tell about... whatever.