Monday, October 12, 2015

On the Road

“The best teacher is experience and not through someone’s distorted point of view.”  Jack Kerouac

I persuaded Toni to accompany me on a six-day road trip east by arranging for us to stay in McMurray, Pennsylvania, with our good friend Jim Migoski, widower of her soul mate Kate.  Not wishing to drive through greater Pittsburgh at rush hour or after dark, we stayed overnight at a Holiday Inn in North Lima, Ohio.  I had amassed so many bonus points from visits to Palm Springs that there was no charge, even for tax.  We ate at a sports bar called Steamers, and I ordered fried clams and a Yuengling lager on draft (unavailable in Indiana). As Pat Zollo informed me last year, one just says lager, the Yuengling is unnecessary.  The French fries were so limp and soggy Toni told the waiter, when he asked how we enjoyed our meals, that the fries were the worst she’s ever had.  He apologized, and she replied, “It’s not your fault, unless you cooked them.”

Arriving at Big Jim’s by late morning, we caught up on family doings and met some of Jim’s bowling league friends at the Jugo-Slav Club in Bethel Park, founded in 1929 by laborers who worked the Coverdale Mine.  Outside stood a statue of a coal miner carrying a bag in one hand – lunch perhaps, or tools of the trade?  Toni and I both ordered Philly steaks – not bad despite being baked.  Gino noticed my French Lick t-shirt and said he once lived in nearby Cannelton.  Jim and others wore Pirate shirts – it being “Blackout Day,” with Pittsburgh and Chicago were matched up in a one-game wild card playoff that evening.  I announced that if the Cubs lost, I hoped the Pirates went all the way.  Jake Arrieta pitched nine shutout innings. After he hit two batters, a Pirate pitcher plunked Arrieta on the rump, causing players to spill onto the field, but hardly any punches were thrown.  The following inning, a 6-4-3 double play ended the Pirates’ best scoring threat.

Heading for Emmitsburg, Maryland, we drove through Catoctins, easternmost peak of the Blue Ridge Mountains near, I learned later, where Camp David is located. Greeting us at nephew Beamer’s were wife Kim, four year-old son Nicodemus, Beamer’s dad Steve (“Poppa Doc”) Pickert, and his dog Tater Tot.  Nick gave us a backyard tour of the orchard and garden and found a lone ripe raspberry that he split in half.  We played four games, including Zombie Dice.  After a sumptuous buffet meal in Thurmont (Doc ‘s treat with Kim tipping with two-dollar bills), Beamer and I played Exploding Kittens, which takes just 15 or 20 minutes.  I enjoyed it so much I intend to buy several ($20 on Amazon) for Christmas presents.  Exploding Kittens, Beamer explained, was the most-backed game in the history of Kickstarter.  On its website appeared this droll explanation:
            It is a highly-strategic, kitty-powered version of Russian Roulette. Players draw cards until someone draws an Exploding Kitten, at which point they explode, they are dead, and they are out of the game — unless that player has a Defuse card, which can defuse the kitten using things like laser pointers, belly rubs, and catnip sandwiches. All of the other cards in the deck are used to move, mitigate, or avoid the Exploding Kittens.

Kim’s parents Butch and Ruth drove down from Williamsport for the upcoming Catoctin Colorfest, which features, in addition to arts and crafts, many yard and barn sales.  Beamer and Kim are great cooks and for breakfast prepared omelets and sticky buns. Kim gave us homemade salsa, tomato sauce, and carrot butter to take home with us.  Beamer generously parted with three bottles of Game of Thrones beer.

At a cocktail party Friday in the Fort Washington Hilton Gardens lobby I chatted with a dozen old friends, including Joe and Barbara Ricketts and Ray and Jane Bates.  Thelma Van Sant, back after missing several reunions, lived on a farm subsequently gobbled up by Upper Dublin school district.  She hosted a hugely successful graduation party in 1960 open to everyone – all cliques. I traded anecdotes with Lorraine McGrath, Susan Floyd’s comely sister-in-law, who graduated a year ahead of us.  Bettie Erhardt, still hot to trot (as I like to tell her) confided that she had a new boyfriend, classmate Bill Weinholtz.

On Saturday Terry and Gayle Jenkins took us to lunch at a classy Mexican Restaurant, Los Serapes, in Ambler; then Terry and I explored the old neighborhood.  Spotting folks in his old backyard, we waved and got invited inside the 150 year-old house for a look.  The thirty-something couple had taken out most inside doors and converted the screened-in porch into an all-purpose dining and playroom.  Terry explained that it had been the quarters of their collie Taffy.  One screen door opened out and the other in, so Taffy could let herself in and out. Despite extensive renovations, the couple retained many unique features including ceiling molding designs.  Terry pointed out two flaws in the room where the spectacular Jenkins trees went up each year.  The wife had noticed them while doing exercises. 

Driving to Spring Valley Country Club, I passed by the old Piszek estate where Eddie and I watched boxing matches sponsored by Gillette razors on a black-and-white screen.  Eddie Piszek’s dad started Mrs. Paul’s after peddling crab cakes in Toni’s Polish neighborhood of Port Richmond in North Philadelphia.  Eddie looked great and still had a photographic memory.  When I brought up our Civics baseball team coached by Ron Hawthorne’s father, he recalled that Dave Seibold was our star first baseman. Playing Post Office and Spin the Bottle at Ray Bates’ seventh grade party, I got to kiss Molly Schade, and he remembered Judy Jenkins, whom we both had a crush on, being displeased when the bottle he spun pointed to her.  She allegedly told him, “Well, let’s get it over with.”  Then she planted one squarely on his lips, something he’s never forgotten.  I was envious.
  Bob Devenney and Jimbo; below, LeeLee, Thelma, Wayne, and Carolyn; photo by Bettie Erhardt
Jimbo at top left, next to John Jacobson and behind Nancy Shrope

At dinner I sat next to Lee Lee and Bob Devenney, who met when Peace Corps volunteers in Afghanistan; he taught math and she was a nurse.  I told him about Molly Geidel’s “Peace Corps Fantasies.”  Bob worked for Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan while attending college in Ypsilanti, Michigan.  The secret to Domino’s success was delivering to nearby dorms.  Initially some wise guys would order pizzas from several different locations and then steal some off the truck during the first delivery.  To put an end to the scam ex-marine Monaghan rode in back of the truck and chased after the would-be robbers.  When Bob told Monaghan that perhaps it was for the best that he did not catch them, Monaghan agreed that he might have done them serious bodily harm.

Marianne Tambourino and Leslie Boone were both gone by the time I was ready to dance.  While talking to Jimmy Coombs, I had noticed Marianne dancing with Phil Arnold, who earlier had showed off his new publication about Elvis Presley, “Big E and the Santa Man.”  Spunky Eleanor Smith Bruno gave me a kiss and I lied to John Jacobson that it was good to feel the tip of her tongue.  Slim Susan McGrath showed me a wonderful photo of her and Joe with Terry and Gayle Jenkins taken during their counter-culture years.  Henry Wallace progressives in the 1940s, Susan’s parents sent her to a summer camp run by old lefties that served healthy food and taught her protest songs.  Susan’s daughter Maria, an American History professor at Bucks County Community College, has published articles in the New Republic and Ms. Magazine (“Back to the Kitchen,” Winter 2013) and is working on a book entitled “Food for Dissent: Natural Foods Politics and Cultures since the 1960s.” 
Weary of hotel living, we made the 12-hour trip home in one day, enjoying the fall colors along Route 80 in Pennsylvania and eating Philly steaks at Twilight Inn in Loganton, PA.  Two women related to our cute waitress were especially friendly.  A poster advertised Tuesday evening Bike Night.  A lady spotting my IUN “We the People” t-shirt asked when was Constitution Day.  Some time in September, I replied, then told them I received the shirt as a reward for sitting through the entire program.

During the trip we listened to audiotapes of Anne Tyler’s excellent “A Spool of Blue Thread” and John Grisham’s silly but witty “Skipping Christmas.”  I got about halfway through Philip Roth’s “American Pastoral,” which contains a chapter on alter ego Nathan Zuckerman at a high school reunion recalling his participation in a circle jerk and other practices documented in the author’s 1969 novel “Portnoy’s Complaint.”  I doubt that I’ll finish “American Pastoral.”

At IUN I received a “Thank You” card from VU “Welcome Project” director Allison Schuette (for showing her Gary neighborhoods) contained this insight from Katherine Boo, author of “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai [India] Undercity” (2012):
  When I settle into a place, listening and watching, I don’t try to fool myself that the stories of individuals are themselves arguments.  I just believe that better arguments, maybe even better policies, get formulated when we know more about ordinary lives.
NWI Times photo by John J. Watkins
Due to low enrollment, 21st Century Charter School laid off eight teachers and aides; one allegedly trashed her room.   At the school last week Jerry Davich, facilitating a discussion about Gary, speculated that the entire city has become what the Midtown district was in the 1950s – essentially a black ghetto.  He claimed audience members nodded in agreement, but there are important differences.  For one thing the Midtown commercial district was thriving, unlike today’s abandoned buildings and vacant lots downtown.  African Americans now can move to Merrillville, Portage, and other suburbs whereas Gary neighborhoods such as Glen Park and Miller were off limits until the mid-1960s.

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