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Monday, July 25, 2016

Finding a Silver Lining at a Silver Diner

I’ve driven the some 260 plus mile stretch of Interstate Highway 64 between St. Louis, Missouri, my birthplace, and Louisville Kentucky, my home for the last thirty years, hundreds of times.
That stretch of interstate’s not a very interesting road: straight and flat for the most part with few stops along the way. Sometimes there’s flooding along the sides of the road, in Indiana and Illinois, sometimes there’s construction on the road. I’ve run into some major storms while driving that stretch. But it’s always been just a means to an end, getting from one city to the other.
The people in the car and the purpose of the trip vary. Holidays and special occasions: the car laden down like Santa’s sleigh with Christmas presents, our two sons when they were young and a big collie dog.
Traveling to my parents’ and my in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversaries, which as coincidence would have it, were the exact same date.  To accommodate our attending both, my in-laws had a lunch-time celebration; my parents an evening event.
I remember that trip because we were in a particular hurry; my husband got a speeding ticket. Our parents who were retired and relatively healthy at the time would have told us to take our time. I could almost hear my Dad, “Better to arrive in one piece and late than get in an accident.” I have to admit we haven’t always heeded the advice to take our time.
We’ve driven that interstate in sickness and health:  hurry-up trips when a parent or a relative was sick or had died. Depending on who was doing the driving we often compared our drive times, my husband’s always the shortest. When I drove alone it added fifteen to thirty minutes to the time, either because of extra stops or a lighter foot. Music, audio books or games, depending on our moods and who was in the car helped to pass the miles.
Many of the Louisville to St. Louis trips were over the last decade of my and my husband’s parents’ lives. Stress and worry were a constant on those drives as we often were racing to a hospital or rehab center because of the latest chapter in a string of difficult times. So many trips that only a few of those drives do I remember specifically.
The reason for one drive on that same stretch of I-64 was to return from a weekend get-together with two best friends from high school. We get together at least once a year, sometimes in fun locations, such as a five-day trip to Asheville, North Carolina. But many times our get togethers are just a quick add-on to a trip to our hometown to see family and friends.
Our friendships, originating when we entered an all-girl high school at ages thirteen and fourteen, have lasted now fifty years. Like traveling that interstate, our friendships have been in good times and bad. We’ve been in each other weddings, celebrated the births of our children, and for two of us, our grandchildren. We’ve shared the difficulties and joys of raising children, working in jobs we loved or hated, going back to graduate and law school. More recently, we’ve laughed together over the indignities of age. We have seen some husbands come and go, and have shared our sorrows with the passing of all of our parents. This trip, time and money led us to decide on a short trip to our hometown.
After a fun weekend and saying goodbye to my friends, I headed home on Monday morning, spurred to get an early start by my husband who had been watching the weather. He often checks the weather radar even if we are just crossing the street to walk the dog in the park on a cloudy day, frequently saving us from being caught in a sudden downpour. He advised I should leave early to avoid a line of severe weather coming in from the north, predicted to arrive in Louisville at 5 PM eastern. With the early start I thought I was on track to beat the storm by a couple of hours.
Stopping at a rest area in Illinois I saw a text from my husband updating me that the storm now had changed paths and likely would intersect I-64 right after Evansville, Indiana by early afternoon. My thoughtful husband suggested I stop in Evansville for a couple of hours to let the storm pass.
My husband and I had stopped at that exit just two weeks befoe with a packed lunch for me and to buy McDonalds’ happy meals for our grandkids. That trip with our two grandchildren in the back seat had been an unqualified delight. We went to a Cardinal baseball game, explored the twelve story playground that is the City Museum, and ate genuine frozen custard from Ted Drewes, coincidentally my very first employer. Giggles and “stump the grandparents” on a Presidential 20 Questions game passed the time on the drives there and back.
Evansville is the approximate mid-way of the drive, and would be a convenient stopping point for lunch again today. Except for the fact I had no packed lunch and all of the fast food restaurants at that location, where we had stopped hundreds of time to get gas, stretch and use the rest rooms, are not particularly friendly to someone with a gluten allergy, such as me.
Making fun of people who are gluten free is almost a national pastime now. It was a running joke in Asheville on the comedy bus tour my friends from high school and I took last year. Tom Waits, George Clooney and David Letterman championed “Free the Glutens” on one of Letterman’s last Tonight Show appearances. Articles abound with reasonable arguments that, except for the small percentage of the population with celiac disease, most people do not benefit from avoiding gluten.
All of that is fine, except for those of us who do have celiac or gluten intolerance. Even a tiny crumb of bread or cross-contamination with a wheat product makes me sick for days. There currently is no medication to help the gastro-intestinal discomfort and flu-like symptoms that result from a mistake at a restaurant. For that reason, I avoid most fast food restaurants and those without a gluten-free menu.
As a result, on long car trips, airplanes and at airports, concerts and stadiums, to name just a few gluten-free-hostile venues, I often find myself painfully hungry if I don’t bring my own food or if the venue does not permit outside food.
I wasn’t looking forward to prolonging my stop in Evansville this time, knowing all of the usual restaurants we had tried involved fast food and the only likely gluten-free option would be a drink. Nevertheless, I reflected that sitting with a bottle of water at a rest stop is better than trying to drive through a severe storm.
I recalled another trip home from St. Louis when an unexpected storm caught me in blowing, blinding rain where I was afraid to pull off the road but also afraid to continue on. Eventually, I was able to follow the taillights of a large truck and pull off at this same Evansville exit, hunkering down, along with a lot of 18-wheelers at an abandoned service station, as golf-ball-sized hail pelted the overhang.
I didn’t want to repeat that experience so I pulled off at the exit. Since wasting time was the point of my stop, I drove a half mile past McDonalds, Arby’s and the service stations. I had seen a new sign for a Denny’s and could not recall seeing that restaurant at this location.
Finally, I spotted what looked like a 1950’s-era, silver diner, tucked near one of the motels, barely visible from the road. I figured it would be more pleasant to drink an ice tea and sit at a table, even if I was hungry, than to sit in my car and wait for the storm to pass.
Stepping out of my fourteen-year old, boxy Toyota that no one would mistake for a time-traveling DeLorean, I nevertheless felt a bit like Marty McFly as I walked into a diner that looked like it had been transported from an earlier era.
The diner oozed the same old-fashioned charm on the inside as on the outside. A friendly waitress seated me and provided a menu, at which I barely glanced. After ordering ice tea, I asked the waitress if they had anything gluten free. To my surprise she pointed out the menu was color coded and clearly marked for guests with food allergies.
I thought the diner must be from “Back to the Future 4”, the yet-to-be-made sequel where the past combined the best of the old and the new, including foods labeled for people like me with food allergies. All gluten-free choices were clearly marked.  In addition to salads and entrĂ©e choices, sandwiches could be ordered on gluten-free bread. Breakfast, including gluten-free pancakes, was served all day. This was Nirvana for someone with celiac disease. I confidently chose a gluten-free salad, with grilled chicken. A meal that easily would satisfy for the long stop as well as the rest of the drive home.
Before leaving I asked the waitress when this Denny’s diner had opened. I expected it had been recently. She said she’d worked there for the last fifteen years. Apparently, we had just never ventured more than a mile off the interstate.
After a long-ish lunch break I called to check in with my husband of 43 years. I was beginning to think of him as my “personal weather man”. He said the storm had passed, the highway beyond Evansville should be clear sailing. He also suggested I take my time and travel safely. Strange words from one who in past years had often wondered why it took me longer to make the drive.
Driving home I thought back to one other Louisville to St. Louis trip. Ten years ago, on the day my Dad died, I quickly threw a few things in a suitcase and headed to St. Louis late in the afternoon, a time I had never made the drive. My husband and sons would join me the next day. I cried a little as I drove, but kept on that straight stretch of highway without stop until I could see the St. Louis skyline from Illinois. A sight I’d never seen before: a gorgeous sunset, framed by the Gateway Arch, hit me like a blow to the chest. My tears stopped and I smiled. I could almost hear my Dad say, “Stop and look at that amazing view.”
This trip to St. Louis and back to see my “besties” was not life changing. Nor was my short detour and stop at the Denny’s silver diner at the Evansville exit. Though failing to heed the changing weather and getting caught in a bad storm could have been.

I did almost hear my Dad’s voice again as I thought about the silver linings on this trip that will keep it in my memory as one of the memorable Louisville to St. Louis trips. I’ve come to treasure the value of family and good friends, reliance on my husband with his thoughtful concern, and I also found a great new stopping point for lunch where I can safely eat along a commonly-traveled road. How many more silver linings could I want?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Trump, Not the Greatest

Trump now is the Republican nominee for President. Trump has painted a picture of hate, fear and doom. And claims he, and only he, will solve all of America’s problems.

You can rest assured Trump did not steal any of his speech from any previous candidate for U.S. President. Though it bears some resemblance to that of other narcissistic sociopaths. Compare it for example to Alec Baldwin’s speech in the 1993 movie, “Malice” where he announces he is god.

Before Trump’s triumphant and delusional acceptance speech of fear-mongering, the Trump campaign tried to kill the flap over plagiarism accusations against Mrs. Trump. Several sections of Melania Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention are word-for word identical to Michele Obama’s 2008 speech at the Democratic National Convention.

A Trump Organization speechwriter now has taken the blame for the plagiarism. But the irony continues—since that speechwriter works for one of Trump’s corporations, not the political campaign, the speechwriter’s work is an illegal campaign contribution. No matter, Trump and his entourage roll on. Rules don’t apply to “Him”.

But let’s pause for just a moment and consider the words that were stolen, words that speak of values and giving your word as your bond.

The actual words Melania Trump stole are even more remarkable than whom she chose to steal from. Let’s consider just Melania’s claim of what she learned at an early age from her parents— “you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say…and that you treat people with respect.” The exact same words, by the way that Michele Obama, wife of the first African-American President, whom Donald Trump falsely claimed had been born in Africa and thus was not qualified to hold the office of the President. 

What was it Melania meant when she referred to treating people with respect?

Nothing about Trump or his organization is consistent with living by values. Or people being able to trust your word is your bond.

The history of Trump’s business dealings contains mountains of evidence establishing his words are not his bond. He’s made his money by fast talk, tricks, and unfounded threats of litigation. If people are in his way, he makes fun of them and tries to humiliate them. So much for respect. He doesn’t fairly pay the people who work for him. So much for his word is his bond. His many bankruptcies are in keeping with how morally bankrupt he is.

Just take a peek at what Donald Trump’s ghostwriter has revealed about the dishonest, shady side of Trump.

Of course, now Trump’s lawyers are threatening his former ghostwriter for speaking the truth about Trump.

I pity Melania Trump if she actually believes any of the words she stole and used as her own. I pity all of us if we end up with Trump as President.