Dive Diners and Seedy Motels

My favorite motel on the Mother Road

Growing up, we did Route 66 from beginning to end a couple dozen times.  At least.  My dad, being the man he was, insisted that each run down the Mother Road be done faster than the time before.  We did not sight-see.  We did not stop and shop.  We did not eat in restaurants or stay in hotels.  We made time.

A lot of our meals were taken from vending machines in gas stations.  Truck stops were a favorite.  (To this day, I will choose a truck stop over a chain restaurant if I’m looking for home-style food.)  My dad likes to joke that my brother and I learned early not to ask “are we there yet?” – but to ask “when will we need gas?” 

The need for automobile fuel was the only earthly reason for stopping until Dad was so bleary eyed he couldn’t see the road.  It was then that we pulled into a motel.  There was some discernment in our choosing, but not much.  I don’t remember seeing a lot of loose women or ex-cons in the places we stayed, but we did not stay in anything even approaching the sanitized motels of today. 

[Come to think it of it I do have memories of Magic Fingers massage beds.  Maybe at 6, I couldn’t recognize a woman of loose morals.]

It was a real treat to stay in the Wigwam Motel.  I’m not sure, but I think we stayed in the Arizona Wigwam when the opportunity presented itself.  But trust me, the Wigwam was pure luxury compared to our normal road digs.  I’m pretty sure we only stayed there because otherwise I would whine for 500 or 600 miles – the Wigwam was my idea of the epitome of luxury accommodations.

Driving cross-country as often as we did, I became a connoisseur of diner cuisine.  We usually ate at the closest eating establishment to the motel.

Somewhere along the way I became a fan of patty melts. 

Not perfect, but still good

Not perfect, but still good

There’s an art to making the perfect patty melt.  I’ve never managed to make a perfect one, though God knows, I’ve tried.  The absolute best patty melts are to be found in the places the Health Department shuts down for gross violations a couple times a year.  The next best place to find a good patty melt is at the IHOP, but they’re inconsistent.  Sometimes they’re greasy chin dripping, onion breath fabulous.  Other times they’re better than what I do at home, but not much.

For the uninitiated, a proper patty melt consists of a good quality ground beef patty, grilled onions, American cheese, and rye bread all cooked in the same fashion as the traditional grilled cheese i.e. fried in butter.  When done properly, it’s the perfect gestalt of heart-attack-on-a-plate and good eatin’. 

Usually they’ll offer you fries or onion rings (sometimes both) to go with your patty melt.  I prefer hash browns.  Real ones.  Grated and grilled until crispy with tomato and onion mixed in.  If you haven’t already discovered it, let me tell you that the Waffle House, hands down, has the best hash browns.  IHOP is a distant second.  The Waffle House also has patty melts but they’re inferior to IHOP’s.  If I could get it all home hot, I’d order the IHOP patty melt and the Waffle House hash browns and just eat at home where I could moan, groan, drool, and roll my eyes all I wanted to.

I stopped at the IHOP tonight for a patty melt.  I sat next to some folks who were evidently on a road trip.  Dad poured over the map, Mom looked ready for a Valium, and the kids were fighting about how much room the other was taking up on the booth seat. 

Nostalgia set in.

The patty melt was a disappointment tonight, but it was still damned good eatin’.  You have to work pretty hard to screw up grilled onions, rye bread, cheese and hamburger.  I had an urge to find a seedy motel and check in, but it’s no fun alone.  Sometime I should tell the story of the really seedy motel in Zanesville, Ohio, and what a fine time HMOKeefe and I had.  There was a picture of Jesus on the wall, mold  in the bathroom, iced vodka,  and a plastic chair outside the door.  Wish we had pictures.

Don’t ask about the time Boston Boy ordered shrimp in Richwood.  Flatlanders.  . .gotta love ’em.

[Hot Damn!!!  There’s a Wigwam in Kentucky!  Woo Hoo!  I am so going to go there.  Soon.]


The Barn House View

The Barn House View

In a little less than 96 hours I will be officially on vacation from Job #1. Twenty-four hours after that, I will officially be on vacation from Job #2 AND HMOKeefe should be rolling up my driveway. By Sunday morning, I should be in full hedonism mode. I can’t wait.

Most of the time I rather enjoy HMOKeefe’s and my long distance relationship, but I haven’t seen him (except on Skype) since January 1st. And if seeing him weren’t enough, my vacation intentionally coincides with my birthday (August 3rd for those of you playing at home).

And if all that wasn’t enough, this is my first real vacation in several years and I’m taking two full weeks. I practically swoon at the thought. There’s only been one other time that I’ve taken a two week vacation. It was hectic and jam packed though thoroughly enjoyable. Still. I need serious downtime.

After minimal conversation, HMOKeefe reserved The Barn House in Berkeley Springs, WV for a week. [The photos I’m using here are shamelessly stolen from http://mountainmorning.net/images/barnhouse/index.htm – I consider it free advertising.]

The Barn House

The Barn House

This large vacation rental is a restored antique barn that sits in the middle of nowhere offering privacy and spectacular views. It feels wrong to be hyperactive and wildly excited about sitting and doing nothing – but here I am – wildly excited and hyperactive.

I can’t wait.

One day we’re planning an outing to Capon Springs. And on another, we have spa reservations. We also have tentative plans to trundle into D.C. and partake of tea at Ching Ching Cha and, as much as I like this teahouse, I think it’s likely these tentative plans will fall victim to inertia. Maybe not.

HMOKeefe has been cooped up for two years and he’s wildly excited about getting out and about. With any luck there won’t be any friction between my need to be a deck ornament and his need to explore and excavate.

I should be cleaning my house. I should be packing. I should be grocery shopping (less HMOKeefe perish of hunger while here). I should be doing a lot of things, but I’ve been doing a lot of things and I’m tired. By the end of the week, I’ll be bone weary. Hyperactive or not, I need to slow it down. So tonight? Tonight, I sit and do nothing but yammer at y’all, update my Twitter status, maybe take a bath – by candlelight. I’m considering these activities the dusting off and readying of my innate hedonistic qualities which are a bit rusty.

Actually, I do know how to operate an antique stove.

Actually, I do know how to operate an antique stove.

I may or may not be sorry for blowing off this evening later in the week. I really do have a lot to do. At present, HMOKeefe will fall over dead in shock at the pigsty that is my house. He might even break up with me. Or leave me home to clean up the mess while he enjoys Berkeley Springs. In any event, what I manage to get done will have to be done later this week.

I expect to be in full panic mode by Friday.

But right now I’m practicing my downtime vacation skills. I think there’s beer in the fridge. Some leftover black bean soup. I’m sure I have a half-finished novel somewhere.

[Connie wanders off in search of vittles and entertainment.]

(Nonexistent) Spare Time

Photo by TheMarque - used under a creative commons license

Photo by TheMarque at Flickr - used under a creative commons license

In my nonexistent spare time, I’m doing some work at an emergency shelter for teenagers.

I must be getting old.

For fourteen years, I worked on a college campus. In addition, I was a teenager (once upon a time) and I raised a teenager. I hadn’t expected to be surprised by these kids.

About every two hours or so, one of them surprises me. Far too frequently, one of them will surprise me to the point of speechlessness. I’m rarely at a loss for words.

In 13 days, I will celebrate the golden jubilee of my existence. I’m rather excited about turning 50 though I can’t quite articulate why. I am discovering the Big 5-0 is a time for reflection. While I don’t feel it’s possible that I’m 10+ years past the age I was convinced my parents were elderly and on the verge of nursing home care, I do know that I’ve got enough years behind me that every now and again true wisdom pops up in my brain – the brain that still feels 25 in the body that’s feeling every year of 50.

Working with teenagers at this junction encourages that reflection and results in some brief glimpses of insight.

I was the teenager from hell. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, I was intelligent and strangely responsible with my delinquent behavior. I had goals and I managed to get through a surprisingly good public school system with a solid 3.92 average. I worked 20-30 hours a week. In my (then) nonexistent spare time, I also partied like it was 1999.

The saving grace was that I loved and respected (kind of) my parents.  I loved them and they loved me.

I told my son there were few things he could do that I hadn’t done; and, unlike my parents, I knew what to look for. While there were days I said to him, in stunned disbelief, “Who raised you?” we managed to get him through those years with minimal trauma.

At this point, I’m probably sounding like a hypocrite.

Those all too brief episodes of wisdom are bearing fruit.

They tried to tell me then and I try to tell them now that they have years and years in front of them, but youth is all too fleeting.

I would love to have the attitude and joy of being a small child again – the wonder at the world and the excitement of discovering it. I wouldn’t be a teenager again for nothing. Folks say they’d love to do it again knowing what they know now. Not me. They’d have to drag me kicking and screaming back to the time of Clearasil.

These kids I spend time with 25 hours a week are a mess. Most of them haven’t willfully done anything I didn’t do. The difference seems to be what has been done to them.  By their own actions and by what’s been done to them, they’re growing up far too fast. 

Some of them are there because of things they’ve done that landed them in the criminal justice system. Others are there because of things that were done to them that landed their guardians in the criminal justice system. Others are mentally ill. Some are there because their parents couldn’t control them and voluntarily turned them over to state custody.

College professors are consistently amazed at the irresponsible and dishonest behavior of their students. They’re further disgusted at the lack of basic skills these kids are coming out of high school with. Some of them put the blame squarely on the kids. Some on the public school system. Some on the parents. Some on all three. Rather than blaming, I’m more interested in figuring out what we’re doing differently with our kids that leads to this behavior and attitude. If we can figure that out, we can stop it before it starts.

In my other job, I work with folks committed to prevention of child maltreatment. The statistics and the research strongly show that it’s far more effective and less expensive to prevent the problems in the first place than to react to them later.

This job offers the flip side. What I see is that we’re dumping tons of money on this problem. Money that needs to be spent. But I wonder about the efficacy of it. It’s a temporary shelter so I don’t get to see what happens in the long term.

What strikes me about these kids in the shelter is how young they are and how old they think they are. The problem lies in that junction. They chafe, in ways I didn’t, at our attempts to control and change their behavior. So many of them have an attitude that this is all there is. Those that do have goals have ones that are shallow and center on the acquisition of stuff or the attainment of fame. They don’t want (or don’t they can) contribute something of real worth. Or they have no concept of what is worthy.

At their age, I felt like an adult. As an adult (and I use that term loosely), I know now that I didn’t feel like an adult – I felt like a teenager with the accompanying raging hormones and brain that had not yet lateralized. Hell, most of the time I still don’t feel like an adult.

It’s too easy to throw up our arms in despair and declare the problem too big to deal with. There’s an old story that makes the rounds of intervention folks – The Starfish Story. It was written by Loren Eisley. In short, a man on a beach sees miles of beached starfish and encounters another person picking them up and throwing them back into the ocean. The man points out to the other that he can’t possibly make a difference as there are hundreds of starfish and miles of beach. The starfish thrower says, as he tosses one back into the ocean, “”It made a difference for that one.”

My work at this group home is not onerous. Mostly, I sit and talk with the kids. Every now and again, I get the opportunity to say something that I hope is the equivalent of tossing a starfish back into the ocean.

What I need to learn, and this is probably true of life, is that while I will not get to see if my actions provoke positive results, the simple act of doing is still worthwhile.

I’ve spent this morning bemoaning my loss of free time. This job began as a means to alleviate some financial distress. It’s becoming something more. I’m learning something from these kids and I’m learning something about me. Time will, perhaps, illuminate more clearly what it is I’m learning. It’s possible that the starfish I’m saving is myself.

My Cosie Award

July 2009 Best Blogs Cosie Award <br>did you see the word best?  Huh?)

July 2009 Best Blogs Cosie Award
Did you see the word best? Huh?

It’s just been a wonderful day from beginning to end. In reverse order, I got a lot done at the office today without ever breaking a sweat; I had a wonderful (for a chain restaurant) piece of mahi mahi accompanied by a delightful salad tossed with watermelon and blueberries; the coffee was made before the water was shut off for construction; and (ta da!) I won a blogging award.

I was just on my way out the door for work when I got the comment from Cosanostradamus at Blog Me No Blogs that I’d won a Cosie. Talk about whistling while you work! Positive recognition is a right fine way to start the day.

I’m tickled with my July 2009 Cosie Award.   The Cosie is awarded to bloggers and each round is a different niche. The category (Alex, I’ll have women bloggers for $500) was the rather bland women, but Cosanostradamus further defined the category as Liberated Ladies, Drama Queens & Hard-Workin’ Women Writers.

Well, hot damn and cold iced tea, I’m all three.

I’m further delighted by the name of the organization bestowing the award: The American La Cosa Nostradamus Foundation For The Advancement Of Blog People And Their Blogs or TALCNFFTAOBPATB (seeming pronounced exactly as you would think). Now those of you who know me know I love a good acronym. Isn’t that a wonderful one? Doesn’t it look like something Bill the Cat would say while twirling his tail?

My fellow (girlow?) awardees are an accomplished bunch. I’m most familiar with AKMuckraker (who is a Feisty Grrrrl of the First Order) and as soon as I saw my blog name mentioned with hers, I twirled and preened and was, generally, so full of myself that even I got disgusted. Fortunately, my attack of excessive self-love wore off before I arrived at the office. (There’s nothing like standing in line at the post office to take a person down a peg or two.)

Nonetheless, it kept some zing in my walk and my words today. (Yesterday’s Powerful Communication for Women Seminar Trainer would be puffed up with pride at her teaching skills because my body language and oral communication skills were exemplary.)

So, besides thank you to the incomparable Cosanostradamus (whose blog is a bastion of searing political and social commentary, among other things), I’d like to say to y’all – go out and tell somebody that they’re doing a good job doing what they’re doing. Maybe if we’re all whistling while we work, we can effect world peace. Or buy the world a Coke. Or something like that.