Wednesday, March 28, 2007
I eat less of them these days, that's for sure. But one thing is certain, I love hamburgers. My earliest memories take me all the way back to the Friendly's on Belmont Street, in Springfield, MA, which is, incidentally, the location of the very first Friendly's ice cream store. I remember sitting at the counter with my family and they had these metal contraptions that kind of lifted and folded up and over the counter, providing an extension for kids. It was always nice to have easy access to my burger and chocolate frappe. I still feel that way but, of course, now eat on regular counters. Come to think of it, I don't see those counter extensions any more.
Anyway, over the years I've had my share of hamburgers, some good, some bad and some absolutely fantastic. For some odd reason, California has been the sight of my best burger adventures. Three places come to mind - Apple Pan, In-N-Out and Fatburger. They're all great with Apple Pan being the most unusual, I think, because of a special sauce they put on the sandwich. I know Johnny and Kamal loved Apple Pan and they liked In-N-Out, too. But for me, it was always Fatburger. You've gotta love that name. They just go for it and fly in the face of Mr. Cholesterol. The fact is, there's a lot of healthy stuff going on when you eat a Fatburger, too. Lettuce, Tomato, Pickles, Onion - all solidly in the vegetable group, so it's not like you're downing a huge slice of Junior's cheesecake. The problems start when you order three or four of them. I'm happy to say, those days are gone for me. I suppose you can call that a form of Eldercation.
I've been passing Braum's signs since the day I arrived in the Midwest, sometimes humming the "Lullaby" and smiling when I thought about the name. (I know - different spelling). Seriously, there has been a constant stream of giant "B's" in ice cream cones flowing past my windshield for the past 7-8 weeks now and, although I won't say it's reached the Sonic frequency level (that would be pretty tough to do), I can report there's no shortage of Braum's down here. They're known for their dairy products - when I was in Oklahoma City, Kathy Jo told me there's something special about their milk and that people actually use it specifically for top-notch baking. She also filled me in about the ice cream - this sounded a lot like Friendly's to me. But today it was burger time so the ice cream and shakes would have to wait for a separate visit. Today, Kosher was the name of the game. Well ... sort of.
"Fatburger Midwest" - that's the way I'd describe it. If I closed my eyes and pictured La Cienega Blvd. near Beverly Center - that's where I traveled on that first bite. It was the same charbroiled taste, complete with the same veggies. I mean, think about it, it's pretty tough to ruin a burger, right? I'm not a mayo on beef kind of guy so I'm always quick to confirm there's none of the white stuff within ten feet of my buns.
"It's Braum's sauce," the counter woman smiled. "Kinda like Ketchup," she added. My nod signaled her to proceed with the order.
And that was that. My treat. My hamburger. And it was good, let me tell you. Okay, so I understand locals may think I'm nuts. "You haven't tried the ice cream?!" some have asked. "Don't know much about the food," others have added. But as I've said all along, "I call 'em as I see "em," and this was one good burger.
So now, the trick will be to keep my foot on the gas every time that giant "B" pops up over the horizon. Of course, you do realize I'll have to try at least one more Braum's burger at some point, just to confirm today's wasn't a fluke.
After all, it's my duty.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Chuck Carrel, 82, is one of the first people I met on this trip. He lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife Anne. Great people. At one point, Chuck leaned back in the couch, petting their dog, "Snickers," and told a story that made me smile. He remembered - quite vividly I might add - a particular corner of the porch on the house he grew up in.
"And I'd lie down on the corner of that porch and play with a section of, I guess it was a wooden banister, next to the stairs coming off the porch, you know." He told me how he used to think and dream of the day he’d be old enough to become a boy scout. "I think you had to be twelve to become a scout," he explained. “And..." he started laughing, "...if it didn’t feel like it was taking 50 years, Harry,” Anne laughed with us. As Chuck told the story, he stared off to the window; you could tell he was picturing the entire scene as he talked. I loved watching him. "I wanted to be a boyscout so bad and I would poke and pick at that banister, waiting for that day to come and it felt like it would never come.”
"Now,” he laughs. I start my taxes for a given year… Anne calls me for lunch. And when I go back to the taxes, I realize it’s the next years’ taxes I’m working on!”
The speed of it all. I’m sure someone has done some kind of study about a human being’s perception of time as they age. I just know what I’m feeling and I know it feels like things are moving faster. As I packed up the room today, I remembered exactly what I was doing almost three weeks ago. Still, I checked the dates on my blog this morning. And then I looked at the pile of miniDV tapes in my video bag. Something happened over the last three weeks, that's for sure. And I used to have a bad back and now that’s gone, thanks to my time at Core Yoga and Tina’s watchful eye. I took a trip up to Guthrie and then to The Cattlemen’s for lunch with Kathy Jo and to The National Weather Center and University of Oklahoma with Billie. Yes. Something definitely happened in Oklahoma.
On to Kansas.
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Seamless - “The Tar Heels are gonna remember this.” That’s what I said to my friend on the phone. With eight-plus minutes to play and North Carolina up on Georgetown by 8, three straight times down court, the Tar Heels had thrown up long three point clunkers instead of pounding the ball inside as they’d been doing up until that point. It always mystifies me how a team does that. How they stop doing the very thing that proved successful up to that very special implosion point. Then again, I suppose individuals do the same thing. Anyway, for those who saw the game, you know what happened. NC panicked when they tried to shift gears, and they never recovered. Fascinating how a game’s tone can shift on a dime like that, huh?
As I watched the game, sitting on the couch, sipping a tea, I glanced around the room. It looked different. Then I smiled. The fact was, the room was different. It was in Wichita, Kansas. This morning, my room was in Oklahoma City.
The drive up already a memory, I took another sip of tea and thought about the seamlessness of my transitions to new cities. To new states and cultures. Once again, ExtendedStay Deluxe has everything to do with this ease of transition. Robert Green had put me in touch with Valerie Guerke the Regional Director of Operations up here in Wichita and without flinching, Valerie put things together for me. So it was easy to walk in the door, sign some paperwork and then enter one of the nicest suites I've seen yet. The layout here is … well … once again, I only wish I had a place like this when I lived in New York! It’s that nice. And huge. You can't tell from these small shapshots, but the suite is extremely roomy and quiet, which helps a lot, let me tell you. Within ten minutes my stuff was out of the car, up to the room and into the closets and drawers. I even set up my cameras to do some video capture – I’m pretty far behind after a very successful run in Texas and Oklahoma, so it's time to hunker down again. And, having cleaned up my eating habits and stretching out my system in OKC, in the morning I’m planning a trip to a health food store I found on the web in Wichita to stock up on “real” food. I don’t know if this is the case or not, but I’m about 80% sure the fast-food, processed approach to eating went a long way in kicking my lower back's ass (no pun intended) over the past few weeks. Oh, don’t worry, Charles and my other “eating adventure” fans. I’ll have my special weak moments. But I will choose those moments wisely to be sure. Once I scope out the area’s culinary specialties, I will most certainly lock into them and head right over.
In the meantime, I'm looking at a full kitchen just five feet away from me - every ExtendedStay Deluxe room comes with a full oven/stove, microwave, dishwasher and large refrigerator. (That's the kitchen through the opening on the right there. It's convenient if someone wants to pass food to me during the night). There are simply no fast-food excuses allowed any more. From now on, it’s going to be muesli, soy milk and fresh squeezed orange juice with a doses of yoga in between. That’s the only way I can survive this trip without my old lower back friend coming back for a repeat performance.
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Hitting The Ground... - Just a quick note. Last week, I did my advance work, I guess you'd call it. You know, milling around the web, researching possible contacts in a given area to see who I can contact to meet interesting and outspoken seniors. I traded emails and spoke briefly with a young woman named Misty Miller, the Activity Director at Sedgwick Plaza in Wichita, another of the Captital Senior Living properties. As soon as I spoke with Misty... Actually, as soon as I read her very first email, I knew she "got it." So I was really looking forward to meeting her when I arrived in Kansas. We decided it would be best for me to call her on my drive up from Oklahoma, which I did earlier today. After the NCAA games, I figured I'd put in one more call to see if I could set something up with her for Monday morning. When I got Misty on the phone and I mentioned where my hotel was, she laughed. "My house is like two blocks from you." And the next think I knew I was sitting in a Starbucks around the corner, sipping a tall iced black tea with my newest Eldercation friend, Misty Miller.
After about an hour, we set up a plan. I enjoyed watching Misty jot down notes every time she thought of a resident who she thought would be a great participant. She was doing the exact same thing Liz would do. Activity directors are special people in that they really do know each and every residents' story, their unique personalities. So I could see Misty's hard drive clicking away right in front of me. It was like I had pressed the "Search Folders" button on my laptop and ... she was off and running.
"How many do you want?" she asked. I laughed, telling her it'd be best to start small with one, maybe two great interviews. "After that? It's got a life of its own," I told her.
And with that, it was back to my room. My Wichita, Kansas room. I checked the phone to confirm the state.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
This is Oklahoma City. Can you believe it?
“Lake Hefner.” I saw the sign when I first drove into town and, as stupid as it sounds, bunny ears popped into my head. Could it be? Is he originally from Oklahoma City? And there’s a parkway, a street, a golf course and I’m guessing more Hefner things down here I haven't noticed yet. I figured the history would come out as I spent some time in town. Common sense said that “Hef” and Oklahoma simply do not mix. And as many of the readers out here already know, when I’m in doubt, my law school training pushes me to get the facts and Wikipedia appears to be a damn good source for those. I love that site. It turns out that Lake Hefner is actually a 2500 acre reservoir built in 1947 to increase the city’s water supply. It’s named for a former OKC mayor, Robert A. Hefner.
With memories of Barbie Benton and Dee Dee Lynn out of my head, it was time to finally check the lake out. I first saw it last weekend when Kathy Jo and I were driving back from Guthrie and the sight of water … well … it just felt great. I do miss the sight of open water and I'm pretty sure it's one of the things I'd crave if I ever decided to settle in the middle part of the country. We’ll see about that because I have to tell you, there’s a hell of a lot I’m liking about the mid-west.
The lake is about 3 minutes from my hotel room and since they've been forecasting rain for the balance of the week, I figured today would be a good day to check it out and get some photos before I head north to Wichita over the weekend.
I drove over about 3:00 or so and there were just a few people walking around one of the paths lining the water. Some folks were riding bikes, but it was pretty windy so I’m sure that kept a lot of people away. Add to that, it was still working hours so the emptiness didn't surprise me and I preferred it that way. There was a nice strip of restaurants and bars along the lake’s southeast edge and by 4:00 cars started to roll into the area. I can see why the lake is a popular spot to unwind at the end of a hard day. There's just something about the sight of water that helps to soothe the soul. At least that's the effect it has on me.
I needed a day like today, limited to walking and taking photos when the spirit moved me. I only wish I'd had my bike with me; I was aching to take a long, quiet ride around the water. I miss those adventures down the West Side Highway. (Can you hear me, Howard and Gail? I remember that crumb cake at Chelsea Pier. Also, I hope my Raleigh's doing okay in Dumbo. I left her in a pretty awkward position in the storage bin). Just so you know, this green-way rated about a 9 1/2 out of 10 on the "Shangri-La Scale." More on that at another time.
One more look at the Oklahoma state tree - The Redbud. Enjoy.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Billie Beal was the first of my interviews set up by Doug Paulson at the Woodside Senior Center. She was the one with the ginger on her hands as she was backing a gingerbread cake in the center's kitchen. We had talked a few times after the interview as Billie was helping to introduce me to other people for the project. "How would you like to see the University of Oklahoma?" she asked two days ago. Having grown up watching the Sooners and hearing about the school all my life and wanting to see more of the area, of course I accepted. But that wasn't to be the real surprise of the day.
The university is located in Norman, OK, just southeast of OKC center and Billie took side roads to get there. It’s amazing to me how there are such wide open spans of land so close to a major city like that. “What a great time for you to be here,” Billie said. "Everything's blooming." I asked what the white, round trees were? I've seen them everywhere and first noticed them on the drive up to Kingfisher, it's entire main street lined with them. "Bradford Pears," Billie explained. "And those pretty reddish-pink ones you see all over... Oklahoma Redbuds. The state tree."
You can tell everything's about to pop, bloom-wise, with the rain and warmer weather coming. I'll be sure to have my camera ready to go. The red and white blossoms remind me a lot of the trees around the Central Park reservoir, when they're in bloom around the east, southeast side of the running and horse paths. It’s one of my favorite times to run there, in the early morning, blossoms dropping on the path like snow. It’s about a three day window to catch it just right, but when you do ... man, it’s beatufiul. And the smell? Nothing like it. For a split second that aroma actually wins the battle against the car fumes.
After a great brunch at a restaurant called "Legends," (they have something called Coca-Cola cake there. And, yes, my will power was intact Sunday morning), it was time for the treat of the day. It turns out, a young man named Deke Arndt from The National Weather Center came over to the Woodson Center last week to give a workshop about the facility. Billie told Deke she was taking me on a short tour of the OK campus on Sunday and asked if the Center was open for tours. Now get this - even though the center is closed Sundays, Deke said he’d open it up to take us on a private tour. How do you like that?
Now, I'm not ashamed to say I am truly a weather-geek. Given the opportunity and resources, I definitely have the "storm chaser" thing running through me. Severe thunder storms, tornados, you name it, the whole thing gets me going. So I knew this was going to be fun. And it was. So now, whenever I watch TV weather forecasts and they tell me 1.2 inches of rain fell in Central Park or downtown Boston, I’ll know exactly how that number is calculated. Deke took us to a special room where rain gauges and other technical equipment are sent for repair and he showed us how different items work. Perhaps this would make normal people yawn, but Billie and I certainly asked a lot of questions. And even though most of the facility's areas were closed for the weekend, Deke still was able to put together a great tour. For me, the highlight took place in a video presentation room where Deke pulled up some video graphics of the monstrous F5 tornado that ran though Oklahoma in 1999, as well as and the huge ice storm that pummeled the state this past October. He explained different symbols and gave us an in depth look at how storms are tracked at the center.
After the tour, we drove around the beautiful University of Oklahoma campus. Of course, my eyes were drawn to the football stadium which is as impressive as I figured it would be. Years of following Barry Switzer, Billie Sims and the Sooners, it was cool to see the great football tradition's ground-zero. It's then that it dawned on me that I didn't know what a "sooner" was, so I asked Billie. She explained it to me and then I Googled it when I got back to the room. So, if you're the least bit interested:
"Sooners were persons who illegally entered certain lands in the Indian Territory prior to the date set by the U.S. government for the opening of the lands to settlement. The term was first used in connection with the settlement of the so-called Oklahoma Lands in 1889. A proclamation issued by President Benjamin Harrison authorized settlement of these lands as of noon, 22 April, and forbade any person to enter them earlier. Those who did so came to be called "Sooners." (http://www.answers.com/topic/sooner)
And that was my Sunday. Taken together with yesterday’s trip up to Guthrie and then lunch at the Cattlemen’s with Kathy Jo, it was a pretty damn good weekend, I have to say. There’s something pretty special about coming into a state where I’ve never been, meeting people in all kinds of different ways, and then getting to know them while seeing the area. It’s certainly beats a simple guide book.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
Got your attention?
Now don’t get upset mom. I had full control of the wheel. And the fact is, this was perfectly legitimate ... dammit. The oil-rubbing woman was a new friend named Kathy Jo and she was merely applying some essential oil on my neck and upper chest. I was introduced to Kathy Jo by Tina Hilbert, the wonderful owner of Core Yoga, where I've been practicing while in OKC. When I told Tina about my back issues, she kept pushing me to call Kathy Jo, which I stupidly resisted for a few days. Of course, when I finally called her and went in for a “raindrop aromatherapy” treatment, I was pretty bummed I’d waited even those few days. What an experience. I can't remember ever being so completely relaxed that way. Everyone should try this at least once and the best news is, it seems to have helped my back.
Now, who would have thought I’d be driving down a country strip of highway in the middle of Oklahoma, having oil rubbed on my body that way? Now this is the scenic route I'm talkin' about! And the best thing is, I certainly didn’t shop around for the moment. But it turns out I’m being blessed with some terrific Oklahoma tour guides during my visit. Kathy Jo and I took a drive up to Guthrie, OK, a wonderful small town about 30 miles north of OKC. They say Guthrie looks exactly the same today as it looked on the day it was founded during the Land Run in 1889. I found out that Guthrie was actually Oklahoma's first state capital. It was fun to walk around and see the small shops and galleries and, of course, Kathy Jo made sure we stepped into the Blue Bell Saloon where Tom Mix used to tend bar. The place was like a mini Tom Mix museum. At one point a nice, toothless local man gave me a tour of the place while keeping his tush planted in his bar stool. He pointed out three original bullet holes from when people where still in the habit of shooting guns in bars. (Actually, I suppose people still do that kind of thing.) “Whore house was right upstairs,” he laughed, pointing at the original metal, patterned ceiling. “Ya wonder if anyone took a shot,” he added as he laughed hard, taking swig of his beer.
It was too smoky in the place, so we decided to walk more and seek out a specific boot-making shop Kathy Jo has seen written up in a number of leather work and boot journals and magazines. After asking a few folks for directions, we found Sorrell Custom Boots & Gallery. A smiling, short-haired young woman wearing glasses stepped out from the back and introduced herself to us. This was Lisa Sorrell, the bootmaker herself. What a great person. Since it was quiet, Lisa led Kathy Jo and me to the back and gave us a tour of her studio area, talking with us about the entire boot making process - a complete new world to me. You should see Lisa's work - it's pretty amazing, actually. Of course, this was one of those special moments where I didn't have my camera by my side. When will I learn? I've posted a couple of pics here but please Check out Lisa's website to see more examples of the beautiful work she does.
Instead of grabbing lunch in Guthrie, I decided it might be a great day to take in Cattlemen's Steakhouse – the most famous steak place "in these here parts." So we decided to drive back down to OKC to have lunch there; it's located in the city's historic Stockyards City. By the way, that’s when Kathy Jo decided to break out the oil. “Think I’ll have to hire you to sit in that seat for the rest of my trip and rub oil on me any time my back hurts.” “Can’t afford me, “Kathy Jo laughed.
A great tour guide, we ate lunch (both of us took the more healthy salad route, which I suppose was the equivalent of ordering chicken at Joe’s Stone Crabs), then we drove around to see the Memorial once again. Kathy Jo told me how she was only about a block away when the bomb went off that day. It's a chilling story which I can tell she doesn't like to recount. Then we headed over to Bricktown where the St. Patrick’s Day parade had just finished. Of course, as soon as I saw a baseball park, my eyes locked in on it. AT& T Bricktown Ballpark is home to the the Oklahoma RedHawks, the Texas Rangers' AAA affiliate - it looks like a pretty spiffy place for a minor league team. Too bad I won't be here in a few weeks, I'd love to see a game right now. Hmmm. What's on tap for the next month or so? St. Louis? Kansas City? Still, there's nothing like a minor league game. It's usually fun, pure, affordable professional baseball surrounded by authentic, down-to-earth small-town fans. It's just not the same at the Major League parks these days, I'm sorry to say. (Nice additional info tidbit: Bricktown is home to Sonic's corporate headquarters. That takes care of this square mile.)
And that was that. A very pleasant Oklahoma day under my belt, it was time to head back so I could rest and get ready for my Sunday University of Oklahoma tour with Ms. Billie Beal.
Friday, March 16, 2007
The reason for the Kingfisher visit: Fred Schemmer. He's 89, a former farmer or shall I just say - a farmer. Fred still works the land, driving a tractor for a friend and he works hard, let me tell you. We had a great visit, Fred in his rocking chair, moving back and forth, peering through his glasses, me sitting across from him in his living room, easy listening music serenading us in the background on his cable TV. At times things got a bit teary. Fred lost his wife of 50+ years about ten months ago and he’s having a tough time. Still, he was so wonderfully open about it and not afraid to express his feelings. He and Jaynie had a special relationship so to say he has a huge hole in his life would be an understatement. But another love has come to Fred's rescue - farming - and it's certainly lending him a hand at coping with his sadness. (Again, I’m limiting my writing about the seniors I visit here. Feel free to check out the “Tapping The Resource” section of the main site at a later time. I’m working on it.)
The Birth Of Walmart - Fred walked me outside to the car and I remembered to ask him about something I noticed on the way up to Kingfisher. Just before I took the left off the highway to head up to Fred’s home, I noticed a particular sign. Fred chuckled and, of course, gave me the complete lowdown about Sam Walton, which included a quick and complete Kingfisher history lesson. He suggested that I take a drive around town, which I did. The Walmart … well … look at it. If it isn't the first Walmart ever, it’s certainly close. It reminded me of one of those old time Woolworth stores. Fred told me it's one of the original stores, been there for many years but things are about to change. Kingfisher's about to enter the big time. A huge area of farmland has already been cleared for the construction of a major new shopping center area, the centerpiece of which is going to be … you guessed it. And why not? It’s Sam’s home town.
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America's Drive-In - Quick observation. I meant to mention this a few days back. Have you ever heard of Sonic? You know, America’s Drive In? (Howard, I know you’re a Sonic veteran, but it's certainly no Duchess). Seriously, I’d seen a commercial now and then when living in the city, but never actually come across an actual Sonic. Well, those days are over. Now, here’s the thing. I must see a Sonic - and this is not an exaggeration - every 200 yards here in OKC. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s rivals the Starbuck's frequency in NYC. I ask you, how can they all survive? It’s like each square mile of Oklahoma has it’s own Sonic. That means a lot of folks here are eating a hell of a lot of burgers and cheddar bites and downing a bunch of banana-pudding shakes.
And yes, I tried a Sonic.
Now I can check that off my list.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
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One Letter At A Time - In the meantime, I keep plugging away. When I’m not busy interviewing or setting up interviews, I’m focused on making hotel arrangements. The balance of my time is spent transcribing and writing about the folks I’ve been meeting. The website? It's proven to be much more of a challenge than I ever thought it'd be. Sure, I’m loving the fact that I’m the director, producer and technician all in one, giving me the ability to update things whenever I want, as soon as the experiences occur. Still, it takes a ton of time. And it’s not developing as quickly as I want. And I hate that.
And then ... five simple words float through my head. It's a new phrase that has attached itself to my brain cells for some reason.
“One letter at a time…”
Hollis Baker's gift to me.
Sure, we’ve all heard different metaphors for ways to accomplish big ideas and splendid plans – “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” – “The journey of 1000 miles begins with one step,” and the big one so many of us seem to struggle with, “One day at a time." But, when Hollis spoke freely about his experiences as a sign-painter and how he handled a lifetime of challenges along the way, I smiled when he relayed one particular story and I’m smiling again as I write this.
One letter at a time.
And so I’ll keep pecking away at this laptop, uploading and editing photos, listening to tapes and writing blog updates and culling out interview excerpts for all of you to enjoy.
One letter at a time.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Interview-wise, after a quick start here in Oklahoma City, things slowed down because of some contacts not coming through. Still, other leads appeared from nowhere. Atina (co-owner Dallas' Downtown Yoga) and her Mom, Hazel, who I interviewed at the yoga studio last week – they’ve introduced me to some friends and family members up here in Oklahoma. I’ve already made contact with these folks and am headed to Kingfisher, OK on Weds, which I’m really looking forward to. It’s a chance to escape the city and see some Oklahoma landscape. From what I’ve been told, I need to take a trip to the eastern side of the state. Apparently, it’s beautiful land over there. I’ll set aside one day to take that drive.
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1 ½ Chick Fil A’s - And speaking of drives… When I first arrived in Wichita and then drove down to Dallas, the price of gas was around $2.00/gallon. When I was in San Antonio, I even found some places that broke the $2.00/gallon barrier, some places selling gas for as low as $1.98! I blinked. Gas was $2.15/gallon. I blinked again. It was $2.28/gallon. I blinked a third time. $2.35/gallon. Today, when I went to fill up, the price was $2.45/gallon at most places. What the hell’s going on?
I don’t want to get into it here too much, but it’s astonishing to see the speed of this latest price rise. And we all sit out here and just take it. After all, what’s the rise mean out-of-pocket? If we buy eight gallons at a time, what’s that? Another four bucks? Measured in Chick-fil-A’s that's about 1 and ½ sandwiches. I can handle that. But, it’s still creepy to think about what’s really going on behind the scenes. I picture people working levers, turning the supply lines off and on to suit their own profit needs. And people are saying this is just the beginning of what may be the largest rise in gas prices ever, with prices soaring to three or four ... perhaps to as much as five dollars a gallon! Can you imagine? Okay, so I sound like a child. But that's only because I lived in NYC for so long, I didn't have this kind of day-to-day relationship with the gas pump. Still, I can’t help but wonder. What's the American public’s breaking point? How much will the people take? How many more Hummers can people keep buying? Lots of questions.
I remember, it was about 8 months ago, I was walking down Central Park West and saw two people talking as I passed them on the right. There was a 60'ish looking gentleman and a woman who looked older, perhaps in her 80’s or so. As I walked by, I caught a glimpse of a button the woman was wearing. It was yellow with big black bold letters: “WHERE’S THE OUTRAGE?!” I smiled when I saw it and walked for about another 20 steps until my feet stopped. “Older woman. Provocative message button. Hmmm. Eldercation.” That’s a common thought process for me nowadays, I have to admit. I suppose it's the “you only live once” approach and my choice nowadays to not allow special moments to pass without at least taking a shot. And so, I did just that. I turned around and walked back to the couple, introducing myself with a smile on my approach. The next thing I knew I was part of their conversation, which continued for another half hour. We talked about the amount of bull crap that’s thrown our way and how the populace appears to be sedated. I’m not saying that to be funny. The older woman, I think her name was Rachel, said, “It's like we’ve all been drugged and can't react.”
Well, on my way back to the hotel after yoga and Grackles, I hit the 7-Eleven to get gas. (only gas – thank God they don't have those good Texas brownies up here.) As I pumped gas I saw a man in a baseball cap shaking his head and laughing, then looking over at me, pointing to the price signs on top of the pump. “Can you believe this crap?!”
And so it goes. Another chance to bond with another satisfied citizen. The man’s name was Carl and we chatted for ten minutes after we pulled our cars up to the store portion of the 7-Eleven. It was another “Where’s the outrage?” conversation. I told him the story about the older woman in NYC, and we both agreed there are a lot of people out here having the same feelings about all kind of issues. So, I ask you. What’s the problem? Why can’t we figure out a way to connect the dots?
Okay. Too heavy for tonight. The more immediate issue for me is simple: a trip to see Oklahoma’s beautiful southeast territory means one thing and one thing only - 1 ½ less Chick Fil A’s. That’s the real price I pay for the recent price increase. So my question for the night is: how many Chick Fil A’s am I willing to give up before I start fighting back?
Thursday, March 8, 2007
Compared to Irving, TX, my hotel here is situated in a different type of neighborhood. It took a little more investigation to map out an enjoyable morning walk route. Yesterday I walked up the street and to the left finding a nice, quiet residential area. But this morning I decided to turn right where I found mostly shopping centers. Still, it was fun hunting around, seeing what's close by if I ever need something and don't want to take the car. I found a barbershop, for instance, since I'm thinking it's getting close to my first road haircut. And there was even a little hat shop next door, just in case the $8.00 haircut doesn't work out quite as planned. On the way out on the walk, I passed a small, one-story building with a sign outside, "Ray's Cafe."
When I headed back to the hotel, I noticed the "Ray's Cafe" sign again and figured, "What the hell?"
As I headed up the walkway, I met a group of five women, mostly elderly, walking in the side door. One much older woman, using a walker, was having trouble getting through the door and her friend smiled, motioning for me to go around them.
"You can take the fast track around" she laughed, pointing to the side.
"What's the rush?" I smiled, reached out and held the door as the others walked in. The younger woman smiled, followed by the elderly woman, hunched over as she walked. She tilted her head to the right and up, then thanked me.
I looked around. A simple coffee shop/diner about half filled with quiet Oklahomans. It didn't take me two seconds to notice that about 99% of the customers were older. I smiled, wiping the drool from my lip, then picked a booth in the corner, grabbing a copy of "The Oklahoman" as I sat down.
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A Long-Time Fantasy - Whenever I thought about taking this trip, I often visualized scenes like this morning's, when I entered Rays: a diner serving great food at reasonable prices, filled with older people to meet and spend time with. Actually, the fantasy involves more of a roadside diner out in the middle of the desert or some vast green farmland. Still, the diner part of it was on the money this morning.
"You've pretty much hit the jackpot," a pretty blond waitress wearing blues jeans smiled as she refilled my cup of decaf. "Look around," she added, waving her right arm. Her name is Angela and I had a chance to tell her about Eldercation as the traffic slowed down a bit.
I finished my home fries (great home fries, by the way), eggs and whole wheat toast and Angela mentioned some names of locals who come into Ray's for breakfast just about every day. I told her my hotel was about 250 yards down the road. "Know the place," she smiled. "Want us to keep the booth set up for you?" We laughed and I went up front to pay my check. All three of the waitresses were in the kitchen area to the left and Angela had filled them in about the project. We chatted for awhile and it appeared my Oklahoma "recruiting staff" was now in place.
And ... that was that. We'll see how it pans out. At the very least I know I have a great and inexpensive place to eat over the next two weeks and it's only about outfield throw from the hotel. Judging from the folks I saw eating there this morning... Let's just say I hope this translates into something special.
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Liz was out at an appointment when I got to The Waterford so, to kill some time, I planted myself on a couch in the sitting area outside the dining room. I took a few deep breaths and relaxed, pretty much for the first time since I'd been in Texas; certainly for the first time in a retirement community. It was quiet as I sat ... and looked around ... and thought. Two women residents were sitting on the couch opposite me and when I first dropped into the couch, we exchanged warm smiles, but nothing more. I opened my book ("The Jungle" - part of my 'return to high school reading list' challenge), and every minute or so, glanced up to see if Liz was back. But I also took the time to watch the two women. And I felt sad.
Listen, I know my goal, when I visit retirement communities, is to seek out the best and the brightest so the interview process can go well. But I see what I see and hear what I hear, and there is another very real side to my experience whenever walk around and mix in with these community residents. And today, when I found myself not setting up a camera, not preparing my questions and not watching a Valentine's Day celebration, I was able to simply sit and quietly observe. Nothing more.
I'd seen this sadness before and, although it's very much the exception in most of the retirement communities, it still hits me hard whenever I see it. One woman's head kept drooping as she nodded off, over and over again. The other woman kept staring down at the ground, only every once in awhile looking up and adjusting her sunglasses to see who was passing. I'd seen these two women before when I came to The Waterford. They've been right there on that same couch. I remember saying hi to them the very first day.
As I sat, alternating between "The Jungle," glances at the front door and watching the two women on the couch, I wondered more and more about the pros and cons of retirement and assisted living communities. The emergence of these senior living options over the past decade has certainly added more slots on the spectrum; it' s not as black and white as it used to be. Years ago, you know, there was "home" - the place you lived in for the majority of your life. And then, if necessary and only under the most dire of circumstances, there was a "nursing home." Not a hell of a lot in between. And I thought more about this shift in senior living. My head started to swim with questions. Questions that have certainly been sitting there, but I've been so busy organizing and preparing for interviews, I never took the time do dig deeper and in a different direction. Why do people come to live in these communities? Who makes the decision to enter these places? The residents? Their children? Do they make the decision together? How do the residents feel when they move in? How do the children feel when their parents move in? I've actually asked some of these questions and will be posting material on the Eldercation.com website as I develop it. In time, as I travel and write more, I want to find out what it's really like for these folks as well as speak with staff and ancillary support personnel like visiting nurses, massage therapists, doctors, drivers and the like.
When Liz came back from her appointment, we went into the activity room and I told her what I was thinking and feeling as I sat on the couch. Of course, she and I then got into another great conversation - a different conversation. A conversation I wished I had had with her weeks ago. The talk turned into an informal interview where I had a chance to hear from one of the best activity directors out there, about important issues surrounding senior living. The more I think about it, it would be a shame to limit my experience solely to the residents, although that will continue to be the fuel that runs the Eldercation engine. It's the interviews that bring me the joy and wisdom I want so very much to share with others. Still, I want to hear the whole story and hear it from all the participants. Because staff members do, in fact, play a crucial role in these communities, as do the family members. Come to think of it, one very unfortunate fact is that I haven't seen all that many family visitors during my first month and, although I know this isn't necessarily a scientific sample, I know this is pretty much sadly the case. Liz shook her head when I mentioned it, confirming the hunch. More on this at a later time, that's for sure.
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Ohhhhhhhoklahoma.... - What a gorgeous day for a drive. With the back feeling better, I drove up to Oklahoma City, about a three and a half hour drive, which is no big deal for me. I remembered the terrain from the initial drive down to Texas from Wichita, so I wasn't surprised by the flatness of the land. The sign you see below was possibly the smallest state welcome sign I'd ever seen and I was pretty disappointed when I saw it, since my goal is to post these sign photos each time I enter a new state. And yet, perhaps my favorite part of this photo has nothing to do with signs. Take a look at that sky! The photo doesn't do it justice.
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It was great to arrive at my Oklahoma City hotel and have all arrangements already in place. I can't tell you what peace of mind it gives me to have a comfortable room waiting for me whenever I move into a new town, readying myself to meet a new group of seniors. ExtendedStay America's Robert Green and his associates, Robin and Muhammad, really did go out of their way to make sure I was set for my arrival. Of course, this traces back to my fortuitous introduction to Tim Treadwell at the ExtendedStay party at the Irving hotel. My mind is much more at ease knowing I don't have to worry as much about the hospitality aspect to this trip and I already owe a lot to Tim and the ExtendedStay people. I can't say enough about how special this chain really is and I will recommend the company every time someone asks me about a nice, reasonable and reliable place to stay while on the road.
As the front desk clerk handed me my room key, she asked me to wait a second and then handed me a basket filled with some welcome goodies. Shortbread cookies, chips and salsa - I wanted to clean up my eating act but, it was late and I was tired. As I sat back in the easy chair, quasi-watched TV and jotted down some thoughts for the day, those shortbread cookies tasted mighty fine, there's no doubt. Thank you, Robin, for nudging me off the wagon. Or is that on the wagon? I'll have to check the Seinfeld episode for the answer.
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Billie & E.K. - I ate lunch this afternoon with Doug Paulsen, the center supervisor from the Woodson Senior Citizen Center in Oklahoma City. Doug may very well turn out to be my Oklahoma Liz Hamlett and that's a very good thing to be, let me tell you. Doug combined a lunch at The Museum Cafe - a very nice restaurant located in Oklahoma City's Museum of Art -with a short tour of the city. We had a chance to schmooze about our shared passion for seniors and, it turns out Doug is a fellow yogi so he was able to provide suggestions about where I could practice while I’m in town. It's time to get back to it and, in fact, I'm pretty sure the practice will help to strengthen my back at this point.
After lunch, we took a short drive around the city and since I’d asked about it, Doug swung by the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, which was truly beautiful. In general, I was struck by the size of the city. Coming from a place like NYC, it's always interesting to take in the difference, breathe the air, observe the amount of traffic and watch the people. As I'd mentioned when I was in downtown San Antonio, I think you can actually feel the relaxed energy. That’s what a difference of 7.5 million human beings will do, no doubt.
And then, it was back to the center where a pretty and smiling blond woman was waiting for me in Doug's office. Her name is Billie Beal and I'd met her briefly before Doug and I went to lunch when she was busy baking a gingerbread cake in the back kitchen, apologizing for the ginger smell on her hands as she shook my hand.
After my interview with Billie, the two us stepped out into the center lobby and a tall gentleman was already standing by the door, prepared for visit with me.
"Next," I joked. We all laughed. It felt like a doctor or therapists office.
This was Mister E.K. Boggs and he was raring to go. I loved that.
Two great interviews and I haven't even been in town for 24 hours. This is the way I love it. And Doug says there are a lot more where these came from. I believe and trust him. So, far I've been very lucky in terms of the people I'm meeting. Both the seniors and the support and staff people as well. And let's not forget about the ExtendedStay folks. It's a great team out there and that's the way I see it now.
Monday, March 5, 2007
Human Being Sighted - I'm not sure you saw it, but I mentioned in yesterday's post about my debut park walk, that things wouldn't be the same when I returned the next day - a workday - figuring all the large, long, buildings would then be packed with phone people. Well guess what? I couldn't believe it but there was no difference at all. What's up with that?
It's interesting to me that as I walk around this beautiful park and see no evidence of human life ... Correction. I saw a few landscaping guys in the distance, mowing the lawns and cutting back shrubs. But, that was it. Of course, I know there are people in there somewhere. I know this because there are two very large underground garages and I saw lots of people driving their cars into them today heading into work. But you certainly wouldn't know there was any kind intra-building activity this morning. Strange, to me.
I decided to take a different path and went to the right instead of the left, giving me a chance to see the other side of the waterfall, paying a visit to two ducks bathing in a brook. Then I walked around to the side of one of the buildings, using a path so I wasn't snooping. "What was that?" Something moved. I turned my head to the left and peered into one of the windows. I needed to squint since the sun was in my eyes and there was a major reflection on the glass but, I saw something. And then it happened again. Movement. Yes, it was unmistakable. It was a woman. A Verizon woman. She was sitting at a cubicle, her back to the window and it looked like she was working on the computer. At one point, she must have noticed my movement because she turned around quickly, looked out, then immediately turned and went back to what she was doing. Feeling a bit like a peeping Tom at that point, I walked up the pathway, snapped a few more photos and was curious if I could find more signs of life in the windows of this particular long two-story black building. The tinting made it hard to see but I was definitely able to make out some lights, desks, but ... where were all the people? "They must be in there some place. I saw them in their cars," I thought. I swear it was like a Rod Serling Twilight Zone episode. Like a bomb hit and, whooosh, everyone was gone. (Anyone remember Henry Bemis? A great Burgess Meredith TZ story).
Anyway, risking prosecution, I went back and snapped the above photo as fast as I could, which I don't think invaded anyone's privacy since you can hardly even make out a person. I knew I wanted this shot because, to me, it represented something poignant. Lonely. A worker in a cubicle. Embedded in these gorgeous surroundings ... with the ducks. You make what you want of it. I had my thoughts but I'm too tired to editorialize right now.
Sunday, March 4, 2007
Classic light-bulb-over-the-head moment.
Maybe that’s what’s going on. Walking. More correctly put, lack of walking. I haven’t been doing any walking since I started this trip. It’s as though you could hear the screech of breaks on February 1st. Think about it. I’ve lived the past 14 years in New York where walking was a given. Who knows how much people walk in the city? One mile a day? Five miles? A quick Google: "Manhattan is 13.4 miles long and 2.3 miles wide at its widest point. Twenty north-south city blocks equal a mile; a person with a brisk pace covers about a block a minute." God-bless those Google folks, is all I can say.
So with that calculation, I know I averaged about two miles of walking everyday and that was usually at a brisk NYC pace, just to keep up with the flow. And that's walking in addition to runs at the reservoir. But on February 1st, all that stopped, without me even noticing. It's sad to think that I walked more on my plane change at Hartsfield Airport than I have the past 30 days combined.
Okay then. So let’s look at the following equation, shall we?
Lack of walking + more sedentary lifestyle + tons of driving = back ache??
It was last night while lying in bed that I thought about this so by the time I got up this morning, I'd pretty much decided it was time to put a new plan into action. The survivor in me mulled the formula over and decided it was worth a shot. The area around here looked nice enough. I’d thought about it every time I took a trip to Kroger or the local drug store and yet, I didn’t even think about a nice stroll. Today, it was time to check things out ... minus the wheels.
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Who knew? That’s all I can say. It was just what the doctor ordered. Of course, the jury’s out on whether my back ache gets better. Still, even with the ache, I suppose the choice is (1) having a back ache with a refreshing walk versus (2) the ache without the walk. I choose the former.
I started out and took a right out of the parking lot onto Green Park Drive. You see, even the name lends itself to a nice walk. It borders this pretty parcel of land that has a big “85 Acres For Sale” sign posted on it. I don’t know much about real estate but I’m guessing that someone with big bucks is going to make a lot of money on this property. You can see how things are expanding out from Dallas center pretty quickly and Las Colinas is down right nice. This land is striking in that it has a few small ponds with lots of these interesting looking trees. They look like some kind of fruit-bearing trees, so the area in spots looks like an orchard of some type. The wood fence bordering the property gives it a kind of ranch-style look.
I headed up the street and followed a pathway up and into the Verizon business complex. I’d seen it everyday for the past weeks and didn’t think I’d be taking a walking tour of anything relating to Verizon, but … there I was.
The Verizon grounds were gorgeous. And I never thought I’d be using the words “gorgeous” and “Verizon” in the same sentence, trust me. Winding paths, spacious open green lawns, ponds, ducks and geese - I felt like I’d found an oasis. Go figure. This is where all those complaint letters to the phone company ended up all those years. It’s nice to know all those fees have been invested well, you know? Seriously, I don’t hold that against the company. The fact is I’d want to work in a place like this if I worked in the telecommunications business.
There was this one sitting area, I guess you’d call it … It was so calming to sit there, listening to the birds, feeling the breeze. I know I’m going back there tomorrow but I also know it will be a working day so I’m pretty sure it won’t feel the same. I’m only sorry I discovered this walk three days before it’s time to leave. What I’m sure about is this: for the remainder of this trip, I will make sure to get out for a walk a day, preferably early in the morning, before the rest of that area of the world revs up.
So, you think I'll be able to find any beautiful open spaces in Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas or Nebraska?
Thursday, March 1, 2007
And when it comes to my gray hair, which I've had since my senior year at BU, my old friend Michael Feit always said, "You know, Harry, Better gray, than nay.” Sure, people have suggested the "Just For Men" approach and how a treatment every now and then would take off about 10 years and I’d look great. But, how can I do that? I mean, even if I wanted to do it, what would that be saying? I really do believe it’s good to just be oneself and accept whatever age brings to you. At least that’s what works for me. I do my best to never sit in judgment of others. Sure, I know what’s going on with all the Botox injections, cosmetic surgeries and wrinkle reducing cremes and techniques. Sure, I know most of our culture is doing their very best to push off the inevitable - aging and, yes, then death. I choose another approach. And I admire those who are taking the same route. The ones who seem to be at such ease with their age. It seems to me like it's a more relaxed approach to aging. More authentic.
Sorry for the short sermon. Having said that. My back is still killing me. I’m going to try a long hot bath later and we’ll see how the back support works. I may even put the bedding on the carpet tonight and try sleeping on the hard floor. Is the yoga hurting it? Helping it? One never knows. I just want it to make the turn and start to ease up. I don’t need this kind of thing barking at me the entire trip.
Oh, yes. It’s also time to stop the so-called ChickFil-A and barbecue rewards diet. Every once in awhile you’ll see me writing about it. I wouldn’t pass up another opportunity to eat the best Chicken fried Steak in Texas with Hollis and Alice at the Hobo Depot. But, those “gastric getaways,” I’ll call them – they're going to be fewer and farther in between. It’s time to take control again. At least that’s how I feel tonight. We’ll see how it goes when I pass the next sign for finger-lickin' ribs.
The Anna Nicole Effect? - Here’s something to ponder: And I’ll only mention her name this once. It seems my back started to ache just about the same time the whole Anna Nicole Smith drama started to unfold. Now, I’m pretty sure the pain isn’t being caused by the grief about her loss. What it might be, though, is the sickening amount of time people are spending on the whole scene surrounding her death. Can you believe this crap? I mean, I don’t want to sound insensitive but, really, at this point … who cares?
Okay, so, unfortunately, I know the answer to that question. Apparently, a lot of people care. I suppose we really are a nation of rubberneckers, so to speak. It’s funny. The people I’m meeting on the road don’t seem to care. My friends don’t seem to care. The waitress at the IHOP this morning certainly didn't care at all. I’m convinced the more I see of what’s going on – the only people who appear to care about the whole ordeal, are the news people. These folks always need something to cover so … they cover it. And they do it all the time. I mean, would people like Nancy Grace even have jobs were it not for the Anna Nicole Smith’s of the world? These talking heads break down every sentence, peek into every nook and cranny of the situation, they dissect the story, then dissect it another ten times an hour ... over and over again. And the video footage - Do you notice how the same footage loops with the same shots over and over and over again when they report the story?
Now, my good friend Howard knows how I’m struggling with the TV thing. I’ve been working at watching less and less, heeding Stephen King's words in "On Writing" about television and good writers. Certainly, the news and political shows (I used to be that type of junkie), have taken a back seat to sports for me. And now that the baseball season is heating up - (“Let’s Go, Mets” I’m looking forward to following them from the road. Thank God for MLB.com and Gameday) – I’ve gotten so tired of listening to people yelling at one another, all the time. Tim Russert is one of the few people I can actually pay attention to. He doesn’t yell like the rest of them. Charlie Rose is another one with the softer voice. Oprah's like that, too. These people seem to be “scenic route” types. I like that approach.
But back to the Anna Nicole thing.
On second thought, guess what. I’ve said enough.
You see how that works? I actually know when to stop. When will the TV people learn the same skill?