Thursday, May 31, 2007

"Don't Worry. Don't Hurry"

Ralph Miller is an amazing man. Suffering from macular degeneration, it's tough for him to do many of the things he's done for years. Still, as he's done throughout his life, he's figured out ways to work around this latest challenge and he tackles his daily activities with a refreshing enthusiasm; it's inspiring to watch. When I visited with Ralph in his Montclair apartment home in Springfield, Missouri, he proudly showed me all the ins and outs of his enlargement machine as he read through some Eldercation background material I'd given to him prior to our visit. Pushing buttons, changing colors, making letters larger, smaller ... Ralph gave me a complete demonstration as I set up for our interview.

I loved hanging out with Ralph. A very creative person, he's written a great deal throughout his life as well as taken photos and published books about his travel adventures to over 20 different countries. Aside from his travel stories, Ralph expressed many things to me as we sat and chatted. But one thing, in particular, has really stuck with me since we met now over two months ago. Four simple words:

"Don't Worry. Don't Hurry."

I loved the way Ralph paused after speaking the words, as if waiting for me to ask him what he meant. Which, of course, I did.

"You know, Harry," he smiled. "It's funny. I think every single accident I've ever been in was caused in one way or another because I was scurrying around, looking to do something quickly." And at that Ralph offerred a few stories about car wrecks, falls, spills - things that happened to him because he wasn't thinking clearly - all because he was stressed, frantic and in a rush to get somewhere.

I met with Ralph about six weeks ago.

I chipped my two front teeth yesterday.

And within a few seconds of ... well ... I'm not going to tell you how it happened. But right after the undisclosed act occurred, I swear I could see Ralph's smiling face. And those four words echoed in my head, along with the tooth chips.

This was perhaps one of the most stupid (there's no other word for it) things I've done in my life. (More stupid than faking getting mugged at Ryan Kweller's bar mitzvah party. Now that's a pretty good story, let me tell you). It was stupid because it occurred solely because I was rushing to do something. And the fact is, there was absolutely no good reason why I should have been hurrying like that. It was a Saturday night and I didn't have much to do. I've been in KC for what? Four weeks? I know two, maybe three people, so it's not as though I was running late to get to a party or anything. But - rushing is precisely what I was doing and because of that, I wasn't thinking about my actions and ... well ... I now weigh about .00000004568394 ounces less than I did prior to my moronic act, having spit little white chunks of dental debris, my dental debris onto the brown carpet leading to my apartment door. When it happened, I swear it felt like a small gravel quarry emptied into my mouth. Seconds after it happened, as I approached my bathroom mirror, I was expecting to find five teeth missing.

Luckily, the cost of my stupidity wasn't all that great. And after waiting for the Memorial Day weekend to run its course, I was able to find a dentist (a very good dentist) down in Overland Park, thanks to my brother-in-law, the good Cantor Eric Lindenbaum.

"Do you think a synagogue will know where to find a dentist?" I laughed while speaking with Eric after he offered to call a Rabbi he knows at a local temple.

The good news: the teeth are fixed and I'm happy to be writing about it now knowing there is no root canal work scheduled for the immediate future. And the next time I find myself running, running, running ... I'll do my best to think about Ralph Miller, ahead of time. My teeth? From now on, they'll be used for three things and three things only: eating, brushing and flossing. The big three. That's it.

"Don't worry. Don't hurry."

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Straddling The Line

I can honestly say, I've never experienced anything like this. And it's having an effect on how I post things on the website - needing to move the push-pin from minute to minute. It's exhausting.

Kansas City, as most of you know, is divided across two states, Kansas and Missouri. You can run errands on a Saturday morning and go back and forth from state to state as you check things off your list. I've been staying up in Overland Park at the ExtendedStay Hotel (Kansas) and heading down to yoga classes on 39th Street (Missouri), crossing over "State Line Road" about 1000 feet from the studio. The other day, I headed to Bed, Bath & Beyond (Kansas) to get some kitchen gadgets, then moved just down the street to Target and WalMart (Missouri) to pick up a few more items . I suppose it's no big deal, but I get a kick out of it - this being one city and all that. And it's funny, because after moving into my apartment - (which is great by the way - I hope some of you come to visit) - I've continued to tell people I live in Kansas, whenever they ask where I'm living. It just rolls off my tongue. "Kansas." After all, I live in Kansas City - not Missouri City. But with the spectre of buying a car, the other day I was walking in The Plaza and found myself looking at license plates for some reason. And that's when it hit me that I'd actually moved to Missouri - "The Show-Me State" - which works for me because I like those plates better.

Anyway, I suppose I'll have to change the photo in the upper left hand of the blog every now and then, depending upon what errands I have to run and where the stores are located.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Funny Moment

Minsky's Pizza. The people around here say it's pretty good so, of course, it was my duty to check it out.

I'm still up in Overland Park, so I Googled "Minsky's" to see if there was a location near me, which there was. After finding it easily, thanks to MapQuest - I walked in and went up to the bar to take a look at the menu. There were about five TV's on - all playing the Mets/Yankees game (or Yankees/Mets game, if you prefer). After ordering a sandwich to go, I sat at the bar and had a beer, talking with two young guys, I'd say they were in their young 20's. Good kids. And baseball fans, to boot. Within a few seconds, after I reacted to a John Maine strikeout, the three of us started a good, solid baseball pow-wow; always a pleasure for me. Soon, the restaurant manager joined in the conversation, as did the young woman who took my order. As we talked, I kept one eye on the game, so I was pretty plugged into what was going on - pitch by pitch.

"The kid's good," I smiled. "I'm a bit surprised he's holding up," I added, referring to the young Yankees' pitcher, Tylar Clippard. This was his first major league game. What a way to start!? National TV, Mets/Yankees, the Yankees downward spiral reaching a level not seen in well over a decade now.

I think it was the third inning, no score yet and the first two mets had already made out, bringing up David Wright.

"He's hot," I smiled. "And they've already seen this kid now, one time around the batting order." The youngsters were listening now. I kept talking, analyzing, sipping my beer. Ball one. I took another sip. Ball two ...

"Watch this, now," I smiled, pointing to the screen. "Watch what happens."

"What're you talkin' about?" one of the guys asked.

"2 and 0. He's hot. He's been driving the ball the other way ... I have a feeling ... right ...

I couldn't stop laughing. After about three seconds of complete silence everyone at the bar started to crack up.

Sure enough, Wright launched one ... and over the right center field fence, to boot. Not only had I called the home run on that pitch, but I also called the precise location, right down to the scratch marks on the outfield fence.

I think the funniest thing was the look on the two kids faces. Their mouths were open for about 15 seconds, but they weren't making any sounds. Finally, the one next to me spoke.

"That's pretty good," he said, his eyes still locked on the HDTV screen above the bar.

By then, my sandwich was ready. But I stayed for a few more at bats. The fact is I was joking when I called the home run. Well, sort of. That's what's great about baseball. It's really a thinking-man's game and, if you really pay attention, you can do your best to get into the heads of the players at any given moment. So that being the case, every once in a while, you know what? You get lucky. And you get to impress a few folks.

The stranger in the Kansas City pizza shop.
That guy who saw the future.

By the way - the sandwich?


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Welcome to Casa Loma"

I'm going to live in Kansas City?

Okay. So If I keep saying that line over and over again, only then does the concept start to sink in.

But, seriously, I put a deposit down on a very nice (and very affordable) apartment in a wonderful area of Kansas City, known as The Plaza District. After I dropped off my check this morning, I figured it'd be a good time to dust off the camera and show you my new neighborhood, it being such a gorgeous day.

I looked at a few places a few days ago and all were about the same price, but some of the places ... well ... let's just say I was an RA once in college and I don't want to re-live the experience. Some of the apartments were just a bit too close to the action for me. Sure, the bikini-clad babes sunning themselves at a pool at one of the places - yes, they caught my attention. But, c'mon. What am I doing here? Action is good - I'm a fan of it. Especially that kind of action if the time (and woman) is right. But I have work to do now and it's crucial that I keep my focus, bikini's or not. Yes, I want the option of being able to mix with people when I feel the urge. That ole' HJ isolation default setting ... I have to keep my eye on that. If I'm not careful, I can easily slip into a corner and I know that's not the best thing for me. For anybody, come to think of it. The truth is, I often create best when I'm sitting in a Starbucks, library or park, just so I can look up and see other human beings. And if I'm really lucky, I get to meet new people that way as well. And if I'm exceptionally lucky, an Eldercation participant falls right into my lap.

And, by the way, I haven't shut down the interviewing completely. No way. I'm going to be interviewing seniors until ... well ... until someone wants to interview me!! Just last week I got a surprise call from a contact at the St. Louis Cardinals front office. Two months ago I reached out to someone there and I'd completely forgotten about it. But isn't funny how things sometime work? Out of nowhere, I have a good chance to interview not one, but two former St. Louis Cardinal hall-of-famers. I'll hold off on the names. But let's just say, you know who they are - if you're a baseball fan, that is.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

"I'll Dig Here"

I know it's been a while. But I've been busy.

I can now say for sure that a shift has occurred on this trip. Yes, I'm still interviewing people. But the pace has slowed and that's because I chose to shift the lever in that direction. I've had some friends (and you know who you are out there) who have been telling me, "You have so many interviews, when are you going to get down to organizing them?" Well, the answer is ... now. I feel it's the right time and, as strange as it may seem, I think this may be the right place. Kansas City is great from what I've seen so far. And as funny as it may sound to some, I know having a Bikram yoga studio (a real Bikram studio, not one of those knock-offs out here) has made a real difference. There's a comfort knowing I have a place to go and unwind. But, better than that, whenever I find a Bikram studio, it's like plugging into an instant community. But not just any community. It's a group of folks who, how can I say this? They care about their bodies, spirits and minds. And they care about others. It's not easy to find people like this in one place. And, of course, you get to sweat with 'em. Isn't that wonderful? Well, to some maybe not. But, to me, it's heaven. Even though I'm sometimes not thinking that way around the the class half-way point. (Note: I you're interested, I wrote a piece about my introduction to yoga years ago. Feel free to click on this link - "You're Gonna Love It!")

Here's some good news for my foodie fans out here. I had a scrumptious burger last night. And I have to back up a bit to give the complete lowdown here. When I first mentioned to my brother that I was going to make this trip, he asked if I was heading to Kansas and that, if I was, he had a good friend living there named Aliya.

Well, I'm in Kansas City. And I've met Aliya, who happens to be one of the yoga instructors at the Bikram studio. Suffice it to say, that Aliya is one of the factors which has led me to setting up shop here in KC. She's a yoga teacher, tour guide, information center and, hopefully, new friend all rolled into one. And when she becomes a full-fledged chiropractor in about three years (she's is in school here studying chiropractic), who knows? Perhaps there's some adjusting in my future.

So, yesterday Aliya asked if I wanted to join her and her friend for a bite at this place called "Grinders" downtown. Mmmm. Mmmm. Good. And fun, too. Who knew we'd have a waitress who would hit me with a solid high-five when I mentioned the Mets beat the Yankees, 3-2. Add that to ice-cold local beer on tap and a terrific burger (maybe an 8 out of 10? "Fatburger" level) and I've now started my "favorite KC places" list, with the help of Aliya. Come to think of it, she's going to be filling that list for me, since I have no idea what's going on around here.

So, a good burger connection now in place, it's time to make the move out of "hotel-world" and get myself a place to set up my book-making plant. Things are already in the works, as is a job possibility which I hope I get this week.

More on these things as they unfold.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Making It Myself

Diving In - So ... I'm feeling comfortable in Kansas City, finally diving into the pile of miniDV tapes compiled over the past four months. I have a few boxes like the one pictured here and ... well ... I feel great when I see the results in hard form like this. When I took off on February 1st, I wasn't all that sure how this was going to work out and, while the move was bold, I was feeling pretty apprehensive. Sure, I love meeting people and seem to do it pretty easily but I didn't know if people would take to the stranger from the Northeast. Now, those worries have been pretty much tucked away for good. Up to this point, I've met a lot of truly wonderful seniors as well as some incredible people in the seniors' field. But for the moment, until I head on up to Nebraska and Iowa, it's now time to digest the collection. And that's the good news.

There is something special about having the chance to now go back and re-visit these folks. Just today, I was in the library, earplugs in, three programs open on the laptop desktop and, once again, it was just me face-to-face with another human being. Each person talked as I watched. In a way, I've found it's better the second or third time because I'm not worrying about the camera, the questions - it's just about listening to the words, watching the gestures. One by one I'm now putting something together which I can only hope translates into something extraordinary. Is this stuff interesting? Well ... obviously I certainly think so. But will others see it that way? I've thought about that question a lot lately. I actually asked my mom the other night, "Do you enjoy reading this material when you're on the site?" Now how's that for an unbiased respondent? What the hell was I thinking!? What's my mother gonna say?!

But the thing is, I've asked her and other friends that same question over the past few weeks - I get concerned that people may not enjoy or find value in what I'm doing. But then my Mom said something so very simple and poignant. "Just do what you're doing. Soon enough you're gonna find out if people like it. But don't try to create something just to please everybody out there. That doesn't usually work." Wise words. Eldercation at work.

"And besides," she added, "If only two people buy your book one day, you'll have your answer then, won't you?"

We shared a good laugh when she said that, acknowledging what I know is my truest fear with this whole project. I've put myself on the line here going with my gut, giving up a great deal to pursue something I feel is very important. So, if it doesn't work? Hmmm. More on that at another time. I can't allow my head to get into that place.

* * * * * * * * * *

Making It Myself - Staying with the theme of creating things people will like - I utilized my ExtendedStay Deluxe kitchen in a productive way this week. And it quickly reminded me, once again, just how much I love to cook. All those years of struggling to cook in that 2x2 foot, West 87th Street kitchenette. I know, great apartment. But c'mon. There was no way to prepare a decent meal there. I had to prep veggies while balancing the cutting board on a couch arm. Anyone who had a chance to visit my upper west side place, had the chance to also see my closet refrigerator. So you really understand this - there really was a refrigerator in my only true closet. To make room for a semi-full size fridge, they had to literally put it in the closet. Sad, huh? Now, that's something I don't miss about the city, let me tell you.

Anyway - after experiencing the wonderful Mediterranean food in Wichita a few weeks back, a particular craving has been gnawing at me and it wasn't quitting. I love curried chicken salad. And I swear to God, I was thinking about it for about 80% of the drive from Columbia to Kansas City last week. Interesting mind at work, huh? So, what else could I do? It was time to act on the urge.

I didn't even take time to unpack when I walked into my KC hotel room, heading straight up the road to Whole Foods. Sweet red seedless grapes, Fuji apples, sliced almonds, scallions, chopped chicken breast, celery - all mixed together with Hellman's, curry powder and a few other spices. It's not rocket science, to be sure.

"This looks familiar," I thought when I saw the yellowish mayonnaise color. And the smell ... My Interstate 70 fantasy had come to life. And the taste? Mmm-Mmm-Good, I have to say. Five cuts above the $8.99/pound Whole Foods' deli version. And the best thing is, I made so much of it, I was able to store some for repeat performances. Tonight's version was so much better, the mixture having had a chance to marinate and blend. A far cry from Braum's and Sonic, I need to keep the TV tuned the Food Network to get more ideas.

So no more basic lasagna, mixed or fruit salads when I head to future pot lucks. I'm now armed with a new weapon; something to really knock 'em dead.

Now - all I need is some friends around to invite me.

Monday, May 7, 2007

"Everything’s Up-To-Date In Kansas City"

I’m Back!! Well, it’s not as though I’ve gone anywhere. And yet I’ve been everywhere.

Two things have gone great here so far here in K.C. First, I’m back in the yoga room, finally. There haven’t been any Bikram yoga studios in many of the places I’ve been over the past few weeks so it’s been a pretty long lapse for me. There’s only so much you can do by heating up the hotel room and listening to a CD, It’s just not the same. But Stu's friend, Aliya is a teacher at Bikram Yoga Kansas City and I met the owner, Angela, who is wonderful. I'm home. And the other thing that I love about K.C so far should be no surprise to any of you. I love the food. All right, so I know about the ribs, steaks, barbecue, KC Masterpiece and all that. Meat, meat, meat and more meat. But for me what stood out immediately was the presence of a Whole Foods and a Wild Oats within a stone's throw of my ExtendedStay room in Overland Park. Needless to say, the ExtendedStay team in Kansas City, headed by Valerie Guerke, has taken great care of me. I’ve been in contact with Val for months now over the phone and via email so it's been nice to finally put a face on our contacts.

So - back to the food. By now you can tell it’s my favorite thing to talk about, (beside the Mets, which is another story for another day). After yoga class this morning, I headed up 39th street back toward the highway so I could head directly over to the library to write. There is a stretch of restaurants along 39th Street, funky looking places, different cuisines, from Italian to Vietnamese to Mongolian. Ohhh, how I’ve missed this stuff. And then I saw a word on a sign hanging in front of a small corner shop/restaurant. “Slices." Music to my intestines. Home made overstuffed sandwiches, heroes.” The name of the place is “D’Bronx.” "New York Style Submarines & Pizza." I couldn’t turn quickly enough.

After parking the car, I saw a guy coming out the side door carrying what looked to be a 3' x 3' pizza, I’m not kidding. He smiled at me as he places four of those giant pies into the back of a van. Once inside, I read over the menu and … well ... lets’ just say I was pleased. No. Let's say I was pretty friggin' happy.

I ordered a large hero with some kind of meat, I think it was turkey (trying to be healthy, you know). “You want some sliced pepperacini’s on that?!” a woman smiled from in back of the counter. I smiled. "Finally someone who understand my needs." The lady laughed.

While waiting for my sandwich, I started up a conversation with a man holding a clipboard. It turned out he was the owner and we talked a bit. When he heard about my trip, he immediately took my arm and pointed to a man making sandwiches behind the counter.

“You should talk with this old guy,” he laughed. "He came with the place.”

At that, Fred, the sandwich-man with the white hair and mustache smiled and took off his plastic gloves to shake my hand, which then led to a long and fun conversation about New York, where he'd lived for many years. We chatted until they called my pickup number and Fred had held up the sandwich assembly line long enough. It was time to go. Until my next Bikram class and lunch break, that is.

And yet, all the good conversation and potential interviews wouldn’t have meant a thing if the food didn't rate.

I took a bite of the sandwich .

I have news for you.

It was good.

Really good.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Wild Turkey

Unfortunately, I was so startled, I couldn't get my camera out of my bag fast enough. I was early for my visit with Marilee Howell and she lives in beautiful area, just about a mile outside of town. Isn't that great? One mile out of Columbia and this is what you see. So I passed a turn-off called "Rustic Road" on the way up to her house and thought I'd turn back for a look. How could I resist a name like that? I never get sick of pretty country roads. (I need to add the John Denver tune to my traveling songs).

I pulled over to check my map at one point and, (now the windows were down so I was exposed to everything outside), I heard this loud rustling and strange noises off to the right side of the car. Something darted back and forth and up and down, making a ruckus. I didn't know what it was but I have to say it was pretty loud. And when I turned my head I saw not one but two, what I'm pretty sure were, wild turkeys desperately trying to get over or through or around a mesh wire fence protecting the road. Apparently, they simply wanted to get back to the woods and away from my Hyndai. I watched them but, noticing how panicked they were - perhaps thinking I was from Shadybrook Farms - I moved the car a bit up the road. Of course, what they didn't know was that I was a nice Jewish boy from Western Mass. so the idea that there was a shot gun anywhere in sight... Anyway, I wish I could show you an actual shot of those two turkeys. They were pretty, colorful. And the more I write here, the more I have a craving for my mother's stuffing.

Now, I'm sure the country people out there are having a good chuckle about my getting excited about seeing two wild turkeys. But, you know what? It was kind of thrilling for me. Once I realized it wasn't a bear or mountain lion reaching through the window, that is.

* * * * * * * * * *

Black top turned to gravel and I kept driving. Here's a taste of some sights along "Rustic Road."

* * * * * * * * * *

Columbia, MO - I had just unpacked after setting foot in Columbia when the phone rang. It was Russ Stott, the head of Missouri's state Senior Games, (one of the if not the largest Games in the U.S), and he asked what I was doing for dinner. The old HJ default would've said I was pooped from the drive and wanted to work on the website and all that. But you know what? It was time for a change so I agreed to meet Russ and his wife at a place called Chris McD's.

Two things: (1) The food was great and I had two bone-dry martini's - with extra olives, of course and, (2) I love Columbia, MO. What a beautiful town. It's pretty clear to me that whenever a city is built around university life, in this case, three major schools (University of Missouri, Stephens College and Columbia College), there's something special about the area's overall cultural climate. That's true about Columbia. And the downtown is quaint, interesting and lively, with good places to stop and have a sandwich, sidewalk cafes and - how 'bout that library? Well ... another form of "Shangri-La" for me. Honestly, it's pretty much the nicest library I've ever seen. Of course, I know it's not on the level of 42nd Street and Fifth, but ... what the hell?

Paul Reid is another of the senior drivers I've met at Enterprise Car Rental and when he agreed to meet me for an interview, he suggested that we meet at the library - "The one with the big yellow thing in the front." (Paul told me there was a big town hullabaloo when they proposed to put the yellow sculpture in front. Personally, I kind of liked it). The librarians let you sign up for a small study room (two-hour slots) which provided a quiet space for me to sit with both Paul and his wife. And there's a nice little coffee/tea refreshment area downstairs as well. Some places inspire me to write; this was one of them.

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