Saturday, April 28, 2007

"Angel On My Golf Cart"

So Much For Rest - My day was done. And then ... the phone rang. It was Annell Haasse from The Montclair, a retirement community in Springfield. Sheri had told me that Annelle was interested in this kind of work and that I should reach out to her while in town. Here I was thinking this was going to be a bit of down time. Guess what? No way.

“What are you doing right now?” she laughed. “It’s actually on the way back to your hotel.”

And the next thing I knew I was driving down National Street and heading to The Montclair to meet Annelle. The residents were just finishing their suppers so we were able to meet a few folks as Annelle gave me the fifty-cent tour. One woman, Florence, is 104 and, although hard of hearing, (we had to lean in and shout into her ear), she’s still as sharp as a tack. I’m not kidding. She asked me a lot of questions about Eldercation and joked around the whole time she was doing it. We’ll see if that interview pans out. Back in her office, Annelle started making calls, contacting residents and setting up times and places for me. What a gal! I've included some sample shots of a few of The Montclair folks.

Ralph Miller - "He’s so shy," one of the residents told me, smiling. Everyone at The Montclair loves Ralph and let me tell you – he’s not shy.” Ralph is a prolific writer and has made it a hobby to write about and take photos of the places he's traveled to throughout his lifetime. His overall philosophy boils down to this: “Don’t Hurry, Don’t Worry.” And he most definitely walks the talk. I spent an hour with Ralph and could easily have spent ten. He suffers from macular degeneration but that doesn't stop him a bit. At the end of our visit, Ralph was kind enough to give me some books he's written as gifts, which I'll be posting on the "Tapping The Resource" section of the main website.

Jim Mays - At one point I went out to the front of The Montclair to snap a few photos on a gorgeous Missouri day. I noticed a man wearing a baseball cap, sitting quietly in a golf cart. I smiled when saw a glass of iced tea, (I’m guessing that’s what it was), propped up on the steering wheel as the man sat quietly, enjoying the sunny day.

“Hello there, Harry,” the man smiled. It was Jim Mays who I interviewed earlier that same day. "Quite a way to travel!” I laughed as I walked over to him. A light tan object blurred past my left foot and hopped toward the cart. “C'mon, Angel,” Jim called. This was the cute little Yorkie Jim had talked about earlier. It was cute the way Angel hopped up onto to the seat to lick Jim's fingers. I snapped a few photos for them, which I’ll give to Annell so she can give them to Jim.

* * * * * * * * * *

From the pool/game room, to the community room with the huge TV, to the private dining room – The Montclair is a very homey place. And it's a joy to watch the residents freely interact with one another and with me. It was nice to see Martha (up to the left) and Ralph from the day before. “Hi, Harry,” Martha smiled as she moved into the center seating area, waiting to go into dinner. I sat for a bit with both her and Ralph and then Jim came over to join us, as did Liz (to the right) and Norma Jean (to the left). I could tell some of the other residents were curious about the stranger talking with these folks and, when asked, I told them about the project, assisted by my former interviewees. Part of me wanted to get right back in there and pull out a tape and sit with all of them, but I know there's a limit to how much I can accomplish in one place at one time. I know I keep saying this but, certainly, there’s no shortage of folks to talk with out here on the road. "It's pretty hard to pick five out of 150," Annelle laughed as we sat together with the resident list. That's the same thing Liz Hamlett expressed at the Waterford in Texas.

For now though, it's on to Columbia.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mizzourah's Pleasant Surprises

It's been almost three months. I can't believe it. When I thought about making this trip, I thought "Two months, tops." And I didn't really believe I'd be able to keep it going that long. And now, what the hell? I'm already thinking about carrying this through until July or even August, so I can take some quiet time to write, compile what I've experienced so far. What's funny is that Springfield and Columbia were supposed to be more along the lines of "rest stops;" places where I could re-energize, pull some things together. But, pleasantly, it hasn't worked out that way.

Northview Center - Part 2 - Two good days. The unexpected kind. No big luncheons but ... I did bump into a few people I'd met the other day at the volunteer's gathering. One woman, Virginia, is a former school teacher who now runs Northview's writing class. She was interested in participating in the project and invited me to sit in on her class as well, perhaps meet a few more people along the way.

It was a treat to watch Virginia's class at work as they discussed their current project about a historic Springfield school. Virginia came up with the book idea but she’s assembled a formidable team to help her put it together. One surprise was the way Virginia ended the class. Each week she presents the students with a series of puzzles and word games which they work on during the week and then return, sharing their answers. "The teacher before me used to say, 'I don't want any of my students getting Altzheimer's. So I work 'em hard!"

In addition, Virginia gives the class various writing exercises. One I loved, in particular, is where the class is shown a picture and then each person writes a story about what they see. "Each person has their own interpretation," one of the students, Ophelia, explained. "We all come up with something different. It's amazing," she added.

After class, I spent about an hour with the teacher herself and she was able to tell me more about the school project. It's obvious Virginia still loves the teaching process and she especially enjoyed telling me about one of her very special former students, Senator Bill Bradley.

* * * * * * * * * *

It's Karaoke Time - No, not really. But if I'd had more time, I would've stayed an extra day or two just to check out this lady at the neighborhood Karaoke place. Her given name is Dorothy, but everyone around the Northview Center knows her as "Dottie." And as soon as she walked into the game room for our visit, the room seemed to brighten up. Of course, her bright yellow blouse didn't hurt the cause.

Dottie is one of those types of people you just feel good being around and as soon as I met her at the front desk, I knew I wanted to interview. In her 70's now, Dottie's been busy over the past few years taking care of her ailing sister. But I can tell she's determined to take time to have fun and singing is now one of her passions; she talked about it a lot. A performing artist (dancer) since she was a child, Dottie created and then managed several well-known dance studios in the Chicago area for many years. As we sat and chatted, she loved telling me stories about her dancing and, when she pulled out a small photo album ... well ... I was floored.

"None of these are naked, are they?" I smiled, covering my eyes. I'll be arrested."

We both laughed hard as Dottie showed me a bunch of her old photos. It was fun to watch her as she told me about how she started the first studio in a small space in her home. "A few neighborhood kids wanted to take lessons and it grew from there," she explained. "And I loved teaching the children so much, giving them confidence."

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Impromptu Concert Exchange

Leaving Arkansas - I was psyched for a good drive and figured I'd be in for some great views on the drive up to Missouri, through the Ozark Mountains. After dropping my tax returns into a Little Rock mailbox and Fedexing a second box of safety tapes to Stu up in Morristown, I was on my way. Unfortunately, the gorgeous sunny morning gave way to an overcast sky, so the photos didn't come out the way I would have liked. Still, here are some shots from the drive north. You can't see how beautiful the scenery is from these shots, but it really was pretty striking. The rocks - the way the road was cut into the mountains - that's what struck me most about this particular drive. You can see a bit of that in the shot below. Also, and I can't remember the name of the place, I had quite possibly the best chocolate milk I've ever tasted somewhere just south of Missouri on Route 65. I saw a dairy farm and decided it was time to hang out with some cows, see the milking process. It's something I remember from when I was a kid, taking school field trips to farms in Massachusetts - I always loved those trips.

As I moved closer to the Missouri line, one thing that made me smile was the appearance of all these, "2 Shows, 2 Nights, 2 Dinners for $99" signs for Branson, Missouri. They started popping up more than 100 miles south of Branson and what's funny is that many of these signs were sometimes planted out on people's front lawns. It's obvious Branson is a huge deal down here, with all its country music shows and activities, and you can see how folks work pretty hard to capitalize on its economy. If someone put up a sign 82 miles south, someone a bit farther down the road stuck one in their lawn, trying to get that extra edge. The funny thing is, when got to Branson, I saw signs for the same thing. But for half the price! I'm sure that's bugged more than a few suckers along the way. Anyway, I pretty much shot through Branson territory leaving it for a future visit. For now, Yakov Smirnov will simply have to wait.

* * * * * * * * * *

One of Thirty Four
- I’m in Springfield, Missouri after a drive up the other day from Arkansas. The beauty of Arkansas and its version of the Ozarks gave way to a different kind of landscape. There were more hills in Missouri than in Kansas or Oklahoma, but it was nothing like Arkansas. I'm sure by now you can tell I was struck by that state’s beauty. I'll definitely be heading back that way. And to think it wasn't even part of my original lesson plan.

I have to tell you, it's pretty strange to see the name “Springfield” posted everywhere I look here. Many of you know I was born in Springfield - the Massachusetts one, (home of such things as basketball and Indian Motorcycle, by the way). And I know there is a Springfield in just about every state in the country. Thirty-four, to be exact. (Note: the Massachusetts' Springfield is the oldest and most populated one. Missouri's version ranks second in Springfield populations). And, of course, you have to add to that list the Simpson’s cartoon town, which is supposedly set in Ohio. I think I was drawn to the city because of the name, figuring this particular trip wouldn’t be complete with at least one Springfield stop.

Impromptu Concert - As I've done in the previous states visited, I reached out to a few of the Senior Games' administrators to make contacts for possible interviews. Sheri Davis is the Community Recreation Coordinator at the Northview Center in Springfield as well as The Games' area director and we decided it would be good for me to come over to the center for a volunteer lunch – a good way to quickly meet some of the area’s more active seniors.

Another wonderful facility, I have to say. Bright, large, and it looked pretty new. By day, the center is used primarily for the area's seniors and at night, it's more open to the rest of the community. But the other day, it was all about giving the volunteers a good solid pat on the back. And I’m not talking about young volunteers. These were all senior volunteers for seniors. As you might imagine, volunteers are the life-blood of these programs, enabling so much to happen while saving costs along the way. And there’s something great about people giving of themselves to help others, you can see it everywhere you look around here. Within minutes people were coming up to me, asking questions. Of course, Sheri and Peggy (possibly the most friendly and energetic 68-year old woman I've ever met) caught me off guard by introducing me to the crowd and asking me to say a few words, which I did. That short speech prompted more people to come up to me to ask about the project.

I sat with a terrific group of folks, and joined them for the special lunch, which was unexpectedly great, (the best baked beans I think I’ve ever had as strange as that may sound). Peggy reminded me of the energizer bunny and she continued to point me in the right direction in terms of meeting possible interviewees. One person I was pushed to meet was Sandra and before I could blink I was in a separate piano/game room and Sandra was performing on the piano for me. 85 and tickling the ivories like a 20-year old, you should've seen her. Playing ragtime is a form of aerobic exercise for the upper body at any age, with both hands flying up and down the keyboard. It was obvious Sandra loved the piano as she played one song, followed by another, followed by another. Watching her bouncing in the chair reminded me of a senior volunteer experience I had years ago when I surprised my "friendly visitee" with a keyboard after learning about her special love of the piano. I wrote a story about it, if you're interested - "The Fabulous Anna."

As it turns out, Sandra's playing wasn’t enough for the crowd; they wanted more. They wanted me to play! I resisted, two, four, five times, telling them I hadn't played in years, but forget about it. They wouldn't take "No" for an answer. So I played a song and sang for them. They were kvelling. It was fun, I can't lie.

Now, here's the thing. I don’t know if any interviews will flow from the volunteer lunch experience, but you know what? “It just doesn’t matter,” to quote from one of my favorite Bill Murray movies. (good trivia - you know which one?)

I met good people and had great baked beans.

Slowly, I'm learning to relax a bit and not push quite as hard.

Sometimes, it's not about "getting the interview." Sometimes, baked beans are enough.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Field Of Dreams

I went to see Israel and the Arkansas Symphony play the other day. He wasn't conducting but it was still cool to watch him play the violin. Before the concert, we met for a quick lunch and when it was time to head for the concert hall, there were only about 30 minutes before the show was to start.

"Into a nearby phone booth, huh?"

Izzy smiled, "Into the tux and ... " he clapped his hands.

* * * * * * * * * *

After the concert, which was great, Izzy came out to meet me so we could say goodbye. We were trying to figure out a time when we could get together again, but I was about to head up to Missouri and he had a bunch of rehearsals coming up so ... it'd have to wait until I came back, which I'm pretty sure will be soon. When I told Izzy I was going to try to get to a baseball game while in town he said he wanted to join me but the rehearsals made it too tough. "It's really close," he turned to point the way - "Around the corner from Robinson Hall and then over the bridge."

Now guess where I went after I said goodbye to my new-found cousin and walked out the concert hall door.

* * * * * * * * * *

What a field and, get this. There was a game going on when I drove by. Perfect. I parked the car, grabbed my camera and then called my brother to describe the baseball setting. Sun low in the sky, beautiful Little Rock skyline in the background, bright green grass, bat cracks, balls slapping into leather mitts. Ahhh. Heaven. At least to me, it is.

What's funny is that, at one point, I was so busy checking my camera and chatting with my brother, I didn't notice a foul ball that bounced hard off the pavement about three feet (I'm not exaggerating) from my left foot. It's the closest I've ever come to a foul ball and I almost got clunked in the head. Now that would've been a story.

After the 6th inning, they don't check tickets at Dickey-Stephen's Park, (named partly after the late Yankee catcher Bill Dickey) so I walked right in. Here are a few photos. Check out "The Park" in the outfield, where families relaxed on blankets, enjoying picnic baskets. I could definitely live with this on a regular basis.

And, oh yes ... Hot Dogs - $2.00. No Harry M. Stevens goods in sight.

Monday, April 16, 2007

"We ARE Family!"

As soon as he ordered a Coke with lunch, I knew he was blood.

I’ll be short with this one but it’s a really good story.

When I told Stuart I was heading for Little Rock and Hot Springs, he mentioned something about a possible family member living somewhere in Arkansas. Stu's always scouring the country for Getzov's; we're a small clan always looking for reinforcements. I've found myself Googling "Getzov" every once in a while and learned there's an Olympic silver medalist from Bulgaria in the family, Valentin Getzov, as well as a famous violinist, Jimmy Getzoff, who played for years with Lawrence Welk and on a bunch of pop albums for artists like Hall & Oates. There's even a famous archaeologist named Nimrod Getzov, but that one I keep pretty close to the vest. (One note: a number of folks have changed the original Russian spelling, but if you ask me, changing “Getzov” to Getzoff” of "Getsoff" is pretty much asking for trouble). Anyway, this latest search brought up the name, "Israel Getzov" - the Associate Conductor of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. After reading up on Israel's background I sent off an email and then called one of his listed numbers to leave a voice mail. A few days later, Israel and I chatted over the phone, but it didn't take long for us to set up a lunch in Little Rock. I could tell he was a good guy and I was looking forward to meeting him.

* * * * * * * * *

As soon as "Izzy" walked into the restaurant at the Arkansas Arts Center, (great food, by the way) – I had a hunch about him. To me, there was a definite Getzov look. We shook hands and within minutes of making some "I love Arkansas" small talk, my pad was out and Izzy and I were busy building a poor-man’s genealogy. Circles, lines, squares, names, dates – “What was your dad’s name? How many brothers? Sisters? What year was he/she born?" As the chart expanded, the dates and calculations seemed to focus pretty much on two names: a Louie and a Mordecai. I started getting dizzy trying to figure out the relationships but Izzy said something funny. “I think the Jews actually had it right by not allowing people to be named after living people. It's much easier to follow the name trail.” We laughed, ate, drew some more charts, ... but something wasn’t matching up. Finally, something dawned on us. Izzy’s 30. I’m 49. Different generations. I picked up the pen and altered the circles so they grouped different name-sets and … voila! We were definitely on to something. We think - and this needs to be confirmed with some photographs - we think Izzy's great grandfather Louie was my grandfather Harry's brother. I called my dad to confirm that his dad, (my grandfather) Papa Harry, did in fact have four brothers - Louis, Abe and Joseph. All the dates seem to fit in place nicely.

* * * * * * * * * *

I'm sure we got a bit carried away with our genealogy spread out the table so apparently a few of the waiters were able to figure out what was going on.

“Long lost family?” the pretty hostess smiled over at us.

“We look alike?”

The waiters and hostess laughed - all of them confirming the likeness was pretty obvious. Our waiter was nice enough to snap this photo so ... what do you think?

It's funny how a stop in Arkansas wasn't in my original plans for this leg of the Eldercation trip. It's interesting how so many folks seemed to push me to head this way.

I love this stuff.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Domino Theory

You can feel the hunger. When I return to West Shores' at the end of a day and walk around a hallway here and there, I’m surrounded by smiling faces, most of them very eager for a visit. Yesterday, while I was lugging a bag of groceries back to my room, I happened to see a small gathering in one of the many activity rooms spread around on every floor. Earlier in the day, I'd noticed a daily activities sign and the word "Dominoes" jumped out at me. The dotted blocks clued me in. I'd stumbled onto the evening game.

“Who’s that?” one of the ladies whispered as I peeked in the room. I thought that was so cute.

“Who’s that?” I repeated and walked in, the three people looking up. “Mind if I watch?”

You should have seen the smiles; they couldn’t have been more happy to have me sit with them. And they were even more happy to explain all the ins and outs of the game to me.

I took a seat on the couch and watched Noel (on the left), Miss Vinnie (the woman on the left above) and I think the third woman's name was Louise, I'll have to check - as they concentrated on their games. They were moving their dominoes around much like you would Scrabble pieces, figuring numbers in their heads and watching one another's moves carefully. Noel was the scorekeeper. The most striking thing to me was how all three of them were intense about what they were doing - in a playful way, of course.

“It’s every person for themselves,” Miss Vinnie bounced in her chair and tapped me on the leg as she glanced at me over her shoulder.

I went back to the room to grab my camera to show you a couple of shots here, asking them if it was okay to take a few pictures.

I’ll have to take a few more hallway walks to see what else I can find here, apart from the interviews, that is.

And by the way - the competitive bug didn't hit me the same way it had in Topeka when I lost control in a heated shuffleboard battle. The fact is, if I had tried my hand at dominoes, Vinnie would have most assuredly kicked my ass.

Friday, April 13, 2007

"Good Morning, Hot Springs"

I love being on the radio! After watching Johnny and Kamal do their Jerky Boys' shtick on the air for over ten years, it was finally my turn to be the person “with the cans,” yesterday morning. I've been on the sidelines for hundreds, if not thousands of interviews and this morning, I stepped to "the other side of the glass” as the FAN’s Steve Somers loves to say. Radio virgin no more. How did this happen? Kathy left a voice mail for me last week after setting up my West Shores' room – “I did something this morning and want to make sure you’re okay with it.” Her message intrigued me. When I checked in with her she told me she booked us on a local morning radio show – "The Doug Antoine Show,” - on "US-97." And, that was that.

"Good Morning, Hot Springs" - The only thing I’ll say is this: I have to have a radio show one day. I can’t tell you how natural it felt to be on the air and the idea that here we were, Doug asking me and Kathy questions about Eldercation and the words flowed so naturally and ... they were going out to … the world. Well, the world this morning may have not been all that large and I realize this wasn't Stern or Mancow. In fact, Doug kept joking after four listeners called in, that he had tapped out his listening audience. He joked about it but the fact is about eight people called me after the show to introduce me to prospective interviewees, so somebody in Arkansas was up and listening.

So I’ve got the bug now. Definitely got the bug now. It feels like people are incredibly interested in what I’m doing out here. They want to hear what these seniors are expressing, I’m sure of it.

The best thing is that Dick invited me back for another go-round tomorrow morning at 8:00. “Miss Missouri’s gonna be here,” he added, as if I needed a carrot to get me back. Still, that’s a pretty nice carrot, huh? You think that’s another serendipitous moment? The fact that my next leg on the trip is taking me to Missouri?

* * * * * * * * * *

Radio - Day 2 - This time I remembered to bring a camera so I could get some kind of record to add something to the site. I wanted you to see Dick as well - that's him up and to the left. You'll notice right away that he looks like a big Santa Claus with a thick white beard and mustache and white hair. Kathy joked yesterday that I could interview him, but that'll have to wait for another decade or so. He’s so easy to talk with so it follows that it would be easy to be a guest on his show. He has that knack for relaxing people, I can tell. And he seemed genuinely interested in Eldercation.

The reigning Miss Missouri is Sarah French and she was Doug's first guest of the morning. He asked Sarah to stay on for my segment and we had a great time chatting together and with callers about various subjects, the most current being the Don Imus fiasco. Sarah was nice enough to snap the photo of Dick and me but, of course, I forgot to have Dick take a shot of Sarah. I hope she doesn't mind me pointing folks to her site. That's Sarah (who, by the way, was born in Hot Springs, so she's a native daughter), on the right. She's interested in all kinds of "make a difference" causes as you can see by the Special Olympics shot on the right, so she connected immediately with my passion for seniors. As I move on up to Missouri, Sarah said she's going to email me to suggest a few folks to visit while I'm up north. Pretty timely, huh?

"You're always welcome on the show," Dick smiled as I shook his hand goodbye. Another friend, Steve Weisman up in Massachusetts has been active in the seniors radio arena, hosting an extraordinary show called, “A Touch of Grey” for many years. He has also written a number of terrific books about such issues as retirement planning, elder and estate planning and identity theft. I've always loved the title "A Touch of Grey" and Steve has asked me more than a few times to be a guest on the show when I’m back in New England. I'd love to do it. The fact is, after these past two days, I want to fly up there tomorrow! In due time, I'll be there.

Okay, so it’s down to Benton, Arkansas for a visit with a Mr. Jack Hubbard, another of Charley Baxter’s recommended interviewees. But before that, I’m having lunch with Gail Ezelle who is Arkansas’ Senior Games director. I’ve spoken with Gail a few times over the past few weeks, so I’m looking forward to meeting her in person. I have a feeling she's a great link to some good Hot Springs' contacts.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Lost In Arkansas

There is nothing like waking up at 5:00 AM while it’s still dark (and this morning, quite cold), packing up the car and heading out for a long drive. That’s what I did Saturday morning. This is actually the second time on this trip I started on a drive from Wichita this way. Both started in the dark and cold. But within a half hour of starting, this was the view out my left window. Nothing calms me like this sight. Nothing.

The transition from 'flat and open' to 'hilly and tree-lined' was almost seamless. I think the big changes started to occur around Fort Smith, Arkansas and, before I knew it, I felt like I was driving on the Mass. Pike - that’s how much this section reminded me of New England. People on the radio kept referring to the western section of Arkansas as “Arklahoma"; I’d never heard that term but liked it. Once I moved off the main highway and headed down Route 71, well … there’s no other way to say this. It was gorgeous. So gorgeous I lost my way at one point, which is the first time that’s happened on this trip. And you know what? As long as I have plenty of gas, getting lost doesn't bother me. That fact is, I kind of like the idea and many times being a bit lost can lead to good things. Enter - Sam in the running suit:

I pulled into a combo McDonald’s/Phillips 66 – (I've noticed a lot of these combination outfits down here) – and saw an older gentleman with matching white hair and mustache walking on the side of the McDonalds. He was wearing a bright blue, yellow and white running suit and white sneakers.

“You know the area?” I asked.

He looked up at me, pausing. “Not really," he laughed, shaking his head. Then he looked at me again and we spoke the same words at the same time.

“You’re not from here…” We laughed.

I sensed a bit of “fuggediboudit” in this man.

"Jersey," he smiled.

“Yankees or Mets” I asked. It's important to get down to basics.

I’d found a new friend (Mets' fan) named Sam and we chatted for about ten minutes while standing under the golden arches.

"Route 270, I know. About 6 or 7 miles thattaway, “ he smiled and pointed to the right as he dropped his arm to shake my hand goodbye. And as I watched the blue and yellow sweat suit shuffle into the McDonalds, I honked my horn, prompting Sam to turn, smile and wave.

Amazing what getting lost can present.

And yes, I gave him a card so, who knows?

* * * * * * * * * *

The rest of the drive? There's just no other word I can use here. Gorgeous. And since writing about it isn't going to accomplish much, here are some photos of the drive through the Ozark and Ouachita mountains. You’ll be seeing more pics as the week unfolds, I'm sure. By the way, that's a quick shot of downtown Hot Springs.

* * * * * * * * * *

An Unexpected Gift - I may have forgotten to mention this but my first Arkansas contact for interviews was Kathy Rose, Sales Director at West Shores Senior Living Community in Hot Springs (see the photo below). We’d spoken a few times last week and, once again, Kathy is one of the special people in this field. Last week, Kathy asked me where I was staying and I told her about my plans to stay at ExtendedStay in Little Rock. Kathy then asked if she could call me back and when she did, she caught be completely by surprise by offering me a room for the week at the community. How do you like that?

Down For The Night - The last thing I remember I was watching the Masters – it was round 4:30. I woke up around 9:30 PM, sprawled on the bed, still dressed. The drive down had apparently wiped me out more than I knew. I washed up and headed out to find a place to get a bite, but as I moved down the hallway and stairs, something hit me.


I mean, completely quiet. Shut down. Not a sole to be found.

Okay. So it's not as though I expected a party or a crowd, but the solitude, while pleasant, felt a bit eery. Not in a bad way, mind you. I suppose it caught me off guard and as I walked through the beautiful wood-paneled front lobby toward the front door, a thought crossed my mind. The doors didn’t open automatically like they did when I'd arrived. "What if they don’t open on the way back in? I’ll be locked out and … that’s not the way I want to meet Kathy, having to call her or a security guard at 11:00 at night to let me in."

I decided I wasn’t that hungry and thought it'd be better to discover Hot Springs with a fresh drive during daylight.

Walking back to the room and down my hallway, I smiled when I thought about the coming week. When I told my brother about my living at West Shores for the week, we laughed about images of Cosmo Kramer during his stay at Del Boca Vista. And, you know, I have to admit when Kathy made her offer to me, I hesitated before saying yes. Still, I knew I'd been presented with a special opportunity. To be immersed in a retirement community setting for a week? Priceless. I'm sure.

To be continued ...

Friday, April 6, 2007

A Good Mix

I’m not going to get into it here, but I’ve had a few issues with my car rental. It has something to do with the fine print in my credit card agreement, the collision damage waiver and all that. Oh, what the credit card companies don’t tell you when they're pushing one of their 500 cards on you. Anyway, Enterprise has been great in helping me weave my way through the issue and, one young man, in particular, James Oaks in Wichita has gone the extra yard for me. While on the phone a few days ago, we were talking about Eldercation and I was able to tell him about what I'm doing while on the road. I was pleasantly surprised when James called me later that same afternoon to make me an offer I couldn't refuse.

James told me about an Enterprise program where the company hires seniors, often senior couples, to drive for them when they need vehicles shifted around from location to location. I had actually met a couple last week at a Wichita Enterprise office and they told me how much they love working this way.

"So - What are you doing tomorrow morning at 7:00?" James asked. I laughed. "Trust me on this one," he added.

And with that, I set my alarm.

* * * * * * * * *

I read the sports section, sipped a cup of coffee and waited for James in the front lobby. When James walked in, we shook hands and he asked me to follow him as we slipped through one or two doors and then into a back kitchenette area where I was greeted by about ten to twelve smiling seniors; all of them ready to go. It was payday so they were all waiting for their paychecks as well as driving assignments. James introduced me as his guest, his thought being that some of the folks might be open to an on-the-spot Eldercation interview. But it’s tough to waltz into a situation like that and expect people to open up quickly. Still, I passed out some cards and a few people seemed interested in what I was doing.

“Not bad for a few days of work, huh?” one of the women showed me her paycheck for a few hundred bucks. And the thing is, these people love what they’re doing and they get to do it at their leisure. I spent a few moments discussing the driving program with James and am thinking about speaking with a few of the drivers separate from the Eldercation project. So many people out there might figure older people and driving would be a bad mix. But that’s not so. “No way," James explained. "These folks are never in a rush. They’re actually some of the best drivers out there," he added. "What can I say? It works," he smiled.

* * * * * * * * * *

Alternative Gifts - One note about a Friday afternoon interview with a very special lady. Her name is Harriet Prichard and she's the founder and CEO of an organization called Alternative Gifts International. I’m not going to write much about Harriet here since you’ll be able to see an excerpt once I post it on the main part of the site. Still, I was struck not only by the woman behind the organization but the organization itself. AGI is a unique organization centered around the act of giving but giving in untraditional ways. Back in 1980, while still working as director of Children's Ministries at the Pasadena Presbyterian Church, Harriet's dream was to figure out a way where the children could give gifts for Christmas but do it in an unusual way. She organized a market where kids and adults could sell goods and animals for persons in need from Third World countries, as alternative gifts. "Cards were inscribed with the gifts purchased and sent to friends and relatives to inform them that an alternative gift was given in their honor." I encourage you to check out the AGI website to learn more about this organization's important work.

At 78 Harriet is certainly still going strong. “I don’t want to stop working and don’t see myself stopping any time soon,” she smiled. “Of course, we’re figuring out a way for me to pass the baton here,” but I love working. I really do."

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

"10 Things I Miss About NYC"

I love being on the road and know I've made that clear several times. But there have been many moments when my mind has wandered and I think about the city, especially when driving. It's funny. I was there for a long time, same apartment, same street. And yet it's hard to picture so much that became seemingly familiar over those years. Just this morning I tried to picture West 87th Street, the sidewalk, the people doing the alternate side of the street parking thing, the sound of the garbage trucks, street cleaners. And of course, that constant hummm. I can't really describe that sound but I'll tell you one thing. You really notice the void when the hummm is gone.

So last week while driving back from Topeka, I decided to make a quick list of things I miss about the city by talking into the digital recorder. I'm sure I missed some big things and also sure the list will be different in a few weeks. Still, here's what I came up with while trucking down Interstate 35, looking at the cows in the humm-less, open fields:

1. Saigon Grill - I dream of Curry Ga! Sick, huh? In fact, I thinks it's time I admit I'm a Curry Ga* addict. (* An incredible curried chicken dish). I love Vietnamese food. And for me, nothing beats Saigon Grill. "Best bang in NY, dollar for dollar." I remember the day Howard said that while we sat in front of the TV, eating SG take-out, watching some kind of game. There was a time when I ordered in from SG four times a week and they'd be at my door just about the time I'd hang up the phone. (There’s a place in Wichita called Bella Luna that serves a mean chicken curry. Surprisingly, there is a strong Mediterranean presence in Wichita - a large Lebanese population).

2. Columbus Star Bagels - Technically, this shouldn't be listed here because the store (corner of 91st and Columbus) suddenly closed about two months before I left. Still, I miss it, so ... it qualifies. H&H? Too sweet for me. And I never liked those water roll type of bready bagels. Columbus Star bagels were large, chewy… They were just plain old good. All that’s left now is a bagel memory.

3. People Watching. It didn't matter where or when. The subway, Gristedes, the bus, walking down the street... This is one thing I loved about being in NYC. Can't beat it. Then again, it's those same people who often freaked me out - too many of them. Talk about the love-hate thing kicking in.

4. Friends - Of course I miss the people I've come to know over the years. And of course, I won't list anyone for fear of leaving people out, but this is something weighing on me as I break free of a very familiar life. If I choose to start somewhere completely fresh, the upside is I get to meet new people, which is something I love to do. The down side? I'll meet new people. The older, familiar ones, the ones who've worked their way into my life - I won't be able to grab a bite to eat with them, or catch a movie, or head out to Shea... Enough said.

5. The Mets - There was nothing like being able to hop on the "7" and head over to Shea on a whim. There's something about baseball - it's in my blood, thanks to my dad and Aunt Fritzie. And, trust me, I’m following the Mets on and love that they’ve started 3 and 0. I'm looking ahead at their schedule to see if there's a way I can see them while I'm out here. St. Louis could've happened but I noticed it too late. Do they play baseball in Nebraska?

6. The Edge - No. Not him. I'm actually not sure how to put this into words. I think my brother once talked about this concept with me. He said … now how did he put it? "It's a kind of danger; you always have to be a on your toes here." Now, of course, this is the very thing that stresses out a lot of folks in the city. But, you know ... when I'm away from this "edge," we'll call it, and in more placid environments, things seem almost boring and, guess what? I miss it.

7. Bike Riding - Over the past year, just before I left, I made one of the best investments possible: my Raleigh hybrid. I'm only sorry it took me so long to make the move. I had a great bike in Boston and some of my best memories of that city were taking rides along the Charles and over to Faneuil Hall to go to work. In NYC, I loved those rides with Howard and Gail, down the West Side, under the highway, past the piers. Weaving in and out, avoiding trucks and cabs ... and tourists. The ones clicking photos while standing right smack in the middle of the bike path. "Oblivious," I'd whisper to myself, then turn to roll my eyes at Gail. Favorite rides? To Staten Island - there's nothing like taking that trip on the ferry and checking out that "other borough." Through Chinatown to seek out Bahn-Mi sandwiches. To Coney Island - from the Upper East Side! This was a challenge and a lot of fun. The guys at the bike shops told me the city's expanding the number and quality of green-ways. Check them out. It's a great way to see a very different NYC.

8. Central Park - When I moved out of my CPW apartment and stayed for a few weeks on the East Side, it killed me to be so far from the park. The plain fact is I couldn't have lasted in the city for as long as I did if it hadn't been for the park right outside my door. There was something about being able to get up in the morning, walk across the street, stretch against my favorite tree near the water fountain and start my run around the reservoir/horse track. Seeing other people running, strolling, sitting... Sure, the air is dirty, (you really notice this when you take runs outside the city), but that's a given. There's something almost sacred about that reservoir area for me. I shared happy times with some very special people, running and walking around that area. And I worked through some of the worst pain in my life by spending time there as well. I missed Central Park while I was still in the city. Now I really miss it.

9. You're not going to believe this one. The Weather - If I was standing on the street waiting for the bus right now in a 15-degree wind chill - I might not be writing this. But the thought about bundling up in the cold or the snow actually sounds good for some reason. And when it snowed there and everything became white... that's when you'd find me in the park, wandering about, taking photos. The pic on the left is one good example of a special day I spent walking around the park. There was a perfect consistency to the snow that day where it seemed to stick on the trees like bright white cotton. And that's just the winters. What about the spring - with the emergence of everything green? I remember walking up W. 87th street to the subway and glancing across the street, noticing how each day around April, it would get just a tad harder to see through to the reservoir as the trees started to bud. I haven't mentioned fall, but that's a no-brainer. When I meet people who have never been to New York and they ask when's the nicest time to visit? Christmas is always great but let's face it - there is nothing like autumn in New York. It's why they wrote a song about it.

10. The Food - I know, I know. Curry Ga, Bahn Mi sandwiches, bagels. But the pressure was really on when I reached #10 and it seemed downright nuts to list only three food favorites. (Charles - it's tough to put CPK on here simply because I can get that fix just about anywhere in the U.S. - although I haven't found one in the Midwest yet). But New York food? The choices, the flavors, the smells. Nothing beats the city for food. I ordered some take-out Italian one night in Oklahoma and it was ... okay. But, c'mon. There's no way it's going to compete. As I said, the biggest surprise was finding great Mediterranean food in Kansas. Who knew? And hooking up with Jonathan Shames and his family in Oklahoma City for brunch at their home…

“You mind bagels and nova?” he asked the day before.

I teared up when I heard those words.

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