Wednesday, November 29, 2006

On foot...

I survived day number two of my life with no car. My car is in the shop (don't ask) and it has been there for a week and a half. I expect it to be there for another week because the repair shop is in "Amish country" which one of the locals explained means that everything and everyone move really slow.

Middleofnowhere is a small town (about 25,000) and since this is the mid-west that means no public transportation. Consequently, I get to walk everywhere - which is something that I usually enjoy in large cities where there are a lot of other walkers, and lots of people and places to look at - the distances seem short. In Middleofnowhere, I walk along main thoroughfares and get splattered by wet-muddy car spray. I also risk my life because NO ONE walks in Middleofnowhere; pedestrians and bicyclists are merely easy targets in the middle of the road. I walk a minimum of six miles a day currying my little-dear to school and back. (The ache in my legs is not enough to make me cave in and rent a car - although the snow predicted for Friday might tip the scales.)

All this walking has give me lots of time to consider how despicable Americans are. They drive noisy, over-sized vehicles that they cannot or chose not to control; they move around at the center of their own universe, to hell with the world around them. A ravine we pass on the way to school attracted my young companion's attention (as a place to look for walkingstick bugs). And she asked today why there was a tire at the bottom. I refrained from saying this is typical of Americans' indifferent consume-and-purge habits. I didn't need to; she'll figure this out because it is present all around us in Middleofnowhere.

I think I'm suffering from an overload of 'free radicals.'

Sunday, November 26, 2006

"Hi, May I Help You!"

[warning: vegetarians, hide your eyes.]

One thing that mid-westerners do well is barbeque. This is a food that I did not entirely appreciate before my first visit to Missouri, but I am pleased to report that I have become something of a connoisseur. I thought that Bryant's was very good. Last year I tried Gates' barbeque, and while both are exceptionally good, I prefer Gates' to Bryant's - Gates' sauce is sweeter and slightly less smoky. And going to Gates is an unparalleled experience.

MIL (my mother-in-law) and I went to pick up dinner at Gates the other night. The location we went to is an unassuming restaurant. It is similar to a fast-food joint - bright red tile all over; stainless steel counter top, but with a diner-type window between the cashiers and cooks back into the kitchen. This window is key, as I discovered.

The entrance to this Gates restaurant has a wooden, floor-to-ceiling frame that MIL accurately compares to a corral. When we arrived, MIL hung around in the doorway looking at the overhead menu. She wanted to decide what to order before entering the corral because once you're in the pressure is on. The cashiers are quick and when they yell out "Hi, May I Help You!" you must be ready to yell back your order - sliced beef or ham (in a sandwich or by the pound), a burnt-ends sandwich, or a slab (that is, a slab of ribs).

The pressure this puts on the person doing the ordering is considerable. But the cashier has good reason to be impatient and expect a quick answer to her question because she is good.* She yells the order to the cooks in back as quickly as she receives them and she commits them all to flawless memory. While we were waiting for our order a second cashier came from the back and our cashier rattled off our order as well as those for the next five groups. (The volume of meat sold that evening was somewhat astounding.) The cashier also put the pressure on the cooks to keep up with her. It was spectacular. I recommend a visit (unless, of course, your a vegetarian; the only vegetable served were dill pickels).

*the cashier is always a 'she;' and the cooks are always 'he.'

[Incidentally, the academic in me couldn't help but note that ALL of the staff at this restaurant were young African Americans (aged between 25 and 40). This, of course, makes me speculate on the racial and class politics at work behind this example of Kansas City's famous barbeque. Any thoughts?]

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Turkey day...

I hope that you all enjoy a day away from books, work, and both in good company with lots of good food!

In middle America...

I am deep in the heart of middle America. Two days ago we drove 730 miles to get to our Thanksgiving-day destination. It took a full day to recover. (By the way, the 4-year-old was a model child during our 13.5 hour drive.)

I saw, via the interstate, two new states on our break-neck journey, Indiana and Illinois as well as 9/10ths of the state of Missouri. And I have to say that I was astounded – but not in a good way. What was most striking about these states (again, seen at 75 mph from the freeway) was Christian fundamentalism. The HUGE crosses erected alongside the roadway were disturbing, like this one in Effingham, Illinois. (Impressive, no?) Illinois was really big on the crosses (pun intended) and Missourians love their anti-abortion billboards. I even saw one opposed to the stem cell research ballot measure that has been a non-issue since November 7th (it passed, allowing for this type of research).

Sometimes the U.S. seems like a foreign country.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Peer pressure

I caved to peer pressure.

It wasn't all that difficult to accomplish. My new home/work is incredibly quite. All of my time-tested procrastination tactics were totally ineffective in this new environment. I had to rethink my strategies for frittering away those golden six hours of work-time I get each day (or five days a week).

E. told me start a blog. So, I could say that all of this is her fault. But, truthfully, it took no arm-twisting at all on her part. I gave in pretty easily.

In the spirit of 'revisionism,' I have decided to re-imagine this 'caving in' as simply 'joining the conversation' (something that I hope will save me from quietly falling into an academic myopia).

So, 'Salut' everyone!