Category Archives: Life

Meals on Wheels: Wilmington’s Food Truck Frenzy

by Jamie Lynn Miller

 

Like a chorus of cicadas rising from behind a fence on the corner of Second and Orange streets, or the renegade splashes of unseen fish in Masonboro Sound, a gourmet food truck simply materializes.

From Austin, Texas to New Orleans, Louisiana and Portland, Oregon to Miami, Florida, mobile menus and gastronomic excellence are meeting on the street corners of hungry metropolitan America. In Wilmington, four (sometimes more) signature food trucks roam the roads, curbing those hunger pangs, whenever and wherever they might strike.

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Valentine’s Day Committee for Change

 

Once again, V- Day is looming.

I call it V- Day because Hallmark’s favorite holiday–Valentine’s Day–is a bit like D-Day, especially for the men, I suppose. It’s romantic warfare: the pressure is on and everything will completely blow up, if you don’t do everything exactly right.  You’ll have a disaster of epic proportions on your hands, and the history book of your relationship will posthumously dissect your foiled attempts on the romantic front lines.

I’ve had both good and bad Valentine’s Days, like good and bad any ol’ days—centering expectations around a contrived celebration has never made much sense to me.

And yet, a few years ago, in a sort of preemptive Valentine’s Day strike (strangely, relationship fits and starts seem to hover around February 14), I chose to distance myself from the wrong guy and head home to see the family.

Turns out, they have Valentine’s Day in California too.  My sister and I went to the midnight screening of Valentine’s Day, the movie. She was psyched to stay up late, and her husband agreed to man the kid-filled fort so she and I could enjoy a “sister outing.”  I told her this was the perfect Valentine’s Date: “There’s no point even going out with friends,” I observed. “You get bad service, because no one wants to be there.  And there’s nowhere to sit, because it’s all two-tops!”

Onscreen, Jamie Foxx was the Ladies’ Man of newscasters; but even he wouldn’t touch V-Day. “Now, listen, y’all know I’m a player,” says Foxx’s Casanova to his fellow broadcasters, “but I purposely shut down my playerhood from New Year’s to St. Patrick’s Day, yeah, that’s right—just so I can avoid Valentine’s Day.”

Last year, just before Valentine’s Weekend, I was skiing with some girlfriends in Colorado.  We boarded the long, slow chairlift and there was plenty of time to talk.

“Valentine’s Day is the worst,” declared Sarah, shaking her head. “Seriously, it’s like I dread it all year. Everything’s just going along fine and then –wham. There it is.”

Sarah had a boyfriend (we were finally using that word) who was a single dad and lived a few hours away; Heidi had been dating someone for a few months;

Heidi chimed in: “So yeah, I am not expecting much. I got him a card…but I’m holding onto it. We’ll see what he does first.” I asked how everything was going. “Oh, great. Really, everything’s fine,” she said.

Meaning, things probably were fine, except now that Valentine’s Day was looming, she’d decided to second-guess things and monitor every potentially unromantic twitch, or cough.  I chuckled, then asked her how long she’d wait until the big ‘card unveiling’… 10 o’clock? 11:59 pm?

She paused, a slight smirk on her face, then shrugged. “Yeah, and if he blows it,” she continued, “maybe I’ll give it to him right at the last minute—scribble something real quick then whip it out, just to make him feel bad.”

Romantic stuff, right? To Heidi—and to many women, I imagine, Valentine’s Day is some sort of showdown, little to do with genuine affection, more like “pistols drawn at 5:47 pm, the only time I could get us a dinner reservation.”

Sarah chimed in on the card conundrum. “Well, on the other hand, you don’t want it to be like Christmas. Scott unveiled the new TV set, and I showed up with a hat. I was like, ‘Um, yeah, still working on your present pile. But this’ll keep you warm while you’re installing my new flat screen…?’”

Heidi and I cackled, and the chair jerked forward.  Good thing the safety bar was down.

“Seriously, I was horrified!” Sarah continued. “I didn’t know we were going big already, geesh…”

I nudged Heidi. “So yeah, Heids, definitely hold out on the card, Don’t want to overwhelm him.”

“But seriously,” Sarah observed, between fits of laughter. “It’s a girl’s holiday.  Are we supposed to shower the man?

“Nope, it’s their turn to do the fussing. I’m hangin’ onto the card,” Heidi declared.  I’ll keep you posted.”

Sarah’s boyfriend was supposed to come down for the whole weekend, but family obligations had whittled the visit down to maybe, possibly, Sunday night; and then, come Monday morning—officially Valentine’s Day—they were both traveling for work for a couple weeks.

“I mean, I can’t be upset, because he’s being a good dad–which is awesome–but our weekend just got totally…shrunk.”

We starting referring to the Weekend of Dwindling Valentine’s as the Shrinkage .Our laughter was now causing the chair to sway from side to side.

“But yeah, he’ll be here for like four hours,” Sarah lamented. “Then he’ll take off on Valentine’s Day!”

And therein lay that rub. That Scott had to head out on Valentine’s Day turned an otherwise inconvenient change of plans into the big “red and pink” elephant in the room, so to speak. To Sarah, a small, interpersonal speed bump was in danger of becoming severe road damage, with the sign declaring: “He took off on Valentine’s Day!”

I got it; I really did. Disappointment sucks, but so does assessing your relationships through Hallmark holidays.

I guess I was raised with a different outlook on Valentines’ Day.

I turned to my friends and said, in all sincerity: “How about you get all Jedi Mind trick this year, and just ignore Valentine’s Day?”

 

In all fairness, I’ve had some solid Valentine’s Day mentors.  While my siblings and I were raised around love affection between Mom and Dad, my father held an utter disdain for Valentine’s Day.

He thought it was the stupidest, most made-up marketing ploy on the planet, and he refused to acknowledge it in the expected fashion.

That’s not to say he didn’t acknowledge it at all.

He gave Mom all kinds of cards on Valentine’s Day: Get Well Soon; Sorry for Your Loss; Congratulations, Graduate! The St. Patrick’s Day card year was the best. In true Hallmark fashion, St. Patrick’s Day cards came out a month or so early, surely by early February, and sometimes the leprechauns resembled evil cupids—so actually, Dad was pretty spot on, substituting St. Paddy’s for V-Day.  He’d take Mom to dinner and would always do something in honor of the day, but he never, ever, gave her a Valentine’s Day card.

Mom would sigh, shaking her head at a recycled Groundhog Day card, and say, “Oh, Spike, come on…”

This little ritual always made me smile. It’s one of my favorite memories of my dad. Spike Miller was an innovator in many ways, but raising his daughters to raise an eyebrow at February 14 was one of his finer moves.

 

I phoned Heidi after skiing. “Any developments on the card front?”

“Well, he called and asked me if I had any plans Monday night,” she said. “He’s like, I guess we should go to dinner or something, huh?”

Hooray! She now had plans.  Hooray, right?!

“I guess we should go to dinner?  Kinda weak,” she continued.  “Whatever. Not card-worthy yet. I’m keepin’ it in the drawer.”

So, while Dad thought the card was the least of the sentiment, a special dinner date on the big night didn’t necessarily mean Heidi’s date was getting a card.

A complicated Hallmark ritual, this Valentine’s Day, fraught with skepticism and withholding.

I then called Sarah to see how the Shrinkage was going. Scott was on his way, she told me. “No more talk of shrinkage!”

 

On Valentine’s Eve, I called my niece and nephew to chat. I missed them. Nate was then 9, Sophia 11, and I needed an update from each of them.  Nate’s pizza had herbs with an audible “h,” eww gross! Every Valentine’s Day, Sophia told me, the classes go to IHOP–International House of Pancakes–but this year, her class wasn’t going.

And she was mad.

I told her I’d be mad, too, if everyone went to IHOP but me. But hey, why do you all got to IHOP on Valentine’s Day?

“I don’t know. We just do,” she said, with 11-year-old exasperation. I suggested this was a nice way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Pancakes for all. At an International House of Them!

“Yeah,” Sophia continued, “and I was supposed to bring cards to school for everyone but I told the teacher that was a waste of paper and glue, and I didn’t do it.”

“You did?” I said, stifling a laugh. “Wow. But wait, do you really feel that way about wasting paper and glue, or was it just a Valentine’s Day thing? Because I’m sure you waste paper and glue in other ways. I sure do!”

Sophia laughed. “Well I mean if it’s for Christmas or Chanukah, it’s OK. Because everyone gets presents. But Valentine’s Day is a lame, made-up holiday that was invented by the Hallmark card people.”

“Who told you that?” I asked, in total disbelief. Was this natural disdain for Hallmark holidays genetic?

“Mommy,” she said, giggling.

And then I told Sophia the story of our dad, Grandpa Spike, whom she never met, and how he showered Nana with many good things over the years but never, ever, with a Valentine’s Day card.

I ran through the list of bogus greeting cards, pausing for effect on the evil leprechaun/cupid phenomenon, and Sophia giggled and giggled at Grandpa Spike’s silliness.

I’m pretty sure she, too, liked the St. Paddy’s Day year the best.

 

Several years ago, Sophia sent me a handwritten Valentine’s letter, measured penmanship round and intentional on dotted lines, and sparkle pen explosions in Valentine’s-like colors.

“Dear Aunt Jamie, Happy Valentine’s Day! I can’t wait to see you in Mexico! We are going to have so much fun. We are going to go rock climbing and hiking. Maybe I can stay in your room one night.”

I put her letter on my fridge to enjoy every day. A note like that makes any day feel like Valentine’s Day.

* * *

If life is a box of chocolates,  love is something else.

Never be afraid to show your cards, especially those with glue smudges and sparkly stickers.

 

Hope

 
If you’re not Episcopalian, Anglican, Advent Christian, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Mormon, Unitarian, Roman Catholic or one of the many Baptist varietals—or if you’re a Jew who likes to jog, you pretty much have the streets of downtown Wilmington to yourself on a Sunday morning.  I usually run over to the nearby city park/rec center, which consists of some fenced-in baseball fields and an expanse of ill-kept grassy ground around the perimeter.  It’s the soft ground I’m looking for and most often, I have the field to myself.

There are three and a half pages of Church listings in the Wilmington Area phone book, followed by listings for Cigar and Cigarette Lighters; so if you’re not in church, and you’re not jogging, you’re probably smoking on a Sunday morning.  Two Sundays ago, I run to the park, and the usually deserted baseball field has a couple of observers.  There are two black men sitting side-by-side in the bleachers, right next to the dugout.  They peer out at the ball field, not talking much, occasionally taking a phone call or a drag of a cigarette. I nod hello and continue my laps around the field, and we all go about our business without much interest in the others’.

Around Lap 4, the men start to chat and look around the field, and I notice that they start to take an interest in my run around the bleachers.  I’m just about to round first base when the man closest to the dugout yells: “How many times you gon’ go ‘round?”

I chuckle, and smile to myself.  And then I decide to ask his opinion. “I don’t know,” I counter. “How many do you think I should do?”

He cocks his head, thinks a moment, and shouts: “Eight! I think you shuh’ do eight.”

“Hmm.  That’s about four more,” I tell him. “I can do that.” I continue my jog with an end point in mind.  I now have a coach—better yet, an audience; and I now feel highly accountable for my progress.

As I head into Lap 7, I notice a commotion coming from the bleachers.  Dugout Man is yelling straight-ahead, cussing and madly gesticulating into the air.  It takes me a second to realize he’s yelling into the phone, not at his friend, who sits calmly by, unfazed by the smack-talking, and continues to stare out towards the pitcher’s mound.  Dugout Man’s words grow louder and fouler, and his energy flies off him like a boxer’s beads of angry sweat.

I take a wider berth around the bleachers to give the scene some space, but I can still hear the fuss.  As I near the back of home plate, he’s feverishly conjugating the word “fuck.”  He sees me pass by and he jerks the phone down, cranes his head around and yells: “Fo’ mo’!  You got FO’ MO’”!

I chortle, and then shake my head; I’m thoroughly enjoying the progression of antics.  Without a second thought, or even a “hold on a minute” to the person on the other end of the phone, he’s interrupted his tirade to let me know he’s on top of today’s workout. No cheating!

“Oh, man, come on,” I call out over my shoulder: “I already did eight.  You lost count!”  He waves me off and without missing a beat, he puts the phone back up to his ear and resumes his string of F-bombs.  His tucks his thumb and throws the back of his free hand over his shoulder, four fingers pointing defiantly into the air.

On my way back, I pass a group of people on South 5th Avenue just getting out of Catholic Church. They’re milling about on the sidewalk and I step off the walkway and into the street, to give them time and space to congregate.  Inevitably, they turn to watch me as I run by.  One woman nods hello, taking in my purple face, my shorts, my irreverent Rock Star Energy Drink baseball hat, and she lets her gaze linger a bit.  There’s a trace of a smile on her face.

I think of telling her I went to the early, early service; that’s why I’m out running, instead of just out of church, on a Sunday morning.  Instead, I think of the men on the bleachers and how our disparate lives intersected, in such a positive way; I realize the interaction has left me feeling hopeful—about what, I can’t exactly say, it’s just a general feeling of increased well-being and inspiration for the day, and separate from the runner’s high that’s still coursing through my veins.

* * *

After my run I go to the store and on the drive home, at the corner of Dawson and Oleander, I see an oversized Romney sign draped over an entire building.  “’Hope’ is not a Strategy” it reads, the word hope italicized and in quotes, as though hope is something to be mocked, and isolated for dramatic effect.  It occurs to me that, in addition to using the word “not” and thereby putting a negative twist on a positive call to action – a basic law of attraction no-no –  Romney has utterly missed the mark.

Because someone once taught me that sometimes, hope is the only strategy.

* * *

 An old boyfriend had a roommate named John, who soon became my favorite member of their household.  John and I were fast friends, enjoying the same stupid movies, laughing at ourselves and generally sharing a similar light-hearted outlook on life.  John was loud, theatrical and his laughter rang throughout the apartment, up the walls and out into the street, disturbing the neighbors at all hours of day and night.

Before I knew him, John had tried to commit suicide, more than once.  The first two-times were half-hearted, he told me. “I was too depressed to really figure out how to do it, like how to actually make it happen.  That’s what people don’t understand,” he said.  “The real risk isn’t when people are totally depressed; it’s when they feel capable enough to figure it out, you know? When they can muster up the energy to devise a plan–that’s when they actually go through with it.”

The third time, he had a plan.  In telling me his story, he didn’t tell me what that plan was but he told me what happened to change his mind, and he told me something I’ve never forgotten. “People commit suicide because they don’t have hope,” said John. He watched my face and then paused, letting it sink in.  “That’s it.  It’s that simple.  They don’t think things will ever get better—and it’s not always that they think they’ll get worse; their biggest fear, truly, is that things will never change.  They’ve lost all hope.  That’s why people do it.”

He was on the brink of his first successful attempt at killing himself, he continued, when the phone rang.  “All day, I’d been waiting for a sign, for something to happen, for some way to know that this wasn’t the final answer.  And the phone rang.  It was my sister. She invited me over for dinner, with the husband and the kids.  Yeah, she was like, ‘What are you doin’?  Want to join us for dinner? The kids are asking about you and I haven’t seen you in awhile. Come over.’”

It wasn’t a gushy phone call, it wasn’t a plea for sanity or an impassioned intervention; it was just a natural human gesture: sister to brother, niece and nephew to uncle, one person reaching out to another, at exactly the right time.  “I thanked her for calling,” said John.  “I told her no, I hadn’t eaten. And then I went over for dinner.”

We both sat there in silence; I didn’t know what to say, and he smiled, ever so slightly, perhaps feeling the unbearable lightness of being unburdened, at last.  “I can’t even tell you what that was about.  It just gave me hope, for some reason.  I realized I mattered to someone.”  He laughed his maniacal laughter, jolting us both out of our separate reveries. I put that wisdom in a box, to be opened only in case of emergency: sometimes “hope” is the only strategy.

 * * *

 Hope permeates our lives, from religion, to relationships to the recent political season.  Recently, I moved from a place where 97% of the population thinks – and looks – like me; when I complained to a Colorado friend that my car got egged on Halloween, he told me the Republican Headquarters back home got egged—again. And so, my vote in North Carolina seems to matter more—this election, it feels heavier; it feels like it actually carries more civic weight than it did in Aspen, Colorado.

Last election, my mom flew across the country and canvassed her way back to California.  She teamed up with various Democratic volunteers and knocked on doors—for about eight weeks.  It felt like the country was more hopeful last election; personally, I felt more hopeful last election.

This time around, I feel compelled to make more of an effort. For some reason, voting early and parading around with my “I Voted” sticker and then hoping for the best doesn’t feel like enough. I respond to an email from Moveon.org, and I agree to volunteer to help out during the final days of voting season.

Monday morning, I show up at the Democratic Headquarters, strategically located on 9th street next to the organic coffee at Folk’s Café.  They have urns of coffee to fuel the volunteers and Jason, the campaign coordinator said, “Thanks so much for coming out!  We need all the help we can get. Do you want to make some phone calls, or would you like to knock on some doors?”

I definitely want to knock on some doors.  I’m curious who’s behind them, and what kind of conversations we might have.  Turns out, they only send you to like-minded doorways, so there was no call for persuasive rhetoric, rebuttal or even political peer-pressure to vote; most everyone isn’t home, and those that are have already voted, are late to work and quickly thank me for stopping by.  Gobama!

I park at Castle and 3rd and walked down towards Greenfield Street, stopping at random house numbers owned or rented by registered Democrats.  I cross the railroad tracks, wait for the traffic to subside and turn left on Meares Street, looking for my first side-street address.  Rosa Miller is already out on her sidewalk, waiting for some diversion to walk by. She seems happy to see me.

I ask Rosa if she’s voted.

“Yes, I already did,” she replies.

“Great!” I say.  “Thanks for getting—“

“Yes Ma’am.  I voted for Romney,” Rosa declares, cutting me off mid-sentence.

There was a time when I maintained I didn’t care who you voted for as long as you exercised your right to vote—but I admit, my stance has changed in the last four years. However, upon hearing Rosa’s vote for Romney, I silence my true feelings and hear myself say, half-heartedly: “Well, OK, as long as you voted! That’s what counts.”

“That’s right. I voted for Romney,” she repeats, “because Obama wouldn’t let me kiss his SEX-Y lips.

There’s a moment of silence, and then she bursts into laughter.  I laugh too, in relief, and at myself, for my surprise and what must have been the totally bewildered look on my face.

“I got you good!” she says, pointing her finger at me. “Come on girl.  I vote for

o-BAMA!  Romney is the devil.  That man the devil.  Michelle, and the kids, they’re such a loving family. Them kids is so well-behaved, and smart, and Obama and Michelle, they love each other. Michelle won’t let no one touch her man, that’s right. Gimme some a’ that.  Oh well.”

Rosa has a cane, and one bad eye turned up toward the sky, a thin membrane covering the space where sight used to be. Her other eye is fine and though she’s smells like she’s been drinking this morning, her words and clear and deep.  “My son come home from school when he was little, cryin’.  This little white girl he used to play with come to class one day and start yellin’ at him at recess, sayin’ things like “Ku Klux Klan, nigger nigger, you’re dumb,” and my little boy, he ast me, ‘Mama, why she start sayin’ those things to me?’  And I tell him, I say, “Baby, it’s not her fault. It’s her parents fault. They ignorant and now, she gone be ignorant, too.”  She pauses. “Hey, where you from, Miss Jamie?”

I tell her I’m from the mountains of Colorado, elevation 8,000 feet.

“Woo-wee!” says Rosa.  “Shoa is differen’ here for you, huh?”

I nod, and say, “Yes, it really is.  There’s too much oxygen down here, Rosa; I can’t think straight!”

She chuckles and shakes her head, patting my hand.  “Well I like yo’energy.  You got a nice sense of humor.  Alright baby, thanks fo’ comin’ by.”

She walks me next door in search of the next person on my list, a Nellie Foster. There is an old woman sitting on the front porch and I realize she’s already seen me, and has heard most of our conversation. She smiles at me, her eyes sparkling, mirthful, optimistic about something today.  I introduce myself and she nods, and shakes my hand.

“I like your beautiful flowers,” I say, gesturing toward matching planters of fake yellow and pink roses, a few faded blossoms clinging to the weathered stems.

“They’re fake,” replies Nellie, stating the obvious. “But I really like ‘em.  My former husband gave ‘em to me.  He’s gone now.  They used to be a full a’ flowers, but someone keeps messin’ wit’ ‘em.” A frown narrows her sparkling eyes and she sits down, settling herself in the porch swing, and sighs.  “Where you from, Baby? Colorado?  Ooo, big change for you, huh?  You like it down hea’?”

Nellie Foster is 83 years old.  Her former husband has passed away and now, she lives alone on the edge of Meares Street.  Rosa lives next door and keeps an eye on her, calls herself Nellie’s guardian.  Nellie lived in Brooklyn for many years, which she didn’t like: “Too cold!  And too many damn people.”  She likes it here well-enough and the sunshine feels nice today.  It’s a good day to sit outside.  I ask Nellie if she’s voted and she said, “No, baby, I cain’t get to the polls,  I haven’t voted in years.”

I’ve only committed to canvassing today and they have people on-call to help drive people to the polls tomorrow, but now, I want to be the one who makes it happen.

I tell Nellie I’ll give her a ride.  Suddenly, capturing Nellie’s vote seems like the most important thing in the world.  I think of how she’ll feel; I think of how the people who help her with the voting booth and show her how the computerized ballot works and escort her back downstairs will feel; every vote counts, and I feel certain that Nellie’s vote will count more than ever.

Rosa has joined us on the porch.  She tells me that Nellie doesn’t go anywhere without her, but tomorrow morning around 11 could work, yes.  Nellie says she can go earlier, but Rosa tells us she’s busy in the morning.  She needs to get her brace on, and then wait for her check.  She can’t leave the house to help Nellie before 11.  “How ‘bout today?” asks Rosa.  “Can she go today? “

Early voting has ended and we all feel a little disappointed; it’s a beautiful, hopeful day, a good day to go for a drive, cast a vote; be a hero.

‘Oh, that’s OK, I can’t find my pocketbook, anyway,” says Nellie, patting her hair, telling me she really needs to find her headscarf. I tell them I’ll come back tomorrow, 11 a.m. and I’ll drive them to Mount Olive Church, just four blocks away.  And Nellie will finally be able to vote for President Obama.

I shake both their hands, again, thank them for their efforts and I say to Nellie, “I’ll see you tomorrow. Are you excited?’

She looks at me, eyes thick with emotion and says “Yes. Yes, baby, I am.  I’m very excited.”

* * *

 

Election Day is cold and windy and mid-morning, it starts to rain.  I pull up to Nellie’s house around 10:45 and she’s on the front porch, gently rocking in the swing.  She nods hello, visibly fatigued, no trace of yesterday’s optimism on today’s porch.

“Good morning Nellie!  Are you ready to vote??”  I try a light-hearted approach, smiling and doing a little we’re-gonna-go-vote dance. I’d already called the people at Mount Olive to let them know Nellie was coming, so they could help make it as easy as possible for her.  I could bring her right up to the curb; she didn’t even have to get out of the car.

I share this good news.  I tell her we’re all set.

“Where’s Rosa?” asks Nellie, a worried look on her face.  She shuffles side to side, left foot, right foot, and looks around for Rosa.

“We can wait for Rosa, no problem,” I say.  “I’m a little early.”

“Oh, I dunno, Baby.  I’m not feelin’ too well today.”  Nellie clutches her cardigan and wraps it tightly around her chest.  The hopeful mood is gone. Yesterday’s excitement is today’s exhaustion, and Nellie doesn’t want to leave her porch. She rocks back and forth, shakes her head and looks down at the steps.  “I just don’ think I’m feelin’ up to it.”

“Are you sure?” I am trying to find the right tone, a blend of patience and persuasion, hoping to convince her to head to the polls – it’ll be quick! – and it’ll feel so good; she’ll be so happy she voted.

In a flash of self-awareness, I realize I’m over-invested in this outcome.  I mentally step outside myself and start to observe what’s really happening here.

Helping Nellie leave her porch, and cast her vote, feels like hope.   And that’s why I’m here: I want to tell the story of how I drove an 83 year-old woman named Nellie to the polls; I want to share how good it felt to help her into the car, to see her face after she voted, to hear how she felt after voting for the first time in years.  I want to hear how my action made a difference. I want to take a picture and I want to send it to my mom, to let her know I’m  doing alright and I’m doing good things, and she doesn’t have to worry about me in this random new place where I’m trying to feel at home.

I want a happy ending because it will make me feel good and while I’m still convinced that casting her vote will make Nellie feel good, too–right now, Nellie doesn’t feel well.  I wait another moment or two and look out at the street, giving her time to gather her thoughts and see if she might feel up to it, after all.

I bring my gaze back to the porch and see Nellie patting her hair.  She hasn’t found her headscarf.  “I cain’t go anywhere lookin’ like this, Baby. I’m sorry.  Oh, I don’t know. I think I need some aspirin. I’m not feelin’ well today.  Well, I just think I’ll stay on home today.  I’m sorry.  I just – I’m sorry.”

I’ve regained my presence of mind and I reach out for her hand.  I assure her it’s OK, it’s not a problem; I tell her it’s a nasty day and I think I’ll go home, too!  I smile.  I ask if I can get her anything.

“I’m alright, Baby. I thank you for your patience. You’ve been very kind.”  I lean in and give her a hug. I tell her it was wonderful to meet her.  “You take care, Baby,” says Nellie.

As I walk to my car I see Rosa, in an electric wheelchair, motoring down the sidewalk. She nods at me, but doesn’t say hello.  Obama’s sexy lips are yesterday’s news; today, it’s raining, and the view from her front porch is a cold one. I start the car and she waves; I sit there a few more seconds, hoping she’s somehow changed Miss Nellie’s mind.  I hear the shutter door slam shut.  The porch is now deserted.

And then I drive away.

 * * *

 

I run around the park on other days, as well.  I haven’t seen the bench-warmers since that certain Sunday, but no matter what the day, or time, there’s a group of older men just across the street from the third base, sitting on someone’s front stoop in lawn chairs, with various refreshments scattered around and “Mmhmm’s” and Lawd Have Mercy’s” murmured up and down the sidewalk.   It’s the world’s longest tailgate party to nowhere.  They good-naturedly whistle at cars and ladies and while they’ve noticed me go by, they don’t seem to pay me much notice.

Thursday morning, I am all alone at the park.  Halfway through my run and hoping for some sort of distraction, I reverse my direction: sometimes the slightest change in routine can save a waning workout. I am tired today.  I turn up my music and try to quicken my pace.  A new sound breaks into my favorite song, a strange, muffled lyric I’ve never heard before. Puzzled, I turn down the volume to investigate, and I realize the new sound is coming from across the street.  One of the elderly tailgaters is on his feet, yelling, his hands cupped around his mouth: “You got three mo’!”

 

Aspen Paints the Town “En Plein Air”

Bryan Mark TaylorThe plein air artist at work: Bryan Mark Taylor is one of this year’s featured participants at the 2nd Annual Aspen Plein Air Celebration, Art Show and Sale. More images

ASPEN, Colo.—Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House teams up with Telluride’s Sheridan Opera House this week in a nonprofit meeting of masterminds. The 2nd Annual Aspen Plein Air Celebration, Art Show and Sale takes place July 5 – 11 and features 15 artists from Texas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Europe, the greater Southwest and Aspen. In a collaborative effort, proceeds will benefit the historic Sheridan Opera House and its programs, while sales tax from all art sales will benefit the City of Aspen.

A few words on the plein air tradition: think outdoor cafes, wildflower-strewn meadows and scenic vistas in the open air. And think French. En plein air is French for “in open air,” a phrase most commonly associated with “painting out of doors.” From morning hues to evening sunsets, the importance of natural light to the creative process has made plein air painting essential to both the Realist and Impressionist traditions.

 

 

 

Woody Creek Wisdom

There’s this woman that comes into my workplace. As a writer, I’ve discovered the isolation everyone talks about, the zoning out in front of a white screen for hours, delete delete, run-on sentence, ramble, eyes blurring, come back and look at it later, time to get some fresh air – so it’s good to step out and join the world in an official work capacity, while carefully surrounding myself with good influences in my choice of part-time jobs.  I’m careful about that these days; I’ve had so many jobs in my life, proving to myself over and over that I can get by – good to know – but I’ve finally realized that it’s better to remain sane and serene while making ends meet, conserving time and energy towards cultivating my creative goals.

It sounds good on paper.

So a couple of days a week, I work at a café, bookstore, gourmet grocery and community center in a suburb of the already none-too-big town of Aspen, Colorado. Introducing Woody Creek, tucked away just off Hwy 82, a small town within a small town. Woody Creek’s the second to last China Doll, the progressively deeper layer of onion, the final few leaves of artichoke before you get to the heart. It’s a small world, after all.

A few weeks after I start, we run out of farm fresh eggs and organic butter on the same day. One local’s day is cast asunder.

“No eggs? Really??

I repeat the bad news; it seemed like she heard me the first time, but just in case.

“Sorry. It’s true. No eggs. Only regular butter.”

The woman sighs. “Wow.  That means I’ll have to go… onto the main road. And to the – store.” Deeper sigh, head shake.  NC-17 expletive.

I can’t help but wonder how long it’s been since she’s left the one and only road that winds through Woody Creek and crept out onto Big Bad 82, and that maybe the dearth of eggs is a blessing in disguise. Pa’s headed to town, Half Pint.  Need anything?

But on most days, the small, simple lifestyle is refreshing.  Having lived in Aspen so long, I now see people I’ve never really seen before; and then I see them a lot, but only in Woody Creek.  I sort of feel like I have a double life and my own world’s gotten larger, not smaller.  And it feels like I’m taking care of them and their need for good food, awesome coffee and a friendly place to daydream.

There’s a woman who comes in from Twin Lakes; when she first started visiting, she’d always ask about the other gal who works here, who she’s known over the years. She always seemed to come in on my co-worker’s day off and my day on, so we started chatting. I began to look forward to her visits.  She’s beautiful, with long, dark, grey- streaked hair and bright eyes.  She looks like a gracefully wise bohemian from back in the day.  She effuses over the amazing food, especially the Curry Chicken Salad, and always appreciates the hearty portions; she likes my Chai Lattes and thanks me for my smile. She always asks for a receipt and always leaves a nice tip.

She first started coming in during the winter, when the mountain pass to Aspen was closed, turning the 50 some-odd miles from Twin Lakes to Woody Creek, into at least a four-hour drive over the hills, around the mountains and back onto the interstate before even reaching Hwy 82.  I’ve never asked her why she comes to town, and always on Wednesdays; now that summer’s finally here and the Pass is open, I hope she comes in more often.

The other day, she came to the counter to get a macaroon for the road. I readied her receipt, then asked her if she had an email and would like to join our mailing list.

“Oh, I don’t do computers,” she replied, with a chuckle.  “No computers, no fax machines, no microwaves.”

I smiled to myself.  Her words made me so happy.  And rather envious.

* * *

I remember when an old boyfriend and I were considering moving in together and the first thing he brought over to the brand new, just built apartment was his worn down, pizza-stained microwave. And how excited he was to have the perfect counter for the microwave and how I didn’t share his enthusiasm.  I think I even told him I didn’t want that smelly thing in the nicely polished kitchen.

Looking back, that was surely ridiculous of me, and surely a sign that we had larger issues lurking; but I still have the same my gut reaction to microwaves.

They just bum me out.

Microwaves make me think of kids whose parents aren’t cooking for them, or of not bothering to cook at all,  just heating up food fast and hoping it will taste like it looks on the commercial.  They remind me of when I’m in a hurry and not taking care of myself and then I wonder what I’m so busy about because I don’t have a family and I’m not a workaholic, and I see those same commercials and decide that I should be able to cook that meal from scratch, not have to defrost it and then nuke it and try and enjoy it with some ice flakes on top and still kind of frozen in the middle.  As you can tell there are other issues lurking, not solely limited to microwaves; but it’s best to avoid known triggers and so, No Nukes in My Kitchen.

Fax machines.  I couldn’t agree more.  Do people really still use fax machines? My friend’s ahead of her time on this one. Every time someone asks me to fax a form or, even worse, scan a document, I move that task down the to-do post-it and invariably forget to complete the application or send in the paperwork and then forget where I put the post-it and, well, you get the picture.  Who even has a land-line anymore?  I feel ahead of my time on this one; no Qwest bill, only a 10-year old cell phone and unlimited texting on a keypad that still beeps and is squishy to the touch.

However, I most admire her for the fact that she “doesn’t do computers”. I’ve often written about my Luddite-like leanings: “Damn you, Spinning Jenny,” said a friend of mine, laughing at my latest anti-technology rant; but surprisingly, I’m getting more and more adept at the ins and outs of social networking, the intricacies of the internet and its obscure tangents of information. I hardly remember how things got done before computers and I can’t imagine the world without them anymore.

If only I could remember all the damn passwords.

* * *

The little information I manage to track down and establish is invariably locked away behind secret codes of my own making, which are required, should I want to establish my own lane on the great information highway.

We create them to outsmart others, but we only outsmart ourselves.

It started with my online banking account.  (Maybe I should tell you which bank, in case you crack the code and want to deposit money in my account.) I was doing fine, transacting, transferring, having panic attacks, heaving sighs of relief, the usual emotional roller coaster that comes with owing a dollar saver checking account when one day, my trusty password (I forget it now) didn’t work.

I was asked to please change my password.  All of a sudden?  Why??  I was doing just fine!  Some new routine security policy requiring changing of passwords every 6 months, was the answer. For your protection.

Dammit. I tried to change it to something I could remember in a flash, but I didn’t know where to start. Arggh.  I was only trying to check my balance, definitely no need for new high security clearance.  I was just hoping it was in the double digits. Above zero.

I decided on something similar, a slight variation from the original; but I was momentarily denied, this time in red letters, and given more specific instructions which for some reason weren’t given the first time. Password must have a symbol, special character, Upper Case, Lower Case and Number.

Whahhh? Come on. Seriously?  It’d already been about 20 minutes including the aborted login attempts, and now another good 10 just to re-read the list and figure out what’s so “special” about those characters.

So I managed to create a suitable password that first time – and it was the last time it ever worked.  Did I use forget to use the caps lock? What was more special, the @ or the *? Didn’t matter, I couldn’t remember which one I’d chosen and I misplaced the post-it where I wrote it down.  Actually, I don’t even think I wrote it down, I was hoping the computer would “remember me” this time.

This trend started to creep up with other websites.  User name taken. How is that possible? It’s me! That’s the thing about computers, they’re very impersonal; they can’t tell if it’s Jamie Lynn Miller or Jamie Lynn Spears on the other end of the keyboard.

“Password can’t contain any words that appear in username.”  Shit. Here we go again.  “Password can’t contain any words contained in past passwords.”   NC-17 expletive.

Hours have gone by with me trying to login to sites I infrequently use, or signing up for others in order to complete any basic transaction.  Why is the name of my second grade teacher so important to Cheapo Air?

I’ve started keeping a spreadsheet – very advanced of me, I know – to remember logins, passwords, secret characters and screen names, but I can’t help but be simultaneously annoyed and amazed at the amount of time I spend just trying to get from one information stop to another.

I remember using the World Book Encyclopedia, the 1978 equivalent of Wikipedia, to get information. A teacher friend of mine says she allows her students to use Wikipedia as a reference for their research papers; I ask if she ever actually checks the definitions. What if Christopher Columbus becomes Christopher Cross? Well, they both liked sailing, anyway.  We laugh.

I remember our instructional classes on the Dewey Decimal system and I remember using microfiche at the beautiful old UCLA library to find some obscure quote for a well-written but most likely melodramatic college paper, which was  put in storage and misplaced, or thrown away shortly thereafter.

That’s one of the coolest thing about computers: you can store information for all time, or until you back it up with your external hard drive.

You just need to remember your network key.

* * *

I think it’d be really cool if there were no locks, on doors or cars or storage lockers; if we didn’t need keys or passwords or codes or not-so-special characters, because there weren’t any characters out there trying to steal, at least in my case, relatively useless information and not-so-worldly goods and my identity. I can’t imagine my identity’s worth much to anyone but me, in the end; I’m probably someone else, anyway…I just can’t remember the password.

It’d be awesome if we could access all our accounts and peruse all sorts of websites and leave our bags unattended and take candy from strangers and get through the day without faxing or rebooting.

And we never ran out of farm fresh eggs.  Maybe it’s time I moved to Woody Creek.

 

Dedicated to the lovely woman who will probably never read this, because she doesn’t do computers.

 

 

Sienna Wine Bar and Small Plates, My New BFF

“It’s hard to look cool eating one of these,” says Cooper Langdon, risking a gaffe for another spoonful of gourmet mac and cheese, courtesy of Sienna Wine Bar and Small Plates’ Grand Opening Celebration. A chocolate fondue fountain trickles down, while reds, whites, sparklings and roses greet outstretched hands. Deep within the hand-crafted bar, gallions, medallions and treasured tzochkes from friends and family lie embedded in a sea of glitter, to lean on and admire for all time.

“We throw glitter on any old problem around here,” says proprietress Mary Kent, with a laugh. Over the past eight months, she and fiancé Quince Rickard transformed the 20 year-old hair salon into the enchanted new Sienna, the color of the warm walls and the late afternoon sun sparkling off the vintage crystal chandelier. Plush, funky chaise lounges, eclectically gorgeous décor and the most inspired bathroom imaginable: enter deep red walls and ceiling, with a translucent floor of red silk roses underfoot.

“We live here and love our neighbors, and everyone’s been yearning for an affordable gathering place of their own,” says Rickard. Introducing Sienna, a gathering place for all ages, with root beer floats and Nutella sandwiches served alongside top shelf cheese platters, sparkling red Brachetto and Peach Bellinis. The wine list is poetic, the beers comprehensive and though only three blocks from Colfax, Sienna seems an intimate world away.

Afternoon turns to evening and the crowd keeps coming. A visitor from the Highlands congratulates Kent on her coup: “Everything at the Highlands is so hip. And cool. And Yuppie. It’s great to have a nice place like this, a real place, to spend some time.” Restauranteur Rob Kuck smiles in agreement. “This is a real neighborhood place…And Mary? She’s overflowing with personality and warmth. People want to get to know Mary!”

Japanese Cowboys

Wyoming is the least populated state in the nation. Cows, steers, road construction and legendary wind are the main signs of life.   People, however, they usually come from elsewhere, just temporarily, for a brief glimpse at the last frontier.

With more cattle than full-time residents, Wyoming beef is legendary. Even the road signs tout its merits: “Wyoming Beef – it’s just good”

After four days climbing outside of Lander, Wyoming, I’d worked up an appetite. And nothing tasted better than a thick cut of Wyoming’s finest. Roaming the endless pastures and holding up traffic, grazing alongside the miles of tic-tac-toe fencing which protects denizens from harsh winter snowdrifts, Wyoming beef comes from undisturbed cattle with nothing but time and space, to wander.

Headed back towards the border we missed the exit to Baggs, the one and only road to take us back to our part of Colorful Colorado.

Rather, I missed the exit.

Bruce Springsteen’s Devils and Dust was on the box, blending with the stark landscape and the gathering storm clouds; I was deep in road-trip-trance, lost in my thoughts. It was 70 miles later before I realized we, too, were lost.

* * *

By the time we backtracked to Exit187 and the requisite fireworks stand – Wyoming’s most tell-tale sign of civilization – we’d worked up a powerful hunger, one to rival that of a hard-working cowboy rounding up the day’s last cattle. Unfortunately, it was  10:32 p.m., and Baggs was asleep.  60 miles later, the Subway in Craig, Colorado was the only sign of life.

My friend Chris ordered the cold cut combo, extra mayo. Thick honey mustard. Hours earlier I’d wolfed down a Bison Burger from the Lander Bar, with guacamole, chipotle mayo and melted pepper jack.  No questions asked.

Now, with similar conviction, I ordered the veggie delight. No mayo, no sauce. Dry. And melted pepper jack.

Chris scoffed, then challenged my bland cravings:  What, no sauce? Jesus. Nothing? Isn’t it gonna get stuck in your throat? I told him to worry about his own hoagie; if there was no Wyoming beef on the menu, I’d go sauce- less. And meat-free.

He coughed feebly then pointed to his tongue, indicating imminent hairball removal. We shared a good-natured, late-night laugh, the kind that comes from hours on the road, traveling across desolate stretches of land and missing exits and passing time in comfortable, companionable silence.

We made our way towards Meeker, then Rifle, finally home to Aspen by 1:37 a.m. I awoke around noon, still hungry for the weekend and the memories, and still craving the quality of Wyoming beef.

***

Kenichi Aspen is a far cry from Baggs, Wyoming. And Exit 187. Culture, ambiance and creatively prepared Asian Fusion are nowhere near Craig, Colorado, or the Kum and Go in Meeker.

But Kenichi knows the Japanese Cowboy. Kenichi Aspen serves a grade of beef reminiscent of the remarkable tastes of Wyoming. The next day, still savoring the flavor of neighboring fields, I head to Kenichi, home of Akaushi Kobe Beef, Harris Ranch Natural Gyu Tenda and Japanese Cowboy 16 0z bone-in ribeye. Akaushi cattle hail from the Mt. Aso region in Japan. They’re a protected breed, a national treasure of Japan and the only 100% source verified beef in the U.S.

Ween Country

Over a crisp carafe of house sake, I wonder about the Japanese Cowboys. Have they ever wandered to Wyoming? Do they enjoy a tall Sapporo after a hard day in the field;or do they drink whiskey on cold nights and ride off into the sunset? Stereotypes flying, I sit down for the best beef I can get – across state lines.

For more details on world-class beef, www.kenichiaspen.com. And if you’re a Japanese Cowboy, I’d love to hear from you.

Heather

It’d been over 20 years and I wanted to know what happened to my wild, spiky-haired friend from high school. Married, three kids, two of them twins; still in great shape and dancing in an all-female revue, of the non-exotic variety, 40-something and strutting across the stage like she did in our show pop choir back in the late 80’s.  I’d known all her boyfriends in high school, the one who loved her madly, the one she’d become obsessed with. I wanted to know what her husband was like.  How they met, what he’d done to tame – or at least detain – her wild spirit long enough to marry her and start a family.

Facebook had reunited us and I’d seen photos of her new life.   I couldn’t help but mourn the loss of her blond, spiky Billy Idol hair, each strand lovingly lacquered with Dippity-Doo, resulting in a cluster of platinum porcupine quills sticking straight towards the sky. We’d loved Billy Idol and the Outfield and she’d loved Prince, more madly than she’d loved my next door neighbor, the one she couldn’t let go even though he was ready to leave. The dirty Prince songs, the pop hits he rolled out like an assembly line, everything to do with his purple presence in the world; Heather loved it all.

We lived in the same end of town in Davis, California, a mid-size college town of around 50,000 which for some reason always felt much smaller. There wasn’t much to do or much mischief to get in, so we’d fancy ourselves drifters and dreamers and big-city girls only temporarily derailed by the cow pastures and rice paddies alongside those country back roads, which led out in all four directions towards what we hoped were exotic new vistas as opposed to just another bend of farmland.

We’d drive around in my grandpa’s 73 Pontiac, which he’d sold to my parents for a token $200. We called it The Bomb.  It took up two parallel parking spaces and I became an expert at maneuvering the city curbs.  We never worried about spilling anything on its vinyl seats or doing any damage to the faded, rusted exterior. In the trunk, there’d be a four-pack of Bartles and Jaymes, or a 15 pack of Stroh’s; those three bonus beers made it the teenage beer of choice, and my fake ID worked every time. I always looked much older than my years, and carried myself like someone just passing through that small-town existence.

My family had moved from L.A. to Davis when I was 12; Heather arrived at our high school in the 11th grade, from Lacrosse, Wisconsin.  To someone raised in California, she was exotic. I’d never really known anyone from the Midwest. It would be many years before I’d drive across country, in search of more adventure, only to realize that it was Heather who’d been exotic, not the flat, hot, dust-filled borders of her homeland.

“Holy shit,” said the voice on the other end of the phone.  “Jamie FreakinMiller. How the hell are you?” I wondered what Heather was drinking in 2011. I’d traded warm Strohs rolling around the floor of The Bomb for microbrews, Dark and Stormies for Bartles and Jaymes.  I pictured Heather holding a dirty martini by the stem, laughing. I smiled.

Tales from the Gondola: Best of the Ride, 2009

Best of the Gondola 2009

“I’m not like my mother; I like to stereotype. It’s faster.”

– George Clooney, Up in the Air

My friend Will tells me I need a fur coat. I’d like to think he’s simply concerned about my core body temperature but I know his reasons are guided more by the mystique of real fur, the hint of valets and the whiff of private club memberships and promise of Veuve Clicquot, than the fact that decked out in a fur coat is a really warm way to cross the street.

Personally, I’ve always had a penchant for faux fur; apparently, I’m drawn to the mystique of looking warm. Only the finest in stuffed animal for me. I recently found a sumptuous black long-haired vest in a 50% bargain bin in Rifle, Colorado (so much for the mystique) but it looks perplexingly real, shiny and black and plush around the collar, with a thin tail-like waist tie, resembling some sort of sable or mink or lynx; and it only cost $28! Either I’m one savvy fashionista, or my new vest is hypoallergenic.