Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hand of God – Guiding My Detroit Rolling Iron

I can look back and see explicit examples where nothing other than the hand of God ensured my well being.  Here’s one.

I had just finished grad school and had capped off my college days with a late night at the Chicago Blues Festival with my good friend Gunter Frank, who was a med student on a visiting rotation from Heidelberg.  I absolutely needed to drive the 350 miles down to Southern Illinois in the morning, as the next day I had a flight out of St. Louis to Hong Kong and then India for 3 months of vacation.  So on less than 5 hours of sleep, I happily loaded my capacious 1978 Olds 98 with my most precious grad student belongings and sundries, (photos, camera, stereo, albums, clothes) and an antique full-sized bed frame and headboard (that literally fit in the back seat, such was the volume of this ship I drove).  I then pointed pointed my Detroit rolling iron homeward down Interstate 57.  In front of me, both good and bad, was flat, boring, straight lengths of highway.

100 miles into the trip, I could feel the waves of sleep suddenly coming on.  My friends used to call me “narc” as we all thought I had some manner of narcolepsy, so quickly could I fall asleep.  (In truth, it was probably a simple case of sleep deprivation.)  The next exit was about 10 miles away where a coffee would “fix” this issue with a vengeance.  Time for some defensive maneuvers: dial up the radio; light up the rare cigarette; partially roll down the windows on the right so that a cool wind hits the back of my head.  I continued to barrel along at 75 miles an hour, familiar with the conflict underway.

But I lost this one.

As I approached the intersection in mind, I slipped off to sleep.  The car, being essentially a living room on wheels, ever so slowly drifted to the right and into what should have been the shoulder of the highway.  But that very exit I was looking for was upon me.  So the car was lined up with the now widening road.  I awoke just as the exit rose upward, and curved dramatically rightward.  Now things got surreal.  The car shot off the road, down a long embankment, and like a curling rock, slowly rotated right ward in the soft muddy dirt below  The tall wild grass was madly slapping the window to my left as the 98 slid sideways.  I was creating a 25 foot wide swath in the foliage.  Inside the car, I witnessed a slow swirl of clothes, record albums, photos, books.  My material life was being stirred like a martini.

As quickly as this all started it was over.  Silence in the car. A quiet rustling of the wild grass.  The hiss of cars zipping by on the highway.  I had narrowly and completed averted a catastrophe.  To my left was the overpass for this exit – with unforgiving concrete walls and pillars that had been avoided.  In front of me, literally 200 feet away, a diner with a large “Fresh Coffee” sign.  I sheepishly walked trudged thru the soft mud from a recent rain and into the diner.

“Uh, can you get me a tow truck?”  Your car break down or run out of gas?  “Well no, i just drove it into that field by your exit ramp,” I said, feeling phenomenally idiotic.  A friend of the guy behind the counter leaned forward, You fall asleep?  The guy behind the counter jumped in, Don’t ask that! Why are you pokin’ around for?  With a big grin, the buddy said, Shit I did that last year, just wanted to know.

The rest of the journey was uneventful.  I caught my flight from St. Louis to Asia the next day.  But only due to the divine providence that helped keep me in this current life.  Hard to believe my good fortunes.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Polishing Diamonds: Never Order From the Kid’s Menu

How often have you seen the following:  You are at a capable restaurant, with a menu renowned far and wide.  But you notice the younger ones at the party next to you are eating chicken nuggets.  From the kitchen freezer! Prepared in a microwave!  Not the salmon cooked to a delectable nuance.  Nor beef from some remote grassy pasture, or mushrooms good enough for a sitting president.

Funny part is that we are at our most malleable when we are young.  Yet we all too often pass on the chance to create a transcontinental palette in our children due to some queasy look they had at some misty point in the past.  Rather than keeping a firm hand on the tiller, we retreat for frozen lunch food.  Had Tiger Woods dad asked Tiger at the age of 2 what he thought of golf (remarkably, Earl started Tiger down this avenue before Tiger was two) the mystified look of the baby would have killed the whole venture before it has started.

So nudge them into the culinary unknown. Talk of what they will see in Kyoto and have them try Tempura.  Discuss Gaudi’s grand architecture and order up the Tortilla Espanola.  Before you know it, they will be perusing the menu, calling out combinations they like and what to try next.  And you will have broadened their world well before their first excursion across the ocean