SOMEWHERE BETWEEN PARTICIPATION AND FAME  (Losing focus on what constitutes successful living) By John Watts


How do you define “success?”

Is it defined as some kind of concrete, measurable level of achievement or more of a warm, fuzzy feeling of contentment and peace?

Recently I was overhearing a staff person at my school talk about a grounds keeper employed with us who had, in his younger prime, actually tried out with the Washington Redskins and almost made the team.

Quite a cool achievement I thought to myself.  Everyone I mentioned this too, was quite blown away.  Just imagining that OUR own co-worker having had such a serious football career and almost making the Redskins.  What a great story.

But removed from my work setting, the same kind of testimonial offered to casual sports fans gets a different reaction.  More like indifference and boredom.

People with no emotional investment, who never knew the guy, preferred to look at it in a different way.  “How sad that this guy couldn’t even make the team.”

The next week a conversation ensued between me and another staff person regarding a quote from former Redskins Quarterback Robert Griffin the 111.  I jokingly reminded him of Griffin’s oft quoted line, “You have to have pressure in order to make diamonds.”  To which he retorted, “Well it looks he doesn’t do well with the diamond business since he couldn’t even stay on the Cleveland Browns.”

Truly, removed from social context and personal accountability, especially with sports–the heart of a fan is fickle and cold.

“Players only love you when their playing” Fleetwood Mac once sang.  And this claim may be even truer when it comes to the cut throat nature of FANDOM.

And fandom, by itself, is just another manifestation of the old high school success formula that we were all taught to be into all those years ago.

Any way you want to slice it, the measuring stick for what is a great achievement gets obscured and reconstituted all the time.

One need only consider the strangely polarizing case of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

Despite winning their 5th Super Bowl ring and producing the most amazing comeback game in Super Bowl history, I was dumbfounded at the tenacity of the rhetoric afterwards by people that still maintained that Tom Brady and the Patriots were cheaters and undeserving of any mention of greatness.

When emotions are high enough, any accomplishment or statistic can be distorted or rationalized.  Even the loftiest feat and super star.  Take for example, the ridiculous standards of an NHL player like Alex Ovechkin gets when one of his season scoring total is not record setting or league leading.  Suddenly, due to his having reached his early 30s, the whispers come out early on his decline and soon to be demise.

All this makes me reconsider the old sports paradigm about legitimately earning something against ALL competition rather than just getting an award for participation or for some watered-down, trumped up set of circumstance.

When are we finally at liberty to say that we have truly earned a 1st place trophy and a blue-ribbon finish with NO fear of reconsideration or asterick?

What is “the real world” that we are preparing our youth for?  Is it true competition or true compassion?

The problem with the absolute methodology of success is that it ignores the contextual and relational aspects of what constitutes personal achievement.

What is most meaningful in our lives, with the passage of time, is often the little things like sharing laughs and great locations with people we love.

Assessing mere statistics in life and sports completely overlooks all the daily challenges and triumphs that each person faces on a day to day basis.

Otherwise, our lives could be laid out there, very vulnerably, for all the world to see, to be examined and recast by all the lawyers and sports pundits of the world.  And I would lose all those head to head sports fantasy challenges every time—like comparing John Bon Jovi’s (who is only a year younger to me) to me myself, John Watts.  Heck, as John Watts’s go, I am probably below half on that aponymous list!

And no way can I compare myself to Jon Bon Jovi.  I have no gold records and he has many.

Ah, wait a minute, maybe the act of COMPARING itself is valuable only in very limited circumstances anyway.

Because going too far down that road is a time tested, proven way to meet up with unhappiness and discontent.

There exists inside all of us, a gnawing, yearning need to be accepted–far beyond mere straight A grades or gold medals.  Official praise decreed by men and praised to the heavens as being the peak of perfection—often becomes diluted and dismantled over time; and never more dramatically as Lance Armstrong’s erased presence in the history books or Bill Cosby’s.

It seems to me that we owe it to ourselves to have a foundational plan in place that is much more second nature for us than just a plan B.  Because when the fickle fortunes of time blow us along our uneven pathway, it is good to know that we can feel successful regardless of how strict the judge is or whether some committee votes us in to the Hall of Fame or not.

In other words: One must turn to the INTERNAL in order to find the ETERNAL.

And therein lies the big secret of success—found smack dab in the middle between the extremes of participation and fame!

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BY THE WAY (restaurant travel) By John Watts


By the way—may I say, when it comes to going out on the town to a carefully selected, diary worthy restaurant; I find that the best way to savor its unique properties, is to make very good use, of the best little excuse, that I know for truly touring the distinctive personality of a place.

Suddenly stand up from the company you are with and announce that you need to use the bathroom.  That’s it.

Heck you may even need to USE the bathroom for all I know, which makes it even easier to look more convincing.

Trust me.  It’s one of my best moves as a costumer you can make==especially if you who want to transcend your role from to “restaurant explorer.”  Because it’s the best sure-fire way I know for traveling the lengths and breath of the inner world contained within a restaurant floor.  And it separates you from the careworn ranks of those habitual stuffed shirt  types that choose to remain glued to their hand held devices and undervalue where they are.

Look around the place.  You owe it to yourself to take the most indirect route possible to the bathroom.  Compare notes.  Soak in the ambiance.  Learn from the dishes ordered by other customers.  Enjoy the high ceilings.  The picture frames.  The bay windows.

And this inquiry extends into the bathroom.  Notice the vanity.  How automatic are the sink and hand washing devices?

Is the hand warming unit a manual, old school one or a state of the art one–with powerful jet action that forces deep wrinkles and furrows across your hands?

Let me know what you think.

And then, of course, you must wind your way back to the table from a different direction.  Get close enough to the kitchen to see the haggling and the interior drama of food prep.  Brush close to the “employees only” section.  Barely avoid bumping into a tray carrying waiter.

Once you find the way back to your table you will feel transported.  You will possess certain knowledge that others do not.

And then, right on cue, your food will have arrived!  And while your taste buds are being treated, you will feel so glad, BY THE WAY, that you decided to take the time to truly SEE and FEEL the place that you have chosen to attend on this epic, one and only night.

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“Long have you timidly waded
Holding a plank by the shore,
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer”

Walt Whitman “Song of Myself”

Watching the river from the shore can be inspiring.  It captures something elemental and primordial, some  kind of original source wrapped deeply inside our DNA and souls—which produces the need to intersect with the sound of rushing water and to see the gleam of the sun on its ripples.  Something elemental.  Like flocking to a train station when you hear that lonesome whistle whine.

Certainly, just beholding river life from the shoreline can be adventure enough when it comes to a full sensory experience; the gurgling sounds, the subtleties of the current with its various pools, channels and sand bars.  The mapping out of fishing holes.

The places to skip flat stones and the places to drop a heavy rock smack dab into the deepest toned water so as to hear that delightfully fat sounding “ker-plunk” as it sinks.

And taken in from the safety of the shoreline– make witnessing the profound continuation of a river can make such a powerful impression on the onlooker that they decide to take a pass entirely on joining the river by paddling or swimming its waters.

“Perhaps some other time, some future trip.  When I have all my gear and equipment.  And when the water is safer.”

I remember from experience how much more formidable and uninviting a river current can look from the perspective of the shore.  It can make one hesitate and postpone any plans for joining in—especially when one is rusty from a long time away.

Certainly, caution and respect need to be exercised when it comes to the river, especially during times of storm and heavy rain.  But I am often amazed at how doable a kayak trip can really be once I have joined the water and become acclimated to its swiftness.

But we shouldn’t put it off too long in this lifetime of ours.

It reminds me of snow days and the sweet inactivity of glimpsing the wintry world outside from within the confines of home.  Once one becomes inured by the nesting effect of staying cozily inside during snow storms, the total accumulation of inches can seem overwhelmingly daunting.  The street looks way too untreated and treacherous.

In the case of the river and the street, one can scan back and forth and become intimidated by the prospects of reading which groove or channel to head down first.

With time, out instincts become so helpless and out of tune, that we dismiss mustering up a journey all-together.  In the case of the snow day, it can also be that the meteorologists and anchor people on TV have over brainwashed you into not trying.

But the underlying message in all this is to not delay too long in embarking on some perspective adventure.

As long as there is no monsoon or hurricane flood occurring, or the rapids too dangerous, I find it revelatory how different the situation looks once I have pushed off and JOINED the highway or river in question.  But it does require a commitment and an overcoming of one’s timidity and the casting off of one’s learned tameness that creeps in over the ensuing years.

Join that highway or river and you will find a different reality from the shoreline.  The speed no longer seems too fast and the elements not as threatening.

Either way, it’s a “win win” situation whether you are on the shore or in the river.

But like me, you may find yourself needing to become fully baptized in the water and not just craning your neck to look at it from over a bank.

The rushing water may be calling for us to do more than just watch.

We may need to see where the river actually goes and connects with.

We owe it to ourselves to gain that life altering perspective of leaving our observation post from without—and floating along WITHIN all of it.

Once you do, no river will ever look the same to you again.


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You know that north end of the shopping center down the street from where we live right?

There’s a very good chance you don’t.

So, allow me to fill you in.

It’s the one that’s very close to a lot of things, and yet, it might just as well be stuck out in the furthest reaches of the solar system for all the difference it makes in terms of relevance.

And I don’t cite the “solar system” term to infer that the people are aliens or act spacey.  Because there are no people and barely any signs of life in this dormant ex-shopping area.

I merely suggest that the commercial zoning in this neglected hideaway looks more like “Twilight” zoning than anything else.

The buildings have the neglected faces of missed opportunity brought on by the cruel hand of fate.  Smack dab in the economic heart of one of the most prosperous counties in Northern Virginia.

And it’s such a pity because had but one decent service road been extended from Route 7 (the mother highway) things could have been dramatically different.

Just one little tributary emptying into this asphalt river and the lights might be shining all around.

It reminds me of the fateful “Lady Be Good” plane crash in the Libyan desert during WW2 in 1943.  As a brief history recap—this was a case in which had the stranded men headed south on foot instead of north when seeking rescue, they most likely would have made it to an oasis and survived.

Same thing here.  Just remove a few yards of concrete and grassy field, and it would have been a different story.  The businesses would have been rescued.  “Should of, could of” hand ringing I know—all bathed in the light of hindsight but you can’t deny the parallel pathos and drama.

Instead, it is the prosperous south end of the shopping center that has all the condos and townhouses and commuter car access.

To add to the irony, the well-known restaurant row in the front side of the shopping center is doing just peachy.  Patrons circulate effortlessly in from the road on the opposite end.  When one business takes a hit, it is quickly replaced by a new start.

So, to better examine this issue, let’s look at the grey areas between light and dark from the south end to the north.  Those surrounding reference points where signs of life still exist before we fall into the “black out” that is the north shopping area.

Restaurant Row gives way to Home Depot and Marshalls and behind that block, the anchor of the shopping center, Giant food grocery store.  And of course, there’s a Starbucks there too.

The middle demarcation line is the Hallmark store.  It alone separates darkness from light.  On the front sidewalk lies success and clarity on the other—well let’s just say it might as well just sport a gigantic wall that says “Keep Out” to deflect respectable consumers.

Given all this normality and assurance, who would even imagine gazing further down the inky black expanses of the service roads to a deeper layer?

But just a few blocks away, past the senior center, the public library and the shining high beacon that is the Hampton Inn, the north ends wallows in its solitude.  It’s lights out as it is there that the north end sits, neglected and alone.  A strange little no man’s land that has defied restaurant success for years.

This is where the circulation ceases for shoppers when it comes to doing business.

Like a black hole in the retail universe, you are more likely to see skateboarders and homeless people here than any kind of clientele or prospective businessmen.

Let’s trace just some of the casualty stores to fall victim to termination in the past several years in this retail ghost town.

Just the past month, pathetically before the Christmas season, the Office Depot drew up their tent and unexpectedly closed with nary a ‘Thank You” sign.

The Sports Authority had left the year before, after hemorrhaging for months with closeout sales.

Now its spaces are occupied only intermittingly by the blood sucking vampires of commerce—the SPIRIT franchise which runs Halloween costume sales very greedily during that hot part of the retail calendar.

The latest round of restaurants to leave were Logan’s Roadhouse and Famous Dave’s.

When it was alive, Logan’s had a great symbiotic relationship with the nearby Hampton Inn, which rises resiliently above this pit of despair like a Crackerbarrel exit sign—with its neon bright sign shining like an SOS flare gun out to Route 7 traffic.

Now the hotel guests must get maps to further away restaurants or eat inside the hotel.

Perhaps it was just another reminder on the OVER-retailing of America, especially with the on-line convenience of today’s insular switch to an electronic community instead of a brick and mortar one.

Who knows.

All I know is that I have been long drawn into the black maw of this vacant wasteland—not just as a sentimental old man who fears change, but as a man who shares a similar fate.

Because I happen to also live in a similarly neglected street grid—one that NEARLY succeeds in sharing a main therefore, but fell short by just the small field by a cul de sac.

And in that small field lies the unsightly spectacle of a water tower which has kept our property value low.

Even though Route 7 roars to life faithfully like the surging rapids on a river, we are denied the benefits due to some cruel oversights of inaccessibility.

The super deluxe mall is across this double split highway, but presents too dangerous a prospect for foot travel.

So, I hang out with the drifters and the skateboarders, way back in the upper reaches of the vacant universe.  Every night.  I walk my dog there.  I revisit store fronts to see if there are any signs of a pulse.

And I wait.  Just as I have waited this past decade for the Sports Authority to reopen and the Blockbuster to magically turn the hands of time around.

It’s really not such a bad wait.  The contours of a very pretty, tastefully man-made lake lie to the outside corner by the Home Depot.  And an asphalt hiking trail curves towards the abandoned Logan’s.

And as I approach all the empty sockets of stores and restaurants, I still hold out some perverse remnant of faith that maybe things will be different and some new era will start.

Will the vacant space at the old Logan’s restaurant lead to a more vibrant, and tastier looking new establishment?

Perhaps some “Ma & Pa” diner will open up that will be the best ever escape ever for flavor and some sense of community connectivity.

Amid the walking, I often pause and sit on my favorite bench with my dog at my feet.  And it makes me ponder even more.

I think of the good times with friends and family dining at Logan’s with their soft rolls and attempts at honkytonk roadhouse music.  Or the boom times eating my favorite sharp cheddar chicken barbecue at Famous Dave’s.  How about those great shrimp deals at Mahalo Bay, with its Jimmy Buffet meets sports bar, happy hour façade?

So, on and on it went.  I kept on hiking my dog and sitting on the bench at that north end of the shopping center.  And the retail space remained vacant and abandoned.

My kinship with this odd anomaly complete.

Until one fateful trip when I caught myself having fallen asleep on my favorite bench and woke with a start to see another man across me sat in a similar “thinker” statue pose at a bench that he must have favored.

In many respects, his features looked very much like mine, just a bit more weathered and wrinkled for having been down the road a bit more.

Something about the disconcerting nature of seeing someone else interrupt my solitude out in the otherwise empty field of the north end of the shopping center, made me stand up and walk towards this stranger.

And as I approached acceptable social exchange range, I instinctively nodded my head at the man.

He seemed too sad to bother nodding back.

“How’s it going?” I asked gamely.

“I miss my daily farm.” the man replied to throw me off my stride and accelerate the chit chat to another level.

“How’s that?” I queried.

“I used to own all this property 3 decades ago.  I was the last in a family line of dairy farmers.  Our dairy cows grazed all the way up to the fence by the community college property.”

I was dazed.

Could it be?  Before my sad little north side of the shopping center had ever been birthed, this land had a completely different identity.

Cows chewing their cud right right in plain sight of the community college students back in the early 80’s.  Imagine.

It gave me a dramatic paradigm shift.

While I was commiserating with the lost stores and restaurants scattered along this neglected area, another guy much older than me, was missing his farm property from a far earlier time.

Perhaps this land wasn’t always tragically cut off from Route 7 all the time.    If anything, it might have been too close.

Progress had swallowed it up—swept everyone up in the excitement, and then, ironically left it largely neglected and empty anyway.

And as I peered back at the old fellow (apparition?) on the bench, I swear I could see the ghosts of all his former head of cattle all assembled behind him, as adept as ever for loitering and passing the time (like only cows can).

And it was then that the big lesson hit me squarely, right between the eyes.

Change and loss is all relative.  No one had any claim that makes them more entitled than anyone else.

I was jarred out of my reverie by the sound of skateboarding kids in the distance, trying to find new angles to try new stunts on the slope of the old Staples store side walk.

And when I looked back, the old dairy farmer had faded away, along with his cattle—before I could thank him.

And as I walked the dog home; back to my tragically cut off residential area behind the retaining wall, it was then that I finally realized that the only real isolation was found in one’s perspective.

All the true amenities in life remain all around us–if we don’t assume that we get to keep everything and fail to see the gift.  Everything that really matters in any landscape, conveys anyway, regardless of ownership and paperwork—deep down in the heart of the admirer.


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“Come Quick!  Look Who That Is!”  (the Murphy’s Law about TV viewing) By John Watts


Have you ever noticed, in the course of watching TV shows, that whenever you call someone over to look at a certain actor’s face, by the time they DO come into the room or look up from their handheld device, the camera NEVER pans back to that face again?

I see this happen all the time.  Right when you are so proud to confirm to someone that you were perceptive enough to recognize an old actor famous from a previous show, that is when this phenomenon happens to ruin your moment.

It doesn’t matter how near or far the kitchen or bedroom, or bathroom is where your colleague has retreated to.  The sought-after actors face will surely disappear and not come back again until your friend leaves once more.

And how about those vexing 24-hour news bands that rotate a steady stream of text from left to right at the bottom of your screen while you are watching the news or sports channel.

It never fails that the box score that you want to see has just passed by while you were obliviously watching the picture images of the show instead.  Or most pressing of all, the 2-hour delay and closing announcements for area schools during a snow storm.  Invariably the letter of the alphabet is always just passing the county that affects you for your potential freedom so you must go through the rotations one more time.

And so it goes and so it goes.  The perverse elusiveness of incoming stimuli on your TV screen.  Just as your spouse yells out “Did you catch what highway the traffic jam is on?”  you are fixated instead on last night’s Washington Wizards late basketball game score and can’t be bothered.  It is why we drive each crazy with asking the other potential witness in the room, if they caught what we ALMOST caught.

We might as well all be sequestered far away on our lonely cell phones, each one apart on their own sofa or easy chair.

With modern TV, and media in general, we are always going to be looking away and missing something in our quest to stay caught up.

And we so dearly need validation.  Because so much of our music and video selections tend to be splintered, solo journey’s—often to a binged degree.

And so the age old question waits to be answered—“Please.  Just once.  Did anyone else catch that face of that former star that we used to enjoy watching way back when we were younger?”

Meanwhile, with the efficiency of some ticket taking turnstile, our unfeeling, unthinking TV program on the screen keeps on cutting away to the next rapid-fire scene without our approval.

“DVR it!”  “DVR it!” we implore.

It makes no difference.  And the moment is lost.

We are merely going along for the ride.



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Telltale truths are often best revealed when the distractions of life are boiled down to the simplest terms.  This certainly rings especially true with the passing of time and the reality of our eventually limited mobility.

Because, regardless of age, once mobility becomes curtailed, the sphere of daily living becomes very condensed and simplified.

Living spaces become preciously recast into very compact, square feet areas.  Within such inch by inch local travel, the priority of what supplies to keep at arm’s length becomes quickly sorted out by necessity (and most definitely not glamor).

Saltine crackers, salt shakers, ketchup packets, a box of tissues.  Those mundane conveniences that naturally build up over time and collect in the swirling eddies of our life’s resistless current.

And over the years, when my Mom has been forced to transfer to a hospital room or a rehab facility, the first order of business has always been to make sure she has her family photos brought along, especially her great grand-kid photos.

This is always the first step in plotting a comeback.  This is the vital bridge that exports a family vibe into the most sterile rooms.

And that has generally been my brother Andy’s department.  A role which he has performed dutifully—nay admirably, for countless years and transitions for the health and well-being of our dear Mom.  He is the one that pulls out the thumb tacks and transforms a previously dull and mandatory cork board square into a family community center.

More than any events calendar, super friendly staff, or the most inspirational view out the window; these framed family faces have done the most morale boosting by far in the overall rehabbing and successful return home of my Mom than any flowers or box of chocolates ever could.

And this has been every bit as true when she has been fortunate enough to be living back at home.  Because with the majority of her waking hours spent in the TV room while sitting in her wheel chair or recliner, Mom operates in a very truncated universe of furniture and internal scenery.

This shortened living space serves as a great litmus test as to how well a life has been lived.

And I think it serves as a helpful scenario for all of us to consider—as we answer the question: How would our LIVING SPHERE look, (prior to those latter, retired, senior years) were we to be seriously in-firmed or disabled, which would necessitate us to be consigned to a small room for much of the time?

Would our table tops and book shelves be littered with beer cans and cigarette butts?

Would the warm glow of the HD TV screen be our lone comfort and support? (of course, Mom also takes quite a shine to the restorative effects of murder mysteries, Brit-wit and fox news).

Are most of the mementos about ourselves or others?  Would we never look up from our hand-held device and demand constant access to an outlet to charge our I-phone?

Which brings up the way in which my Mom reflects on past and present family.  She stays grounded in a network of family connections that always sustain her worst periods of sleeplessness and poor health.  She honors all eras of loved ones, never becoming tethered to just one identity or shackled by any bitterness or resentments that might rob her of her joy.

In fact, the cross germination of family influences and remembrances can blur and time travel so effortlessly for her where grace and gratitude are concerned.

What a great anchor to stay attached with!  Even in the worst disorientation panic attack spells brought on by side effects from medicine or surgery—displaying this ever-growing collection of family photos continues to draw Mom back to what matters most.

For Mom, it is just one long continuum of family love—from her own cherished parents to her adored great grand-kids.  Honoring and affirming past and present loved ones, all together at the same time.

It spells out a legacy of love and a life well lived.

Even if, to the casual observer, her life seems terribly curtailed, Mom continues to not just survive—but thrive, due to her attitude and the love she emanates back to others.

And by now, one thing’s for sure–you just can’t fake something like this when your 91 and survived what she’s survived.  For her, it is more than just an attitude, which can be artificially summoned and tried on like a suit or tie–it is an unshakable faith.  And a certainty.

Mom has dodged more fatal endings than I can recall looking back now.  In fact, she has plotted more inconceivable comebacks than the entire collection of the Rocky movie sequels put together.

And a large reason for this, is her dogged determination to come back home.  That vital link has never dulled no matter the physical limitations and the buildup of time.

May we all be so fortunate at the end of our golden years, to maintain such a fierce connectivity to our home and loved ones—as evidenced by the photos we keep around us in our tight little living space, amidst all the usual suspects of saltine crackers, salt shakers, ketchup packets, and box of tissues.



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JOE SNUFFY’S OLD FASHIONED GRILL (steaks, chicken, burgers, back rubs and more!) By John Watts


I’m drinking a Killian’s Red with Greta Van Susteren and Fox News on the Big Sports Bar screen at Joe Snuffy’s Old Fashioned Grill in Abilene, Kansas.

It’s 104 degrees in the shade here and the bartender lady is captivating the patrons with stories of weather and air condition units.

The grill is jammed with blue collar workers and cowboys.  Some are regulars.  Some are semi-regulars having drifted in for “The Country Stampede” –an annual event which takes over Manhattan Kansas and all the nearby interstate exits next to it for up to a full week.

And I am here because I was lucky to have found a nearby motel with a vacancy.  Because as you quickly learn out west, a man driving a rental car looking for a motel can become pretty desperate, pretty fast–as entire cities and towns get routinely filled up due to the annual occurrence of the craziest sounding conventions and festivals.

So much of the bar talk at Joe Snuffy’s centers around weather and air-conditioned units.  “Montana is having heat waves and tornadoes” stated the main bartender, an assertively social woman named Lu-Ann.  “And my Uncle lives in a trailer on his ranch without any working air condition.”

There is only one air condition unit works at this particular bar.  And the patrons huddle by it, like cattle jockeying for position underneath the shade of the one remaining hard wood tree in a hot field.  And it seems a point of status, as the most decorated regulars have the best front row access while passing tourists like me can barely feel the life-giving currents of the machine.

Maybe that is why I look to be the only tourist visiting Joe Snuffy’s on this steamy night.

Three patrons at the bar seem particularly captivated by Lu-Ann’s topical choice for current events.

The most vocal of the trio, is a cement worker from New Hampshire named Luke who had also been a lineman for the county phone company.  He was now living in Abeline because his Mom was sick and needed help.

Lu-Ann continues her discourse behind the bar—“I don’t know what we will do here if this A/C unit breaks.  My stock tank swimming pool cools me down at home on hot days. The sun and metal heat the cold water from the hose water quickly.”


Luke reiterates what Lu-Ann says about the weather.  Yeah it is crazy hot.  The spring didn’t have enough rain.  Last week I noticed my co-worker lying down on the ground and asked if he was OK. The man said that he was fine but didn’t feel right and was just taking a break.  An hour later he was taken away in an ambulance for heat stroke.”

Meanwhile, my steak sandwich order arrives via the cook from the even hotter, back kitchen area.  He looks straight thru me–with that very matter of fact look only a cook can give when exposed for far too to a poorly ventilated kitchen in the middle of summer in Kansas.

Nothing is funny for this guy.  At least not until October maybe at the earliest.

Taking the higher ground, I nod appreciatively to the man as if to convey my heartfelt sensitivity towards him as best a lucky, leisure loving tourist from the east coast can.

The steak sandwich turns out to be delectable as only the real west can produce.  Unfortunately, the overly cooked, poorly humored cook continues to stare at me through the slotted window once he returns to his assigned kitchen area trap.

Apparently my good will has not done the trick so I cease giving “thumbs up” and pretend to look back up at the suspended TV for relief.

Suddenly a second bar tender barges in from the swinging door carrying glasses from the hot dish washer.  I strain to read her name tag.  I think it says Alice.

Alice is plainly having no sympathy for anyone living without air conditioning.

“What is wrong with you all?  It’s a choice, not a hardship. The first July in my no-central-air house, a friend gave me a window unit for the bedroom. I installed it, never used it, and took it out again.

To me, kicking the A/C habit was the best thing I ever did!”

I stare at this woman and secretly wonder what it must feel like to be this liberated.

Then I munch on my steak sandwich some more and try hard to imagine that the sweat pouring off my forehead is hardly an inconvenience at all.

The conversation at the bar area now becomes even more relaxed and familiar (and easier to ease drop in on as the volume increases).

Somehow the topic is now about chapped and dry skin.  Luke and his two buddies talk about going shirtless at work while working out in the hot blaze of the summer.  Luke talks of his trials with having blisters on his back and how hard it is to reach them.  He demonstrates this to the bartenders by vainly reaching to the northwest quadrant of his back.

Alice looks on disapprovingly.

I go back to eating my steak sandwich but look up to see Lu-Ann leave her bar station and go stealthily behind the patrons sitting on their swiveling stools.

Before Luke can holler she has completely lifted his shirt and commences to slather suntan lotion all over the affected, blistered areas of his back.

Then she moves over to Charley the commercial trucker and Stan the Bronco buster too and does the same thing.  Groans pass from one man to the next.

“Anyone else?” calls out the patron saint of bartenders, Lu-Ann.  “This stuff works like nobody’s business.”

Several hands raise.

Dear Diary–I am deeply moved by what I see at Joe Snuffy’s old fashioned grill.  And slightly disturbed too.

A Montana woman from the corner of the bar asks the recently back rubbed Luke, “Why do you take your shirt off at work?”

To which Luke replies, “Cause it gets all sweaty.”

And the Montana woman retorts, “Well a shirt should cool you off.”

This discussion commences to open up amid the whirl of the one remaining air condition unit engine.   And I must say–the point/counterpoint gets pretty heavy with multiple folks weighing in on the shirt/no shirt debate just as my check arrives.

Now it’s time to decide what to do with the last few bites of my steak sandwich.  “Should I eat it all or give the last remaining bites to my dog back at the motel room?” I ponder inwardly, feeling quite vexed.

Surely, there was some incredible seasoning and great fried onions on these rolls.  That had to be considered.

In fact, the whole sandwich came together like a symphony for the taste buds.  The sum was better than its parts.  Truly its like may never come again in this life time.

But in the end, I decide to take a doggy bag to go for the last remnants of the sandwich.  “Surely no greater love for a man to his dog could ever surpass this” I thought to myself.

Still, all in all my nobility felt a bit hollow as I walked out of Joe Snuffy’s old fashioned grill in Abeline, Kansas.

Something was gnawing at my insides.

I wished to my soul a wish that countless tourists have likewise wished throughout the ages: namely to feel as grounded and authentic as the local workers hanging out in their local habitats.

I miss not being able to swap any hard luck air condition stories (my motel air conditioning was embarrassingly ample and actually gave me goose bumps).

And above all, I missed not having my back rubbed by Lu-Ann with all those hard-working patrons propped up on their swivel seats.

But just as I am about to the door to go back to my motel room with the doggy back to give my dog, Lu-Ann herself calls out to me in her flinty, yet very feminine voice—“Nice seeing you tonight!” 

Startled–I struggle to find my voice.  “Yep.  Same to you.”

“Be safe on the road,” she says from the heart.

Appreciate it.” I said, very cleverly, as I turned my back and walked outside—an anonymous middle-class traveler no more.

My one night in Abeline, Kansas is now complete.  I have officially been seen and acknowledged by one of its best natives and now feel a part of its universe.

Besides, who wants blisters anyway?




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