Monday, October 4, 2010

Road Trip, Days 7-9

Day 7

We stopped at a grocery store to buy yogurt this morning.  I waited in the parking lot while Robert went into the store.  While waiting, I realized 1) I have never seen a Same-Day Dentures in a strip mall, or anywhere, 2) in Missouri, 70-year-old women drive pick-up trucks as often as young men, and 3) California does not have grocery stores called Smitty’s.

I don’t really know much about St. Louis.  No one talks about it anymore.  So when we rolled in this afternoon, I didn’t even know what I wanted to see.

From the car, we saw a tall building that turned out to be Barnes-Jewish Hospital, located on King’s Highway and affiliated with Washington University.  The residential neighborhood there (Fullerton’s Westminster Place, on the National Register of Historic Places), is one of the grandest urban neighborhoods I have ever seen.

  Most of the streets are gated on at least one end, discouraging casual drive-throughs.  The houses are immense, close together with very small setbacks from the street, mostly in the Georgian, Romanesque, and Renaissance Revival styles.  (I’ve been checking out Wikipedia.)   The trees!  The trees!  So lush on every block, rustling in the hot breeze.
Then we crossed King’s Highway and drove through Forest Park, where the St. Louis World’s Fair was held in 1904.  More grand homes on the edge of the park, looking like the house in Meet Me in St. Louis (which, Wikipedia tells me, has been torn down).  The park ends at Washington University, which is surprisingly beautiful.  To anyone with pre-college-age kids: keep Washington U. in mind.  I wish I could go there.

For dinner, we went to Hodak’s.  Obscenely loaded plates of fried chicken.  Excellent cole slaw.  So-so fries.  Robert had two beers; I had an iced tea.  Total bill: $26.
Out of curiosity, I just looked at MLS listings for homes in the Fullerton’s Westminster Place neighborhood.  Several houses are listed for one-third (ONE THIRD) what we paid for our house in 2007.  These are homes with a full three stories.  Some have carriage houses. 
But none, I see, is a block from the ocean.

Day 8

Overheard on morning radio just outside of St. Louis:
Disk jockey #1: My doctor says there are only two things you should do in your bedroom.
Disk jockey #2: Fighting and crying?
Disk jockey #3: I thought it was begging and sulking.

Illinois is the land of corn.  And rhyming billboards: “Where danger lurks/Remember, sonny/That rabbit foot/ Won’t kill the bunny.”  Sponsored by
Now we are in Joliet, about 40 miles outside of Chicago.  Robert grew up here.  Family lore has it that he ran away from home when he was two and was found several streets away, happily heading out of town.  He had to wait until he was seventeen to make another run for it.  Now, he returns for family visits and 40th high school reunions.
Tonight was the pre-reunion reunion, held at an Irish bar across from a football field where Joliet Catholic was playing to packed crowds.  Terrible parking.  Reunion planners are apparently morons. I am so grateful that I (and my children) did not grow up in a community in which football wields such a dominant influence.  There are so many other, more interesting ways to be in the world.

It is so much more fun to go to someone else’s reunion than to my own.  First of all, I’m five years younger than everyone.  Second, a lot of people stared at me, trying to place me, which was entertaining.   Third, there was booze.  Fourth, everyone called Robert Bob.  Five, all the men sounded exactly like Mike Ditka.  Lots of talk about disliked teachers, asshole coaches, who dated whom, who pulled Brenda Jackson’s wrap skirt off in the hallway, who got benched, who hung out at Jim’s Blast Furnace during lunch to smoke.
Robert looked handsome in his black Tony-Soprano shirt.  I was, once again, overdressed.  Why do I always overdress at these things?  Tomorrow night I’m wearing jeans. 

Day 9

A leisurely tour through Joliet.  First stop: Dan’s Candies, where I bought a caramel apple, and where I would have bought more if I hadn’t seen a framed, signed picture of Ann Coulter on the wall behind the cash drawer.  Then we drove past Robert’s high school, which is imposing and castle-like, his childhood home, the streets of a historic district where one of his old friends lived until recently.  Paid a visit to Elmhurst Cemetery, where his parents are interred (near actress Lynne Thigpen, who was four years ahead of him in high school).  Meandered through Pilcher Park, where elm trees shimmered in the wind.  It was cold, and the sky looked threatening.
We had a late lunch at Little Joe’s Pizzeria with Robert’s older brother, his girlfriend, and his daughter, son-in-law, and two high-school-age grandsons, whose genial politeness to me on the two occasions I’ve been introduced to them is worth noting.
Robert went to a working-class, racially integrated high school from 1966 to 1970.   Tonight, people mingled, talked, and laughed uproariously in a downtown bar.  There were no signs of old wounds or divisions, at least none visible to an outsider.  The din (enhanced by a pitiful live band playing sixties classics) was remarkable.  Robert (aka Bob) was popular across all groups.  His “posse” hung out at the bar.  I heard about how he was thrown out of Band for refusing the director’s order to cut his hair, how he and friend Buff got high in Pilcher Park, how he and friend Grant did some painting for an 80-year-old neighbor and managed to see up her dress (where it was determined that she was not wearing underwear).
It occurred to me as I was listening to the conversations around me that when one meets one’s significant other in midlife, it is especially nice to go to his high school reunion.  Tonight I got to know Bob the smartass, the rebel, the popular guy, the stoner, the hippie with long, thick, abundant hair.  It is nice to have the picture rounded out.

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