Thursday, January 19, 2023

Mark Wahlberg vs. Matt Damon

Apparently, I am not the only person who has trouble telling Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg apart. I’ve read articles about the phenomenon. The difference seems obvious to me now. Now - after watching several Mark Wahlberg movies believing they starred Matt Damon.

Which is why it was not surprising that when, around the turn of the last century, I passed a friend a note (pre-texting) at a trendy LA restaurant “Matt Damon is at the next table,” she responded, “No. He’s not.” 

She was right. He wasn’t. Mark Wahlberg was. Not that I could convince her of that. 

Mark and what appeared to be three of his buddies were seated beside us. Mark picked up the tab. For their table. Not ours.

Me: See. He paid.

Friend: They were just some guys who wandered in off the street.

Me: Number 1, we are in LA. Guys don’t wander in off the street. They probably valet parked. Number 2, we just paid $60 each for a snack. We didn’t even have a meal. I don’t think they are just some guys.

She still didn’t believe me. She never would. Not that the topic came up very often. Until Entourage came on HBO when I brought it up again. 

Me: See. We were there at the beginning.

Friend: Blank stare.

She never believed me. 

NOTE to self: when you ran into Matt Damon in Cambridge MA, you did not think he was Mark Wahlberg.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Stuckey’s

During a year of illness following two years of pandemic, I really missed taking road trips. Even before I got sick, I accepted that I would never be the road warrior I had been when young. Sixteen hour days with only an AM radio for company in a 1971 VW convertible - not the most comfortable car ever manufactured - were out of the question. My dream was to drive across the country again but this time in two hour hour spurts. Two, two-hour shifts a day.

Ideally, I would rise at a reasonable hour (i e. leisurely pace), drive two hours to a roadside attraction where I could sightsee, find refreshment and gather the strength to move on. If no attraction was available, I might be able to find a spot for a leisurely lunch before starting an afternoon drive that had to end at an overnight accommodation with proximity to a nice meal. 

Previous driving trips were challenges. Get there fast. Keep moving. Tell yourself you’ll come back to visit the scenic sights. Don’t waste time on meals. If there was ever a time to take advantage of convenience stores, those trips provided the right opportunity.

Many years ago, when I started my first drive cross-country from Pennsylvania, I found a band of Wawa, another area of Sheetz and then, when I hit the Midwest, Stuckey’s. Miles and miles of interstate punctuated by little else than Stuckey’s. A traveler in those days could pick one on a whim. A traveler in those days had to pick one on a whim. There was not much else around. And, if you missed the exit? No worries. There would be another.

All Stuckey’s looked the same. I found that comforting. They sold the same tchotchkes, offered the same facilities and served the same food.  I forget what I would order but I am sure it was the same thing every day. Same was a keyword. 

So, I was really surprised when I stopped for lunch one day at about 1PM and just did not want the same-old-same-old. I don’t know what I found to substitute but the desire for change mystified me. I got back in my car and started driving. I just wasn’t hungry. It took me a while to realize that was not surprising. 

I’d already eaten lunch at 11AM.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

My Life as a Trucker

More than 2,000 legionnaires came to the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia in July 1976, for the American Legion's annual three-day convention. Over 200 people who visited the hotel became sick. Twenty-nine died. The mystery disease that killed them would come to be known as Legionnaire's disease. The hotel closed that November. 

Eventually, all the furnishings were sold off - including the dishes. The illness was related to the duct work. None of the hotel furnishings were in any way at fault. But, the stigma persisted over the years. So when my brother bought the dishes for a large hotel he was running, he got a good price. What he did not get was anyone willing to transport them on a five-hundred-mile trip to Northern New England. Enter little sister, Janie, graduate student, fortuitously on break.

I was happy to serve. Being an over-the-road trucker had always been a dream of mine - before I learned the reality of long hours, tight deadlines and loading your own truck. I envisioned hours of leisurely drives through lovely settings to exciting locations while my brain enjoyed the free time to do whatever it chose. Any trucker can tell you why I was wrong. My own experience had been, and with this one exception, still has been limited to a few UHaul trucks. Most for moving. I loved the opportunity to transport hundreds of place-settings of china. A true trucking job. I was very proud, but given the public's suspicion of all things Bellevue for many decades, I could not brag about my new career for forty years i.e. now.

I did not have to pack or load the dishes. I took a UHaul to a location that I have long since forgotten. In my memory, I went after dark but I think that scenario might be a product of my imagination. It all felt very cloak-and-dagger as I set off up I95 - the next morning I am sure. I wasn’t so into intrigue that I wanted to travel in the dead of night. Besides, in those days, without social media, there wasn’t as much intrigue. Nonetheless, I would not have shared info about my load with the guy in the next truck at the rest stop.

The ride was a quintessential East Coast trucker experience. Uneventful except for a snide toll-collector on the Jersey Turnpike ridiculing me for not knowing how many axles my truck had - as if I were the first Uhaul driver who didn’t have the correct change ready. I am still annoyed.

Anyway, all remained quiet until Rhode Island. In the late seventies, the drive from Philadelphia to Boston had a couple of hairy spots not least of which was the merge of I95 and I195 in Providence with a little Route 6 thrown in for good measure. (It has since been moved and adjusted.)

That intersection used to be a huge merge. I can’t find out how many lanes at its largest. Not two. Not three. Not even, I doubt, four. It felt like eight. I was in the far left lane when it happened. A blow-out. In heavy traffic. Heavy merging traffic. 

I can’t describe the details of what happened next. I should dramatize wild careening through unforgiving traffic while the truck veered out of control. I am sure there was some swerving involved but my recollection is that sensible drivers figured out what was going on and let me pass. In fact, I have no idea how I pulled it off but I would say less than a minute passed before I found myself parked neatly on the side of the road in my unscratched truck.

How did I get help?  I have no idea. Certainly not by cellphone. I assume I waited until someone (cop, Good Samaritan or tow truck operator) stopped and somehow got in touch with the local UHaul guy who came and got me. He lived in the office and was thrilled for the company. He even offered to share the roast he was preparing in a toaster oven.

That turned out to be unnecessary. High-school friend, Ginny Walsh, and her mother came to retrieve me and took me home for a great meal, a good sleep and, I am sure, a nutritious breakfast. They returned me to the UHaul office the next morning and I resumed my trip on a new tire. I arrived without further disaster. 

No one was ever harmed by the unjustly maligned dinnerware which arrived almost completely intact. Almost. Tragically, one dinner plate was lost.

Thus ended my career as a trucker.


NOTE TO SELF: Mike Perlis

I had a passenger in the empty truck on the way home. A recent college grad who worked for my brother had gotten sick and needed to go home to Connecticut to recuperate. His mother was a music librarian/professor at Yale so I dropped him off in New Haven. Then I moved on.

Years later when I worked from my apartment in New York City, I kept the TV on for background noise. It was the height of the trashy-talk-show era. I am pretty sure Sally Jesse Raphael was on. I looked up and spotted the kid. Mike Perlis had become the publisher at Playboy. I checked on him to write this. He went on to other jobs including serving as President and CEO of Forbes. He is currently on the Board as Vice Chairman.

I take some credit for his success. I saved his life. Okay, he wasn’t that sick. And, okay he probably could have gotten to a train. But I like to think I played a small role in his career. Whatever. We had a fun ride.

Monday, December 26, 2022

Surviving 2022

I hated school. (At least, until graduate school. I went twice and would have stayed forever if they let me. But that is irrelevant to this discussion.)

I hated the first day of first grade and every day thereafter. I don’t know why. I was good at school. I didn’t work particularly hard but I got got good grades, made good friends and generally had a good time. So, I am not quite sure why I couldn’t wait to get out. It wasn’t that I was anxious to be an adult. I don’t think I ever considered what that meant. Maybe I simply wanted to be a kid who didn’t have to waste her time thinking about the topics the school dictated. I was interested in a less intense lifestyle. So, I recall the thoughts I had in the third grade as I faced five more years of elementary school, four years of high school and four years of college. (We did not have a middle school or junior high.)

I’m in third grade now and next year will the last year of the first half of grade school. After that I’ll be in fifth grade and that means I’ve made it to the second half of grade school. After that, sixth is the last year of the first half of the second half . . . . 

Got the picture? I figured out my high school and college graduation dates and then, finally, the only other inevitable date: death.

My eight-year-old self calculated the oldest I could ever expect to be and came up with the year I would die: 2022. I never forgot it. So, I found it somewhat ironic when on 3/16/2022 I found a lump in my breast that was quickly diagnosed as malignant. Ironic but not particularly worrisome since it was unlikely my cancer, if fatal, could kill me before the end of the year. Of course, that was before I realized that the treatment was likely to get me a long time before the disease could.

It is now December 26, 2022 and I have to survive for less than one week to prove my eight-year-old self wrong. She was wrong about a lot. I never am not currently nor have I ever been the US ambassador to France nor am I an internationally renowned home designer and architect. I think people who like school do those things. 

Although I’ve remained blas√© all year, now I am getting worried. I am not an alarmist. I don’t worry about car collisions, lightening strikes or monsters under the bed. Usually. But this next week will be different. 

It isn’t that I believe in the psychic abilities of eight year old me. I believe in irony. And just in case, I want to get it on the record that she knew. That little eight-year-old girl, who turned out to be me, knew. Of course . . . .

Even though math was her best subject, anyone can make a mistake. She probably meant 2032. Yeah, that’s it. 2032. 

Nonetheless, I think I’ll just stick around the house until 2023. Happy New Year. Hope to see you all next year.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Competitive Tanning

Tanning was competitive back then, back then being the years I was in high school and college. Medical science had not yet condemned the practice and, if it had, I am not sure the AMA could have convinced girls of a certain age, mine, to abandon their favorite activity. I use the word activity loosely. 

Rather than thinking of a tan as something you acquired by playing summer sports, tanning became something of a sport unto itself. I was not athletically gifted but even I could play this game. The only skills required for tanning were walking to the beach, lying on a towel and turning over. Yes, there were other pastimes to enjoy on the beach but many of them ate into valuable tanning time. For example, going in the water, while fun, took your legs out of direct sunlight.  Competitive tanners did not overdo ocean time. We had reclining to do. Yep, tanning was my kind of activity, my sport - until I identified kayaking, the only sport I know of you can do with your legs crossed. But that’s another story.

I did not use any performance enhancers. No baby oil spiked with iodine. No tanning reflector that might have been better used as a steering wheel protector. No, I was a purist, but not a champion. I wasn't gifted with natural talent. The opposite was true. I had Irish skin. Once, after a full season with daily trips to the beach, I happily told a friend my tan was the deepest I’d ever had. He said he was sorry. 

For those of us who grew up in the Philadelphia area, serious tanning was mostly done at the Jersey Shore. Sure, there were people who spent the summer poolside in the city but real tanning required a trip to the beach. Preferably for the entire summer. During my peak tanning years, I only got to spend the full season at the beach twice. Both times in my early twenties. Every other year I had to content myself with a week here or a weekend there. And, that could create some stress--which brings me to the Garden State Parkway.

Memories of that anxious feeling often pop up on the Garden State Parkway when I am driving on the highway. Back then as we drove to the shore we could monitor the skies over the barrier islands that line the New Jersey coast. The final leg of the drive was always fraught with tension. Were there clouds over the beaches? If so, would they still be there when we could spread our beach towels on the sand? Were there more clouds moving in from the west?  If so, would we be able to outrun them?

But those are only memories. Now my preferred time to take the drive down the Garden State is sometime between September and May.  But if I do make the trip in the summer, my preferred beach arrival time is 3PM when I complain about how hot the sun is. I no longer feel the need to lay out a yearly calendar with trips to the tropics spread throughout autumn, winter and spring so I can keep my “base.” Competitive tanning went out of style decades ago. Certainly, for my generation. I don’t miss the practice. I actually enjoy the beach a lot more now especially if I remember to bring suntan lotion. Maybe SPF 100. You know the kind that blocks those rays.


NOTE TO SELF: by your late twenties you would spend five hours of any beach day riding waves.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

People to Remember: Believe Your Friend

Today’s episode of people I never forgot who have no idea I was ever alive.  

One day Bruce Springsteen and I flew commercial from Newark to Chicago. I was aware of this; Bruce was not.  I was behind him getting off the plane so I kept up with his group to see what it was like to be Bruce Springsteen walking through an airport.  Matching his pace wasn’t easy. He moved fast.

I only recall one person who noticed Bruce although I suppose there were more. A guy, youngish businessman, at a newsstand told his friend facing the other way:  Hey! That’s Bruce Springsteen.  His friend never turning around replied (with condescension):  I doubt it.  

Lesson learned:  if a friend tells you something good is behind you, what harm can it do to turn around?

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Training to Support Marathoners

Those of us who stay on the sidelines and offer encouragement to the brave souls who actually choose to run 26.2 miles without a wild animal at their heels also need to train. Support is not as easy as it looks.

 Below I list a dozen training suggestions for successful observation of a marathon. 

1)    Get a chair. Especially if you are there to support a specific runner, you’ll want to bring some seating option. You will be doing a lot of waiting.

2)    Get in shape to walk. On marathon day, you’ll probably need to park a block or more away and walk to the course. You may choose to stay in one spot or move along the racecourse. If you relocate your chair, you’ll be making your way to the course several times. Make sure you are in shape to walk those blocks.

3)    Get in shape to sit. You’ll also be doing a lot of sitting – waiting for the runners at the start and, as the day goes on, waiting between runners. Don’t put yourself in the position of not having sat that long in years. Be prepared. Practice sitting. And, do not neglect the art of getting in and out of the chair or that all-important skill, reaching. You may need to stretch to get that beverage or a snack. NOTE: If you are providing sustenance to a runner, you’ll have to extend your arms to offer a beverage. Some simple stretches and weight training should get you in shape.

4)    Find a mentor. No one expects you to go it alone. Observers from previous years are often happy to help. Ask about their greatest challenges: positioning of beach chairs vis-√†-vis the sun and wind; selection of beverages and snacks; and, most importantly, the location of the public restrooms along the course

5)    Start training early – you can’t do it all in the last few days. Training to watch a marathon should be an ongoing effort.

6)    Train regularly. Set up a weekly schedule. You don’t need to train full-out every day but do make sure you do some sitting every day. If you plan to stand up to cheer or to dispense refreshments, practice getting out of your chair: three times, three reps, three days a week. If possible, use the actual chair you will take to the course. Also, train in the clothes you will wear to the marathon. On race day, you’ll be glad you did.

7)    Don’t include a full marathon-length sit in your initial regimen. Start with something shorter. Interval sits such as a 5K or 10K observation can prepare you for the big day. Keep in mind that a lot of people are at the finish line cheering on those who finish the marathon in less than 2 1/2 half hours. It’s the people who come in at the five-hour mark who need the most encouragement. I always like to be there for the final runners.

8)    Lighten up on training the week before the big race. You’ll need your energy for race day. You might want to get a massage a few days before just to make sure your muscles are up to the challenge.

9)    Watch the weather report. A lot of the decisions you’ll be making in the days before the race are weather-related. Prepare for any eventuality. The weather can be mercurial. Dress in layers. Remember the weather affects more than your choice of clothing. In warm weather you’ll want a sports drink. If the temperature drops, consider bringing warm beverages and hot snacks. Clothes with big pockets allow you to stash extra clothes and snacks so you can keep your hands free for cheering and waving.

10)   Check out the route in advance. Are you going to stay in one spot or move along with your runner? Keep in mind the position of the sun on bright day. If you’ve checked the weather, you can  put the wind at your back. Look for a flat spot so to avoid the danger of a wobbling beach chair. Calculate your time to the next spot. Do all this in advance so you don’t waste precious minutes on race day.

11)   Prepare a script of encouraging terms. “Way to go.” “Lookin’ strong.” “Doing great.” (Even those in show biz should avoid the popular “break a leg” salutation in this circumstance.) Create a list of names. It doesn’t matter if you recognize any of the runners. There will be runners of all ages. Try to gauge the age of those that need encouragement. Common names for those born in the 1950’s include Gary, Ronald, Linda, and Patricia. In the 1960’s many parents went with Mary, Karen, Susan, Robert, Mark and William. In the 1970s?  Amy, Melissa, Jason, Brian, Jeffrey, and Kevin dominated. Popular names in the 1980’s included Joshua, Daniel, Justin, Matthew, Jessica, Ashley, Melissa, and Amanda. Even those born in the 1990s might need encouragement. So offer a shout-out to Jacob, Tyler, Samantha and Amber. If you aren’t good at judging names, remember Jennifer and Michael, Christopher, David, and James are perennials. Shout these names and it’s likely you’ll provide someone with the encouragement they need.

12)   Visualize race day. See yourself along the course. Equipped with supplies for any contingency. Pacing yourself throughout the day. Staying mentally strong. Listening to what your body is telling you. You’ve done the work. You can expect a successful marathon experience.

 If supporting a specific runner, keep your eyes on the approaching runners. You'll need to be out of that chair like a shot. You'll see why training is so important. I learned the hard way.

Good luck. You've got this.