Saturday, December 27, 2008

Wish List: pick-up truck, house trailer, forgiveness...

Driving downstate through an ice storm this past week allowed me many quiet white-out hours to ponder my own, unfulfilled, Life's wish list. The cosmic notion hit me just about the time we pulled into Effingham, Illinois (love the name, Effingham---consider: "Honey, I'm sick of that Effing-ham. How 'bout some Effing-turkey instead this Christmas?") some 240 miles and 8 crawling hours south of our bittersweet home in sub-zero, salt mottled Chicago. We settled down for the cold winter's night at a Comfort Inn and dined on some warm gruel at TGI FRIDAY'S before awaking, early and rested, on Day Two to resume our annual Christmas pilgrimage to Tennessee and all gifts sweet and southern.

Next stop on the GPS, Metropolis: 'Home of the Giant Superman Statue.' We had been meaning to check out this giant statue for several years now but always took a pass in an effort to make better travel time. Perhaps this day would finally be.... 'the day' we threw haste to the wind and dropped in on the Caped Crusader and that whole cast of characters. Wait...maybe that's Gotham. Hmmm... Oh well, in the end it really didn't matter.

In a fleeting moment of clarity, I realized that all I ever really desire in this fair and unbalanced world is what everybody else around me has. I could learn to be content with just that, I supposed. The key to this mental metacafe, I concluded, lies not so much in the 'What'... but in the 'Where.' I want what everyone around me has as long as it's: on the Right Bank of Paris; on the Upper East Side of NYC; on a tropical beach... in the Tropics! So in the case of Metropolis, Illinois, this would compute to a comfortable house to decorate for the holidays, a pick-up truck, and a secure assistant-middle-management job at the Big John Supermarket in town.

My wife and I, forever pondering the myriad of future retirement options, always seem to pose the same question whenever we find ourselves in a new spot far, far away from Chicago: "Think we could live here?" We look around, pause...and usually continue on in silence. Truth is, we generally don't fit in. And this day is no different. We quietly pulled up to the Metropolis town square in the BMW and got out to stretch our legs. As advertised, there stood a statue of Superman, although whether it is 'GIANT' or not is arguable.

All things equal, the Big John statue at the Big John Supermarket across the street is much taller and more muscular for my money. But I'm an outsider. What do I know? Some teenaged locals were giving me a hard local look from the next pick-up truck over as I framed my iPhone camera upward for some tourist shots. One of them proclaimed, "That's a pretty big dog to be haulin' around in that fancy ve-hic-le."

I looked over my shoulder and observed our overfed pampered pet sitting upright on his own heated backseat with a jingle belled Santa collar around his neck, panting out the window. The locals had two very lean, growling pitbulls with rusty spike collars chained to the side rail of their flat bed. I looked back up at the two statues towering above and tried to remember the last time someone picked a fight with me. I attempted to mentally recall some of my karate moves but to no avail. I have a black belt laying around the house somewhere, I remember. I wondered if it was still good, praying for muscle memory. Another life, sadly. Really need to get back in shape...clean out the basement...did I unplug the coffee pot?...what was I just saying?...

"Where do you get parts for that?" another big farm boy asked, pulling me back into the Metropolis moment.

Hmmm. Good question. If I answered "at the BMW shop" someone was going to take a swing at me and let the dogs loose for sure.

"Its not mine," I finally say. "I just stole it. Wanna buy it? 30 grand. Cache." Smiling. Thank God I was wearing my sunglasses and skull cap. No more words were exchanged between the humans although the collective hounds continued giving each other the city/country stink eye for several awkward seconds.

I snapped a few shots, jumped back in the fancy ve-hic-le, and headed toward the interstate wondering how long I'd even survive in a short sleeve white shirt and clip-on tie, assistant-managing such indigenous folk. Maybe the retail food industry is not for me after all, I concluded. I pictured me and Big John eventually butting heads somewhere down my second career line and dismissed the fantasy altogether. "You can scratch Metropolis off the retirement list," I said. And although Mona would have made a pretty hot Superwoman, she didn't seem too disappointed with my executive decision (although just between us, she is faster than any speeding Bloomingdale's shopper I've ever met).

Upon reaching our peaceful and rolling hilled destination of northwestern Tennessee, we tossed around the benefits of good country living for two days and ate like fatted calves like we always do in this bucolic family setting. My father-in-law once again reminded me exactly how much real estate I'd need to sell in Dyer County to make a comfortable living. We've had this conversation often. The conclusion is always the same. A lot...of real estate, that is.

Mere price point alone dictates that selling houses and condos in Chicago assures at least a modicum of success for a Realtor compared to the deflated, slow moving housing market of this rural section of the Economy. Still, townsfolk sit around the local eatery, Toot-'n-Tell-It, and discuss the future of America as they see it. 'Goodyear's laying off. No acorns this year. Lot's of pecans, though...' The parking lot is full (as it is on every occasion I've been there) and the local, flannel shirted workers chew on the three square fat over black coffee and pie, everyday except Sunday.

Funny. The Chevrolet dealership in town is boarded up. Goodyear down the road is rumored to be laying off soon. GM, on a national level, is about to crash, but Toot-'n-Tell-It in Dyer, Tennessee is still packing them in and slinging hash morning, noon and night.

"If we retire here we could sell the BMW, buy a trailer and you could get a job waitressing," I said as we pulled into the parking lot full of pick-up trucks for one last stop before hitting the road for good after a most pleasant Christmas visit. My wife just looked at me. The passenger compartment smelled like dog and pecan pie. We'd been in the ve-hic-le hundreds of hours and traveled thousands of miles through storms of biblical proportions these past several days. And now we were about to embark on the final leg of our Christmas journey; the 492 foggy miles straight home to Chicago. No stopping; Effingham, Metropolis, and now Dyer, soon to be mere holiday memories left behind...

"Where do we get parts for this thing?" she asked, as we idled in front of Toot-'n-Tell-It for the final time this trip.

"I don't know. Not the Chevy dealership, that's for sure," I said.

"Why don't you go inside and ask someone?" she asked.

And I would have but I still couldn't remember if I had an actual Black Belt designation or not. I reached into the backseat and took the ridiculous collar off my dog before he got us both beat up, set the navigation, and waited for a signal, before pulling away. "TURN LEFT. 100 FEET," it instructed.

"Real men down here use compasses," Mona said, as we pulled onto Route 45 North, still pissed about the waitress comment.

"Yes," I said, as I adjusted my power seat and fastened my safety belt. "And their wives keep the trailer nice and clean, I'm told." as I quickly added Forgiveness to the list...

Geno Petro

images via iPhone

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