Sunday, April 1, 2007

Leaving Pennsylvania ...

... the title has less of a ring to it than Leaving Las Vegas, but the events that I experienced were very different than those that occurred in the movie; thank goodness!

So, I went to an Amway conference (actually, it's Quixtar now, but it'll always be Amway to me) this weekend in Pennsylvania ... do you know how I knew I was in Pennsylvania? The "technology corridor" (meaning "highway with tech companies decorating the side of the road") gave way to a two-lane Route 15 with a vista of fields and an occasional silo or farmhouse.

Do you also know how I knew I was in Pennsylvania? People seemed to be more comfortable speaking in Nordic tongues and towns names had more "p"'s, "h"'s, and "r"'s than any other letters ... including vowels. Also, I was the shortest, darkest, person present in any setting -- my roman/phoenician roots stood out in this Commonwealth. In a way, I felt returned to my New England roots: a Freihofer's bread truck passed me on the highway, and I muttered to myself: "With a name like Friehofer's [pause], it has to be good!" I also kept my eye out for a "Cumberland Farms" (gas station/convenience store) when I passed by a road of the same name.

I went to the Amway conference (they wrap up early these days: we finished around 1 am) and then went to an Art Deco all-nite diner that served their eggs, runny, the bacon, crispy, and their attitude, sunny. How could these servers and cooks and Maitre-D's be ribbing each other and the (many) customers at 1:45 am? I raised my hand like a school boy: "Excuse me, ma'am, may I please have some orange juice?" "Oh, sure, sonny; I'm sorry I forgot that!" Me: "I'm surprised you can function at all; I'm not!" She laughed and returned with my orange juice, "freshly squeezed!" she crowed.

Those of you who are lucky enough to have these places to frequent (we have one or two real ones in the DC area, and they have round-the-block lines that make going to them a real chore) know that orange juice comes in two species: "OMG! This is manna from heaven orange perfection!" and the "OMG! This alien blood has acid burnt its way through the table, through the floor and through 15 feet of foundation!" I got the latter with this cup.

Ah, well! Perfect eggs (with rye toast -- is there any other kind?), perfect bacon, perfect french toast, perfect coffee (a strong americano); so, I fed the orange juice to my car battery and batted 1000. Total bill: $10. The Maitre-D, a stocky bespeckled man who told me what to order, asked how the food was: "Better than perfect" I responded, because I couldn't have imagined this outcome when I made my entrance earlier that "morning".

Later that morning, after checking out of the hotel, I went to Mass at St. Catherine's in Harrisonburg. It took me 15 minutes to park, so I entered Mass late. On Palm Sunday. Big mistake. The overflow chairs were, uh, overflowed, and I spent the Mass in the vestibule, craning for a look over the shoulders of my too-tall blond brothers and sisters. Either this is the only Catholic church giving Mass for many miles (possible), or the fair-weather Catholics showed up to grab a blessed palm and stay for the entire Mass (possible). Priests during these high-visibility (*cough* high-holy) days tend to be peevish -- understandable: after the 800th phone call on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday to the tune of "Father, exactly when during the Mass do I need to come in to receive ashes?", I would be more than a little hot under the collar -- but this priest, and old, kindly man, seemed to be pleased to see everybody and offered his hand in friendship first as distracted or uncaring people passed him heading to the exits. I shook his hand and thanked him for the Mass, as always; and his eyes twinkled a return greeting. As I walked out in the rain to the car, two teenaged children of a family raced past me into a house. I turned to the parents and exclaimed: "You live right here? How wonderful! You can walk to Mass every day!" They smiled as they told me they were visiting friends, but, having lived myself two blocks from a church, I felt that was the neatest thing.

So, now I'm back home for a couple of days, and then possibly off again to Philadelphia on an extended contract, so I spent some "quantity" time with my ladies -- we played through the Yamabe-Go Seigen game (Elena Marie lifted the go bowl, spilling a few black stones over the board, but otherwise, there were no mishaps as the girls "helpfully" filled in dame with extra stones -- Elena Marie loves being a helper, and Isabel loves doing what her ate does). And I entertained them with new-found pirate stories (for instance, did you know that the Royal Navy issued a bottle of rum every day to all able-bodied sailors from 1651 to 1970? That gives more meaning to the "yo-ho-ho" shanty!).

Tomorrow: taxes and contracts. Aye, me hearties!

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