IT’S THE PEOPLE, STUPID

God has seen fit to make me mechanically disinclined. Not that I am completely bereft of ANY mechanical skills, but my mindless puttering with things never seems to end up fixing anything. Yes, I can replace any kind of light bulb. I can even fix an electric socket, or replace it. If push comes to shove, I can do a small bit of plumbing, first turning off every water entry point on the block.
However, I cannot build anything. You should have seen my razor blade box in 7th grade or my son’s pine box derby car (which actually came in second). My spatial ability is only outstripped by my ability to hang up pictures as someone’s eye level.
The creator did give me some other talents and one of them is getting to know people in a hurry. My kids have warned their children that grandpa speaks to random people. They are all correct. I do speak with random people and I will continue to do so till I croak (or lose my voice).
People are much more interesting than things, or even places. The Corn Palace was much less interesting than Jim and Rhonda at the Signature Casino and restaurant. When we got to Mitchell, South Dakota, we only knew that there was something there called the Corn Palace. The AAA lady had told us about it and the signs were strewn along the road like Burma Shave.
We arrived at Mitchell pretty early and walked into the Corn Palace, an athletic facility with corncob murals all over every walled surface. We were dying of hunger, having started out without breakfast. We asked the two blue haired ladies at the desk about an eating place. They consulted with each other and muttered some names, discarded them and then told us about the Signature restaurant a few blocks down and to the left.
Not sure what they meant by a few blocks down, but we had a devil of a time trying to find the place. Who expected the Signature Restaurant to be a gambling casino? What we did not know was that the state allows machine games of chance almost anywhere and takes a 50% cut of the take. 25% more percent goes to the handlers of the machines and leaves a cool twenty five percent for the owners of the establishment.
We walked into the place not knowing what to expect. Rhonda the waitress greeted us and told us that they had not served breakfast at Signature’s for over two years. I told her she might tell the folks at the Corn Palace that piece of information. She told us to wait a minute and went into a backroom office and came out with Jim, the owner. He told us that they did not serve breakfast, but would be happy to make us some. Rhonda went off to the kitchen.
Jim sat down at our table and began to talk to us about how he came to Mitchell from Tennessee. It was a fascinating story of an entrepreneur, who finally found a place to settle down. Rhonda came out with our food and we talked for the next hour. At the end of the hour, we attempted to pay, but Jim would hear nothing of it. He said, “Just give Rhonda a tip.” We did and we left. It was a good start to the day.
Lindsay was our 12 hour tour guide in Yellowstone. She picked us up at about 7:30 at the Big Bear Motel. We were the only ones on this tour. Eventually, she drove over 350 miles that day. Lindsey was 29 years old and recently divorced, when she found out that her husband was cheating. She had one child and was trying to make it as a tour guide, vitamin salesperson and a few other jobs.
The tour was amazing for a number of reasons. As Lindsay was telling us about the history of the park and its creation over 400 million years ago, she also told us that she did not believe in that number because the earth was created in 7 days of 24 hours between 5 and 8 thousand years ago.
Carol and I were astounded. Here was this person, a graduate of the University of Wyoming, touring us around in Yellowstone, who did not believe in geology or the things that she was telling us. There was no conclusion to the contradiction and we could not get over it. It’s something that we are still talking about.
In Jackson Hole, Wyoming, we walked around this upscale tourist place, with as many tshachkie stores as there are on 42nd St. in New York. We were looking for a t shirt for our son-in-law, who is a big guy. We were finally directed to this shop with extra large sizes. We encountered a young man of about 30, who appeared to be from a foreign shore. He told us that he was originally from Israel, but lived four years in Italy.
We did the usual shalom thing and off we went to the races. We asked him what he was doing there. He had run a t shirt shop in West Yellowstone and thought Jackson Hole would be a more profitable place. After all, Sandra Bullock and Harrison Ford lived here so how bad could it be?
He introduced us to his cousin, about the same age, who was from Israel and sounded like a real con man. They had been there about 4 months and claimed to be making it. They gave us a good deal on a bunch of t shirts and we left the store thinking that we had missed something. There was something similar to a store that we had seen in Key West, operated by two Israelis, with no ties to the area and in competition with many other stores like it. Hmmmmmmm.
Salt Lake City was one of the strangest places that we have ever visited. It is essentially a theocratic state (not allowed in our constitution). The church was pretty much in charge of stuff. We believe the state of Utah is pretty much the same way.
Our tour guide was a young man in his late twenties, whose script sounded pretty much written by the elders of the church. There we learned that Brigham Young University was the Harvard of the West and harder to get in to than Harvard. That it had the lowest alcoholism rate in the country, an incredibly low crime rate, the most beautiful state capitol building, the oldest this and the number one that.
We were surprised to learn that not everyone can have a wedding in the Temple, only those who subscribe to the basic tenets of the religion, including tithing. We were taken aback to find out that one of the streets in front of the temple was blocking the view of picture takers across the street. Cars and trucks and buses were obstructing the taking of great pictures. So, the church bought the street and planted beautiful flowers, with heated beds.
The Church was concerned that a mall close to the Temple and operated by private investors was kind of taking people away from the center of town and the Temple and Tabernacle. In an effort to get people back to center city (read Temple and Tabernacle), they were going to build a new mall themselves.
I did the usual thing when we reached Moab, Utah. I wiped out all of the pictures on my camera. I have done this a number of times before, but never with one of these new digital things. I asked at our hotel if there was someone in town who could fix cameras. I was told that there was someone. He was located in a store on the Main St.
When we got there, the man was sitting at a computer, which we later found out was his new toy. He spoke with an accent and told us that for 45 bucks he could retrieve all of the pictures and put them on a cd (I later cracked the cd in my suitcase). He told us to return at about 8:30, but called us at seven and told us that it was ready.
When we arrived at the store, he was in a jovial mood and told us that he had come to Moab with his family from Israel (another weird circumstance) and had started this thriving business. His family, wife and children, did not like the education that they were getting and moved back to Israel. He said that he could not leave such a great business, so in the winter months he goes back to Israel and in the summer months, his family comes back to Moab. Somehow all of these things seemed unusual to us. I guess we are getting old and set in our ways.
We got to Salina, Kansas at 8 o’clock at night and were famished. We registered at our hotel and went straight way to a diner across the way. We were served by a young lady, in her late twenties, who looked to be pregnant. She was and told us her life story. She had been married and had a couple of children, but her husband was a jerk and ran out on her. She then took up with another “gentleman,” who impregnated her. She threw him out because she knew he was a “louse.”
She was working at this job (a twenty four hour diner), while her mother watches the children in the evening. She watches the children during the day. The kids are getting old enough to go to school soon. Once again, I think that we are getting too old.
On our way to Salina, we passed through Ellis, Kansas. It was the home of an army buddy of mine, Elmer Augustine. I was sure that we would be able to see him, if just for a few moments. He was not home and I was sad. I know that I will call him soon.
It’s always the people. The places are nice and interesting, but the people are phenomenal. Somehow, those become the memories and in some cases, we continue conversations with folks we have met all around the country and the world.

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