If you are getting tired of all the anger on Facebook, Twitter and the nightly news, turn it off and go on a trip.
It doesn’t really matter where you go, just some place different where you’re surrounded by people you don’t know. Strangers. I took a day trip on an Amtrak train from Grand Rapids to Chicago this week to enjoy a play at the Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. It’s a long and grueling day –18 hours from start to finish. Yet the trip reminded me over and over how nice and friendly strangers are.
I’m pretty familiar with the Windy City but I still need to consult a map now and then or read a street sign. Whenever I would do so, some friendly soul — unbidden — would smile and say “Where ya headed?” People are eager to be helpful.
“Oh, you can’t walk all the way to Navy Pier, ” said a woman on Michigan Avenue. “That must be five miles. You want to take a bus, right over there. Get the 124.”
She didn’t know how much the fare was since she uses a bus pass, but another guy overheard our conversation and interjected “It’s $2.50. Correct change.”
Helpful strangers don’t limit themselves to directions. They will show you how to work those complex train seats. Suggest a favorite place to eat. Even stop what they are doing to offer to take your picture when the selfie isn’t working out too well.
When we took the bus back to Union Station after the play, the stop wasn’t the part of the terminal we were expecting.
“Just take this walkway about two blocks,” said a commuter in a business suit rushing for the stairs.
Looking around the terminal I saw a cross section of America, every age, race and religion. There were a couple little boys chasing a pigeon. There was a large group of Amish in black, including a man with a beard so long and wild it looked like a cheap Halloween costume beard he had tied on. A dark-skinned man in a turban was quietly reading a book. A mother and daughter from Texas were struggling with half a dozen suitcases enroute to a wedding in Grand Haven.
No one was talking about Impeachment or Syria or Mar-a-Lago. I don’t know or care about each person’s political party or who they voted for in the last election. We’re just people, waiting our turn, helping each other if we can, smiling and sharing small talk.
No matter what social media says, this is the real America.
If you are getting tired of all the anger on Facebook, Twitter and the nightly news, turn it off and go on a trip.
“Choose the path of most persistence.”
I’m not one to plaster political bumper stickers all over my car, but that one from the Elizabeth Warren campaign made it to my bumper. It’s not just because I support the candidate but I also identify with the sentiment.
I thought of that today as I unloaded a folding table, stool and giant book bag for a local author event at an area bookstore. Selling books is about as frustrating and time consuming as a political campaign. And it takes a lot of persistence. Authors need a double dose of ambition to stick to their guns and get that book written in the first place. But that’s just the beginning. Then you have to find the buyers. And that can be slow going.
So why do we do it? For that one reader who says my story was too scary to read alone at night. Or the one who said she could imagine it being a television series. Or that Italian reader who claimed my characters’ response to a serial killer was “so American.”
We write because these characters talk to us. The only way to silence the voices in my head is to write them down. As a mystery writer I HAVE to figure it out. How did the criminal do it? Why did he/she do it? And how will my protagonist solve it?
We write because we chose the path of most persistence. As Robert Frost would say, “that has made all the difference.”
I can’t read the news without praying. I pray for a family in Minnesota that is struggling to keep a farm that has been in the family since 1888. I pray for a black couple in a Philadelphia suburb who were hassled by a new cop for driving in the upscale neighborhood where they live. And all those people who were shot in El Paso and Dayton! OMG!
Then there are the emails. Two wonderful ladies from my church are in hospice. And the Facebook posts about illness and depression and the death of a younger brother.
With all these new requests popping up daily I try to remember the general prayers for the hungry and the persecuted.
And of course prayers for the powerful. I pray for Mr. Trump every day because I believe in God’s ability to transform anyone. I don’t agree with most of Trump’s policies and certainly can’t approve of his behavior, but when I pray for him I find my heart softened a little. It calms my anger and kindles my compassion. Even for Donald Trump.
All too often, however, I forget the purpose of prayer.
A Hindu friend — yes, Hindus pray too — told me once that too often we treat prayer like a trip to the mall. Gimme, gimme, gimme. Heal this one, change that one, comfort another. We skip praising our amazing God. Slide past thank yous for all our blessings. And ignore the real communication: confessing our failures, opening up about our fears and listening for his guidance.
To paraphrase Kennedy’s famous line: Ask not what God can do for you, ask what you can do with God.
Living by the ocean makes everything else seem small.
I have only been in Panama City Beach for less than a month, but I’ve already observed a few of the ocean’s many moods. From roaring storms to mirror-like mornings, diamond-studded afternoons and sumptuous sunsets. The power and enormity of the ocean drowns out hateful headlines and Facebook furor.
Shutdown? Neither President Trump nor Nancy Pelosi have the power to interrupt our country the way wind and water can. We had an example just a few months ago with hurricane Michael. Panama City Beach survived with only a few scars, but across the bridge in Panama City whole neighborhoods were flattened. Huge churches and restaurants and stores are crumbled heaps of bricks and beams and twisted metal. Makes a border wall seem pretty insignificant.
When I arrived on New Year’s Day a rivulet wound its way through the famous sugar-sand beach behind my 20-story highrise. One of the residents told me it was a drain from a wetlands on the other side of the road that had to make its way to the sea. The flowing water had dug its own mini-grand canyon through the beach creating walls kids would climb and seniors would curse.
One day, in a sand box fantasy, a bulldozer arrived and smoothed away any evidence of the curvy canyon, replacing it with a simple straight ditch. It seemed so logical and orderly, but before 24 hours had passed I noticed that wind and waves were already changing the course of the man-made ditch into a slight curve. Within a few days the curvy canyon was back and getting a little deeper each day. Seemed like the persistent rivulet had won.
Then today a strong wind erased the walls and blew the sand smooth again faster than any bulldozer. The rivulet will have to start carving again tomorrow.
I know mankind has been mean to the ocean. Discarded plastic straws, bottles and bags are piling up and creating islands of trash in the sea. Emissions from our cars and smokestacks have created a greenhouse effect that is causing the oceans to get warmer, melting the polar ice and bleaching the coral. These problems are not small by any measure.
But as I watch the mighty ocean adapting to every weather whim, I am confident she will survive any onslaught we devise. Mankind, on the other hand, may not.
Several years ago I bought some snow boots at the Tent Sale at the Wolverine shoe company in Rockford. They were smart-looking and drastically reduced. Best of all, they were my favorite brand…with a familiar name… Merrells.
Never mind that I’ve been spending winters in Florida for almost a decade and hadn’t seen measurable snow in almost as long. These boots were a bargain!
And perhaps someday they would come in handy.
I stashed them away in the guest closet, kicking myself for buying something I would probably never use.
Well, this has been the year to reboot my winter wardrobe. Last April after we returned from Florida I had to leave my car in the shop overnight. And wouldn’t you know it, the next morning when it was time to walk a mile to the shop to pick up my car there was enough snow on the sidewalk that the boots were a necessity.
Now it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet, more than a week before we leave for Florida, and I had to pull the boots out again to finish the winter yard clean-up and bring in the hose.
There’s a lesson there somewhere: Never pass up a bargain.
My mother snatched the sheet that decorated our “covered wagon” and wrapped my bleeding hand and dangling digit. It was a Sunday afternoon so Dad drove to the hospital emergency room. They called our family doctor at home and he told us to just return to the office and he would open it up for us.
Dr. Heibert’s office was more like a living room with stacks of old magazines and mismatched chairs. He sat me on the edge of the vinyl lounge in his exam room and placed my hand on one of those rolling tables. He pulled over a big lamp bright enough to give us a sunburn. Mom distracted me with a Little Golden Book she had found in the lobby, “Little Engine That Could” if I remember correctly. She held it up so neither she nor I could see the doctor’s needlework. Under that heat lamp Dr. Heibert reattached my finger tip, while talking to my dad about the difference between suture thread and fishing line.
Fast forward more than 60 years.
Last Saturday I tripped while walking down a neighborhood sidewalk and broke my fall by extending my right hand. I was thankful that I didn’t break my glasses or skin my knees, but by the next morning my hand had swollen into a black and blue catcher’s mitt. And I had no idea what to do. Daddy has been in heaven almost a decade and Mom is too many miles away to comfort me, so I called my son and daughter-in-law.
“Just put urgent care into your cell phone,” Angela suggested.
She was right. A list of options popped up complete with hours of operation, distance and directions. Within a few minutes I was standing in line at a MedExpress I never knew existed. And then I was getting irritated because they wanted me to sign a little black box not once but 4 times supposedly verifying I was being informed of this right or that. Wonder how legible a shaky signature from a swollen hand could possibly be?
The friendly X-ray tech posed the catchers mitt in positions that would have been acrobatic even in a less painful state, with a grid of fine red lines marking the positions like lasers on a target. The high tech x-rays were read by a well-equipped radiologist somewhere who spotted a break at the base of my right pinkie.
“Too close to the joint,” the clinic doc said. He gave me a shiny slip-on sorta cast to protect my finger from bumps and a referral to an orthopedic hand specialist. I waited two days for the referral scheduler to call, and then the call was from an office in Holland instead of Grand Rapids. It would be three more days before a doctor could see me, or almost a week after the break.
In the meantime my catchers mitt is healing and slowly returning to flesh color. I’m learning to brush my teeth and start the car with my left hand. And that shiny space age cast that is supposed to keep my pinkie from getting bumped sticks out so far that the little finger is constantly under assault.
I know I should be thankful I didn’t break a hip when I fell. And I know I should be pleased there was an urgent care center nearby that’s open on a Sunday afternoon. And I should be happy that science has progressed to the point that there are physicians that specialize in treating hands.
But when you are waiting a week for basic treatment it’s hard to call it progress. I miss Dr. Hiebert.
Thanks McDonald’s. You may have broken my junk food habit.
I try to eat healthy when I am at home, but when I am on the road I reward myself with the tasty, high-fat offerings of McDonald’s. I look forward to it.
Today I was driving home to Grand Rapids from Ann Arbor, and even though my friend Kym had sent me off with a fine breakfast of granola and fresh fruit, about an hour into the rainy trip I was searching for golden arches. I spotted a billboard and took the next exit. But just as I was about to pull into the lot I slammed on the brakes. It was closed for remodeling. As I turned around on the street that held no other traffic, I saw two other motorists make the same mistake.
I was angry. They advertise to get us to pull off the highway. Don’t they have some obligation to mark that billboard “Closed for Remodeling” instead of pulling us off the highway for nothing? My ire was fueled by the fact that I had a similar experience in July as I was making my monthly jaunt from Grand Rapids to O’Fallon, Illinois. The McDonald’s in Joliet where I usually stop was closed for remodeling. I figured the work would be finished when I took my August trip but no, it was still closed.
I guess I should be glad that the company is trying to keep their locations up-to-date, but I hate to be inconvenienced. That’s why I like fast food in the first place!
So I was grumbling to myself this morning as I continued my rainy trip. A few exits later I saw another sign for McDonald’s and took the exit. Again I slammed on the brakes. It was closed for resurfacing of the parking lot.
“That’s it,” I shouted as I pulled into the Subway across the street. I ordered my first ever breakfast sandwich from Subway with options to choose green peppers and pepper jack cheese to spark up my morning ham and egg. The double whammy of closed McDonald’s has sent me in search of a new purveyor of travel treats to merit my business.
Brand loyalty is influenced by many factors. Over the years I have abandoned several merchants after fairly small slights. For decades I purchased all my clothes at JC Penney. About nine years ago, after a credit card dispute, I vowed never to return and I haven’t. I discovered Younkers instead. The quality of the clothes is better and the “Yellow Dot” sale supremely satisfying. I became a big Younkers fan. Unfortunately my purchases were not enough to save the Younkers store at Rivertown Mall, and I am very sad to see it close. But I have no doubt I will find another store worthy of my money.
And I will find another reward to nibble on the road. No more McDonald’s for me. A customer’s loyalty should never be taken for granted.
Chicago writer Patrick T. Reardon is one of those stylists who can’t answer a simple Q&A for the Writers-World Series. He has to turn it into a feature story. And when you read the list of books under his belt, who’s to argue with success? Here’s a little introduction to the work of “Sparky” Reardon. His talents are more numerous than his monikers.
Name: Patrick T. Reardon, aka the Paulina Palooka, the Billikin Bomber, the Count of Clout, and Sparky.
Home team: Chicago
Position: Utility writer — historian, poet, literary critic, essayist, novelist, reporter, theologian, book reviewer.
Batting average: The Loop: The “L” tracks that shaped and saved Chicago (forthcoming from Southern Illinois University Pres Requiem for David (Silver Birch Press) , Faith Stripped to Its Essence: A Discordant Pilgrimage through Shusaku Endo’s ‘Silence’ (ACTA) DailyMeditations (with Scripture) for Busy Dads (ACTA), Woven Lives: 100years in the story of the St. Gertrude faith family (St. Gertrude), Edith Wharton:Illuminated by ‘The Message’ (ACTA), Starting Out: Reflections for Young People (ACTA) Catholic and Starting Out: Five Challenges and Five Opportunities (ACTA) Love NeverFails: Spiritual Reflections for Dads of All Ages (ACTA)
Throughout a long career, “Sparky” Reardon has demonstrated the ability to play virtually every position on the field, including editor-manager, and produce a high wins-above-replacement figure.
Nothing goes viral faster than a cute cat video…unless it’s a bunch of cute kittens. Crazy Cat Lady Janet Vormittag has lots of fun stories about furry little folks. But she has some tough facts too about the number of animals euthanized each year. You see, pets are not just fun and games, there’s a lot of responsibility too. Janet’s books field the foul balls as well as the home runs.
Janet will be joining more than two dozen other Michigan writers this Saturday at the Writers’ Rendezvous in Ludington. This is a great opportunity to meet the Crazy Cat Lady and get some of her books.
Name: Janet Vormittag aka Crazy Cat Lady
Homebase: West Michigan
Position: Author and animal advocate; publisher of Cats and Dogs, a Magazine Devoted to Companion Animals.
Batting average: Humorous Memoir: You Might be a Crazy Cat Lady if … Fictional SAVE FIVE Series: Dog 281, More Than A Number (#3 is simmering in my brain).
Last year I came out of the closet …. as a crazy cat lady. To my inner circle, it wasn’t a surprise. Animal issues are the theme of all my books. Dog 281, a suspense novel, revolves around dogs used in experiments––product testing and medical research. The second in the series, More Than a Number, takes you into the underground world of dog fighting. If you like having your head buried in the sand, don’t read them.
You Might be a Crazy Cat Lady if … lightens things up a bit. It’s a humorous look at how I ended up with too many cats. Don’t worry, I’ve learned to say no. Don’t call me if you decided to get rid of your cat. The answer upfront: NO.
Considering the positions on a baseball team, which best describes your writing and why? People not involved in animal rescue or animal rights see me as a Left Fielder. In reality, I sit on the bench. Too tied down with too many cats.
Tell us about almost striking out: My first attempt at connecting with the audience was a strike—people found the cover of Dog 281 too sad. How many times have I heard, “I could never read a book with such a sad cover.” My second swing was a little better; the cover of More Than a Number didn’t sadden people but it only got me to first base. My third cover was a home run! People smile and laugh when they see the impish kitten on the cover of You
Might be a Crazy Cat Lady if … . I even had the cover made into a magnet, and they sell quite well.
No one wins a game alone. Tell us about your team: My nine-member team includes Stretch, Sweetie, Lily, Izzy, GeoCat, Little Gray, Frosty, Sue-Sue, and Whiner. Learn more about them in You Might be a Crazy Cat Lady if …
So what’s your game plan?
On Saturday, July 21, I’ll be at the 2018 Writers’ Rendezvous in beautiful Ludington, MI. It will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.at the Ludington Area Center for the Arts, 017 S. Harrison St., Ludington, MI 49431.
On Saturday, Aug. 4, I’ll be at Michigan Authors at the Lakeshore – Holland, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Park Theatre, 248 S River Ave., Holland, MI 49423. Come tell what you think of my covers.
Joan Young is just such a person. The list of books she’s written requires its own website. She writes fiction, non-fiction, mysteries, poetry and a regular column for the Ludington Daily News. She has a new book coming out this month in her latest series, mysteries for children.
That would be enough for most people but Joan is also knee deep in promoting the annual Writers’ Rendezvous at Ludington Center For the Arts. The event, which is coming up July 21, will feature a couple dozen Michigan authors signing and selling their works as well as chatting with fans and reading excerpts. It’s one of those can’t miss events for Michigan literary types.
(I’ll be there, of course, with my Jordan Daily News Mysteries. Hope to see you.)
Name: Joan H. Young
Hometeam: West Michigan- Ludington area
Position: author- it’s remotely possible I’ve decided what to be when I grow up
Batting average: North Country Cache, Anastasia Raven Mysteries (5 titles), Dubois Files Mysteries (3 titles for children)
If you love small towns with all their foibles and yet with a solid sense of community, you’ll feel right at home in the environs of Dead Mule Swamp. And if fiction isn’t your thing, North Country Cache, my non-fiction account of hiking the North Country National Scenic Trail, received an award from Independent Publishers and has been enjoyed by hikers and non-hikers alike.
COMING SOON: Crazy Cat Lady Janet Vormittag is next at bat.