All Kinds in Laguna
I lived in Laguna Beach, California in the 1980's. My husband and I lived near some obnoxiously wealthy home owners. We sat in cafes besides local artists and musicians and we shared the beach with bronzed surfer kids and groups of transient youth kicking their hacky sacks. It seemed like all of these people rich or poor ended up at the Laundromat.
My Weekly Trip to do Laundry
There was always lots of activity at the Laundromat. You could watch a man hunting through the trash for food, while listening to a nearby conversation about an African safari. If you were really lucky you might catch a glimpse of "The Skipper" if he got off his usual route along the Coast Highway. This was not a man of the sea. He was a man who liked to skip.
I preferred observing to interacting.
I liked observing all the characters, but I wasn't always eager to converse. I kept myself busy or absorbed in a book, so rarely did I chat. I do remember one day sharing a bench with a somewhat energetic man with dirty clothes and long stringy hair. He munched on cheese puffs for a while, then disappeared and returned with a pint of ice cream. He greeted me with glassy eyes as I loaded my washer and asked if I wanted some ice cream. I answered no thanks and tried to ignore his swaying presence. He got my attention again when he bent his knees as if practicing a comical bow, then in a slow motion sweep, he gently kicked my tennis shoe with his foot. I stopped and gave him a somewhat irritated look. He grinned back and said softly, "Knock on wood."
Thanks for this odd memory, Laundry Man. Even though you were a little creepy as you invaded my space, you did offer to share your food. And whether you were mentally ill, high, drunk or just lacking in social skills, you took your cue and there was no further pestering and no big scene. You reminded me that we share this world and our Laundromats with all kinds of people. We don't have to be chummy with everyone we see, but we need to show a little respect. I respect you for letting me get back to my book.
On a muggy, August morning in 2008, I had a garage sale...probably the last I will ever attempt. There were a lot of characters who came that day, but there was one particularly feisty old man I remember... fondly.
They started arriving before sunrise as I busied myself in the dim light under the porte cochere. I heard car doors slam and looked up and saw silhouettes moving across the lawn like hopeful zombies. They hung back staring at my disorganized mess (nearly as bad as photo) and I begged them to return later. A construction worker stomped away annoyed. A mother and small child begged to just look a little bit. A creepy man whose mother might have owned the Bates Motel, crossed his arms and said, "I'll wait."
By 7 am I was drenched from the humidity, but ready to open up and get this over with. My son Scott and his friend Suraj raced to throw larger items out on the drive. I cringed at my lack of "display". I had so badly wanted to play
store and have things pretty. Forget it.
The creepy man continued to lurk. He frowned at some costume jewelry and begged me to look in my house for more. I assured him I didn't have time and he pouted and leaned against a brick pillar as if waiting until I did. Other shoppers flew from their cars, grabbing items like it was a moonlight madness sale. They ignored my mother's French Provincial bedroom set and still sealed PBS DVDs. They filled their arms with new boxes of Tide and L'eggs panty hose and buckets of rags. I was proud when I caught a few clever shoppers trying to combine items I had stapled into Ziplock baggies. No time to wonder how many thieves I didn't catch.
Rocker Thief and Lexus Lady
I tried to explain to one woman who spoke little English why I wouldn't go down on the price of the child's antique rocker. I later caught her trying to put it into her car. Hmm? Did she think I said, "No, I won't lower the price, so take it for free." Another woman arrived in a Lexus and spoke with a thick accent. She tried to haggle me down on a 25 cent travel clock. "Yes, I know the battery cover is missing. That's why it's not a dollar!" "Why not a dime?" She demanded. "No that price is firm!" I answered...as if I really cared about the clock or the money. I don't mind a little haggling, but this was an aggressive power play...and she was driving a Lexus!
The Feisty Man Arrives
I was pretty impatient by the time the old man arrived. He took his time creating a large pile of 50-cent items and then he was ready for some haggling. He had the same accent as Lexus Lady, but he came on foot...although he may have owned a Lexus! The first thing Feisty Man did was announce his age. "I am 83 years old. You make me a deal! You give me a very good price because I am an old man." I laughed because I could see his eyes smiling. I told him I was pretty old, too and that's why I needed his good money. We spent many minutes laughing and bartering. I added a little eye rolling and whining to his drama. I was happy to give in finally. I gave the man $20 worth of junk for $5 because he amused me. After I took his money he added. "Now, how will I get this home? I walked over a mile." Then he seemed to have a good idea. "No problem," He said as he scribbled out his address on a piece of paper. I gasped when he asked me to deliver his purchase to his home. "Are you kidding?" I laughed. "You want me to deliver $5. worth of stuff!?" Surely he was joking, but I could see Suraj nearby shaking his head and smiling as if he recognized this kind of converstion. Then the fiesty old man grinned. "You deliver and I will give you some good Indian food."
Just then there was a rumble and I could see storm clouds moving closer. I sighed and told Scott and Suraj to just get in the car and drive our friend home. The old man smiled and followed the boys down the drive, carrying his loot. By the time the boys returned, it was raining and I had pulled in the last of the goods the goods from drive. I took a quick sample of the Indian food. Just enough to give me energy to start packing up for a run to Goodwill.
Thank You, Feisty Man. You gave me a chuckle at the end of a frustrating morning. You amused me with your determination. Were you actually charming, or were you just charming in comparison to the others? I hope you didn't walk away laughing that you'd pulled a good one over on me. It felt like a win-win to me. You got your stuff and a ride. I got rid of some stuff...and a funny memory!
A Cold Night in Marathon, Texas
Don and I met Scott in the Snake Bite Saloon in West Texas. There had been a rare snowstorm the day before and the cozy restaurant/bar was pretty quiet for a Friday night. We actually didn't meet Scott until after about an hour of conversation with his wife, Irene. Scott was too busy performing on his concertina to get in on much conversation.
Taking a break
Irene was able to introduce us during a break. Scott gave us a quick history about the instrument, which is not an accordion! He didn't have to give us his own history because Irene already had. While chatting earlier, we figured out that Scott had been born a year before me in the same hospital in South Bend, Indiana. We also learned that Scott has Polish roots similar to Don. But unlike Don or me, Scott put himself through medical school at Notre Dame by playing in polka bands. I would love to have that in my personal history.
One conversation lead to another...
Irene also introduced us to her brother Raoul. He and Don chatted while Scott continued performing. I was amazed at the different kinds of music I was hearing on this instrument that I associate with Italian or Cajun music. We heard everything from Cat Stevens to Dueling Banjos. But the thing that intrigued me the most was learning why Scott was playing in this bar at all. As a rural doctor, he finds performing the healthiest way to relieve stress. Of course surgery isn't always the most stressful part of the job, Irene explained. "Yesterday, he said it was easy doing an emergency appendectomy, compared to the drive through the snowstorm to get there."
Good Food, too
Raoul was pretty amused when this giant burger arrived. What he didn't realize was how much he would need those calories a few minutes later... when Scott started up an energetic, old fashioned polka. (How did Scott know I secretly love to polka?) Irene and I were able to drag Don and Raoul to the dance floor where the four of us wore out the wooden floor boards with some pretty sloppy, but hysterically fun dancing. That was a lot more exhausting than I remember!
After our heart rates returned to normal we exchanged email addresses and Don and I headed off to the hotel.
Thanks, Irene! I always end my blogs with a thank you to the stranger I'm highlighting. I've been talking about Scott, because you shared so many interesting things about him. But really you're the stranger to thank because it was your enthusiasm and curiosity that got us all talking in the first place. We loved hearing your stories and you were equally interested in hearing ours. Most strangers I meet, I never meet again. But maybe in the future we'll join up again...for a little more polka fun!
Upper Michigan in 1974
Our family visited Ranch Rudolf for the first time in 1974. We were with our good friends the Connors, so we didn't put out much effort to socialize and interact with new people. We were too busy with our group of 12, running around in cut-offs and swimming suits, floating in kayaks and tubing in the nearby river.
Then... Winter at The Ranch
On our second visit to RR, we were a group of 3 families, gathering to ring in the new year. There were 11 (mostly teen) kids this time, so again we weren't on the look out to make new friends. But lucky for us, we ended up with a people encounter that could have saved a life or two.
The Day we Arrived
It was odd to see the lodge sitting peacefully under a snow covered roof when we arrived. Bare trees and icy air... and then an ugly sound I'd never heard! Snowmobiles! This was 1974 and snowmobiles had just recently begun to invade the winter world! I had never even seen one and now I was having to adjust to their motorboat sounds in a world, normally quiet and isolated because of the snow. We whined about it... for a moment.
Our Own Noise
We didn't complain long because we weren't really all about reading and meditation. The 11 kids were either in the midst of snowball fights outside or blasting "Kung Fu Fighting" on the juke box inside. When we'd had just enough cabin fever on the second day, we begged Bob, one of the activity organizers to rent us a few canoes. (reserved for summer) We wanted to enjoy the river we so loved. He finally agreed and loaded the trailer with 3 canoes. We headed up river and 9 of us were dropped off for a chilly, winter adventure!
Lots of Teasing and Playing Around
We treated our canoeing experience kind of like a ride at Disneyland! The water moved us along with no effort so we could ooh and ahh at the sights and gasp with great drama at a few bumps and low branches.
Just Having Fun!
My brother (who took the photo) must have gotten a little tired of all the silliness in the two "girl canoes". This was the last photo he took before the boys moved ahead and left us to our fun. We were constantly losing paddles and having giddy adventures to retrieve them. We clearly didn't follow the rules of "not standing" in a canoe. I enjoyed a new canoe activity, where I perched myself on the tip of my canoe and barked bossy instructions to the other canoeists.
Robbi (laughing) was the only one in her canoe who didn't seem to be concerned about the increasing speed of the water or the accumulation of fallen trees.
I was the last in my canoe to stop clowning, as well. In fact I was in the midst of telling my boat mates a giggly story about my near fall, when the canoe smashed into a fallen tree that sent my body flying. Suddenly I was swallowed to the ribs in the icy river. I had to catch my breath before I could let out one hysterical scream. The boat was wedged well enough against the trunk that I was able to climb back in...which did no good because at this point the roaring water was forcing the canoe over and in seconds the boat began to fill. Jenni, Colleen and I climbed into the water and held the other side, screaming and pushing...but the force of the water turned the canoe upside down, where it was hopelessly stuck. For a panicky moment, Colleen was pulled under the canoe as well, before we could free her. After 30 minutes of silliness and giggles, we had suddenly become a group of sober, if not terrified girls. Robbi's canoe promised to send help as they maneuvered past us. We 3 in our dripping clothes made it to shore where we began moving along the river towards the ranch.
The Wrong Side
Unfortunately, we chose the wrong side of the river, away from the road. Our side of the river became steeper as we became weaker. We held onto trees to keep from sliding into the icy water. Colleen, who'd had the most difficult time escaping the rapid water kept sitting down and telling us to come back for her. I didn't know the word hypothermia then, but now I'm sure she was suffering signs of that. My mittens had washed away and I remember my hands being so numb I couldn't tie my boot laces when they came undone. Colleen began wheezing, all 3 of us were shivering, and our wet clothes were turning to ice. It became more impossible to stay near the river, so we climbed our way to the top of the ridge.
And that's when we heard it... the sound we'd cringed at the day before! Three snowmobiles in the distance could be heard before seen. When they caught sight of us I can only imagine what they thought. It wasn't until I climbed onto the rear of the third snowmobile, clutching onto my snowmobiler-hero that I could almost manage a smile. It was the sight of Colleen in front of me, that made my frozen face budge. She was clinging onto her hero, with her frozen life jacket over her coat.
This is a picture of the lodge fire pit, where we 6 sat for the rest of the afternoon, toasting our hands and feet. The canoe with the boys... and camera had made it to safety. Robbi's group had not been able to continue on the river, but they had gotten off on the road side and hitched a ride with some hunters. The two "kids" who had chosen not to canoe that day, had their own adventure when they headed back with Bob to retrieve the 2 swamped canoes.
Thank You, Snowmobilers! You were 3 young guys just out having fun. You could have easily teased or been amused by our situation, but you obviously knew how serious our predicament was. You faced our rescue like professionals, loading us quickly, handing over your own thick gloves and speeding us 1.5 miles to safety at the ranch. I'm not really sure what would have happened if you hadn't come along.
I don't often get a chance to hear the sound of a snowmobile these days. But I have never complained again!
To celebrate my birthday in April 2012, I decided to reflect on the past with a different kind of list. I've met a lot of people in my 55 years, but I'm going to stop and remind myself about the strangers I've met. These are people I met by accident, not through friends or work. For some reason, these strangers dropped into my life. Even though we may have only spent a few minutes together, these people have never been forgotten.
Each week, I'll spotlight someone I met in the past, who in some small way, made me stop and think.
Remember 55 Strangers