30
Jun

Growing up, I had mixed feelings about the Fourth of July. On the one hand, it was awesome. Grilling was typically involved. My dad would cook up his specialty: chicken smothered in Heinz BBQ sauce and tinfoiled corn on the cob. Then we’d drive down to the Taste of Lombard where we would stake our spot around the pond and wait for the fireworks to begin while fending off mosquitoes – we never had the forethought to bring repellant – and watching the other suburbanites pop a squat on the grass. (This was as much activity as my father could handle. He once attempted the Taste of Chicago and nearly had a meltdown between the crowds, heat and ten-dollar funnel cakes.)

Yet each time Independence Day loomed on the calendar, my stomach would begin to twist and ache with nausea. It wasn’t bad chicken; I was anxious about how quickly the summer was passing me by. June was gone? I knew those carefree nights of freeze tag and firefly catching would be coming to an end much too fast. The calendar didn’t lie; a third of my summer was already over, and the remaining weeks would soon enough Slip ‘n Slide into the first day of school. Sparklers and snappers could distract me for only so long. Independence Day was always bittersweet.

You would think then that as an adult the Fourth of July would carry even less joy. Except for those clever teacher friends of mine who figured out how to retain their three months of freedom, life is no longer fractured between summer and school. For most people, Independence Day now translates merely into a three-day furlough from work. However…

No offense to Dad, but the BBQs are way better now. Sure, my ten-year-old self took great pride in making sure those chicken breasts were completely covered in sauce by the time my dad whisked them outside to the grill, but then again, that might be exactly why I’m a vegetarian today. Plus, I can’t truthfully say that the Fourth of July was the only time we indulged in BBQed poultry and ears of corn drowned in butter. Any given summer, we enjoyed these charcoaled delicacies at least once a week with little alteration to the menu, though a baked potato or two would occasionally substitute as the requisite vegetable. Nowadays the BBQs are much more exotic. Seven-layer dip, pasta salad, quinoa… The choices are limitless, not to mention an abundance of Gardenburgers and Tofurky dogs. Moreover, now I have actual friends with which to enjoy my meal. Back in the day, I was lucky to get even a minute or two of my big sister’s time before she blew me off to eat in the solace of her locked bedroom. I must say, it’s a much more enjoyable experience to dine with those who actually like you.

No offense either to the great town of Lombard, but the fireworks are also better. Just drive down to the beach and you have the most amazing view of all the coastal communities each having their own display. Should you not be able to make it to the shore, no worries. The fine residents of LA will not let you down. Sure, it’s completely illegal to hold a fireworks celebration in one’s own backyard, but that won’t stop my patriotic neighbors from showing their love of country and all things pyrotechnic. As the evening wears on and Los Angelenos get drunker, the show only gets better. Why set off just one Roman candle when you can do ten at the same time?

Though childhood summers free from responsibility and obligations are a thing of the past, maybe that’s exactly why the Fourth of July is so much better now. Most people are lucky to get even ten vacation days a year, so you gotta make every holiday count. Also, I am shocked by the lack of ulcers developed as a child given the amount of needless worrying over having only two more months of summer by the time Independence Day rolled around. Thank goodness I never had summer school; I probably would have had a nervous breakdown.

Image: graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

23
Jun

The Heartland. America’s Breadbasket… The Flyover Zone.

Many a time have these nicknames been used to describe the land where I was born and raised. Yet since moving to Los Angeles, it’s the last (and somewhat insulting) one that I’ve heard most often, sometimes substituted with the less catchy, “The Midwest? Why would anyone wanna live there?”

Okay, I get it. The winters are horrible. The landscape is flat and uninspiring. We don’t have Broadway or the Walk of Fame, and we’re still behind the eight ball when it comes to twenty-four hour Starbucks or not staring at interracial couples. However, I take issue with the oft-expressed notion that Midwesterners are slothful and stupid in comparison to our coastal cousins. Say what you will about the wild weather fluctuations or miles upon miles of painfully boring cornfields, but please don’t hate on us Middle Americans!

Midwesterners are fat and lazy. I’ll concede that a glance around any Midwestern mall will quickly confirm that its patrons could stand to lose a pound or two or twenty. Here’s the deal, though. When it’s ten below zero and shards of ice are tearing through your exposed cheeks at thirty miles per hour, that Zumba class can wait another day. Moreover, just like seals and walruses need their blubber during the winter, so do Midwesterners. You simply cannot survive otherwise. Second, why waste all that time working out when you can spend it with your friends and family? That’s the real reason why Midwesterners are overweight. Life is short, and we understand that instead of sweating that precious time away in a gym, you should spend it with those you love. And what’s the best way to pass the time with those you love? By eating, of course. Eating deep-dish pizza. Eating Italian beef sandwiches. Eating Chicago style hot dogs. Mmm… Is it dinnertime yet?

Midwesterners are dumb. First of all, it would be dumb not to partake in some of the most delicious foods that Middle America has to offer: Giordano’s, Portillo’s, Eli’s. Plus, have you ever experienced food coma before? Exactly. So cut us some slack. You try debating whether Bashar al-Assad should step down after finishing off a Lou Malnati’s pizza. Second, Midwesterners really are just as educated as anyone living on either coast.* The difference is that we don’t have to prove how smart we are to anyone within earshot. No need to drop into every conversation our Harvard MBA or Yale PhD to ensure that everyone is aware of our superior IQs. Plus, let’s get real… Quasiparticles? Keynesianism? Phenomenology?  Bor-ring. Instead, what about that last episode of The Bachelorette! Can you believe Ashley still isn’t over Bentley? What a fool!

Midwesterners are boring. Everyone touts NYC, DC, LA or San Fran** as the American hubs of culture and entertainment. Fair enough. The coasts do indeed have their many hot spots and exciting diversions. At what price, though? Sure, I do mean this quite literally as one can easily throw down hundreds of dollars on a Tony award-winning musical or meal at some hoighty toighty restaurant. But does that translate into a more enjoyable evening with friends and family? Midwesterners don’t think so. White Castle will do quite nicely, thank you very much, because it’s not the fine dining or entertainment that matter; it’s the company. Famous and fancy are fun, but not necessary to have quality time with loved ones. Even if we did somehow finagle a table at Masa, I guarantee that once the shock of the exorbitantly priced menu wore off, the conversation would then turn to, “So how’s your mom?” And quite frankly, that conversation can be had at Benihana for a fraction of the cost.

Midwesterners are really nice. Okay, this one is 100% true. No one can beat Midwesterners when it comes to politeness. During my travels home a few weeks ago, I heard more pleases and thank yous than I had in years, not to mention doors being opened for me almost everywhere I went and frequent smiles from those passed on the street. Multiple conversations were had with perfect strangers. Unexpired parking passes were handed off by those leaving their spots early. I was almost even forced into using some lady’s Rite Aid discount card on a purchase already under five dollars. That’s just how Midwesterners roll.

So the next time you visit America’s Heartland, please see beyond the stereotypes. If anything, think about it this way… There’s more of us to love! And while you subtly mention how you rubbed elbows with Kanye at some Hollywood club last week, we’ll be nodding politely while heading over to Dairy Queen for a blizzard… Our treat.

* Should you actually want to see the statistics proving my point, please send a written request postmarked no later than June 23rd, 2011, and I will get back to you within six to eight weeks, schedule permitting.

** I’m too lazy to write out these cities’ names because, well, I’m a Midwesterner.

Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

16
Jun

Hi, folks! Please see below for the third and final installment of my “Top Ten” list. I loved every minute of this trip, even the wild Chicago weather (that almost made me miss the Cubs game!) and the fact that my voice was missing for two-thirds of my travels. I fell in love with the Midwest all over again and am already looking forward to my next trip home! And now to the list…

10. Having a lovely conversation with an old childhood friend hijacked by some random dude who wanted to know what it’s like to live in the Silicon Valley even though I said repeatedly that I don’t live there. Also, he wanted to know if it was really a valley made of silicon.

9. After many hours on the road, observing that people are jerks and never get out of the left lane even when everyone else is passing them by. The worst offenders? Middle-aged men driving red minivans. True story.

8. Seeing my first Amish horse and buggy “drive” by.

7. Not believing that I was actually eating dinner in West Virginia and asking my friend multiple times if it was really true.

6. Watching two rather (ahem) husky West Virginian boys purposely overflow their slurpees in order to lick off the excess from their cups and hands while a disgusted food court employee looked on in silence. That state is a hoot.

5. Watching a movie at the drive-in for the first time since I was a kid. Added bonus? Heat lightning storm during Super 8.

4. Driving through a mountain. Like right through the middle of it. Having been born and raised in the (flat) Midwest, this was both exciting and a tiny bit (a lot) terrifying.

3. Attending the wedding of two loved ones. Cue the waterworks once again.

2. Driving straight through from Pennsylvania to Illinois in one day. This is actually the opposite of a highlight, but I refuse to let it go unnoted.

And…

1. Once again, the best bits of this trip were the amazing people visited along the way. Much love and many thanks to Laura, Kylie, the Deneens, the Hoffmeisters, Carla, Rebecca, Vesna and Pablo for making the tail end of my trip so memorable!

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

10
Jun

Hi, folks! Please see below for this week’s “Top Ten” moments of good ole Midwestern fun!

10. Déjà vu of adolescent embarrassment when my dad told our waitress, “If you’re not Dutch, you’re not much.”

9. Getting booed by Cardinals fans after ordering my ice cream sundae in a Cubs cap. (This seems to happen to me a lot.)

8. Attempting to calmly tell my friend that a cicada was crawling out of her bathing suit… as she was wearing it.

7. Forget Michigan. Gas is $3.51 in St. Louis. I just might go to the dark side and become a Cards fan after all.

6. Experiencing for the first time motion sensor soap dispensers that trigger the faucet to run. Fancy! Also, monitors in the ladies’ room that watch the restaurant patrons. Creepy.

5. Almost wanting to go back to school upon seeing the sweet new digs that current CCC students get to use. Ungrateful brats.

4. Figuring out a Plan B after my hostess fell asleep and locked me out of her home for the night.

3. Laughing so hard at Second City that I actually experienced chest pains.

2. Spending my birthday in Chicago with my family for the first time since moving to La La Land.

And…

1. Another week of treasured memories is now in the books. Much love and many thanks to Lora, Mrs. VB, Deanna M, Spiro, Molly, Jeane, Jen, Mrs. Reid, Jeremy, Josie, the Powers, Del, Gary, Joe, Margie, Sandy, Annamarie, Dan, Mary, Deanna K, Bonnie, Paul and the Howard family for making it so amazing!

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

03
Jun

Hi, folks! I’m traveling through the Midwest for a few weeks and therefore foregoing my usual posts. Instead please enjoy these “Top Ten” highlights from my trip so far…

10. The rental car guy booing me after I told him I live in LA.

9. My father bogarting the ice cream that our waitress gave to my eight-year-old nephew for his birthday.

8. The playing of “Taps” before the Soldier Field 10. Cue the waterworks.

7. Getting high-fived on mile nine by a little girl encouraging me to keep going.

6. “Cubs win! Cubs win!” Also, realizing that at any given time eighty percent of Chicago residents are wearing Cubbie paraphernalia.

5. Paying $3.85 per gallon for gas. Now considering relocation to Michigan.

4. Kayaking the Rogue River (and tipping over into it).

3. Remembering how crazy Chicago weather is! Came into town on a Thursday… Forty degrees. That Monday… Ninety degrees. And thunderstorms so insane that even my own father – born and raised in Chitown – instructed me to pull off the road.

2. Remembering how crazy friendly Midwestern peeps are! Many smiles, multiple conversations with complete strangers and even a handshake from some random dude in a coffee shop.

And…

1. Seeing my wonderful friends and family… Much love and many thanks to my parents, Mila, Gabriel, Sue, Steph and Phi, Mrs. Wong, Susan, Ana, Treneka, Jenni and Heather for an amazing first week!

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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