Tuesday, May 18, 2010

East Meets South...I Mean North!

What do you get when a woman from New Jersey and a man from South Dakota meet and fall in love? Two people who do NOT want to visit each other’s home state. But, of course, we did. “I grew up in a small town” I told him on our first date. He grew up in the capital of his state. Imagine my surprise when I discovered my small town had a bigger population than his capital!

But, I visited his overly large, desolate, bleak, godforsaken state with an open mind. We chose to drive, since flying there consists of many stops, the last of which involves boarding a crop-dusting plane. Halfway across Nebraska, we decided to eat the roast beef sandwiches I had packed. The last bite was still in my mouth when we passed what he called a feed lot. A nice term for several hundred cows corralled into a twenty by twenty foot space. I called it the worst stench I had ever experienced in my life. I could not swallow my last bite of sandwich for at least two hundred miles. Perhaps, those cows would have gotten a giggle that I had gagged on roast beef.

The landscape became more and more barren, and I could see nothing for fifty miles in each direction. He told me we would be driving through an Indian reservation once we crossed the state line. I thought that might add some excitement to our trip. Now, I knew better than to expect teepees, but apparently the Indians now have these expansive structures called ca-si-nos. I learned a lot.

We were on a winding road, and I couldn’t help but notice there were no trees, no houses, or buildings of any kind, and I hadn’t seen another car in twenty minutes. I turned to him and said “Remember when we were driving through the New Jersey wilderness” (I had to stop here and wait for him to stop laughing) “and you still felt claustrophobic? Well, I’m having an anxiety attack. What if our car broke down or one of us had a heart attack, or even worse, what if I needed a restroom? Where are all the rest areas?” “We don’t get enough traffic” was his reply. Well, build them, and they will come, I thought to myself.

Then I started spotting pheasants by the road. Believe me, when there is nothing else to look at, a beautifully colored bird is a welcome sight. We had probably passed our thirtieth pheasant, and I had shouted “Look, another pheasant!” thirty times, when he mentioned that they are the state bird, and pheasant hunting was big in this area. I sat there stunned, my mouth dropped open. I looked at him incredulously “You eat your state bird?” “Of course, they’re delicious. They taste like chicken except a little stringier.”

When we checked into our hotel, I noticed a painting of pheasants behind the desk. “You eat your state bird!” I said accusingly at the desk clerk. Without skipping a beat, he said “My grandmother makes the best pheasant gravy. Pheasant tastes like chicken except a little--” I know, a little stringier, I thought. “--gamier.” he finished. Gamey? That’s gross. I turned to grab my suitcase, mumbling to myself “New Jersey might not be the greatest place in the world, but you don’t see us eating our goldfinches.”

I have been to South Dakota five times now. We have actually talked about getting a cabin in the Black Hills, the beautiful part of the state. He has made the trip to New Jersey exactly once. Perhaps I should mention to him that we have salt water taffy…it tastes nothing like chicken.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Branded For Life!

If you walked through my house right now you would see a Sony television, GE appliances, a Dell computer, Gap jeans, Kellogg's Rice Krispies, and Reynolds aluminum foil. What do these items have in common? They are all name brands everyone has heard of. And that is not a coincidence.

I grew up with a father who did not believe in buying name brands. I’m still not sure whether he was making a statement about commercialism or he was just looking for bargains. I’m guessing it was a little of both.

No Magnavox, Zenith or Motorola TV set for us. He always seemed to come home with some off brand, with names close to well-known names, like instead of RCA, the brand would be ACR. Or, they would have some hokey name like a dishwasher brand called Scrub-o-Matic. Every once in awhile, he would bring something home that had no visible name at all—as if the company was embarrassed by their own product.

I happened to be at a friend’s house when her father came home with their first color television. Word got out quickly and all the neighbors on the block were lined up to check it out. A far stretch from when my father came home from work one day declaring that we would be joining those with color TVs. He unrolled a sheet of clear plastic with rainbow stripes, and taped it to our TV screen. I’m not sure on what planet that would be considered color TV, but my dad sat back in his chair and beamed.

My siblings and I suffered the ultimate humiliation when he came home one day driving a pea-green German car manufactured by (you guessed it) a company no one had ever heard of. It took us a long time to get over the embarrassment that our father wore bow-ties in an age when all the other men were wearing regular ties, but now when he dropped us off at school, his attire was the least of our worries. Thankfully, on our first trip in the new car to our grandparent’s house, the car decided to launch it’s windshield wipers into the air onto the rainy interstate. We had to pull over while my dad ran back half a mile in the rain to fetch them. It wasn’t long after, that the car disappeared as mysteriously as it appeared.

So, as soon as I became an adult consumer, it was brand names or nothing. My father? Right now, he’s probably grumbling about the slowness of his Byte-o-matic computer.