Thursday I had a 12-mile run scheduled, and I dutifully did it. It started out well (first 4 miles at 10:00 pace) but ended up being one of those runs that makes you wonder why you do this. I mean, a-w-f-u-l. The last half I lagged, I dragged, I gagged (not really but it rhymes), I walked, I made it any way I could. Somewhere around mile 9 or 10 I looked down and there grew a 4-leaf clover. There were lots of clover growing on the side of the road but... I don't know, I just have an eye for picking them out. I find one every couple years. You never find them when you look for them. You just have to see them where they are. So in the worst stages of this awful run, here was this happy symbol of good luck. I don't do omens or superstitions, but just finding something universally recognized as special on that knock-down, drag-out run made the whole run special.
THE STORY OF THE REDNECK PICNIC
I've been promising to post about our one-night stopover on our way to Denver. We stayed at a privately-owned RV camp in Blanca, CO, population 318 according to the travel atlas. It appeared that the establishment was primarily a couple gas pumps and old-fashioned corner store (complete with screen door on a spring that banged shut). There were maybe a dozen RV sites; we were one of 3 parked there. Our next-door neighbors had apparently been there a while, during cold weather, because..... the space underneath and around their camper was crammed with hay bales for insulation. They had a rusty van, a rusty old station wagon, a rusty-dusty dog chained to a flatbed trailer (the wooden kind you hitch up to your car to haul wood or whatver.) They had a couple chickens in a coop made of logs and cardboard boxes. All they needed was a couple cars on cinder blocks and several rusted-out major appliances in their yard.
~Sigh~ This is getting wordy already. But I wanted to set the stage.
I went to see the dog, since I could see it was part Red Heeler, and I'm a sucker for those. The woman (about my age) told me all about the dog but she had some kind of speech defect and it took me awhile to get the hang of understanding her. There was a charcoal grill fired up, and the man (who could have been anywhere from 55-75, couldn't tell, turned out he was early 70's) drove up in the rusty station wagon and told me that "my honey" and I were invited for hamburgers and hot dogs after awhile. He said that, "Your honey." This was a surprise -- people we lived beside all winter never said hello, and now these folks with their junk cars, hay bales, and makeshift chicken coop invited us to dinner. I thought, "Eewwww...." but thanked him and said I'd tell Steve. I told Steve. He said, "NO WAY. I ain't eatin' over there. Tell them we've got plans." But I'd already thanked him and he seemed to expect us. Steve said, "I'm not going."
So, not wanting to hurt or offend them, I went by myself. Told them Steve wasn't feeling well and was sleeping. The man said, "Oh, poor fella, must be tired from driving.... well, let 'im sleep." The woman opened a package of hamburger and dumped it on the grill in one piece. She put hotdogs on. There were paper plates, napkins, forks, mustard, ketchup, a can of baked beans and an onion all in a pile on the picnic table. I said I had a tomato, they said that would be great, so I went and sliced up a tomato and brought it over on a plate and added it to the pile. The man was finishing a quart bottle of Miller High Life so I discerned that they thought beer was OK and I thought I'd better pre-sanitize my system and went to our camper and got myself a Corona. And the 3 of us, the man, the woman with the funny speech, and I, sat at the picnic table talking about I don't know what, just stuff, while the food cooked. They were pleasant and fun and interesting and intelligent; I enjoyed being there. I wondered when they were going to put the beans on the grill. The other stuff was probably about done.
Sure enough, in a few minutes the woman heaved herself up (she was quite portly) and rolled the hotdogs (which were thoroughly charred) onto a plate, put a spatula behind the mass of hamburger and dragged it onto another. Interesting. Just open the package, turn the styrofoam tray over, dump the whole lump onto the grill and cook it en masse. Easy and you don't have to touch raw meat. She brought the hotdogs and mass of hamburger to the table.
The man produced a hand can-opener, the kind that costs $1.29, opened the baked beans, stuck a fork in them, and scooped a puddle of them directly from the can onto his paper plate. Now, I want you to know (those who don't already) that I can rise to such an occasion and be just as good a redneck as anyone else, so I did the same, scooping the beans from the can onto my plate. I was still uncertain about eating the food they got who-knows-where, who-knows-how-long-ago, stored who-knows-how, and I thought, cold from the can, poured directly onto my plate, these beans haven't had a chance to become anything but safe. I also went for a hotdog... between the preservatives and their advanced state of black crispiness, they should be safe also. The onion had by now been sliced and I took some of the inside layers, cut them up more, and sprinkled them on my hotdogs. Oddly, the woman had a bottle of Annie's Organic Gourmet Raspberry Mustard (which the man wouldn't touch) and I had to try that. It was really good.
So now the man says, "You gonna give me one-a them burgers?" gesturing to the plate of nondifferentiated cooked ground meat. Well, the meat had separated some into vague chunks as it shrunk during cooking, forming irregularly-shaped and -sized areas, and the woman reached for one of these. The man interrupted gently, "Use the spatula." She pulled her fingers away and lifted a chunk with the spatula, which must be what they do when they've got company. Or maybe she doesn't know stuff.... she seemed with-it enough but now and then he gave her a gentle reminder about some point of etiquette or another. I couldn't tell if they were married (no rings), or related, or what. Probably "or what." He poured more unheated baked beans from the can onto his plate and then offered the can to me. The lid was still sticking up from the edge of the can, attached by the little section you leave uncut to keep the lid from falling into the contents. So I poured myself more beans and took another blackened hotdog, sipped my Corona, and we talked about fishing, and he told me how to make adobe bricks, and I told him my dad had played trumpet with Vaughn Monroe's band in the 1940's; this thrilled him because that was the music that was in vogue when he was a young fella. He talked about the "Big Bands" of that era. He couldn't believe he was eating dinner with the daughter of one of Vaughn Monroe's trumpet players. We talked about how to cook lobster (the woman grew up in Maine) (she said "Losber" instead of "Lobster") and I talked about catching and cooking Maryland blue crabs. We talked about all kinds of things. The woman dripped ketchup and mustard onto her shirt.
Well, now the man said I had to take a hamburger. Uh-oh. I had not planned on eating any of it. I said lamely, "I've already had 3 hotdogs...." The woman already had a chunk of the meat on the spatula and said, "Here, gimme your plate." I observed that it was cooked through. So I passed my plate and thought of the Scripture, "Eat whatever is set before you," put on some ketchup and ate it. She offered, "It's ground turkey." The man dropped his fork and looked up. "TURKEY???" She said, "Yeah, it's turkey. Doc says you gotta cut back on your fat." He suspiciously dissected what was left of his third "burger" with his fork. He shrugged. "Coulda fooled me." He resumed eating it.
No buns. We used our plastic forks to cut our dogs and burgers.
So then we talked about health and good eating and cholesterol, and he said he had Parkinson's disease and an estimated 2 years to live. I saw no sign of Parkinson's.... maybe a little shuffle in his walk, but no shaking or anything. He said, "Yeah, the doc tells me I'm dying, but I'm pretending I ain't." We ate for awhile in silence. I finished my beer. He said, "Man, that Corona's good beer, ain't it?" His quart of Miller was empty. I said, "Yeah, it is, you want one? I'll bring you a couple." He wasn't shy, or abashed -- he said, "Hey, wouldja? That'd be great." So I brought him 2, and another one for myself. He took the all-purpose opener and worked on his beer cap. After a couple tries he handed me the opener and said, "My Parkinson's...." I opened his Corona for him. He took a swig and said, "Aaahhh, that's good. Y'know, I used to be a real bad drinker, and I gave it up 'cause I didn't want to be no akaholic. I didn't drink for years. But if I'm only gonna live 2 more years...." He looked at his empty quart of Miller, his opened Corona, and the extra one I'd brought him. He picked this up and placed it back in front of me. "No point testin' fate.... maybe I ain't dyin'." He took another drink of his Corona. The woman said, "I don't drink much beer. I bought me a six-pack a couple months ago and still got 2 left. Kills your liver. But I don't drink Corona... I'm Irish and I like my Irish beer." I said, "What, like Killian Red?" She nodded contentedly and said, "Yeah, now THAT's good beer."
We fed uneaten portions to the dogs. Besides the Heeler mix, there was a tiny Shih-tzu who had been given a bad total-body haircut with scissors. We talked about dogs. The woman petted the Heeler mix, whose name was "Red," and said, "I never hit her. Only when she nips my face. She's just a pup, she'll learn not to." She seemed to think it was unusual never to hit your dog. The dog was wonderful, about 4 months old, delightful disposition. I took a picture of her at the man's feet.
They were real way-out-back rednecks. They were uncouth and unrefined. They were genuinely down-home downright friendly and hospitable. They were real folks. I had a very enjoyable time. I felt like I was somehow in my element.... just me, no airs. Just them, no airs.
Next morning I took the printed picture over to them, but they weren't home. We were ready to pull out for Denver. I left the picture under the windshield wiper of the rusty station wagon. I realized, we never even exchanged names.
They were like the 4-leaf clover. Special, rare, and totally unexpected.