Monday, March 08, 2004

FEBRUARY 28, 2004

I packed the car for the trip home, then headed downtown this morning for one last breakfast as Shabee's Cafe. There was only one fellow in there when I went in, in the middle of enjoying his omelet. An older man came in, sat himself down over where the fellows gather for morning coffee. He ordered tea.

One thing I've found here in L'Anse, even tough men will order tea instead of coffee, and they'll order chocolate milk too. I haven't seen men ordering tea and chocolate milk in any of the other communities; of course, it might simply be that I'm not in the right place at the right time - I'd be the first to admit that.

The fellow halfway through his omelet picked up his platter and cup and moved over to where the old man had sat down. "I want to talk basketball," he said.

The old man had been to L'Anse's game in Iron Mountain the night before. "You know the B team lost again," he said. Apparently the B team had gone undefeated up til the past two games. "They got to thinkin' they were unbeatable."

A fellow from Bianco Plumbing came in, he got himself a menu and was looking it over before the waitress could get to him. Another fellow and his daughter came in and sat in the booth next to him.

"Yeah, I'm waiting for my phone to ring," the plumber said. "I'm on call today."

There is more talk of basketball. A middle-aged fellow with a walker comes in and takes a third booth. "How you doin' Tom?" someone asked him.

"I couldn't be better," Tom said. "I getting out and around now, I'm seeing people, they feel sorry for me, I've got money in my pocket. I couldn't be any better." That was about when I noticed the lower end of one of his pant legs was dangling empty.

The waitress brought him coffee. "You might as well bring another cup for her," he said, nodding at the empty side of the booth, "she'll be coming along very shortly."

Sure enough, she did. I had seen her in there several times before.

Sure enough, the table where fellows gather for morning coffee had filled up and they were talking politics now. One of the fellows was not very happy with President Bush. "We gotta get him out of there," he said.

"I don't know if anyone else would do any better," someone else said.

"Ted Kennedy already has too much to say," said a third man a little later. I'd been listening to a different conversation and missed the thread of connection.

A fellow came in past my booth and said "Good morning" to me. It's true, these are friendly people. The cafe is pretty well filled up with friendly people by the time I finish my breakfast and pay up. Some of them are talking from table to table.

I'd love to stay and eavesdrop some more, but it's time to head south towards home. It's been a lovely week. Beautiful weather. Friendly people. Yet as with every journey, it's good to go home. I'm ready.


MARCH 8, 1998

I am walking the streets of Atlanta this morning. I stop at Georgia State University, in front of the Baptist Student Union. A sign in the window says "Christians Rock the House." The sign in the other window says "Jesus Saves." Fortunately I do not need saving today.

A fifteen minute walk away and I am standing near Atlanta's "24 Hour Dance Club." It is Sunday morning. It is 10:00 a.m. It is time for church. And up and down Peach Tree Street there are all manner and variety of churches, historic and beautiful churches.

The 24-hour dance club is in an old three story brick building, a former warehouse, perhaps. The heavy bass and the drum beat are loosening the mortar. On the down beat, you can almost see between the bricks. A wail of voice cries out, escapes the building. More bass and drum. The sidewalk almost shudders. Another wail of voice crying out on a Sunday morning. Bleery-eyed dancers must be holding each other up, praying to their various gods for relief, for sweet relief. Another shudder of bass and more drum. I think: "It's good to be alive this morning, and sober."

Later, two girls are walking up Peach Tree Street towards me, carrying boxes. They're white girls. The boxes are big. The red-head is smoking a cigarette. She says "I was f-'d up last night, y'all."


Cajun food in Atlanta. The man behind the counter is hawking his chicken. "Try some world famous chicken," he says. "World Famous Bourbon Chicken, just like New Orleans. Try some chicken." He sounds Cajun. He pronounces "chicken" like he's got something rolling around on his tongue. You try it - soft boil an egg and put it in your mouth. Now say "World Famous Bourbon Chicken." That's how he sounded.


In a place like downtown Atlanta, where it is near wall-to-wall concrete, you do not get a sense of the place in terms of the landscape. Instead, you read the place much more in terms of the people, of their rituals and habits.

Still, when a storm rolls in as it did this afternoon, you recognize that all this concrete, piled high as it might be, is not enough: the tallest tower visible out the window of my hotel room disappears into cloud. Half the city is - suddenly - gone. The sudden darkness of the storm brings on all the street lights I can see.

Rain starts to pour down; it continues into the darkness of night. Near the elevator shafts in the hotel, the wind roars and roars - the draft strong enough to tousle my hair like a grandfather saying hello to the barefoot child.



Place might be wild. It might not be.

We need a wilderness to let us be human. We are animals. Wilderness helps us to remember that we are animals, that we are not the top of the food chain.

Farmers necessarily tame a place when they husband it. The good farmer belongs to the earth as much as the earth ever belongs to him. The miner, by contrast, takes and does not give back; for the miner, place is simply space to be exploited.

When we speak of "natural resources," perhaps we should not ask what we want to make of what we have but what we want to make of ourselves.



I'm not very political, but...
If I hear too many more people say "we have to preserve the sanctity of marriage," I just might have to start agitating for a "No Divorce" Amendment.

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