As announced by both odor and verbally, the 4-year old had an extremely impressive accident while trapped in his car seat. My wife and the teenager express their lack of interest in remediating the problem.
“Maxwell, find the nearest exit with a gas station,” I proclaim. “I will take Nathen inside. You follow me with a change of clothes in a plastic bag. Do you understand?”
Five minutes later we pull into a convenient Phillips 66, where Nathen and I appropriate the sink in the men’s room. I shall spare the specifics, but after fifteen minutes I emerge with a cleaned-up and contented little boy in fresh clothing, as well as a plastic bag holding nuclear waste—as commonly described.
That was the first of my two Winston Wolf experiences of the trip. At all other times, I am cloaked in my secret identity of Middle Aged Dad, behind the wheel and checking into Best Westerns, accompanied by my wife, the teenager, and a four-year-old.
In Boise City, Oklahoma, my wife sees a storefront entitled “No Man’s Land Beef Jerky,” with appropriate logo. The teenager likes beef jerky, so she pulls over.
I attempt to summon any residual Wolfness. Certainly, herein will be Oklahoma rednecks. They will be Gun-toting, jerky-eating, beer-fueled Yahoos, thick in the neck and wide in the belly. They’re going to see right past the cowboy hat (which I have a tendency to put on backwards) and focus on the thick glasses and Jewish nose, not to mention the rental sedan of tony foreign vintage, and then they’ll….
Well, I’m not sure what they’ll do.
I put on my face mask and walk inside.
The place is run by women.
They greet us warmly. One of them, the owner, wears a tee shirt advertising her allegiance to the local high school. She discusses the various styles of beef jerky with my wife and son, while I poke about the showroom. My wife asks questions about the jerky-making process, which our host politely declines to answer.
“There are lots of secrets in making jerky,” she tells us.
At the end of the horse ride in Angel Fire, New Mexico, the wranglers bring a stepstool to the side of the horse for me to step onto. I want to tell them to take it away, but instead…. I use the stepstool. To be fair to myself, the horse is especially tall and wide.
In Wisconsin, we stumble—quite by happenstance—upon an establishment billed as “The Shoe Box: Biggest Shoe Store in the Midwest.” It so happens that I need a new pair of shoes, so we go inside.
The place oozes false testosterone. Sheets of signed baseball cards line the walls. Miniature football helmets dangle on strings from the ceiling. The Western selection (cowboy boots and their ilk) greets visitors as they enter the front door. I’m sure the place stocks women’s shoes but I don’t see them. I find sales help and buy a pair of brown loafers. For the rest of the trip, the laces keep undoing themselves.
“Here’s a gift for the little guy,” says the clerk as we are leaving. It’s a cloth-and-plastic baseball cap from the local team, the Madison Mallards. Their colors are green and yellow, their logo is the head of a duck.
Nathen is delighted. He wears the hat on and off for the rest of the trip. Mostly off, though.
We enjoy the Mister Donut of Godfrey, Illinois, just north of St. Louis. This is the last extant Mister Donut outlet in America, and it is not to be missed. The cherry donut is excellent, and flavored exactly as I remember it. The other donuts are acceptable. We take lots of photos. Then we cross the Mississippi and motor on westward.
Have you ever been to Liberal, Kansas? It’s an outpost in the extreme southwest corner of the state. The town has several attractions for the needy tourist, among them: 1) Dorothy’s House, an homage to the movie set of the Wizard of Oz, complete with Yellow Brick Road; 2) The Mid-America Aircraft Museum; 3) Pancake Day; 4) A Wheel-Alignment Bear.
We managed everything but Pancake Day, which is celebrated on Shrove Tuesday in February.
At Dorothy’s House, staff members dressed as Dorothy/Judy Garland invite loyal fans (primary school girls, typically) to skip down the YBR alongside them. On our visit, one little girl was dressed exactly like her Dorothy host—ie, gingham dress and ruby slippers. Only a cad would have pointed out that the staff-member Dorothy was a tad old and a tad overweight for the role. I held my tongue.
The aircraft museum was chock full of airplanes of many vintages, most dating to World War Two. I reviewed all the exhibits with interest, but only one of them triggered my emotions: a Boeing 727, its rear stairway extended so you could climb up into it. I have lost count of the number of 727’s I had flown in its day and mine. A little research shows that the last of the fleet, at least among U.S. passenger carriers, was retired in 2003.
We meet the Wheel Alignment Bear on our way out of town. He looks the same as always, and is still in service, advertising an auto shop.
Way to go, Wheel Alignment Bear.
Winston Wolf is a character in the movie Pulp Fiction, and is portrayed by Harvey Keitel. He is the fixer, meaning the man that assists John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson when they stumble into a spot of trouble. I’ll skip over the specific trouble and how Mr. Wolf tackles it (successfully) and fast forward to the last scene in which he appears. After the two marquee stars bid him thanks and farewell, Winston Wolf ambles off with his girlfriend, played by Julia Sweeney, who is on screen for less time than it takes me to write this sentence.
At the time, Julia Sweeney was thirty-five years old and known for her recurring character on Saturday Night Live. She would not be described as glamorous, as neither would be Raquel, the name of her Pulp Fiction character. I imagine Raquel as a single mom of a grade-school kid, the father long out of the picture. She happened to meet Winston Wolf at the supermarket or a neighborhood barbecue, and now she hangs out with him when they both have time.
The point being, Winston Wolf is no James Bond. He dresses very well and drives a fancy car and throws around a lot of money in his job as fixer for Tarantino’s hoodlums, but in other respects he’s just an ordinary guy, probably living on the same block where he grew up.
Which brings me to my second Winston Wolf experience.
In Albuquerque, in the evening before the flight home, I take Nathen to the local outlet of Savers, a chain of thrift stores. My mission is to exchange a pile of unwanted clothing, previously purchased for about $45, for items of greater interest or utility. As we had learned, Savers offers store credit only.
Upon entrance, an employee tells me to shop for the new items first, and then do the exchange.
So I parade up and down the aisles, the little boy happy to ride in the shopping cart. I find a duffel bag in reasonable shape, which we can use to pack the various items we had acquired on the road. I pick up a couple books that Nathen finds of interest, as well as a couple shirts that look good on him. For myself I find some new socks, a pair of blue jeans, and a short-sleeve button-up that features an appealing black-and-white checked pattern.
Eventually, without any formal calculations, I deem my new acquisitions close enough in value to those being returned.
We head to the cashier. She scans, she confirms, she tabulates. Her announcement: I owe the store an additional 4 cents.
Do you hear me? FOUR CENTS!
That was amazing.
It’s now the evening of July 3rd, 2021. We are removed from airplane and rental car for a few days now, and life is returning to its normal rhythms and duties. Tomorrow is an official holiday and anniversary, of sorts, but the forecast here is for rain—it’s been raining steadily here since we returned—and I expect we won’t be heading out for fireworks or picnics or swimming pools. So it’ll be a quiet Fourth of July for us, but let me wish you a good and happy holiday, I hope with friends and family. Drop me a hello, if you like, and tell me that all is well (or otherwise, I can provide an ear if you need one!) Now that the pandemic is abating—or so we fervently hope, and with lotsa evidence in support—maybe the world will turn a little brighter and easier for us all. We deserve that, for sure. We all do.