Saturday, March 15, 2008

Cruisin' (Episode III)

After we'd experienced the magic of Meramec Caverns, we drove to Saint Louis and visited old friends -- folks whom we'd met at church in El Paso -- Danna and Weldon. Weldon is a pathologist who (at the time we met) was an Army doctor at Fort Bliss. Fondly do I remember gathering at their house in northeast El Paso for an evening of bring-your-own-fixins nachos and see-if-you-can-hold-your-own chatter.

Weldon, an impish 200-pound child, has truly found his calling; his work as a pathologist perfectly fits his need to play with gross dead things. Weldon's idea of fun included showing us his 35-mm slides of autopsies -- a pleasure which his dainty bride Danna (a petite southern belle from Humble, Texas) didn't share. So indulging our vulgar tastes required us guys to retire to the bedroom and to hand around the plastic-35-mm-slide viewer while the charming ladies rattled on. Emerging from the gore of the bedroom, we were then treated (despite the mild protestation of Danna) to Weldon's latest 45-RPM Meatloaf tune. Does anyone else remember "Love by the Dashboard Light"?

At the time of this trip it's now been more than eight years since we left El Paso, but we've stayed in touch with Danna and Weldon through letters and phone calls. (Well, to be more precise, Joyce and Danna have been corresponding.) We meet Danna and Weldon at their new home in suburban Saint Louis and I'm pleased to find that Weldon (despite his becoming a very successful and highly respected physician in private practice) still hasn't grown up. Given Weldon's improved financial status, we now retire to the stereophonic multimedia-equipped gameroom to listen to his latest music-video discovery and gawk at high-def autopsies. We then trundle up from the basement and Danna feeds us quiche.

Following our short midday visit with Dana and Weldon, that afternoon we moved on to Jacksonville, Illinois where Abdul, the desk clerk, once again greets us at the motel. We eat at Wendy's and then wander over to a playground to let the kids get their wiggles out. At first we're puzzled by the oversized play equipment, but we eventually figure out that we've wandered onto the campus of a school for the mentally challenged. Ironically, we've made our way from the home of a big kid to a home full of big kids.

Sunset finds Joyce and me sitting in a gazebo, supervising the boys who are still dashing around the playground, but now they're busying themselves with chasing fireflies. The nearly full moon was already up at sunset, so we can clearly see the boys running and snatching at the luminous dots. I note that James and Ben don't actually pose much threat to firefly liberty, but they're having great fun mimicking Andy's exuberance. Andy, on the other hand (five years senior to James), is quite the hunter.

Andy catches a half-dozen or so, and with each bagged prey we hear the tall soprano sing out, "I got one!" James and Ben immediately abandon the chase and come sprinting to share Andy's excitement. The younger boys gather around and watch intently as Andy's hinged hands pivot open to reveal his glowing palms. Time after time the fluorescent bug (both literally and figuratively) lights up their little faces. Eventually Joyce and I decide the magic has worn off for us and we bribe the boys to abandon their fun by offering them frosties at Wendy's. Thence, with the chocolate treats tucked into our tummies, we return to the motel to rest up for another day of travel adventure.

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