100 years of solitude.

I saw my 29 year old self this week, standing underneath the replica of Sue, the dinosaur, in the United Airlines Customer Service line, Terminal 1, O’Hare.

She, young me, was explaining to the customer service agent, nicely at first, that she’d missed her connection and really needed to get home. Wasn’t there any way to make that happen quickly, please, maybe on some other airline? Nicely at first, as I said, then slowly more forceful. She thought she was losing because she hadn’t been strong enough in the beginning. Hard to blame her really; she’s still new at this. She doesn’t know that, no matter how many times she calls Johan by his name, the first answer he gave – that she’ll have to wait – is the only answer she’ll get. She’ll learn.

Next she’s on her cell phone, explaining that she might not make it home, that it might be “another banner night in the United Club lounge – such a damn nightmare!” She’s very cosmopolitan and worldly, this J. Crew-clad frequent traveler. Oh, and would someone please let her dog out at 10:00, in case she’s not home until morning?

Now she’s at the restaurant, trying to look busy and productive all by herself. She has her laptop out, and if she could just get connected to the damn Internet (could the waitress please check on that?) then maybe she could get something done, get ahead of the game, sitting there at a tiny table, wedged between a father-daughter reunion and another single women like herself only entirely different.

The father and his college daughter are headed, we all overhear, for an adventure that he’s buying with his million Marriott points. He’s the kind of traveler no one wants to piss off, he boasts to the girl, who is pretending her father impresses her. On the other side, at the table to the left, the very different 30-something woman is quietly reading a book and drinking a glass red wine. When she leaves two boisterous young men take her table and quickly start debating the merits of Irish whiskey chased with beer.

29 year old me stays oblivious and busy, ordering a kale salad but wanting ravioli, you can tell, because some small comfort sure would be nice. And a glass of Ferrari Carano, the fumé blanc please, and on a separate bill, if possible (expense review, you know). Honestly, it’s been a very long day, a dull thudding kind of long day at the end of the same kind of week.

Not one of them is paying the least attention to present me, updating an old-fashioned paper calendar, sorting receipts, eavesdropping on everyone’s conversations. Maybe one of them will have The Answer. Meanwhile, I am having the ravioli.

She doesn’t recognize it yet, young me, but eating underneath her surface is a constant irritation from things she thinks she enjoys, the things that seem important: conquering office politics and laughing at the salesmen’s jokes. And underneath that there is a general unrest from something bigger, deeper, more troubling. There it was, just days ago, right there in clear, hard numbers: the same people who want the government out of their damn healthcare want it very much in women’s reproductive rights, and seeing that just made everything feel wrong.

It’s going to be this way, I want to tell her, this weird dichotomy will always be here. It was here in 1994 – right here in this terminal at O’Hare, I remember. It was probably here in 1974, too, and it’s still here now. It’s an illogical human contradiction that will never, ever make sense to us, and it will always, incomprehensibly, be here.

But still be glad you voted, I want to add. Voting is a very great privilege. Just being here is a great privilege, actually. You’ll see. Don’t quit.

Finally we’re at our gates, she and I, hours later, about to board our flights. Please God, don’t let me be seated next to a smelly, chatty, overly large person, that’s what she’s thinking. I know it’s what she’s thinking because she still thinks that, even now, even after all these years.

They call her boarding group, the frequent traveling group, and she marches off, heading home with a sense of purpose, even at 10 p.m.

Minutes later I, too, am on the jetway, stopping briefly while an older woman gate-checks her bag. She’s silver-haired and comfortably dressed but with a definite style. She hasn’t succumbed to jogging suits or baggy jeans with printed sweatshirts like the rest of the 70-somethings on the flight. Come to think of it, she was in the restaurant, too, and the customer service line earlier, but I didn’t give her much notice until now.

“It will be there when I get there? You’re sure?” the woman is asking the man in black. She is friendly but direct, making him look her in the eye. “Yes, ma’am, we’ll bring it to you when you get off the plane in Memphis,” he assures her.

“I’m sorry I’m holding you up,” future me turns and says. “I do love visiting my grandchildren, but,” (in a whisper) “I just hate it when they lose my luggage.”

Happy week.

********

Food | Week of November 10, 2014

Christians Bistro Plover WisconsinOne of my Chicago-area destinations last week was Plover, Wisconsin, a city (town?) I expect you’re unlikely ever to visit. The clerk at the Hampton Inn recommended a restaurant not 50 yards from the hotel and promised us it was good, and local.  Christian’s Bistro delivered on her promise, and in a surprising way.

“There’s andouille sausage gumbo on here – in Wisconsin,” the guy from Shreveport remarked. I’d missed that because I went straight to the pulled pork sliders with Wickles. Strange, right? And the amberjack was served with sweet potatoes and collard greens.

So we enjoy our dinners, and a taste of rich, delicious crème brûlée that we shared around the table, and as we’re leaving we notice the fleur de lis magnet on the kitchen hood and the Commander’s Palace cookbook in one of the bar’s cookbook stacks.

Turns out the chef was sous chef at NOLA for 16 years (I remember dragging a sales team to NOLA in the early 90s, and how everyone marveled over it – swear to God). No, I don’t know how Christian got from NOLA to Plover, but it sure was a bright spot – and it inspired this week’s line-up at our house.

Sister Schubert Sliders with Wickles & Sweet Potato Fries

I’m going to start the week with something all my people will enjoy, because I’m going to test them as the week goes on. I use the Sister Schubert rolls that come in a tray – the original rolls, not the goofy bag of Sister Schubert-branded dinner rolls. The original rolls are tender, but they’re also small, so the burger patties (beef or turkey, you choose) have to be equally small, and you have to plan that each person will probably eat four. Dress with a dab of Duke’s mayonnaise and a Wickles pickle, the best pickles ever. Serve with oven fries – sweet potato ones if you’re feeling fancy.

Quick Jambalaya

Many people are partial to Emeril’s recipe, but for everyday cooking I prefer this one from Martha Stewart. It’s easy, and it pleases a wide variety of eaters if you provide extras like hot sauce. Crusty bread and a simple green salad on the side, if you must.

Delta Sol 53014Beet Salad with Grilled Shrimp

This beet salad recipe from Ina Garten is a favorite because it’s easy and always good (provided you like beets and arugula). If you don’t like those things, then there’s a salad recipe included in this one for Grilled Shrimp – just make both, and everyone will be happy.

Rancho Gordo Flageolet Beans | Black Rice | Pumpkin Seed Pesto

Yep, I’m making yet another push for Rancho Gordo beans, which you can usually find at Whole Foods. One day you’re going to believe me. This week, however, I’m not making too hard a sell because the beans are really just a vehicle for the pumpkin seed pesto that I’ve got a hankering for. The pesto would go just as well with grilled fish or chicken. And if black pearl rice seems too adventuresome for you, then just use plain jasmine or basmati rice.

Piri-Piri Chicken | Couscous | Cilantro Salad

This piri-piri recipe calls for a whole chicken, but you can use breasts and thighs if you don’t feel like messing with a whole bird. You do have to let it marinate for at least four hours, though, so plan this one in advance. Serve with plain couscous and a bright cilantro salad. Some yogurt sauce on the side might be nice, too, so here’s a recipe for that.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Michelle says:

    Nice piece. Bad week. As Andrew O’Hehir wrote in a (highly recommended though depressing) Salon piece, we’re “stuck in a ‘Groundhog Day’ wave pattern of bitterness, stagnation and cynicism.” I was heartened that the stupid amendments failed most places. Alas, I see not in your neck of the woods. At least you’ve got Judge Daughtrey, one of the week’s few consolations.

  2. I’ve seen this so many times! Ironically, or not (given our shared age and travel) I finished 2 posts yesterday, to post in the near future. One is on air travel… very different than yours, but with some similar observations. I really enjoyed this one, Jenny. You really captured the observations– psychological and literal, that come with travel, aging, and all the other baggage. 😉

  3. jgroeber says:

    God, yes. When you run into past you or future you… perfection. Love this piece.

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