Thursday, June 16, 2016

My Hero, Porkchop

Wanna know how to feel insignificant?

I found out by standing on the side of I-64 for half an hour waiting for a tow truck, traffic rushing by at 75 miles per hour and 18-wheelers sending non-stop wind gusts my way. I could have been naked and no one driving by would have noticed.

Without a cell phone, my first order of business after my car died beside the Camp Peary exit had been to walk back up the exit to the base. I'd barely set foot off the exit and onto what must have been secure property when a military cop signaled me to stop and wait for him.

Once he understood all I wanted was to call for a tow truck, we went through the whole I-can't-believe-you-don't have-a-cell phone discussion (his eyes wide in amazement), then he requested my ID and ran it through his computer.

I know you really can't argue with policemen, much less military policemen, but I had plans tonight and all I wanted was to get my car towed to a nearby garage to be fixed, not debate technology usage.

Once he'd called for the tow truck, he wanted me off the base but quick. Even though we both knew it was going to take some time for the truck to arrive, I was instructed to walk back down the exit and wait by my car. On the side of I-64.

As promised, eventually Larry showed up to tow me. When I tried to start a conversation with him, I quickly learned he was from Illinois and had moved here after a messy divorce. "My wife got everything! I got screwed." Larry scowled at me.

Alrighty then. When I inquired how he was adjusting to Virginia, he got feistier still. "The food here sucks! There's no good food in the South. It's all in the North and Mid-West, not here. The best pizza here doesn't match the worst pizza there and there's no Italian beef sandwiches at all!"

Larry had been so desperate for an Italian beef sandwich that he'd gotten in his car last month and driven to Chicago to eat a couple, then driven home. "That sandwich cost me $287 and it was worth every penny!"

Bitter and unhappy as Larry clearly was, he took pity on me, only charging me $10 over the base rate instead of for mileage and depositing me and my car at a Merchant's Tire he knew would still be open after 5 p.m.

Once there, he left me in the capable hands of Porkchop, coincidentally also his brother-in-law, and said farewell, presumably heading home to be miserable.

I explained to the affable Porkchop that what happened to my car had happened before (and repeatedly "repaired"), so perhaps he should check the screw on the rotor first. May I just say how gratifying it is when a woman tells a man what she thinks (actually, knows) is wrong with her vehicle and he believes her enough to check it first?

We adjourned outside together, he nosed around and looked up with a shit-eating grin. "Guess what?" It was indeed the screw again and he addressed the problem by replacing the screw with a larger one in hopes that that would prevent it happening again.

I didn't have the heart to tell him others before him had done the same, even replaced the parts where the screw resides and still, nine months later there I'd been on the side of the road. Again. Porkchop decided that no charges were in order, so I thanked him and hit the road, already late for my dinner plans.

There are times a woman has no choice but to apply lipstick en route.

The occasion was Fountain Books' "To Kill a Mockingbird" dinner at Camden's, which began in a most civilized manner with glasses of Cava sipped while author Charles Shields, wearing a polka dot pocket square, discussed his book "Mockingbird" about the life of Harper Lee.

Shields had just come from the Mississippi delta ("I was so far South even Episcopalians handled snakes") but the trip to the capital of the Confederacy had him sharing all kinds of tidbits about Harper Lee's life and times.

Like how she worked as an airline reservationist for Eastern Airlines so she could write nights and weekends. How she took her closet door off the hinges and used it as a desk and dining table. How uncharacteristically strong her female characters were for the era. How it took Lee and her editor 2 1/2 years to rework "Go Set a Watchman" into "To Kill a Mockingbird."

And get this: when the film premiered in Lee's hometown, patrons got $1 off for bringing a live mockingbird to the theater. I can't imagine such a thing would be legal anymore.

Unlike me, it seemed like most of the people in the room had chosen not to read "Watchman" for various reasons, but Shields pointed out that when a book makes $40 million, it helps pays the advances for a whole lot of struggling authors and poets whose books will never sell a fraction of that amount.

In any case, as he said, "Watchman" is, if nothing else, an important cultural document. Boom. End of discussion.

From there, we adjourned downstairs for a meal comprised of foods mentioned in the book as made by Calpurnia, Atticus Finch's housekeeper. Shields began the evening at our table before moving on to the others, signing books and answering questions in true speaker fashion.

Besides the author, Pru and Beau, two delightful literary ladies joined us, bringing the thickest of Richmond accents (war was pronounced "wo-wah") and opinions ("What would I do with a 35-year old? Play with him for a few weeks, but what would we have to talk about?").

We couldn't have hoped for better company than these two septegenarians.

Our first course was ambrosia salad - yes, the classic complete with miniature marshmallows, but updated with the freshest of Romaine spears - paired with Early Mountain 5 Forks White, leading to a discussion of what ingredients should be in ambrosia.

Never having heard of it until moving to the South in adulthood, I stayed out of it while the author moved to another table.

Pickle-brined and bacon fat-fried chicken thighs were accompanied by pickled peaches (my stone fruit allergy limiting me to just a couple slices) and the tastiest of turnip greens accompanied by Early Mountain Vineyards 2015 Rose, a course that had people at my table licking their fingers and moaning over how good the chicken was.

One of the two men at our table was the sole person unable to finish both thighs, a fact for which we teased him.

Meanwhile, the womenfolk got wrapped up in a discussion of Rit Dye, sparked by Pru's new dress which she had dyed brown from orange, but fascinating to the rest of us because Rit is so hard to find these days.

I recall when it was sold in grocery stores (a sure sign I'm ancient) and Beau mentioned that his Dad had a grocery/hardware store that carried it, but these days, it seems, only Amazon can be counted on to supply Rit Dye to the uncolored masses.

Our last course after much laughter and conversation, was Lane cake, a multi-layer treat with fruit between the layers and whipped cream to take it over the top, as if the Borgo Maragliano "La Caliera" Moscato d'Asti wasn't doing a superb job of that already.

All of a sudden, people got in a Christmas mood, buying extra books for presents and feeling virtuous about it. Christmas? Six months away and I live in the here and now.

Sometimes a little of that living turns out to be on the side of I-64, No lectures, please.

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