On the Bright Side

My dear friend Zenaida has given me lots of good advice over the years, but among the best is the simple directive to count your blessings as a remedy for feeling persecuted.  Air travel always makes me feel a bit persecuted, and I've taken six flights in the last month (still not ready to talk about it, but Jeffrey Goldberg recently made a great case for dispensing with the TSA altogether -- it's an amusing as well as a spot-on critique -- and Peggy Noonan, God bless her, saw years ago the ugliness in "safety" that seems to be ignored everywhere I go.)  So I'm going to scroll back mentally to a happier moment.

A few weeks post-Pascha, my husband announced he was craving greasy food of the type that can only be had at a divey place he told me about only after I was safely in the family: Ann's Dari-Creme at the Marley Station mall.  Before you raise your eyebrows at the word mall, I should explain that this place is the ultimate in Crunchy Con-ness.  It's been around since people thought fried food was good for you, or at least pretended to think that; when the "new" mall (now a very dated mall) was to be erected, the owners refused to sell their property.  So it's remained a tiny chink in the armor of the great suburban paradise, a chink complete with picnic tables, space for plenty of diners to park and eat in or on their cars, and a tiny, sweltering interior with about a dozen stools before a stainless-steel counter.  They have a limited menu and are most famous for their hamburgers, Double Dogs (two footlongs, one roll; I shudder to think of it) and cheesesteaks.  There are a huge array of toppings, from ketchup and mustard to fried onions, chili and cheese, pickles, etc.  Their fries are okay, but their milkshakes are amazing and their ice cream cones never topple over into the sprinkle dish, no matter how precariously tall they grow.  The amazing thing about this place is the cashier service.  You line up inside (if you're lucky; more than likely you'll be about 50 feet from the door) and when you get to the front, you recite your entire order.  You can order five different subs with five different combinations of toppings, and they'll never write it down but they'll never miss a thing either.  A few minutes later, you'll be holding a bag with hot liquid seeping through the paper in one hand, and a thick, frosty shake in the other, and you will be as close to heaven as you can get in Anne Arundel County.

Well, anyway, I was in the Glen Burnie area and Rob sheepishly asked if I would stop for cheese steaks on the way home.  I stood in line opposite an older gentleman and his wife for some time, and as we waited in the cool evening air, feeling occasional blasts of grease-laden warmth from the griddles inside, we suddenly heard the unmistakable sound of a motorcycle tearing across the parking lot at a breakneck pace.  It whizzed by us, ridden by two teenage punks who revved the engine unnecessarily for a few minutes before accellerating like mad in the other direction.

I respect the rights of bikers everywhere (and count several in my own family) but this kind of thing brings out the little old lady in me.  The sound reverberates inside my chest cavity until I really think I might die from decibel poisoning, and if I had a thumpin' cane handy I'd be using the word "whippersnapper" before you could say, well, "whippersnapper."  I'd just be saying it first, that's all.

This particular night, though, I was too seduced by the possibility of gooey cheese product to get angry.  As soon as the noise died down, I looked at the two seniors and shook my head ruefully.  "Kids," I said.  They both laughed and said they'd been through all kinds of rebellion with their own.  Did I have kids?  No, but I saw many of them each week.  I was a teacher.

"A teacher?" the gentleman replied as his eyes widened.  He shook my hand solemnly.  "Well, that makes you a hero."  I actually welled up, and not just from the emotion of an impending date with arteriosclerosis.  His face was just so sincere.  Their granddaughter was a teacher, too, they said.  It was a hard job, but they sure did appreciate everything we were doing.

Well, sir, your opinion counts for a lot.  I guess I'll try for another year.