ModelStory: The Crisp Brochure Stage

IMG_2914[1]Thinking about this poor guy loading Mount Samsonite into the rental car – his wife having packed three dresser drawers and half of Best Buy after admonishing the kids to only take what they really need – I was going to write about how some people travel light and others don’t and what that says about such and so, but that lifting is far to heavy for the month of June.

It’s vacation time, man.

The whole summer is before us and Salvation Point is gloriously awash in tourists:

People who set an “out of office” autoreply and so far haven’t broken the promise to themselves not to look at what they’ve autoreplied to.

People who are nervous about starting high school in the fall but the anxiety is on hold until the ride home.

People who’ve never experienced a National Park and when the train pulls away they look across the tracks at Many Lost Ways and are momentarily struck dumb.

You’re never so rich as at the beginning of a vacation. The whole thing is in the bank, you haven’t spent any of it, and Mom or Dad or whoever’s in charge says something like “Let’s just take a minute to get oriented and figure out the game plan.” There’s talk of “getting settled at the hotel” or “setting up camp” and of “maybe after dinner a little drive to get the lay of the land.”

In the vacation lifecycle, it’s the Crisp Brochure Stage.

Someone browses the rack in the depot and grabs four or six glossy tri-folds with great pictures of river rafting and horseback riding and trout fishing. The corners are sharp and pointy and they are spread out on the hotel bed and pored over, and then they are hauled around in a backpack until the melancholy Unpacking at Home Stage, where they are found creased and dog-eared with little white scars where the paper was chafed. They are laden with memory and are not easily discarded.

In August the Departures outnumber the Arrivals and the depot is a different place. People are heading home to face Freshman Year or The Inbox, and the few folks enjoying Crisp Brochure Stage don’t project the same excitement. August vacations have an air of desperation around them – people are trying to squeeze in some magic before school starts and the leaves turn.

That’s when the mood is right to examine who packs light and why.

Let’s not worry about it now. Forget I mentioned it. Enjoy your vacation.

Assorted Herpa, Wiking and Atlas vehicles, custom-painted Model Power figure, hand-sculpted Play-Doh luggage.

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ModelStory: The Last Time

???????????????????????????????Big Roger thinks about the Last Time a lot since they moved him to the home.

The Last Time he used his table saw.

The Last Time he fired a rifle.

The Last Time he shuffled out to his own mailbox.

The Last Time with Mae.

The Last Time with Mae – gosh, when was that?

He’s not sure when the Last Time was for any of those things, he just knows they don’t happen anymore.

He remembers the Last Time he drove that pickup, though. It was in the ‘70s and his two oldest were canoeing and he set out to pick them up. He was cutting overland along the railroad tracks toward the river (people did that in those days, though the Last Time was awhile ago) and POW! – a ball joint let go and she went down on one knee like a wounded mule.

The truck was surplus by then, a Saturday beater he never much cared for anyway, so other priorities got in the way of retrieving it. The Last Time he seriously considered it was a weekend that same summer, when his brother offered to drive down from Kanab with his wrecker, but then there was a pileup on 89 and oh, brother made a bundle on the cleanup instead.

So the truck is there and he is here and he wonders, “When was the Last Time I could have gone down there and turned it over?”

The Ford wouldn’t have gone anywhere on its crippled suspension anyway. But he’s the same – a good motor in a ruined chassis – so the wondering is good for his mind:

When was the moment? The Last Time the bearings and gaskets and plugs were all still just good enough, it would’ve cranked and maybe sputtered but the old straight six would have caught, and then the next moment – just a moment’s more corrosion on the points maybe – it wouldn’t have?

That’s the funny thing about the Last Time, he thinks. You hardly ever know it.

When does a disabled truck become a derelict?

When does bread become toast?

When does a man become an old man and then become – well, what sort is he now?

Big Roger remembers when they were young Mae would run her fingers through his hair when she rode with him in that pickup. He loved that, but parenthood doesn’t leave much room for scooting over on the bench seat, so there was a Last Time for that, too, but he’s not sure when it was.

He thinks about a routine he had with the kids at bedtime. Sometimes he would carry them by the ankles and swing them upside down before sliding them under the covers and then one day – who knows when? – the littlest got too big. A giggling child curled up liking how Daddy did that, but it was the Last Time and no one knew it.

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(Modified and weathered Classic Metal Works 1954 Ford F-350, JTT trees, Woodland Scenics field grass.)

ModelStory: Set in Stone

IMG_2885The fossilized footprints of a tiny, undiscovered Triassic dinosaur secreted away in Felicia’s enormous backpack will one day leave a permanent impression on her life.

She chipped them from the Chinle Formation – inside Many Lost Ways National Park – so if the small square of stone is found out, it’s a $10,000 fine and three years imprisonment.

But she sees herself as a scientist and isn’t she here doing research for her BS in geology?

She closes her eyes and daydreams with the sun on her face.

Yes, a scientist and one day that stone, carefully polished and mounted, will hang behind her desk and students will marvel at its beauty and the brilliant professor who collected it.

That’s the dream but here’s the problem: Felicia is a struggling student. Geology isn’t her passion.

Cutting and polishing stone is and she’s darn good at it. She has a remarkable eye for the textures and colors, which suits her more to a career in countertops or terrazzo floors – good paths in an age of diminishing craftsmanship – but we’ll get to that.

First she needs to graduate.

(Don’t worry about the Federal Penitentiary. She won’t get caught.)

Felicia is carrying a 2.73 grade point average. It is her final semester. She needs every one of the 20 credits on her schedule to receive her degree.

Fifteen credits are actual classes and she’s pedaling hard for four Bs and a C. The other five credits are the self-study “senior symposium” she sold to the guidance office.

Add Working the System to polishing rocks. She’s good at that, too.

She’s convinced the school that a seven-day backpacking trip with her friend Cameron (an actual geology student) is worth five credits. They’ll co-write a paper, give an oral presentation and voila, she’ll walk the stage with a 3.0.

Then?

Then a half-hearted effort at getting into grad school, but she doesn’t really want it and she can’t overcome her transcripts anyway. She will apply to three schools and be accepted by none.

Fine.

There’s a guy who loves her and they’ll do well. She’ll fall back on her Way with People and sell corrugated packaging, adjust claims and eventually inspect worksites for OSHA. (Good thing that Federal background check came up clean).

Years from now she and hubby will move into a new house. The granite countertop guy will be there when the movers split open a fatigued old box and the fossilized footprints of a tiny, undiscovered Triassic dinosaur will tumble out.

A pot of coffee and a long conversation later, she’ll partner with the countertop guy and the little contractor will do $7 million the next year.

During that year, Professor Cameron will lead her annual “senior symposium” to Many Lost Ways. Secreted in her giant backpack will be the fossilized footprints of a tiny Triassic dinosaur. She’ll have a decision to make: Discovering them would define her career, but she will probably just leave them behind.

(Scratchbuilt Play-Doh backpacks, Preiser figures.)

ModelStory: A River Deep and Wide

At first the thing that bothered him most about the whole idea was that they might fall.

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“At first the thing that bothered him most about the whole idea was that they might fall.”

As a dad, falls are a major concern. Traffic and roadway hazards are a close second, followed by choking and other ingestion-related dangers. Dads tend to worry about the things that cause immediate trauma.

Moms fret over the hazards of repeated exposure like dressing properly for the weather and adequate nutrition.

Dads worry about falls.

So the notion that his daughter and her cousin would embark – unchaperoned – on a three-hour river raft trip caused him some heartburn.

(It had to be a three-hour tour? The universal code for nautical tragedy?)

“They’re fourteen years old, Ted,” said Marcia. “As long as you’re there to pick them up on time, how much trouble can they get into? Frankly I was looking forward to some time alone during this vacation. Just me and the Discover Card and those cute shops in Salvation Point.”

That didn’t make him feel any better, but he realized he was licked and agreed to drop them at the dock.

And now he stands here all alone experiencing one of those unforgettable moments of immense transition:

She WON’T fall.

She’s fourteen and a pretty good swimmer and smart enough to stay seated.

She’s not the little girl who couldn’t help but skip everywhere she went, the one who fell out of bed and fell off the jungle gym and fell off her bike and needed him to fix her up and remind her to pay attention.

She hasn’t needed any of that in a long time. She’s done some growing up, and he wishes he’d been paying closer attention.

Because there’s this boy, sitting right across from her, and they’re not fifty feet from the dock and already talking to each other.

She’s going to have different kinds of falls now, harder ones to recover from.

He’s not sure he’s ready.

*   *   *

At first the thing that bothered her most about the whole idea was that she might fall.

As a kid, falls were a major concern. Falls out of bed and falls off the jungle gym and falls off her bike – and Dad was always there to fix her up and remind her to pay attention.

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“At first the thing that bothered her most about the whole idea was that she might fall.”

So the notion that she would embark with her cousin on a three-hour river raft trip without him had her freaking out a little.

(Dad kept singing some stupid song about a three-hour-tour, a THREE-HOUR TOUR, like that meant something.)

“We’re fourteen years old,” said Brittney. “As long as he’s there to pick us up on time, how much trouble can we get into? Besides, it’s better than hanging out with your mom in town.”

She didn’t entirely agree with that, but she realized she was licked and agreed to be dropped at the dock.

And now she sits here experiencing one of those unforgettable moments of immense transition:

She WON’T fall.

She’s fourteen and a pretty good swimmer and smart enough to stay seated.

She hasn’t needed to worry about falling or choking or getting hit by a car in a long time. She wishes she’d paid more attention to the growing up she was doing.

Because instead of Dad – well, hello cute boy across from me!

The falls are about to get harder.

She’s not sure she’s ready.

(Scratchbuilt river raft, factory-painted Preiser and custom-painted Model Power figures, EnviroTex Lite water with clear silicone caulk effects.)

ModelStory: Lucky 13

There’s a long wait for a table at Janibelle’s tonight but the older couple sitting outside doesn’t seem to mind. The word is out it’s their 55th wedding anniversary, and they’re passing the time taking congratulations.

IMG_2610My wife and I offered our wishes and were thanked with kind smiles and a hearty handshake – a firm grip for a man in his eighties – but there was no effort on their part to rise. No pretense of it, either, to which we would have said, “Oh, don’t get up.”

They sat, comfortably past the point in their lives where they need to worry about such decorum.

In the time it takes to drain an Old Fashioned, we heard their story:

He was forty-something years in whatever industry. The work came and went so there were lean years and lots of uncertainty. She had a career, too, but it was in segments – when she wasn’t working, she was working as a stay-at-home parent.

They raised five kids, and lost one to a war – a pain I cannot imagine. Some of them did well and some of them struggled. They’re all settled now but you never stop worrying about your children.

There was the time she found the lump, his heart attack, their first grandchild born to their daughter who was not yet out of high school.

Great, crashing waves, all now far astern.

They are veterans.

My own marriage turned thirteen this week, a pleasing accomplishment that doesn’t happen on its own. It takes patience and hard work and an awful lot of forgiveness, and that’s just her part.

After thirteen years, we feel like veterans, too.

She gets this way sometimes, or maybe it’s me, but I don’t panic anymore. I just listen if she wants to talk but I don’t make her. Be patient. Maybe get some flowers – a good move for rookies and veterans the same.

Mothers are beautiful and children are beautiful but childbirth is a medical procedure and there are parts of it that can’t be unseen. When we were younger the mark of an established relationship was the ability to fart in front of each other without it being a big deal. Now we’ve given birth together – twice – and still want to hang out.

We’ve figured a few things out about each other, ridden our little boat over our own formidable waves, so we feel like veterans.

Only we’re not really veterans. Not yet. There’s still a long row to hoe.

“The length of our days is seventy years – or eighty if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow,” says the Psalmist. “They quickly pass, and we fly away.”

But if you’re lucky – and I am – the Lord places in your life a remarkable partner.

Mine is faithful and ferociously loyal. She works tirelessly keeping our little family moving forward. Her blue eyes and beguiling smile still brighten the room. She reads interesting books and thinks interesting thoughts and though I’ve known her more than half my life, she still surprises me. She supports me in my darkest moments. She makes me laugh. She is my best friend.

It doesn’t matter if the road before us is long and steep. Together we are equal to it.

ModelStory: Darn Good Soup (inspired by actual events)

It’s soup season in Many Lost Ways National Park. The nights are cold and the days are gray, and the hearty winter campers are fortified by gallons of sturdy soup – freeze-dried chicken and rice, canned vegetable beef, and one very special batch of frozen, homemade split pea with ham.

It was brought by a young couple who, in a stroke of efficient genius, decided to use it rather than ice to keep their cooler cool. I watched them board the steam train at Salvation Point for a long Valentine’s weekend in the park: Two large backpacks, one tightly rolled tent, one sleeping bag, one large cooler on wheels.

They hefted it all up into the baggage car together, high-fived, stole a kiss.

soup

“They hefted it all up into the baggage car together, high-fived, stole a kiss.”
(Woodland Scenics figures with aftermarket winter clothing added, custom-painted Micro-Trains 40-foot steel boxcar, Play-Doh luggage, scratchbuilt styrene coolers.)

They don’t know it yet but this trip will be their last as a young, carefree couple. Not long after they get home, she’ll find out, then tell him:

“I’m pregnant.”

There will be excitement and fear unlike anything they’ve known before.

They’ll bump along through the not-easy process of growing a family, and they’ll know the immeasurable joy that comes with all that pain.

They’ll never have the time for each other that they do now.

They’ll think back on the life they have now – the seemingly grown-up-enough work of paying the bills and looking after each other – and wonder how they filled the hours.

They’ll have thousands of sunny days. Take dozens of family trips more fun than this one. Eat lots of extraordinarily good soup.

But they’ll never again taste anything like the split pea with ham they brought on that last trip when it was Just The Two Of Them.

4 cups chicken broth

4 cups water

16-oz dried split peas

1 large ham steak, cubed

1 large onion, chopped

6 or 7 carrots, thickly sliced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

2 cinnamon sticks

12 whole cloves

Salt and fresh-cracked black pepper to taste

Combine ingredients in a large pot over high heat until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer on low for 2-3 hours, stirring regularly.

(Love ya, Nik.)

ModelStory: Pallets of Faygo Rock & Rye

The transportation industry is filthy with shipping errors. Someone once told me the Union Pacific, on any given day, misplaces something like 500 freight cars. I’m not sure if that’s accurate, and I’m not at liberty to discuss FCFL’s statistics, but who cares because today I’m talking about a happy, bubbly error in my favor.

There are things in life so good, so simple, as to achieve mythical status. Good-fittin’ jeans. A first kiss. All great songs and no commercials on the radio all the way to work.

Faygo Rock & Rye.

“Faygo whodidwhat?” you say.

Faygo Rock & Rye, son.

There arrived by inexplicable error on the loading dock of the Salvation Point shops this morning cases and cases of Faygo Rock & Rye.

So what is it?

It is officially “cream cola” according to Faygo. It’s soda. Or pop. Or sodapop. Or if you’re far enough south, it’s just Coke.

rock n rye

“There arrived by inexplicable error on the loading dock of the Salvation Point shops this morning cases and cases of Faygo Rock & Rye.”

But I’ve had Coke, and with all due respect, Coke, you’re no Faygo Rock & Rye.

Coke is manufactured by a global corporation and distributed across the planet by a monstrous infrastructure geared for peak efficiency.

Faygo Rock & Rye is brewed and bottled in secret caves deep beneath Wyandotte, Michigan by thousand-year-old elves who pledge to guard the formula with their tiny lives. They produce a fresh batch only under the New Moon, and distribute it exclusively to Michigan supermarkets via an impenetrable network of runners and safehouses.

We spent a lot of time in Michigan when I was a kid, and Rock & Rye has a central place in some happy memories. I can’t buy it at home, so whenever I’m in Michigan, which is about once every two years, I stock up then ration the stuff like a Londoner during the Blitz.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for today’s unexpected stash, but delivery error is not how I like to get my Rock & Rye. I don’t like to buy it online, either. Sure, I can order a case from Faygo.com and have it on my doorstep in 48 hours, but there’s something lacking in the experience.

I much prefer my Rock & Rye to come from a Michigan grocer – Kroger or Meijer, Farmer Jack if possible (but I think they’re all gone now).

I go into the store and take an empty cart straight to the soda aisle and clean them out, if necessary sending my firstborn on his belly into the shelves to retrieve the 12-packs shoved way to the back.

The cashier looks at me like I have four heads as she passes case after case over the scanner.

“That’ll be $273.50.”

A bargain at any price.

What’s your Rock & Rye?

(Custom-painted Model Power figure, custom-painted resin casting of boxes on pallets (from on-hand collection, manufacturer unknown), kitbashed Rix two-stall enginehouse.)