Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Metropolis, bluegrass, fine wine and Geritol

My recent trip to Gulf Coast, Alabama, was less than spectacular, but it wasn’t expected to be highly exciting. My mother recently retired and is spending two months there at a condo overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. (Mom did well during her years of employment; the condo she is renting is on the top floor of her development.) I went along for the ride, literally.

Since mom is spending two months there, she needs a vehicle to get around town. She didn’t want to drive by herself, so I was recruited to assist. Being young and allegedly healthy, I was more than up to the 1,400-mile task. Although not by design, I did a majority of the driving.

Our first day was a long, uneventful trip all the way to southern Illinois. We stopped a few miles short of the Kentucky border in the city of Metropolis.

I’ve heard of this town, and like many small towns, it needed an identity. Metropolis dubbed itself the home of Superman, since that’s the name of the fictional city in which the comic book chronicles the life of Clark Kent. Before departing Metropolis to begin our Day 2 journey we drove into town to see its giant Superman statue. It’s probably 18 or 20 feet tall. It’s nifty, but not worth driving out of your way to see.

There is, however, a nearby museum of Superman memorabilia through the decades. On a cold Thursday morning in January I was hard pressed to believe that many people were flocking to the museum at 9 a.m., but that’s when it opened. Had I been determined to see an authentic costume from the Superman movies of the 1970s and ‘80s I probably could have convinced mom we needed to stick around town, since we were there five minutes before the museum opened, but it wasn’t that important to me. Maybe next year, if there is a next year.

Day 2 quickly brought us to Kentucky, and although I’m not sure what bluegrass looks like, I saw some distinct patches of green as we traveled across the state. It’s easy to forget how much milder winter is by the time you reach southern Illinois. Sure, it was cold that day by Minnesota standards, but not ridiculously cold. To hear the local forecasters talk, however, hell had frozen over.

About an hour from Gulf Shores we stopped to fill the gas tank. I was surprised to find wine in the convenience store. Like Florida, you could buy 12-packs of beer and single cans of Bud Light from an enticing tub of ice right near the cashier, but the rack of unchilled wines, and the selection of chilled offerings next to the beer, struck me as odd. I realize there’s no reason a bottle of fine wine needs to come from a pretentious liquor store, but is there really that great of a demand for fine wine by the hicks of Alabama? I guess there is.

My two days in Gulf Shores were less memorable thanks to the fact it was cloudy and cool, with occasional rain. The average high in January is 60 degrees, and while Friday wasn’t bad, it didn’t top 50 degrees during my stay. Saturday seemed colder, thanks to morning rain and damp air throughout the day.

As one would expect, Gulf Shores is Geritol City. On Friday night we went to dinner with two of mom’s friends who spend their winters in Gulf Shores. One of her friends commented on the fact I was a fresh face in a sea of antiquity. She was right. With the exception of the hired help, those without Medicare were few and far between. I noted, however, that I’d fit in well with the crowd, thanks to my pacemaker.

Mom is in her early 60s. She keeps rather busy with a variety of activities. She’s young compared to most of her Gulf Shores peeps, and healthy. She’s retired and will be able to enjoy the rest of our Minnesota winter in relative warmth, playing cards, reading books, sewing quilts, socializing with friends and learning to operate her new laptop computer. She worked hard to get where she is today, and she deserves it.

I have seen it firsthand. If the ghost of Heath Ledger knocked on my door and offered me a choice between ascending to mom’s Gulf Shores throne when I turn 60, or checking out when I turn 58, the choice for me isn’t as obvious as it may seem.

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