Monday, October 30, 2006

Welcome to the Country

There are plenty of animal indicators that we live in the country. Ants in the kitchen. Deer in the yard. Rabbits hopping through the pasture. Birds in the trees outside my window. Spiders just about everywhere.

I have learned to tolerate (or at least ignore) these creatures and accept them as part of life on the farm. But my tolerance was challenged today with a new visitor.

I knew something was wrong when I saw trash strewn across the back steps this morning. We usually have a few bags accumulated as there is no trash pick-up in Lincolnton, and Marty and I don't make it to the dump every day. The bags are generally piled in a large trash can next to the back steps, however the can is lidless. While the trash situation has never been a problem, I have had my concerns that one day the scent of our rotting garbage would attract some sort of undesireable creature. I did try to buy a lid when we first arrived, but it seems that trash cans and their lids are sold as one.

I had a feeling that Saturday night's trash - which included the remanents of our delicious grilled cornish game hen dinner - would attract a wild creature. Something about the carcasses and the unused bags of innards made me particularly prescient. So much so that I double bagged it.

It seems my instincts were rights. While this morning the bag of trash was still resting in the can where I had placed it Saturday night, both bags had been torn open and a mess of soggy paper towels and game hen bones littered the back steps. More frustrated than anything, I cleaned everything up and triple-bagged the whole lot in a giant black trash bag.

It didn't occur to me to worry about who or what had been in the trash. In fact, in my mind I wrote the whole thing off as a one-time incident.

So I wasn't expecting to come home tonight and see the same pile of paper towels and game hen bones strewn across the back steps. Twice in one day?

As it turns out, Marty caught sight of the responsible party - and it stinks about as much our trash.

Oui, oui madames et messieurs. Pepe Le Pew has decided to visit Paris, NC.

The ironic thing is that late Saturday afternoon we were talking with Carl and his friend Digger and the conversation turned to skunks, raccoons, rabies and roadkill. 24 hours later I've got a skunk rummaging through my trash.

If that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Register of Deeds

Over 2 months ago, while driving to work one day, I saw a lone and rather large sign out on 27 asking me to please re-elect Elaine Harmon as the Register of Deeds. This was long before mid-term election frenzy dominated the airwaves and newscasts. Long before 95% of commercials turned to ads meant to denigrate opponents rather than laud candidates. Long before anyone else stuck a sign in the ground and asked me to please re-elect them.

I had no idea what the Register of Deeds actually did, why it was an elected position or why I wanted Elaine Harmon on the job. But I was curious, so I did a little digging.

The Register of Deeds is responsible for issuing and maintaining lots of paperwork and files - deeds, trusts, birth certificates, marriage certificates, maps, etc. One website describes the Register of Deeds office as a library of local records. Back in 2002, the Lincoln county Register of Deeds paid $47,000 a year. I have not quite figured out why this is an elected position. It would seem to me you would want to appoint someone based on natural job qualifications - organization, intelligence, people skills - and not just elect any Tom, Dick or Harry (or Elaine) to the job.

As it turns out, Elaine Harmon (who is a Democrat), is running for a 5th term. A few articles in our local paper laud her accomplishments over the last 15+ years including her automation of the office. According to one local blogger, she has this race in the bag. Frankly, I haven't seen much in the way of a campaign for her Republican competitor, Jerry Long, so I'd be inclined to agree.

Still - Elaine seems to be making a big push. The closer we get to the election, the more signs I have seen. Big ones. Little ones. Some in prominent roadside locations. Some stand alone. Some are comingled with other political aspirants hoping to be elected this November 7th.

So while the rest of the country breathlessly waits to see which way the balance of power will shift in the Senate and the House, I am waiting to see if Elaine Harmon gets to keep her job as Lincoln County Register of Deeds.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Friday Night Lights

A few weeks ago, Marty and I attended a football game at St. Stephens, Marty's alma mater in Hickory, NC. I don't know what I was expecting - the pressure and prestige of Friday Night Lights. The passion and perseverance of Wildcats. Anthony Michael Hall in Johnny B. Goode. What I got instead was a bunch of band geeks and the sense that Hollywood has completely glamourized high school football.

Ok - so Friday Night Lights was based on a true story. But in general, movies about or featuring high school football - ranging from the cheer sex in Bring It On to Forest Whitaker's unstoppable linebacker in Fast Times at Ridgemont High - have a tendency to glamourize.

I grew up without football. That is I grew up in New York City. We didn't quite have room on the Upper West Side for 100 yards of green grass and bleachers. The big fall sport for us was soccer. And while Zinedine Zidane's headbutt and David Beckham's off field antics make for interesting press today, high school soccer isn't the same as high school football. At least - not as far as the movies are concerned.

But as far as real life is concerned, my first high school football experience was pretty disappointing.

Maybe it had to do with our players who seemed so small I couldn't imagine any of them going on to play in college (and I'm sure at least a few were seniors). Maybe it had to do with our seats, which were smack dab amidst the band families (the band members sat in the section directly to our left).

In general, the night seemed rather...low key. No rabid fans. No impassioned parents. No live or die moments. Just a regular old football game.

Of course, there were your typical stereotypes. Too cool for school boys who looked they were auditioning for an Abercrombie & Fitch ad. Disinterested girls standing around in cliques, sucking on blow pops. The band geeks who brought to mind every stereotype introduced with those famous words: "One time at band camp..."

But for the most part the night was more ordinary high school football than American Pie.

I don't know. I guess some times life in a small town is just life in a small town and not life in a small town as interpreted by Billy Bob Thornton.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Common Sense and the Ferber Method


After writing about the ridiculousness of my morning routine the other day, a routine which reached a peak of ridiculousness that resulted in my coffee spilling into my Alma bag, I decided to do something about the situation.

So as of this morning, I now have a small shopping bag into which I can throw my shoes, the tupperware I use to feed the goats their Chow, files, folders and anything else that would result in a bulky and awkward to carry handbag. What this means is a handbag that dangles easily on my wrist and a shopping bag which also dangles easily from my wrist. Things dangling comfortably from my wrist means I have use of my hands and a much better range of motion for my arms.

Simple common sense. I just wonder why it took so long.

p.s. For those who are wondering about the shoes, I am not Melanie Griffith in Working Girl. I don't like to drive in heels so I actually drive in a pair of JP Tods driving shoes (what else would I use them for?) and carry my heels with me.


***

I wonder if the Ferber Method works on cats. Not that I know a lot about the Ferber Method -- only what friends have told me about that painful first night listening to your child wail for over an hour. So it was tonight that I found myself in a similar situation.

It rained all day here. It was raining when I left this morning at 6:55 a.m and it was raining when I got home at 7:00 p.m. I didn't even see the goats but when I pulled in tonight I was greeted in the garage by Tony who seemed happy to have human contact.

He rubbed against my legs and darted in and out of my feet while I fed him. I scatched his ears and rubbed his belly for a few minutes, but it was late and wet and cold and I wanted to get in the house. Tony followed me from the garage to the house and before I could shut the door, he had followed me into the studio.

I picked him up, gave him a little more lovin' and then plunked him back outside.

I felt bad - it was raining after all. But for a number of reasons we just aren't ready for Tony in the house. The biggest reason is that he hasn't yet gotten a clean bill of health from the vet and I don't want him to pass anything on to Sebastian. But he's also got sharp claws and a proclivity for jumping on furniture.

Besides - Tony has got full shelter in the garage, blankets to keep him warm and a steady supply of food. If he was a real stray I'd have worried. But I knew Tony had some place warm and safe to go to and so that helped ease some of my guilt.

Still, as I busied myself in the kitchen emptying the dishwasher and preparing dinner, I was bombarded with a pitiful chorus of meows. Tony had moved from the studio door to the kitchen door and was begging to be let in.

"Go back to the garage," I mentally commanded. "It's warm. You'll be dry." Apparently my mental commanding skills are lacking. Tony kept meowing. Once or twice he scratched at the door.

For some reason I started thinking of the Ferber Method.

I wondered how long Tony would keep at it and more importantly, how long until I cracked. I kept peering through the window hoping to see him scampering through the grass to his shelter. But he was firmly planted on the doorstep, waiting to be let in, and reminding me constantly with a steady chorus of wails.

My heart ached. I wanted nothing more than to let him in the warm, dry house and scratch his ears. I wanted to trust that he was healthy and flea free and trust that he wouldn't claw the sofa. I truly did. And several times I nearly caved. But I kept returning to the Ferber Method. I wasn't sure if the Ferber Method actually applies to attention-hungry kittens (versus sleep deprived babies), but I knew if I appeased Tony's cries, he'd always expect appeasement. And I knew I couldn't let that happen.

So I forced myself to detach, exercised a little tough love and maybe have become a better pet parent in the process. Who knows - I might even be ready for some cows.

And if that ain't country, U'll kiss your...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Meet Antonio Vivaldi Paris

The little guy has been hanging around and seems to becoming a permanent fixture in our brood:

LOOK AT THIS FACE

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SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS

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HANGING WITH THE GOATS

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TRAVELLING KITTY

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And, because I can't resist...KISSING GOATS

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Red Lobster and Designer Jeans


As long as I can remember, Marty and I have typically avoided going out on Friday nights. This is not new behavior. No matter where we have lived - Houston, Hoboken, Lincolnton - we have always considered Friday nights to be amateur nights, and so we are typically contented to stay home and have a quiet night after a long week.

But this most recent Friday we found ourselves in unfamiliar territory: out.

Why didn't we stay home? We had cooked an unprecedented 3 nights out of the last 4 and wanted to get out.

We evaluated our few Lincolnton options for going out: Court Street - we had been on Tuesday, our one night out for the week. Tradewinds - we had been there the previous Friday (going our for a quick and easy local dinner doesn't really count as "going out") and besides, it's always so smoky, I wanted to enjoy dinner without the constant reminder that I live in tobacco country. Fatz never came up - I suppose neither of us were in the mood for Calabash chicken. That's pretty much it for Lincolnton - unless we had wanted to give the new Waffle House a whirl.

We didn't want to drive into Charlotte. I suggested 1 or 2 of our favorite restaurants out by Lake Norman but in jeans, a Rugby shirt and Birkenstocks (and with no intention of changing), Marty was ill attired.

So we got in the car and began driving. Our path led us to Hickory. I suggested Da Vinci, the local Italian joint, but Marty declined saying we'd be right there on Saturday (we were planning to watch the A&M game at a nearby tavern). Marty suggested Outback. I declined saying we had just eaten there. We both longed for a high-end sit-down Chinese like Chin Chin or David K's but the only Chinese in these parts is a buffet or take-out. As a compromise, I suggested Kobe - a hibachi steakhouse similar to Benihana. Marty wasn't sure but we headed in that direction.

En route, we passed a brand new Chili's, closed because they were training the staff. We passed an Applebees, where we had once stopped for drinks many, many months ago because there was no place else to go. We passed an Olive Garden - one of the few chains I have never experienced first hand. We passed a Red Lobster, another heretofore unvisited chain.

All of a sudden, Marty recalled a semi-recent dinner he had had with his parents in Gastonia en route home from the airport. The "Rockzilla" lobster tail, he assured me, had been phenomenal. Although we were in Hickory and not Gastonia, how different could the experience be?

Still, it was 7:45pm on a Friday and the parking lot was full. We continued towards Kobe but at Marty's request, I called Red Lobster to see what the wait was. 15 - 20 minutes.

Ok, he said. If we get to Kobe and it's also a 15-minute wait, let's go back to Red Lobster. I agreed.

Of course Kobe was packed and so we turned around and headed back to Red Lobster.

Now I confess, short of Marty's rave review of a singular excellent lobster tail in Gastonia, I associate Red Lobster (courtesy of frequently run commercials) with all you can eat shrimp for $5.99. I associate Red Lobster with various pasta dishes laden with chicken, seafood, cream sauce and lots of garlic. Frankly, I associate Red Lobster with Middle America.

It's not where I pictured myself on a Friday night. But that's where we were.

I walked in and gave them my name. In return, I was given a little buzzer to hold onto that would flash and vibrate when our table was ready. Not exactly Le Bernadin.

The restaurant was packed but the bar was relatively empty, and although the person ordering before me asked the bartender if he knew how to make a Jolly Rancher (he did), the bartender also knew how to pour a glass of chardonnay.

When we were seated a few minutes later, I looked around the brightly lit room. Lots families with young kids. Plenty of sweet teas and colas – the occasional oversized mixed drink – not too many dry martinis or Cabernets. One or two all you can eat shrimp plates. Somehow, we seemed – as per usual – out of place.

Apparently, the trick to ordering at Red Lobster is to order "formula food." By formula, I mean they've developed a recipe/technique/method of cooking that is so foolproof it's impossible to screw up. Cooking a steak is not a formula (actually - it is at Outback but that's an exception) - it can be overcooked, undercooked, and the quality of meat can be poor. Attempted recipes - recipes that involve things like lemon Parmesan cream sauce, sun dried tomato garlic stuffing or citrus butter sauce - are to be avoided at all costs. They are generally poor attempts to recreate haute cuisine for the masses and they generally fail. This typically wipes out half the menu at a chain like Red Lobster or Olive Garden (not that I’ve been to Olive Garden, but I've seen enough commercials).

Formula food at Red Lobster is steamed lobster. A fresh 2 pound lobster pulled out of a salt water tank and served steamed with drawn butter is the same at Red Lobster or Oceana. It is what it is. Lobster is lobster. You can't get lesser quality lobster the same way you can get lesser quality meat. Fried fish is also formula food. Roll anything in seasoned flour or batter and drop it in hot oil and you can't go wrong. Shrimp. Flounder. Scallops. It's all good.

I of course didn't stick to the formula this trip (my first trip - lesson learned) but I think I've got it figured out when we go back.

Marty - a Red Lobster veteran - did stick to the formula and it was delicious. His 2 pounder with drawn butter was exquisite.

***

After dinner, we headed back to Lincolnton and made a stop-off at Zipper's. It was a typical night at the bar - smoky, mediocre karaoke (at best) and cheap Bud Light bottles. There was the usual cast of characters. A redhead with too much eye make up and in need of orthodontic work was there celebrating her 50th birthday. She greeted Marty with a hug - he had apparently met her a few nights back with Carl and she remembered him. We met a man named Doc who looked like Burt Young in the Rocky movies (Uncle Paulie) - down to the hat perched jauntily atop his curly white hair. Although he was short, he was built like a Mack truck and Marty and I agreed that we wouldn't want to be on the opposite end of his fists. Or the holstered knife attached to his belt. It was - for the most part - a typical night at Zipper's.

And then I saw them. People like us. Well dressed. Well coiffed. Dental work intact. Thin. I noticed the men first. One was wearing jeans, an oxford underneath a cashmere v-neck and Gucci loafers. He was talking to a heavyset but pretty girl in pearl earrings and designer jeans. Their companion (who offered a better than average rendition of a Garth Brooks song) was in a black t-shirt and blue jeans that had Dolce & Gabbana embroidered on his ass. It reminded me of the scene in Mystic Pizza when the guy who winds up playing Julia Roberts' love interest walks into the local townie bar as part of a foursome on a double date. The girls - in their heavy plaid pleated skirts, headbands and with their orders of chardonnay stick out. So does the love interest - with his cashmere overcoat and well-styled hair (although at least he has the sense to order a beer).

I desperately wanted to talk to these people. Find out who they were. Why they were at Zippers. They seemed to know a fair number of locals, which made me think they were local themsleves. Better sense initially prevailed - but when Dolce & Gabbana made the rounds of the bar with the karaoke tip jar, I worked up the nerve to ask him what he was doing there. Of course - I phrased it slightly better and pointed out that we didn't exactly belong there either.

He laughed. And said he'd tell me later. Later never came.

And so I am left with the knowledge of what to order next time I find myself at Red Lobster and wondering - who's the guy on the D&G jeans?

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Out of Control

My morning routine has gotten out of control. The progression from sane to insane has gone something like this.

It started out giving the goats Chow in the mornings. During the summer, it was light out (and warm) quite early so at around 6:30am, after I had showered, I would throw my PJs back on, run outside, and give the goats their breakfast before getting ready for work. I'd leave the house dressed, coiffed and maquillaged and get straight into the car and drive into Charlotte.

But as summer wound down and the days got shorter, going outside at 6:30am in the dark seemed silly (plus they weren't always out yet). So I'd wait until 7ish, right around when I need to leave for work, and give the goats their breakfast en route to the car. The big concern here was would Elvis put his hooves on my new dress from Barney's and I am happy to say that thanks to some defensive posturing, I remained hoofprint free.

The gate in and out of the pasture has always been a problem. It's called a farm gate and it doesn't latch, rather a chain loops around the post and is secured with something that reminds me of a carabineer, only it doesn't click open, you have to unscrew it. Needless to say, the simple act of getting in and out of the pasture has always been a struggle - especially when one is trying to balance an overflowing handbag, a cup of coffee and a scoop of Chow. Additional problems reside in the fact that our gate is short, which means there is enough room for the goats to squeeze under and find themselves on the wrong side of the fence. We had propped a board up against the bottom while we evaluated a more permanent solution, but then Ann-Margaret discovered she could knock the board over so now the board is weighted down with two rocks.

Which means that every morning, in the dark, Louis Vuitton Alma dangling from my wrist, heels sticking out making the bag overstuffed and awkward to maneuver, cup of iced coffee in the same hand, and a large scoop of Chow in the other - not to mention suited up for a power day at my power job - I have to lean over, remove the rocks (which are dirty and cold and occasionally wet from the dew), push the board to the side, unscrew the cold piece of metal which secures the gate, defensively step into the pasture to prevent the goats from "hoofing" me, and dump the chow into their trough. It's a delicate balancing act but one I seem to have pretty much nailed.

Then last week, there was a disturbing new development. Elvis began to head butt Ann-Margaret out of their shared feeding trough. I discovered this after I had been into the pasture, given them their feed, left the pasture, gotten into the truck, and was getting ready to start it when I heard Ann-Margaret crying. I got out of the truck, walked outside, and saw Ann-Margaret standing off to the side while Elvis pigged out. So I ran to the fence, tried to shoo Elvis away (hard to do with a fence separating us), and ultimately found myself getting another scoop of Chow, going back into the pasture, and trying to hand feed Ann-Margaret while keeping the very hungry Elvis at bay.

Marty and I chalked up this new behavior to Elvis's testosterone levels and alpha status, but also to the fact that the trough is small and the goats are bigger. Elvis is probably twice the size of when we got him and little Ann-Margaret has baby horns, whereas before she had none.

So over the weekend we purchased an identical trough to give them more room. The troughs are side by side and we try to give Elvis about 2/3 of the Chow and the other 1/3 to Ann-Margaret. Of course, they don't realize these are their own personal troughs and they tumble over one another trying to eat what the other one is eating (thinking it is somehow better) - although they typically figure it out and finish their meal side by side. Still, it helps if you stay in the pasture to watch them feed because Elvis won't dare head butt Ann-Margaret if Marty or I are standing there. Then again, running out the door to work, I don't have time to watch them feed so the morning is a crapshoot on how much Ann-Margaret will eat.

Then came Antonio Vivaldi. Antonio is a stray kitten we found in our garage 3 nights ago in the middle of a rainstorm. He was just sitting there when Marty went to pull the truck in. Of course, we gave him a can of food, which he would only eat when we had retreated a respectable distance, and we left the truck out in the rain because the little guy wouldn't move.

Thursday night, Antonio got bolder. He began rubbing up and down against our legs. He let us pick him up. He followed me to the fence while I fed the goats their nightly animal crackers. In fact, we couldn't quite shake him - he was constantly underfoot (literally - I tripped over him numerous times).

We couldn't bring him the house, so I took the oversized carrying case we had purchased for the goats (which is already in the garage), piled up some old blankets and towels inside and tried to make a cozy nook for Antonio. I even crawled in there (that's how big it is) so that Antonio would follow me (he did) and see what a wonderful sleeping environment I had created.

We eventually managed to sneak in the house and I suppose only the strains of Grey's Anatomy on the TV kept me from hearing Antonio's pitiful meows.

Between Elvis's new alpha feeding tactics and the attention-seeking kitten, I knew Friday morning would take time. I just didn't know how much. But I planned accordingly and left the house at 6:40am. This is how it went.

Still pitch black, I step outside, bag dangling awkwardly from my wrist, a plate with a piece of turkey and a small saucer of milk balanced in my other hand. As soon as I step outside the goats start bleating for the breakfast. Then Antonio pokes his head out from the garage and comes running straight for me. I put the bag down, along with Antonio's breakfast, and get a large scoop of Chow for the goats, all the while the kitten dancing in and out of my legs. I walk to fence, rest the scoop on the post, and begin the process of opening the gate. I don't know why, but for some reason I don't want Antonio to get into the pasture. Not that the goats will eat him. Not that he'll hurt them. and frankly, he's so little he could probably wiggle through the fence and get in there anyways. But this morning, my mission is to keep all species on their respective sides and so I am extra defensive in my movements, trying to keep Antonio separated from Elvis and Ann-Margaret.

The feed is distributed. I would love to spend a minute or 2 to ensure that Ann-Margaret has time to eat but I am also worried about how to get the car out of the garage without running the kitten over. So I make a premature exit out the pasture (knowing that if Ann-Margaret doesn't eat, Marty will spoil her with plenty of animal crackers later on today), pick up my bag and the saucer of milk and head to the garage. Again, all the while Antonio is darting around my feet, nearly tripping me at least once. I rest the saucer of milk on top of the case which I hope has become Antonio's new home, scoop him up and try to put him in there. He darts out before I can latch the door. I am successful on the second try and I pull the car out without fear of running over my new kitten.

As I pull out, I see Ann-Margaret off to the side. Shit. I get out and walk to the fence. She has feed in her trough, but Elvis won't let her get at it. So back into the pasture where I have to stand watch so my baby can have her breakfast. Antonio's meows fill my ears.

Back to the garage I unlatch the gate and let the kitten out. I put down the saucer of milk and he ravenously begins lapping it up. But the dry food is all gone (we had given him a large scoop last night - enough to last Sebastian for 4 days) so I run back into the house and grab a big plate of dry food, I also add some ripped up fresh turkey because hey - why shouldn't Antonio be spoiled like every one else? I put the food down next to the milk and try to leave but kitty seems more interested in where I am heading then his breakfast. I pick him up and place him practically on top of his food and this time it takes. He starts eating. I dash out of the garage, into the car (no time for my usual morning farewell to the goats) and peel out, all the while fearful that the kitten has still managed to follow me and that I will somehow run him over.

All this before 7.

I don't know what else to say except -

If that ain't country, I'll kiss your....


ps when I relayed my tale to Marty he told me I was nuts. He said I should just feed the goats and let nature take its course (ie either Ann-Margaret will learn to stick up for herself or she won't get her chow) and not worry about the cat - he'll move out of the way when I start to back out.

Monday, October 09, 2006

More on Bojangles


If you may recall, a few weeks ago I wrote that little Lincolnton would soon be home to the world's largest Bojangles.

So as it turns out, we may just need the world's largest Bojangles!

I have never been to Bojangles, but the other Sunday, I stopped by Bojangles to pick up a chicken biscuit for Big Mama (a.k.a. Marty's grandma) because she loves them and can't get out to get them herself. The parking lot was full and people were parking at the elementary school next door and walking over. The drive thru line must have had 20 cars. I had neither the time nor the patience to wait. As I drove around, I noticed every seat in the joint was packed. A typical post-church Sunday lunch in Lincolnton.

No wonder we are getting the world's largest Bojangles.

This past weekend, Marty and I drove to Southern States (farm supply) in Cherryville to pick up some items for the goats. En route, we passed a McDonald's that looked as crowded as Grammercy Tavern on a Saturday night. It's a good thing Marty was craving a Bojangles chicken biscuit and not a Big Mac. We found a Bojangles Express attached to a Shell station right across the street from Mc'Ds and pulled up. Of course, Marty overshot the menu (and the little box where you order) so we found ourselves face to face with a human at the pick up window.

Marty asked me what I wanted.

I don't know, I said. What are my choices?

Apparently, asking what to order at Bojangles is like asking what to order at KFC. You order fried chicken. So Marty wound up with his chicken biscuit and I wound up with 3-piece dinner with slaw, mac & cheese and a biscuit.

The chicken was good. Certainly better than I could have made.

Anyways, I have now experienced Bojangles firsthand and look forward to the arrival of the world's largest Bojangles in my town.

And in then interim, I welcome the arrival of Waffle House which has all of Lincolnton a-buzzin'.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your....

Sunday, October 08, 2006

So it finally happened. After months of joking that my biggest concern with taking the back roads was getting caught behind a tractor, the other morning I found myself in a line of cars creeping along at 20 mph behind a very large John Deere toting some sort of oil tank or canister. The sad thing was, I wasn't even on the back roads. I was simply driving through Lincolnton trying to get to 27.

I suppose it's a good thing I had made my peace with lane changing and wasn't in a rush or feeling anxious because there was no way to get around the slow moving behomoth until we reached the intersection with Main Street (yes - we have a Main Street) at which point John Deere turned right and I turned left.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your....
Changing Lanes

I am a lane changer - on the road and in life.

I am the girl standing there evaluating which line at Harris Teeter is likely to move faster. Will it be the middle aged woman with the extremely full cart and 2 whiny kids trying to make all sorts of last minute purchases from the candy rack or will it be older woman with a cart full of frozen dinners and paper towels? Which cashier is moving more efficiently? Is there someone helping them bag their groceries? How many coupons do they have? How will they pay? Yes - this is something to consider. Partly because down here, a lot of people pay by check. Yes, that's right. They write checks.

It shocked me and Marty the first time we saw it. We thought check writing was antiquated - short of paying bills. But as it turns out, it's not an antiquated practice. Not in Lincolnton anyways. One of the local banks won't even issue an ATM card unless you request it special. So you can find yourself standing in the right line only to get caught behind a check writer.

Cash payers can also slow you down - particularly those who sit there and fumble through their wallets and change purses to eke exact change. The ideal form of payment is credit card - just swipe and go.

We once got caught behind a woman who couldn't pay for her groceries. I don't say this to mock her. I say it simply to illustrate the point. We had already unloaded our groceries on the converyor belt. We politely waited for 10 minutes while she kept trying to swipe a debit card that wouldn't go through. Finally the manager was called over and at that point we gathered up our groceries, and changed lanes. That's the problem with lane changing while shopping - once you commit to a lane, you can't easily change. That's why so much thought an analysis has to go into the actual selection.

The only plausible solution to lane changing while shipping is to divide and conquer. This was a tactic I remember using with my mom when I was growing up. One person keeps the cart and stands in the line you think most likely to move. The other grabs a solitary item and stands in an alternate line - just in case. Presumably, the one with the cart has made the right decision and it's easy for the other person to surreptitiously slide out of line and join them. If not, the cart pusher has to make the move to the new lane and suddenly the guy standing behind you - thinking he lucked out that you only had 1 roll of paper towels, realizes he's been screwed by the divide and conquer technique. Divide and conquer also works well when standing in line for movie tickets.

Changing lanes while driving is different. And I am not talking about changing lanes in free flowing traffic on a highway. I am talking about backed up traffic, creeping along.

Sadly, this is a dilemna I face each and every morning.

I take 16 into Charlotte. I pick it up just on the outskirts of Mecklenburg County and for the first few miles, traffic moves freely. But the closer you get into the city, the slower traffic moves and the more it backs up.

For a while, I thought I had figured it out. Once you cross Bellehaven, you want to be in the right lane. This is because at the stoplight at Hovis, there is a lane that peels off to make the right turn and many cars take it. Then, if you can, get into the left lane until you cross the train tracks and then make sure to get back into the right because a third lane appears on the right to feed people onto 85 South. You'd be amazed at how many cars move into that far right lane allowing you to quickly move forward. At the traffic light with the Exxon station, you want to cross back left because now any possible ground you could have gained by cars moving to the right is gone and you can pick up more ground with cars moving to 2 new lanes to the left to get on 85 North.

Once you cross 85 onto the loop, it's generally smooth sailing.

It's pathetic, I know, that these are the types of things I think about. But I am - for whatever reason - constantly evaluating which lane I want to be in. Is this driver next to me slow enough so that I can squeeze in front of him? Is there a truck in my lane that will slow down traffic while he takes 60+ seconds to get up to speed (I know this because I have driven a truck and 0 to 60 in six seconds is not in a truck drivers vocabulary.)

When I exit onto Providence Road, I know not to get caught in the left lane because cars often stop to turn (there's no turning lane) and you can get stuck for a while. So I always stay right - EXCEPT for the first few lights when the right lane seems to creep and I sometimes go left (there's actually 3 lanes at this point so I am really going middle)and then hope to squeeze back over right when somebody turns into the gas stations.

The lane changing rules I have created for myslf are quite complicated. And they don't always work. Sometimes, I follow the rules, and I still wind up in the wrong lane. It's not a perfect science.

And yet, these are my mornings. This is what I think about. Right. Left. Stay straight. Change lanes. Timing. How can I outmaneuver the other drivers? And for what? Will I get there 2 minutes faster? 5? 10? Does it matter?

I am trying to be better about lane changing while driving. Mostly because I realize there's not much to gain by constantly switching lanes. But also because I already have one dented fender - I don't need two.

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And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Some Miscellaneous Thoughts

No longer a shortage of things to write - just a shortage of time in which to write them. I probably have close to 10 topics to muse on - including a long overdue on post on salads (although most of you have probably heard the verbal version at this point) and some thoughts on the high school football game we attended last weekend.

Still, a few timely things to comment on.

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For those who were concerned about my Shaggy Girl status, I received a much-needed haircut over the weekend while in NY. And I will say, it was well worth the wait because the cut was exactly what I wanted.

For those of you who are wondering why I waited 8 months for a cut (ok - I did get a cut in June in NC - but it didn't really count, it was more of a trim), I had 2+ inches lopped off and that sort of dramatic change requires a certain level of trust.

In a perfect blogging world, I would have had Before and After pictures to illustrate my Shaggy to Chic status, but as I was taught long ago, the world is not perfect...

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Yesterday was Yom Kippur, and I broke the fast with a bag of Black Pepper jack Doritos while standing in the check out line at Fred's discount store in Lincolnton (although I did say the Motzeh under my breath before biting into the first chip).

And if that aint' county, I'll kiss your...