On the road again

Wilken's Watch

I recently returned from my annual trip to see family in Cincinnati, the most overrated city on the planet in my humble opinion.
I visit every year because that's where my mother, sister, brother-in-law, nephew and favorite step-sister live. It's also the place where I tried to grow up, eventually succeeded in at least a partial manner, earned a couple of university degrees, married and then, in the mid-'80s, to quote Huck Finn, headed out for the territory.
Other than missing my family and a few friends, I've never regretted heading west. My time in Seattle, Bremerton, Sun Valley and Kauai was all, in one way or another, well-spent. My only regret, if I have one, is that I didn't move west before 1984.
There's something missing back east. In fact there's more than one something missing.
For starters there's way too much racial tension. Cincinnati really only has two ethnic groups, black and white. These groups everywhere, but especially in that place, have a fractious history. Since I married a black girl and hooped in public parks I had a lot of black friends and neighbors. Even now I feel they are engaged in an uphill battle on a daily basis that has no equivalent here.
For another thing the environment is in even worse shape than in the worst sections of the old Tacoma. Air quality was poor almost every day I was visiting Cincinnati. According to USA Today, you guys had good air quality on those same days.
Two of the sunsets I witnessed were green-tinged: pollution, mon frere. Temps were in the nineties, humidity in the seventies. It felt like Bangkok without all the great food, pretty girls and Buddhist-influenced street life.
There's another thing too-- every other person I saw in Cincinnati, black or white, male or female, was packing on the pounds.
I was always a liberal guy. And I've been out here in PC-Land for a long time. I feel the pain of those social excluded because of race or sexual preferences. I do not feel the pain of those who don't exercise, eat six meals a day and take up almost two seats on the trains and buses on my visits back to THE Land of The Lard. You cannot compare a lack of self-control with being born black or gay or unable to hit the seven-iron crisply despite hours of practice. Well you can compare it but most times -- there are illnesses that can't be helped -- I am not in your corner. Heck, there isn't room in your corner for anybody else anyway.
Cincinnati does outdo Seattle in one area though. They have much greater fast food. Skyline Chili, a Cincinnati original via Greece, White Castle and Frisches Big Boy - the codfish sandwiches are extremely tasty  - have no equals here. Just remember: moderation, baby.
But fast food alone isn't enough to make me ride the train 48 hours (each way) once a year. I go for the people.
My mother is 91 and finally seems to be slowing down. Her morning three-mile walk is now a mile with a rest stop at the half-mile marker. She keeps giving me photos and other keepsakes now on every visit. "I won't be here forever," she says. I know this is true and I know how lucky I've been to have her this long, but she still is my mother and the whole idea of her being absent from my life saddens me.
This trip was sad in another way because the only mentor I've ever had is very, very sick. My friend, Bill, is 82. He is in an intensive care hospital. He can't move, can't dress himself, is being fed through a tube and stares straight ahead. Nobody is sure how much of his incredible wit remains.
What is obvious is that the most articulate man I've ever met can no longer speak. The man who wrote poetry and textbooks both cannot say boo. I sat with him for a half hour, thanked him for all the help he gave me when I was a half-shattered, fully battered Vietnam-Era vet with a drug problem and an attitudinal disorder, which featured a lot of anger, but I'm not sure he heard me or even knew who the hell I was.
It wasn't all sad though. I played golf with my nephew and brother-in-law. They are good guys and we get along better than we ever did as well as mature, or maybe as I finally mature a little.
My nephew and my niece both have new babies. Lots of fun there.
One thing is certain though, if you live long enough, life can get a lot sadder and harder than it ever was (for me) in my 40s and 50s, even though at the time I thought divorce, single-parenting and editing newspapers was incredibly difficult.
Thinking about aging and death can be avoided for only so long which is why there has always been religion, philosophy and mind-altering substances, legal and illegal.
Life is beautiful but it can be very hard. Paraphrasing the great Dean, Jonathan Swift, everybody else's life is a comedy, but our own lives follow two comic acts with a tragic third and final act.
Going back east and seeing those folks who brought me in to this world, in my Mom's case, and returned me to it, in Bill's case has forced my thoughts into some corners that golf, wine and friends can't totally protect my peace of mind from.
About all I've learned from this most recent visit to Porkopolis is: Treat those who are important to you the way you wish to be treated, all the time, they may not always be here, and get something out of every day because the world is likely to keep spinning but your ride, and mine, is not guaranteed.[[In-content Ad]]