My wife and I packed our three children into the car and drove south into the corn and soybean fields of Illinois. We were taking the kids on a sampling tour of downstate children’s museums, searching for that rare find: something to keep the little angels occupied while also providing some adult entertainment.
I asked who the keynote speaker had been. Billie told me it was a politician from New York, Eliot Spitzer. He continued, raving about the discussion of intriguing, new policy concepts. Then he paused, and asked, “Why are you giggling?”
We pulled into the gravel lot. There were no lines (that is the last time you will read that phrase here) on the ground guiding the drivers into right-angled order, so the meandering rows of parked cars appeared to be melting in the heat. We exited the car, strapped packs on backs, and set out to find the bus to the visitor center.
It was easy. Like the downtown nightclub, the long, cordoned path filled with waiting people advertised the popularity of the bus stop. Its exclusivity as well. The bus arrived, but it was no match for the line. Soon full, the bus left, the line of waiters no shorter. We decided to walk.
Welcome to Yosemite National Park.
I was in the locker room with four other masters runners. One of our group made notice of another’s arm warmers. They’re so light and sheer, said the first, unlike any he’d ever seen before. Who makes them? The owner giggled sheepishly, looked around, and confessed: they’re his wife’s pantyhose. All of us were married with children, and thus, no stranger to oddball displays of ingenuity. There were high-fives all around.
An evening at a laser show, and the fate of Ukraine.
Ask my five-year-old daughter what she had for dinner during our stay and she will answer with resigned acceptance, beans. And what did you have for breakfast? More beans (sigh). She will only say the word out of the corner of her mouth, as if articulating it properly would give someone the opportunity to stuff more beans in.
I studied the shot of clear liquor in front of me. It had a sharp fragrance that I couldn’t place, and no one at the table knew the English word for it. Our hostess made the first toast, and I downed 2 ounces of what turned out to be horseradish schnapps. Looking at the bottom of my shot glass I thought, it can’t possibly get any more Ukrainian than this.
There was something off about the style of the leather jackets the two men were wearing. At first I thought they were holdovers from the 1980’s, but that wasn’t quite right. They looked more like a reverse engineering effort where someone had described the 1980s to a designer who hadn’t lived through them, and those jackets were the result.
As much as we might want to, there are some patches of real estate on the planet we are simply not going to be able to visit. As a second-best alternative, our family hosts international visitors to Chicago several times a year.
American soft power, that ability to achieve diplomatic objectives without threat or coercion, stems from many sources: aid packages, student exchanges, Katy Perry songs. I would like to make the case that the US State Department should add pancakes to the list.