Monthly Archives: October 2011

there’s no place like nome. . .except home!

i visited the kicy radio station in nome for an interview with f2fb friend #234 ian coglan.  it was very strange to articulate the reason for my new years resolution and even stranger to articulate it within the context of a specifically christian radio station.  i don’t think i’m all that good at talking about matters of faith.

then i was off to catch my plane after a quick tour of downtown nome. . .

alaska has enormous natural beauty but i found downtown nome to be a bit depressing. partly that's because the town is above the tree line. wow, don't bring a lawnmower if you move here!

i was a little nervous because this coming home was going to be a bit dramatic. . .

at least i wasn't going to get lost looking for the terminal. there's only one. but i had a two hour flight into anchorage, then thirty minutes to find the gate for the trip to chicago--i got tagged by t.s.a. security coming out of the gate at anchorage airport for a "random" screening.

at eight a.m. chicago time, i was home.  slightly less than 96 hours turnaround from my front door to alaska to home.  7400 miles.  two facebook friends.  well worth the trip!  but i had an appointment to work out with my long time friend stu cohn.  he works out every day.  i used to do that before i started traveling.  i have gained eight pounds this year.  stu has gained. . .none.

after a workout, i purchased currencies for the countries i will be visiting beginning on sunday.  then i went to dinner with f2fb friends #236 joanne staten, 214 paddy seymour, and 237 donna thompson.  joanne has recently had hip replacement surgery and somehow, even through her recovery, she is caring for a dog who has one eye, can’t hear, and is limited in its ability to walk.  donna is responsible for both the care of her mother and, at least once a week, for the care of her grandchildren.  paddy takes care of her own grandchildren and has two brothers who rely upon her quite a bit.

i realized i can only do this project because i am at an odd moment in a woman’s life:  i don’t have children to care for, no grandchildren who need  me, no parents i am the caretaker for.  i promise i will enjoy every minute of the remaining 74 days of this new years resolution!

three glamorous gals who take care of a lot of family! it's fun to take a night off!

i reach inside the arctic circle and then head off to no place like nome!

on thursday morning, i battled rush hour traffic to hit o’hare airport for a nine thirty flight to anchorage.  at two o’clock anchorage time (five o’clock chicago time?) i was picking up a rental car and heading for homer–the “land’s end” of alaskan roadways–to meet f2fb friend #233 christy russ.  we had a wonderful dinner on the shore and then i hit the hay at the best western.

the next morning i was so disoriented. there was no starbucks, which is the alternative to garmin gps. instead, there are little espresso shacks everywhere. this one also sold ice cream. i don't know. . ice cream? alaska?


on highway one, there were lots of signs advising drivers to “give a moose a brake!” and listing the number of moose killed on any particular stretch of road.  i longed to get a moose–not with my car but with my flip camera!  instead, i braked for a brown bear AND its cub crossing the highway.  i pulled over, grabbed the flip, and then . . . decided that this blog should really focus on my experiences of meeting my facebook friends–and while i have several dogs, a dead man, and a cat as my facebook friends, i pretty certain i don’t have any brown bears.  however, when i wondered about moose.

at ted stevens airport looked out onto the tarmac to see the jet that alaska airlines picked out just for me!

the tinkerbell jet! decorated inside and out with tinkerbell’s motto “follow me to the most magical place on earth!” our first stop was kotzebue, just inside the arctic circle. it was raining and snowing and we landed on a tiny strip of tundra. pilots for alaska airlines don’t like to use up a long runway!

at kotzebue, the friday commuter crowd embarked from the aft–back–of the plane.  the stairs to the tarmac are slippery when wet!  everyone knew everyone–i met a gal who was flying into nome to watch her niece and nephew wrestle.  wrestling is a big sport in nome for girls and boys both.  so is volleyball and basketball.  baseball?  uh, not so much.

downtown nome has a subway sandwich shop with a movie theater. taggers decorated the outside of the theater/dining establishment. when i was in nome, the movie contagion was playing. nome was the destination of the 1925 “great race of mercy” wherein dog sled teams brought diptheria vaccine to the city. balto, fritz and togo were famous lead dogs on the relay teams, but balto is the only one who scored a disney contract.


in nome, i was met by f2fb friend #234 ian coglan.  ian is the son of laura and mike coglan (f2fb friends #137 and 138) he works at the KICY radio station in nome.  KICY is associated with the covenant church of which ian is a member.  ian has a morning show on the fm station but also works at dubbing and loading up shows on both the fm and am station.  KICY also has a russian language show which is a favorite of folks in siberia.

ian took me to airport pizza–aptly named not just because it’s on the flight path of incoming jets but also because the restaurant delivers via plane to outlying communities.  after a quick dinner, it was time for me to retire to the aurora inn.  the next day, ian promised me a tour of nome and i had promised him an interview on kicy!

at one time, nome was gold rush city! these days, the population has stabilized at 3,500 residents--about fifty percent of the population is native american, mostly of the inupiat tribe. this giant pan for finding gold is at the town's center, along with many mining troughs. gold continues to be found in nome but not by individuals with ambition, courage, and a pan!

a f2fb friend takes me to the land’s end!


planes, trains and automobiles was bromantic comedy about two men who employ all transportation modes to make it home for the thanksgiving--for my f2fb project i've employed taxis, planes, trains, automobiles, bipedalism, bicycles, and one rickshaw!

f2fb friend #233 christy russ lives in homer, alaska, so i was out like a shot from the house at six a.m. central standard time and aiming for chicago’s o’hare airport.  the six hour flight was fun because the world touring cast of the chippendale’s dance troupe was seated all around me.  they seemed to have incredible trouble getting into and out of their seats, particularly if they had to negotiate over the laps of one of their fellow dancers.  but they had such good humor about this, giggling and poking each other–i wonder if all dance troupes have such joie de vivre.

after the flight, there was a little tussle because i couldn’t remember which rental car company i was using.  it was fun getting to know the agents from alamo, enterprise, budget, thrifty, avis, economy.  then there was a five hour trip south west toward homer, alaska.  homer boasts the land’s end restaurant which is — wait for it! — the western most part of the state of alaska which can be reached without using a ferry or plane!  it’s the end of the road.

christy is the sister of f2fb friend #84 cory russ rickerson, who teaches in madison wisconsin.  christy grew up in winnetka and northfield and it takes incredible courage to come to “land’s end” to live.  she did this a year and a half ago and now works with the developmentally disabled in homer.  i had met her at her mother’s funeral and then again at a fourth of july softball game. but because her and cory’s mother was at one time married to f2fb friend #100 bill seymour, she and i have a lot of friends in common.  so we end up noticing what each other is up to through facebook posts.

christy is a fabulously glamorous woman anywhere, but in homer, alaska, i think she would make a great mayor!

after dinner, i returned to my hotel–the best western–and fell asleep fully clothed with my shoes still on, holding my toothbrush, thinking i really should take a shower.   i woke up two hours later not remembering where i was.  suddenly convinced i was dying–heart attack or anaphylactic shock from the seafood i ate with christy,  i went out into the parking lot for some bracing alaska air.  i considered whether homer would have a hospital.  if they did, would it be open?  would the emergency room nurses laugh at me?  would i die out here?  would joseph and eastman retrieve my body?

there were several men in a second floor bedroom partying and hanging out their window.  we chatted.  i went back into my room.  i thought, “i’m really scared out here at the end of the world as i know it–and i will be above the arctic circle tomorrow!  i can’t do this sort of stuff!”

and then i took an ativan, got six beads into a rosary and went back to sleep.  the next morning i begin a five hour drive back into anchorage, a three hour flight to kotsebue and then a half hour puddle jump to nome to meet f2fb friend #234 ian coglan.  he’s a missionary who works at the kicy radio station.

striking north to pan for gold! and meet santa claus!

rex and ingrid got married just last week and have the glow of newlyweds!

f2fb friend #232 rex camposagrado married ingrid just last week–they met through! rex’s family is from the philippines and he knows i am going there as part of my facebook project–he’s giving me a “just in case” phone number of a relative to call if i have a problem.  now i just need a “just in case” phone number for taiwan, korea, malaysia, mumbai, dubai, rome, dusseldorf and just about everyplace in england!

but first, i go to alaska.  the southern tip of the state (homer) is just a five hour drive from anchorage airport.  i’ll see christy russ and then turn around the next morning and drive back to anchorage for my flight to nome!  i understand that santa claus will make a special appearance because, hey, nome is a daytrip from the north pole.  i hope he brings me earrings.  or a wicked play mix.

the carhartt utility bag will carry everything--including a little traveler who has been my lucky charm!

the worst thing i ever did to a facebook friend. . .

. . . turns out maybe to be just chill!

winnetka, where i live, is a very small town and everyone knows everyone.  or they think they do.  and everyone knows the “appropriate” way of doing things.  or they think they do.  inappropriate is what you call anything your neighbors do that you don’t like.

i was at a gathering a few months ago and a woman told me that f2fb friend #231 maureen noble’s daughter was going away to boarding school.  the woman said “boarding school” in that sweet and sour voice that suggests maureen’s daughter had “failed” at new trier high school but that the woman was too discreet to actually say so.

new trier high school is  highly competitive school.  all students are in the 99 percentile–grades, friends, sports, music, theater.  if they’re not or if they’re not in any percentil whatsoever, well, something’s amiss.  when joseph was a freshman, i received a “1%” letter from a band director who wanted joseph out of band because joseph’s playing was not at a national competition level.  as a freshman.  first semester.  get him out of my class.   now.  i succumbed and signed off on letting him drop out of band.  i think of it as one of the worst parenting decisions i’ve ever made.

the woman at this party continued. . . “the worst thing you ever did to maureen noble and her family was to cast maureen as the lead in the p.t.a. benefit show.  it distracted maureen, pulled the family apart, it was . . .  inappropriate. . . and the daughter suffered.  now she’s . .. in boarding school.”

the word inappropriate is a good way of shutting down the conversation or expressing disapproval in a vague enough way that it's hard to dispute

i was stunned.  i felt guilty.  four short years ago, i was asked to write and direct a p.t.a. benefit show and i thought it had turned out okay.  i remember thinking that maureen was a great star, an incredible singer, and so enthusiastic as a newcomer to winnetka!  now i was being told “you’re a fuck up” and worse, “you fucked up somebody else’s house”.

so i was a little concerned when i emailed maureen on her birthday to say “hey, i’m doing this facebook project where i’m going to meet all my facebook friends this year!”  and she emailed back that it wasn’t a good time.  i thought, oh, whoops, i really did mess things up.  i didn’t realize it was the very day that maureen returned to winnetka from taking her daughter to boarding school.  no matter how good a mom feels about a decision like that, it isn’t a good day.

but i was so happy when maureen invited me to her house yesterday that when i realized i’d have to drive eight hours back to winnetka in order to make the moment, i was on it!  however, i did a stupid thing:  i drank so much caffeine on the road that i had to take motrin p.m. to get to sleep.  jeez, i was strung out!!!

maureen was preparing for yom kippur, a day of fasting. but she wanted to share with me the beauty of rosh hoshanah the week before wherein one eats apples with honey. i really needed that because i was a little shaky from too much highway, too much caffeine, and too empty of a refrigerator when i got home!


when i came to her house, she talked freely about her daughter going to boarding school and her son being at the idyllwild arts academy in southern california.  she showed me some of her children’s artwork.  the noble children are not of the type that can be classified by percentiles–maureen would never say it, but i will:  they are what would be called genius of the renaissance.  that genius can’t be put in a box of nine periods per day, four thousand fellow students, weighted gpa, advanced placement testing.  maureen and her husband have done what is the greatest sacrifice of parenthood:  they have let their children go where they need to go in order to let them be who they need to be.  i’m not sure i could have ever done that for joseph or eastman.  i’m grateful i never had that.  i was put up for adoption when i was three years old.  i don’t know if i feel grateful but the circumstances were different.

maureen has developed a program for young girls to create bowls that evidence their strength. into these bowls, girls put the things that define themselves: courage, grace, patience, empathy.

maureen is thinking about what to do with herself now that herself is not involved in her children’s lives with the degree of exactitude as before.  she has maintained her commitment to art.  she showed me the most beautiful decoupage blocks, embroidered sacks, tags of extraordinary beauty and depth.  she doesn’t very often show these artworks.  and i thought–artists in the past have not existed without a patron.  but does art exist without a market?

i told maureen about my fears with respect to the benefit show.  had it been a bad idea?

the year she did the benefit show her husband asked each of the family members–maureen, their son, their daughter, and himself–to do the thing they most feared.  for maureen, it was apparently bouncing around onstage under my direction.  frankly, that would scare the hell out of me too!  although maureen didn’t share with me what the other three members of her family did as their “courage initiative” she is quite firm that the nobles supported and still support each other.  somehow i think this family is stronger with their children NOT at the high school five blocks away than it is with their children away.

then it was off to a confab with my travel magician–booking hotel rooms around the world. . . this reluctant tourist will be start by flying all the way to seoul, south korea to stay . . . at the best western!!!  a little piece of home goes with me.



and then i found out my relationship with elmore leonard isn’t quite as intimate as all that

at the beginning of the week, i thought i had stalled at my new year’s resolution to meet all 325 facebook friends i had.  i’ve since made other, newer friends.  and i’ve had all sorts of adventures utterly unrelated to facebook.  but wednesday, i got back on the road–driving out to ohio to visit eastman (f2fb friend #1) and to try for the fifth time to see a facebook friend i have never met in cleveland.  i failed at the latter, but succeeded at the former.  then i struck northwest towards royal oak, where i met f2fb friend #230 john s. schultz.  it was particularly good to see him because i felt like i was recovering my resolution, recovering my self-respect, recovering my confidence.

i have never met john but he was quite hospitable and directed me to his office in central royal oak.

john is a lifelong journalist, working in detroit and in royal oak. the hour detroit magazine is home to hour magazine, michigan bride, and dbusiness which john is managing editor

john is a natural storyteller.  over a meal of thai food, he told me about growing up as a navy brat and his early years at a detroit paper.  in royal oak, he had a “stop the presses” moment when father charles coughlin died.  john advised the presses be stopped but was overruled by a senior editor. the next day, the detroit papers scooped the story!

father coughlin was the rush limbaugh of the thirties, and he had a radio show out of royal oak that was so popular a separate post office to handle fan mail had to be built. he died in 1979 after withdrawing from public life.

john once worked at a paper where the exterior window looked directly into the apartment of jack “dr. death” kevorkian, who was known for helping people commit suicide.  john and jack had a “hey, nice day today” passing acquaintance and then one day john came to work and the place was mobbed with reporters trying to get an interview with jack.  talking about the right to die and religion led us to a deeper conversation about our own families and lives.  i felt like i was talking with an old friend.  he and his wife have three daughters, the first of which died of a brain tumor at the age of three months.  i was really touched that he was able to show me pictures of all three girls–he keeps them in his wallet, one photo of an infant, the other two of twentysomethings with winning smiles.  i cannot imagine the courage to have a child, to try again, after such a painful loss.  i admire john.

he also told me not to sweat the small stuff, such as when eastman started off my f2fb new year’s with smoking cigarettes on the front porch together.  there are worse things. . .  and john should know, as he quit smoking more than half a century ago. . .

john and i know each other through arcadia publishing.  i’ve done arcadia regional histories of northfield and winnetka,illinois as well as kearney, missouri.  john, along with maureen mcdonald, wrote a history of royal oak. . .

the combined populations of kearney, northfield and winnetka is under 20,000. royal oak boasts 60,000 residents. you do the math on our respective sales!


i’m very glad i got to meet john in person because i learned about who he is not just the bits and pieces that a facebook news feed gives me.  he wished me luck on this project and i wished him luck as he tries to figure out what he will do as a next project–because he’s such a committed creative thinker there’s always got to be a next one!

after lunch, i discovered i had a parking ticket.  i thought i’d leave it.  forget the laws of royal oak.  but john was such a gentleman, he paid the ticket.  probably so nobody in royal oak will think he’s friends with a scofflaw!  then i drove, eight hours because i hit chicago rush hour traffic, so i could see f2fb friend #231 before the sundown of yom kippur!

i had to give up on seeing elmore leonard in detroit.  i became elmore leonard’s friend when elmore leonard still had a friends page.  we had a mutual friend, mystery writer and f2fb friend #7 libby hellman.  then he got a lot more friends.  and presto! since january 1, facebook turned some friends, me included, into fans.  there’s 17,119 of us.  i think that means elmore leonard is not going to be a f2fb friend!

i stall at 229

so this week has been a week of missed connections and stalled out motors.  a week of seemingly no progress whatsoever.  i have a new years resolution to meet every facebook friend i had as of january 1, 2011 and damn, i haven’t gotten any further along since this past saturday.  stalled at f2fb friend #229.

on monday, i had a hide under the covers day and bailed on a facebook galpal i haven’t seen in a couple of years.  on tuesday, i figured out that my cellphone’s memory card (sim card?  sd card?  what?) was busted and my contact list failed.  i had a definite date to meet up with a facebook friend after my appointment with the indian visa people–but i couldn’t call to figure out where we were supposed to meet.  i don’t even know my own son’s phone numbers without my contact list.  and then today, i traveled to cleveland for the fifth time to meet a facebook friend i have never met and am not even quite sure how i know. . .

but there IS some progress, although it may not be measured in numbers.  i got my phone fixed and made arrangments for international calls when i am traveling.  i got my visa from the indian government.  and i have a reservation at the best western in incheon, south korea–a little bit of america stored on unfamiliar land.  i have all my plane reservations and i got to see my younger son eastman whom i will not be able to see again until i return from my around the world visit all my facebook friends tour.  sometimes our progress on goals is not measured on the numbers but on the foundation.

tomorrow morning i move from ohio to michigan. . . .