Friday, March 18, 2011

A Different Casselberry. Or Was That Always Casselberry?

Living in Casselberry, Florida from the late '80s to the early '90s, when I was beginning to develop the soft, creamy center that is now me (Translation: I was 5 in 1989), the neighborhood you lived in was generally the only neighborhood you really knew. Passing signs for different streets, you'd notice the names, but you'd be thinking more about what there was to do when you got home.

I remember our house (235 Warbler Lane), the big tree in our front yard that I fell out of once, the basketball hoop next to the driveway, the tangerine tree at the left side of our house that died during a bitterly cold winter, the salamanders in the patio, the large backyard that led to a small lake, and the space shuttle launches we'd see while standing in the backyard.

I received a Media Mail package today from Onestopmediashop, a seller on Amazon, located where? Casselberry, Florida. 1783 Laurel Brook Loop. Fast service, and the "Angels in America" 2-disc set arrived tightly sealed and exactly as advertised. But Laurel Brook Loop? When did this happen? We lived in the Deer Run development, and surely there were other developments around us, but what would compel someone to name an area Laurel Brook Loop? How much has the area expanded since we last visited in 2003? I'm not shocked. I never expected the place to remain as it was when I lived there, just as I don't expect Walt Disney World to remain the same (and it hasn't, though I am disappointed at the useless soundtrack they have now for the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, which needlessly advertises the attractions in Tomorrowland, because not only can we see them, but I'm sure those in Tomorrowland probably walked around and saw everything before getting on the TTA, because you go on there for a break. Of course there are the exceptions like me, with it being one of my favorite attractions, who could have ridden it all day), but who comes up with that name? Are there laurels? Is there a brook?

I know the names shouldn't be taken literally. In fact, I don't remember seeing warblers around when we lived there. But even if an area expands, as I'm sure my old neighborhood has, there should be a name that can bind closely with what it represents, not something as disparate as "Laurel Brook Loop." I've no doubt it is a loop, and it's creative on the end, instead of "Laurel Brook Cul-de-Sac." But there are very few names in Florida anymore that retain a spirit of the state. Lake Okeechobee thankfully still has its name (though it wasn't the original name, as it was also called Macaco and Mayaimi, the latter of which became Miami, and more suitable for another part of the state), but that's not enough. I admit that there may not be many pleasing features around the land being built upon to merit a poetic name. But just try something. I know that these builders probably don't care much about what name is attached to these areas, so long as the houses are built and people buy. I get that. But in the hopefully ever-present desire to appeal to people in order to turn a profit, why not see if there's any poets that need a job? Riffle through literary journals. Comb college campuses and see what teachers there have had works published.

Warbler Lane was nice. For me, it was a happy home, and I'm always reminded also of going to Walt Disney World every weekend, and sometimes during the week just for dinner. In fact, I think that may be why I eventually became a writer, because I had so much imagination all around me. But these companies, whoever they are, should strive for names that connect, names that could mean more than just "That way home."

Hell, hire me. I'll think of something.

Baker, California

Michael Buble was the amiable subordinate to Kelly Ripa on "Live with Regis & Kelly" this morning. My mom has this stuff on while she's on the computer next to the TV in the living room (which is where I camp out for the rest of the day when I'm doing book-related research, or on the couch when I'm not and prefer to while away the hours reading).

If that music thing doesn't work out for Buble, he'd make an excellent permanent co-host with Ripa when the endlessly kvetching Regis finally leaves. They have a friendly, playful rapport that I don't think would ever be tiring. And ever since she learned that she'll have the top job once the anachronistic carcass mutters his way out the door, she's gotten a lot smarter. She's more engaging, more engaged, and I spend a lot less time wishing bad things on her in my head.

And still my mind wanders. I can't focus entirely on that show. I had "Best Food Writing 2010" in front of me, putting bookmark after bookmark into the beginning pages of these absorbing writings, to look up those writers later, and I watched "Live with Kelly and Buble", and I thought not about the people that are devoted to these morning shows, but rather about Baker. Baker, California. A part of the Mojave Desert that does not need Regis & Kelly for morning entertainment. It has its own.

Always halfway to Las Vegas, this is where we stop. This is where we get out of the car, outside the gas-station-cum-food-court, and look for something to eat. This is where you'll find a Big Boy restaurant with the big statue of the kid in the red-and-white checkered overalls. There's also the Mad Greek. And it's where you'll pass by a store selling "alien jerky", doing a double-take before you inevitably pull back around and park in its lot, which includes a car off to the side with an alien family inside. This doesn't look like a place where they'd shoot aliens with high-tech weaponry for jerky. Maybe in some unseen shacks somewhere nearby. But not here. They've got all kinds of jerky in that place, all with a relatively hefty price, but the novelty is why you're there. You're also there for the samples they have on hand, and to look at the t-shirts advertising the "Area 51 Casino" and other shirts with many Men in Black on them. The jerky is worth it. Buy a bag or two. You'll find a flavor that suits you. All smoky, one of the many reasons to travel this country and perhaps the world. I don't know about the latter, since I'm happy in this country.

I always forget the name of the gas station. It's right on the building when we walk in, but given enough distance between the time we last went to Las Vegas and now, I don't remember it. I do remember the claw machine when we walk in, and a gumball machine that has $20 bills tucked into those clear egg cases, among gumballs. I remember the rack with various tourist advertisements and publications, and they always have copies of the weekend publication that the Las Vegas Review-Journal has, with reviews of the show of the week and other writings about what's going on in Las Vegas.

Some people are here to get gas to continue on, some are here to eat, to use the bathroom, or just to get a drink. I'm here to see what's being sold that I don't find near home. I spot all the usual snacks that are easy in a car: Potato chips, pretzels, nuts, and a lot of sodas behind glass doors. What interests me most are the books on racks, novelty books, some trying to get close to Uncle John's Bathroom Reader series, but not quite getting there. There are word-find books for kids, coloring books, some toys, some foam airplanes. Magnets, of course. In fact, the magnet I got the last time we went there on the way back from Las Vegas has a sweating donkey, a thermometer, and the words, "My Ass is Sweating in Baker." My kind of humor and an oversized magnet, compared to the others being sold.

So why would I think of Baker while watching Kelly & Buble? It was a little after 9 a.m. I'm on the couch reading "Best Food Writing 2010." My mom is on the computer. This is our morning. And I love my morning, but I sometimes wonder about other mornings, like the morning in Baker. The bearded guy behind the counter I saw last time: Does he still work there? Does he work the morning shift sometimes? Where does he live? What led him to this job? Is there another job he really wants?

I also think about the people behind the counters of those small versions of A&W, TCBY, Pizza Hut, and Subway. 75 pounds ago, I always went for A&W. A burger and fries and a root beer float, and a few of my sister's fried cheese curds. The next time we go to Vegas, I'm choosing from Subway. Even on what I'd consider kind-of sort-of a vacation (Because it's also work, being that we still want to move there), I still have to watch what I eat. This isn't like that first time in Vegas anymore when I had three steaks in three days. I loved the experience, but I don't need those experiences again. Not for the sake of my health.

I like this rest stop. It knows what it is and it lives up to its purpose. There's nothing it tries to do that doesn't match with what it is. You want to eat, get gas, piss, they've got everything for all of that. The people behind the counters are most interesting. They know this desert better than I ever will. And yet again, my curiosity pokes me hard, making me wonder how those people got here. In summer, forget the desert. But otherwise, if the resources suit you, if there's everything you need, the desert looks peaceful enough to live in. But I wonder if any of those souls at the counters are wanderers. Are they looking for anything? Or are they just wandering because that's who they are? How long have they worked at these jobs? I also think about the person who checks in on these locations, how often A&W keeps tabs on this Baker location, and the same for Subway.

And then we get in the car, pull out of that lot, and that gas station is way behind us. We've passed the world's largest thermometer, and we're on that road to Las Vegas. I'm looking ahead to the billboards advertising Vegas shows and attractions. I'm looking ahead to our room at America's Best Value Inn on Tropicana Avenue, hauling in the luggage, and decompressing from the drive, and, about half an hour to 45 minutes later, getting back in the car and quickly reacquainting ourselves with the area. But in the back of my mind, Baker is still there. It's always been there. It's where I keep my curiosity, right next to the soda dispensers. And sometimes it jumps down from there, and turns that book rack, wondering about those authors, if they ever think about where their books ended up, such as here. What a good place to be.

(God Bless Google!: The Grewal Travel Center. The gas is provided by Valero. And A&W.)