Phthursday Musings: There's Snow Place Like Home

or, Stuck in the Alley with You

It used to go like this:

Winter break. Christmas. Gifts. Time off. A lot of stuff going on. Also a lot of down time. A lot to look forward to.

First week of January. The after-Christmas glow. Connect with people again at school.

January is cold, but every weekend are NFL playoffs. Every weekend an event.

All culminates with the Super Bowl. Anticipation. Commercials. Game. Hopefully a good one.

And then it’s the first week of February, and it’s cold, and going to be cold for another month, and there isn’t crap going on until March Madness, which would also likely coincide with Spring Break, and with the weather improving.

Over time this pattern proved durable, even after I was long out of school. February was the most depressing month of the year.

The pandemic has dampened everything. But with the polar vortex of the past week, the combination of very cold temperatures and substantial snow, when the only escape had been to be outside and even that got taken away, it seems that February has reclaimed its rightful place as the most depressing month of the year.

I can imagine some people balking at the idea that the sports calendar is the best way to understand the ebb and flow of the year. If you’re one of those people, I understand… but you need to understand, your balking just gave me an extra base.

[ pausing for all of the boos to subside ]

Over the course of January, I finished reading 8 books. So far in February that number is 0. I’ve also hardly listened to music so far this month.

I can only assume this is indicative of where a lot of other people are. I don’t want to dwell too much on Pandemic Living because everybody and their opthalmologist has written about that. But sometimes, maybe it’s helpful if someone else conveys a sentiment that closely resembles how you’re feeling?

One weird thing at the moment is that, when asking myself what I wish I could be out doing right now, I seem to have no answers. I call it weird because I feel like I had ready to go answers before. All I can come up with is driving. I don’t want to be anywhere, I just want to go. The car itself isn’t like a box to me. It’s got doors but not walls. Open your door and you could walk into anywhere!

So you all know about Chiclets, yes? The little square shaped gum? Yes, yes you know about Chiclets.

Well there was one place where, for some reason, when you put a nickel or a quarter or whatever that coin was into the gum machine and got Chiclets to come out, some of the Chiclets had the name FORD on them.

This random thought led me to search and discover just now that it is the Ford Gum company which makes Smarties!

Anyway, here is a picture of Ford Chiclets:

Chiclets, I think, that’s a brand name, so these Ford gums probably aren’t technically Chiclets, but whatevs.

The only place you could get them was at Appletree Records at the Edgebrook Shopping Center in Rockford. I also remember there being a Tempest arcade game there for a while. For me to remember all this so clearly must mean that my dad took me there almost monthly? Well, yes, he probably did. What more magical place is there in the whole world than a record store?

Gum was all much cooler when I was little. Today when you go to the checkout line and look for gum it’s all Extra or More or Surplus or some such silliness. Nobody ever offers you a stick of Doublemint anymore! Gum was everywhere. Come to think of it, so were cigarettes… must not have been a coincidence.

And then there’s candy. Oh, at some point in the future I’ll write about Chuckles. For now though I’ll just tell a little story.

I’m reminded of this story because at the local Jewel grocery store they’ve got this ridiculous little flying saucer candy things. I’ve had those once before. In Homer.

Homer is a blip town 30-some miles east of Urbana. Nobody would ever know about it. Except there are, or at least were, two very important establishments there. One is the Homer Auction House. Oh, it’s probably not there anymore. But it was super weird. I’d never actually been to an auction house before, and this place was just a big empty room where they’d cart in pallets of crap, I think, and you could go buy a bratwurst and sit around and bid on the pallets of crap. But that’s not what this story is about.

The other destination, of course, is the Homer Soda Emporium. Well, was the Homer Soda Emporium. It looks like it closed down in 2019. But I will tell you about it now.

The Homer Soda Emporium was tucked into the side of what was intended to an antique consignment shop. Somehow it turned into this weird place where they stocked incredibly obscure soda, often from overseas. Back in the day places like this didn’t really exist anywhere else, and although you can find places now that have extensive oddball soda offerings, they’re just not the same.

In Homer, you could buy weird Korean soda, you could buy draft Dr. Pepper, you could even buy Cola Turka, Turkey’s answer to Coke, and probably as close to Coke as any knockoff I’ve ever tried. We got our hands on that stuff and we looked it up on the web about found that for some reason Chevy Chase had done Cola Turka commercials where he was wearing a peach-colored tie and talking in English to people who were half-talking back in Turkish, all of it subtitled. Incredibly odd":

They were the first place that stocked dozens of different root beers. Ahh, I wish I were more of a high root beer connoisseur. Is there a proper name for that?

Oh, and they kad SKI. But SKI is a tale for another time. Taste the wake!

Anyway, they also had some candy. Not a lot. And not normal candy. I guess you might call some of it vintage. They had those flying saucer candies. We tried them and the saucer tasted like styrofoam. Hell, it probably was styrofoam. Inside the saucer there was… I don’t know, a few tiny pieces of candy. Not Nerds, but effectively the same thing. We had no idea what the appeal of that was supposed to be.

Oh, I should say here, the we were me and my friends Matt and Marie. I’d somehow been there before. Talking Matt into going was easy. I have no idea how we conned Marie into going to this place.

Well, we got some weird candy, and we got a bunch of weird soda. Then we walked - or did we drive? - a couple of blocks over to where this rail car diner was sitting. I don’t even think it was an active diner. I think it had been a rail car diner at some point. Were its neon lights on for no reason? Did it just seem that way because it was positioned under street lights? I don’t know. This all gets fuzzy here. But in my mind it was this absurdly shiny thing in an otherwise completely un-shiny little town.

So we’re standing in front of this thing and we go into the pile of weird candy and pull out this packet of pumpkin seeds. We didn’t know why a packet of pumpkin seeds was being sold as candy, so of course we bought it, and then that’s what we took out when we were standing in front of this rail car diner.

Matt and I each ate a pumpkin seed and at first it was just like pure compressed salt. Then the salt somehow became even stronger. Suddenly we were outright hallucinating in front of this rail car diner on some side street in Homer, Illinois. I swear that I have a memory of the neon blue and pink of the rail car diner briefly strobing at us, this very brief moment of transfixion, followed by an irresistible need for liquid grace.

Marie clearly internalized something from witnessing this spectacle, because she went on to marry the absolutely most sensible man anyone could ever hope to meet, someone who would never consume a pumpkin seed on a side street in Homer.

Matt clearly internalized something from participating in this spectacle, because he went on to marry the absolutely most sensible woman anyone could ever hope to meet, somehow who would never even wind up on a side street in Homer.

Me? I can’t wait to take my boy to Homer some day to try and find some pumpkin seeds. Say, maybe Homer is the answer to where I should drive!

Oh, and my sweetheart? Is she not sensible enough to avoid such a spectacle, and to keep her precious child away from such madness?

Well, I’m sure she’d balk at the idea.