Home Away From Home

#Merica Tour, Stories from the Road, Segment 22
(For links to previous segments, scroll to the bottom)
America’s roads have been our home for this journey—well, the roads and Brent’s Jetta, which is filling up with state maps, brewery t-shirts, a bent peacock feather, and a good layer of sand and soot. Over the miles, we’ve listened to the hybrid folk of Trampled by Turtles, the fast-talking lyrics of Dessa, and the zombie epidemic survival stories of World War Z. As we cross into Minnesota, the tenth and final CD of the zombie war is wrapping up, and it’s been a doozy of a story. But before you think we filled our entire road trip with sound, let me remind you that there have been wonderfully long stretches of road that we spanned in silence, listening only to the wind and the sound of our own thoughts, which is the beauty of traveling with an introvert. The ability to sit in peaceful silence is an old art, I think, and Brent and I are masters of the craft.

What we’re slow to master, but certainly practicing, is the ability to find good road food. By good, I mean local, tasty, somewhat healthy, and best of all: There when we need it. So far, we’ve thrived on classics from Mom-and-Pop shops when we could find them, gas station fatty salty cheesy [and in Brent’s case] bacony snack foods when we couldn’t, and the nightlife of the Applebee’s chain that we turned into two days’ worth of bellyfuls when there was nothing but 80 miles of road ahead. And after days and days of this, the pattern is about to change, because where we’re going, we will feast like kings.It’s dark by the time we arrive in Rochester, Minnesota, and of all the amazing places we’ve been these last few days, Rochester is different. I lived here for a good twelve years, and Brent lived here a bit longer than that. He’s since moved to St. Paul, and I’m now located out of Pittsburgh, but Rochester is still our home away from home.

Home Away From Home

Rochester had once been a great hub for IBM, which now has a smaller presence but is still located on a sprawling campus of buildings paneled with blue glass that is known simply as Big Blue. According to Wikipedia, “As of 2013 the company held the record for most patents generated by a business for 22 consecutive years.” [Brent holds two.] Wikipedia mentions some company inventions/developments that perhaps we’ve heard of, such as, “The Automated teller machine (ATM), the floppy disk, the hard disk drive, the magnetic stripe cardUniversal Product Code (UPC)…” etc., etc., etc. All right here in the plains of Minnesota.

Beyond IBM, Rochester is known for the Mayo Clinic, which got its start after a series of massive tornadoes (two F3s followed by one F5) destroyed much of Rochester in 1883, prompting local physician Dr. William Worrall Mayo, his sons William and Charles, along with Mother Mary Alfred Moes and the Sisters of Saint Francis to start a hospital that is today part of the Mayo Clinic.

In 1907 Dr. Henry Stanley Plummer invented a new system for keeping records and for moving them quickly throughout the hospital via a system of conveyors and tubes. Hospitals worldwide have kept their eyes on Rochester, Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic and have been implementing Mother Mayo’s practices ever since. Thanks to a sharp bread knife and fumbling fingers, yours truly has her very own Mayo Clinic patient number and a half dozen tiny stitch marks on my right index finger to remember the occasion. I can tell you from experience that as you walk down the hallways of Mayo from one specialist’s office to another, the second specialist has already learned of your situation and is ready to talk with you when you reach their door.

We hop off the highway and approach Rochester from the south. When we get to the big corn water tower on our right, we smile knowing that dinner is just ahead. “The big corn” is a 60-foot water tower on the site of what was the Libby plant, now Seneca Foods. [And as true locals put it, you always give directions in reference to what was there, and then maybe mention what’s there now if you get around to it.] I remember that when I first arrived in Rochester, I organized the landmarks according to where they were in relation to “the big corn,” a funny habit that I keep to this day.

We hit downtown and park the Jetta, and as we step out on the streets of home and stretch our legs, I hear someone calling my name and I turn and see my friend James locking up the patio of the Grand Rounds Brew Pub. (I haven’t set foot here in five months, and this is what happens. That’s home.) James crosses the street to us, gives me a hug, and the three of us catch up for a few minutes. “Business is good!” he tells us as he heads back to it, and if we’d been a little earlier on our entry into town, we could have eaten at the Grand Rounds before they closed for the night. (The last time I was here, they featured a salmon dish that was out of this Home Away From Homeworld.) As it stands, we’ll head to Newt’s for some late-night food.

Newt’s
when I bump into my friend Ellen, the talented violinist, on the patio. Ellen is part of the duo Thomas and the Rain, who have been playing music together for years. “You’re here?” she says and hugs me. “I thought you were on a road trip in the middle of America.”

“We’re still on it,” I say. “We just drove into town.”

We catch up for a minute and then Brent and I head on our way, but just before we do, Ellen elbows me and says, “Hey, can I bum a candy cigarette?”

Home Away From HomeDo you see why we love this place? We head up to Newt’s, sidle up to the bar, and proceed to pig out. I get my favorite: beer battered fried chicken salad with buffalo sauce. Brent gets a giant burger and I help him eat his fries. Full and happy, I check the time and note that we have very little of it before Forager closes.

“It’s over by the highway?” Brent asks.

I nod. “Where the Good Foods Store used to be,” I say. “You’ll see.”

Home Away From HomeWe drive the handful of blocks away from downtown and closer to the highway and make a right. There before us is the backlit sign I had seen on Facebook. “There it is!” I say, and I can’t keep my excitement down. Back when I was getting ready to move to Pittsburgh, this place was just an idea in my friend Annie’s mind and the subject of excited chatter in the building where my writing studio was next door to Forager’s architect. Months and months (a year?) later, and after many Facebook progress reports from a variety of local artists who were brought in to apply their talents, here it is, right in front of me.

We get inside with enough time for me to a have an original draft beer (and Brent to have a soda) and for me to explore and try to stay out of trouble (I only went into the employee area one time, and that was with express permission).

In addition to being a brew pub, I discover that Forager has a wood-fired oven and what they call a Pop Up Kitchen, where any potential restaurateur can try their hand at running a mini-restaurant from kitchen to register to see if they truly like the work before applying for a business loan.

We close the place down, and hop in the Jetta, aiming for St. Paul. And I think that, for all of its familiarity, this home-away-from-home in the middle of America never fails to surprise. At the rate Rochester is growing, generated by thinkers and innovators coupled with artistic doers, I could spend a dozen more years here basking in great friendships and swimming in the concept-to-reality momentum. I pick out the stars in the night sky above and think about how very American it all is.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.

 

(For previous Stories from the Road, click here: Segment 21, Segment 20, Segment 19, Segment 18, Segment 17, Segment 16, Segment 15, Segment 14, Segment 13, Segment 12Segment 11Segment 10, Segment 9, Segment 8Segment 7, Segment 6, Segment 5, Segment 4, Segment 3, Segment 2, Segment 1)

From the Soapbox: Rules, Consequences, & the Higher Standard

Consequences postMovin’ and a groovin’ in this world, you start to meet a little bit of everybody.

I spent 10 years living in Rochester, Minnesota, the home of the Mayo Clinic, and was friends with many “Mother Mayo” employees, from surgeons, nurses, physical therapists, and the support staff that keep the Mayo system flowing. When these people go out for a night and have a drink or two, they make sure to call a cab. They don’t leave anything to chance because what is at stake is too great. Not only have they dealt with the physical effects firsthand in the ER, but they also saw the emotional and psychological devastation for the survivors. Professionally, a drunken crash means the end of a career. And the end of a career means the end of a paycheck.

Similarly, when they travel in the U.S. or in foreign countries, they follow the rules of the house. They don’t act up or cause a scene.

I have gun-toting friends who’ve traveled with their firearms. They make sure to know the laws where they’re going and they follow those laws.

Sure, not all of us are Annie Oakley surgeons. What about teachers? We can all relate to teachers, right? The teachers I know follow similar rules of public decency because their careers are at stake. They’re not on Facebook sharing personal information. In fact, they’re not on Facebook at all. Caught with an illegal substance, their teaching license can be suspended or revoked altogether, preventing them from teaching here, there, and everywhere. They’re not made a news sensation and allowed back to work the next day. They deal with consequences.

Even in the restaurant world, employee manuals have a section on personal hygiene, similar to: “Please come to work with a clean uniform, having showered, and with hair washed and teeth brushed or you will be sent home to do so. You will not clock in, wait on guests, or make money until you are presentable.” It’s in writing, because for some, it needs to be spelled out, with the consequences. Imagine not having that standard. Would you want to eat at that restaurant?

So the question remains: Why do some people feel they’re above the law?

We’ve all seen the news reports of elected officials caught with prostitutes or drugs or both, or teachers partying with their students, or U.S. doctors stealing patients’ drugs. These people seem to have forgotten, or perhaps they never fully realized in the first place, that a great career is a privilege, one that can be taken away along with its money-making ability. Long gone are the days of “what you do on your own time is your own business.” You can’t get drunk on your own time and then show up to drive the school bus.

If our doctors, teachers, elected officials, etc., need to follow the rules of proper conduct, why not our athletes, our actors?

Ours is a society that allows for redemption. That’s a humbling and empowering concept. We don’t grow beyond needing consequences. We grow because of them.

Let us spell them out. And hold ourselves, and each other, to the higher standard.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler who waited tables in five U.S. states along the way. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing

The Paths We Take (featuring Dr. Daniel Drubach)

I’ve said for years that the worst day writing is still better than the best day working at anything else. That doesn’t make it easy, of course, but the fact that I have discovered this about myself (mostly by working at all sorts of other jobs, successfully, even), gives me comfort. Of all the paths out there, this one, I get to walk.

photoAt the moment, I’m reading Dr. Daniel Drubach’s Silent Sinners, Silent Saints, which begins with a bang. My friend Patrick tracked down this book and gave it to me after reading it himself. His advice was to read it a chapter at a time, and let it sink in. I was hoping to devour it quickly, so that when I see Daniel at his next musical gig in two weeks, I can proudly tell him I read this book (he read my book, as per our agreement, and I’m behind).

I’ve tried telling him that it’s not personal, I just work a lot, but he gives me a skeptical look. It’s true, but I’m preaching to the choir. Daniel travels, plays music, has written a few books, is rumored to have his own TED Talk coming up, and is a neuroscientist and psychiatrist at the local medical outfit down the street, what was it called again? Oh, right, the Mayo Clinic.  Being “busy” in Rochester is completely subjective. This town!

Getting back to the bang, the first full chapter of Silent Saints, Silent Sinners, is called Maria and David, and it is so amazingly good, written in a way to draw you in and quietly drop a bombshell on you.  Reading it, I did have to put the book down to let it sink in, as Patrick said.

Maria and David’s chapter will pull at your heart. Life doesn’t have to be lucrative, powerful, or popular. It just has to be the right life for you. For me, it started with figuring out that the worst day writing was still better than my best day working at anything else.

Silent Sinners, Silent Saints is available on Amazon.

Posted with the permission of my friend, Dr. Daniel Drubach

~

Jody Brown is a fiction writer, multi-blogger, columnist, poet, dreamer, and traveler.

The Welcome Door

As my Facebook friends know, last night I posted this:

“I’m on church vestry. It’s like Congress, and just as methodical and slow-moving. Tonight, however, we ‘DMC-fast-tracked*’ the same sex marriage issue…”

Father Nick himself put same-sex marriage on the agenda. He eloquently spoke about the mix of feelings and sentiment on this issue, about the separation of church and politics, and about the logistics. He’d checked with our Bishop; ceremonies can be done using our current Book of Common Prayer, or a newly approved book (of which he already had a copy and he now showed us) and he will conduct a forum for the congregation in September to inform and answer questions. In proper Father Nick form, his entire speech took about two minutes. And then he said, “In the meantime, we have people in this church who are loved and have been serving this church for years, and this law affects them directly. I think some of them would like to take this sacrament. Personally…” he paused, and casually moved the Kleenex box on his left and repositioned the pen on his right. He’s brilliant for his pauses. Then he looked at us. You could have heard a pin drop. He continued, “Personally, I want to do the ceremonies for them.”book

With that, we opened it up for discussion. Fourteen of us at the table, from various backgrounds, many of us originally from out of state, took our turns to speak. Around the table there are Mayo doctors, IBM engineers, lawyers, a waitress (me!), retirees, clergy spouses, financial advisors, and I’m not sure what the new guy does, but he and his wife are my age—which is to say, mid-thirties and on the younger end of the spectrum. I looked around the table with a bit of dread. We can’t agree on the colors for our website (six-month ongoing debate I don’t want to go into), how are we going to come together on this? Perhaps this is a jumping off point, and maybe by September we’ll have reached some working solution. But I was wrong. Oh, was I wrong. As we went around the table, one after the other, each of us and all of us had our say. Each and all.

Retired doctor, “Agreed.”

Current Mayo rules-maker, who likes to follow the book, “I agree. Long overdue.”

Lawyer, “I’m in favor.”

My turn, “Agreed. And I echo, ‘Long overdue.’”

Around we went. All in agreement. When we got around to Heather, the church secretary (and in my personal opinion, Super Woman), Father Nick said, “Heather? What are your thoughts?”

She stopped typing the minutes and replied, “I’m hoping to be a flower girl. Agreed!”

“All in favor?”

A resounding, “Aye.”

“All opposed?”

Silence. Sweet, melodious silence.

Done.doodad

We acknowledged that possibly some members might leave the church because of the decision. Father Nick’s forum will have tremendous importance. The message is this: We believe marriage is a sacrament. The law in our land now says marriage is legal for same-sex couples. Thus, we are within the law to offer the sacrament to everyone, and so we shall.

Now, we’re not Vegas. As a church, we have rules to follow. All couples getting married have required marriage prep classes with Father Nick. All couples, which has a nice ring to it.

We think of our church as a sanctuary and an oasis to anyone “heavy-laden and needing refreshment.” Just as some may leave us, it was brought up that new families may join our church because of the decision we just made. Open doors work both ways. Faith tells us our door says, “Welcome.”

On May 15, 2013, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed the bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota. The ink is barely dry on his signature, and my church is forging ahead, unanimously. Fourteen people sat around that table yesterday and spoke from their hearts, and made history. I was lucky to be a part of it.

Minnesota is the 12th state of in the union to enact such a law.

I live here.

*DMC is Destination Medical Center, a Minnesota bill written and passed in an unprecedented 90 days in 2013, offering support to the Mayo Clinic to make Rochester a top-notch medical destination, complete with housing, shops, roads and infrastructure, hotels, arts, culture, and the like.

 

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, available on Amazon.

Distracted

On a January Monday, a table of three came in for dinner–a couple with their adult daughter. For drinks, the mother and daughter let me choose, telling me only what grape they’d prefer for wine. The father knew his drink, down to the rocks-and-splash-of-soda specifics. The daughter told me she couldn’t eat certain things, doctor’s orders, and I told her I’d confer with the kitchen to make sure we got it right.

As their drinks were being poured at the bar, I talked to the Sous Chef about the daughter’s restrictions. The restaurant owner overheard the conversation, and as a former nurse, understood what the doctors were testing. Between the Sous Chef, the owner, and myself, there was agreement on what few dishes should be avoided, freeing up the majority of our menu as fair game for the table. The owner discussed the menu options with the guests as I stopped at the bar for their drinks.

A moment later, pleased with their drinks, the father said, “You know what I’d really like? If everyone’s up for it…” He looked at his family and back to me again, “I’d like you and the Chef to choose what we do tonight.” He made a very deliberate motion of handing me his menu, while looking from his daughter to his wife.

“Oh, thank goodness!” his daughter sighed. If ever I’ve heard a sigh of relief, this was one. She, also, gave me her menu. “After the day we’ve had, if I have to think about one more thing…”

“I’m in,” her mother said, with a big smile.

“We’ll make sure everything is within doctor’s orders for you,” I assured the daughter. Then I looked at the three of them, “Ready for an adventure?”

“The challenge is on,” the father said.

The mother handed me her menu, and with that, they handed me control of their evening.

I alerted the Sous Chef, who was in the middle of plating a 22-person dinner. He quickly arranged for another chef to send out some snack dishes for the table until he was freed up to concentrate on them. I brought out the snack. The 22 dinners went out, and Sous Chef Trevor got down to business. He made them a second, vegetable snack that included a truffled dwarf peach for each of them. (They’re phenomenal!) foieThen he sent out foie gras with chardonnay gelee, followed by an ash-rind goat cheese and local dandelion honey. I explained all of the flavors to the guests, who couldn’t get over the combinations.

By the time I brought them a second round of drinks, they were gushing to me about how much fun they were having. They admitted that they’d spent the entire day at the [Mayo] Clinic, enduring rounds of tests and questions, with few answers. It had been stressful to say the least. This dinner adventure was their reaction to that stress—they wouldn’t make any more decisions, wouldn’t choose anything, but preferred to settle back to be pleasantly surprised.scallops

As I brought out caramelized scallops and brioche bread pudding, followed by smoked duck breast, followed by pork belly and carrot-ginger waffle with anise syrup, the guests were in heaven. pork bellyThey marveled at the flavors and thanked me profusely. They admitted they’d thrown down a challenge to the Chef, and he’d answered the call.

At one point, the father marched himself into the kitchen when I wasn’t looking and introduced himself to the kitchen staff. After that, Sous Chef Trevor sent the table a stack of Korean BBQ ribs and pickled mushrooms.

During dessert—a slate filled with chocolate, homemade caramel, toasted meringue, baked Alaska, and Italian sponge cake filled with pistachio semi-freddo and Chantilly cream, the guests asked me to buy a drink for the Chef and his staff, anything they wanted.

With that, Sous Chef Trevor and the Chef beside him, his brother Joel–who were manning the kitchen by themselves at this point–both came out to talk to the table. They all chatted together for a good fifteen minutes.

When the Chefs returned to the kitchen, I brought the check. The daughter told me, “This is the first time all day that I forgot how miserable we were. Being here, eating dinner, I felt like we were healthy, happy people again. Normal people, having dinner. Thank you so much!”

This was the compliment of a lifetime. It took me a moment before I could respond. “It was entirely our pleasure,” I managed to say.

“Thank you,” her mother and father said in unison.

“Thank you,” I said, “For giving us a chance to do what we do.”

I wished them well as they left that night. I hoped the Clinic would get to the bottom of the situation quickly, and grant them leave to return home. The bittersweet irony of serving in the shadow of the Mayo Clinic is that if these guests were to come in again, that would only mean they were still stuck here, still awaiting answers as they dealt with being poked and prodded. As much as I’d love to help distract them again, and as much as I’d love to just see them again, the best news for them would be that I don’t.

For more life-altering experiences, check out my book Upside Down Kingdom on Amazon: dld.bz/bYuX4book

Braless

At the moment, two of my coworkers have no filters when it comes to what they say. photoOne of them, let’s call her the Braless Wonder, (she laughs at this nickname), is fond of saying that she and I have opposite personalities. I admit I’m more of a quiet observer to the things going on around me and that I usually hold my tongue—usually. But the reality is, I’m usually also thinking exactly what Braless is saying out loud.

Braless is a former policewoman. She and her longtime mate share responsibility of five children, all of whom are happy and polite when they’ve come to the restaurant. Braless is blonde, tough, edgy, and has had more near-death experiences and surgeries than anyone else I’ve ever met. So much so, that Braless has a devil-may-care attitude, and a rapturous gusto for life. She doesn’t sweat the small stuff. She plows in and fixes the problem. While she says “opposite” with some audible disdain, I never protest, even though I see things differently.

There are many types of servers in this world. Everyone has a slightly different personality, and those traits come out when you’re serving. My style of serving is a bit ninja-like: I’m quiet, I listen to their likes and dislikes and allergies and doctor photo (3) recommendations. I dart in and out replacing silver, rearranging the items on the table, and refreshing drinks so that guests rarely even know I’ve been there. When they look down, all they know is that they have all they could need or want, and it’s all been done exactly as they would have done themselves. Guests return wanting to be taken care of, without having to make decisions or think about the service, so they can concentrate on their dinner guests, and the restaurant owner makes sure they get me.

Braless, also, gets to know her guests’ likes and dislikes, and recommends the right dishes and the right wine and beer for them.  But she does this by talking to them. By the time they leave, she knows their names and their pasts and their future plans, and they know her. She’s spent enough time as a patient in the hospital that she relates well to other patients, and is able to cheer them up with her sharp humor. She wishes them well or on their next series of tests, or safe travels home, or to enjoy the movie they’re going to see. Guests return asking for her by name.

Both of us have served long enough that though the above descriptions tell of our particular niches, we both adapt to one another’s styles if the table warrants it. We’re practiced, and can naturally slide out of our comfort zones to adjust to guest needs. This in no way stops us from envying the one another’s personal serving style, or from asking one another’s advice on tables.  Because of who we are individually and where we’ve been, hardly a night goes by that we don’t ask a fellow server or the restaurant owner to stop at a particular table and relate personally to a guest.

Similarly, there are many types of guests in this world, and each one needs a specific server at a specific moment.  There are days when I go out to eat that I want to be fawned over, and days when I just want to be left alone. Our restaurant sits in the heart of the Mayo Clinic, which gives us a very different clientele.Mayo Clinic Yes, there are the usual guests, young and old, who are on dates or just stopping in for lunch before heading back to work again. There are also brilliant doctors who travel the world because of their specialty, board members who decide the fate and direction of medicine as a whole, and celebrities and rulers of countries who have stopped in for routine or non-routine checkups. And, there are those who
have just spent an entire day at the Clinic, being poked, prodded, asked a million questions, and are slated to return the next day for more. Sometimes they are celebrating good news. Sometimes they’re reeling from bad. Most of the time, they’re just waiting.

As servers, we get it. It’s our job to get it. We reach out to our guests and assess their needs—not just for food, drink, and ambiance, but for comfort. A person can get sustenance just about anywhere. Why did they come here? What do they need?

Despite our style differences, Braless and I strive, ultimately, to solve the puzzle of what’s needed, and raise the guest’s expectations when we make it happen. We’re always looking for ways to improve. And we always hope to feel it was a job well done when we clock out.

Every time Braless says we’re opposites, I get the feeling that she’s really trying to say we’d never find ourselves friends in normal life. Restaurant life, of course, is not normal life. Restaurant life is full of changes, quick adaptations, and just plain winging it. It makes you try a different approach. This is precisely why our friendship works.

(posdrinksted with the permission of my hilarious friend Braless)

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, available on Amazon: dld.bz/bYuX4