As we do more speaking on themes related to our book (aging, dementia, friendship and community), Susan and I are becoming practiced Low Budget Travel Warriors. Even if the organization sponsoring the conference is paying our expenses (which is not always the case), we are keenly aware that their budget is very tight. So we have learned the art of identifying the least expensive motel that is not absolutely revolting and finding an inexpensive place to eat that offers some flavor of the local community. Two weeks ago we had dinner at Polecat and Lace in Minocqua. Those who have never experienced a traditional Wisconsin supper club, particularly one located in the north woods, simply have no frame of reference by which to picture Polecat and Lace. In Wisconsin supper clubs, waitresses do not retire simply because they have turned 80; they continue to dish out walleye and broasted chicken with good cheer.
This week we did a full-day workshop at the Clark County Health Center located in Owen, Wisconsin. It is a lovely facility which, like many county nursing homes, was originally a working farm. The nearest motel was in Abbotsford, a city of 2,000 when all the motel rooms are full. The only restaurant in Abbotsford was closed, which is how we found ourselves dining at Duke’s Lanes, home of the “world famous hot beefs.” Duke’s beefs come in three forms: hot beef, hot beef with mashed potatoes, and a hot beef and mashed potato sandwich. So we sat at the bar, eating our hot beefs and watching a woman’s bowling league compete while chatting with Lisa, the bartender, about local demographics (as the rest of Wisconsin ages rapidly, Clark County is projected to remain relatively young, likely because of the large Amish and Hispanic populations).
We had opted to stay at the Rodeway Inn, because the only other option was an eight-room mom-and-pop motel that looked particularly grim. Rodeway’s business model seems to consist of purchasing failed motels and changing the signs; this one was a Sleep Inn that sat vacant for two years. When we checked in the computers were down, and a woman who appeared much older than our waitress at Polecat and Lace was down on her knees behind the counter. “Trying to fix it?” I asked. “Just praying that the guy who knows how to fix it will show up” she answered.
Our room had everything we consider essential: hot water, towels, free wi-fi and a passable bed. It was clean, always a relief, but even though the building was proudly proclaimed to be “smoke free,” the odor of ancient cigarettes wafted from the carpet and drapes. The light over the bed was wired to a motion sensor, so several times when I rolled over in the night the light came on; sometime around three we figured out how to override it. Not a bad night by our standards.
At 6:30 we went down to the breakfast room for weak coffee and raisin bran. I am not fond of motel breakfast rooms with their blaring televisions, preferring silence until I have had my first cup of coffee. There was only one other guest in the breakfast room. Unfortunately, he was a motivational speaker, the kind of man who opens his eyes when the alarm goes off and shouts “I’m going to make this a great day!” I tried to imagine who he was going to address in Abbotsford. A meat-packing plant? An Amish farm? The world is full of wonders.
Things went very well during our presentation at the Health Center. But my favorite moment was when a woman approached us to say “I saw you last night!” Strangers are noticed at Duke’s, and apparently there was much speculation among the bowlers about what we were doing there.
We do this public speaking because we are deeply committed to opening up new ways of thinking about aging and dementia. But the bonus for us is that we get to meet delightful people and experience interesting places we would never have chosen to visit otherwise. The people we meet tend to be kind and friendly, which replenishes our faith in human decency in this era of conflict and division. By the way: we took a pass on the hot beef and mashed potato sandwich, which proved a wise decision. Lunch at the Health Center was hot beef and potatoes.
Work and Dementia
2 years ago