Chicago, Illinois; Ephrata, Pennsylvania; and Madison, Wisconsin

It’s Saturday, September 10th. I arrived at my hotel in Madison,
Wisconsin about an hour ago. I’m a butter lover in a dairy state. I
flew in this morning from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which was as close
as I could get to my job in Ephrata, Pennsylvania by plane. When I
went to take my pouch of toothbrushes, floss, and personal hygiene
items out of my suitcase it wasn’t there. I’ve been traveling, and
packing for thirty years,in every state of consciousness, and I can
count on one hand the number of things I’ve left behind. Ninety
percent of my packing errors have occurred in the last year. This
really worries me. Now I was stuck with another phone call to add to
my list of things to do. I would have to call the hotel I stayed in in
Ephrata. They would surely tell me to call back on Monday, because, I
know from experience, there’s no hotel employee qualified to look for
something on a Saturday or Sunday. Then I had to figure out if the
things in the pouch are financially worth the shipping charges to get
them to me. On the other hand, I know they will just get thrown away
if I don’t claim them, and I hate the affects of waste on the
environment. As I already dropped a brand new camera somewhere in the
Colorado River this summer, I’ve exceeded any environmental margin of
error we each may be granted. Plus, there is the nagging feeling I’ve
had for a while that I may have early Alzheimer’s. I usually do a
visual sweep of the hotel room before I head out the door. I hate to
pay for a doctor’s appointment, and I don’t know if the test they can
do for Alzheimer’s is conclusive anyways, which makes it worthless. On
the other hand, if they don’t have a baseline on the current strength
of my memory, I don’t know how they’ll be able to track my decline. As
I was puzzling this out, I saw my toothbrush pouch on the bed, right
in front of me. This, of course, is even stronger, more alarming
evidence that my memory is fleeing like a Middle East dictator. I must
have taken it out of the suitcase seconds before. Still, so long as I
don’t have to remember to call the hotel in Ephrata, I’m happy.
I loved the audiences in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. I did two shows.
The second show was only half full, but it included a man named Randy,
who owned a business called Leather Pro. It’s not what you think. He
removes stains and scuffs from leather furniture. He must disappoint a
lot of callers.
I spent a lot of the night trying to perfect my pronunciation of
their town’s name. Every one of my mispronunciations was more lovely
than the correct one. While I sat in a rocking chair in front of the
hotel, watching a horse and buggy plod up the street, a woman
approached and greeted me. She lives in Blue Ball, Pennsylvania, which
I can easily pronounce, but just can’t fathom.
The Ephrata Main Theatre is a restored Art Deco gem. I had dinner
from Lily’s Restaurant, which is also owned by the theatre owner,
Steve. I ordered the Summer Salad and the liver. It was unbelievable.
Steve said that my choice of liver was unusual. He said hardly anyone
ever orders the liver, but that if they took it off of the menu,
people would get mad. I thought that was a striking characteristic of
this small community. They are people who do not want to eat liver,
but want to know that they could, whenever they do want to. You don’t
find that just everywhere. Steve, the owner, was great. As he drove me
the forty minutes or so to Ephrata from the Harrisburg airport, he
mentioned that they have the largest Walmart in Pennsylvania, nearby.
Once we pulled off the highway, we saw a woman in a dress and a
bonnet, riding a bike with a box roped to her back. Steve knew
instantly that she was a Mennonite, and that she was headed for the
Walmart. In fact, she did turn at the Walmart. That’s quite a gift. I
don’t know what you can use it for, but it’s quite a gift.
On Thursday night I was in Chicago Illinois taping NPR’s “Wait,
Wait Don’t Tell Me.” It is an unbelievably fun job, and Charlie
Pierce, and Kyrie O’Connor were particularly funny on this one.
Afterwards, as we often get to, we stood around chatting with audience
members. I took a couple of pictures with a very nice audience member,
who reached into her bag, and gave me, quite unexpectedly, an Oscar
Mayer Wiener whistle. She said she used to drive the Oscar Mayer
Wiener Mobile. Steve probably would have known that.
Do you know, people often thank me for coming to their theatre? I
have the greatest job in the world, partly because I get to talk to
other people about their jobs, and their lives. I miss my children
when I am away from them, but I’m usually only gone a couple of nights
a week, if that. This three night jaunt is unusual, and I am smart
enough to know that I am incredibly lucky to be able to go to Chicago,
Illinois; Ephrata, Pennsylvania; and Madison, Wisconsin. I can’t wait
to tell my little jokes tonight.l

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