Once upon a time in America, not all that long ago, few of us had the luxury of air conditioning that went beyond a bowl of ice placed in front of an oscillating fan. Our cars didn’t come equipped with entertainment centers to distract the kids on long trips and we little tykes had to satisfy ourselves with playing license plate poker. But those of us who lived in New York had the beaches and we were fortunate to have what was, at that time, America’s premier amusement park, Coney Island.
One summer weekend my father was working the Gift Show in Boston and Mom had decided to accompany him. My parents loved Boston for its history and, as many times as they had been there, always made a visit to the Old North Church as well as a number of other historic sites. So my mother imposed on my aunt to look after me for the weekend. My aunt Helene adored me, and my feeling toward her was reciprocal, so I looked forward to spending the weekend with her and my two girl cousins who were still at home. My aunt’s son was off at military school and was working there through the summer for extra credit.
So in addition to spending time with my aunt and cousins, I was further delighted to find that she had planned a Saturday night visit for us to Coney Island, preceded with a dinner at Lundy’s Restaurant which was in the immediate vicinity.
Lundy’s was a tradition for those who really wanted to splurge. For those of us who mostly ate home cooked meals, going to any restaurant was really a great treat. But Lundy’s was very special. It was a family style restaurant with large bare wood tables that could easily accommodate twenty diners. As a result, everyone found themselves seated next to total strangers at every meal there.
Their specialties were buckets of steamed Little Neck Clams, served in pots that smelled of the ocean and accompanied with bowls of drawn butter for dipping the succulent sea creatures. And, this was followed with a freshly boiled lobster (size dependent on appetite) and a huge bowl of French fries. The waiters (they were all men) would clear the debris the diners had made of the clam buckets and before bringing on the entrees would tie a plastic bib around each person’s neck to prevent any inadvertent dribbling from the succulent shell fish from falling on our shirts and blouses. The finale was their famous Nesselrode pie, a fabulous creation of whipped cream and dried fruits that sadly is hardly made anywhere anymore.
The four of us finished our dinner and I have to admit that I felt a bit bloated. I probably should not have shoved that last bit of pie own my throat – but it was so good. And I remember my grandmother’s admonition that, “Eat everything on your plate. There are children in China who are starving.” So I did. And I knew that I had at least moderately over eaten. But I sublimated my full tummy by thinking that we were on our way to Coney Island Amusement park and my cousins and I were going to have a swell time on the rides.
My father had taken me to Coney Island the previous summer with one of my good friends. We both had reached the age and height where we were allowed on the park’s most famous ride, the roller coaster known as the Cyclone. There was my dad in the middle of the car with me on his left and my friend Andy on his right and only a flimsy metal bar protruding toward our midsections, holding us and theoretically keeping us safe.
As the queue of cars slowly made it’s way up the rickety old wood that supported the Cyclone to the top of the first drop, Andy and I both anticipated that this was going to be a lot of fun. And then we came to the top and suddenly plunged down at incredible speed. I think all three of us were a bit shaken by this, but it was nothing compared to the next two drops that were to come, each being higher than the previous one. By the time we got to drop number three, my knuckles were white from gripping the metal restraining bar and as we began our long descent, Andy was screaming at my dad, “Make it stop.” I didn’t say anything – but only because I was too scared to join him in that sentiment. But the ride finally ended and with knees that were quivering, we got out of our car, thankful that we were still alive.
Well, neither my aunt, my cousins (nor I) was feeling brave enough once again to test our fate in the grips of the Cyclone. So we contented ourselves with rides that were far more sedate. Things were going along just fine until we got to the Tilt-A-Whirl, a ride that is fun but not overly scary. However, the combination of the different movements that the ride made didn’t interact well with my dinner and no sooner had we gotten off, I realized I needed to find a waste basket because I was going to vomit. Well, I did find a basket and even faster than it had gone in, out came a barely digested mixture of Little Neck clams (dipped in drawn butter), lobster, French fries and Nesselrode pie.
As I stood by the basket, my sense of propriety kicked in and I hoped that no one had witnessed my feat of regurgitation. And even more, I hoped that someone would come by and offer me a handkerchief to wipe the evidence of what had just happened from my lips. My aunt did so, handing me one of her monogrammed hankies, which I sheepishly accepted.
Now my aunt had a very dry sense of humor. I’m sure that her major concern was that I was feeling okay, having expelled my meal in full. But she used this as a teaching experience when she asked me the question, “Sweetheart, do you know how much that meal cost?” (I was going to have to have a talk with Grandma about those Chinese kids and clean plates). But I knew her well enough to know that she wasn’t really mad, particularly when she said, “Well, now that you’ve left your dinner in the basket you must be hungry. Do you want to go over to Nathan’s Famous for a hot dog?” There could have been nothing further from my mind than eating – possibly ever again. And I’m sure that my aunt knew that when she asked me.
It was a ritual that the final ride we would take at Coney Island was one called the Steeplechase – a pseudo-enactment of a horse race in which the winner varied based on how the ride had been set by the person in charge. Given my earlier gastronomic experience and its aftermath, I was done with rides for the night and decided to take a pass on it. But that evening brought me to thinking about politics and the race for the presidency. And with one small variation, it seems to me that with the substitution of one letter, that horse ride really describes what we have to look forward to for the next seventeen months. The race to the White House is not much more than a Sheeplechase.
It’s sad, but I believe true, that the vast majority of our voting population is either incapable of or has decided to decline from engaging in critical thinking. It is far more important to them that they accrue a coterie of “friends” on social media as a validation for their sense of self-worth than it is to stand on fact and principle which might discredit them in their network of equally vapid amigos. The astute politician, and there are certainly a number running who might be categorized as competent or more, will play to this audience, saying whatever is necessary to convince this group of sheep that she/he deserves their vote. And if their collective herd generally buys their argument, like lambs to the slaughter, these unthinking souls will go along for the ride. After all, this is the path of least resistance – and I might add, the road to Hell.
As I’ve listened to a number of the candidates speak recently, the lyrics of an old song came to mind. “Lord, it’s so proud to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.” We’ve had six and one half years of a President who repeatedly speaks only in the first person, “I, “Me,” “Mine.” And we can see what the sense of egomania has gotten not only the country but a world that is seething with strife as the United States abandoned not only its principles which made us unique but our role of leadership and respect.
It’s time that we found a person whom we could elect who might learn the lesson of humility with dignity which possessed that great black contralto, Marian Anderson. Barred from performing at a DAR conference because of her race, then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt took a stand, resigned from that organization and organized an outdoor concert which thousands attended. Marian Anderson always spoke using the words, “We,” “Us,” “Our.”
As a nation, “We” deserve no less and should demand that the next President be a person who is committed to restoring America to a position of greatness, thereby not only securing a better life for our citizens but by standing on principle (not some malleable “truth” based on the latest polls), securing a safer world for all of Earth’s people.
Will we find and more importantly elect such a person? At this point it’s difficult to say. But I know that if we again fail to endorse through our votes a candidate who has real values, original ideas and a cohesive plan, I might just repeat the experience I had after I got off the Tilt-A-Whirl ride. And it’s just possible that a lot of other people will have that same reaction.