Defending America’s “Town Of Motels”

Is Breezewood, Pennsylvania getting a bum rap? The little town off an exit ramp of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, where travelers pass a half mile of motels, truck stops, gas stations, and souvenir stands before connecting to the highway that takes them toward Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, has become a social media meme through the above photo. In the meme, Breezewood is presented as ugly, chaotic, and loud–a prime example of tackiness and American wretched excess.

That photo doesn’t exactly depict a garden spot. But now Breezewood’s defenders have risen to respond to the harsh criticism–as in this article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The defenders argue that the sneering dismissals of Breezewood reflect a cultural snobbishness about seeing the exposed machinery of American life: the gas stations that must exist to power American car culture, the hotels that are needed to house travelers that are the mainstay of the American tourism business, and the assorted rest stops and restaurants that service the needs of those travelers. And, of course, all of those businesses shown in that photo provide people with gainful jobs, and have allowed Breezewood to continue to exist when other American small towns have withered and died.

My own memories of Breezewood are different from the contemptuous prevailing meme, too. When UJ and I were kids Grandma and Grandpa Neal used to take us on driving trips from Akron, Ohio to spots on the east coast, like Washington, D.C. or the Jersey shore. We would climb into the back seat of Grandpa’s Oldsmobile 98, try not to fidget while he carefully navigated the car along the growing network of American highways, always obeying the speed limit, and wait until we reached Breezewood where we would stop for the night at a Holiday Inn close to the Turnpike exit ramp. In those days, a sign announced Breezewood as the “town of motels,” and we were always glad when we saw that sign because it meant we could get out of the car, go for a swim in the hotel pool, eat dinner, and visit Crawford’s Museum next door to the hotel–a “museum” of stuffed animals and curiosities that was basically designed to stir the imaginations of a young kid. The next day we would wake up, have breakfast, and continue our leisurely journey.

In short, I liked Breezewood and have fond memories of it. I’m glad there is pushback against the Breezewood meme. It shows that reality is always more complex and nuanced than a photo and a few words that convey a smirking putdown.

The Great Screw Top Status Shift

Recently I was out at our neighborhood wine shop, looking for some interesting bottles to try. As I surveyed the racks and boxes and shelves for likely candidates, I realized that one of the factors influencing my decision was whether the bottle was corked or capped—with the balance tipping toward capped. And there were plenty of appealing choices in the screw top category, too.

That’s a pretty significant change in perception and product packaging from the days of my youth. For years, screw top wine was the realm of MD 2020, Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill, and Thunderbird, consumed exclusively by winos and high school kids who were just starting out their drinking careers and didn’t know any better. Reputable wineries offered only corked bottles because wine connoisseurs expected fine wines to come with a cork and thus insisted on it.

But, as has happened in so many other areas, the availability and perceptions of screw top wines have radically changed. Whether it was cork shortages in Portugal, articles in wine magazines arguing that modern screw top caps are more protective than corks, a general awareness that capped wines were becoming more available, or trying a screw top bottle somewhere and finding it was indeed potable, public opinion shifted. And after that happened, and people like me began gingerly giving it a try, we realized that capped wine is a lot easier to open than wrestling with a corkscrew and running the risk of cork explosions and failure and the cursing that inevitably accompanied it. With the screw top, it’s a quick twist, some satisfying metal cracking, and you’re in. Once people got over the perception hump and tried it, they realized it had some advantages—and in America, convenience and speed is always going to be a selling point.

The shift always begins with people laying aside their settled views and being receptive to a different approach.

Memories By Maude

My maternal grandmother, Maude Neal, had a remarkable memory. Locked in her brain were hundreds, if not thousands, of poems, sayings, and song lyrics that she could summon and quote at will on any occasion. Her repertoire ranged from silly ditties she learned as a kid (“Kaiser Bill went up the hill to take a look at France. Kaiser Bill came down the hill with bullets in his pants.”) to sayings about hard work, fortitude, love, family, death, and just about any other topic.

Back in the ‘70s or early ‘80s Mom decided to sit down with Grandma, have her deliver some of her sayings, and make careful note of them. Mom then carefully typed the poems and sayings (with a few typos and strike-throughs) and assembled the pages in a handmade booklet, decorated with stick-on flowers and held together by yarn. All of us kids got a copy. We still have my copy, decades later, and keep it on a table in our upstairs study. It’s a cool piece of family memorabilia that reminds me of Grandma Neal and Mom whenever I see it.

And while I lack Grandma’s facility with remembering and quoting poems, I remember her reciting some of the poems in this little booklet. Like this one, which I first heard as a little kid when I came home and made some complaint about something trivial:

I do not ask to walk smooth paths

Or bear an easy load.

I pray for strength and fortitude

To climb the rock-strewn road.

Give me such courage and I can scale

The hardest peak alone.

And transform every stumbling block

Into a stepping stone.

Grandma’s poetic message was clear: suck it up, kid! It’s still good advice.

The Browns Via Radio

Our TV and internet connection at our German Village house is on the fritz, so yesterday I needed to find an alternative way to follow the Browns game against the Houston Texans yesterday. I decided to try catching the game on radio by tapping into the Browns radio network on the internet and listening through my phone. The feed was pretty good, and the Browns won, so I’d call the whole experiment a success.

Listening to a football game on the radio is a different experience, and in this case it brought back some memories, too. When UJ and I were kids growing up in Akron, the Browns home games were routinely blacked out, so we would listen to them on the radio. We listened to Indians games on the radio, too, because they were never on TV, either. And every kid of the pre-ESPN era remembers coming up with ways to illicitly listen to the radio and follow the World Series games, which were always played during in-school hours. The radio was how Americans got most of their sports in those days.

Sports on the radio requires some imagination, and you’ve really got to pay attention, because there are no replays. Unfortunately, my radio imagination is pretty rusty, so I couldn’t really quickly picture the guys going in motion, or the formations being described. But the crowd seems like much more active participant in the game on radio, where you can tell by the surge in noise, or the sudden silence, whether a play went well for the hometown boys. And the excitement in Jim Donovan’s voice as he describes a Nick Chubb TD burst definitely adds something to the game experience. Doug Dieken, the long-time color analyst, is pretty entertaining, too.

I’m hoping to get our bundled internet and TV fixed this week, so I can watch the Browns on TV from here on out. But if they aren’t on—Columbus stations often have to choose between showing the Browns and the Bengals—it’s nice to know that old reliable radio remains an option.

Chalk, And A Blank Slate

We have a piece of slate and a stand in our kitchen, and plenty of chalk to go around. It makes for an irresistible combination that lures everyone to try their hand at a little calligraphy.

Of course, chalk reminds me of elementary school and standing at towering, wall-to-wall chalkboards, being handed that piece of chalk, and being instructed by Mrs. Haddad, my third-grade teacher, to solve a math problem or spell Mississippi or make the perfect cursive capital E, like the one on the cardboard example thumbtacked above the board. In those days, when you were handed a piece of chalk, the pressure was on, and if you didn’t perform your sorry effort would be swept away by a dusty eraser as you went slinking back to your desk.

These days, the piece of chalk isn’t quite as intimidating. In fact, it’s kind of fun to try your hand at a little printing that might meet Mrs. Haddad’s exacting standards. And we welcome the forgiveness inherent in erasure, which gives us a chance to fix those little mistakes.

Death Of A UHF Pitchman

Ron Popeil has died. The inventor/developer/popularizer of countless weird products and the star of ever-playing infomercials, Popeil was 86.

If you got anywhere near a TV during the ’60s and ’70s, you knew the name Ron Popeil. He was the guy who sold many of the products that were featured on commercials on the “UHF” channels on your TV.

(I realize as I write those words that many people alive today have no idea what a “UHF” or “VHF” channel was, or how they were different. Here’s a primer. The VHF channels were numbered 1 through 13, were on the VHF dial on your TV with clearly demarcated slots for the stations, and accordingly were easy to find and came through on your TV much more clearly. The three networks and their local broadcast stations were always on one of those VHF channels. The UHF channels, on the other hand, were on a different dial that didn’t have specific channel indicators, so if you wanted to watch a UHF station you first had to switch to the UHF dial, then carefully turn that dial incrementally, with the precision deftness of a brain surgeon, to find the best signal for channel 43 or channel 61, manipulate your rabbit ears to further enhance signal quality, and put up with some “snow” on the screen and fading in and out. Nevertheless, becoming a master of UHF channel tuning was an essential skill for any kid who wanted to watch Three Stooges shorts, Star Trek reruns, bad horror movies, and the other enticing mainstays of UHF programming. The UHF stations eventually became a lot more accessible when cable TV became widespread.)

The first Ron Popeil/Ronco product I remember was the Veg-o-Matic, which allowed you to put a peeled potato on a kind of wire screen below the top of the device, depress the top, forcing the potato through the screen, and thereby produce french fries that were ready for the fryer. The Veg-o-Matic always seemed to me to be of limited usefulness, but it sure would come in handy if french fries were a staple of your diet. And of course the Veg-o-Matic was only one of a host of odd Ron Popeil products. There was the Ronco Steam-A-Way, a gun-like device that allowed you to steam out the wrinkles that appeared in your clothes while you were traveling. There was the Buttoneer, which appeared to replace thread with plastic stays to keep buttons attached to their fabric forever, and which was known mostly because its commercial the same phrase countless times as frustrated people dealt with lost buttons: “The problem with buttons is . . . they always fall off!” We can’t forget the Popeil Pocket Fisherman, a fold-up fishing product that allowed avid anglers to always be ready to set a hook and drop a line into any brook or pond they happened to pass by (although I don’t think bait was provided). And finally Ron Popeil brought us Mr. Microphone, a cordless microphone that could tie in to the frequency of your car radio and allow you to broadcast annoying comments to passersby. The smooth ’70s character with the bad haircut shown in the photo above uses Mr. Microphone to deliver the deathless line: “Hey good lookin’. Be back to pick you up later!” (That one has become a standard catchphrase in our household.)

It’s strange, and kind of scary, to think of how all of these Ron Popeil items, and their related commercials, have become so firmly lodged in my brain synapses that I can easily recall them, decades later–but that’s what repeated watching of UHF TV will do for you. RIP to the Master Pitchman and his menagerie of products.

Children’s Books And Lasting Lessons

At the southeast corner of Schiller Park, a pedestrian can take two routes. One can use the access driveways in and out of the parking lot to cut the corner and save a few steps. Or, one can go through the driveways to the actual corner beyond before turning the corner and continuing the walk. I always walk through to the corner beyond the driveway before turning, and when I do I think “neat and square.”

“Neat and square” is a line from Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, a book I read as a kid. It’s just one of the things that has stuck with me from that book Mom first read to me so long ago.

You may know the story. Mike Mulligan has a steam shovel named Mary Anne. Mike was proud of her and the work they could do together, and boasted of Mary Anne’s capabilities. And Mike and Mary Anne did the job right, always finishing the corners of what they dug “neat and square.” But it was hard for an old-fashioned steam shovel to compete with newfangled diesel-powered digging machines. In one troubling scene in the book, Mike and Mary Anne view a junk heap of other sad, discarded steam shovels that have been abandoned by their owners. But Mike is loyal to Mary Anne and would never dream of doing that.

Mike goes out to a small town that is digging a cellar for a new town hall and gets the job on the condition that he and Mary Anne can dig the basement in just one day. When the day comes, Mike and Mary Anne continue to do the job right, and finish the corners neat and square, even though the clock is against them. A crowd gathers, which causes Mike and Mary Anne to work faster than ever before—and just as the sun is setting they finish the job. But there’s a problem: in their frenzied rush to complete the digging in just one day, Mike and Mary Anne have forgotten to leave a ramp for Mary Anne to exit the cellar, and she is trapped. Fortunately, a boy in the crowd suggests that Mary Anne use her steam to become the new furnace, the town builds the town hall around her, and the story happily ends with Mary Anne heating the hall and Mike serving as its janitor.

It’s a good book, with some powerful messages that resonated with me. Do the job right, and be proud of your work. Be loyal to those you work with. And recognize that sometimes difficult problems can be solved with creative thinking.

Those lessons have stuck with me for decades. It just shows that reading to your children can really have a lifelong impact.

An English Teacher’s Lament

My seventh grade English teacher, Mr. Richards, was an interesting character. He has a great sense of humor, and was a bit of a ham in front of the class, but he was also passionate about using, and writing, proper English. The tendency of people to use apostrophes erroneously especially bugged him.

The apostrophe, Mr. Richards explained, has two uses: to indicate possession, or to show that a letter or number is missing. “You don’t use ‘apostrophe s’ to make a plural!” he exclaimed. “Why can’t people get it right?” Then he put his forehead down on the desk to illustrate his frustration. The kids in the class laughed, of course, but I’m sure they remembered that lesson, as I still do.

So I naturally thought of Mr. Richards when I saw this sign warning drivers about runners on the road for the Stonington 6K race. I suppose the sign maker could have been indicating that a single runner is ahead, but we all know it’s another example of an all-too-common apostrophe fail. I can see Mr. Richards’ forehead falling to the desk, and hear his plaintive “Why can’t they get it right?” even now.

Relishing The Cool Of The Morning

Like much of the rest of the country, Maine generally, and Stonington specifically, is experiencing a heat wave, with temperatures in the 80s in the coastal areas and 90s inland. But unlike the rest of the country, Maine isn’t really equipped to deal with high heat. None of the houses in our area are equipped with central air conditioning, for example, because there is absolutely no need for it during a typical summer, when you expect highs in the 70s during the day and lows in the 50s at night.

That means Mainers deal with the heat using the techniques many of us remember from our pre-air conditioning childhood. A heat wave is a time for wide open windows and ceiling fans, and wishful hopes for a hint of a cool breeze to sweep through the room. It’s a time to stay outside a bit later as the sun goes down, until the mosquitoes drive you indoors. It’s also a time to savor the early morning moments of cooler air before the sun rises and the heat is cranked up again. And the views just before 5 a.m. aren’t bad, either.

Heat waves are a challenge up here, but eventually they end. In the meantime, the ice cream shop downtown is making a killing.

Balsa Wood Lessons

Yesterday on my walk through town I passed one of the local gift shops and saw this classically designed balsa wood plane in the window. The store’s proprietor knew what she was doing, putting that pretty little plane in the window for old guys and young kids alike to see. If the store had been open, and I’d been carrying my wallet, I might have been tempted to make an impulse purchase–because, for those of us of a certain age, a balsa wood plane brings back a lot of memories, and life lessons, too.

When I was a kid, I got a balsa wood plane as a gift. I don’t remember who was the giver, but I do remember being fascinated with the notion that the plane was made with a kind of wood. This was wood? It wasn’t the kind of wood I was used to in, say, a baseball bat or the trunk of a neighborhood tree. This wood was ultra-light and brittle, the better to glide through the air like the Wright Brothers’ plane at Kitty Hawk. Balsa wood planes were the definition of “flimsy.” That didn’t mean they were any less fun and weren’t cool, either. After all, this little plane could fly! UJ and I spent many happy hours playing with our balsa wood planes, trying to see whose plane could glide the farthest on a warm summer day.

But there were important lessons attached to the little balsa wood plane. The balsa wood plane may have been the first toy that I actually had to consciously take care of. It couldn’t take a beating like, say, a little rubber football. You had to be gentle in putting it together, or one of the wings would break in half or thin strips of balsa wood would chip off, interfering with performance. You couldn’t just leave the plane outside in the rain or on a chair where the plane could be crushed into smithereens by Uncle Tony’s descending posterior. And you had to be mindful of where and when you took the plane out for a glide, too. Really windy days were bad, because the wind inevitably sent the plane cartwheeling into the concrete patio or a neighboring house, and launching it anywhere near a tree was certain to result in your plane being firmly lodged in the crook of a branch or amidst the leaves and limbs, with no way to knock it down that wouldn’t bust the plane into sad little balsa wood shards.

I’m sure I went through countless balsa wood planes before these lessons really sank in–but I’m also sure that, if I bought a balsa wood plane now, all of the old careful handling reflexes and experiential knowledge would come back in a rush. The lessons that come from the disappointment and loss of a favorite toy that you could have avoided if you’d just listened to Dad and Mom and been more careful are lessons well learned.

Rising Floods

More and more, you see young, evidently fashionable men intentionally wearing long pants that expose not only ankle and sock, but even an expanse of the leg itself. In the vernacular of my youth, such pants were known as “floods,” and you could commit no greater fashion sin—or more readily expose yourself to ridicule—than wearing them. Can it really be that they are fashionable now?

I first learned about floods when I was about 10 years old or so, at the age when you first become dimly —and then pointedly—aware that there apparently is a prevailing approach to the world and if you vary from the acceptable norm you are exposing yourself to uncomfortable mockery. It was about the same time you realized that you might want to plead that your Dad stop giving you a buzz cut with the home barbershop kit he bought and let you go to a licensed professional so you could get a haircut that looked somewhat like what other guys had. But whenever the precise epiphany occurred, at some point the jeering comments and derisive laughter at the fact that your long pants weren’t quite long enough powerfully drove home the point that flood pants are an unforgivable fashion transgression. And ever since I’ve been acutely focused on making sure that any pants I’m wearing brush my shoe tops, if not (in the ‘70s) engulf my shoes altogether in monster bell bottoms.

But fashions change, obviously, and now it is abundantly clear that floods are not the anathema they once were. Maybe male ankle-displaying pant length will capture the culture and be seen everywhere—or maybe they will be as short-lived as past brief fads like Nehru jackets or Earth shoes. But even if floods become the norm, I think my indoctrination has been too strong and too ingrained. I’ll just keep my ankles to myself.

The Art Of Presentation

When I first started going out to eat, and for most of my dining career, restaurants didn’t seem to pay much attention to the presentation of the food on the plate, or the design or decoration of the table, or the decor of the restaurant itself. You might get a sprig of parsley on your plate next to the baked potato as you sat in a dim room, but that’s about it.

The American foodie scene has changed all that—and how. In addition to offering fresh, local food that is packed with flavor, modern restaurants pay much more attention to the whole eating experience, from the point of entry to the end of the meal. The holistic approach makes for a far more enjoyable, and interesting, dining experience, where you can’t help but admire and appreciate the effort that has gone into making sure that your meal is a wonderful time.

Aragosta, where we went for a fantastic meal last night, is at the top of the line when it comes to attention to detail. From the bright interior and huge windows that leave the dining room bathed in light and present a terrific view of Goose Cove, to the little touches like the delicate fresh flowers on the table, to the presentation of the excellent food on the plate, the chef and proprietors have thoughtfully considered every detail. And the plates themselves—shown here by photographs of two of our courses from our meal last night—are like individual works of art, featuring beautifully arranged rocks, mosses, shells, ferns, pine cones, white birch bark, and other accent pieces—all of it local. I’ve never been to Japan, but I expect that the experience of dining at Aragosta is a lot like eating in a fine Japanese restaurant.

I’m an old codger who has to resist reflexively thinking that things were better way back when. But I have no hesitation in saying that the experience of dining out in America has improved tremendously during my lifetime, and is light years better now than it was in the ‘60s, ‘70s, or ‘80s. Aragosta is exhibit A in support of that conclusion.

Sunday School

This morning’s walk took us past the intersection of Church and School Streets— two more examples of the factually literal street-naming conventions followed by the Stonington town founders. The sign reminded me of the other confluence of church and school from my childhood: Sunday school.

Right about now we’d be washing our faces, donning our “Sunday best” clothes, and heading off to church and our Sunday school class. There we would get brightly colored pamphlets, squirm uncomfortably in our clothes, and try to learn about the Old Testament. And, frankly, in some respects the Old Testament wasn’t too bad from a kid interest standpoint, with lots of fire and brimstone, golden calves, pillars of salt, burning bushes, general human wickedness, world-ending floods, wars, treachery, and David versus Goliath battles. You never knew when God was going to pop up and test somebody or punish the evil in some cool way. In fact, it’s almost as if the Old Testament was written in a desperate effort to hold the attention of an easily distracted ten-year-old boy. Alas, the interesting stuff was inevitably buried by rote lessons that required you to remember the names of Abraham’s kids or who Ezekiel was.

My favorite Sunday school moment is found in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, where Indy tells the two bureaucrats from Washington about the powers of the Ark of the Covenant. When they look surprised to learn about it, Indy says something like: “Didn’t you guys pay attention in Sunday school?” The two bureaucrats exchange guilty glances in response. Every kid who went to Sunday school knows exactly how they felt.

Camp Maskedalot

The CDC has been hard at work. It has developed extensive COVID-related guidelines for virtually every activity or gathering Americans might conceivably participate in these days. There is specific CDC guidance for workplaces and businesses, schools, retirement communities, church functions–even something super-specific, like what to do if you are operating a community garden or outdoor learning garden. You can take a look at the roster of guidance here.

A lot of people are wondering what the CDC is doing to come up with its extensive guidance, and precisely what the scientific basis–if any–is for some of the ultra-cautious rules the CDC has laid down. One set of CDC recommendations in particular has been target of special criticism: the guidance for summer camps. In fact, a recent article in New York magazine called the CDC summer camp guidance “cruel” and “irrational.”

It’s fair to say that the CDC rules would produce a summer camp experience that would bear no resemblance to the summer camps many of us attended as kids. Let’s just say that the kids who were unlucky enough to go to a CDC-compliant camp wouldn’t be spending carefree hours around a campfire, playing capture the flag with their newfound camp friends, or sitting at long tables and making bad ashtrays for Mom and Dad during the “craft period.” The New York article summarizes some of the guidance as follows:

“Masks must be worn at all times, even outdoors, by everyone, including vaccinated adults and children as young as 2 years old. The exceptions are for eating and swimming. (The guidance helpfully notes that if a person is having trouble breathing or is unconscious, no mask need be worn.) Campers must remain three feet apart from each other at all times including, again, outdoors. Six feet of distance must be maintained during meals and between campers and staff. If you need to sneeze and you don’t have a tissue, do it into your mask. (Children presumably are expected to carry a cache of spares.) Campers and staff should be cohorted, and any interaction with a person outside the cohort must be conducted at a distance of six feet. Art supplies, toys, books, and games are not to be shared.”

(Other than that, kids, have a blast!)

The New York article notes that the science and statistics have shown that kids are at “exceedingly low” risk of any kind of serious illness from COVID–and that’s from statistics gathered before most of the adults around them, including, presumably, camp counselors, have been vaccinated. And there is very little evidence that there is a serious risk of COVID transmission from outdoor activity like hiking (or running around with fellow campers), either. As a result, the New York article observes: “The notion that children should wear masks outdoors all day in the heat of July, or that they can’t play any sport that involves physical contact, or put an arm around a friend strikes many experts in infectious diseases, pediatrics, epidemiology, and psychiatry as impractical, of dubious benefit, and punishing in its effects on children.”

Has anyone at the CDC even experienced a broiling Midwestern summer day? Anybody who masks up on a 90-degree day with the sun beating down on them is asking for a truly miserable time–and maybe heat stroke, besides. It’s hard to believe that any rational person reviewed this guidance, or ran it past others for comment and evaluation. It’s as if the CDC is so focused on the COVID boogeyman that it has forgotten all of the other health risks involved in life.

Our public health authorities haven’t exactly covered themselves with glory during this COVID period. They’ve sent out a lot of mixed messages, and in my view their hyper-cautious recommendations about what fully vaccinated people should be able to do is quashing enthusiasm for getting vaccinated. The absurd CDC guidance for summer camps is just another hard-scratcher that further undercuts the credibility of a once-esteemed institution. The CDC would benefit by taking a hard look at what it is doing.

“You Owe Me A Coke”

The other day a much younger colleague and I were discussing something. We each sent the other an email expressing the same thought that crossed in the internet ether.

Her reaction was to say “jinx.” Mine was to say “you owe me a Coke,” which I’m sure baffled her. And as I thought about my reflexive response, I realized that “you owe me a Coke” even baffled me. That’s been my standard response to two people saying the same thing at the same time for as long as I can remember, but I have no idea why that’s the correct phrase to say at that moment, or even when I learned to say “you owe me a Coke” under those circumstances. I’m guessing it happened when I was a kid and some older and more worldly kid used that phrase and explained that it was what you do when that happens, and you need to say it before the other person does. I promptly incorporated that notion into my understanding of how the world works, as kids do, and there it remains. I’ve forgotten the incident, but definitely remember the phrase.

Internet searches don’t really shed any light on why anyone–me included–would say “you owe me a Coke” in this scenario. It’s recognized as one of the things you do when people say the same thing at the same time. (According to some websites, another thing that you can do is punch the other person in the arm, and now that I think of it, I seem to remember getting slugged in the arm a few times, too.) But the origins of “you owe me a Coke” seem to be lost in the mists of time. Who came up with that notion? Why would one person need to buy the other a soda, and why a Coke, specifically? And for that matter, has anyone ever really lived up to the obligation and actually bought the person who said it first a Coke?

It’s just destined to be one of life’s enduring mysteries, I suppose.