Betsy had pulled herself together a little like Eloise at the Ritz: a green mohair hat, with a curled-up brim, a slim-fitting black coat and ankle boots that laced up and tied. Kate looked like a revolutionary character out of Les Miz, with tattered scarves around her neck, pointed hats, steel-toed boots and long legs in lean Levis. Both of them were sensational.
Betsy drove. We hadn't seen each other in a while, and we talked about old times. We talked about the week she knocked off an A-plus Master's thesis while going through one of those midnight-madness boyfriend crises that young women fall prey to occasionally.
One day, when she was still living in Cincinnati, we were sitting at Kaldi's, drinking coffee and reading fashion magazines, and Betsy decided to enter an essay contest in Jane. It never occurred to me she'd win, but she never really doubted it. Indeed, she won a trip for two to Mexico for the Day of the Dead festival, plus a tidy sum of spending money. Her essay and photographs about Mexico were to be featured in a later edition of Jane, so we stalked the newsstands together waiting for the magazine to hit the street.
Kate would have been happier shopping at Home Depot, but otherwise our road trip was chaotic and unrehearsed, just as the best things in life always are.
My father used to say that a good trip just flows like paint from the brush of the painter, and certainly he was a good traveling companion.
We'd ride down that asphalt highway late at night toward Tennessee, trying to pick up the Grand Ole Opry out of the static that emerged from the radio periodically like thunder.
The day with Betsy and Kate was that kind of day: snug and cozy. The sun was shining. Betsy was driving, and I could look at Kate and swear she had lightning bolts shooting out of her eyes. She wore a wide silver band on her finger which could have deflected bullets, like Wonder Woman's bracelets.
Kate lives for the perfect shade of paint, a powerful drill and a good buzzsaw. She has gutted, rewired, re-plumbed and rebuilt her house on Milton Street -- with a little help from her friends -- until it looked like a pictorial spread from Architect's Digest. She's designed and made custom furniture for envoi on Main Street, and she's redesigning Kaffee Klatsch's space in the Mercantile Building downtown.
Everything in her life is freelance, though, and that's a constant uphill battle -- the health insurance, the Social Security taxes, giving estimates for jobs.
Today she wasn't worrying about it, though. The three of us took a spin through the hot new store, Anthropologie, with displays of limited amounts of clothing and household accessories, and through Origins, where we slathered on lotions and potions. We stopped in some place to have coffee, and I said, "What about P&G or advertising?"
"Culturally barren," Kate said.
"Why does what I make have to be used to sell a product?" Betsy asked.
They were both fair questions.
"Advertising is a tool for helping you choose," Bill LaWarre once said to me, and he's no slouch, having been an advertising legend and a Bluegrass musician for 25 or 30 years. With Coca Cola's recent donation of 50 years of product images to the Library of Congress, Andy Warhol is utterly vindicated: None of us can ignore the impact of advertising on popular culture.
As for P&G, I met Dirk Jager once and found him intellectually quick, imaginative and engaging. I also like Craig Wynett, another P&G client for whom I've done several parties with my Bluegrass band. I like Craig because of his voluble conversation and the way he sits right down on the floor, gets into it, gets real. Ad exec Dave Bukvic and I met at a Christmas party once, and he so bedazzled me with words I've never forgotten him.
On the drive home, I remembered how sophisticated Cincinnati had seemed to me when I first moved here. I would ride up the elevator at Gidding's at Christmas, brushing snowflakes off the collar of my good wool coat, and drink spiked eggnog on the third floor. Then I'd walk through the Arcade to Pogue's and its outrageously wonderful lingerie and cosmetics departments.
Kate and Betsy and I don't have cozy boutiques like Gidding's where we can browse and drink eggnog and be ladies. We're a global economy now. We go to Old Navy, and it's every woman for herself.
"Only connect," E.M. Forster said. "Only connect."
Maybe the city of Cincinnati ought to try going shopping more. Young, talented people are popping up like daffodils in the spring down here on the other end of town, and they won't stay long on the vine. They're not running lemonade stands, either. They're making the future.
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