Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Gift and a Curse

Every few centuries, throughout the course of human history, a man is born who shakes the foundations of the world. For better or for worse, these men leave a unique mark on mankind and forever alter the course of our collective fates. Names like Moses, Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, Martin Luther, George Washington, Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela can be heard resounding through the hallowed halls of our past.
In the 1880’s such a man fearlessly lunged into the annals of history. The man was Charles Alderton, and on a clear day in 1885, from his basement in Waco, Texas, Mr. Alderton changed the world…
Charles Alderton was a Brooklyn-born pharmacist who moved to Waco to seek his fortune in the cutthroat arena of medicinal goods and down home pharmaceuticals. Not long after his foray into vittles and cure-alls, did he begin to face adversity. After a gang of rival pharmacists ransacked his drug store, (not literally, but this story isn’t really that interesting so I decided to throw in a little pizzazz and make some things up) Alderton decided it was time to get out of the dangerous world of legal drug selling. On a stormy night in Waco, Texas, Alderton found himself at his wit’s end, posititioned precariously on the edge of the walking bridge across the Brazos River, with an empty licorice jar, a half drunken bottle of vanilla extract, and some other old-fashioned drugstore wares strewn about his feet. These were all evidence of Alderton’s futile attempts to numb the pain, a pain that can only be known by pharmacists who work in cozy little drugstores that also have delicious ice cream and soda fountains in them, and sometimes sell precious little antiques on the side. Anyways! Alderton was about to fling himself into the swollen mouth of the Brazos and let the muddy water wash his cares away when all of a sudden a light shone so brightly on Alderton, it illuminated all of his depravity for the world to see. In that blinding light a voice called out to him through the storm.
It said: “Hey Chuck, it would be really cool if you could make some sort of carbonated beverage that would rival Coke and Pepsi, but mostly just in the South. Make it have 23 flavors (but don’t tell anybody what those flavors are) it will taste really good and make lots of people very happy (and possibly diabetic). Oh yeah, you will have some adversity in the form of Mr. Pibb and Dr. Thunder, but don’t worry about it too much. See ya later!”*
The next day, Alderton concocted a formula that became known as Dr. Pepper (it was originally called ‘a Waco’. Nobody knows why it was called ‘a Waco.’) With that drink, he forever changed Waco, then Texas, and the entire world…
Except apparently for Turkey…
I have been in this place for over a month. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here. The people are wonderful, the food is great, the architecture is astounding, however, Dr. Pepper (or the Lord’s Nectar as I call it) has yet to grace this place with its presence. Sometimes I will lay awake at night and dream that I am swimming in a Scrooge McDuck vault filled with liquid gold, i.e. Dr. Pepper. My old home was a veritable Dr. Pepper kingdom in Waco, Texas, what with its shrine to the good Dr. and the original Dublin Dr. Pepper on tap in the restaurants there. I even remember the good folks at Baylor giving away… giving away!... Dr. Pepper floats on campus. I moved from that to a barren wasteland with not a drop of the caramel colored liquid goodness in sight. Or so I thought…
Today I went to play basketball with a friend. Afterwards, he invited me to his home for lunch. We had a delicious platter of sandwiches and enjoyed some great conversations. However, my heart leapt in my throat when his 5-year-old daughter walked out drinking none other than a can of heavenly, God-ordained Dr. Pepper. Apparently my friend had brought back a few cans for his family while he was out of the country. As I watched this girl carelessly slurping away at the drink, obviously not savoring each of the 23 flavors as she should (and as Dr. Julius Erving recommended in his commercial) strange thoughts flashed through my head. I wondered momentarily how wrong it would be for me to just yoink the can from the girl and bolt for the door, snagging the other fews cans as I ran out. I was fairly certain that I could physically best the child and in my adrenaline fueled frenzy I thought dealing with my friend and his two teenage sons would also not be a problem… I am ashamed to say that I entertained these thoughts a little longer than I should have. Yet I stayed my hand. You have no idea the physical anguish that kind of restraint has on a man.
I left the apartment without the sweet taste of Dr. Pepper on my lips. I left in shame. However, a friend of mine here says that she knows of a small store that sells imported goods and sometimes they carry Dr. Pepper. I intend to find that place and I fully intend to down every last red can I see there.
In 1885, Charles Alderton gave the world a gift, and I intend to make that gift known to the good people of Turkey.
You’re welcome.

*(what Charles Alderton thought was a divine appointment actually turned out to be the flashlight of a local policeman who had found him after he lapsed into a sugar-induced coma from all the licorice and vanilla extract in his system. The voice was just his imagination)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Risky Business

His All Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church Bartholomew I, the First Among Equals, has as his seat the Church of St. George. The cathedral has an unassuming location in the Fener district of Istanbul (or Constantinople as many of Greeks still controversially refer to it) and the compound is relatively small and unimpressive from the exterior. This seems odd, considering the church’s worldwide importance in Orthodox Christianity, but local laws demand that all non-Islamic buildings be more unimpressive than their Islamic counterparts. The inside of the building is very ornately decorated and is filled with icons and relics of saints. The front wall of the chapel is a glittering array of gold and bronze sculpting and iconoclasts. Orthodox Christians from all over the world sojourn here to worship and pray in this holy place. My own experience in this place was much more risqué…
One often hears of the potential dangerous of international travel. Stories of unaware Americans getting mugged by vicious street thugs, scammed by treacherous con-artists, or harassed by the local police fill the ear of any person stepping outside of the safety of the Land of the Free. It is easy to become paranoid that every dark corner harbors a bloodthirsty for’ner out to mess you up or that in every unlit alley lurks a mob of savages who want to beat you up and steal your passport so that they can go back to the U.S. and take your place in American society, with your unknowing family and friends simply thinking that you got a tan and picked up an accent on your travels, while you are left in a ditch to live in squalor in a foreign land.
I prepared myself to combat these evils (I did this by replaying in my mind every fight scene I had seen in the Bourne movies and mentally prepping myself to use these moves on anybody who tried to accost me… oh they would be sorry when I used a rolled-up Southern Living magazine to best them in hand to hand combat (all the while sharing the Good News with them (of course))) as I stepped alone onto a ferry that would take me to the European side of Istanbul earlier this week.
Once I made it safely to the other side of the Bosphorus, I bought a city map and set off walking to try to find the Church of St. George, all the while keeping a vigilante eye out for lurkers, keeping one hand on the rolled-up magazine holster at my hip, and going over in my mind how I was going to arrange a meeting with His All Holiness and single-handedly rectify Protestant and Orthodox relations throughout the world.
After quite a long walk, I found the church and approached the guard in the booth to ask him in a mix of English, broken-Turkish, grunts, and whistles if this was, in fact the Church of St. George. He said it was and pointed me to the door to the compound, I was still a little befuddled about which way to go. Sensing my confusion, a couple of Muslim girls with their heads covered helped to assist me in which way to go. Sensing that I was in the safety of the church walls, I finally let my guard down. That was a mistake. ..
As I walked into the cathedral the Muslim girls kept giggling and spouting off things to me in Turkish as they winked at me and rubbed my arm. It was clear that they didn’t intend to give their assistance away for free and I had a sneaking suspicion of how they wanted me to repay them. I doubted they took traveler’s checks.
They followed me around the cathedral for close to half an hour as I tried my best to elude them by stopping at places and pretending to read the Greek signs. That wasn’t working so I tried to tell them no just like the public service announcements say … ‘No means no!’ They just laughed at me. I was quickly running out of escape plans and I thought slapping them with a rolled up magazine was probably not the best course of action. Just as I was about to resort to using tears (manly tears, of course) a couple of Orthodox women walked in to pray. I used the momentary distraction to make my escape and hopped on the nearest bus to the safety of the more touristy areas.
I was prepared to wrestle a 300lb. knife-wielding thug but nobody had warned me that covered Muslim girls would also be lurking to pounce on unsuspecting American guys, even within the safety of the walls of one of the most important churches in the world one cannot find escape from their clutches. Needless to say the Church of St. George was very beautiful and if you ever travel there, I hope that you will have a more peaceful (and G-rated) time there.