A Lighter View…OTW with Elton, Jeff and Frank

OK, so I’ve missed a few important events over the years. It’s not my fault that I was in the bathroom at the exact moment Armstrong took his first step on the moon. And I admit that I mistook a streetlight for Halley’s Comet and that I slept through Al Gore’s entire presidency. But there’s one thing I’ve never missed—On the Waterfront.

Rockford is my favorite town, and this festival is just one of the many reasons why. It is also the only time my kids will get into the car with me, willingly, to go someplace. Wayne looks at OTW as four days where he can eat his weight in food and avoid yard work. But I see it on a much higher plane … marguerites on every corner.

Granted, I can’t go on the carnival rides anymore without prescription medication, but I can still dance in the streets in my plus-sized hip huggers and wear my wide with pride. This year, I swayed to the music of Jethro Tull and remembered an incredible day back in1969, when I listened to their song “Looking Into the Sun” and was blinded for three days.

We went with our friends Lynne and Steve again, except this time Wayne drove. He likes to impress everybody with his ability to park a stretch van vertically in a bicycle rack. Steve used this quality time to figure out our food itinerary while Lynne and I took turns reassuring Wayne that we were better drivers than he was.

We packed lawn chairs, but I refused to take them out of the van. I didn’t want to be seen hauling them around on my back like some hideous creature from Lord of the Rings. I felt the same way about wearing a winter coat in high school. I surprised everybody by standing for more than three hours. It was easy; my legs had gone numb after the first 10 minutes.

For me, this Midwest Mardi Gras is a smorgasbord of experiences from the food to the people. There’s the smell of porkchop sandwiches and the scent of Old Spice aftershave on the stranger with his head on my shoulder. Goth was still fashionable, and blue hair seemed to be big this year. But the most popular items were blinking lights. They were everywhere noses, lips, ears, chests. People stood in line for hours to get them like they were free tickets to an Elton John concert.

We were eating over a trash bin, when we heard a blues band called Mississippi Heat. The lead female vocalist was singing a story about a cheat’n man, and I started counting people in the crowd who I thought might qualify. When she told the audience to sing “That’s a sad, sad story, tell that sad story to someone else,” I did, and Wayne disappeared. I had quit dancing and singing torch songs years ago, when I became a mother and needed to be a good role model. This might explain why my kids don’t think I have a life. For as long as they’ve known me, I’ve been old and respectable.

My biggest surprise this year was meeting Frank Schier and Jeff Havens. The last time I saw Jeff, he was Leo’s chemistry teacher, and I was offering to do his laundry if he would pass Leo. Jeff declined. Now, Frank was a different story. He’d given me my start in writing, and yet, I’d never seen the man before or ever offered to do his laundry. I expected a suit, but Frank was a blender. He looked like the kind of man who wouldn’t compromise his masculinity by eating foo foo food and liked his beers, one at a time. Honestly, the man could’ve blended right in at my family reunion.

Who knows whom I’ll meet next year? Maybe Elton John in blinking lights, blue hair and Old Spice. But I haven’t had this good of a time since I got my eyesight back.

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