Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I got the keys to the highway

I took a road trip Tuesday to Philadelphia to visit my first karate teacher and to pay homage at Geno's, makers of the best cheese steaks on the planet.

The rain fell in torrents as I headed down the New Jersey Turnpike, but the clouds parted almost on cue as I approached Philly.

The temple of Geno's was my first stop.

"Gimme a wiz wid'out" (Translation: May I please have a cheese steak with Cheez Whiz, and please hold the onions, if you would.)

As I sat down to eat, two youngish priests were chatting at the next table. One was from a Pennsylvania parish, the other visiting from India.
The Pennsylvania priest was telling the Indian priest about what he thought the differences were between Philadelphia and other parts of the country.
"Here," he said with a sweep of his hand, "people will ignore you in the street. They won't make eye contact, they won't exchange pleasantries."
"That's because we can spot the tourists," I chimed in, my freshly purchased souvenir Geno's Steaks T-shirt displayed prominently atop my table.
The American priest gave a curt, polite laugh pregnant with meaning, and he and his friend continued eating in silence.

Can you spot the tourist table? Hint: It's the one with the souvenir T-shirt on top.

I don't know, but in the 10 years I lived in Philadelphia, from 1985-95, I never found the place particularly aloof or unfriendly. Yeah, some days it was the City of Brotherly Love, other days it was the City of Brotherly Shove (to quote Gil Scott-Heron), but on the whole it wasn't that bad. I mean, it wasn't the Soviet-era East Germany the American priest was making it out to be.

I felt bad about my off-the-cuff, unsolicited comment to the priest. So, I finished my cheese steaks (I ate two and bought one to take home), walked up to the Indian priest and gave him my poly-bagged T-shirt. "Here, please take this as a memento of your visit to Philly," I said.
His face beamed. "But I have nothing to give you," he said.
"But you already have: the smile on your face," I said.
I knew fences had been mended when his friend said with a smile that would melt granite, "God bless you."

Bainbridge Street near Seventh


Fully sated by my cheese steaks and side order of humble pie, I headed to the home of Gerald "Ski" Evans, who taught me karate from 1993-95 and who has been my treasured friend and mentor ever since.

Teaching kata Tekki Shodan

As always, going to see Ski isn't just something to do. It's an event. A special event.
We talked about life and its challenges and blessings, as we nearly always do, and after we took a break while he taught a karate class, we headed back to his house and chatted some more over Scotch, even though I'm not much of a drinker.

I'm all for change in my life and for trying to embrace it as graciously and gracefully as I can. But I'm also thankful for certain rocks of continuity, chief among them Ski.

You can watch 1970s-vintage video of Ski in competition in Japan. Just do a Google search using the terms "Gerald Evans," "karate" and "youtube."


Anonymous said...

I am so glad you made it....even in that torrential rain! YOU were on a mission!

Ski sounds like a gift and so were the cheesesteaks!

Michael said...

Thanks, Lisa!

Matt K. said...

It's good to remember the connections we make in our lives. And Ski sounds like a great guy - I've read your writings about him before with interest.

I'm also pleased that you're feeling well enough to travel after your procedure! Travel, and have a wiz wid'out!

mall said...

Glad to see you up and about so soon. I must admit, I've never had a Philly cheese steak from Geno's. Someday.

I'm sorry to read that the result from the operation was not as was hoped, but here you are---already roaming the streets eating cheese steaks! :-D I hope you at least did not experience too much physical discomfort. Your mentor and friend seem like an incredibly fascinating person, a rare gem. If Philly was a little closer, I might take up karate again---not too many decent dojo 'round these parts and it's especially hard to find a sensei truly dedicated. You're fortunate to find him.

Michael said...

Hey Mall,

Sometimes, I find it better to listen to my own inner voice than the voices of the doctors. They sometimes focus on numbers and indicators, I go by how I feel.

Yes, Ski is an incredible person and a gifted karate and life teacher. Meeting him changed my life. I'm sorry I don't get to see him more.

What style of karate did you study?

mall said...

Koei Kan was the name of the school. A friend introduced me to it when I lived in Santa Barbara, Ca. I happen to mention to him that I've always wanted to try karate because it was on my lifetime's to-do list. Unfortunately, I could not continue after 10 months because of accident and I moved again, but it was a great experience. I haven't completely ruled it out yet. I saw an older self-portrait of yours from past postings, you're a sempai?

Michael said...

Well, I attend karate instruction during the day and I'm usually the senior student in the class -- and there's usually just one or two other people besides me. So, yes, I'm a sempai in that sense. At night, when more students attend, it would be another story (but I work, thus can't go).

BassLadyPat said...

Mike, you're truly a great inspiration and a source of high energy. It was good to finally meet you. Thanks for taking the photo of Ski for me. I've not had Geno's in a long while - we must hang out next time ur in Philly. (Can't believe u ate 2 of them.) Nice compassion to pass on ur t-shirt...creating golden memories there! Glad ur back to training.

Michael said...

Oh, it was MY pleasure to meet you, too, Pat! As for keeping in touch, I wouldn't have it any other way.