For 29 years there was a great little storefront restaurant in Tulsa called Halim and Mimi’s that offered probably the best Lebanese cuisine in Tulsa. Halim worked the cash register, wrote my name on my order without asking for it, put ice in styrofoam cups, and clipped the ticket to the wheel that rotated back to Mimi, who, while carrying on a conversation, did all of the preparation of the dishes they offered. She cooked the rice, the chicken, the sauces…everything. Sometimes Halim would come out and straighten the 10 tables or pull the shade down when the sun was too bright. He saw that the business ran.
When Halim and Mimi decided to retire and sell their business to a younger couple, Halim informed customers that he would stay on for a couple of weeks to show the new owners the ropes.
Now, I adore Halim, but if anyone should have showed the new owners the ropes, it should have been Mimi. I imagined Halim saying, “The cash goes in the drawer, and the ice goes in the cup. Got it? Good…best of luck.” Halim ran things, but Mimi was the talent.
I had Halim and Mimi on my mind as Denise and I set off for a two-week tour of the Midwest with Lost City Knits. I’d be driving the cargo van almost 2400 miles and Denise would sit in the passenger’s seat, doing 2400 to the nth degree in stitches before we returned home. The van wasn’t quite loaded to capacity, but we’d have been hard-pressed to fit anything else of size in the back that wasn’t pretty malleable.
Over a dozen boxes were stacked behind us as we drove, full of yarn Denise has dyed over the past few months, designs she’s struggled with, charted, knit, and published, and finished projects she’s knit from other designers that challenge her and inspire others. Like Mimi’s offerings at her restaurant, Denise’s talents would be the focus of the trip. I had to get us there.
We were headed to the largest event we’ve ever done – STITCHES! Midwest in Chicago, which is sponsored by a publishing house for knitting books and magazines, and to make the long drive worth our while I had applied to a much smaller regional show in Ohio the following weekend.
We left Oklahoma on a Tuesday morning that would see 100 degree temperatures by the afternoon, but we were headed north. Rather than staying on the interstate all the way, we turned off at Cuba, Missouri, winding our way towards Hannibal by late afternoon.
We stopped long enough in this well-touristed river town to catch sight of a whitewashed fence and to stretch our legs on a walk downtown. The walk turned a bit sour when Denise spotted a t-shirt for sale on the sidewalk that had the quotation, “Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History” above the name “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, a Hannibal native. A debate ensued as to whether the t-shirt, which lacked quotation marks, truly attributed the words to Ms. Brown, or whether it merely offered her as an example of the sentiment. Denise pulled out her own totebag that bears the same phrase with no quotation marks, but rather a dash leading to the name Laurel Thatcher Ullrich, a Harvard professor that Denise interviewed once for an article. “HA!” she said, ending the debate.
Because of the t-shirt, Denise was mad at Hannibal so we moved on another few miles across the Mississippi to Quincy, Illinois for the evening, staying along the main thoroughfare which they call “Maine Street.”
We drove more backroads the next day through Illinois, where field after field of corn was brown because of the drought and heat. How frustrating to run machinery over failed crops just to place a similar bet the following year.
This trip marked our debut as CouchSurfers. For years we have hosted travelers, either through SERVAS, a worldwide organization started in the Netherlands after WWII to foster peace through travel, and more recently through a service that caters to bicycle tourists called WarmShowers. Some people are freaked out by the idea of staying with strangers, but I’ve almost always found these interactions worthwhile. Our host in Illinois was Jo, a nurse who has stepped away from that profession for awhile at least, and who uses CouchSurfing to broaden her own view of the world, both as a traveler and as a host.
The next morning we got to work. STITCHES! is held in a huge convention hall, and we paid more than we ever have to attend an event. There were semi-trailers at the loading dock, and forklifts carted pallets of yarn around. Denise and I loaded up our dolly and hung yarn from shower curtain hooks. I’d sketched an idea for the layout of the booth weeks earlier on the back of a napkin. Riggins, our dress form, was set in front of the panels that displayed Lost City Silk, and Riggins himself wore a black dress and Denise’s Lafitte Shawl in silk. (Fans of “Friday Night Lights” will know that Riggins is both quite pretty and is able to block traffic if needed.)
STITCHES! is a knitter’s event, not a fiber event, as there is plenty of yarn but not much in the way of roving or batts. Tom of The Yarn Barn in Lawrence, Kansas stopped by to say hello, but most everyone else was in a manic rush to set up before the 5:00 student preview. We had some time to kill, so we had a late lunch at a Five Guys Burgers nearby, which must be one of the most self-promoting enterprises this side of Kardashian, and which wouldn’t make an appearance on the top ten burger list within 5 miles of 15th and Peoria in Tulsa. Five Guys? How about Claude’s, Hank’s, Bill’s, Freddie’s, and Ty’s.
Thursday, Friday, Saturday – all I can remember are the answers to questions, if not the questions themselves. In no specific order those answers include – 100% merino… 60 miles east of Tulsa…dental floss…my boots…800 yards…Elizabeth Freeman…and, no, I’m not the knitter, she’s over there.
Friday evening does stand out however, as we’d decided to enter Denise’s Lafitte Shawl in the STITCHES! fashion show. One by one models appeared on the runway, sporting designs from yarn companies or designers. The model who wore Lafitte was gorgeous and worked it well.
On Sunday we lingered over a big breakfast and wandered into STITCHES where Benjamin, the president of the event, was fielding questions from a few vendors. We’d arrived late at a vendor’s meeting, which soon adjourned.
As we walked to our booth we heard, “There they are,” and “Congratulations!” to which we paid no mind until it became clear that something was up.
“Congratulations…for what?” I asked.
“You won Best Booth!” our neighbor, who apparently hadn’t lingered as long over breakfast, reported.
There must have been 200 booths in the room, all of them beautiful.
Although we missed the initial announcement, Benjamin came by later to congratulate us in person. Well, he congratulated me in person. Denise had run to the restroom to check her contact lens, lost it on the bathroom floor, and was on hands and knees squinting and crawling along looking for the lens while I represented Lost City Knits in her absence.
After packing up Sunday evening we drove to Rogers Park, north of downtown Chicago, where we stayed with a couple of young women who rent a room in their apartment through Airbnb. Their neighborhood was as mixed an ethnicity as I’ve seen, and there was a world of restaurants to choose from. We went to a Peruvian place just across the street, to which we would return later in the week. Denise noted that we weren’t the first Tulsans to dine there, as a signed photo of Leon Russell hung over the kitchen door.
At breakfast in downtown Chicago the next day we ran into Franklin Habit, Sivia Harding, Sarah Peasley, and Lorilee Beltman, all of whom had taught classes at STITCHES! over the weekend, and because we were all headed to the Art Institute of Chicago, we spent the morning with them. College students are wise to choose classes based on professor, and while I wouldn’t have spent as much time in the fiber and textile exhibits if left to myself, this crowd made these stops well worthwhile.
Other Chicago stops included a shared hamburger, chips and two cokes for $23 atop the John Hancock building on a sunny day, and dinner with Julia, a friend of mine from high school and her partner Mary. Good to see friends both old and new.
Making our way towards the next weekend in Newark, Ohio, we had time to rent kayaks for a couple of hours paddle on Lake Erie. There is an arched rock formation not far from the rental tent called the Eye of the Needle, and kayaks just fit through the opening. Absolutely everyone who rents a kayak probably does this maneuver, but we felt accomplished none the less when we pulled it off without capsizing.
The Mid-Ohio Fiber Festival in Newark, Ohio is in its second year, and already there are a good number of quality vendors who attend. We were fortunate because Denise’s Ravelry friend Laurie Remenyi lives in nearby Columbus and showed up early on the first day sporting her own Lafitte Shawl. This was the first festival we’ve attended where customers referred to yarn weights using 0-1-2-3 rather than lace-fingering-sport-DK. When we spotted this trend Denise quickly pulled up a yarn measurement website so I could have a cheat sheet.
We CouchSurfed again at this event with Rebecca and Tom (and Buster the Boxer), and again we were pleased and not surprised at the generosity people are willing to extend to one another and the curiosity we all have about other people’s interests. Tom went off for a scuba dive on Saturday. Rebecca performed a wedding ceremony. Denise informally taught about 50 people how to bead.
I put the change in the cash drawer, the ice in the cup, kept the van between the yellow lines on the way home, and have a new idea to sketch out for the next booth set-up. Which is four days from now.