To my Hallmark Addicts

Blame it on COVID isolation or a stressful election waiting game or just plain lack of any serious drive to be meaningful, but I needed a break in my writing. Hopefully you will humor me with your editorial comments after reading this attempt to deal with my funk. I will tell you that writing this piece has definitely lifted my spirits, if even just for a while. But first, you need the set-up to this effort.

My wife and for that matter, her brother Robb, are addicted to the Hallmark Channel and especially to its movie marathons at this time of year. For those of you who have never sat through a Hallmark movie, you have my praise for your persistence but also my pity for what you are missing. While my wife can be moved to tears by the movie, I am humored by the predictability of its plot and characters and tend to get pretty sarcastic during the showing. While watching one the other night with Deb , I bragged that I could write an episode myself. How hard could it be? All it needs is a widower, a too cute kid, colorful townsfolks, a big city women with a slick city boyfriend, a lodge being sold, torn down or foreclosed on and by all means, a dog. Conveniently bring them all accidentally together, stir in some seasonal hijinks and décor and then heat the whole story slowly over a cozy fireplace and you have a Hallmark movie. You might even get an Emmy.

The gauntlet was thrown down by Deb and my co-conspirator and Hallmark critic, Shannon, and I was ready to take on the task. What follows is my first draft. Deb is still laughing upstairs. Hopefully you will be too…………..

Hallmark Presents

A screen play:    Ken Wundrow, Wannabe Hallmark Critic

Editing:                Shannon Briese, Wannabe Hallmark Legal Council

Setting: 

Hill Valley, Idaho  A picturesque village located in Trout Valley, surrounded by majestic, Oh my God the Beauty, mountainside and split through the center of town by the Whopper Trout River. People come here for the trout but stay for the lovely year-round craft and bizarre fair. Town motto: If you can’t get it here, you aren’t trying. (The viewer will be left wondering exactly what it is they were hoping to get.)

Characters:        

Joe Hopelesch   Widowed father of Iotta and owner of the soon to be foreclosed Last Chance Motel. Joe is trying desperately to get customers and raise the money needed to restore the motel to its original glory. He just needs $1,000,000 or a Hallmark miracle.

 Iotta Hopelesch   Twelve-year old precocious daughter of Joe. She has made it her mission to find a mate for her dad and will stop at next to nothing in her quest. Most remarkable features, those adorable brown eyes she can roll at will, and does, and that cute little dimple on her freckled cheek.

Chastity Luking   Big city lawyer for firm advising bank that is foreclosing on The Last Chance Motel. Chastity is working a boyfriend but is seemingly desperate and totally lost outside of the city.

Travelar   Joe and Iotta’s lovable beagle and the watchdog for The Last Chance Motel.

 Bert and Bertha Hopelesch   Joe’s parents who currently manage The Last Chance Motel. A lovable pair often caught rough housing in the vacant motel rooms and the original founders of the motel, dating back to the first days of Hill Valley.

Ethel Farmsby   Mayor of Hill Valley and proprietor of the one and only pharmacy, Ethel’s Potions, where one can get anything you need including all the latest town gossip.

George Farmsby   Husband of Ethel and manager of the bank branch being forced to foreclose on The Last Chance Motel by its corporate headquarters, BBA (Big Bank of America) a cruel and greedy National Chain. George would quit but Ethel demands that he works to keep him out of the pharmacy where years ago he mixed up a prescription and Ethel is still dealing with the coverup.

Colorful Townsfolk   No particular function other than to stroll by the motel aimlessly chatting about saving the old gal. They will create a Save the Motel craft sale and depending on when this airs will be carving pumpkins, selling Christmas trees, organizing the town Easter egg hunt, or selling incredibly lame fireworks and organizing the Hill Valley Firecracker Senior Prom.

Plot Synopsis:

Scene 1 opens with Chastity arguing with her boss about being too busy to travel to some podunk town in the middle of nowhere. She has a Christmas Fund Raiser coming up with her boyfriend, Howard Slick, at the swankiest place in LA and suspects this is the night he pops the question and it better be “will you marry me”. She is about to hit the big three oh and the clock is ticking on his chances. The boss, tells her as soon as the date is over she’s on the next bus to Hill Valley because there’s only one road into town, no airport, no train tracks and one bridge that washes out once a week. (Why the motel can’t find customers when they are trapped there for days on end will remain a Hallmark secret)

Scene 2 finds Chastity broken down on the road into Hill Valley with snow starting to fall. She would have known about the fast-developing blizzard but her boss got her the cheapest rental he could find and it had no radio. Just as she was about to wrap a plastic bread wrapper, she found under the front seat over her Gucci boots and hike into town, Joe and Iotta come riding by in The Last Chance Motel pickup. Suggesting she’d never survive the walk to Hill Valley in those fancy boots, he offers her a seat in the bed of the pickup where she belligerently takes her seat on a bale of hay. As they drive toward town, Iotta is heard to say, “what up Dad, she might be a keeper and I ought to have a mom.”

Scene 3 finds Joe, Iotta and Chastity at the pharmacy where Ethel is offering Chastity sturdier boots and a Alpaca coat that she had made for the continuous craft bizarre. Chastity wants to know where she can find the owner of The Last Chance Motel so she can get the papers signed and back on her way. She has obviously not bothered to read the sign on the pick-up’s door. In an awkward moment, Joe identifies himself as one in the same. Iotta chuckles and is heard to say “Even so, dad.” At that moment, Bert and Bertha come waltzing in, literally as there is waltz music being played in the street by a traveling accordion player. Bert announces that it’s now a blizzard and that the bridge is out and the road is closed. Taking a look at Chastity, Bertha says “you’re going to need a room, missy.” Chasity replies “well yeah!’

Scene 4 and Chastity has been informed that the only other place to stay, a B&B owned by one of those colorful townsfolk, is booked up for the weekend. When she is concluding her meeting with George from the bank, a very unproductive meeting at best, she asks if there is any other place to stay. “Well, Miss Luking, there’s the motel.” You know, the one you’re foreclosing on.” Chastity, after obvious embarrassment, heads out of the bank, she is hit by a gust of snow and still wearing her Gucci boots, goes down hard, just then Joe, Iotta and Travelar happen by. Travelar, eager to be helpful, leaps onto Chastity and begins licking her snow-covered face. Joe, pulls Travelar back and offers his hand to Chastity. As he pulls her to her feet, their eyes lock and for a moment she sees what she was really here to get. With the waltz music still playing in the background, muffled through the wailing blizzard wind, Iotta is heard to whisper, “sorry mom, but its been a long time and me and Travelar are sick of taking care of old Joe.”

I leave it to you, my fellow Hallmarkers, to finish the script. I expect no less than a tear jerker, Hallmark miracle ending.

There was a light at the end of the tunnel

This past week we traveled to the Mauston area to ride the Sparta Elroy Bike Trail. For novices who have never experienced the trail, it runs some 30 miles between Sparta at the northern end and Elroy at the southern end. On the way you bike along the old railbed of the Chicago Northwestern Railroad, passing through its three tunnels along the way. Considered the oldest rail to trail in the U.S., it offers welcoming tree lined canopies and historic bridge crossings as it travels through the five villages along the route. On our first day, our ride took us from Sparta, through two of the three tunnels, eventually reaching Wilton. On the way in and nine miles from our starting point, we reached Tunnel 3, the longest tunnel on the trail. At 3/4 of a mile in length, our first view of the tunnel left us wondering what this walk through it would entail. The one thing that encouraged us was that their actually was a light at the end of the tunnel. It was very dim and very small, but it was there telling us that we would eventually reach the end.

But this isn’t meant to be a travelogue. Rather it is meant to be an allegory. The light at the end of the tunnel reminded me of life in these Covid-19 times. In late February or early March, depending on your point of reference, we entered a tunnel the pandemic had created. We had and still don’t have an idea of just how long this tunnel will be. But we had no choice other than to enter it. Now, going on eight months in our tunnel, we are anxiously looking for the light at the end of it. Pessimists will tell us there is no end in sight, no light that they can see. Optimists will ask us to believe that we are just about there. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, where in fact, we might actually be. Here’s the rub. We can actually control how long we will spend in the tunnel. The key is responsible behavior. No one denies that the pandemic exists. We can argue about who it impacts more, about how bad it really is, or what will eventually cause it to end, but what we need to do is clear. We need to be cautious. We need to protect ourselves while protecting others. In short we need to take responsibility in the battle to end this pandemic, to finally be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The light is there, it’s just that it won’t be clearly visible until we get ourselves closer to the end.

As we walked our bikes through the darkness and falling water of the tunnel, that light at the end of the tunnel just kept growing larger, urging us on. Each step took us closer to the end of the tunnel and with each one of those steps, the light grew closer and brighter. Eventually we reached the last hundred feet of the tunnel and sunlight now flooded the tunnel floor. We were never worried that we wouldn’t make it but we were still relieved to be out of the tunnel, back in the sunlight, and back on our ride.

This Covid-19 tunnel that we find ourselves in will eventually come to an end. How soon it does in fact depends on us. On our collective behavior. On our willingness to sacrifice some of our freedoms to bring this to a quicker end. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. We just need to keep moving toward it.