By Doug Farmer  

My wife and I were asked to take care of our granddaughter over Labor Day weekend in Dallas, and why not—the open road beckoned. Unmoored from our usual surroundings, the trip brought us a chance to see the same things differently, and spend some time with the 10-month-old, of course.

In a column earlier this year, I pondered the similarities of today’s cars. They all look alike. In a convenience store parking lot in Southern Iowa, I met a young man who had installed a “soft-top” on his car (same model as mine) giving it a very rakish convertible look and then put an aftermarket “mesh” grill on the front resulting in a classier look. The American mind is a creative and unsettled one, and he had struck a blow for individuality. Perhaps my lament for the unique styling of 1950s cars was premature.

Not quite unique but a welcome luxury nonetheless, the miracle of satellite radio allowed us to listen to all of John McCain’s funerals and most of Aretha Franklin’s funeral.

No matter how the midterm elections unfold, or how President Trump fares in 2020, the McCain funeral at the National Cathedral will be looked back on as one of the “old order.” Not only is time ticking furiously on this group of public servants, but something undeniably happened in 2016 with Trump’s election. It will take historians years to sort it out. When Meghan McCain used her eulogy of her father to make a respectful but negative allusion to Trump’s 2016 slogan, the National Cathedral erupted in applause during a funeral service. One was starkly reminded that these people, all insiders, are now watching from the outside. This funeral was their own.

In contrast, Al Sharpton was the only one to take a verbal swipe at the president during Franklin’s funeral. The service was several hours long and the crowd had thinned, so the applause was scattered. Aretha Franklin’s ceremony seemed to be more of a celebration of the African-American community and the new order that was arriving.

Finally, as the French say, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” In the Golden Age of Department Stores, they all had their tea rooms. Women would shop all morning and then retire to the tea room from 11 until 2 for a first-class lunch with service to match. Even our own Doerflinger’s had its restaurant on the mezzanine. In city after city they are all gone, first the tea room and next the store. Even in Dallas, Nieman Marcus is only a shadow. But the tea room lives elsewhere.

Being a sap for car shows, we attended one at a Bass Pro Shop. Eventually the Texas heat drove us inside the store for relief and then lunch … inside a Bass Pro Shop. I don’t think any of the burly men savoring their lunch gave any thought to the roots of the tradition they were enjoying. But somewhere, there are women long gone, still wearing white gloves, heels and furs, who are watching today’s men and smiling in the eternal tea room that awaits us all, now sitting next to McCain and Franklin.

Doug Farmer has worked at Park Bank since 1981 and spent 15 years on the State of Wisconsin Banking Review Board. He’s lived in La Crosse since 1971. You can reach him at

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