5000 miles with the wife, baby and dog.  And a breast pump.  It was a blast.  October 16th through November 1st.


Downtown Chicago

Google time:  6 hrs 40 minutes

Ewy Carnival time:  11 hrs

You've never seen a big boned fellow move as fast as me unloading our two suitcases, a small refrigerator, three baby-related bags, two cameras, a laptop, Paco's food, our coats and two random handfuls of various cords and nipples while a line of taxis gathered behind my car.  And then I pulled our cart away from the Corolla and saw Paco's eyes.  They longed for an answer to the question on Sarah's mind, and maybe that of our developing baby's brain, too.  "What about us?" 

And then we plowed into the lobby of the dying-to-be-cosmo Red Roof Inn Chicago Downtown.  It's still a Red Roof Inn.  The facade says "historic splendor".  The rooms say "we pay Martin Mull to attract cheap, retired people who need a place to nap after an evening at the Country Buffet." 

This room is half the size of the suburban edition of the franchise.  Paco has no room to wag his tail.  Whenever he gets happy you can hear the neighbor yell, "who is it?"

Our hotel is at Saint Clair and Ontario.  We're not far from the lake; whichever lake it is that makes this city so damn cold.

In my haste to avoid being killed by a guy feeding a family of 14 on a cabbie's salary, I failed to get enough diapers and the--God bless it--Moby wrap.  So I found the valet guy who drove off with my car and asked if he could tell me where it was.  He was busy so I asked if I could just ride with him in the next car.  He was fine with that.  So I got to ride through Chicago in some lady's new Lexus.  Very nice.  I could see her in the lobby window watching the valet pick up strangers in her statusmobile.  But if there's anything good about having a child, it's that you care less about what other people think.  When you need a twenty-foot piece of cloth or a rubber suckee or whatever makes your kid happy, you do whatever it takes to secure its presence.  We drove about ten blocks and then had to walk back with a handful of diapers, etc.  I tried to pretend that I didn't need the valet guy walking back with me.  "Oh, no, don't bother I'll just get on ahead," I said to the Nigerian fellow.  And then, not so sure where to go, I pretended to be real interested in the duct system in the parking garage.  I looked up at the ceiling and mumbled some things.  The valet and the parking attendant watched me with great curiosity until I shouted, "they do things differently here!  A lot of pipes!"  I guess I was pretending to be an HVAC guy.  And it bought me enough time to get the company of the valey guy. 

Now we're back in the room and thinking about the Dunkin Donuts down the street.


I have lots of footage queued up for a few new videos...if you care.  But thanks for taking the trip with us.  One day you may have to open your doors to our wayward son..."I don't know what's wrong but I'm not happy unless I'm moving..." 


Frustrated Road Rules

Man, I must be getting fat.  There’s the fact that my baggy pants now fit like I’m on the Loverboy reunion tour, and even more telling is that I just got a call from a guy who wants me to play George Costanza in a commercial.  I asked him if he was sure he had the right guy.  He did.   He worked with me when I hosted the Shootout Boulder Film Fest last weekend and thought I’d be perfect.  I always wondered how they cast fat, annoying people for TV and film.  How do they communicate that someone is just right for the bald, overweight, selfish guy?  I guess they just come right out and say “you’re wonderful for the part” and the ugly person is just happy someone’s talking to them.  It also helps when you’re on the Ohio Turnpike and bored out of your gourd.  

So that adds to the frustration I already feel for not working out enough, or at all, really, since March.  Two things frustrate me, not exercising and not writing.  When I do either I feel great but for some reason I’m wired to do ANYTHING to put them off.  You want your house painted?  Just tell me I should write and I’ll even buy the paint.  You need a partner in scrapbooking?  Remind me of the importance of cardiovascular health.  

Road trips are great because you really can’t do much writing or exercising.  You have an excuse to kick back, eat poorly and swear that as soon as you get back you’ll get up early to work out and write and floss and all the other things the denizens of a rest stop in Indiana will inspire you to do.  Walking into a convenience store in the rural Midwest is little like one of those Scared Straight programs for adults neglecting their health.  I saw a trucker whose voluptuous man-mammaries had me doing push-ups in the bathroom.

But a road trip with family makes for new frustrations.  You all remember when your mom would lose it and spray venom out of her eyes while shouting, “That’s it!  No one will ever again chew gum/play wiffle ball/breathe again as long as I’m alive!”  Well we’ve had some of these impromptu rule-making sessions.

One of those was inspired by my perception that every Interstate exit will have a gas station, you just have to look for it.  I don't know what it is, some country boy thing, but if I see a clump of buildings I'm certain it is a bustling center for commerce.  Growing up in Colorado, the water tower and surrounding houses you could see for miles on the distant horizon was "downtown" Walden.  That's where you could get everything you wanted.  As long as it wasn't fresh fruit, the latest fashions or parts for anything but a pickup truck, you could get the necessities for life.  But the highway, as a accomodating as it is, offers many off-ramps to false hope. 

Heading into Chicago I saw a massive retail outlet area that I could not possibly believe would not have the gas we needed.  I convinced Sarah to pull off the freeway despite their not being any official roadside mention of gas stations.  I felt it was time to stop living by those big blue signs packed with corporate logos.  We would truly be free.  And then, with Quin crying and me singing to help stop his crying, a tired and hungry Sarah got caught in traffic by a shopping mall with no gas. 

She snapped.  A new rule was created.  I think the general guideline  was that I would have no input ever again on anything, ever, but we compromised.  I now must stop thinking that every barn and warehouse is a "downtown" and only get off the road when I'm certain there's a restaurant, gas station or other necessity. 

Sarah is not alone in making rules.  On the first night, shortly after I poured breast milk all over our baby, I was demoted back to driver.  Already demoralized and frustrated, I went to move a bag of M & M's off the parking brake (there's always something on the parking brake impeding its engagement or release) and the little chocolate candies spilled everywhere.  Many of them joining a decade of French fries and taco lettuce trapped in the brake's slot. 

So no more leaving half-empty bags of anything anywhere was the original edict.  It was later trimmed down to something less severe.   


Chicago to Cleveland to Balitmore

Total Google Travel Time:  11 hours 45 minutes

Ours:  34 hours

We're in Baltimore at Sarah's parent's house.  It is so weird referring to them as "Grandma" and "Grandpa".  They even have pictures of our baby all over their house.  I'm not used to seeing that.  Usually I'm looking at pictures of other people's babies and faining interest in their cuteness.  And then breezing out the door with nothing but plans to watch football and drink beer.  But I get the whole surreal multimedia experience here.  I'm intensely staring at Quin's picture on their refrigerator while he cries in the next happyquin.JPGroom.  And this kid becomes all the more real.  These people who used to be my in-laws have now become the same people who I used to visit every summer and on holidays.  They had candy, copious amounts of candy, and were much cooler than their children, my parents.   Oh, no.  I'm already that guy who'll make the grandparents look so good.  I'll have to be my dad, the disciplinarian, who has to do all the hard work while Quin's Nanna and Gappy (they always get cute nicknames, too...not so for parents) take him out to Dairy Queen and buy him all the things I say he can't have.  This whole thing must be rigged.  The AARP is very powerful, you know, and probably have a hand in it. 

Yesterday we were in Cleveland and I have to thank Sarah's cousin, Susan, for feeding us real food and letting us do laundry and watch satellite TV.  Three movies came and went on the Starz network and I think Quin let us watch a total of ten scattered minutes.   One moment Sarah Jessica Parker was all uptight and socially inept in The Family Stone, and then after some Quin soothing Will Smith was running around San Francisco in Pursuit of Happyness.  Finally, I caught a glimpse of Tom Hanks and a French hottie in The Da Vinci Code.  It was an intriguing medley of movies and had I not already seen all three of them I'd probably think it was one very long, disjointed epic.  In a few months, when our pre-baby movie days have long ago left us ignorant of current events, we'll probably be snatching brief clips of the latest releases and trying to figure out why Matt Damon is beating up so many people up in Elizabeth: The Golden Age. 

I'm on my mother-in-law's Grandmother J's computer and need to get back to socializing.  But first, PA is beautiful this time of year.  My favorite state so far this trip. 

And earlier today I used my Mac laptop to warm bags of breast milk.  It worked like a charm.  And it might make Quin smarter by osmosis. But if I used a PC he might actually crash for a while. 


Still in Baltimore/DC

I love chopping wood.  I think I do because I don't have to anymore.  It's like why grandparents are so loving.  They don't have to, it's just a pleasant option. 

But Sarah's parents have a bunch of wood in the back yard and whenever I'm here I slink away from the living room chat and get Medieval on the timber.   Sarah's family thinks it's a bit weird but then again the first time Sarah's mom ever met me I was wearing a cape and had "Crime Fighter" shaved into my chest.  And I was really drunk.  So to see me come so far as to be able to handle an ax without hurting myself and others must be a nice consolation.

Today Sarah is going to take me to one of her favorite places in the world--Ikea.  I've avoided a visit to the Swedish retail giant for ten years of our relationship.  Now that she's up all night taking care of Crazy Q while my morbidly out of shape body collapses after a thirty minutes of cutting firewood, I'll do whatever she says. 

Tomorrow we're heading to DC to see my uncle.  He could be one of the most talented and diverse people on the planet.  He's in his 80s now (and uses a computer!) and he's fodder for a Tom Clancy book.  He was part of the Underwater Demolition Team during WWII and was a pioneer in turning that group of explosive-handling nuts into the Navy Seals.  He then went on to a career as a counter-insurgency specialist, eventually joining the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

And I like choppin' wood.

But the coolest part about Quin's Great-Great Uncle is that he left his military career to go back to college and expand his horizons as an artist, writer and journalist.  Oh, and politically he sometimes falls near my rhetorical stomping grounds.  So he's like my black friend.  You know how white people love to invoke their black friend whenever in conversations about race, well now I can say "my uncle was in the military and he says..." and unwittingly drag this most-accomplished man into any of my impromptu, beer-driven political debates.  He's had better distinctions.

Back in Baltimore the food is good and the cable is free.  Watching the Broncos beat the Steelers had me getting all superstitious like I need to be in a different state before they could win.  Maybe "drunken" will help save on the driving. 

Sarah's parents live in  a modest house on the edge of Baltimore.  They bought it in 1969 and shortly thereafter all the white people moved away.  Apparently they didn't get the memo and have hunkered down for the long haul.  Although this is one of those "ethnic" neighborhoods that's attracting shiny Caucasian couples in Jettas who proudly announce to their friends that "they've discovered a most unique neighborhood" where they can actually afford a house.  "Unique" meaning "these black people scare the shit out of me."  

But in the quaint confines of Grandma's kitchen she whips up some marvelous food.  She's from Ohio and in the Midwest you don't do Doritos and peanut butter for dinner (or whatever it is that Sarah and I can find to avoid actually cooking).  Every meal is like a church potluck.  And she should be put on a council that motivates kids to eat vegetables.  She's able to suspend entire buffets into Jello molds.  So you get carrots and broccoli and a glazed ham all while enjoying a lemon-lime dessert. 

Finally, congratulations to Paco.  He's used his cute doggy powers to overcome the household rule of no dogs on the furniture.  An assist should go to Quin who has done his part to distract the older humans from everything from local gang activity, Maryland's drought, California's apocalyptic fires, sleep and furry couches. 

And now...back to the wood. 


Baltimore to Pensacola

Google travel time:  16 hrs 14 minutes

Our time:  41 hours 

I was so tired Wednesday morning I nearly lost it.  Actually, I may have, but I guess it depends if “losing it” can be defined by a man crying to Lionel Ritchie in the produce section of a Giant grocery store in Fairfax, Virginia.  

I also called the store’s assistant manager a “cockwad”.  

The morning started later than I’d hoped, but much too soon for the good of my mental wellbeing.  

Five years into our marriage Sarah is very comfortable mocking my man plans.  They would not be so mockable if I had a track record of following through with them.  When I announced we’d be leaving her parents at 6a.m., she could not contain herself.

By 2a.m., after two hours of bouncing Quin to sleep on the new pilates ball (we’d popped her mom’s other one), I too was doubting if we could get off to an early start.  Sarah had sneaked away to get some sleep.  She needed it.  She’s always been good about getting her sleep when she can, but now she’s a nap ninja who sneaks away like a dying animal to get some shuteye.  

Google says Baltimore is one hour and six minutes from Washington DC.  I think Google should have a button that says “calculate with traffic on the second-most congested stretch of highway in the nation.”  Because if you get on the 695 beltway at 7a.m, you’ll end up very vulnerable and sad.   

It was raining.  I knew I should have given up and gone back to bed when in the dark of the Baltimore streets I slipped and fell into some wet dog food I’d spilled out of the trunk the night before.  Paco was more than happy to greet me when I came inside.  My wife reminded me that even through the pittering of rain and the closed front door they could hear me swearing.  

I’m sure her mom and dad could hear me from the Beltway, too.

 It took us three hours to get to DC. I was hungry and tired.  My eyes looked like bloody stools. There is no video of that stretch of the journey.  Those would be my Nixon tapes, filled with epithets and inflammatory language.   In that time I screamed and shouted vulgarities.  I took the name of the Lord in vain.  I became an agitator, a spiteful tent revivalist of sorts.  I was overwhelmed by an intense irrational hate for one specific Saab.  

I think I acquired restless leg syndrome.  

I yelled at other commuters to take stock in their lives and understand that no matter what they did they could never be truly successful if they did this to themselves everyday.   

I’m already to phase two of fatherhood.  Step 1:  Fertilize egg.  Step 2:  Become asshole in car.  

I'm working my way to Step 3, heart and prostate issues.

I wanted to grab something to take to my Uncle Bruce’s place.  Near his neighborhood we found the Giant.  I stood in the bakery for longer than necessary.  I wanted everything I saw and felt almost something like lust for a pan of cinnamon rolls.  I went with some kind of cheese-filled pecan Danish.  It looked like a sweet pizza.  To accompany that I figured we needed to give some fruit a chance.  I grabbed a cantaloupe and a honeydew.  Then I went to the self-checkout.  I shouldn’t have.  My weak mental state was no match for the automated machine.  It was like that powerful chess computer versus Woody from Cheers.  A comic friend of mine says she hates those do-it-yourself cashiers because if she wanted the shitty job she would have applied for it herself.  They usually require more assistance than a full-service checkout.

I put the honeydew on the scanner and it told me to wait.  And then it told me to find the picture of the proper produce.  Already I was stressed.  I did manage to find a picture that said “melons”.  Nothing specific, not any certain melon, but just “melons.”  I pressed it and a soothing female said “Cantaloupe.”  So I put the cantaloupe on the scanner and pressed “melons”.  She asked me to wait for assistance.  A little guy dressed way too nice for a grocery store came to my rescue.  His nametag said his name was Drake and he looked like he was playing dress-up with his father’s suit and tie.  He was too important to say anything to me.  He simply moved the melons, pushed some buttons and then…pushed some of more buttons…mine.  I swear I’m normally stronger than what I’ll represent here, but this little management mite was not worth the fortitude.  He grabbed the pale green fruit and held it up and announced, “This is a honeydew,” and then he pointed at the rough skin of the other melon and dropped his voice to make his point.  “That is a cantaloupe.”    

He turned a walked away.  My resolve was too weak to let him go.   I raised my voice a bit and told him I knew what a cantaloupe was.    And that little bastard walked back to me and grabbed the honeydew and repeated each melon’s proper nomenclature.  

I heard a popping sound and things got fuzzy.  I think I sprained my patience.  Suddenly this glorified janitor was the evil Saab, he sounded like Quin’s screaming and smelled of Paco’s farts.  He was the slow traffic and the truck that almost hit us in Indiana.  He was everything bad all in one convenient location.  I shouted, “I know what a honeydew is, cockwad!”  

Everybody in the vicinity turned to look at the crazy man.  The assistant manager backed away and cheerfully reminded me that he was just trying to help.  Yes, help himself to a dish full of Napoleonic complex.   

I mumbled something angry and managed to check myself out.  And then I saw some beef jerky and I suddenly wanted it so badly that I wanted to get some and go back through the line.  And then I thought I’d better get something healthier than the salty roadkill of a Slim Jim.  

It was a few minutes later, hungry and feeling a little crazy, that I found myself misting up to “Say you, Say me.”  I don’t know what it was or why I was bawling but Lionel just got the best of me.  

I left without incident.  But with the pastry and the fruit.  One a cantaloupe and the other a honeydew.  cockwad.