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


Live from Cantonment

Why not to like the South

#1:  They want our dog.  Badly.  Paco is getting more attention than Quin.  He’s basking in the glory of his pre-baby heyday.  The pit bull seems to be the poor man’s Harley Davidson.  

Here’s an actual conversation from an IHOP in Florence, SC:

Me:  Do you know those guys who are parked next to our car?

Waitress:  (staring out window)  Oh, yah, they’re good guys.  They work here.

Me:  But I think they want our dog.

Waitress:  (excited, like maybe a fiddle just kicked up)  Is that a PIT?!

Me:  No.  He’s a lover.

Waitress:  I bet they want your Pit!

Me:  Why does everybody want pit bulls?  Didn’t they see Michael Vick went to prison?

Waitress:  I have to lock my kennels so no one can steal mine.

Me:  You have pit bulls?

Waitress:  We raise ‘em.  (fiddles again)  We get 1000 bucks a pup.  

Sarah:  My tummy’s nervous.

#2:  There seems to be some issues with racism.  Out here in the badlands of Cantonment, FL, one very brave Indian fellow owns the sole gas station.  He was telling me how someone had broken into his video game and took the money.  A very large, white guy with Willie Nelson’s ponytail took a break from the game to yell, “I wonder what color they were!” across the convenience store.  

Raj quietly packed my groceries.  

He says people call him “Roger”.  

Why to Like the South

#1:  It’s pretty.  I don’t know why they don’t knock down their old barns and houses and businesses, but covered in weeds and exuding a rustic charm even the rotting buildings look good.  I wonder if they leave them up to try and fool people into thinking there’s more going on in Georgia than there really is.  What we’ve seen from highway 78 is God and poverty.  You’d think this many churches might be able to help out the situation.

#2:  They don’t give baby advice.  Everyone in Colorado is fresh off the latest baby book and brimming with infant knowledge.  In the South they’re more observational.  For example:

Colorado:  “If you whisper a Latin prayer to him he’s more likely to enjoy the yoga.”

Floribama:  “That baby is CRY-in’.”   or   “Ooooh, you got a baby!  Is that a Pit?”

Now this could be a Southern sneaky lesson wrapped in a passive-aggressive package (ie. "do something about the CRY-in'"), but it’s rife with opportunities for sarcastic responses.  “Our baby’s crying?  Oh, thank god, I thought we’d hit Mariah Carey.”


500 or so miles to Houston.


Cantonment to Houston

Google time:  7 hrs 58 mins

Ewy Platoon:  11 hours


At the Texas border is a sign declaring they’re the “Proud Home of President George W. Bush.” No apologies, nothing. Just how proud they are. Connecticut must be thrilled to have someone take him off their hands.

Once you’re on the other side of the state line, and Louisiana shrinks away in the rear view mirror, things start getting bigger, brighter and thicker. The highways have huge, full-color road signs painted on the asphalt. I’m not sure if this is for airplanes or people in trucks jacked too high to read regular signs, but nowhere other than Texas will you see such ostentatious displays of navigation. Each road is gussied up like a football field ready for game day. As for thicker, well you’ve no doubt heard about those huge steaks you get for free if you can eat the entire squirming cow. Every half a mile there’s a sign for the Big Texan or the Juicy Heifer. Which brings me to another sort of thickness… displayed by the truck that had “F*#k Ya’ll, I’m From Texas” scrawled across the back window. I was holding Quin and doing my part as a man-sized burp rag, when it screeched up to the back of my car. Paco, who has a keen sense about people, went berserk, started barking and deployed his full-body fauxhawk.

After wading through the pleasantries of “Yes, he could be part pit bull” and “No, you can’t breed him,” we got to the meat of why these two fellers chose to stop at the man dancing and singing with a baby.

They wanted to know if I knew where they could get a good steak.

I thought they were kidding. They were from Texas. How could they not know? So I told them that they got one free with every gallon of gas. The questioner, who leaned out the passenger window, narrowed his gaze. His cap was pulled over a healthy mane of dirty blond hair. Some of his bangs leaked out onto his forehead. His eyes were an icy blue; their intensity heightened by a deep working man’s tan and some dirt.

“Huynnngh,” he said.

That was it. Then he just stared at me. Like he was activated only by the word “steak”.

This guy was either really dumb or really damn good. The cold silence of his blank look unraveled my Yankee attitude.

I threw out something to make some noise. “Honestly, I don’t know exactly where you get a good steak in Texas, but I think you’re in the right general vicinity to get one.”

He didn’t say anything back to me. He turned to the driver and they started talking. Were they debating the validity of my statement? Were they contemplating kicking my butt? I was really starting to worry as they had us parked in. On the other side of us was the convenience store. Would we have to stay until we retrieved them some meat?

And then the Gary Busey/Billy Ray looking guy turned back to me and said, “thanks.” With some squeals and extra exhaust they were off. But there are exceptions, and that’s whom we were off to see.

From that roadside stop near Beaumont, we took off to Sarah’s sister’s place in Houston. We’ve been to Houston somewhere around six or seven times, yet not once have we actually been to Houston. We spend our time at a small burgh called Beth and Paul’s place, a house that has everything. They have lots of room, a nice yard and cable TV with special programming for family visits. Every time we’re at P & B’s place there are enough sports on to keep any of us from having to say much to each other. If you want to, great, otherwise you can pay attention to more important things like the battle for supremacy in the AFC West.

They also have two kids. This means their snack cupboard is packed. Its stupefying display of goodies freezes you in that indecisive convenience-store-candy-section stare.

The best part? The kids really like Sarah and my foosball table and proposed their parents get them one. When I heard they’d relented, I imagined they’d gotten something cheap. And nothing is more disappointing than someone enticing you with a foosball table and you show up to a Ken and Barbie branded, lead-infested pile of junk. Turns out that living big in Texas has its rewards. They brought home the Tornado table. It’s one of the best you can buy and, as Phillip notified me when I tried to use my fresh cup of coffee to stave off another game with the kids, it even has cup holders.

Unfortunately, having a table in their house has made these kids really good. I had to pretend that I was just pretending to let them win. At first I didn’t take the duo of a five and seven-year-old seriously, but soon I found myself really working to defend my goal. But that’s the thing about these kids; they pick up everything and never forget it. Several years ago I grabbed Maureen and pretended she was a guitar. I strummed her tummy to the tune of a country song. The next year the kids shouted “play us like instruments” to a confused older man. Today it’s become a holiday tradition.

The first morning Phillip handed me half of his Sunday morning donut and said, “Here, that’s for your donut tummy.” I was about to shoot back an insult when his mom reminded me that last Thanksgiving I’d told them I had an extra stomach just for donuts.

Oh, yes, my donut tummy. I can hear the parent-teacher conference now. “He claims his uncle beats his cookie tummy like a drum.”

Quin’s lucky I’ve had nieces and nephews to practice my parenting skills.

Things Quin's cousins have said:

Nicolas (Florida, Age 13):  The guy who is the voice of Halo was in Chicago at a convention.  If I met him I'd faint.  Is that gay?


Maureen (Texas, 7):   (While watching football)  Redskins?  Why don't they call them the brownskins?  Indians are really more brown.  Or maroon skins.


Philip (Texas, 5):   (over foosball Philip counters his big sister's taunting)  Girls rule, boys drool...FIRE!


Our visit with my brother and his family was a good one.  There was no physical violence.   Our expectations are pretty low.  That and I think we're getting tired.  Two years ago I provoked him at a Bronco's game and he gave me a concussion.  I had trouble focusing for two days.  We've simmered down a bit as this visit featured about as much physical activity as a Republican dance party.   Pete found a football in his backyard and we threw that for, at most, five minutes.  I was pouring sweat in the Florida humidity and he was just plain weary.  I was thrilled he was the first to announce his wanting to end our meek, little game of catch.  It was just the out I needed to run inside and see if Sarah and Quin were okay.  I didn't want to wreck our rare moment of bonding with, "sorry, Pete, gotta go stare at my baby," because I was already disappointed at how many beer drinking sessions I'd halted or postponed by either dancing about the room with Quin or needing to see if it was my turn to dance about the room with Quin.  And it was nice not to have to struggle with my little hands.  The ball Pete conjured was old and faded and didn't have any of the grippy bumps that someone with T-Rex digits requires to keep from having to shotput it.  There's just something about grunting and heaving an air-filled pigskin that takes from the macho aura of the game. 


Our Day at Ikea

Sarah had "and go to Ikea with her" written into our vows...


Houston to Clarendon, TX

Google Time:  8 hrs 54 minutes

Our pace:  9hrs 30 minutes!!!

Sarah and Paco might be spending too much time together.


Stratford, TX

Other than gas stations (the big name brand ones at least) the only thing thriving along the back roads of the South are churches and porn shops. Humans have been mostly decimated and it’s down to a battle between God and Satan in the backcountry.  And, I kid you not, but we saw a church in Georgia called The Deliverance Church of Jesus Christ.  Come on people, that’s not going to help with the reputation.  We did not, however, see the Purdy Lips Adult Video.  

In any given town most all of Main Street is a ghost town.  Big brick buildings with grand edifices and rotting porches sag in between the fluorescent bookends of thriving convenience stores.  It’s really pretty sad.  All the mom and pops blow away into the West Texas wind while Chevron and McDonalds sit like big, fat pimps at the edge of town.

But there’s at least one place where you’ll yearn for the comfort of a Big Mac.  It’s Stratford, Texas.  

If anyone ever tells you they’re from the biggest craphole in the world, ask them exactly where that place is.  If they say anything other than Stratford, remind them lying is not very nice and you won’t tolerate it.   Because it only took one step outside the car for Sarah and I to conclude we were in the biggest craphole in the world.  The welcome sign into the town actually says, “Home to God, Grass and Grit.”  Sarah responded, “God had better live here.”  There really is no grass, at least not the good kind that you imagine rolling around in without a thousand cockleburs stabbing you to a painful death.  And grit?  How desperate of a town are you if you’re selling “grit”?  Not grits, the sticky, cardboard-like substance that gives MSG purpose, but grit.  Something people must have in order to survive crappy circumstances, like living in Stratford.  That doesn’t exactly scream, “Move your kids here!”   

And in that sense you can see why Texas high schools have such good football programs.  They must know that making it to the state playoffs means traveling to a big city with trees and such.  

The first thing that hit us beside the gale force winds was the essence of poop on those gusts of dust and, the pride of the town, grit.  In Stafford they put up with more BS than any town I’ve ever been in.  Even Greeley, CO, home to a massive slaughterhouse, can’t match the pungent, it’s-almost-like-you’re-eating-bowl-of-it aroma of cow feces fluttering on their fierce breeze.  And with ferocity it blows.  The sign on the door at the Subway where we dined said to hang on to the handle or the wind could “cause serious injury.”   Shouldn’t of all places the entrance to your business be a safe place to go?  Maybe they should move the door?  Or just move, period.  

God, we can rent you a room in Englewood if you’d like.