Last night my wife, the kids, and I decided a family game night was in order. It’s been a while. Most of the time when we can agree to play a game we never seem to come to any consensus of which game to play. You see, Daddy (that’s me) would love to play his favorite game, Trivial Pursuit, but everyone else in this equation always claims to be stupid and so Daddy is outvoted 3-1 and never gets to play his favorite game. It’s not his fault that he has a fantastic memory and can whoop your fannies with his stellar knowledge skilz. Then there’s son’s favorite game, Monopoly or as he calls it “Capitalism 101”. The problem with this one is that it takes forever to play. It especially takes forever to play when an 11 year-old boy and his 10 year-old sister decided to take every opportunity to make “deals” with each other and Mommy and Daddy. No, son, I will not sell you Boardwalk for $50. Sorry, that’s life. Daddy grew up in Jersey and he knows exactly how much those properties in Atlantic City are worth. My daughter really couldn’t care less as most of the time she gets bored and walks away. And my wife? Well, she’s the most adventurous among us. She usually “researches” games online before buying them. Most of the time her choices are spot on. Sometimes it’s a miss; like the time she made us play something called “5 Minute Rule”. That’s a game where each contestant is asked to name one thing in five minutes. It’s infernal.
For Christmas my wife gave me a new boardgame – from the online researched division – called “New York 1901”. The object of this game is to acquire land, build skyscrapers, and then demolish and build more skyscrapers. Take a look at the pictures below…
As you can see, the box is beautiful. Artwork is phenomenal. The game pieces – little Empire State Buildings – exhibit exceptional craftsmanship. The cards… Ah, you noticed that. Yes, there seem to be 800 playing cards broken into 30 different categories. Well, it is a real estate game. I suppose it’s not supposed to be “easy”. I mean, building New York City into the metropolis it is didn’t happen overnight. I was assigned a character named Robert Fletcher. I like his mustache. I even gave him a backstory. He was rich, shredded, loved by all. It’s good to assign qualities of oneself to a fictional character every now and then. But those cards…
I spent the first thirty minutes reading and then decoding the instructions. Then I dealt the cards. No joke, there were at least six different piles in front of each player. After a rough start where we came to realize that the colors of our game tokens did not and would not necessarily match the colors of our initial properties we seemed to get the hang of it. Good thing my wife is part German or we never would have figured out how to keep our tracts of land at right angles straight. In fact, my daughter actually played for a good half-hour before storming away angry that she just did not understand this “nonsense”. Fortunately, she continued to mix cocktails for her old man so he didn’t have to get up.
The rest of us, however, got the hang of it and enjoyed playing this game for the hour or so it took us to build up the lower end of the island of Manhattan.
Bottom line: if you’ve got patience, a sense of history, a fascination with architecture, and depth perception then a career in archeology is in your future. If you simply have patience and are looking for a good time with your family then take a stab at this game. If nothing else, you’ll become familiar with the street grid of Manhattan south of Pearl Street. Also, if you have a ten year-old daughter you might want to pop a movie on in the other room for her because she’s not going to have any of this “nonsense”.
My son won last night’s game. Obviously we had to have a rematch this morning. This time, Daddy snagged the Metropolitan Life Building and won. I will always be victorious… until I’m not. And when that day comes I think I will suddenly lose interest in boardgames.
A few months ago I stumbled across a video on YouTube. I believe it was suggested by their heinous algorithm that seems to know me better than I know myself.
Why yes, YouTube algorithm, I would love to watch several hours of conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination, clips comparing the 747 and A380, weird weather disasters, and anything to do with logistics!
That’s when I came across the video in question. It was a 15 minute clip on how overnight shipping works. And it was… amazing. After typing that line I realize that probably only a man would get my enthusiasm. Because all grown men are really just little boys at heart and we still get excited at a fire truck racing by. Overnight shipping, it turns out, truly is amazing. FedEx, for instance, routes just about every package through Memphis between midnight and 2 AM in order to get it to you the next day. Don’t ask why this is interesting. Just accept it and move on.
Repping our favorite YouTuber
The YouTuber who made the video is even more amazing than the content. He’s a 20-something from the States who now lives in Scotland. His name is Sam Denby and his channel, for some reason, is called Wendover Productions. I showed one to my son and he also was hooked. He’s 11.
Not long after that I noticed that young Mr. Denby has a secondary channel Calle Half As Interesting. In these videos – which are only about five minutes long – he gives a very humorous take on topics he deemed not watch-worthy at anything but approximately five minutes. Currently there are 101 such HAI vids and the boy and I have watched every single one. We eagerly await Thursday afternoons when the new HAI’s drop.
For his birthday (a few months ago) I told him I’d order him an HAI shirt. I finally got around to doing that last week. Got myself a Wendover shirt as well. They came today. And like two excited and excitable young boys (only one of us is supposedly a grown man) we immediately put them on, sporting them around town on our errands.
I hope Sam Denby reads this because I want him to know how thankful this 41 year-old dad of the greatest son in the world is that the videos he produces have given us one more thing over which to bond. Also, if you haven’t seen any yet, please check out the channels.
*You already know that I started out Day 3 by writing about Day 2. Now I am starting out Day 5 (in a manner of speaking) by writing about Days 3 and 4.
We did make it past Asheville last night (or
rather, early this morning) and checked ourselves into a hotel on the side of
I-40. Charles Kuralt once said upon the
completion of Interstate 40 – which runs from coastal North Carolina all the
way to the Central Valley of California – that it was now possible to drive
from one coast to the other without seeing a thing. I fear he was right. That’s not entirely true. Why, late last night I saw stars. No, my wife did not beat me over the head for
blasting the original cast recording of Evita while she was
sleeping. My son, in a way only 11
year-old boys can do, announced confidently that he had to relieve
himself. He did this about ten miles
after I had driven past the last exit with any services for a considerable stretch
of road. Oh well, I’m a guy. I get it.
You don’t really need a bathroom proper in order to take care of that kind
of business. It’s just how God made
us. The only problem was that this
stretch of I-40 wends and winds its way through the Great Smokey
Mountains. It was cut as judiciously as
possible through rocky cliffs. Owing to
that fact the highway engineers “forgot” to install a shoulder. I drove as far as I (and his bladder) could
travel before, mercifully, finding a runaway truck ramp. Out we hopped. I walked him around the back of the vehicle
to afford a tiny bit of privacy (not like he cared) and for some reason I
looked up. The night sky was blanketed
with thousands of stars. We live in the
Dallas area. On a typical night we’re
lucky to see about five stars and one of those is the moon. I also saw a sign that proclaimed bears would
be crossing the road in some kind of pack formation. I feel sorry for the bears, really I do. According to the sign, they cross like this:
a she-bear followed by three cubs. Where’s
the dad? Not doing as good a job as I
am, I should imagine, shepherding my wife and kids across the continent.
Upon leaving the
hotel I did something I promised I would not do on this trip (or anytime if I
can avoid it). I asked my wife to
drive. She’s a fine driver and I
appreciate the help. It’s just that this
is something I can do for her. When I
was growing up I never once saw my dad NOT walk around the car to get the door
for my mom. It’s a car door. Of course she can open it by herself. But he did it for her because he could. And he could because she allowed him the
privilege. Until the last time I saw him
drive anywhere with her, he held her door.
I liked that. But, I needed time
to write so I accepted her invitation to take the wheel. She drove us all of an hour and a half until
reaching the city of Greensboro. That’s
where my niece and her family live.
Right before getting out of the car my wife pointed out that Facebook had notified her of a “memory”. On this exact date three years ago we had also visited my niece on a cross-country drive. Her son was a couple of months old. We had taken a picture of my daughter holding her first cousin once removed. This meant that we would have to re-create the picture. My niece prepared a lovely breakfast for us. Sadly we couldn’t stay long – just long enough to enjoy a meal and catch up. And one of the best parts for me was getting to play with her dog – a lab mix named Leo. I love dogs and I especially love labs. They’re so friendly and seek attention. They also want to be loved and so they go out of their way to please every person they meet. Sound like anyone we know?…
Perhaps the funniest thing of our trip so far happened at this time. I almost didn’t want to write about it but my wife insisted I should. My great-nephew is potty training. It happens. As we were getting ready to head out the door my niece walked past the bathroom door on her way back into the kitchen. As only a parent who’s potty training a child can, she said “Did someone poop?” And before anyone could comprehend her question a certain member of our party who happens to be my mother-in-law replied quick as lightning: “Me.”
Sometimes in life there are pauses. Sometimes these pauses are dramatic like when the Twin Towers fell and we all held our breath for 40 seconds. Time seemed not to exist. Sometimes these pauses are ironic like when we await the punchline of a joke. In either case there is anticipation in these pauses. We know something is coming, we just don’t know what. This was not one of those moments. In fact there was no pause. Her answer was immediate. The pause came after her “Me”. The pause was me and my wife wondering how to process what we had just heard. For a moment we just stared at each other. And then we figured it out. We were to laugh. Look, I’ve never thought bodily processes a good subject for humor. It’s lowbrow and cheap. But her innocence in answering so quickly and something about the moment just made us laugh. Seems she didn’t want my niece to think it had been her potty-training son. I admire such honesty. And I laugh at it.
After breakfast we were back on the road. Remember when I said a trip with us is like trench warfare? So… a half-hour later we stopped. This time our stop was an outlet mall. Unlike the depressing shell of a mall we had seen two days earlier, this one was vibrant. I hit all the shops I wanted to, got some new shorts and shirts. The lady behind the counter at the Old Navy even gave us a 20% discount because she liked the Nintendo-themed shirt my son was wearing. It seems his love of classic video games has indeed paid off. Back on that road. Another hour, another stop. We had promised my daughter we would hit a craft store so she could get a few items to keep her entertained at the beach. I thought the ocean and stuff would have been enough; but it appears not. Ten minutes after entering they emerged with even more crap stuff to stuff into the car.
Finally, we were on our way again. Fits and starts, kids, fits and starts. By the way, did you like my use of the word “wend” up above? Thought so. From the craft store we actually raced to get to our next destination. See, we’re Catholic, if you couldn’t tell, and this being Saturday evening and not wanting to attend the “beach mass” at the Outer Banks On Sunday morning we decided to take our chances on a church in the city of Rocky Mount. We got there with one minute to spare. I ALWAYS wear my best suit to Sunday mass. This time, however, that option was not available to me, arriving with no time to change. The church was interesting. For those in the know, it looked like a typical 60’s parish that had recently been assigned a more tradition-minded pastor. The mass was ad orientem and we knelt at the rail for Communion. This might offend some but I realized over the past five years that I need to go out of my way to exemplify the virtue of reverence in the face of so many Eucharistic abuses. Kneeing for Communion, for me, is the best way to do that. Not a fan? Sorry. But the building itself was quite distinct in that it featured the most bizarre stained glass windows. At one point I looked up to see a purple man-baby looking down upon me. If that doesn’t put the fear of God into one, I don’t know what will.
And now for the “Top Reason to become a Libertarian” section of the post. We drove on from Rocky Mount headed for the Outer Banks. Normally, this is a three-hour drive. Not with us. And not because we took a ton of stops either. I use the Waze traffic app. About fifteen minutes out from mass Waze informed me “Police reported ahead.” My wife and I looked at each other and, noticing two county police cars in the median, remarked in unison: “Police right there.” Lucky for me I was not speeding. Had the cruise control set at the actual speed limit. But that didn’t stop our friends from Edgecombe County, North Carolina’s Sherriff’s Office from pulling out in tandem and trailing me for five minutes. In my mind I went over any possible violations I could have made. Nothing. Why were they doing this to me? We were about to find out because they put their lights on. Being the dutiful citizen I am (and always obeying my federal overlords) I quickly pulled to the shoulder. An officer approached my vehicle. Without ever identifying himself he said simply “Got your license?” I already had it out so I handed it to him (careful to make sure it was my driver license and not my gun license because this isn’t Texas and he has no right to know) and asked “What’s the problem?” “We ran a check of your plates and it came back ‘no record’,” he said. Stop and think for a minute. If I haven’t done anything wrong, why on earth would you run a check of my plates? None of this made any sense. After five minutes he returned to my window and handed me back my license. “You’re good,” he said. “I know that,” I replied. He turned on his heel to walk away and I decided to be a wiseguy.
“Just one thing,
officer,” I said. “Why do they call them
Officer Skippy shot me a look as if I had just asked him to explain quantum physics. “Um, I think… You know? I’m not… Hey Buck!” Here he called to the other officer who had never approached the car. “Buck! Why are they Tar Heels?” Buck mumbled something inaudible. Skippy stuttered a bit and then said “I think Tar Heel was an Indian or something. Yeah, I think he had black feet.” Then he scurried away. The thing is that my wife and I had just had this conversation moments before being pulled over. Thanks to Google we knew the answer and it did NOT have a thing to do with a Native American. I’m not even sure these two clowns were actual police officers or if they were. perhaps they were doing some kind of on-the-job training. Look, folks, be on guard when you drive through North Carolina. The very first speeding ticket I ever got was in the Tar Heel State and the trooper admitted it was because the county needed the money
Another stop. This one at a Walmart for supplies and the world’s smallest liquor store for liquor supplies. Then, with the cruise locked to the speed limit the rest of the trip we drove on toward the beach. And finally, at 11:35 PM we reached our destination. Having seen stars, family, a shopkeep with human decency, an inflatable unicorn raft from a craft store, Jesus, two Andy Griffith wannabes, and a whole lot of coastal flats we could settle into bed. And this dad could give thanks for his wife, children, mother-in-law, friends, health, and safety… and a whole lot of memories.
PS: I need to mention here that my niece and her husband started up a neat company a couple of years ago and I would love to drive business their way. The company is called Soledier Socks. Check them out here and, if you, like me, wear socks consider them for your next purchase.
This morning I woke up in Alabama. There’s nothing terribly spectacular about
that fact I think. Just a man and his
wife, their two kids, and his mother-in-law struggling to gain consciousness in
a hotel room in the Deep South… I did
what I do every morning upon waking up.
I hit the ground and said my morning prayers. Praised be God! I’m alive.
I got out of bed unassisted. I
required no help in getting dressed.
From the looks of things through the room-darkening drapes, the sun was
out. My watch told me that the
temperature hadn’t crept too high. This
was going to be a beautiful day and my heart is full of joy. I have a lot of prayers that I pray every morning. It’s structured. I’m not saying I pray like Rainman or
anything but if you mess with my routine I will cut you. I continued praying silently as I left the
room and headed to the lobby for coffee.
The trip downstairs took a little longer than it should have. I could not board the first two elevators due
to overcrowding. Hoop skirts and
parasols take up a lot of space. I told
you there was nothing strange about waking up in Birmingham.
We’ve traveled like this many, many times to where we have the unpack/pack thing down. The lady at the front desk marveled at how quickly we managed to get everything back into the car so efficiently. “Y’all must have done this a time or two befo-ah, I should declaaayah.” I nodded politely. My daughter and her grandmother came past the front desk. “Ya’ll fav-uh; but I reckon yal’l get that a lot,” said the lady behind the counter, now staring at my daughter and me. I whispered to my wife: “If we pay her no heed perhaps she will ignore us.” We went back to packing the car while the attendant busily replaced the carafes of coffee with bottles of gin and a bowl of sloes mixed with sprigs of mint. If I hadn’t been so scared I might have been tempted to stay and check this party out. As she placed the bottles down I heard her softly singing something about the land of cotton and old time days, silently moving apostrophes as she did so. I walked around the vehicle shoving each member of my family inside, slamming doors behind them. Then I locked the doors, rolled down my window, shouted “We won the wo-ah!” and sped away.
Absolutely none of that may have happened in reality. I just needed some kind of device to get my
story going. You see, it’s actually the
morning of day 3 as I write this. When
we reach the end of this dispatch you might see why I am writing this then or
now or whenever it actually is. Let’s
pick up from the only part of that tale that was true. That would be the part where I woke up and
We packed the car and headed to mass. My son and I were both wearing long pants
despite the increasing heat. That’s
because we would be heading to a place that required a certain dress code. My wife had chosen the church from a list
online. It was about a half-hour
away. She had to remain in the car to
get on a business call so Wilma, the kids, and I all headed into the tiny,
almost mission looking church building.
The sign out front declared that “All are welcome here!” And what a strange way they had of showing
welcome. We encountered a Catholic mass
in Spanish with heavy doses of Latin – as in, the priest seemed not to be able
to make up his mind. For instance (and I
don’t know much Spanish) the priest prayed the Our Father in Spanish, said
something rapidly in Spanish directed toward the congregation, and then chanted
the Pater Noster. We approached for
Communion. For such a “progressive”
looking church building we all knelt at the rail to receive Communion on the
tongue. Again, I prefer to receive
Communion kneeling and on the tongue but all of this seemed so disjointed. Regardless, we had been blessed to stand at
the foot of Calvary and I can’t ever complain about that.
We drove a little further down the road and stopped in at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Yeah, we’re those kind of people. And this is where the pants come in. Some shrines like their visitors‘ legs more covered than others. I don’t mind. It’s not like it’s 1800 degrees out today or anything. We’ll offer it up. This shrine was built under the direction of one of my heroes, Mother Angelica. Here was a woman who didn’t take any nonsense. A beautiful place it was, too. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere was a large church with an enormous plaza, visitors center, and the requisite gift shop. In fact it was both the best shrine gift shop I ever saw and one of the most beautiful churches too. I had to force myself to leave the gift shop before I spent a small fortune. We stopped at the crypt-level church to pray at Mother’s tomb and then it was on our way again. A quick lunch (at five different restaurants to accommodate five people who suddenly remembered it’s Friday and we’re not eating meat; a quick change for father and son into shorts; and we’re on our way.
Still further up the same road (and keep in mind at this point we’re only about 30 miles from where we left this morning) we stopped at another shrine. I have a former student who is currently walking the Camino in Spain, mocking me every few minutes on Facebook with her pictures of beautiful places along the way. It is as if she is saying “Ha! You will never make it to Spain but I am here!” Yeah, toots? I’m doing the Northern Alabama Catholic tour. You don’t even know… OK, so it doesn’t quite work the same. This shrine is more of a grotto than a specific place of pilgrimage. It’s another spot that I had visited years earlier with my brother (see yesterday’s post). It’s called the Ave Maria Grotto. Here’s the story… About a hundred years ago, give or take, a young Benedictine monk arrived at St. Bernard’s Abbey in Cullman, Alabama. Possessing an artistic streak, he began making “models” of buildings he remembered from his native Bavaria. He constructed these out of rocks, twigs, broken dishes, basically anything he could get his hands on. He began making more and more “buildings”, placing them on the grounds of the abbey. Eventually his creations were arranged around a long and winding pathway and people come from all around to see what one monk could do with the other monks’ garbage. At one point Wilma, making note of the literature that said “friends would bring Brother Jozef old pottery, dishes, and knick-knacks, asking him to fashion them into his miniature displays of cities like Jerusalem or Rome.” Said my mother-in-law while staring at a crucifix made out of dozens of seashells “He must have had a lot of beach friends.” Oh, and the gift shop strikes again. “Look, kids, it’s all the same at all of these shrine gift shops. Holy cards, books, and statues of saints. Don’t get too excited,” I said as my gaze turned toward a holy card of a Fulton Sheen statue holding a stack of his books. They’re getting clever, these shopkeeps.
Packing the family back into the car I drove across the
northern reaches of Alabama as I cut a diagonal path toward the northeast
corner of that fair state. We had
planned to stop at a place I had not been to yet but that my wife had visited
once as a child. There is a mountain
lookout near the convergence of Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia appropriately named
Lookout Mountain. From the summit, a
piece of private property known as the very touristy “Rock City”, one can see
seven states. After paying damn near a
hundred bucks to enter I wondered aloud whether those states were frustration,
anger, seething rage, depression, etc.
However, after wandering the grounds – following the paths laid out by
the owners – we reached the lookout point and it was well worth the money. Not only was the view spectacular (you couldn’t
really see seven states, or at least I couldn’t) but experiencing the excitement
of exploring new places and seeing things most people never get to see and doing
this with my wife and children brought a great joy to my heart. Additionally, the grounds feature lots of story-book
themed motifs. I’m still not sure why
there were hundreds of garden gnomes placed throughout the park and we may have
in fact been paced under some kind of Wiccan hex by signing the credit card
slip. Time will tell. To be safe we may return to Mother Angelica’s
grave for protection.
Finally we headed out toward a nighttime stopping point. “Feel like driving past Asheville?” asked my beautiful wife. Asheville, NC lies a couple of hundred miles from Lookout Mountain. I felt like stopping right then and there, finding a cocktail, and getting into bed. But I knew we had to go on. And if she thought I could get us past Asheville then I could get us past Asheville. Along the last few hours of our drive my wife lovingly mocked me for my multiple stops. Look, my back can’t handle that many straight hours in the driver’s seat AND I need coffee. Thinking my passengers were all asleep I turned on some music from my phone. Came across an old album I used to listen to with my sister when we were young and used to go to Broadway matinees on the regular just because we could. After a while my wife opened her eyes, looked over at me, and said “You’re so strange…” “What?” I said. “Just rehearsing for my new production: Evita, a one-man show.”
And just as Mandy Patinkin was cryptically shrieking about Eva Peron’s missing body we arrived at our hotel. The time was 1:37 AM (hence the next day posting). A more thankful dad I really don’t think you could find – at least not in any of the states one can view from a mountaintop that might be in Georgia or perhaps in Tennessee. No matter, I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.
Dedicated to Annie DeLisle for reasons known to her.
Well here we are again! And by “we” I mean “me” sitting in a hotel room in a strange place, laptop on hand, pictures uploading to the cloud, bizarre canned cocktail nearby, cataloging the day’s memories, and reminiscing about the past – both years past and hours…
By the way, wasn’t it swell of me to start this post with a relatively short paragraph containing just two sentences, the second one ridiculously long and ending with an ellipses? Thought so.
By “here we go again” I mean to say that the very thing that was the catalyst to this blog and the forthcoming book(s) is now underway yet again. All the way back in the summer of 2008 and with a six week-old boy in tow because it would have been kind of wrong to leave him home alone, my darling wife and I set out to take the road trip we had talked about taking since we were dating. Six weeks later we returned to our apartment in Northern New Jersey, the boy now a man doubled in age. For 48 days we criss-crossed the continent reaching the far point of the Vegas Strip. I was a brand new dad and had fancied myself a pro at fatherhood. It’s hard to blame me since I had the best role model. My old man always did not only what was best for us but also made use of what he was good at while doing it. As a result I know every cerebral dirty joke every told. What I was good at (in my mind) was writing. So at the end of day one I found myself in a hotel room in Northern Virginia, playing with a happy infant boy, adoring my life, and reaching for my laptop so I could “pen a few lines to remember the day”.
Those lines exceeded 2500 words.
The next night I wrote another few thousand. And the night after that I did the same. I shared them with my wife who suggested I post them to Facebook where soon enough I had attracted a small army of “fans”. Long story short, I kind of forgot to stop writing. And every time we’ve taken a road trip since I’ve realized what is the bread and butter of this blog – road trips.
So tonight I present to you Day 1 of a new adventure on the asphalt ribbons of America.
Let’s start with the title. Every good story needs an apt title. The purpose of this trip for us is to visit my mother in New Jersey. And since we love my wife’s mother as well and she and my mom are great friends we asked her to come with us. So we’ll have one grandmother on the trip, another on the other side, and a whole lot of fun in between.
The day began shortly before 3AM when I sprang from my bed, dropped to my knees in prayer, grabbed a cup of hot, black coffee, and hit the shower. My loving wife had stayed up most of the night getting the house ready to be abandoned for a month and packing the car. She insisted I get the rest since I’d be driving. It’s a guy thing. It’s literally the least I can do. I imagine myself in days of old, my family in the back of a coach and me on the bench up front driving the horses. I also imagine horses don’t scare me.
A trip with us is like a trip to the DMV only not terrible or disgusting. However it does take all day to go a few inches. I was going to compare it to trench warfare but I thought it was too soon. Our first stop came just thirty minutes later as we pulled into Buc-ee’s. Click the link to look it up. It is pure Texas and pure awesome. I think we accidentally spent a hundred bucks there. Well, not me. I bought a black coffee and did 25 pushups in the parking lot. Off we go…
About two hours later, driving into the rising sun, we crossed the border into the Pelican State (Louisiana) at Shreveport. The kids and my wife slept soundly this whole time. My Mother-in-law Wilma remained awake long enough for the two of us to discover we were both halfway through a rosary (individually) and so we joined forces. Then she crashed. And I drove. Alone. For hours. Don’t feel bad. I got to count all the pine trees in East Texas along the way.
Perhaps it was the excitement of the rushing and mighty Big River but all my passengers seemed to awaken right before we crossed the Mississippi. After a bathroom break and photo op we stopped for lunch at a Cracker Barrel in Vicksburg. I got excited as we pulled off the highway. There, right next to the restaurant, was what looked to all the world like an outlet mall. They do come in handy on road trips for all the articles you suddenly remember forgetting to pack once you’re just out the door. Only this one was different. For starters it was only two strips of stores. And 98% of those were closed. As in, didn’t exist anymore. It was sadder than when my dog died in high school. Thank God for chicken fried steak.
As we barreled across Mississippi I decided it was time to indoctrinate the offspring by forcing them to listen to playing some selections my older sister made us listen to on road trips when I was their age. Linda Ronstadt, Boz Scaggs… I’m sorry. I almost drove off the road. Let’s listen to silence, kids! Silence sounds good.
Finally we crossed into Alabama where the stars fell. Not sure if that’s a tourist slogan or if a radiological waste site is actually contributing to the ethereal glow. It is a beautiful place. Here’s where it got really fun for me as a dad. When I was 12 my older brother had just graduated from West Point. Yes, that one. He set out on a trip to Birmingham to visit a friend from the Academy who had left two years earlier and was graduating from Auburn and he took me along for company. I remember the trip well and not just because my brother decided to make the 1000 mile return drive straight through but because our hosts took me to the Statue of Vulcan. Someone from Birmingham once visited New York Harbor and decided the Statue of Liberty would be nice overlooking their city. Instead they got Vulcan. Birminghamanians are proud of their city’s industrial roots so entrenched in the iron industry. In fact they’re known as “the Pittsburgh of the South” even though that city’s lifeblood was steel. Came up with that one all by themselves. Their history of segregation? Not so proud of that one. But they deal with that in several other really neat monuments. Hey, nobody’s perfect. Vulcan is really cool too. Perched on a very tall pedestal resembling a lighthouse, the deity looks out over Birmingham with an anvil at his side and an arrow in his raised hand. He’s even wearing a nifty apron round his waist. Unfortunately that apron was cut for a transparently smaller man. From the rear and shining on the Homewood neighborhood with the brilliance of a large celestial object is the exposed backside of a well-sculpted dude. God? Demi-god? It’s his butt. I remembered all of this and simply had to take my kids for the experience. Both kids laughed heartily when they saw it. Then we went to the top. My daughter even climbed the ten flights of stairs with me (had to get my workout in) and gleefully stepped out onto the viewing platform at the base of the Statue. Before freezing in terror.
The platform was an open steel grid. Boy was that scary. I had to be brave so she wouldn’t cry. Inside I had three heart attacks. Not figuratively either. Ten stories up and a clear view of the ground below. Maybe this wasn’t such a brilliant plan after all.
Nonetheless we got our pictures and drove on. On our way to the hotel just north of town God must have known I hadn’t closed my exercise ring on my watch. An old woman sat in an old car in the middle of a busy street. She had broken down. My wife said “She needs help.” Good observation. I pulled over, jumped out, and like roaches scattering in a kitchen but in reverse two other people and I ran toward her car, dodging traffic, and pushed her a block to a safe spot.
Finally in the hotel I “did the Dad thing”, even though I was beat, and jumped in the pool with my children. My wife went for food. Krystal’s. Never had ‘em? I’ll tell you more tomorrow. Wilma? She stayed in the room to pray. I needed it – the prayers that is. Later I closed out the day with a Walmart run. I forgot to pack my jumprope. It’s my daily cardio. I start every day with 30 minutes of high intensity jump rope before breakfast and vacation doesn’t change that. How else do you think I can do all this? Prayer? Oh, yeah that too. Made five trips back to the car for forgotten items, and finally cracked open a drink (if you can call it that) with my mother-in-law.
Which brings us to the present. Seems we have some 30 days ahead of us and many more adventures in store. I can’t promise more bareassed statues of Roman gods but I can promise lots of love and plenty of fun and a most thankful heart from this dad of two future saints.
Today I am enjoying many blessings. My niece and her husband have brought their two beautiful boys to visit. On that note I am reminded of what I told my students years ago when my oldest nephew and his wife brought their first son into the world. “Kids, my first great-nephew was just born!” “You’re a great-uncle?” they asked.
“I’m the best.”
We have taken the whole family to the Science Museum where there is some kind of celebration called “Star Wars Day” taking place. Joy. Lots of little kids constructing light sabers while their parents run around in costume living out some kinds of George Lucas fantasy. I just suggested that my wife affix some cinnamon rolls to her scalp. She was not amused. I am not a Star Wars fan as you could probably tell. Nonetheless I am mildly amused at the display from many of these parents. Whatever… You do what you have to do as a parent to amuse your kids. If you happen to be able to engage your own psychoses at the same time then all the better.
Thinking to self: why do these science museums not have a bar? Looks like someone missed a great profit opportunity.
Head ‘em up and mooooove ‘em out.
This being Texas there is a wing dedicated to the oil shale. It’s next to the “Death of Dinosaurs” room. The former is a gloriously well-lighted and large room featuring many happy motifs of the Lone Star State. It inspires great pride. The latter is a bleak 4’X4′ closet. It is black as there are no lights. Inside a few bones are thrown on the floor. They look rather like the remnants of a rack of ribs. Dinosaurs, if they ever existed, were terrible people. Therefore God smited them and gave us oil. God is good.
Next up is the IMAX theater. Five toddlers just stumbled out the exit door with parents in tow. All of them – parents and children – are vomiting profusely and struggling to walk. The feature? “An Aerial Drone Tour of Fort Worth”. I believe the drone’s operator was a child. On amphetamines.
Note to self: Must check this film after lunch.
On to the planetarium. The show this afternoon is called “The Stars at Night: the Texas Night Sky”. One patron who was exiting the previous show was heard to say “I didn’t know the other states received no starlight at nighttime.” Another was heard to say “I had heard there were other states.”
I do believe I will rustle up the herd and head on out. We’re fixin’ to get ourselves somethin’ to eat now.
Who knew science (and Texas) could be so entertaining?
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