Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fancy Lance!

After much pissing and moaning and figuring and configuring, I'm pleased to introduce you to Lance 2.0: whilemyboyfriendwassleeping.com


I finally get to put to use the domain name I purchased two years ago. Yay!

I gotta tell you though, Blogger is way easier to use. To those of you on Blogger, you're doing just fine. Jump to another program and I promise you your head will explode and you'll come thisclose to smashing your computer with a two-by-four.

To those of you on WordPress, bless your hearts. I almost chucked my laptop out the window last night manipulating photos, text alignment, hard returns and all sorts of HTML nonsense that has nothing to do with writing.

From now on, Lance posts will only live on whilemyboyfriendwassleeping.com. (Click here Nana!) There's a new one up today.

I hope you like the new space. It's not radically different. Bigger pug. New pillows. A "continue reading" option for my longwinded posts. I hope you stay with me.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Finding my center

Hey guys! 

Been gardening and writing and reading and taking yoga and figuring things out in my head. My cousin's super-talented wife is helping me redesign the Lance. I'm dense when it comes to technology – borderline luddite. Rebecca offered to help make this site look snazzier, which I'm apprehensive to do because when I started writing it, I could give two-shits about design. I just wanted a place to write. A little bit of structure to my mornings. A creative way to pass the time before Joe woke up.  

I've been sleeping in later and Joe's been waking up earlier, which means we've been rising together, drinking coffee together. Not much lag time between my waking and his. Oddly, parts of me are rubbing off on him. Parts of him are rubbing off on me. Kind of like how when you stick a sliver of soap on top of another sliver of soap they become one. Joe does this with his bars of Irish Spring. Whenever a bar runs out, he sticks whatever's left on top of a new bar of soap. It always makes me laugh, the tiny nub of Irish Spring glued to the full bar of Irish Spring, like the soap is wearing a green derby cap. He does this so he never wastes soap. Very thrifty that Joe. 

He dug me a vegetable garden last week and I've been nuts about watering it in the morning. Nuts about watering my other plants too. PK is baffled by my sudden bursts of domesticity. To quote, "I never thought I'd see the day when you'd care about petunias." 

I told Joe I was quitting the Lance last night. I told him I want to write a book more than anything in the world and I've made zero progress on that front, but we'll see ... 

If Rebecca makes this site look freaking cool, I'll have to keep posting and just suck it up and write my fiction book regardless. My stupid annoying fiction book. Even if it means waking up before Joe again. My sanity depends on it. My center, so to say. 

Anyway. It's 1:30 in the afternoon here in St. Pete, Florida and I've got a lunch date with Zipper Boy

--
PS. I took the photo at last year's Langerado Music Festival on the Big Cypress Indian Reservation outside of Fort Lauderdale. Group yoga, y'all. Throw your flubby thighs in the air and spread 'em like ya just don't care. It's liberating. 

Friday, June 12, 2009

The tent diaries 6

“On such a trip as mine, so much there is to see and to think about that event and thought set down as they occurred would roil and stir like a slow-cooking minestrone.” - John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

I was wrong about Wednesday's post being my final tent diaries entry. I remember I wrote this kind of sloppy epilogue after I returned to Sarasota. 

People who had followed my journey in the newspaper said I ended things so abruptly with no tidy conclusion or rewarding epiphany. Of course by then it was too late. I had hogged full-page spreads in the newspaper for six weeks. So for myself and my friends I wrote this, a little thank you note. 

I was feeling pretty sappy and as usual, verbose. 

--

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


The Oregon Coast & Thank You
Just did the dishes. Zac cooked bean burritos for dinner tonight. I cut up cubes of cheese and tomatoes. We listened to This American Life. Max won cards. Rachel drank White Russians. Cubbie licked Sadie's ears and teeth and I told some stories about Oregon and Wyoming using accents and flailing hand gestures.

I reached Bandon, Oregon at ten o'clock at night and if I had approached the end of the continental United States the coast of Oregon gave no warning. Like a security blanket, high bluffs and forests shield the Oregon Coast. When you drive from Klamath Falls to Bandon there are only subtle hints of the Pacific Ocean. The dark is pitch dark. (So much of coastal Oregon reminded me of a previous trip to Rhode Island.) I S-curved down highways and through national forests. I constructed in my head the image of the United States. The shape of my country, kind of like a chicken breast.

I rolled down my windows. The night looked like it might feel cooler and it did. I could smell it. The coolness and the ocean. The air felt like cellophane. I hung my arm out the window, flattened my palm and let the resistance turn my fingers into peninsulas. Peninsulas like Florida. I missed Florida. For the first time since moving to Sarasota three years ago, I had, during a phone conversation with Joe, called Sarasota "home." Used the word without hesitation. I missed my home. I missed Joe. This I was sure of. So many nights I narrowed my eyes like Matilda, beaming him into my tent whenever I felt lonely or I wanted to share something spectacular with him. Like, "Hey didja see those wild horses humping each other today?"

I missed my friends and that became more apparent as I went about my daily business without once laughing. I love to laugh goddamit! Without human company when do you laugh? What's there to laugh about? What does your laugh sound like when you're alone in your car, your tent, on the side of a dirt road? It sounds psychotic that's what. Lunatic. Laugh alone sometime without a television on, or a radio station dialed in, or a good book on your lap. Laugh without any of these devices and you're bat shit crazy.

I laughed anyway. With my hand out the window and my fingers like peninsulas, I laughed. Cubbie poked his head out the window and left it there for some time until I took a corner too hard and jolted him back into his seat. If the trees weren't so high I'd have seen stars.

Route 101, the Pacific Coast Highway, runs like a braided ponytail up the coast. I reached it and turned left. I had never seen the Pacific Ocean and now at every traffic light I craned my head out the window — was I there yet? Would I drive off the United States like Thelma and Louise? I could hear the crash of water on rocks. Crashing like tambourines! It was ten o'clock at night and I had traveled the width of my country. Sound the trumpets. Yet no trumpets would sound.

I would reach Bandon, where thanks to Joe I'd manage to get a $200 hotel room for the $60 military rate. Good luck? Good karma? Did I deserve either? I was so sick of the sight of myself. People had treated me so kind along the way. They were what I had expected — good, kind, curious and eccentric. How I like my people.

Before I left Sarasota my coworkers at European Marble handed me an envelope containing $200 in twenty dollar bills. My tent, my table, my cooler, the picnic basket, the propane burner, boxes of couscous, cans of tomato soup … all of them given to me by friends and coworkers. 

On the night before I left Sarasota Zac hosted a dinner where he cooked my favorite author's favorite foods. John Steinbeck's beer milk shakes. Hemingway's gazpacho. He invited my friends over and we toasted my trip from a plastic table set up in our apartment parking lot. Then he handed over a brown paper bag filled with Shell gas station gift cards. The cards took me as far as Chicago, and I saved one for my return trip. Redeemed it in Dade City, Florida. As I pumped my last tank of gas, I kissed the magnet strip. 

The unfolded roadmap on my wall with thumbtacks in it had become more dream than journey. More challenge than vacation. A rite of passage in my own head and in no other. The Mormons go on a two-year mission. I drive alone from one coast of the Unites States to the other.

In Estes Park, Colorado I'd treat myself to a mandarin chicken salad, a People magazine and a Blockbuster movie courtesy again of my boyfriend, who would treat me again to chicken fingers and curly fries at a diner with a name I wished I remembered in Bear Lake, Utah.

In Boise, Idaho I'd eat Cracker Barrel mac and cheese on Susan Holsing, a former European Marble coworker, who bestowed upon me a Cracker Barrel gift card that, if I continued to eat $3 mac and cheese off the kid's menu, would get me from Tampa to Portland.

Today in Sarasota, I met Rog and Ricci for coffee at Starbucks where, thanks to Jason and Jess, I treated us all to iced coffees in the titty-sweltering humidity.

So! This is the last blog. Finito. I did it. I write way too much anyway. I use too many metaphors and too many similes. I abuse similes like a drunk abuses– fuck, see.

I'm listening to the CDs Teisha gave me in Springfield, Missouri. Cubbie will be getting a bath soon. The walls in my bedroom are empty, save for an old drawing and my map of the United States with the thumbtacks in it. I'm debating whether or not to donate my bed to Goodwill as the house I'm moving into in a few weeks is fully furnished. I like my bed. It's a nice bed. Pillow top mattress. But it's a bed. It's stuff. A thing.

I guess what I'm getting at (what I was getting at 1,000 words ago) is thank you. Thank you to everyone who helped me along the way. People are better than stuff, better than places, and I'm ecstatic once and for all to be back in Sarasota with my people.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The tent diaries 5

Just before I left Florida, my friend Ricci gave me a dragonfly, with this message written on the wings:

“All that glitters is not gold. All who wander are not lost.”

I’m sleepy now as I write this. Uninspired for the most part, sneezing in an auto repair shop, where I’m getting the oil changed in Joe’s car. It’s 9 a.m. on a Wednesday and I’m drinking Timmy Ho’s out of a plastic travel mug. Mechanic's coffee is always too black and too dank for my taste buds, so I usually bring my own. 

I’m listening to Ani as usual, and to the woosh of power tools ripping lug nuts off tires in the shop. It’s sunny out and what I really want to do right now is curl up like a cat in the light cast by the vertical blinds hanging in the front window. 

I brought a book and my laptop – the laptop so I could write an intro to this last installment of tent diaries and a book so I wouldn’t have to write.

Life is banal and beautiful no matter where you are. That’s what the road taught me; what staying with strangers and friends taught me. People's lives are no more or no less glamorous than your own, whether you live in Athens, Ill. or Sisters, Ore

Nature is nebulous and left entirely to interpretation. I fell in love with the trees in Oregon. I fell in love with the sky in Idaho. I would have married a sandwich in Wyoming had a notary been present. I got shitty directions from a boney hag in the Ozarks and shitty directions from a plump doe-eyed girl standing beside a fly strip in southern Oregon.

I was flagged down on a highway somewhere between Wyoming and Utah by a 40-something couple, whom I lent my cell phone to and pathetically my tire iron, which of course was too small to help change the flat on their empty horse trailer. 

Before I even opened my mouth they told me they were from Sarasota, Fla., heading to Oregon to pick up a horse, which of course was laughably surreal given that I was coming from Sarasota and heading to Oregon too. 

I had driven thousands of miles, met dozens of people, mowed through three loaves of bread and an entire jar of peanut butter and here I was, on a desolate stretch of brown highway somewhere between Utah and Wyoming, handing my cell phone over to people from Sarasota. Processing this information caused my mind to explode into stars. I coughed and laughed and stomped my feet. It was the most understated well-I'll-be-damned moment of the entire trip. 

Not a single vehicle passed us during our 45-minute exchange. 

--

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bear Lake, Utah
Knocked my socks off.

--

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Twin Falls, Idaho
There was a three and half hour traffic backup on I-84 outside of Twin Falls, Idaho. People were moseying about their parked vehicles, truckers kept getting out of their cabs pounding the sides of their tires with hammers to make sure they were what — not leaking (I don't know.) It was 6 pm. The sky was starting to fade from baby blue to watery pink. The clouds looked like taffy. The moon cocked curiously to my left as the sun did that thing it sometimes does in the summer— it gave an encore performance. The night wouldn't settle on Idaho and I wondered if it was because I was so close to (but not in) the Pacific Time Zone. Sprinklers lined the fields in straight ghostly patterns, water arching like colorless rainbows across the green. I rolled down my windows to a cool, sweatshirt-y night. The couple in the Toyota Tundra in front of me said it was a major accident two miles ahead. We'd be stuck for several hours. Jesus. We'd been at a standstill for over an hour already. I was about to ask if they knew any other way to get to my campsite but I looked at their plates and saw they were from Montana.

The girl in the Hyundai behind me had Idaho tags so I asked her if she had any suggestions. (The last time I set up a tent in the dark I hammered my thumb numb with a Dollar General mallet.)

"No other way to your highway than to stick it out here til this accident clears," she said. "That's what I'm gonna do."

She was so sweet and peaceful, on her way home from work. She was wearing black work pants and an undershirt. An hour later I walked back to her car. She was sitting with her windows down, contentedly listening to the radio. I offered her my bag of Oreos.

"Really?" She asked.

"Really," I said. "Take it. I've got plenty of food in this car. I've kind of been living out of it."

Feeling like I'd slighted the couple from Montana I walked up their window with my box of banana bread from Laramie, Wyoming. They too were starving and graciously accepted. They thought Cubbie was cute and well behaved considering the traffic backup. I was very proud of him and when I got back to my car I pieced up some banana bread for Cubbie too.

As the sun fell it peek-a-booed behind the sprinklers, the ch-ch-ch of the water hitting the fields put me at ease. It was the most beautiful summer night I've seen since leaving my home in New York. The stars looked like someone flicked them into place. The sky spread so seamlessly flat it looked like my mother had hung it out to dry. Two miles further up the interstate two people died on the side of the road. A semi truck was on its side. I was reading a book; the couple from Montana was eating banana bread, the girl from Idaho was eating Oreos. I covered the moon with my thumb. The horizon, unmistakable, moved me to tears.

--

Friday, July 06, 2007

Klamath Falls, Oregon

This is a story of expectations, highways and disappointments:

When I reached Klamath Falls, Oregon at 9 o'clock in the evening I was deliriously tired. I had gained one hour of daylight and I was ungrateful for it.

My day had started in Jerome, Idaho with a blueberry muffin, scrambled eggs and a long hot shower. I had shaved my legs for Oregon. Wore my favorite dress for Oregon. And then I'd driven for ten hours through Oregon.

If you've even driven through Oregon or plan on doing so know this — there is only one interstate in Oregon and it runs north to south. Its only concern is getting you to Portland and then finally Seattle. That is the objective of I-5. It begins (or ends, whichever way you look at it) in San Diego, California and goes as far as Blaine, Washington. It takes you from the Mexican border to the Canadian. It does not take you through the guts of Oregon. That is the burden of the highway. The highways (and there are a few) will take you through the fibrous, pulpous, and at times mystical region known as central Oregon. These highways are fantastic and frightening. They make you feel infinitesimal. They cut through desert, through forests, climbing the sides of mountains and spanning valleys. They remind you that you are composed of water. That people need people. That you could scramble up the rocks, reach the top of a plateau, crawl into a crevice and disappear. Those who pass through would never know you existed and it would mean nothing to them if you were to ever emerge again. If you're feeling lonely these highways will make you feel lonelier. If you are looking for vindication these highways will not vindicate you. If you're feeling lost these highways will not find you and they will not lead you to a place where you are found. If you are looking for answers to questions you've not solved in years, these highways will not answer them. They will however roll out before you like a tattered scroll as you drive 90 mph and they will let you doggedly work things out in your head. They will absorb the things that have plagued you. That is what they do. They run east to west and they absorb you, cleanse you, and wring you out like a wet rag. Highways like the Outback Byway, the Volcanic Legacy Byway, the Central Oregon Highway… They will crawl inside your head and claw at the parts that make you feel safe and warm. Every fifty miles a town will appear along these highways and you will take that town with you wherever you go. The people who live there will ride with you wherever you go because that is the only way some of these people ever leave. On more than four occasions I asked for directions in south-central Oregon.

"Can you please tell me the best way to get to Bend?"
"No clue."
"How about to Crater Lake. How far am I from Crater Lake?"
"Sorry. Can't help ya."
"Are you familiar with Oregon?"
"Yeah. Born and raised in Klamath Falls."
"But Crater Lake is supposed to be close to Klamath Falls."
"Yeah, beats me."

I was 45 minutes from Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the United States. I found it easily using my maps, my books, my compass, and the northern star. I exhausted every navigational tool I had in the state of Oregon.

In Klamath Falls I checked into my campsite. I was still wearing that goddamn dress. Cubbie was restless, buckled into the passenger seat. The Klamath Falls campground was also the Klamath Falls gas station and liquor store. I was cut in line by a man and a woman buying two 40 oz Budwesiers. They reeked like smoke and booze. They had six teeth between the two of them and I wanted to say, excuse me I'm waiting in line here. I've been driving all day to get here. I have a date with Oregon. Can't you see? But I didn't speak up, just backed up, gave them their space and let them cash out. When their credit card was declined I didn't roll my eyes. I was patient. I picked through the Oregon postcards on the wall.

"Just run one through," the woman slurred.

The clerk ran one bottle through. The card was accepted. The drunkards rejoiced, walked away with one brown bag, six teeth and in the case of the woman — no shoes.

I asked for a tent site for one night please. One night in Klamath Falls and then I'd be off in the morning.

"How close am I to the Oregon coast?"

"Umm … I'm not sure."

"Any suggestions on the best route to the coast?"

"Mm. I haven't been to the coast in years."

"Are you familiar with any east-west highways?"

"I uh, don't know. Maybe the people at Walmart might know."

--

Friday, July 06, 2007

Bubble Burst, Oregon
The things I did not photograph are the things I cherished the most.

I'm home now. I'm in St. Pete. Sitting in Joe's apartment. The pug is asleep next to me. His fur matches Joe's couch. Joe's at work. I'm watching the Cartoon Network. I'm wearing the green sweatshirt I bought in Bandon, Oregon.

The drive home cost me some fingernails, a flat tire, a dented muffler and one sleepless night from one end of Nebraska to the other. When, at 6:30 in the morning, I could not find a motel with any vacancies in the entire state of Nebraska, the kid working the front desk at a Holiday Inn said, "Sorry, no rooms left." I snapped, "You have got to be fucking kidding me," I knew I just needed to get myself home.

It was actually Joe's idea to go to the coast. I was defeated. I'd reached Klamath Falls and I was defeated. I'd driven as far as I could drive. Two drunks in a campground underneath a highway overpass had cut me in line. I had not eaten properly in days and anytime I attempted to eat properly the food wouldn't go down. I was homesick. Homesick and too stubborn to admit it … until eventually I did and it came pouring out.

"I think you should drive to the coast."

"I had a picture of Klamath Falls picked out in my atlas. It looks nothing like the picture. It looks nothing like the picture because the picture was of Multnomah Falls. I had the wrong friggen waterfall."

He told me to calm down. (He's good at that.) I calmed down. He'd mapquest the coast for me. I was only six hours from the Pacific. I should get some sleep, go see Crater Lake and keep going west. I should pick out a place on the ocean and just calm down. I should relax because it would all work out. These things always do. And then, he said … I should just come home. He missed me.

My funds were running out. Totally running out. I needed two days in one place that did not involve ten hours in a '97 Honda Civic that smelled like a Dutch oven. I picked out a dot on the Oregon Coast. Bandon, Oregon — a coastal town as far west as I could go. My heart filled with blood. Blood poured through my arteries, and like a nest of sleeping spiders, my veins and arteries perked up, carried the blood to my brain. The same surge that compelled me in Sarasota to pack up my car for Oregon compelled me to quit fucking complaining and keep going. I was almost there for god sakes.

In the morning I ate what was left of my stale banana bread. I spread out a sheet under a tree and read my Albert Einstein book until I reckoned it was time for Crater Lake and then I took down my tent, rolled up my sleeping bag, fed Cubbie some Alpo and buckled us both back into the Dutch Oven Civic.

--

PS. The first picture is of Crater Lake in Southern Oregon on the crest of the Cascade Mountain Range. Below it are my sneakers, all wet and sandy from running into the Pacific Ocean for the first time in my life. 

Monday, June 8, 2009

The tent diaries 4

Look at the pug's face! Just look at how awe-struck he is standing at the summit of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs in mid-June, his paws sinking into snow for the first time in his pug life.  

After spending two weeks in the Midwest lavishing in the company of friends, good food and pillow-top mattresses, the pug and I started craving solitude again. Part four of this cross-country gallivant marked our return to brazen adventurousness.

Granted, I did stay with my cousin Erik and his wife Rebecca in Littleton, Colo. long enough to develop their cinnamon toast habit and to take a trip to Fairplay, a tiny town in a central Colorado founded during the Colorado Gold Rush and the setting for Trey Parker and Matt Stone's scrappy/brilliant Comedy Central cartoon, South Park.

--

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Colorado Springs
I cut my hair in Colorado Springs. I brought along the small purple mirror that was hanging in my bedroom back in Sarasota. Remembering that the mirror was in my trunk, I pulled it out and hung it from a big tree. I purchased scissors at a gas station back in Kansas for a couple bucks. Pulling out a mottled compact mirror I tried to get a good look-see at the back of my head. (I didn't get one.) Ah well. I hacked at the hair on the back of my head anyway, hoping for a straight line. It's been hot and the hair's been bothering my neck. My mom called.

"What are you up to?"
"I'm cutting my hair."
"Are you getting it straight?"
"Oh I don't know."

The next morning I took a long hot shower in another KOA-tastic bathhouse and discovered that I had a sort of spider bug embedded in my stomach. Great. Wonder what this thing is doing. Blood sucking? Biting? I pinched at the bug, freed its sucker legs from my skin and watched as it circled down the shower drain. I inspected my stomach for signs of Lyme disease or malaria. Lathered with Dove Moisturizing Body Wash and shaved my legs.

--

Friday, June 22, 2007

Estes Park, Colorado
I did not (at first) fall madly in love with Colorado. I camped one night at a KOA in Colorado Springs. White-knuckled it up Pikes Peak. (Yes awesome. Yes poop-your-pants amazing. Bought the bumper sticker for my bicycle helmet. Don't actually own a bicycle helmet.) I climbed red rocks with Cubbie in the Garden of the Gods and cooked butter and herb couscous for dinner that night. I met a man with six pugs who lives in Nokomis, Florida and I took a glorious shower the next morning. However I was craving something with more soul, perhaps non-touristy so I went on a picnic in Green Mountain Falls, an old mountain town in Ute Pass. I found a park with a water fountain, a picnic table and fry-my-face sunshine. I cooked some more couscous and laid out for hours in the sun reading a book Tiesha let me borrow when I visited her in Springfield, Missouri. (Thank you Tiesha. The book is awesome! More later on how carrying this book made a three and half hour traffic standstill not so bad.) After picnicking in Green Mountain Falls I decided what I needed was some good old-fashioned no-shitter, no-running water, no-electricity, no-cell phone tent camping in the heart of The Rocky Mountains. My plan was to arrive in the dark as to avoid park and camping fees (rangers leave their posts after sunset.) The plan worked splendid except that it was pitch black and freezing by the time I arrived at Aspenglen . I tied Cubbie to a tree, prayed he wouldn't become bear bait and put up the tent in the dark. I missed a few times hammering the stakes, nicking the tip of my finger with the hammer. I was freezing. It had dropped well into the 40's.

This was no KOA. There would be no $5 bundles of firewood. Screw that anyway. Those bundles are always green and never burn. I grabbed my flashlight and my handsaw, climbed up the side of a cliff and hacked away at branches. It took several trips up and down the hill, lugging armfuls of thick branches but my fire that night burned hot and long. I boiled water on it for mac and cheese. Fed Cub. Warmed up. Crawled into the tent for some well-deserved sleep. What I heard next however made the hairs on my arms go static. It would keep me up all night. Cubbie would shake and whimper. I'd wish I wasn't alone. I'd wish I was back in Sarasota. I'd regret my trip for about five minutes and then I'd slap myself in the face and whisper, "suck it up."

Screaming. A series of blood curdling screams lasting 45 minutes. First I thought, lovely, a rape. Second I thought, even better, a stabbing. Then I came to my senses and realized it was a mountain lion hunting prey. Funny how when you're in the utter wilderness your thoughts shift from who's going to rape me to what's going to eat me. The next morning I left early, bailing on the $20-per-night fee. I walked the dog around Estes Park, a boutique-y type village where I happened upon a "Hostel Open" sign. For $25 a night I got a nice springy bed in a funky old mountain house with witty, interesting hostel mates from all over the world. The kitchen was fully stocked. The bathrooms were tidy and I swear the living room furniture came from Pier 1. It was the best decision I made in Colorado. One night I rented a movie, bought a People magazine, ate mandarin chicken salad and Java Moose coffee. I bullshitted w/ the hostel mates and watched as elk walked past my bedroom window. Check out Caz & Rob's blog on their travels from Boston to Savannah, from New Orleans to Colorado ... (They're on a 10-week trek all over the world and they're on their way to the Pacific Northwest like me.) They're adorable, sweet and from London. Caz recites Roald Dahl better than anyone I've met.

--

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Boulder, Colorado
I wrote my third column for the paper under a big tree near the University of Colorado. When I returned to my parked car the rear driver's side was smashed in, the paint was chipped and scrapped off in ugly white veins running along the bumper. I stomped my foot and uttered a noise that sounded something like, "afffhhmm!" When the culprit rounded the corner sheepishly apologizing for careening into my parked car, I said, "You! Is this you?"

And he said, "Yeah. I'm so sorry."

And then I softened. His name is Micheal he goes to the University of Colorado. He was wearing a tight American Eagle tee shirt and a baseball cap. He drives a Jeep Grand Cherokee. His insurance will cover it.

--

Monday, June 25, 2007

Laramie, Wyoming
In Laramie Wyoming I purchased coffee, gasoline, a box of blueberry muffins, banana bread and a cheese sandwich from Albertsons. Laramie is lovely. It is also home to the only university in Wyoming, which explains the fast food amenities, abundance of young girls in short shorts and flip flops and why I felt a sudden boost of normalcy in what would soon become a strange, sad journey through the crust of the brown west. NPR comes in perfectly in Laramie. I listened to melancholy Willie Nelson songs on NPR. That day's segment was "Americans On The Road." I threw my hands to the sky in hallelujah. I had been joined by my people! I was driving with Willie riding shot gun ... that is until I crossed into the outer limits of wild westdom and the only reception I picked up was the occasional jerk-braking trucker on a down hill curve. Lovely stuff at first. However, Wyoming quickly became a crouton when what I really wanted was the whole salad. The dusty browns made me miss Sarasota. I ate oranges in Wyoming for the color alone. I drove for hundreds of miles between towns where I saw nothing but high desert. When a prairie popped up from beneath the browns, I crossed my fingers and kissed them for good luck. Please prairie hang around longer.

If you would've asked me three months ago what it was I wanted from the United States, I would have said Middle of Nowhere, Wyoming. Just when it had seemed I'd bitten off a big fat piece of the grass is always greener I arrived five hours later in Bear Lake, Utah.

--

PS. The pug and I are eating an Oatmeal Cream Pie in the second picture. Nothing says nourishment like a Little Debbie snack cake at the top of a mountain. 

Friday, June 5, 2009

Oh, wistful Regina...

Hey. Let's take a break from road tripping for three minutes and 17 seconds to watch Regina Spektor's new music video. The song is called Laughing With and it's off Spektor's new album, Far

For more on this lovable songstress and why, if you haven't already enjoyed her music  you should, read my future sister-in-law Leilani's post on Creative Loafing's excellent music blog, Tampa Calling

I definitely think you'll like.    

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The tent diaries 3

Now onto part three of this adventure, in which Missouri and Kansas treat me well.

I regret not writing about Hannibal, Missouri, Mark Twain's boyhood town. Folks in Hannibal say the town is the setting for Twain's most famous stories.

Tom Sawyer. Huck Finn.  Becky Thatcher. The whole wonderful lot sitting by the Mississippi riverbank in Hannibal.  

Did you know the Unsinkable Molly Brown was headed to Hannibal when she boarded the Titanic 97 years ago on my birthday?  

Speaking of famous Missourians. I camped in Brad Pitt's hometown of Springfield for three nights. It was one of my favorite (and largest) campsites, in a hayfield managed by KOA proprietors Scott and Diane King, off a stretch of rural highway, along the hot and dusty outskirts of town.  

In Springfield, I met up with a friend of a friend for drinks at a Mexican restaurant. She loaned me a book about Albert Einstein and burned me two folks CDs that carried me through to Idaho. It was the first time we'd ever met, and we got along so awesomely I was sad to move on. Every time I opened the Einstein book I thought of how happy I was in Springfield, Missouri, drinking beer with a good conversationalist, talking about books, music and Mexican food. 

Come to think of it, I did write about Hannibal but the story only ran in the newspaper.

--

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Branson, Missouri
It is Wednesday, June 13.
I'm happy to say I'm not in Branson. I'm in Springfield, MO. And I love this campsite! I praised Jesus for this campsite because earlier while intending to camp in Branson, Missouri I discovered Branson is a honky-tonk clusterfuck of rotund old people driving $75,000 RVs. A Barbara Mandrell, Yakov Smirnoff clusterfuck of bellbottom-wearing, bibbed overall, red plaided, eat-til-you-puke, Aqua netted, cake-faced hoe-downed, imitations of the imitation Donnie and Marie Osmond cabaret of overpriced performers. I could've spent $30 a night to camp on a black top slab in Branson or … I could be here — in Springfield, Missouri in a cow pasture by the railroad tracks, in my tent under the hickory tree by the white picket fence, shooing fireflies out of my tent, my pug once again snoring, filled up on the couscous I cooked for dinner and the white Sunbeam bread from Jasper County, SC I toasted on Zac's super duper one-burner camp stove.

--

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Springfield, Missouri
I feel compelled to write something on the nature of roughing it. More than once I've been asked how I'm managing without bathrooms, showers, manicures, matresses, hair dryers and shopping

Let me be clear. I am not roughing it. At least not in my sense of roughing it.
I have not gone a single day without a shower. I love showers! (Ask Zac.) Every campground has a bathhouse. The facilities are better than those of the Hawkins Court cottage I lived in for a year. The bathhouse in Asheville had brass racks for your toiletries. The bathhouse in the Smoky Mountains had granite vanity tops. In Hannibal the shower stall had a shampoo/soap holder hanging from the shower head. Here in Springfield, MO the facilities are kickass. I took a shower this morning in the handicap stall, which is apparently the perfect height for me plus I could sit down and let the water pressure hit my back in all the places I have bug bites.
The worst toilet I've encountered thus far was in Branson West at a gas station staffed by a woman with black teeth and a good sense of direction. (Thank you black toothed woman for heading this lost-in-a-paper bag bozo out of Branson and in the direction of Kansas City.)

Cubbie poops in plush green mountain grass instead of dirt and gravel driveways in Sarasota. He's psyched about that.

Here's where I've had to "rough it" and hardly at that:

I accidentally grew a mullet. I promised Joe I wouldn't cut it on the road. But it's killing me. So I had Kevin cut off the mullet tail in Chicago. (I'm still growing it! And yeah rat tails in The Ozarks are like boob jobs in Miami ... but I'd rather not do the mullet.) 

I'm too cheap to purchase the following items so I steal them from gas stations:

- tiny International Delight coffee creamers
- sugar packets
- napkins
- salt & pepper packets

Rather than moisturize with Bath & Body Works Berry Bananza lotion or whatever I moisturize with OFF! Deep Woods Sportsmen bug spray.

I'm eating better than I did in Sarasota because I'm forced to make wise choices when I stop at Piggly Wigglys for groceries. I buy berries. I buy bananas. I do not buy chips or cookies. Chips and cookies hold me over for about an hour and then I'm hungry again. Cookies are gifted to me by all midwestern moms and dads I've stayed with so far. (Thank you Mr. & Mrs. Schnelle.) Besides, I won't buy anything Cubbie can't eat and chocolate upsets his stomach. I think.

My biggest complaint right now is that I don't have my bicycle. I couldn't fit my fat pug into the basket Betsy gave me so I left the bike at home. I'm going through withdrawls. I despise jogging and so does Cubbie. So I suppose I'll have to be content with the amount of physical activity I get from schlepping my cooler into the shade whenever the sun changes positions and putting up and taking down my campsite in the sweltering, swamp-assing heat of the day.

Anyway. Ro just called. Yeah, I'm on the phone writing emails from a picnic table in southern Missouri. I'm getting a tan and really ... I'm not roughing it at all.

When I've crapped in the woods I'll let ya know.

--

Monday, June 18, 2007

Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City is posh. The shopping is upscale and chic. The houses are enormous and cheap. Everyone seems to have a deck, a furnished basement and a subbasement. Kids marry young in Kansas City. Not to suggest that marrying young is in any way abnormal or problematic. Not in the least. It's just the way it is. I'm envious a little of how every young, adorable couple I met had their lives under control. Their careers, their domesticity, their Maytag appliances … for every lapse in my judgment, for every second guess, for every fickle move I made in the past or to come … the couples I met in Kansas City were so well put together I hoped that just by brushing elbows with some of them, their clear-headedness would rub off on me.
KC was my last stop in the Midwest. Phew too! I was aching to go west. (I saw more of Missouri in one week than of my own home state.)

I arranged to stay with my friends Meg and Cory, who moved from Kansas City to Sarasota and then back again over a year ago. I miss them! I want them back! I realize now that there are only three ways around missing Meg and Cory. Clone them, visit them or insist they visit me. I love these two. Cory talks slower than anyone I know. He has an interesting vocabulary and is funny in a very understated, what's-so-funny? kind of way. He used to wear flannel pajama pants to work (European Marble.) Betsy used to ask if he was stoned. (He wasn't.) Although Cory did not make many friends in Sarasota, on the night before he moved to Kansas City he got schnokered and (almost) admitted to wishing he had. Meg reminds me of Jennifer Aniston. She walks the line effortlessly between ever going overboard on any of her hugely gracious characteristics. She listens so well and offers such good advice she should break from designing Hallmark's catalogs and write their greeting cards instead.

Cory and Meg's house is enormous by Sarasota standards. The carpet is plush and super soft on my feet even though Cory plans on ripping it out. Meg has paisley-printed dishes and dishtowels so pretty I could tie them on as headbands. They have big, comfy suede sofas that we saved one night from her cousin's "I'm OK to drive home" puking friend. We (sort of) cooked dinner for her dad on Father's Day. We lied out on the deck in our suits and read Cosmo. We (sort of) shopped. We drank Sangria. We ate Pizza Shoppe pizza with her mom. We highlighted my road atlas along all the routes I've traveled so far. We rented chick flicks and ate frozen custard at Sheridans, a custard stand that has hula-hoops hanging up for people to hula with while they're waiting for their orders. We ate pasta and drank great wine with the Kansas City Chief of Police. I played fetch with a golden retriever whose name is slipping me right now. I had such a good time I decided to stay an extra night. When I left early Monday morning Meg was heading out the door for work, Cory's alarm was going off, Cubbie was splayed out on the kitchen tile, my car was packed with Gatorade, peanuts, Oreos and Oatmeal Cream Pies from Meg's mom, Patty. I had tucked inside my wallet a business card from KC's Chief of Police.
"Take this," he said half-joking, half-not, "… if you have any trouble."

--

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Quinter, Kansas
I did what everyone told me to do in Kansas. I drove in a straight line from east to west. About an hour out of Kansas City the land flattened into high plains like TV tables in the fields of wheat. It was raining when I pulled out of Meg and Cory's place in KC, Missouri. It was the first time since Tennessee that I had to use my windshield wipers. I was dreading the drive – doubly now because I hate driving in the rain and because everyone I know (with the exception of my editors) said the state of Kansas was one big drive-right-through-it-if-you-can bore.

Cory called me soon after my leaving his place.

"Just checking to make sure you got out of the city alright."
"Yeah, I'm good. It's raining."
"How far are you?"
"A little ways into Kansas."
"Good luck. There aint shit to see."

You were all wrong. Kansas is spectacular. In the same way I respect the pair of cutoff khaki shorts I've had since I was 14, I respect Kansas — for its unfussiness. Whenever I reach a place where I can see so far I have to squint things into focus, my imagination runs wild. And if there is anything in this world I want to run wild, it is my imagination.

Kansas is a canvas.

Wish I had camped in Kansas. Took me a few hours to get through it. Pulled over several times to take pictures. Ate lunch on a dirt road in between the wheat fields. Met no locals and was fine with that.

The sun popped out about half way through. I blasted my radio. Daydreamed. Felt unencumbered. Felt like I wouldn't mind living in such a place. Felt like Dorothy had a good thing going when she said, "There's no place like home."

I pulled over in Quinter, Kansas. Sat on the side of a dirt road that stretched so far into the horizon I squinted my eyes and narrowed it into one gold strand. Imagined Kansas like Goldilocks. Thanked Kansas for its carbohydrates. Sat on a folded bed sheet, leaned up against the car, let Cubbie loose into a wheat field and watched as patches of dusty gray dandelions wisps stuck to his black face. I didn't bother to pick them off at first because he looked so perfect covered in them. I asked Cubbie what he thought of Kansas and he said he didn't understand what all those people were talking about when they said to drive right through it.

--

PS. It was my friend Meg who insisted one night while we were up talking for hours that I write this Lance. I remember her saying, "It's right up your alley. It's free. For godsakes just do it." Thank you, Meg. Your encouragement has always meant the world to me. Visit Mimi & Meg. She has impeccable taste in fashion and interior design. I seriously stopped buying In Style magazine when she started the site. She's what I like to call a cool hunter.  

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The tent diaries 2

Part two of this adventure revolved around staying with friends and friends' families. 

For two weeks I traveled the Midwest, sometimes camping, sometimes staying with people I knew (or people of people I knew.) It turns out I know a lot of Midwesterners, and their company was a nice reprieve from solitude. 

In Macomb, Illinois I stayed with my girl Ricci's mom, Beth.  In Chicago I stayed with my old coworker Kevin. In Athens, Illinois (a charming little town outside of Springfield) I stayed with my old roommate Zac's family. Zac, in case you didn't read this post, is one of several reasons why I asked Joe out. He also threw me a sweet bon voyage dinner party the night before I left town, at which he cooked my favorite authors' favorite foods. (Hemingway's gazpacho was delish.) Zac's marrying us in September. I've also convinced him to MC the event. 

Without further ado, here's part two of my road trip, in which accommodating Midwesterners welcome the pug and I with open arms, scrambled eggs and bags of radishes:

Friday, June 08, 2007

Osceola, Arkansas
Osceola, Arkansas is as flat as my palm. The roads run like wrinkles in the land. Dry, dusty wrinkles through fields of wildflowers. For every stop sign there is a Baptist church. For every billboard there is a cry in capital letters to choose Life. The country stations play old country. Dolly. Willy. Merle Haggard. In between songs a man reads the obituaries of local residents -- the times and the places of memorial and burial services and what each person meant to their community. When I crossed the Missouri line I pulled off an exit for Sikeston to eat throwed rolls at Lamberts Cafe but the place had no outdoor seating, which is a problem since my dog cannot be left in the car for the duration of any sit-down meals, (thus my recent diet of cheese crackers from a Dollar General in Sevierville, Tenn.) So instead I pulled into a Piggly Wiggly to take a wee, was forced to use an old Post It note in my purse as toilet paper since the Piggly Wiggly's employees only bathroom had none, bought the Southeast Missourian, forced my overheating pug to drink water and continued on my way to Macomb, Illinois.
I had no idea what to expect.

--

Monday, June 11, 2007

Macomb, Illinois
This is Ricci's hometown: Macomb, Illinois.
Let me put it this way. There is something magnificent to be said for each and every one of our friend's hometowns. If you've ever traveled to or with a friend back to the place they came from then you know what I mean. Someone's hometown-- the place in which they became a person-- is an extension of their body. It's an organ really. It's this living, ticking, blood-pumping organ. And whether or not they still live there, the town will always be an organ.

Your hometown's tissues are your tissues. It's comforting in that chicken noodle soup kind of way.

About Ricci's I can say this: I drove straight from Mempis to Western Illinois. It took me six hours of I-55 driving and then two and half hours of US 67 driving. Taking an interstate clear across a state (much like I did in Tennessee) and taking a US highway are two totally different worlds. Whichever path you choose you will drum up two totally different feelings. Interstate driving is zone-out, steering wheel-drumming driving. Blinker left, blinker right.

Highway driving is rolling pastures, on-coming trucks, stop signs beside old gas stations with no names, baseball diamonds cut into cornfields, sweet potato fries and custard stands with bells on the doors so whenever you come or go you make an entrance or an exit.

My father would say it's like flying in a Cessna instead of a 747.

By the time I got to Macomb I was totally embedded in Western Illinois. I called my Oma and told her I felt like the state was a quilt and up until this point I'd only traveled the surface from square to square. This time on US 67 I had burrowed into the cotton batting between the layers. I was a piece of lint. And I was beginning to feel a little ... well, absolutely and disconcertingly ... stuck.

The farmlands of Illinois look exactly like my hometown. If I were to fall asleep on the side of the road in Industry, Illinois and woke up the next day unaware of my travels, I'd think I was in North Collins, NY. When this became amazingly clear to me I started to freak the hell out.

It took me hours to reach Macomb. I was back and forth with Ricci's mom every thirty minutes. "I'm driving through the town of blah-blah-blah. Am I close yet?"

"Nope. Keep going."

When I finally reached Macomb I was exhausted. Cubbie was antsy. I was starving. The only nourishment I'd had that day was an enormous cup of coffee that waged inside my stomach a small and unsuccessful war.

Ricci's mom, Beth told me to meet her at a friend's place on Pennyoaks Drive. She was helping some friends load a U-Haul truck. The friends were moving to St. Louis. There would be a potluck dinner and Ricci's high school friends' parents would be there. It was 7 pm by the time I rolled up the Bitner's drive. I opened the car door, a chewed-up apple rolled out of my car. The pug bounded from the passenger seat. I took a swig of water, smoothed by khaki shorts and walked up the driveway to a procession of Midwestern moms and dads loading a U-Haul truck in a u-shaped driveway. It was Midwestern hospitality at its best.

I was promptly offered water and homemade garlic cheese bread. I said yes to both. I was as curious of them as they were of me. Ricci's mother along with some of Ricci's highschool friends' parents decided to form a club after their kids took off for college. They still meet at least once a month. I happened to roll into town on such a day. There is no better way to roll into town.

Beth took me out for icecream at DQ to which Ricci later told me on the phone, "that's the old hangout dude. Like every one of my friends worked there growing up."

It's true. Now that Ricci's friends are gone the place is staffed by most of Beth's high school students (she's a math teacher at Macomb High.) I ordered a vanilla cone. Beth got a dilly bar. Cubbie begged for both.

When we got home Cubbie and I crashed on Ricci's old bed.

"That's so weird- you on my bed back home," Ricci said from Sarasota.

"I know! There are alot of posters of cute guys on the wall. Did your sister take this over when you left for college?"

"Yes."

Her mother piped up in the background. "She wasn't happy about it."

Beth scrambled me eggs in the morning (in the microwave because the oven broke recently) and sent me off with a baggie of radishes and nectarines.

"How do I get out of Macomb?" I asked.

She pondered it for a second.

"I'll lead you," she said. "I'm headed to Hannibal today. Follow me to the highway. Head north for Chicago." She looked over at the baggie of radishes in my hand. "You'll like those. They're fresh from the garden."

She stepped into her car and I stepped into mine. I strapped Cubbie into the passenger seat. We turned off Debbie Lane and headed out of town. Moments later we pulled up to an intersection. I looked over at Beth one car over. She pointed her finger north. I rolled down the dog's window.

"Thank you!" I yelled out into traffic.

"We forgot to get coffee," she yelled back.

"That's OK. I'll get some in Chicago."

"Take care. Drive safe!"

Cubbie snorted twice. I turned onto the highway. Tim McGraw was on the radio. Nectarines were in my cup holder as I burrowed north out of the quilt batting and back onto the periphery of the squares.

--

Monday, June 11, 2007

Chicago
I had no expectations for Chicago. Really.

I figured I'd get lost driving in. I figured Kevin would have a small apartment and that I'd be, at some point, coerced into eating a hotdog. I was right about the hotdog and the small apartment. But on the getting lost part… hot damn, I found my way so easily I figured I must have driven into the wrong city. (I was once lost in a mall parking lot in Sarasota, so I'd say my reaching Illinois is damn impressive ... not to mention my driving up Michigan Avenue at rush hour to pick Kevin up at work.)

My dad called earlier.
"Where you headed today?"
"I'm driving into Chicago as we speak."
"Well. That's a helluva city to go to."
"I know."
"Whatcha doin in Chicago?"
"I'm picking Kevin up from work."

He was right -- Chicago is a helluva city and KJA was a helluva tour guide. Apparently I choose the perfect weekend to visit. Street festivals. Art fairs. Book fairs. Tribute bands. Amazingly, beautiful, fantastic weather. I could go on. Instead I'll do this.

In my three days of Chicago sightseeing I participated/witnessed the following things:

• Gay Asian midget with a 6 foot 5 partner
• Man on subway w/ mouthful of Listerine which he spit out when the doors opened
• An earth-shattering episode of 90210
• Dave Matthews & U2 concerts (sort of)
• The "Batman" film set on the first floor of Kevin's building
• Impromptu dive pub crawl until 3 am
• Drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon (which would make me feel shiteous the next day)
• Pissing in a bush near Belmont Ave
• Eating a hotdog for the first time in eight years
• Enjoying the hotdog
• Not enjoying the sport pepper
• Kevin sniffing a bull penis
• Purchasing the bull penis for Cubbie
• Scouring Andersonville for funnel cake
• Drinking the debut Miller Chill (froufrou and eww)
• Walking Cubbie to Wrigley Field for photo op
• Walking Kevin to snake exhibit at Lincoln Park Zoo

--

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Athens, Illinois
I'm at my roommate Zac's family's house.
What is it about the Midwest?
When I rolled up to Zac's place in Athens, Il (pronounced A-THINS) Zac's adorable and super sweet mother was hosting a Gone With The Wind party for her Relay-For-Life team. The chocolate chip cookies in the midwest are by far the best chocolate chip cookies this cookie monster has ever had. (And I've had plenty. I once ate an entire jar of cookies back home. I sat on top of my kitchen counter crying to my mother about why I hated my job bussing tables at TGI Fridays.)

Zac- much thanks to your mom and Tina who contended with a four-dog-one-cat brawl in their backyard. My apologies go out on behalf of Cubbie who pissed on the side of the downstairs sofa. A little shout-out to Rachel (Zac's 17-year-old sister) and Marian (Rachel's friend who spends her summers working as a Civil War era reenactor in nearby Springfield) for taking me to see Miss Saigon at an outdoor opera. I forget what it's like to ride with two funny teenagers in a family-sized sedan giggling about nasty gym teachers and how flippin' cute Orlando Bloom is.

--

PS. The first photo is of the back seat of my car. (Note the picnic basket and gas station blueberry muffin.) The second photo is the pug's view from the passenger seat window as we passed through hauntingly beautiful Arkansas. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The tent diaries

In the summer of 2007 – less than three months after I started dating Joe – I took a road trip from Southwest Florida to the Oregon Coast. I was gone for a little over a month. Just me and the pug in a borrowed tent. With a loose plan, and a 1997 Honda Civic stocked with jars of peanut butter and cans of vegetable soup, the pug and I camped alone in state parks from Asheville, N.C. to Klamath Falls, Ore

It was, to be brief, the most amazing and fantastic adventure I've ever taken. It's been almost two years now and I was thinking today about how inspired, how bold and how awe-struck I was at the time. How utterly fearless. 

I didn't have a blog blog then. Instead I chronicled the trip in a series of newspaper stories that I emailed to my editor by ripping off wireless Internet connections in Holiday Inn Express parking lots. 

In addition to that column, which Joe so aptly named "Heidi Go Seek" after I called him in Osceola, Arkansas to pick his brain for headline suggestions, I also wrote these rambling MySpace "blog" posts. Here are the first four – unedited, un-tweaked, grammatical errors and all:

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Savannah, Georgia
All I know of Savannah is that my motel has free wireless. As my Nana would say, "It rained like the dickens," so I did the sensible thing and booked a room at America's Best Value Inn, watched "John Tucker Must Die" and ate popcorn chicken from Sonic.

I had all the intentions of setting up camp on Skidaway Island, Ga., reading dusty literature and writing something that would make someone sigh. Instead I surfed DevilSpace with it being free wireless and all, broke my daily allowance of $30, showered under hot water with Dove soap and cursed the misfortune of having tailed Tropical Storm Barry from St. Petersburg to Savannah.

--

Monday, June 04, 2007

Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville is like a good peanut butter sandwich. It is exactly how I imagined it. Creamy. Easy to spread. Fun to lick off my fingers. Good on apples. Plentiful. Generous. Good even when it's not brand name.

My pug likes Asheville better than Savannah but I credit the weather with that. It didn't rain! Although last night the wind picked up for a good 30 minutes and in that 30 minutes my tent shook so badly I could only imagine eight burly men looking like the Brawny paper towel dude shoving the thing back and forth like a game of hot potato. Cub was trembling and I don't use the word trembling often.

I was told this trip might kill me. People are creeps and pyschos. Who the christ sleeps in a tent across the country alone, my nana asked me. I was told to carry sharp or heavy blunt objects. Upon talking to a police officer in Sarasota I was told to get a concealed weapons permit and a handgun. My father refused to discuss this trip with me anytime I called, as if not talking about it would make me stay safely in Sarasota where I would spend the summer walking my dog on the beach, getting $58 tickets for ... walking my dog on the beach. (Which I got the day before I left town. Fellow Sarasota dog-lovers stay away from Shell Beach!)

Anway, back in Asheville my neighbors one tent over are from Chicago. Their names are Bob and Jen. Jen brought me over laundry detergent and Bob likes to fish for bass. On this trip however he's mostly snagged snapping turtles. A crying shame really. One turtle was so flipping huge the hook broke off in his mouth. I asked Bob if the hook would find it's way out of the turtle's mouth and he sort of shrugged, a cigar wedged between his lips and said, "Ya never know."

When Jen asked me if I was traveling alone I hesitated. ("Goddamit never tell 'em you're alone," my father warned.) Well, duh. It doesn't take CSI Miami to figure out the chick with the pug are without human company.

So I replied, "Well, yeah. I'm alone."

"Aren't you scared?" Jen asked.

I wanted to say, sometimes yes.

"No," I said (with forced bravado.) "There are more Bobs and Jens than creeps and pyschos, right?"

Oh, the naiveté!

On to Gaitlinburg, Tenn. I hear Gatlinburg is the Las Vegas of the mountains.

--

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Gatlinburg, Tennessee 
I'm lying in my tent at 11:30 at night. It's raining out. Pretty little popcorn rain in a one-man-one-pug tent. If Joe were here I'd be whispering, "This is soooo romaaantic."

Turns out Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park also has wireless access. Yogi totally is smarter than the aver-age bear.

So! These are the Smoky Mountains. It's true what they say about them too- there is a blue-green haze that hovers over the forests in Tennessee. Like North Carolina is burning incense and the smoke is wafting to Tennessee.

It's thundering out in a pleasant way. Please let is stay pleasant all night. Cubbie is snoring. I just ate six chocolate donuts, felt guilty, brushed my teeth, rid myself of guilt breath.

The owner of Jellystone Park drives around on a golf cart with a big "T" on the back of it. He loves my pug. Has one himself. Heard from the girl up at the front desk that I'm camping alone. Said, "If there's anything you need darling you just let me know." Then he pet my pug and said, "You got yerself a good companion," and drove off.

My neigbors one tent over are about 25-ish. Sean and Rachel from Baton Rouge. They got engaged beside a waterfall yesterday.

"It was a piece of junk waterfall," Sean said. "But she said yes so that's all that matters."

Rachel invited me over for hotdogs and s'mores. I took a raincheck, hung in my hammock and read a book. I'm digging the Yogi Bear park ... although this thunderstorm is really starting to pick up. Ey! I can barely hear my iTunes.

--

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Memphis, Tennessee
I can't sleep in Memphis, Tennessee. This time I booked a room at the Deeelux, Inn where I could give Cubbie a bath. He's snoring at my feet in this big scary bed. Maybe he's happy now that the tree sap is scrubbed from his fur. Maybe he doesn't care. I hate motels. I much prefer camping in the woods to staying in a motel alone. There are two flies in this room. Two dopey flies. I swatted one earlier with a washcloth and killed it. I set the washcloth on the bedside table ready for the next kill. Also on the bedside table -- my pepper spray and swiss army knife. I hate motels.

I gained an hour. It's only 3:15 in the morning. Only.

Memphis was a whirlwind, last minute detour in the name of my father. He has no idea I decided to skip Louisville, KY in favor of Memphis so I could go to Graceland to purchase an Elvis baseball cap for him for Father's Day. My dad loves Elvis. He's never been to Memphis. If he were on this trip he would insist on following the tour guide throughout the entire tour. 

He'd be the guy asking the questions along the way.

"Really? So Elvis loved orange marmalade on his toast? Get outta town! Say, is that his original baby blanket?"

By the time I got to Graceland the place was closed. So I took my pug for a walk up Elvis Presley Blvd. upon which he took a shit. And then I walked across the street to a (nearly) 24-hour Elvis emporium.

The most overpriced souvenir in Graceland -- gold sunglasses. And I wanted them too! I wanted them to wear around Sarasota for when I go through the Wendys Drive Thru. Instead I got an Elvis bikini for ten bucks. It was a wise choice. I'll wear it to the YMCA on Euclid Ave.

There's this scene from, "A Thing Called Love" in which Samantha Mathis and River Phoenix get to Graceland but Graceland's closed for the night. That's how I felt tonight.

For breakfast I want an omlette in Memphis. What are the chances of my waking up in time for breakfast? What are the chances of my finding a diner in this town that serves breakfast all day? 

Hmm ... I'm thinking something like the Bluebird Cafe. I'll Google it.

--

PS. Pictured above is my tent in Asheville, N.C. I purchased the red collapsable hammock from a Vietnamese five-and-dime in North Sarasota. If you look at the picture and squint to the far left, you'll see Cubbie, my pug. If I've failed to identify Cubbie until now, I apologize. He wanted to remain anonymous and requested that I simply refer to him as "pug," but since I'm not editing these old entries, I must (by default) reveal his true identity. If you want to friend Cubbie on Facebook, click here

Saturday, May 23, 2009

My urban rooster

Sneaky synchronicity has reared its fateful head again!

And in addition to this, I'm pleased to report that I have a new animal spirit guide. 

Behold: my rooster. 

I've written about meaningful coincidences and animal totems before. 

The last time I wrote about synchronicity I was on vacation in the Florida Panhandle trying to figure out the significance of seeing butterfly nets. And the last time I wrote about animal spirit guides, in particular my frog spirit guide, I got a tongue lashing from Natasha up in Alberta, Canada.

This time it's cocks.

Someone in the neighborhood has a rooster. How else can I explain the barnyard opera I'm hearing in the morning when I walk the pug? 

The first time I heard it, I froze in my tracks. 

Could it be? I asked myself. A rooster crowing in the City of St. Pete? I wrote it off as a Basset Hound and continued walking the obstinate pug.

Again it crowed. 

I looked down at my pug to see if maybe he had heard it too, but he was uncharacteristically uncurious and continued about his sniffing, pissing and grunting. So I let it go – until Thursday morning, when I heard it again. 

Well, I'll be damned, I said. A goddamn rooster living in the city! 

When I returned to the house with this knowledge, I had to tell Joe.

"Must be someone knows you've got problems getting out of bed in the morning."

He grunted. Rolled over on his side.

"A rooster in our neighborhood! How exciting! First tomatoes, now this. Man, it's like I'm back home again."

To further illustrate my point, I started mimicking the cock.

"If it's not a rooster it sure sounds like one," I said as I shuffled to the kitchen to make Joe's usual turkey sammie. 

Five minutes later, I went digging for a little card to stick in his Tupperware container. I'm lame and sappy and sometimes put notes in my fiancĂ©'s lunch. I've got this box of random note cards with one note card for every day of the year. They're tiny – the size of a matchbook – and therefore function perfectly as embarrassing lunch love notes. 

So I reached into my box of 365 note cards (at this point there are about 300 left) and I pulled one at random. Now remember: no two cards in this collection are alike, making what happened next quite impressive.

On the front of the card was of course, a devilish rooster. But I reckon you already knew that.

So now it seems a rooster is my shepherd, signaling the end of the tree frog's reign. 

As for what exactly the rooster means, I found this:

Rooster (aka Cock): Rooster is a symbol of resurrection and sexuality as he heralds in the dawn of a new day. Often, good news is at hand when Rooster appears in Dreamtime. However, watchfulness is key as the dreamer must be ever aware of being overly arrogant or cocky. Rooster reminds us to avoid fighting at all costs. The lesson is to respect others while honoring ourselves, or we just might find ourselves ensnared in a ruse of our own making.

Or this:

The Rooster is a solar symbol and represents sexuality. Those with a Rooster as a Totem may have had past lives as early Christians or ancient Greeks. A Rooster totem brings enthusiasm and humor and a sense of optimism. The Rooster is a totem of great power and mystery with ties to the ancient past and clues to your own hidden powers. It is the enemy of evil spirits and can bound them with the light of day.

Cockadoodledoo! I already love this totem way better than the tree frog.  

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PS. The misguided rooster above was photographed by McBeth. For more evocative storytelling pictures like this, visit McBeth's Flickr photostream. She photographs vexing toothbrush packages, puzzling road signs, tea bags and much, much more!