Heartland Roadtrip

My 9 year old son & I final­ly took a fam­i­ly vaca­tion back in August. I’m hop­ing he’ll remem­ber this trip, unlike some of the oth­er adven­tures we’ve been on. We were gone a week, put 3330 miles on my car & had a pret­ty awe­some time. I left my work phone at home; I couldn’t tell you the last time I was ful­ly unplugged from a job. I can tell you the last time I took a vaca­tion that wasn’t to spend time fam­i­ly: 1998, when I took a week long school trip to Mex­i­co over spring break. Maybe I’ll actu­al­ly take an adult vaca­tion one of these days.

Trip Prep

  • The dog went to my friend for the week.
  • I obtained a cit­i­zens band radio, anten­na, & a copy of the same CB slang dic­tio­nary I had as a child.
  • I obtained 2 dis­pos­able col­or cam­eras for my son, & 1 dis­pos­able black & white cam­era for me. The pho­tos in this post are from that cam­era, except for the ones at the end which are from my smart­phone.
  • I made a bunch of sand­wich­es & filled a cool­er with those & water bot­tles. Eat­ing on the road is expen­sive. Also plen­ty of snacks.
  • Tent, sleep­ing bags, changes of clothes
  • A flask of bour­bon

The Trip

Day 1 — Chicago & Westward

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I got up a bit after 5, loaded the car, & woke up the kid about 10 min­utes before 6. He got dressed, used the bath­room, & we were on the road by 6:05am. Dri­ving from Cleve­land to Chica­go is expen­sive. A tank of gas & $20+ in tolls lat­er & we arrived at the Sol­dier Field park­ing garage ($22 base rate) to vis­it The Field Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry ($36). Abra­ham & I enjoyed the large col­lec­tion of mete­orites & look­ing at a full Tyran­nosaurus Rex fos­sil, but both of us felt a great pres­ence of colo­nial­ism, as much of the muse­um con­sists of arti­facts “dis­cov­ered” & trans­port­ed from their point of ori­gin. En route to Chica­go, my son got on the CB as “Kung Fu Kat” & request­ed a traf­fic report using the slang dic­tio­nary. It was hilar­i­ous.

Back on the road & head­ed toward Wis­con­sin. Abra­ham was just hap­py to vis­it a bunch of States he’d nev­er been in before, but I was eager to get to some sort of Wis­con­sin Cheese House™ so I could obtain, if I was lucky, some New Glarus Brew­ery Wis­con­sin Bel­gian Red ale, my favorite beer of all time. We stopped at the Mouse­house Cheese­haus & my dream came true. I pur­chased the 3 bot­tles they had left in stock & kept them in the cool­er for the next 6 days.

Right after Abra­ham fin­ished one of my sand­wich­es, we got pulled over. We got out of a tick­et, I think, because my son had dried mus­tard all over his face & was cute & chat­ty with her about going to South Dako­ta. A few hours lat­er (15 hours after leav­ing Cleve­land) we arrived the Jack­son, MN KOA, where an out­door karaoke night was in full swing. This day wasn’t bad, I just knew it was going to be long & nut­ty — it did not dis­ap­point. We passed out.

Day 2 — Tourist Trapped & Okay With It

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& were up at 6 & back on the road to South Dako­ta. South Dako­ta is a mag­i­cal land where the speed lim­it is 80mph. Don’t go over the speed lim­it or you’ll get pulled over. I got a warn­ing here as well; the troop­er said since the speed lim­it is 80, they don’t give any lee­way. It was real­ly cool how cross­ing the Mis­souri riv­er result­ed in an imme­di­ate change in the land­scape as well as an imme­di­ate pres­ence of bill­boards & their siren songs for all the var­i­ous tourist traps that we end­ed up vis­it­ing. This includ­ed:

The Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD.

This appears to be a city hall cov­ered in corn cobs & shucks.

The Badlands Petrified Gardens in Kadoka, SD

We stopped here on a whim — I love their old school sig­nage. Epit­o­me of a mid­dle-of-nowhere tourist trap, but we received some amaz­ing intel on how to spend our 2 days in the area from the old cou­ple run­ning the place. If it weren’t for them I might have skipped the Bad­lands or Devil’s Tow­er, and that would have been a huge mis­take.

Some Prairie Dog Place That’s Not on the Map

My pri­or expe­ri­ence with prairie dogs was an old-ass video game shoot­er. They are basi­cal­ly blonde ground­hogs. We stopped here so that my son could take a few pic­tures.

Badlands National Park

I had no idea this was so close to Mount Rush­more, or I would have put it on the list in the first place. Thank­ful­ly the folks at the Bad­lands Pet­ri­fied Gar­dens encour­aged us to take the scenic route. After so much prairie, dri­ving over a hill into a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent land­scape was a moment of unex­pect­ed awe. We’d been through an awful lot of dri­ving and seen an awful lot of stuff, but this is when Abra­ham said “Dad, this trip just went to the next lev­el!” The Bad­lands are not a place I would want to be lost and with­out water.

Wall Drug in Wall, SD

If you took all the signs for Wall Drug scat­tered across South Dako­ta, and assem­bled them, you might end up with enough to make anoth­er Wall Drug. Wall Drug is huge, so imag­ine how many signs we saw? There’s no real rea­son to stop here, oth­er than to say that you stopped there.

Mount Rushmore

We were worn out by the time we stopped here. All there real­ly is to do here is the pho­to op & it was near­ly impos­si­ble to get a good pic­ture out of either of us do to worn-out-ness. The most inter­est­ing part was learn­ing that the site is also known as Six Grand­fa­thers & is sacred to the Lako­ta Sioux. They are not pleased with the guys carved into it.

Whispering Pines Campground

We spent a great two nights here, def­i­nite­ly rec­om­mend it as a spot to camp if you’re in the area.


We stopped into to this piz­za shack for din­ner, it was full of bik­ers from the Stur­gis Ral­ly. One of those spots where peo­ple write notes on $1 bills and sta­ple them to the wall. Notable only because the table we sat at had a $1 from some­one from my home­town.

Day 3 — Devil’s Tower, WY & A Hail Storm From Hell

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Abra­ham some­how knew that Devil’s Tow­er was out this way & he talked me into the 3 hour round-trip dri­ve to see it. I was about dri­ven-out by this point, but I’m glad I took his advice. It was an amaz­ing piece of geol­o­gy & unfor­tu­nate that the name is a mis­trans­la­tion. This site is like the Vat­i­can for the Lako­ta Sioux & 22 (?) oth­er indige­nous folks. It’s real­ly called Big Bear Lodge (or some­thing to that effect, the word for bear & the word for evil spir­it appar­ent­ly sound sim­i­lar if you’re not pay­ing good atten­tion). We spent most of the morn­ing here & got back to camp in the ear­ly after­noon. We’d main­ly been eat­ing out of packed food from a cool­er, but went to a restau­rant near­by for din­ner.

As we left, a hail storm hit the area. This was some­thing very dif­fer­ent from every oth­er hail storm I’d expe­ri­enced. I thought it was going to crack the win­dows on our car. It end­ed up leav­ing about 110 dents & doing $1500 worth of dam­age to the vehi­cle.

We arrived back at camp & my awe­some tent had with­stood the storm with aplomb. We hur­ried inside & it grew dark and stormed all night long. I’ve nev­er expe­ri­enced a storm of this feroc­i­ty. My son slept like a log through the whole thing, but I don’t know how. I felt like we were inside the thun­der. It inspired this poem. I’ll nev­er for­get it.

Day 4

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We drove all day. South Dako­ta, Iowa, Nebras­ka, Mis­souri. Camped in Mis­souri and had some of the best south­ern food I’ve had at the Tin Kitchen in West­on, MO. Took our first show­ers in 4 days in the nicest show­ers I’ve ever seen in a state park. Hap­py Cen­ten­ni­al Mis­souri State Parks!

Day 5 — Saint Louis Pizza & New Harmonie State Park

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We went to the arch, of course, but the real rea­son we hit St. Louis was so I could have a St. Louis-style piz­za, which is the arche­type of piz­za. The quin­tes­sence of piz­za remains Piz­za King, but as for its prog­en­i­tors: the moth­er is clear­ly St. Louis & the father like­ly Chica­go. It was about 95° & 90% humid­i­ty, so we head­ed over to Indi­ana, where, if not any cool­er, was at least shadier. New Har­monie State Park remind­ed me very much of White­wa­ter State Park, where I spent much of my child­hood. We fol­lowed the sounds of a barred owl deep into the woods. It start­ed to rain, but the tree cov­er kept us dry & we saw a cou­ple of deer who didn’t see us.

Day 6 — Mammoth Cave & Wigwam Village #2

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Mam­moth Cave was the last big stop on our trip. The boy was too excit­ed to real­ize how tired he was, which is good, because we explored all around the cave and man­aged a great tour of the best bits of the cave before we spent the rest of the day lay­ing in bed at our motel. Wig­wam Vil­lage #2 was built in 1937 & the ceil­ing fan almost elec­tro­cut­ed me. The show­er was like a pres­sure wash­er, and much appre­ci­at­ed. Although the tack­i­ness of the motel now is quite clear­ly polit­i­cal­ly incor­rect, the place is owned by Indi­ans. From India. Can you taste that fla­vor? That’s the fla­vor of Amer­i­ca.

Day 7 — Harveysburg, OH & Home

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The final day was just a 6 hour dri­ve back to Cleve­land, with one stop on the way, in Har­veys­burg, OH. We cov­ered over 3000 miles in just about a week, with not even the small­est dis­agree­ment, until about 3 miles from home when I made my son try to do the math on how many miles we aver­aged per day. He sat next to me in the front seat almost the whole way, and every­thing we talked about was impor­tant. I wouldn’t change a thing.


Roadtrippers Itinerary

View Full Trip

Sundry Digital Photos

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(The rea­son this took so long to post is that get­ting the black & white pho­tos devel­oped was a com­plete dis­as­ter & took sev­er­al months to get done cor­rect­ly)

Something in the hills is angry

I am deaf but for rumbles and blind but
for the way the night lights when I strike the ground
I am outside searching deep into black fractal hills for the drum
summoning. A great spirit is awake tonight and haughty.
I am some beast long-chained attempting a great labor
The sky furrows and crouches on the ridge-lines
and nothing will hear me yell as I stalk amid the pines
I am bravado shaking trees and slapping the wet red earth
I have seven league boots and a peacock’s tail but
everything in the dark is much larger than me

I am awake inside a drum 
I am asleep inside a drum
I am rent haggard and
something in the hills is angry and enjoying this

Behind me
in the dark
my son sleeps
dry and uneaten

he wakens
to bright and resinous air a
strange lightning in his eyes

Lifetime Learning

The boy and I went to a Fron­tiers of Astron­o­my lec­ture at the Cleve­land Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry tonight to learn about grav­i­ta­tion­al waves from Dr. Kel­ly Hol­ley-Bock­el­mann. Here’s a sim­i­lar ver­sion of her talk:

For a quick run-down about the impor­tance of grav­i­ta­tion­al waves: Top 5 Tar­gets of a Grav­i­ty Wave Obser­va­to­ry.

I’d for­got­ten how much I missed hang­ing around a cam­pus and going to ran­dom lec­tures and learn­ing new things straight from the experts. That was one of the high­light of attend­ing a uni­ver­si­ty. Plus the snacks after!

It was my son’s idea to attend, and even though it was way past his bed­time, he learned a bunch, and even asked the astro­physi­cist an intel­li­gent ques­tion about the “pres­sure” of grav­i­ta­tion­al waves that she was able to explain to a 3rd grad­er. It was def­i­nite­ly a more intel­li­gent ques­tion than the one about time trav­el. I’m super proud of him for hav­ing the gump­tion to ask a ques­tion when he was the youngest in a room with hun­dreds of peo­ple in it.

After the lec­ture we went up to the obser­va­to­ry and got to take a gan­der at the moon. It was a first for both of us, and amaz­ing! Then we had the afore­men­tioned snacks, head­ed home, and he passed out in the car. I need to start loop­ing myself in to the local lec­ture cir­cuit. There are too many col­leges around for me to con­tin­ue ignor­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ties they pro­vide.

I might even be able to haul along my son, since he seems to be into the sci­ence-relat­ed ones at least. I guess that runs in the fam­i­ly too.

Petty Theft Runs in the Family

When I was 7 or 8 I stole a pack­et of erasers from Mace’s Super­mar­ket in Con­nersville, Indi­ana. I knew it was wrong, but I did it any­way. I got caught. I do not recall the exact chain of events that there­by tran­spired, but I got hollered at by my mom, went to my dad’s work­place and got hollered at by him, was returned to Mace’s where I got hollered at by the store man­ag­er. I do not recall if the police were called, but I do remem­ber that the threat was there. I learned a les­son.

Today, my son took two pack­ets of Tic-Tacs from Giant Eagle. When I dis­cov­ered this, I felt tri­fur­cat­ed; like I was that lit­tle boy again, and like my mom must have felt deal­ing with that lit­tle boy’s malfea­sance, and also as myself, at 35, being both of those at the same time. We returned to the store, and I made him go to the ser­vice desk and ask to speak to the man­ag­er, and I made him fess up to the man­ag­er when he arrived. He got a lec­ture that I very much remem­ber get­ting.

His pun­ish­ment was los­ing all of his Hal­loween can­dy — if he feels the need to steal can­dy, he doesn’t deserve can­dy that was giv­en to him. He was super upset about that and felt more than a bit of remorse — although it took him awhile to get there.

At one point he said that he knows he has “good deep down inside me” and I told him that it doesn’t need to be deep down inside, he should let that good fill him and flow out of him, so that he can be a good per­son to every­one.

We’ll see how it goes. Par­ent­ing is full of sur­pris­es — and deja vu, too.

When Your Son Invents A Panopticon

My son asked me to teach him how to code today. Why? Because he wants to hack his Mac­Book into a robot that will auto­mat­i­cal­ly keep a pub­lic tal­ly of every person’s good and bad actions. It will plug into a big box that has a list of all the actions a per­son might do so we can see if a per­son is good or not.

I gen­er­al­ized the ethics of the require­ments he gave me, and I think I talked him out of it.

My son’s school uses an app called Class­Do­jo to micro­man­age stu­dent behav­ior. I get mul­ti­ple updates dai­ly on how my kid is doing. Each stu­dent gets points added for good behav­ioral choic­es and points removed for poor ones. At first I thought this was cool, but now I think it is ter­ri­ble.

  1. It makes chil­dren think it is just fine for some­one to mon­i­tor their every action.
  2. It makes chil­dren think it is just fine for their every action to be assigned a pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive val­ue.
  3. It makes chil­dren think it is just fine for oth­ers to be able to see a list of the mer­its and demer­its they’ve received.
  4. It encour­ages con­fir­ma­tion bias.
  5. It treats sub­jec­tiv­i­ty as objec­tive data.

I start­ed to micro­man­age him and ask him about his demer­its. I want him to suc­ceed — so I want to help. To error-cor­rect. I’d praise for mer­its too, but the time spent on praise was not equi­table. No one needs to micro­man­age a sec­ond-grad­er. Ele­men­tary school chil­dren shouldn’t think that it’s okay for their every error or suc­cess to be record­ed and dis­trib­uted. They’re young, but they’re not too young to feel resent­ment to a sys­tem that seems arbi­trary and unfair.

And then, decide to retal­i­ate by invent­ing their own panop­ti­con.

A Wetting

we are hidden inside 
while it thunders
when you call for me, in the three o'clock 
dark of my room, I roll off 
and curl fetal on the far side of the bed 
to test
your temper.

You come in, 
the dog's eyes are sharper 
but the sound of your voice
fills the room.

You run along my aggravate silence,
horse feet searching the house, the creak of
the family room floorboard, the bare 
slap on kitchen tile, the rattled shower 
curtain, a burst into the closet -

your timbre gains an edge of question.

The screen door crash as you check the porch,
that last spot,
just sheltered, where
after dark, we sometimes dull the day.

Now, I am a cruel 
hone even to your silence. From the rack you 
gather your jacket, sheathing thin 
bones, turn back outside.

I count your steps
watch your back
rise and reclaim you.

     Where were you going?
     To look for you.
     Were you worried?

          I tell him I will never leave him 
          a large lie to tell a small boy,
          who stood 
          looking for me, 
          foot-soaked in the downpour, 
          his hand upon the gate.

He Finally Hit The Ball!

I signed Abra­ham up for the Old Brook­lyn Youth League tee-ball league back in April. Due to an enroll­ment mix-up he got put into a coach-pitch soft­ball team instead. More than a lit­tle bit out of his league. He’s been strug­gling a bit with the gross motor demands and focus nec­es­sary to play on the team, but he’s just bare­ly 6, so no one real­ly cares — except for him. He’s been fight­ing against it because sports aren’t very fun when you’re no good at them. It’s the same whin­ing I dealt with ear­li­er in the year with regard to writ­ing. He just wants to not do it because it is hard. He hasn’t yet inter­nal­ized that the more you prac­tice the less hard things become. So play­ing catch or bat­ting prac­tice have been more men­tal strug­gles than phys­i­cal ones.

The biggest obsta­cle for him has been hit­ting the ball. It’s not easy. Each time he’s been up to bat and struck out 1–2-3, he’s got­ten more and more down­cast. He struck out on his first at bat and didn’t want to leave. He want­ed to keep swing­ing. His next at bat he decid­ed to go out there left-hand­ed, and his coach let him. Lo, and behold, he knocked a ball foul and ran to first base! He was so excit­ed. And then crushed and not under­stand­ing why he had to go back to the box. He refused to leave first, because he’d earned that base, by gum! Then both teams & the spec­ta­tors began cheer­ing for him and encour­ag­ing him to go back and swing again.  Of course, he struck out again, but every­one let him run the bases any­way. It was a great change. He was so hap­py, and start­ed singing “I Love Base­ball!”

The encour­age­ment from the coach­es, both teams, and all the spec­ta­tors made me cry. I’m glad I was wear­ing sun­glass­es. This league is about as non-com­pet­i­tive as you can get, all of the adults are focused on mak­ing sure the kids have fun and learn about good sports­man­ship, cama­raderie, and how to play the game.

Tonight when I put Abra­ham to sleep he said: “When we get up tomor­row morn­ing, can we prac­tice base­ball?”