Heartland Roadtrip

Monday, 16 October 2017

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 karaōke 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.

Cousin’s

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.

Storify

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

Friday, 1 September 2017

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

Thursday, 10 November 2016

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

Saturday, 5 November 2016

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 déjà vu, too.

When Your Son Invents A Panopticon

Friday, 22 April 2016

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

Monday, 28 July 2014

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?
     YES!

          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!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

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 123, 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?”