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 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)

De rien

Saturday, 22 July 2017

I’ve lived in Cleveland for nearly 15 years now, & in all of that time, the city & its people have been, through existential trial & error, trying to taxonomize what it means to be Cleveland. All of them should have visited Steve’s Lunch before it burned.

There are a few who have me beat, but, for the most part, I’ve been to more places in more neighborhoods than people who’ve lived here their whole lives. The common denominator, when you wipe away all the branding & internet-era posturing to reveal the rusted heart at our core, is a moderately exasperated politesse. Clevelanders are busy, we’re in a hurry, we know what we’re doing, we don’t have time for your shit, but we aren’t gonna be jerks about it.

We’ll hold the door just long enough for it to not close in your face; we’ll throw up our hands at a senior citizen who probably shouldn’t be on the road, and impatiently give them the right of way. We’ll serve up a completely unpretentious hot dog, on a cheap plastic plate that’s been cursorily washed 10,000 times in 15 years, that changes your life when the stadium mustard smears across your tongue.

Steve’s Lunch is where I went when I had $20 to spend on a night out & could buy a hot dog with my last two dollars at 3AM. It burned before I could introduce my son to the place, but we’re regular enough at Steve’s Diner that the staff knows us on sight & the Pepsi is waiting for us when we sit down. We grouse with the staff about weather & homework & bills & split a plate of fries. Steve’s is where I go when I’m lonely or in need of comfort, & where I head when all I have time for is a hot dog.

That hot dog could be dim sum; or pierogi; or ribs barbecued in a converted 50-gallon drum & served up without a permit at an abandoned gas station. The core of Cleveland, that no amount of luxury condos or new coats of paint can obscure, is a lack of pretension. Dandelions like Steve’s are in every neighborhood; lifting their yellow heads & growling at whatever Cleveland supposedly is this week.

We’ve seen so many grand gestures & prophets of prosperity descend from the clouds to save Cleveland, using money & influence to change entire swathes of our neighborhoods. The loudest story is that we need to be saved. We do our best to obscure the fact that we serve up little bits of salvation every day.

You want another hot dog?

A Short List of Things I’ve Failed

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

  • Developing consistently healthy eating habits
  • Figuring out a regular exercise schedule
  • Driving below the speed limit
  • Patience
  • Home ownership
  • Long-term romantic relationships
  • Investing
  • Weight loss
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Good posture
  • Beating the original Super Mario Brothers
  • Going on vacation
  • Not being weird
  • Publishing my writing
  • Being respected in my community
  • Learning guitar
  • Being quiet
  • Expressing emotion
  • Listening
  • Having confidence
  • Ancient Greek 103
  • Making biscuits from scratch
  • Writing regularly
  • Maintaining friendships
  • Doing dishes in a timely manner
  • My son
  • My mom
  • My dog
  • You

The {foo} Talk

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

So my kid told a couple of other kids (girls) at school that a “male penis” goes inside a female and releases sperm and the sperm meets the egg and that is mating. I learned of this when the Assistant Principal gave me a call & was audibly awkward about the whole thing. I get that 3rd grade might be a bit too early for some parents to want their kid to know that kind of stuff, but the night is dark and full of terrors.

I’m just glad my kid knows the right terminology and the mechanics of the process & that he’s still innocent on the technique. I gave him the details when he asked. My mom did the same for me when I was nought but a wee bairn.

He knows all of the common curse words. He also knows that I know that he knows them. He also knows that I know that he knows that I know that he knows not to use those words until he’s has a better appreciation for the timing & appropriateness thereof.

He knows that I fuck up screw up as a dad and a human sometimes. He knows that this happens and it’s okay, and that it’s healthy to admit when we do something wrong & that we have to work together to be better people.

The world is tough to navigate – I don’t want to make it any harder for my kid. I try to give it to him straight.

Weekly Wrap-up – Third Place

Saturday, 17 September 2016

I’m trying to write more and be more positive. These weekly wrap-ups will probably continue. It’s going to be hard to be “plus-side” this week. It has been a very emotionally trying one.

I took a walk tonight to get a slaw dog at Steve’s Diner and got to see the amazing harvest moon. I have enjoyed living in Old Brooklyn so much more than living in Tremont.

I am part of a team at work that does dragon boating as part of the Cleveland Dragon Boating Association. The festival was today, and we ended up coming home with third place medal – which we earned. It’s nice to be part of a focused team environment that has a clear and easily measured goal. So much of modern work (and this is not a complaint) requires complex teams with differing timelines and goals, that when a project is complete, it might never really feel like it. And it’s even rarer that you have time to celebrate after.

I’ve been having more luck with getting Abraham to do things that he has, in the past, not been inclined to do. I think I’ve either been too simple or too complex in my explanations as to why he should eat broccoli, for example. I find out what he preconceptions are (broccoli is soggy) and then explain that he had obviously had overcooked broccoli, and that is can be very tasty in other ways. Then I explained the nutritional value and how those vitamins & minerals affect his body. Next thing I know, he’s chomping away. This method has also worked a bit with the neatness of his schoolwork.

My friend Amy is a treasure. She’s my longest and steadiest friend here in Cleveland and if we get to choose friends as a second family, she’s my first choice for sister.

I went to Sabor Miami for lunch earlier this week, and was greeted by name, and treated to an amazingly delicious lunch. The whole experience brightened my day.

My car doesn’t smell much like salted caramel/vanilla latte anymore after an accident I had in it a few weeks ago. Either that or I’ve got olfactory fatigue.

Week in Review

Saturday, 10 September 2016

  • I try to add a bit of variety to my ingestion of news & political commentary by reading publications that I consider to be a bit extreme, but still relatively reasonable. So I subscribe to Reason for libertarian positions & Jacobin (“Reason in Revolt”, lol) for socialist ones. Something they have in common is that they only play one tune: “here are the reasons [whatever is in the news] isn’t [libertarian/socialist] enough for us”. It gets old quickly, and I’ve found myself skipping most of what they post.
  • A guy at a GetGo complimented me on my sunglasses, which I picked because they were as close to Isaac Hayes sunglasses as I could find that would also take a prescription. I really wish I could afford, and had the opportunity to rock Cazal‘s but I guess I might as well get crazy and wish to get something made by Maison Bourgeat while I’m at it..
  • It is very difficult for me to read modern poetry in bites larger than one poem a day. I can’t figure out why reading stuff older than the past 10 years is so much more consumable to me.
  • I’ve realized that for awhile I was kinda “dressed by the internet”. I think I’ve toned that down a bit, but it’s still pretty damned hard to find #menswear information that isn’t more costume than style. Permanent Style is great for bespoke, best in class, subtle luxury & fit-related items – but I’ll never afford bespoke & the flannel-trousers/suede loafers “sprezzatura” doesn’t fit my personality. Put This On is enjoyable, but they also focus on maintaining a classic fashion sense. Well Spent occasionally has good finds but their house look is essentially the Pumpkin Spice Latte of menswear. I’d like HYPEBEAST if there weren’t 500 posts about shoes & Kanye every day. I kind of read them all and try to take appropriate bits and pieces, but it is all way too rules-based and none of it really showcases unique looks and different styles.
  • I guess I like variety, and with the increasing specialization of “content creators”, I have to work harder than I think I should to find it.
  • “Content Creator” as a self-described job-title might be the worst invented job title of all time.
  • I’ve been catching up on my magazine backlog. My goal is to be caught up fully by the new year.
  • I’m really starting notice class privilege as part of my son’s schooling. The students are pretty  much expected to have their own computer and mobile device at home to interface with all the various apps, sites, and sundry other digital assets they use for schooling nowadays.
  • I’m also trying to be less grouchy, but judging by this post, I have work to do.



Thursday, 11 August 2016

I caught a glimpse of my life from the corner of my eye the other day & realized I appear to have become a carefully dressed, quarterly magazine-reading, European wagon-driving, scotch-loving, insufferable, tweedy, bearded cliche.

I hate that. Problem is: I like all of those things. Even being insufferable. So yeah, I’ve got some champagne tastes on a beer budget.

I’m trying to give myself sparse solace because while I appear to be the cliche, my temperament is different. (I hope). I don’t like cool jazz, NPR, The New Yorker, or pretty much any other safe, soft, accepted, liberal comfort-blankets. After I stopped being Actively Catholic®, I went to an Episcopal church for a bit, the message was good but the people were aggravatingly milquetoast about everything. To paraphrase something someone said sometime: The meek will inherit the earth because no one else will take it. That’s those people. God bless ’em. No one else will.

Anyway, but. If you catch me out of the other eye-corner, you’ll see a greasy-spoon eating, dive bar planted, unleashed dog walking, windows open hollerin’ at my kid, shirtless on the porch, filthy-jeaned, southern-drawling metalhead.

I love that. Problem is: ain’t almost no one else does.

I sometimes wonder what conclusions people reach about me at work, but I’m too busy working to care about it.

I like high brow. I like low brow. I pretend middlebrow doesn’t exist.

I have no other point.

If you need one then the point is that the world is messy & even when I reject stereotypes, I often use them in the same breath. I’m unrepentant. I just try to improve.