Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It's All A Waste Of Time Again

I’m back home in Brockton, Massachusetts now, sleeping on my parents' couch until I move into my new apartment in Boston. After visiting my friend Sarah in New York I zipped through Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine just to be able to say I visited 48 states in one trip (see map at bottom of this page). I’ve been to those three states a hundred times and wasn’t too worried about spending a few days in any of them. I spent the last night of my trip in the Odyssey at a rest stop, the way I spent my first night (when my computer was stolen).

In a couple weeks I’ll be starting my master’s program at UMass Boston. I’ll be doing DNA research. Until then I’m working at the farm in Brockton where I’ve worked summers since high school.

It’s very nice to be home—I was getting pretty tired, but I think I could’ve continued traveling forever if funding wasn’t an issue. For the first few weeks of my trip I really regretted the decision to spend nearly the entire summer on the road, but I got accustomed to camping and driving and being a constant tourist. I got used to visiting a new place every day and answering questions about the fanny pack. I got used to meeting new people and dealing with new situations every day.

At this point I’m very glad I made the trip so long. I met some amazing and generous and odd people, and I saw a couple cool things.

I was planning on summing up the trip and my thoughts about this country in the last blog entry, but I’m not going to do that. It’s impossible to sum up this trip in a few paragraphs, and I’m finding it very difficult to describe it to people.

I think I’m going to try and complete a book about the trip. It will be nonfiction, although I don’t really believe in nonfiction. I already have a pretty good start on it.

Thank you to everyone who’s been reading this blog. And thank you to everyone who let me stay at their place or bought me food or helped me arrange a reading or came to visit me along the way. I’m sending out notes and will try to remember all of you.

And thank you to everyone who bought a copy of the book. If you haven’t yet, please let me know what you think (and please tell other people about it if you liked it).

I’m currently working on a screenplay for my friend to consider for a short thingy (but I have no idea what I’m doing). And in addition to the book about DMR’s Road Trip I’m working on a weird two-story-line novel that I began before traveling cross country. It was actually part of the reason I decided to do a cross-country road trip. I needed to do some traveling research for the writing. The trip has definitely influenced the path the book is taking, but in different ways than I’d planned.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

If This Town Is Just An Apple

A couple hours after dropping Greg off at the Detroit airport my friend Eliza from UMass called to ask if I wanted to sleep at her place. She’d just bought a new house and had plenty of extra room. Up until that point I had no idea where I was going to be sleeping, so I drove to her house in a suburb just outside of Detroit.

I pulled into her driveway and her dog Manson ran out to greet me. Eliza was busy hauling bags of stuff out of the back of her pickup truck.

After emptying the back of her truck we drove into town with Manson running around the flatbed to watch a movie projected onto an inflatable screen in the park. We drank Pabst while watching Enchanted with the locals. It was a pretty good movie to watch in a park, but Manson was very irritable. He’s not fixed and there were a number of female dogs strutting their stuff around the park. He made whining sounds throughout the second half of the movie and wasn’t even interested in the gummy worms we tried to quiet him with.

The next day Eliza made French toast (because she’d had a dream about it) and we took a walk with Manson through the woods behind her house. Eliza never leashes him.

We said goodbye and wished each other nice lives because we probably won’t ever see each other again (this has been true with lots of the friends I’ve visited).

I drove east for a few hours. At some point, I realized it might be possible for me to make it to New Haven for my mother’s cousin’s funeral which was scheduled for the next morning at 11.

700 miles later, at 3 in the morning, I arrived in New Haven and got a room. It was the first familiar location I’d seen in over three months.

The next day I made it to the funeral on time and was very glad I went. I got to hear my dad read a poem he’d written for the occasion, a poem the rest of my family heard him read to Paul two days before he died.

After the funeral I drove to New York City to meet my Western MA friends Otie, Trevor, and Meg for dinner. We went to a Mexican place near Williamsburg, wandered around Brooklyn a bit, and then went home to sit on the roof of Meg’s apartment building. Later on we met a few people at a bar near Meg’s house. We left after some girl accused me of intentionally annoying people I know I’m never going to meet again (I think she was kidding), and ended up going to bed relatively early. I love New York and staying up absurdly late when I’m there, but I was still very worn out from all the driving the day before.

The next morning I drove to Hudson, NY to meet up with my friend Sarah. She took me out to lunch, then to her hometown of Kinderhook, NY where I met her parents, dog, and birds.

She also introduced me to the owner of a junk shop and a very old man who sold things out of his SUV on the side of the road. The only thing he said both times we walked by was, “Everything’s cheap.”

Monday, August 18, 2008

Every Little Thing That You Say Or Do

I picked up my friend Greg in Chicago at 8am or so. After leaving the airport and parking the Odyssey we went on a search for some breakfast. I saw a couple wearing Red Sox apparel and flagged them down. I asked if they knew where we could get brunch and the dude yelled at me that they were also on a hunt for brunch. Before parting ways he threw in a few expletives about how stupid Chicago is. This made me miss Boston.

Greg and I finally found a brunch buffet and ate until we could eat no more. From there we made our way to the waterfront. We considered renting Seqways, but they cost $50 an hour. We then considered tandem bicycles, but Greg looks really bad in spandex so we decided to ride the ferris wheel and take some pictures of the whole city from up high.

Three or four Dramamine later, Greg called his friend Yasi. Although we had no plans, we tried to convince her to meet us near the water. She wasn’t interested in wandering aimlessly around the city with us, so we continued on, alone.

Hours later we made our way to Yasi’s apartment in a very nice residential section of Chicago. She and her roommate JRay had made chocolate chip cookies with orange zest. I’d never had cookies with orange zest, but I feel they suit me.

The walls of their apartment were covered with JRay’s huge framed pictures detailing where garbage goes at night. I enjoyed staring at them very much. I also enjoyed imagining her slinking around and photographing garbage in dangerous neighborhoods after curfew.

Greg went to bed about four minutes after we arrived. Yasi and JRay made eggs. I watched them cook and then ate the eggs. I was very glad to learn that there are many spices in addition to salt and pepper.

After a few hours of talking, making prank calls, and listening to a David Sedaris audio story we woke Greg and he looked like this:

I’m including this picture because I’m a terrible friend and I know how gassy Greg gets when he’s not in control of his appearance.

The next day Yasi and Greg and I went to the Art Institute of Chicago (where they go in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off!). We discussed Corey and Topanga’s views on art. Surprisingly, Greg’s take on Starry Night is very similar to Corey’s.

One of the security guards told me her favorite section of the museum is the impressionist’s section. I agreed that it was one of the nicer places (though I don’t really know anything about this stuff). Another security guard was pissed that her daughter isn’t allowed to go home from school early when she has menstrual cramps. I was unable to be of any assistance in this matter.

Apparently when you tell a security guard that you used to be a security guard they open right the frig up.

That night we went to the White Sox Red Sox game. Beckett pitched and Boston won. It was Yasi’s first baseball game and she wasn’t impressed. The game started out kinda slow, and the presence of the third base coach really dismayed her. To her, baseball was more of a debate on free will than a sport or pastime.

The next day was my reading in Lansing. Greg and I were both sad to leave Yasi and JRay, even though Yasi did kinda ruin baseball for me forever. We arrived at the library twenty minutes late because we didn’t realize the time zones switch from Chicago to Michigan, but it still went well and a very good sized crowd showed up.

That night while trying to find a campground I backed the van into a pole and tore the bumper right off. Greg taped it back on (he’s very good with tape).

The next day we drove around Detroit and took pictures of all the skyscrapers. We also snuck into a couple and took pictures from the upper floors. In one building the head security guard escorted us to an abandoned floor to take some pictures out the windows.

Out of all the cities I’ve visited, Detroit seems to be in the most financial trouble. I guess this isn't a big secret, but I was shocked at how visibly depressed it is. I’ve never seen groups of abandoned skyscrapers.

Despite Detroit's current situation, I wouldn’t mind living there someday. A lot of care went into the construction of that city, and all the elevator doors and hallways have really neat metal and marble fixtures.

On the way to take Greg to the Detroit airport I drove over a bungee cord and we got a flat tire. Greg took the tire off and a very nice older man with super veiny arms gave us a ride to a garage. He didn't want us to leave Detroit thinking no one nice lived in the city. After getting the tire plugged Greg rolled it back to the van and I put it back on. Greg was really revved up about working on the car and wanted to do the whole operation himself, but I didn’t want to look like too much of a wuss in the blog.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Some Pains Just Ain’t Meant To Be Soothed

A few days before arriving in Minneapolis my friend Ali offered to let me stay at her aunt’s house in St. Paul. The whole family, including Ali, would be at Cape Cod in Massachusetts so I was supposed to have the house to myself. I agreed this sounded like a good idea; I had a lot of laundry to do.

On my way to the house Ali called to say two of her neighbors would also be in the house. Apparently their neighbor was violating several restraining orders they had against him. He’d also recently tried to burn down their garage. This worried me and I regretted agreeing to stay in the house, but after a quick visit to MALL OF AMERICA!, I made my way to the house in St. Paul.

The house is on a hill and has a plaque near the back door with the date the house was built. Apparently it’s some sort of historic landmark even though it’s only 200 years old. In New England a house that’s 200 hundred years old is practically brand new.

I knocked on the door and a small woman answered the door. I immediately got the impression that I was making her nervous, so I took off my American flag bandanna and sunglasses. She said hello and told me there was beer and wine in the fridge—I’m not sure why she thought it necessary to inform me of the house alcohol in the second sentence of our conversation.

After telling me I could do whatever I wanted she retreated to the living room and busied herself with books and crossword puzzles. I took a shower because I hadn’t had one in nearly three days.

Her S.O. (she said this instead of significant other) came home a few hours later. We both had beards and understood each other very well. I think this put his S.O. at ease.

My friend’s aunt arranged two coffee dates with bookish people for me. I met Jim Rogers at Coffee Bella. I wasn’t sure why we were meeting, but I always like to meet new people, especially people with any connections in the publishing and writing world. He asked me about my book and took a look at it. He assured me he’d tell some writing groups to use DMR and then he handed me the journal that he’s responsible for as the head of the Irish Studies Department at The University of St. Thomas. After talking for a while we realized was friends with a professor at the community college where my dad teaches. Jim was very encouraging and we discussed fact vs. fiction in writing.

That night I went to a book reading hosted by my friend’s aunt’s other St. Paul connection. The coffee date fell through mostly because of my lack of internet in the days leading up to my visit. The reading was good and well attended and I got to speak to the bookstore owner for a few minutes about my trip.

The next morning I met my friend Leah. I hadn’t seen her in years, not since we both lived in western, MA. And when we thought back to the last time we saw each other we both remembered an awkward encounter when I waved to her in the street in front of Woodstar Café. At the time she only limply waved at me, but she explained at breakfast (we ate at the Seward Café) that she’d found out her grandfather died a few hours before I waved to her. It was nice to see her and realize she’d been hiding her Wisconsin accent with its fluted Os the entire time she lived in Massachusetts.

A few hours after leaving Leah I got a call from my dad. My mother’s cousin, who I think of as more of an uncle or something, had died that morning. This is the man who met me for dinner on the second night of this trip, the night of my New Haven reading, the day after my laptop was stolen. He had glioblastoma multiforme and lived years longer than anyone predicted he would. I’m going to miss the funeral because of this trip. Paul was always very supportive of my writing and after finishing my first book he sent me a very nice note with a poem by Olav H. Hauge, a Norwegian.

On Friday night I had my Milwaukee reading at Darling Hall where everyone talks like the mom in Bobby’s World. It was a great experience and I met like ten awesome people. The reading didn’t start until about 10:30 p.m. but we got a good little group together. When I finished reading Jon Burks played guitar and sang ten or so really great songs. I got three of his CDs for friends.

I stayed in the apartment above the hall that night and met Kati, the funniest girl I’ve ever met (except for maybe Tunch), and her roommate (also Kati but I’m not sure of the spelling), a freegan. Kati O. showed me through her cupboard and told me which dumpsters she’s pulled various food items out of, and she offered me pot butter for my toast.

Outside their building they’ve built a pretty impressive garden with about a dozen varieties of vegetables crammed into a small space. Despite the small amount of light that makes it into the small yard/alley they have corn that looks like it’s doing pretty well. They water everything with water that’s reclaimed from their shower (they have to use natural soaps). And all the piping has been removed from under the sink and replaced with a bucket that they use to flush the toilet when it gets full enough of handwashing and toothbrushing water.

If I ever publish another book I’d definitely love to go back to Darling Hall. I think I’m probably a little less revolutionary than the people they usually have for concerts and readings, but hopefully they’ll allow me to read again.

From Milwaukee I drove to Kenosha, Wisconsin. My cousin had gotten married the night before and they were having a barbecue to celebrate. They insisted I come over even though I worried I was intruding. I appreciated this immensely; I had no plans of where to sleep that night.

As soon as I got there my cousin made me a frozen Phil’s hard lemonade. Then my uncle Bob grilled me a smoked turkey leg. I ate pretty much the whole thing and proceeded to eat a couple hot dogs and a burger.

After dinner we played touch football with the four or five little kids at the party. My cousin Rory quarterbacked for one team and I for the other. In eight minutes of play we both managed to make a ten-year old cry. I accidentally nailed some kid in the chest with the ball and Rory accidentally grabbed one of their ears. The final score was tied 7-7, and this didn’t sit well with either Rory or me.

Rory and I discussed our last foot race, when he was about 12 and I was 22 or something. I’m not the nice kind of cousin who lets other cousins (no matter how young) win, and Rory still had some pent up rage about this incident. I suggested we race again and Rory agreed. Phil would be the official and we were to run about 60 meters. Rory was wearing basketball sneakers but I was in jeans, so we figured we were pretty even.

Let me preface this by saying that I’m 26 and Rory is 16. He’s just about as tall as me and much more athletic and strong than I was at his age.

We got set and started when Phil dropped his arms at the finish line. I got out much quicker than Rory and extended my lead through the first 30 meters or so. I kind of let up at this point and began striding (I get tired quickly these days and don’t like to work any harder than I have to), but as we neared the 45 meter mark I heard Rory’s turnover quicken—he was saving stuff for the end, trying to make me look like a fool! The fact that Rory thought he could outstrategize me in a 60 meter race enraged me. Suddenly the race became much more serious and I felt as if I was running against old age.

I woke up and transitioned back into sprinting mode (not an easy thing for a 26 year old to do) just in time to keep him safely behind me. I won by about 6 inches (maybe less). Most of the people there were shocked because Rory is known to be a good athlete and I look like a hairy dump truck at this point in my trip.

Although he tried to hide it, Rory was very unhappy with the outcome of the race. He asked for a rematch and I just laughed. In less than two years Rory will be my superior in every way—stronger, smarter, faster, and about six inches taller. I can’t believe he thought I’d be willing to risk the glory of what will probably be the last great physical victory of my life as a young man.

But if it’s any consolation to him, the race (and the turkey and Phil’s hard lemonade) did give me a pretty nasty case of hypodtodenarunnit (I had to press my face against the cool stones of the patio for twenty minutes to keep from booting). And in the end, I guess Rory did pretty good . . . for a boy.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Buy A Yacht With A Flag Sayin' Chillin' The Most

Danielle and I left the Badlands and headed to Mt. Rushmore. The mountain itself and the faces on it are smaller than we thought they would be. What impressed us more than the landmark was the number of Harley Davidsons in the area. Every parking spot in the town was taken up by bikes and the roads were congested with them.

Through reading t-shirts and asking questions we realized we had accidentally arrived at the beginning of the Sturgis bike rally (the second biggest bike rally in the country). We’d only planned on staying in Keystone (the town Rushmore is in) for an hour or so, but we changed our plans and decided to spend the night in town. After checking out four or five motels we found a room for $100. All the prices were jacked up for the rally.

I bought an American flag bandanna and we went out to experience bikers after dark. Things weren’t as raucous as we’d hoped and we went back to our room relatively early.

The next day we went horseback riding in the Black Hills. It was my first time on a horse, which made our guide kinda nervous, but things went well. Cory the Cowboy told me the horse would sense I didn’t know what I was doing, and Cory was right. My horse wandered off the path to eat grass every chance he got. Felon, my horse, was trained by prisoners—I didn’t really feel comfortable kicking him.

Cory told us all about Sturgis. He’d only been once, but he knew all about it. Celebrities like Hulk Hogan, Kid Rock, the OC chopper guys, and Hue Heffner often show up. Cory also told us that women like to ride their bikes topless at Sturgis.

We didn’t realize it initially, but the Sturgis rally is actually in a town called Sturgis. The excess bikes end up in Keystone and Deadwood and the surrounding area. After talking with Cory, Danielle and I decided we had to go to the epicenter of Sturgis.

On the way to Sturgis we gambled a few bucks in Deadwood and visited the grave of Wild Bill Hickock.

That night (still wearing my American flag bandanna) we headed to Sturgis to see what 250,000 bikers are like after dark. Danielle bought a shirt with skulls on it and we fit right in with everyone else. My minivan looked a little funny parked amongst a sea of bikes, but no one said anything. And we actually saw a good number of bikers wearing fanny packs, but most of them were Harley Davidson brand fanny packs and didn’t have twin water bottles tucked into them.

We went to a concert where Rachael Stacy (an E.G. Dailey Better Off Dead lookalike) was performing. People danced in the sand in front of the stage. Most of the dancers were middle-aged women wearing leather chaps with thongs underneath. I couldn’t help wondering how many kids each of them had at home.

We only saw one topless woman riding a bike. Thanks a lot, Cory.

The next day we drove to my reading in Bismarck. Ann Mayher, the head of the friends of the library, set everything up. She and her husband took us to a reproduction of Colonel Custer’s house before the reading. The tour guide (who was in character for the Custer era) asked if any of us played the piano. Danielle nudged me and I raised my hand. He asked me to play something. I banged out the first few measures of Norwegian Concerto, but the piano was incredibly out of tune and it sounded like garbage. The guide then picked up a well-tuned violin and played a few tunes. It was a rotten trick.

The reading went well. 15 people showed up and I sold nine books—not a huge crowd, but I think it’s the best ratio of people to sales that I’ve had all tour (other than the release party composed of friends and family).

I have a reading at Darling Hall in Milwaukee tonight and I have to go help set up so I’m gonna cut this kinda short.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Don’t Call It A Comeback!/Sweet Southern Woman Sit On My Lap

I’ve done a lot of sightseeing in the last few days.

From Grand Teton I drove to Salt Lake City. I spent most of my time wandering around the Mormon center. It wasn’t as weird and creepy as I’d thought it would be. My friend Ben is from Salt Lake City and he doesn’t speak highly of the area; in fact, I’m pretty sure he hates Salt Lake City and the entire state of Utah. I think it satisfied him to hear I didn’t have the time of my life there.

It wasn’t a bad city, and like I said, the Mormon church headquarters wasn’t as weird as I’d thought it would be, but nothing really happened there. Many of the Mormons watched me closely as I took pictures of their church and the surrounding buildings, but none of them talked to me, not even the ones in clothing from the 19th century (orthodox Mormons?) who’d obviously been strategically placed to help visitors.

I swam in the Great Salt Lake. The area surrounding it smells of really stank methane, but your toes stick out of the water when you float on your back.

From there I drove to southern Wyoming.

I camped just outside of Cheyenne in a KOA campground (despite their unsettling practice of spelling every C word with a K—Kampgrounds of America). All the sites surrounding mine were taken up by bikers. A couple of them sat at their picnic tables reading novels until dark.

I cooked my dinner at the communal stove (KOAs are a little less rustic than state parks) next to a French speaking family who were laughing about the fact that the mother had forgotten to bring lots of things they needed on their United States trip. I made tuna and rice and they sat their watching me cook and eat with bemused expressions on their faces.

The next day I drove to the Rocky Mountain National Park and camped in a private campground pretty high up in the Mountains. The park ranger told me to watch out for bears. They’ve been particularly active in the area this year. The ranger said he’s seen bear 12 times this summer.

I had no phone service in the park and left the next morning in time to meet Danielle’s plane. I arrived in a small town at the foot of the mountains and saw that I had a few phone messages. Danielle’s flight had been changed, but her Expedia tickets hadn’t been updated. By the time the problem got fixed it was too late and she had to buy new tickets from JetBlue. She’s pretty sure she’ll be reimbursed for the second set of tickets.

When she finally arrived we went out to eat and explored Denver a little bit. We camped in the Rockies again, in a different site, and received the same warning about bears. The ranger didn’t remember me.

We slept without the rain fly and saw more stars than either of us has seen in a while, including four or five shooting stars.

The next morning we ate at Waffle House and washed up in the bathroom there (there were no showers at our Rockies campsite.

For lunch we ate at a Sonic. I’d never eaten there before and Danielle had promised to show me how it’s done. About a month ago I drove into a Sonic, determined to add yet another new fast food joint to my growing list, but I got freaked out by the ordering stations and intercom system and sped off in the Odyssey before actually ordering any food. I feel kind of silly about this after seeing how easy it is to get Sonic food, but I still don’t understand why a person would prefer to eat in the car.

From there we drove to Cheyenne where we talked to a woman wearing an eye patch. She complained about not being able to walk very well and about having poor vision in one eye, the eye not covered by the eye patch. She gave us a map and told us all about the various free museums in Cheyenne (we told her we were pretty strapped for cash). I told her about my trip and she seemed pretty amazed at the amount of gas I’m using.

Walking through Cheyenne felt like taking a few steps backwards, at least as far as this trip goes. The city feels rather southern. All the restaurants and stores play country music and there are many boot and cowboy hat stores, in addition to a huge Wrangler outlet. We browsed through some thrift stores and flea markets. I’d love to go back sometime when I have more money.

From there we went to Wounded Knee in South Dakota. I didn’t know much about the story of the massacre at Wounded Knee, but Danielle insisted we go.

The town is within a reservation, as is the Badlands where we camped that night. Most of the Indians we saw lived in trailer homes and the land surrounding them doesn’t seem good for much. It’s dry earth with parched grass and odd outcroppings of sandstone that look as though they’ve been punched up through the surface of the earth.

The hand painted sign off to the side of the road tells the story of The Massacre at Wounded Knee. The word Massacre is painted on a separate piece of wood that’s been nailed over whatever word is underneath, and both of us wondered what the old word is.

Across the street from the sign a dirt road curls past a gift shop (with a sign that says Open, although it doesn’t look like it’s been open in years) and up to the cemetery on a hill.

A female dog who’d just had pups was guarding the cemetery. Except for her, no one else was within sight. She sniffed us and let us scratch her for a minute (her skin was very bumpy and her fur very coarse), then she showed us around the graves and led us up to the church at the far end. In addition to the mass grave from the massacre, there are other more recent tombstones (and wooden cross markers) on the hill.

The place doesn’t look as though it receives many visitors, and aside from a few flowers placed on some of the graves (one of them a young man who died in the early 1900s), everything appears neglected and forgotten.

Before leaving, Danielle insisted we give the dog some water. So we put out a bowl for her and gave her a hot dog. She swallowed it without chewing.

We camped in the badlands that night, in the first free campground I’ve stayed at. The campground was full of grasshoppers and prairie dogs and not many other people stayed there.

Danielle got very sick, either from bad food (bison jerky), a lot of heat and sun, or both. She vomited on several prairie dogs and had a rough night in the Badlands.

We took a hike through the Notch trail, and despite taking a wrong turn and climbing halfway up a semi-treacherous slope, we finished in less than the time it was supposed to take. The hills there are made of something that feels as though it’s halfway between sand and rock.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

We Don't Have To Talk At All.

From Montana I drove to Yellowstone, the part in Wyoming. My campground was horribly overcrowded, but I didn’t spend much time there on the first night. I arrived kind of late and spent more time wandering around the park than I did sitting near my tent. I saw some deer, some bighorn sheep, a moose, some bison, and a bunch of weird small animals.

In the middle of the first night, after I’d fallen asleep, the group in the site closest to mine got back home after a day of fishing. They were a father and two sons and a few friends. They were all drunk (even though I’m pretty sure some of them were only 14 or 15), and the father was one of these guys who has to tell everyone exactly how to do everything. So for about an hour, I listened to him telling these kids how to set up their stuff and pack away their fish and brush their teeth, etc.

At one point a wolf howled and silenced them (and everyone else in the park) for about three seconds. It was a nice three seconds.

I eventually fell back asleep after listening to them arguing for 20 minutes about how to start a fire. When I woke up, they were gone, and I saw that they never did get the fire going.

That day I drove the hour and a half to Old Faithful. I got there just as one eruption was finishing up and decided to wait the hour and 45 minutes for the next one.

It was lunch time so I walked over to the gift shop/cafeteria to get some food, but there were like 600 families in line, each with 15 or 16 screaming 4-year old children.

I grabbed a can of refried beans from the back of my van and ate it with a sleeve of saltines in the parking lot (I’ve run out of quick snack foods to eat).

After eating I went into the store and asked the dude working there if there were any WiFi spots in the park. Before I finished asking he said, all rude-like, “no.” Then he said, all contemptuous-like, something about how people come to Yellowstone to escape that stuff.

As it turns out, there are wireless spots in both Yellowstone and the Tetons; you just have to sneak into one of the weird, huge hotels in the middle of the parks to access it.

I grabbed a spot in front of Old Faithful about twenty minutes before it was scheduled to erupt again. It was very hot and the children in the family next to me were complaining endlessly. Every time Old Faithful steamed or shot out a little bit of water (which it often does) the children would scream that it was over and they wanted to go. Their father joked, 13 or 28 times, that Old Faithful was nothing more than a man waiting underground with a fire hose. His 76 children thought this was a riot and it was the only thing that got them through the ordeal that is Old Faithful. Every time they started to complain he would tell this fire hose joke and they would roll in a great sweaty pile, laughing hysterically and repeating the joke over and over until they remembered they were very hot and bored.

The eruption was twenty-five or so minutes late. At the ten-minute-late mark the joke switched from firehoses to, “Old Faithful isn’t very faithful is it?” The children laughed even harder at this one, perhaps because it was only told 11 or 12 times and never got stale.

The family got fed up and left about two minutes before Old Faithful erupted.

When I got back to my campsite a new family had taken the vacant spot left by the fishermen. This family was from Utah and they had only one child, a kid named Marky.

I sat near my tent and opened up The Naked and the Dead, a book I’ve been reading since before my onslaught of visitors.

I didn’t get very far. Although Marky was a child of few words and sounds, his parents felt the need to be constantly talking at him.

Get off the coolers, Marky.


Mommy doesn’t like it when you say no to her, Marky.


If you say no to your mother one more time you’re getting a time out.



Stop hanging on that tree, Marky.


If you say no to her one more time . . .


Stop kicking the SUV, Marky.


Stop touching the grill, Marky.


Get off the coolers, Marky . . . You can’t climb on that cooler either, Marky . . . No, not that one either.


No, Marky.


Get out of that tent, Marky. We like to be able to see you.


Do you want to take a nap, Marky?

(comes running out of tent) No!

No rocks on your plate, Marky. Don’t touch that.

You have to get down, Marky . . . Get down, Marky . . . Marky! Get down now! Do you want a time out?


Did you check Marky’s diaper, honey?

You check Marky’s diaper, dear.

I did it last.

Do it again! He won’t stand still long enough for me to check it.

This went on for about an hour, until it was dark out. After getting into his pajamas Marky came out of the tent and asked his father why the fire wasn’t burning yet. His father told him the fire pit wasn’t a very good one (though it was the same exact fire pit that’s in every single park ever). Disgusted, Marky through a stick into the fire pit (it barely missed his dad’s head, unfortunately) and went back into the tent.

Getting him to go to bed was another ordeal, but I won’t list all of that. By midnight the kid complied and went to bed despite being angry about the lack of a campfire.

The father’s snoring and gassiness (and like three car alarms) kept me up for a good part of the night. The snoring wasn’t that loud, but our tents were that close.

The next day, while packing up my own site, they piled into their truck to go exploring for the day. Although the exit was clearly marked, it took the father three loops around the campground to get out.

I will never camp in the Disneyworld of wilderness that is Yellowstone again.

My campground in Grand Teton was awesome. A friend from my writing group suggested it. I had to get up at five on Sunday to get a spot, but it was worth it. The only bad thing about it was that the other campers were all way awesomer than me. They had incredible equipment and clothing and could set wood on fire just by looking at it. There were even sites reserved for people on bicycles. The people in that part of the campground had biked hundreds and thousands of miles to be there.

I’m picking up my friend Danielle in Denver tomorrow, and my next reading is in Bismarck on August 5th.

Self-Publishing Stuff #5—Writing!

Lots of people ask about my writing habits at my readings, so I will talk about them here for those of you who are interested. Many people also ask what my parents do and what economic class I am. I’m not sure why they ask this, but I will answer that first.

My mother is a nurse at the VA and my dad is an English professor at a community college. I think this makes me middle class.

When writing, I write a thousand words a day. While writing DMR I generally wrote more than this without trying to. The first draft of the book was 176,000 words (close to 700 pages double spaced Times New Roman). The final book is about 73,000 words I think. I do sometimes skip days, but I keep track of these and make up for them later. I try to write in the morning, and whenever possible, I get up to make sure it’s the first thing I do in the day.

I started off by saying “when writing” because I’m not always writing. After finishing DMR I took a couple months off. I didn’t write at all, I just read.

This summer I have been keeping up with the thousand words a day thing for the most part. And yes, I do count the blog entries in this.