Going Home

I get to go home tomorrow.

Hopefully.

Assuming the weather cooperates.

I’ve been on the road for five days. If all goes well I’ll get home late tomorrow evening.

Five days is probably peanuts to a lot of the “road warriors” out there that travel for their jobs, but I’m ready to go home. I drove to tonight’s stop for 2.5 hours through a mixture of blinding, white-out snow fall and slick dangerous roads, to short periods of sunny skies and clear roads. It would switch from one to the other about every couple miles, typical of Michigan or probably any other place in North America in the winter these days.

I’m in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan for the night. My knuckles are still white from the two hour grip on the steering wheel as I tried to avoid sliding off icy roads. For dinner I ate a McDonald’s Southwest Salad and I’m drinking a cheap bottle of wine scored at the local Wal-Mart a ½ mile away. ( I suddenly wonder how often the word “wine” appears in my posts?!?)

‘Cause remember, work travel is a romantic and sophisticated thing!

The blood is slowly flowing back into my knuckles.

Not to get back on the local motel thing, but I’m in the most adorable little local motel I’ve ever stayed in. I may have to get on Trip Advisor and leave a five star review. Outside there is an epic snowstorm, crazy, blinding, accumulating snow… at least the last time I looked. In the back of my mind I’m thinking if there were anywhere to be stranded for an extra day this would be a fine place.

But I’m ready to go home.

I’m seriously ready to go home.

I want to sleep in my bed. I want to hug my wife. I want to see my kids. I want to see my goats.

In a few days I’ll have forgotten anything about this trip like so many before. The next one will be on the horizon to prepare for. This was a successful trip and the next one will be too.

That’s what I do.

The hardest part for me is the leaving, the walking out the door.

Sometimes I have to talk myself up, like Stuart Smalley.

“You’re good enough, you’re smart enough and doggone it people like you.”

Once I’m on the road though, literally five minute later, driving down the road, the salesman shows his big handsome face and I’m like “YEAH BUDDY LET’S GET THIS SHIT DONE!”

So I get it done.

Can you say “Jeckyl and Hyde?!?”

A loud dose of Boston’s “More Than A Feeling” through the car stereo helps. There isn’t a set of car speakers out there capable of playing this song at an adequate volume.

When I’m gone, I don’t think it’s easy at home. My wife definitely notices, suddenly a single parent for several days. My kids? With their crazy teenage lifestyles, sometimes I seriously wonder if they know I’m gone.

I hope they do. I really do.

But when the time comes I’m always ready to come home.

To sleep in my bed. To hug my wife. To see my kids. To see my goats.

I get to go home tomorrow.

Hopefully.

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Weathered Barns and Corn Fields

I’ll take you to the city:

We’ll walk around cobbled sidewalks while pretending not to glance into the street level Brownstown apartments. We’ll stroll down busy streets and stare at the bright lights and neon signs. We’ll dress up in nice clothes, like we belong there, then we’ll go out to fancy restaurants and eat sophisticated, delectable food and drink martinis and expensive wine. We’ll visit museums and ride the elevators in skyscraper buildings and buy overpriced cups of coffee. We’ll go listen to the symphony or watch Broadway level theater productions or maybe see an opera.

I’ll take you to the mountains:

We’ll lace up our hiking boots over our thick wool socks and we’ll hike through beautiful wilderness and canoe on rapidly flowing rivers. We’ll swim in lakes and shower under flowing waterfalls. We’ll pitch a tent and sleep with the crickets and the coyotes and the bears, or maybe we’ll sleep underneath the stars if the weather permits. We’ll take photographs of bald eagles and rows of pine trees and epic rock formations. We’ll visit rustic buildings built from hand hewn logs. In the winter we’ll ski down crisp white slopes, or snowshoe through deep snow. We’ll take full breaths of the cleanest, most refreshing air and feel as if we’ve experienced the fountain of youth.

I’ll take you to the tropics:

We’ll stand under palm trees with their thick coconuts ready to be harvested. We’ll sit on sandy beaches and bathe in the warmth of the sun. We’ll let our skin turn from pale white to dark red to an appealing brown. We’ll float in the ocean surf for so long that when we lie in bed we’ll still feel that motion of the moving waves. We’ll eat tropical fruits and drink margaritas in front of a roaring beach bonfire. We’ll wade through the ocean surf in our bare feet with our khaki pants rolled up to our knees like the Kennedy’s. We’ll collect shells and beach glass and bring them home as souvenirs. We’ll watch evening sunsets and morning sunrises and not worry about whether we’re getting enough sleep.

Then when it’s time to come home.

When it’s time to leave the city or the mountains or the tropics.

I’ll take you back to weathered barns and corn fields.

We’ll walk out our door and stare across the dirt road at the latest crop that we’ve been given the honor and privilege to watch grow through another robust, Midwest summer. We’ll drive down a rural road and pull to the side and admire an old abandoned barn, long past its usefulness, with its damaged, weathered wood. We’ll imagine the many amazing lives of people just trying to survive, that have passed through those barn doors. We’ll roll down the car windows on a late summer day and listen to the soothing sound of rustling corn stalks as a warm breeze blows. We’ll hear the tsk, tsk, tsk sound of an irrigation system pumping water as it slowly creeps around a field of crops. We’ll smell the precious smell of manure spread as fertilizer on a growing field.

Because that’s what really soothes my soul.

And that’s where you and I are supposed to be.

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Remember that time I was Freshly Pressed?

I’m sitting here in an old school motel in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, near the Northern shores of Lake Michigan. My eyes dart from the words on the computer screen that I slowly type on my old laptop to long periods of staring out the window of my room as ghostly apparitions of blowing snow race across the empty parking lot. My toes are cold and I can’t seem to get them to warm up even though they’re wrapped tightly in heavy wool socks. The desk where I am sitting is next to the window that faces out to the parking lot and I can see my car parked in front of the door to my room, some parking lot lights and the brightly lit motel sign. At the bottom of the sign in bright red neon, the word VACANCY calls out to the few passing cars though no one seems to heed the call.

I have the blinds wide open but I’m not worried about privacy because I think I might be the only guest here tonight. I have no concerns about someone walking by and staring in my window. What is likely a thriving little motel during the summer and fall tourist months is pretty much a ghost town on this frigid cold February night.

The old couple that owns this particular motel where I will rest my head tonight have to be in their 80’s. They live on site and the place is spotlessly clean. This is the third year in a row I have stayed here and each year I walk in and wonder if the old women who checks me in will remember me. But she doesn’t and I’m not really surprised considering the number of people she sees every year. But as always, as I signed the credit card receipts and passed them back to her she asked me:

“Do you drink coffee? I’ll have coffee made in the morning.”

“I sure do you” I replied, then added, “I know, I come up here every February on my way to Houghton and I always stay here.”

She glanced up at me with proud eyes that sparkled like the bitter cold snow outside and with the brightest smile she said “thank you.”

I added, “I really like this place, please don’t ever close it down!”

“We won’t, as long as we’re around” she offered.

I took my key and settled in to room 17.

 ******************

I stay in small motels like this all the time when I travel for work. I’m self employed, no company credit cards, no expense accounts, no perks. Every dollar I spend on accommodations or meals or gas for my car comes right off the top. So I do my research and I find the places that are clean and well kept and affordable.

But there’s more than that.

Yes, these motels are unquestionably no-frills, and I’ve had a few objectionable nights over the last few years where I wished I had chosen the local chain hotel.

But the homey, small town places that I find, that I consistently come back to are all privately owned businesses that the owners take pride in and work hard to keep their guests happy. As someone who spent almost 20 years working in a family business I respect that to no end and will do what I can to support that work ethic.

Plus the people are interesting!

There’s the 80’s something couple where I stay tonight.

There’s the Vietnam era veteran with the US Marines baseball cap who always says “I’d put my rooms up against any place in town!”

There’s the lesbian couple who own a place called the “Triangle Motel.”

There’s the macho guy who is a retired police chief and who always has his little dog with him.

There’s the guy who is always drinking from a can of “Miller Lite” while checking in guests.

These places are remnants from a bygone era, like the old Route 66 motels that families stayed in while driving across the country many decades ago. Sadly, these days, for every thriving motel you find that is worth the $50 room rate, there are two or three more that are sitting abandoned along rural routes that folks no longer choose to drive along.

So… what does this have to do with being Freshly Pressed?

Two years ago in February, 2013 my post Old Barn Coat was featured on the WordPress Freshly Pressed page. It happened during this same road trip that I am on now. I started writing the post while I was at home, but I finished it while sitting in the same motel that I sit in now, while sucking down a bottle of wine, on a similar, bitter cold Saturday February night.

I posted it the following Sunday.

It was a great post and I knew it at the time. It wasn’t my usual sarcastic, silly, juvenile humor. I remember struggling to figure out where and how I was going to tie everything together, but when the last line, the culmination, finally appeared to me, I knew I had come up with something good. I don’t remember thinking about the post being “pressed” but I knew it was something special regardless of the number of likes and comments.

Freshly Pressed is the closest most of us will ever get to something we write being “published”. Sure, no one is paying you for what you wrote but it is an example of someone who you don’t know, someone who doesn’t follow your blog, someone who isn’t your friend , either face to face or “electronically”, noticing something you’ve written and deciding it’s good enough that thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of people should see it. That’s an honor none of us should take for granted.

 **************************

The words are flowing out now like an open tap. It’s funny how that works, one minute you can’t think of anything to say, but a few struggling, forced paragraphs later, you’ve lost track of time and you have to force yourself to stop typing.

I’ve glanced up from the screen and noticed some of the parking lot lights are off and although the VACANCY light still screams out to passing cars, I know that motel office hours are only until 11:00 and there won’t be much traffic tonight. Blowing snow still dances across the parking lot and I’m glad I’m in a warm room.

Tomorrow morning I will go say hello to the old lady at the front desk. I will turn in my key and share some of the coffee she has made. We will likely talk about the weather and life and why I’m visiting the area and I trust her eyes will sparkle as much as they did tonight when I told her I was a repeat guest.

The coffee will taste better than any cup of Starbucks Coffee bought on any corner of Main Street USA.

Because it’s not about the coffee, its about the people you share it with.

Freshly Pressed or not.

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Let’s Have a Super Bowl Party!

Hey all, its Super Bowl time! As you know, the Super Bowl has become the only sporting event that is celebrated like a National Holiday. Hopefully you get the opportunity to enjoy this amazing event with family and friends. At Brown Road, we always celebrate Super Bowl Sunday with some new tailgate style recipes.

Here’s this year’s menu. We’ve thoroughly tested these recipes over the last week or so to be sure everything runs smoothly and so we could confidently share them with our readers. These recipes can be served with your choice of alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages.

1.Bill Belichips

billichipsIngredients:
1 lb bag corn flour
2 cups snake oil
Red and blue food coloring

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Put corn flour, snake oil and 12.5 drops each of red and blue food coloring in a large mixing bowl
Quickly and discretely remove 2 drops of red and blue food coloring
Mix thoroughly
Once mixed place flour on counter top and spread thinly with a rolling pin
Cut into triangles and place on baking sheet
Place into oven for 30 minutes
Serve with your favorite salsa or guacamole

2. Pinocchio Breadsticks

pinnochio

Ingredients:
Go to the local Fazoli’s restaurant, order the cheapest thing on the menu and score as many free, unlimited breadsticks as you can carry in your pockets or hand bag

Instructions:
Bring them home and serve in your favorite Pinocchio breadstick dispenser

3. Seahawk Soup

seagullIngredients:
1 large onion diced
3 large carrots diced
5 stalks celery diced
1 large live Seahawk (you can catch these at the local landfill, they’re really just seagulls)
8 cups water

Instructions:
Mix all ingredients except live seahawk in a large pot and bring to a boil
Bring temperature down to a simmer
Place live Seahawk in pot and cover (similar to how you would cook a lobster)
Let simmer for one hour.
Serve with Pinnochio Breadsticks

4. Crotch Grab Croissants

croissantsIngredients:
1 tsp yeast
½ cup milk
1 tsp sugar
2 cups flour
1 seagull egg
1 tsp each Green and Blue food coloring

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl
Reach down between your legs and hold your junk for 30 seconds like Marshawn Lynch
Without washing your hands, mix all ingredients in the bowl
Shape dough into croissant shapes and place on large baking sheet
Place in oven for 30 minutes
While croissants are cooking, stand in front of oven holding your junk again and repeating over and over “I’m just here so I don’t get fined.” This last step is important to ensure that the food coloring morphs into the proper imagery.

5. Tom Brady Brownies

brownies

Ingredients:
Any box brownie mix will do
8 oz premium marijuana

Instructions:
Prepare brownie mix per instructions on box
While preparing brownie mix, smoke one or two bongs of the marijuana
Place about ½ of the remaining marijuana into the brownie mix
Cook brownies per instructions on box
Continue smoking the marijuana
Tom Brady will magically appear on the brownies
Eat all of the brownies
Eat all of the rest of the food in the entire house

Hope you enjoy these fine recipes! Happy Super Bowl! Have fun and as always don’t drink and drive.

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Where did all my BILFs go?

bubbles

When Brown Road Chronicles was at its peak back in late 2013 before I took my fourteen month-long sabbatical, I had a long list of BILFs. This list was an extraordinary compilation of BILFs culled from many intensive years of blogging, liking, reading, and commenting. Sometimes even just a quick glance at a blogger’s avatar and I instantly knew that they’d be a strong candidate for my list of BILFs. More importantly, a timely, well thought out blog post or comment, full of voluptuous and shapely words that exemplified years of writing experience was sure to get a blogger on my list of BILFs.

So, what had once been a short list of BILFs when I had first started blogging had over time grown into a long list of about seventy-five BILFs.

What was I going to do with all these BILFs? I could barely keep track of all of them. I felt overwhelmed.

Several times I tried condensing my list of BILFs. But it was challenging and complicated because once you’ve determined a blogger is a BILF it’s difficult to just scratch them off of a list.

Plus these were all BILFs who wrote words that were fresh and polished and sexy. These were BILFs who wrote words that exuded sophistication and competency. These were BILFs who were no doubt seasoned and mature, full of deep metaphors and profound thoughts and humor.

Especially humor. Because, although a blogger can dress their site up with lots of fancy imagery, a good sense of humor is one of the primary means of becoming one of my BILFs.

But something had to give.

One day I dug down deep and found the strength. I fired up WordPress and sorted through the long list of BILFs, hour after hour, contemplating whether each was really still a BILF or if I was hanging on to old memories, remembering old posts, focusing on days gone past. Some of the BILFs had long since abandoned their sites, given up, stopped trying. Those were the simplest BILFs to say goodbye to. They weren’t BILFs anymore and they were easy to cross off the list, although there were a select number of these inactive BILFs who were my very first BILFs and who I decided should always remain.

Then there were the BILFs who were still around but who just didn’t have the same appeal as when we had first met. They had become old and stale and boring and with some clarity of thought I was able to determine that they were no longer BILFs either and they were removed from my list. It was a long process but I was able to narrow the list from about seventy-five BILFs down to about fifty BILFs.

That’s about how many BILFs I have now, approximately fifty. I have met a few new BILFs since I reopened Brown Road Chronicles at the beginning of the year and I am looking forward to getting to know those BILFs better. But on a recent scan through those original fifty or so BILFs I discovered that only about twenty, at best, are still active. Perhaps it’s time to sort through the list of BILFs again.

Now let’s be frank here, in this widespread community of talent there’s certainly no shortage of BILFs. And now that I’m back at this on a pretty steady basis, I’d definitely like to discover some new BILFs.

So here’s your job.

If you’re a regular here, you should have a good read on my personality and sense of humor. In the comments section, please recommend one or two of your BILFs… bloggers that you like to follow… that you think I might like to follow as well.

I’ll take a look and perhaps they’ll become one of my BILFs too.

My Bloggers I Like to Follow….

What did you think I was talking about?!?

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Playing like a Kid

I limped my way into the house about 9:15 pm, dragging my left leg along the ground like some kind of Quasimodo. I dropped my basketball shoes into the giant, overflowing pile of footwear by the door and took off my coat.

“Short night” I grumbled to my family as they looked up, surprised to see me home earlier than usual.

I play basketball on most Monday nights with a bunch of other older guys ranging in age from late 30’s to mid 50’s. That along with working out three or four times a week keeps me in not great, but pretty good shape. I play because I love the game. I play because I love the competition. I feel like a teenager when I’m out there and it’s so much more fun than tedious time spent lifting weights or doing endless amounts of aerobic activity. Plus I want my kids to see that even at forty-seven years old I can still go out and run around and play like a kid. They’ll remember that some day when they reach my age and they’re questioning whether to put on their athletic shoes and tie up the laces.

As a group us old guys play hard but we are careful to avoid injuries. None of us need that at our ages. Recovery time is a lot slower now than it was when we were younger.

Occasionally it happens though.

I blew out my left calf muscle this past Monday night, about ten minutes into our first game, while stealing a pass and breaking down the court to score a basket. As I accelerated I felt a sharp pain, a “pop” if you will, and knew it wasn’t good.

Recounting the story to my family when I got home, my daughter asked “so you scored though right?”

“Yeah I scored” I answered.

“That’s what’s most important” she said with a grin on her face.

“I guess so” I said as I frantically tried to secure a bag of ice my wife had retrieved for me around my calf muscle using an old t-shirt.

It hurt like hell. It was rapidly tightening up like a rubber band being turned on a toy propeller car. It swelled up and for the first time in my life, at least on my left leg, I had what I would consider a normally sized calf muscle and not the usual matchsticks that hold me up.

I finally got the ice secured with an elastic bandage rather than the t-shirt.

I drank a big glass of water, took a few ibuprofen and felt a little nauseous.

I tried to pretend that I didn’t feel like I was going into shock.

I Googled Aaron Rodgers calf injury because if you aren’t aware the famed quarterback for the Green Bay Packers was dealing with a similar injury during the last several games of his season. I thought about how people crack jokes about him and call him things like “the golden boy” but that he must be some kind of a serious bad ass to have played several PROFESSIONAL NFL FOOTBALL GAMES with what I can only imagine was a similarly painful left leg.

The articles I read said his recovery was expected to take 4-6 weeks.

What? 4-6 weeks? I don’t have 4-6 weeks!

Oh well, it is what it is. And hey, if anyone asks I can boast that I have the same injury as Aaron Rodgers, just us two pretty boys sitting around with torn calf muscles. Pretty good company I suppose.

When I get the occasional injury like this, playing a game that I probably should have stopped participating in years ago, I always contemplate “retiring.”

“Retiring” from playing like a kid.

In fact, I pretty much consider it every Tuesday morning as I haul myself out of bed, creaking and in pain from the previous night’s exertions. It usually goes something like this:

On one shoulder, a yogi, dressed in spandex and doing a Downward Dog while gently advising me: “Steve, maybe you’re too old to be playing basketball. Perhaps some gentle stretching would be better for you.”

On the other shoulder, my late grandfather, who spent his career as a teacher and football coach at a private boarding school yelling his now infamous quote: “look down between your legs and see if you’re a man!” (You can read more about him here)

But I just can’t seem to retire yet. I still want to play like a kid.

It’s kind of like that morning when you wake up with a really bad hangover and you tell yourself “ugh… I’m never drinking again.”

Never seems to work out like you planned.

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Anyone know where I put my keys?

“Who was it that went to the piscine?”my wife asked the other day as she walked into our family room where I was sitting watching television.

I wasn’t sure what sparked the question, although conversations about the French language have recently been popping up in our home as my son is taking the class in middle school. It’s a story I’d shared with her before.

“Phillipe” I responded. “I’ll remember that for the rest of my life!”

***********************

When I started taking French classes in New York, in 7th grade of Junior High (that’s what us old people called “middle school” back in the day) we had a French textbook that we would read from.

“Open up to lesson one, we are going read aloud” the teacher would say. She would always read the lines first so we had at least some guidance as to how we should sound.

Speaker 1:  “Où est Sylvie?”

Speaker 2:  “Au lycée.”

Then she would point out some poor kid in the front row to start and one by one each student in class would read the two-line conversation, trying desperately not to mangle the words.

Once the last student had read, the teacher would continue.

“Please turn to the next page.”

Again she would read first before asking each student to read aloud.

Speaker 1: “Où est Phillipe?”

Speaker 2: “À la piscine.”

Some kids would get it right, some would get it sort of right. Some kids, especially those with the thickest Long Island, New York accents, would read the text and the teacher would follow-up with a long dissertation on tongue placement, including lots of nasally sounds and exaggerated lip formations.

During that one year of 7th grade French class I’d estimate each student read those four lines somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,726,864 times. Who says rote school lessons don’t work?

I never really learned much French even after taking four years in secondary school and another two semesters in college. I just was never very interested, I guess. But, I’ll tell you this… when I’m on my deathbed someday, I’ll still know where the hell both Sylvie and Phillipe were!

***********************

In my junior high school there was this kid named Peter Curto. He was an eighth grader when I was a seventh grader. Peter was a tough kid, with long, sandy brown hair and always dressed in jeans, heavy black boots, a t-shirt and even while inside the school he’d be sporting one of several denim jackets he owned that were decorated on the back with full-size appliqués of rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Blue Oyster Cult. Our school called these kids “heads” back then or “dirtbags” if you really wanted to pull out a derogatory description for someone.

Peter was not a mean guy, at least not that I remember. He wasn’t necessarily intimidating like some of the kids in junior high that looked like they were thirty-five years old with beards and muscles and thick silver chains connecting their wallets to their belts, while I was working my hardest to just barely sprout out a few pubic and armpit hairs.

I knew Peter smoked cigarettes and assumed he was involved in plenty of other illicit activities. I sometimes wondered what his home life was like, but in reality I didn’t really know him very well. But for whatever reason he would often sit at the same lunch table with me and my posse of unbelievably dorky friends. There we would be, clustered around a table in the cafeteria, my friends and I dressed in khakis and Izod polo shirts and eating Wonder Bread Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches that our Mom’s had made and packed up in a brown paper bags for us to bring to school. And there would be Peter Curto, in the middle of all of us, perhaps like a bouncer or security guard, but more likely standing out like a Biker at a Mensa convention.

One day during lunch, Peter came to the table a little bit late, carrying a banana. He sat across from me and I watched as he cracked the stem of the banana and started tearing its yellow peel off. He didn’t say anything to the group, just worked on peeling that banana until he was holding the bottom like a handle with three or four sections of peel hanging over his hand. Then he took a big bite, chewed it up and swallowed it, looked over at me and said “man, I fucking love bananas!”

That’s it…that’s the story.

***********************

I don’t know why I remember that day or more specifically that five or so minutes of my life. Or those four lines from my 7th grade French textbook. It’s really not information that needs to be socked away in my brain like some important document or cherished family heirloom tightly secured in a lock-box at the bank. There are many other seemingly irrelevant moments in my life that I clearly remember as well, to the point where I have this mental list in my memory of minor events, conversations, passing happenings, that frankly I shouldn’t be remembering but likely always will. Remembering each one, of course, reinforces it even stronger.

Sometime as I get older and more forgetful, I wonder how much brainpower and space this stuff is taking up.

If I could get rid of some of these memories, maybe I wouldn’t have such a hard time remembering where I put my keys.

Perhaps I left them “á la piscine.”

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