July 31, 2009

Won't Someone Just Do This For Me?

When we were planning our summer trip, I made a lot of assumptions about what was going to happen.  I suppose everyone does this, and invariably, not everything goes quite how you plan it and you have to make adjustments.  Vacations, as well as everything else in life would be very boring if everything went according to the script you had laid out.

Originally, my plan was to have no plan.  Just get in the car and go.  I learned weeks before we left that this type of attitude was just stupid.  You had to have some idea of where you wanted to go and what you wanted to see.  So we did this, but one of the original thoughts that I had was to make no motel reservations.  That way we wouldn't have to be concerned about being in a certain place at a certain time.  We would just drive until we didn't feel like driving anymore, and then pick a town and find a motel.

This worked well for the first 5 nights we were on the road.  I believe one night we couldn't get into the first place we picked, but all we did was walk across a parking lot to another satisfactory motel, where there were rooms available.

The 6th night, there was a problem.

We had left Kingman, Arizona on Saturday morning, planning to drive to Bakersfield and stay there.  But we misjudged how long it would take to cover the distance and found ourselves in Bakersfield just after noon.  So we decided to drive on up the central valley and cut west to coast and find a place there for the night.

As we came nearer to the coast, we started to encounter a number of wineries.  Entering and leaving these wineries were a number of tour buses.  It slowly dawned on us that winery tours, plus nice weather, plus Saturday night equals Rob & Jan could be shit out of luck trying to find a motel room.

But we drove on to the coast, and sure enough ... nothing.  Either there were no goddammed motels, or they were booked up.  We had driven about 8 hours and 500 miles and we were both tired.  Jan was looking panicked and I was starting to get that way, but trying to look "cool".  Then the highways and streets all started to jumble together, so I did the only thing I could do.

I stopped at a Starbucks, ordered a coffee and grabbed a phone book. So as we sat at the table, I called place after place, with no luck.  I looked at Jan, as if I expected her to take over, but she looked even more wasted than I was, so I just sat there for a minute, staring at her.

And I wished that someone would just solve this problem for me, because I didn't want to deal with it anymore.  No one has not experienced this moment.  All of a sudden, you're ten years old, and you're expecting mommy or daddy to save the day.  But mommy and daddy aren't there ... and it's just you.  You're the one that has to do it.

So, I looked at the phone book again, and saw a motel name in a town that I recognized.  So I called ... and sonofabitch ... they had a couple of rooms left.  I booked one without even asking the price.  I snapped the phone shut, looked at Jan and said "I found one.  I know where it is.  Let's go."  She looked at me like I had just won the lottery.

Small victories.

Thank you La Quinta in Paso Robles
For having a room left on a Saturday night

July 30, 2009

Ben's Town

On our recent trip, we made camp in the evening in large and small towns, never staying more than one night.  One town in particular made the biggest impression on me, not because of it's general awesomeness, but because of ... well it's hard to describe.  I could say it was bizarre, or desolate, or depressing, or unreal.  Maybe it's a combination of all of those things. It sure did get my imagination going.

Green River, Utah.  My computer had picked it for me the night before, or should I say "Bing" picked it for me.  I was looking at a place called Benham, but Bing would have none of it and when I typed in Benham motels, it took me to Green River.  Search engines get more intuitive all the time and I guess this is a good thing, but it still kind of unsettles me when I realize what they are doing.

The town is about a mile off the interstate and is comprised of 4 "meh" motels and a gas station on the east end, and about a mile of "main street".  After we checked in, we looked through the soiled motel info booklet and saw that there were 4 restaurants in town, one which had been deemed to have the "best burger in Utah" by some Salt Lake City rag.

When we drove into the motel parking lot, I noted that all 4 motels in the town were bunched together on either side of main street, and as I took the luggage out of the car, I saw a hand made sign on each of the motel's grounds announcing that if you chose Ben's Cafe and showed your motel key, you would get 10 percent off of your meal. Well, thanks Ben, but I think we'll go try out the place with the best burger in Utah.

The dinner hour arrived and we headed down main street, looking for the burger place, but it was out of business, as were the next two restaurants on our list.  Which left only Ben's.  To say the place was shabby was a compliment.  Greasy faux wood paneling, cracked and wobbly formica topped tables and torn vinyl bench seats.  To top it off, there was an extension cord snaking through the middle of the cafe leading to a leaf blower laying on the sidewalk outside the front door.

The dour waitress took our order and then returned twice during the 40 minutes we waited for our food to inform us that they were out of the first and second choices we had made.  We finally picked something that they had in stock, choked it down and left.

We had asked if there was an ATM machine in town and had been pointed in the general direction of a grocery store, so after we ate, we dropped by there and found the machine inoperable.  So, we picked up a few groceries and paid the bored looking cashier.  On our way back to the motel, we started to really look at the businesses on the street, and realized that almost all of them were abandoned.  The three restaurants, the bank, a gas station, an auto repair shop.  In fact, the only places that appeared to be in operation were a bar, a coin-op laundry, the grocery store, and of course, the four motels and the gas station at the east end of town.

I asked Jan if she thought that Ben owned everything in town.  She kind of dismissed it, but I thought that maybe he did.  Later that evening, after Jan had turned in, I was half-watching the television and started wondering if Ben actually did own everything in town. What if he had muscled everyone out of business and with the aid of his Lee Marvin/Henry Silva-type henchmen, had put the the place and it's people under his oppressive thumb?

And what if I decided to move to Green River, and reopen one of the abandoned restaurants? Would Ben pay me a visit with Lee and Henry in tow, to suggest to me that it was in my best interests to pack up and leave town?  Maybe Ben would send out the "word" to stay away from my business.  Maybe he would have my dog killed as a warning.

Would things escalate to the point that it became an epic battle between good and evil for the control of the hearts and minds of the town folk?  Main Street would run red with blood until only the victor remained, just like in "Bad Day At Black Rock" and "Last Man Standing" (which by the way, is a terrific, yet overlooked Bruce Willis vehicle).

Rob's "Arbon Cafe"
The thorn in Ben's side

And then I went to bed.  The next morning, I found I had creeped myself out so badly the night before, that we hustled out of Green River as quickly as our little car could take us.

Before Ben sent us home in a box.

July 27, 2009

Going On The Go

Over the weekend, Jan and I returned from vacation.  We were on the road for 14 days and toured the Southwest, the Central Pacific Coast and the Central Plains before returning to our tiny village in Illinois. We covered 5,500 miles and never came close to killing each other. It was a terrific time.  The trip also gave me some fodder for my blogs, which is fortunate because I run out of ideas at times, which I know is painfully obvious to my small number of readers, who are too kind to tell me I suck.

The first thing I wanted to talk about is the state of the nations public and private restrooms and bathrooms with regard to the traveling public.

And I want to start out by saying this:  The primary reason I am glad I'm not a woman is that I do not have to sit down to piss.  When it comes to public restrooms, I swear to all that is holy that I do not know how you women can stand it.  Sure, I know that when it comes to taking a dump, we're all created equal, but let's face it, #2 is not a frequent occurence ... and the time, place and circumstances can be effectively managed if dealt with in a planned and prudent manner.   Not so, with good 'ol numero uno.

That said, allow me to categorize public restrooms available to travelers.

Fast Food Restaurant Restrooms:  These are usually as consistent as the food.  Arbys are excellent, McDonalds are good and Carl's Jr. are not so good.  Junior, you need to make sure that your employees police the johns more than twice a day.

Diner Restaurant Restrooms:  These are as erratic as the establishments themselves, but not bad overall.  The fixtures are often more residential than commercial, and they tend to be a little roomier than Fast Food places.  In fact, one men's room at a diner in Tehachapi, California was the size of my dining room, yet contained only a toilet and a sink.  Plenty of room to spread out and do your business.

Gas Station Food Mart Restrooms:  The quality of these increases with the number of pumps out front ... and decreases with fewer.  I guess that's logical.  In fact, I found that if a gas station had only two pumps, the restroom was pretty bad, and to top it off, it was unisex. This resulted in sort of an awkward situation if there was a line.  I mean from an etiquette standpoint, do you let the ladies go in front of you, even if you're at the front of the line?  Or are all proper rules of society off the table?  This happened to me several times, and I just left and went down the road ... usually to a McDonalds.  Because it's an unwritten rule that you can use a McDonalds bathroom and you don't have to buy anything.

State & Federal Restrooms:  These can be split into highway rest areas, and state and national parks.  First ... Rest Areas:  I'm ashamed to admit, that my home state of Illinois had the funkiest rest areas.  California wasn't so great either, but better than Illinois.  I'd rate all of the other states we touched base in as good.  Mostly clean and mostly free of gross odors.  The best restrooms were at the Visitor's Centers and the "creme de la 'creme"  visitor's center restroom was just east of Amarillo, Texas.  Look at this beauty!

Granite floors and walls complimented by gleaming porcelain toilets and urinals!  Texans, be proud of yourselves!

Second ... State & National Park Restrooms:  I suppose when you're at one of these places, you'll take anything you can get, because restrooms seem to take a back seat to nature in these areas. Actually, most of the parks we visited had adequate facilities ... meaning they had four walls and a roof so other people didn't see you in what I consider to be a human's most awkward pose, squatting or thrusting your pelvic bone at some object.  The restrooms at the Grand Canyon were the most civilized because they used the most water.  Water to flush and water to wash your hands.  This is probably because they had the easiest access to water, what with the Colorado River being a mile or so down in that big crack in the earth.  All of the other parks were practicing water Nazis, which they termed "conservation".   Conservation took several forms, from chemical toilets to open holes in the ground.  The chemical toilets weren't Porta Potties, but mad creations from the Kohler and Eljer people, utilizing filters, recyclers and sprays.  Frankly these did little to cover up the smell of coffee laced urine and hamburger/taco grease packed feces.

The most horrifying restrooms we ran across were at Arches National Park.  Now granted, water is really scarce in southern Utah, but the restrooms at the scenic stops were just dressed up outhouses ... and unisex outhouses at that.  I must admit that they were well lit outhouses, all the better to get a good look at the piles of shit and toilet paper as you pissed into what looked like a regular toilet, but was just a Hollywood prop.  And of course, being outhouses, there was no water to wash your hands when you were through with your business.  As I waited in queue, the people coming out of the toilets had a lost traumatized look on their faces, almost as if they had been violated.

Having experienced the iffy conditions of public voiding, it was a luxury to get to a motel in the evening and see a regular bathroom, complete with a normal toilet, sink and shower.  However, I do find it interesting as to how different motels set up their bathrooms.  Some have all the things in one room.  Others have the shower and toilet in one room and the sink out in the open, and the best ones have all the things in one room, plus a wet bar out in the open.  I also noticed a trend in shower chic ... curved shower curtain rods.  From the best lodgings to the worst, the showers all sported curved shower curtain rods.  I was so impressed that I just might have to get a couple for our home.

During the two weeks on the road, I came away with this general conclusion.  Whether the restrooms were palaces or pits, I did not see one person pee or poop in a place they weren't supposed to, and I never saw one "piss bomb" hurled from a semi-tractor trailer.  I think this is definitive proof of all Americans civilized nature, even if we do have a tendency to maim and kill each other.  

July 09, 2009

Candy Man

Jan and I were at Walgreens the other day buying snacks for our trip this weekend, because what good is driving a long distance in your car if you don't have piles and piles of potato chips and Fritos and candy bars and Diet Cokes and Jack Daniels (ha, ha Illinois State Police, just kidding about the Jack).

Anyway, along with the other piles of stuff, I picked up two bags of Tootsie Roll Pops and Jan starts snickering at me.  I don't know what the hell she was snickering at because I don't laugh at her when she buys her stupid Rolos.  I'm not a real big candy person, but right now I like Tootsie Roll Pops.  I may not next week or next month, but for right now I do.

I'm like that about a lot of things.  For a while, the only ice cream I would eat was Neapolitan.  I ate nothing but Mrs. Paul's fish fillets on hamburger buns at one time.  When I drank, it was always rum and Coke.

So, right now, I like Tootsie Roll Pops.  They've got it all.  You can suck them, and when you get tired of that, you can crunch them, and when you're done you can roll the stick around in your mouth until it gets soggy and the paper starts accumulating in your teeth.  I guess I eat more candy now than I have since I've become an adult.  I liked candy when I was a kid, but my family was too poor to afford much of it.

Yeah, I know.  Boo-fucking-Hoo Rob.  Well, fuck you.  We were poor and couldn't afford candy on a regular basis.  In fact, that wasn't the only "treat" we couldn't afford.  Soda Pop?  Forget it, have some shit tasting Kool-Aid instead.  Ice Cream?  Here, I bought some ice milk. Ice Milk!  Do they even make that shit anymore?  For the sake of mankind, I hope not.  And it didn't stop there.  Don't stay in the shower more than three minutes.  The window air conditioner has to go off at bed time.  What!  That's when you need it the most!  When you're fucking trying to go to sleep!  And the worst of all ... don't use so much toilet paper.  The first day after I moved out of my parents home into my own place, I did the following in no particular order ... I took an hour to take a shower.  I left the air conditioner on 24 hours a day and used a half a roll of toilet paper to wipe my ass.

But back to candy.  As I got older and started to pick up odd jobs and have a few dollars in my pocket, I began to frequent the small markets in the neighborhood and try different candy bars.  I liked Three Musketeers the best, and still do, but I could go for the occasional Snickers and Milky Way.  I also tried some of the lesser known brands, but these generally sucked.  I developed a rating system of general suckitude of these products and they go from least bad to maggot-gag bad.  They are:  Butterfinger, Fifth Avenue, Baby Ruth, Payday, Zagnut and the Zero bar.  The Zero bar is so wrong in all respects that I can't understand how the people who developed it could possibly think that anyone would enjoy it.  First of all, it looks like a cardboardy sandy nougat surrounded by a coating of coagulated semen.  For all I know it tastes like coagulated semen too, but you'd have to ask someone else.  Not me ... No sir.

Er ... okay.  For all I know, my current candy obsession will ebb and be replaced by something else, perhaps "wicked spicy buffalo ranch Doritos"  That's another thing about me.  My treat obsessions tend to cycle around.  I ate so many Doritos at one time that I got tired of them, but now, I'm starting to like them again.  Go figure.

So, I'm going to go get another Tootsie Roll Pop.  At this rate, I may have to buy another bag before we leave.

July 08, 2009


I believe in the recuperative power of the human body.  I have recovered from cancer and am better than ever.  In fact, I'm so much better in that regard, that I now doubt that I ever had cancer to begin with and that the diagnosis was a ruse by my surgeon to practice his skills at organ removal, resizing and rerouting.  I have recovered from a particularly nasty bout of hepatitis and although it took almost a year to get my strength back, I consider myself better than ever.

So, I'm not blowing smoke out my ass when I say that I believe that the body has the ability to repair and refit itself, if the owner is so inclined.

That's why I'm almost certain I can regain my 20/20 eyesight.

I hate wearing glasses.  I've never owned a pair that I look good wearing.  I've never had a lens prescription that was "just" right.  They always get dirty and smeary.  And they leave those fucking semi-permanent dents on the bridge of my nose.

I was fortunate in that my eyesight didn't start to fail until I was in my 40's, but when it did go, it went fast.  I even remember the day it happened.  I was riding the train to work and looked across the aisle at a guy reading his newspaper and I couldn't read the print on the page.  It was that quick.

I went to the optometrist and was fitted for a pair of eyeglasses.  On my first day wearing them, everyone I knew looked at me funny. They didn't mean to, but you could see it on their face.  I was now a mild case physical freak.  No matter what anybody says, you can't wear a combination of wire, plastic and glass draped across your nose and look normal.

Sure, there are alternatives that I could pursue.  Contacts for instance.  Except that I can't stand having anything touch my eye, and besides, everyone I know with contacts has trouble with them and usually becomes so frustrated that they go back to wearing glasses. Lasik surgery is another option.  But if I can't stand the thought of contact lenses on my eyes, I'm sure as hell not going to have someone aim a fucking laser at them and burn them.  My neighbor had Lasik surgery and she swears by it.  The fact that street lights and car headlights now have a multi-colored halo around them when she looks their way doesn't bother her at all.  Brrrrr!

So, after a particularly unsatisfying lens prescription change a few months ago, I decided to will my eyes back to their 20/20 shipshapedness using nothing but the power of my mind.

The results have been mixed.  I think I can gauge some improvement, but I'm not sure if my eyes are getting better, or I'm just utilizing other external stimuli to compensate for my weak vision.  Another phrase for external stimuli is "guessing". 

To test myself, I watched an entire foreign film the other day, so I could see if I could follow the plot by reading the subtitles without my glasses.  I think I was pretty successful, and the small fact that the film in question was "Godzilla" had no bearing on the outcome.

Being the optimistic pessimist that I am, I'll keep trying until I'm defeated.  And then I'll just get up in the morning, put on my glasses, and find another reason to be annoyed with the day.

July 06, 2009

People Change

As part of our upcoming trip, we're going to stay a few days with my Mom in southwest Missouri.  Although I talk to her almost every week, I haven't seen her in almost 10 years.  Over the weekend, I was wondering if I'd be surprised to see what she looks like.  Well, maybe surprised isn't the right word.  I'm just hoping for not shocked.

This is one thing that's universal with all people.  If you haven't seen a good friend or relative in a long time, there's always a moment when you first see them after the absence that you're taken aback, if only for a few seconds.  Then your mind processes the update and the mini-shock goes away.  In those few seconds, you hope that the mild trauma hasn't registered on your face.

New pictures of people you haven't seen for a while have the same effect, except that you're free to goggle at those for as long as you want, without fear of looking like a loon.

So, we'll see what happens at the end of this week.  One thing I'll keep in mind though, is that the other person is probably just as shocked to see me as I am to see them.

I think that's what they call a level playing field.

July 03, 2009


I curse a lot.  Probably too much.  I don't know exactly when this all started.  When I was a boy, I never cursed out loud.  Oh, I probably thought the words, but made suitable substitutes when the words came out of my mouth.  Dang, shoot, geez ... I think the worst word that I ever said was crap, and that was rare.  It was the same way in high school, and even into my college years.  No, I think it was when I started working full time at the pet food plant that I really began to roll.  The shits and goddamns were plentiful, but I had to watch it with fuck and his more profane brother, motherfucker.  After all, about a third of the plant's work force consisted of women, and even though some of them could put me to shame, I was taught not to curse around women.

I really reached my cursing pinnacle when I took a job at a pet food plant in Pennsylvania.  There were no women working in this plant, so everyone, and I mean everyone let fly with every conceivable English swear word known in the modern world, and if you were really proficient, you cursed in Polish and German too.  I'm a impressionable guy, so I joined right in, and soon every other word coming out of my mouth was a swear word.  Incidentally, I was so impressionable during this time that I also started chewing snuff, but had to quit because I kept swallowing it.

Jan was highly dismayed by the cursing (and the snuff use), and kept telling me to stop, but I didn't until I was promoted and transferred to an office.  At that time, I had to dial it waaaaay back, and have done pretty well, until the last year or so.  I'm starting to let words go in public that I shouldn't, so recently, I've decided that I need to be more mentally aware of the words I say before I say them.

Today, I slipped.  I was getting a haircut this morning, and Theresa (the nice woman who cuts my hair) and I were talking about something when I let "fuck" get out.  I realized what I had done and kept talking, hoping that she hadn't noticed.  But when I finished my thought and she replied, she started peppering her sentences with "fuck" also.  I didn't know where to be shocked or amused, but I think I was more amused.  We continued cussing until she finished, without a thought as to what we were saying.

Now ... this is what people do!  And I never really thought about it until today, but you see this kind of behavior all of the time.  It involves questionable behavior being rationalized as long as everyone does it.

Cursing is a good example.  A group of people can be talking, and one person rips out a curse word, and suddenly, more people join in. Same thing with business lunches.  The waitress comes around and asks everyone what they want to drink.  Everyone looks at each other and then the unlucky first person starts out saying "Coke", or "Tea". But if one person orders alcohol, almost everyone else after him/her will probably order it too, and more often than not, the first person that ordered will end up changing his/her order to alcohol also.

Smoking is a different dynamic.  Two people may know each other for weeks or months and then the following occurs:  Given the circumstances, usually stressful, one person produces a pack of cigarettes, pulls one out of the pack and lights up.  The other person stares at him/her and says" I didn't know you smoked".  The first person looks kind of sheepish, but then the second person says "Me too!  Gimme one!"  And a solid relationship is formed.  Of course, this can go entirely in the other direction also.  The second person may end up loathing the smoker for his filthy ways.

In any event, this shit is pretty fascinating to me, and just confirms my belief that I should have been a psychologist.  Just think of the fucking excellent papers I could publish!

July 02, 2009

20/20 Hindsight

Have you ever been in a situation where you were caught off guard by something someone said and you were just struck dumb for an answer?  And not only did the person catch you off guard, but the remark was so cutting that it literally sliced your very soul completely in half and it took you weeks to recover?

And then later, you come up with a half-dozen responses to said remark that were just killer and if only you had been on your game at that moment, your witty, murderous, cutting response would have just laid the offender flat out on the floor?

It's kind of late and as I was sitting here, my mind wandered back to an episode in my youth, that I have generally forgot about, but it still comes back to me from time to time.  So, as I was thinking about it, I suddenly came up with the response ...

"Yeah, well I would expect a slutty piece of trailer trash like you to expect something like that!"

Hah!  It may have taken me 36 years ... but I'll bet that cut you to ribbons!

July 01, 2009

You Have To Be Kidding Me

This morning I got up, went downstairs and turned the television on to the news.  I glanced down to the right hand corner of the screen, where they usually post the time and temperature.  Hmm.  52 degrees. So, I slid my glasses down from the top of my head and checked again.  Still 52 degrees.

I padded over to the refrigerator and looked at the calendar.  July 1, 2009. Then I looked at the newspaper.  July 1, 2009.

What the fuck!

It's the middle of the goddamned Summer and it's cold here!  I am actually wearing a sweatshirt, and as I look out the window, the birds have this quizzical look on their little avian faces and I'm certain that in their little bird minds, they are also thinking "What the fuck" in their little bird language.  Maybe they think they blanked out after their fermented berry orgy the previous night and that they have missed Summer and it's time for them to hi tail their little asses back to Louisiana, or Barbados, or wherever the hell they came from.

This reminds me of the cult classic "Dark City", where some dude wakes up in a bathtub and it turns out his whole city has been abducted by aliens and is in the middle of deep space.  Maybe the same thing has happened to my little village, only we have been transported to the middle of fucking Antarctica only that's probably not it because I'm sure Antarctica would be warmer than it is here right now.

I'd complain to someone, but I don't know of anyone who could take care of it besides God, or Vishnu, or Allah, or someone like that and I don't have any of their phone numbers.

So shit!  I guess I will go pull my boots and overcoat out of the closet, because I'm certain that the next thing to occur will be 3 feet of snow.

I mean ... what the fuck ...