A rare bit of truth in advertising…

Today was my first planned “day off” in 2021. It was, in part, intended as a day to catch a deep breath before diving in to what are historically my most ridiculous two or three weeks of my year. It was also an opportunity to celebrate having all my shots and getting back to doing one of the few things I like doing that doesn’t involve staying home with the critters.

I didn’t plan a lot of these “one off” days during the plague year. A long weekend when things aren’t open or when going anywhere there might be people is ill advised felt a bit superfluous. Better to hold the days while I wait and see.

Today wasn’t actually the day I planned. I was going to troll through a couple of local used book shops, maybe do some antiquing, and call it a triumphant return to normalcy. A week or two ago, though, a friend inadvertently reminded me of a shop about an hour away that I’ve long had my eye on, but had never visited. What better way to note my newly acquired immunity than heading out to a new place?

The Baldwin Book Barn promises 300,000 volumes across four stories of a former dairy barn. A family run bookseller since 1938, I could hardly expect to find the dollar bin wonders I turn up from less specialized places. Still, the Baldwin’s place didn’t disappoint in any way. It was exactly as advertised in all respects. 

I walked away with half a dozen books – a few hole fillers, a few that drew my interest in the moment, and one rather nice 100+ year old history of colonial Maryland. A few others were a treat to hold and page through, but would have outstripped my merger book budget by about 1000%.

I got to spend the morning awash in a sea of books and as a bonus had a pleasant drive through southeastern Pennsylvania horse country. I’d be hard pressed to think up a better way to spend a Friday… even if it will take me weeks to recover from being in the same room with as many as ten people simultaneously.

How to get a tip…

It’s a weekday. The regularly scheduled shuttle between the hotel where I’m staying and the concert venue I’ll be at tonight stops running at 9:00. No good for my plan. A quick trip to the concierge, a few mumbled words, a bit of special paper changing hands and within two minutes, it’s “No problem, Mr. Tharp. Call my cell when you’re ready to leave and I’ll send down one of the hotel drivers.” Motel 6 would have been cheaper, but it’s hard to beat the overall value I’m feeling just now. 

Style and comfort…

In the few brief decades I’ve considered myself a traveler, I’ve come to loath almost everything associated with getting from Point A to Point B. The one grand exception is when I get to drive to wherever I’m going. I still love going, but I really, really wish there were better options when it comes to getting there from here.

Since age 18, my ire is almost exclusively reserved for airlines and the whole air travel experience in general. Today, though I’m reminded that there is one mode even more evil than your standard issue economy flight… That would be the bus. If airlines have become the busses of the air, I suppose busses have become, well, nothing really. They’re still loud, slow, uncomfortable, and leave you feeling vaguely grimy at the end of the trip. At least that part has stayed consistent down through the years.

Whoever it was that said “getting there is half the fun” must have been functionally retarded. Being there can absolutely be both fun and educational. Getting there, on the other hand, has all the style and comfort of dead moose. Let’s just say for the record that I’m happy to be in the last 90 minutes of this trip. I’m looking forward to unfolding myself from this seat, getting back in the truck, and then backtracking 40 minutes to get to the house.

Traveling light…

It usually takes every bit of room in a crewmax pickup truck to move me and the dogs just about anywhere. In the intrest of having places to be and still not exact idea when the truck might have its airbags installed, we’re going to give it the good old college try in something a little smaller. The Chevy Impala is a fine car, I’m sure, but even with its respectable trunk I’m not sure it was designed with me in mind. I’ve been working on it most of the evening and think I finally have it down to what I’d consider the barest of essentials: A backpack of electronic “stuff”, a rolling garment bag, a medium tote of “dog stuff”, two large dogs, and me. Neither of my oversized crates will fit in the aforementioned trunk, so we’re going to see how the trip goes sans crates. Hopefully they will be at least marginally well behaved and don’t destroy anything while were there. If something goes badly wrong with this plan it’s possible that all three of us may be banned for life from the house where I grew up. I’m cautiously optimistic because they haven’t really destroyed anything in years now… but I’m equal parts horrified that they’ll see the new territory as a good excuse to, I don’t know, shred an entire living room set.

I’ve thrown over every bit of extraneous bit of clothing, equipment, and random odd and end that I can think of, but the dogs… the dogs are the wildcard in all of this. If there’s any mercy in the universe, they won’t make me regret gushing about how well mannered they are. Otherwise, I’ll be paying for this short trip for a very long time. For the record, I never intend to travel anywhere within driving distance without the truck again. Trying to economize on volume is just too nerve-wracking.

Their spidey senses are tingling…

Sometimes I wonder what’s going on in the dog’s minds. They definitely know something’s up. As soon as I get one of my suitcases out of the closet Maggie becomes a super needy attached to my feet version of herself and follows me from room to room for the rest of the night. Winston is more circumspect about the whole thing and sprawls out in front of the door figuring that way I can’t leave without him seeing it and still expending as little energy as possible. This makes Winston the easier of the two to deal with right up until the point where I need to start loading the truck – and yes, I’m one of those obnoxious pre-planners that loads everything the night before so the next morning involves only shower, coffee, load dogs, drive.

We’ve been through this experience more times than I can count but the response is always the same mixture of excitement and nervousness from the two furry beasts. What they could be nervous about at this point is utterly beyond me. Fortunately, they’ll both be asleep long before I merge onto 95 and won’t stir much until I start slowing down to pull off the interstate three and a half hours later. By then we’ll have arrived at somewhere vaguely familiar to them and the whole attached at my feet period can continue for the rest of the weekend and then reverse itself two days later on the return trip. After a good night’s rest they’ll be right back to their normal selves. They’re resilient little buggers like that. I wish I recovered from a trip that fast.

Aww… Shit… Part II…

Our story begins long before dawn on Saturday, January 24th. In the pre-dawn darkness, I herded the dogs outside to do what dogs do while I finished packing the truck for the 13 hour drive to Maryland. With the truck packed and the dogs seemingly relieved, we set out on schedule from West Tennessee at 5:00 AM. Traffic was light and I was making great time. Barely an hour into the drive, I got my first indication that all systems were not go… an unusual gurgling noise from the general vicinity of Maggie, who was riding shotgun for the trip. I didn’t think much of it and assumed that it was her stomach protesting the lack of breakfast. No need tempting the fates of carsickness before a long drive, right? Right.

Now, I should pause here to point out that Winston absolutely must travel in his kennel. He’s all nerves, shedding, and slobber when he doesn’t have that security. Since he’s been riding in a kennel since just after he came home, I wanted to make sure that Maggie was a little more acclimated to riding commando on those long trips. Quite frankly a cage big enough for her inside the cab of the truck is simply out of the question, so I covered the passenger seat with an old sheet and we should have been good to go. Of course this wasn’t destined to be a normal day.

By this point we’re an hour and a half into the drive, darkness is still heavy on the face of the firmament and that’s when I hear the unmistakable sound of a dog about to heave. Having had most of a cup of coffee, I had the good sense to get on the brake and start wheeling towards the shoulder so I could face whatever was coming at a much lower rate of speed and with most of my attention. I heard the splash and almost simultaneously was hit broadside by the most disturbing, pungent aroma that I’d ever personally experienced. That’s right… Liquefied, partially digested, dog poo projectile vomit. Without even the benefit of light, I knew what had happened… but nothing prepares you for the first awful moment of light in a world gone mad. My sweet, darling lab had tossed on the seat, on the dash, and across the center console. My initial thought was an overwhelming need to clean… which was followed in short order by the overwhelming need to keep myself from blowing chunks all over the other side of the truck.

With all the fortitude I could muster, I set about the task of cleaning as best I could. The sheet had saved the seat, Armor All had mostly saved the dash, but the center console took the worst of it… The cup holders and ashtray full to the brim with brown gleaming liquid; every crease, every joint, every nook its own special disaster. It’s only when I got to the bottom of the second cup holder that I realized that my Bluetooth headset, the finely tuned, military grade, $120 piece of hardware that it is had been at the bottom of this devil’s brew. With some intense cleaning, it would probably work again… but I don’t have the fortitude to put it in my ear knowing the horrors it’s been through. With the truck cleaned as best I could with the roll of paper towels and some generic spray cleaner I’ve always carried under the back seat, we managed to get back on the road after about thirty minutes. That’s pretty good time considering how often I had to stick my head out the window to keep my own gagging from becoming something much worse.

Thinking to myself, we’re back on track, things will be fine now. I was just outside of Nashville now and again making good time. I began to allow myself to hope again and this was apparently my second mistake of the day… and just seconds before the next shower of feces-filled vomit was deposited, this time on the passenger side floor mat. Thanks be to God for the heavy duty rubberized type that can be sprayed off. By this point, I was out of paper towels, out of cleaner, and basically out of options… It was go/no go for the rest of the drive. I could turn back three hours into the trip, regroup, recover, and reset for another try on Sunday or I could press on in the hopes that there couldn’t possibly be more left where the first two rounds had been. I rolled the dice and got lucky this time.

The rest of the drive was an uneventful trip along the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System… Except for the windows being down in the bitter cold of a Tennessee morning. And the smell; that terrible smell that I fear I’ll never forget.

Road dogs…

Traveling with two dogs create all sorts of new and interesting challenges but no regrets. First among them is having no real time to sit down and blog properly. It will have to suffice to say that the pups have been doing famously and are taking all the new scenery well in stride. Even my mother, who is no fan of dogs has warmed up a bit to having them around. Our holiday is coming to an end with the drive back to Tennessee on Saturday but it has been leave well spent and one of the most enjoyable Christmases I’ve had in recent memory. I hope everyone has had as good a christmas as I have. I’ll be back on a more regular writing schedule in a few days when I’m back to work and into the routine.

Stupid dichotomy…

There are few things better in life than a full tank of gas, an open road, and new songs on the iPod. Those things are less good when your road trip takes you from Memphis to Mobile, Alabama. My drive today could have been a case study in rural poverty. Almost 400 miles of nothing dotted with trailers, closed storefronts, and the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia fluttering over it all. Having grown up “down the crick,” I thought I knew something about the indigenous redneck subculture of the Eastern United States.

Clearly, I was wrong on that score. Sure, I know intellectually that there are examples of crushing poverty easily within a few miles drive of where I grew up, but I really hadn’t ever given much thought to places like that still existing… but there they are. Right there on the roadside somewhere, almost anywhere, between Memphis and Mobile. Once you manage to overlook the scenery, or the distinct lack of scenery, it was a hell of a drive. I think on my way back to Memphis, I’ll plot an all-interstate course to avoid the unpleasantness on my way back to suburban bliss.

Marathon Man…

So after a 5000 air miles, a six hour nap, and a 900 mile drive, I am back in Memphis. I have copious notes from the last 9 days that I will be working on pulling together into some kind of coherent narrative… Probably a tale in several parts. You may reasonably expect to assume that I’ll be posting some pictures and lots of verbiage over the weekend. As for tonight, I’m going to go make a drink with ice and go to sleep.

Back in the EC…

I’m happy to report that I survived the 14-hour drive from Memphis yesterday and while perhaps not quite in fighting trim, I’m not that much the worse for wear. I don’t actually remember much specifically about the trip other than noting how early it got dark. “Falling back” a few weeks ago plus the late time of year conspired to put the lion’s share of the drive well past dark. Not a trek I would recommend to those who dislike driving or night or both, but if you’re good with a pack of smokes, a thermos of coffee, and XM radio it can be a good time… At a minimum, you are bound to meet some interesting people when you roll into a truck stop for gas in south-western Virginia just after midnight… I can almost guarantee it.

I wish I had something more interesting or even a soul searching missive to post tonight, but that’s all there is at the moment.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, it has taken less that 24 hours to get back to my jaded and thoroughly annoyed self… There is just something about driving around Columbia on a Saturday afternoon that seems to being out my best qualities.