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Road Trip 2008, Days 17-18: End of Days

“Nature is a revelation of God; Art is a revelation of man.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

After our tour of the abandoned Lyman high school (which will someday be “Paul’s Brewery/ Concert Hall / Apartment Complex/ Campground/ Baseball Diamond/ Center”) we walked back towards John’s place.  On the way, we stopped at the only bar in the area, also the only beer retailer in town. Located right next to the bar were three coolers.  We scoured the small selection of brews, yearning for the great dark concoctions we enjoyed the past few weeks, but there were none to be found. Paul decided we should get Coors. He claimed it tastes better since we were so close to the brewery.  I agreed to his logic and lunked a 20 pack onto the counter.    Fully stocked on beers, we walked across the lot to John’s place.

I hear the cream can boiling; it's boiling on the flame, and I ain't seen a cream can since I don't know when.

John’s dad was already at his trailer setting up the cream can.  We exchanged handshakes, his father looking like an older version of John but with a long grey beard and rosy red cheeks.  He opened up the cream can (which is exactly that, an old style metal cream can) and showed us how he filled it to the brim with corn on the cob, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, red peppers, broccoli, asparagus, sausage, and anything else you can imagine. He then walked me through the cream can process. With a couple cans of skunky beer, he filled the container.  He placed the lid on top, set it onto a propane burner, and turned the flame up to full to get the beer boiling.

“In forty five minutes we’ll have ourselves some cream can to eat,” his dad proudly announced, taking a seat in a lawn chair nearby. I liked John’s dad; he seemed so calm and easy-spirited.  Soon, more and more people showed up, the familiar faces I’d met in the past (Doug, Eric, Wes, and Carl) and people I’d heard about in Paul’s stories of growing up (both John’s brothers, Crazy Jimmy, and Frano).  It was a strange experience finally meeting all the crazy characters I heard about in Paul’s stories.  It felt a bit like the funeral scene in “Big Fish” when the son realizes his dad’s stories were all true.

Who knew people like Crazy Jimmy and Frano actually existed?

With the beers flowing smooth and easy, the cream can finished boiling before we had the chance to get hungry.  Jon Jon came out with an aluminum baking pan, and his dad poured the contents of the cream can out. It looked like a shark getting his stomach cut open, with a menagerie of vegatables and chunks of meat spilling out.

We all lined up and dumped the buffet of beer baked food onto our plates. Once seated, I took my first bite from a sausage and couldn’t believe the burst of flavor within my mouth. A minute later the entire sausage had been devoured, forcing me to move on to the vegetables. I’ve never been the biggest fan of veggies, so I cautiously approached.  To my surprise, the veggies tasted amazing, challenging the godliness of the sausage. Why I doubted veggies boil in beer and sausage grease, I’ll never know.

(As a testament to the greatness that is cream can, that summer I told my friends in Iowa about it and they decided we should give it a try one night after golfing.  We used Tony’s turkey fryer, and it did the trick, although not up to  Papa John John’s standards.  My friends loved it so much that we ended up having a cream can a week later when another friend came to visit.)

After eating and filling our stomachs to bloated conditions, a bunch of us guys took seats on the back porch letting the food settle. I’d heard so much about Paul’s friend Frano, and he lived up to the tales.  He had all of us cracking up with his stories.  For some reason I envisioned Frano as a fat little dude, probably due to all of Paul’s stories of going to his house to gorge himself on quality Mexican food.  In reality, Frano had the physique of a stocky wrestler, and even talked of his exploits in mixed martial arts.

Once our food had settled we returned to our drinking.  Many of Paul’s friends who had kids had left already, which seemed kind of rude since Paul rarely comes back home.  Some wives allowed their men to stay, including one of Paul’s best friends Carl, so I couldn’t completely denounce all wives as “evil hags”. The living room became party central with the bugs getting nasty outside.

I talked with Wes for a while, a friend of Paul’s who lived in Omaha during the couple years I also lived there.  We always seemed to get along great when Paul tried mix-and-matching his friends.  After getting his degree at Creighton, Wes returned to his hometown to work in the local hospital.  Paul never understood this move. He always asked, “Why would anyone want to return to small town life when you’ve lived in a town like Omaha?”  I could see Paul’s point, although part of me will always miss the simple-ness of small town living.

When Paul noticed us talking, he joined in and began berating Wes for moving.  Wes tried defending himself, but his defense of saving money didn’t float.  I began thinking about Paul’s future – where he would end up.  I knew he would like to stay in Omaha, but I’d already moved away and then Wes followed suit. It had to be tough seeing all of his friends jump ship just as he finally got his diploma.

Paul harassing Wes for moving as Eric contemplates life in the background.

After a few more beers, a case of the dizzies began to haunt my weary head.  I approached the tray of left-over cream can and began grazing the cold, slimy vegetable chunks. It still tasted pretty damn good.  When the left-overs didn’t stop me from seeing double, I somehow moseyed into John’s spare room and passed out, leaving Paul and his friends to their reminiscing.

The next morning I awoke with a major hangover. I laid there for a while, still in my t-shirt and shorts, dreading the long bike ride home that lay ahead. I thought back to how rough the drive to town had been when I was completely sober.  Then Wes, my knight in shining armor, burst into the room with glorious news.

“Paul’s going to ride his bike back to the farm. Do you want me to give you a ride? We can just throw your bike in my trunk.”

“Yes!” I shouted, jumping up from bed. Suddenly, my hangover didn’t seem so dreadful.

“We have to find my brother’s glasses first though.”

“What?” I asked.

“Oh, you missed the fight. My brother and John’s brother got into it. Crazy Jimmy’s glasses are somewhere out in John’s lawn.”  Obviously I had missed a lot of action while passed out, but I was hurting too much to endure a long-term conversation about what happened.  We wandered around the lawn for a while, squinting and shielding our eyes from the sun’s harsh morning glare. After 10 minutes, the glasses turned up, slightly bent and covered in chunks of grass like a football cleat.

We loaded the bike into the trunk and headed back toward Paul’s.

Once there, I thanked Wes for the ride and wished him luck with his new job.  Back inside the Peterson household, I headed straight to my sanctuary downstairs and fell asleep as Jesus glared down at me with disdain.  I hibernated for a few hours.  When I heard stirring of the farm family upstairs I realized I wouldn’t be able to fit in any more of my nap. I grabbed Dharma Bums and began reading once again.  As Kerouac talked of finding God within the nature of Desolation Peak, I looked up at the traditional version of Jesus staring back at me with his baby blues. When I prayed as a child, I always envisioned God as the same long haired bearded hippie tacked on Josiah’s wall.  But no longer. I knew what Kerouac talked about as he said goodbye to Desolation Peak:

“I don’t know when we’ll meet again or what’ll happen in the future, but Desolation, Desolation, I owe so much to Desolation, thank you forever for guiding me to the place where I and I’ve grown two months older…God, I love you.”

The hour I spent on the top of the Sphinx mountain was the closest I’ve ever felt to God. I saw his face in all of the splendor around me.  I don’t know if what I saw was Buddha, Christ, or an eight armed elephant – the denomination didn’t matter. But I have no doubt that I saw God. In each wild flower, in each jagged rock, in each green valley at my feet.  And as I sat looking at the blue eyed Jesus printed on a piece of manufactured cardboard, I thought about how no artist could capture what I saw with my own eyes – who I saw with my own eyes.


You be the judge: who is the imposter?

I went upstairs to find Paul’s mom slaving over the stove, cooking chicken fried steak.  Out in the living room Paul and his siblings sat around busting jokes on each other (mostly Paul making fun of Caleb and his hippie hair).  Paul’s dad sat at the computer, occasionally chuckling at the banter coming from his children.  Soon after, mom appeared from the kitchen with a plate of sizzling fried steaks.  My grumbling stomach yearned for grease to coat its aching walls, easing the drunken sickness churning below.  I’d never had actual homemade chicken fried steak, but I think I have the authority to profess Paul’s mother’s as the best. The steaks quickly remedied my stomach ache, and I even went in for another half of a steak.

With lunch finished, we began packing up the car, preparing for the final leg of our drive.  We had eight hours of blacktop ahead of us, so we knew we had to hit the road soon.  Before leaving, Paul said his final good byes, hugging each of his siblings.  His dad came over and gave him a big bear hug, wishing him good luck on his job search. As the family wishing Paul off, I wondered where his mom had gone. I knew she had to clean up the kitchen, but during the entire visit, she had been cold toward Paul, speaking only a few words to him and rarely spending time in the same room as him.  Just as these questions crossed my mind she came out from the kitchen and approached Paul. She gave him a quick hug, then stood back and smiled.  As she looked at him, I could see she did care a lot about her boy. Sure, he caused a lot of stress and mental anguish over the years, and he was far from being the obedient young man her other sons had become.  Maybe she didn’t understand her son and his love of “devil music”; maybe she couldn’t comprehend his penchant for the unexpected. Despite all that he had done wrong over the years, she still deep down cared about her son – I could see it in her eyes.

I thanked the family for everything, and we headed out, back up the gravel road that led us to what Paul once knew as home.  Our drive across Nebraska would be one of exhausted reverie, thinking back on all of the experiences we had the past few weeks.  We kept ourselves entertained for a while practicing “rock screams” while listening to Iron Maiden, but nothing seemed quite as fun as our foray through the mountains. We both knew the end of our trip would come alongside with sun down.


With Nebraska's flatland surrounding us, I entertained myself by playing mouth trumpet on a straw.

At one point Paul put in Destroyer’s latest “Trouble in Dreams” and let Dan Bejar’s nasally voice and morose tunes drive us down the final stretch of endless corn fields, all waiting to be detasseled in mere months.  As the album came to its final song “Libby’s First Sunrise”, ironically during a sunset, I caught myself listening to the lyrics, and quickly realized how fitting they were with the lights of Omaha in the distance ahead.

You’ve been wasted from the day
of wandering, boozing and sleeping outside
Playing the idiot all of your life
and this is what you get
Master of all you survey, but today
You’ve been wandering around
You’ve been fucking around
You’ve been wandering around
You’ve been fucking around – oh
And this is what you get
Now the light holds a terrible secret
The light holds a terrible secret
The light holds a terrible secret
The light holds a terrible secret

The lights of Omaha did hold a secret, although I hoped they weren’t as terrible as Bejar had foretold. What did Paul’s future hold for him? This thought prompted me to ask Paul what his plans were for his job search, and his response was exactly what I expected from him, ” I have no clue.”  I didn’t know what would become of my friend Paul.  I mentioned he could move to San Antonio and substitute for a year, but his silence told me he had little interest in Texas life.  I wondered if he’d stay in Omaha now that so many friends had left the city he loved so much.  With the sun setting on the plains of Nebraska, I looked out toward the horizon and wondered what the future held for my comrade.  A semblance of a smile grew on my face, realizing he would be fine, regardless of what happened. 


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Road Trip 2009: Goofy Foot and the Manatees

O CAPTAIN! My Captain!
Our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack,
The prize we sought is won.
“O Captain! My Captain!” by Walt Whitman

 No worries. I made it back across the lake.  Fortunately, I had the waves helping me, pushing me along like a rotted tree limb all the way to shore.  Back at the campground Rhiannon and her family were not too pleased by my lake swimming exploits.  While most of the family saw my unannounced swim as idiotic, her brothers referred to me as a Navy Seal the remainder of the weekend, which did well for the ego of a man who days prior felt like he stood on the brink of deterioration.

If Charlie Sheen can pull off the Navy Seal look, I surely can.

If Charlie Sheen can pull off the "Navy Seal" look, I surely can.

I enjoyed the weekend with her family, even partaking in a late night guitar jam session with her grandpa Delbert, a maestro in the school of classic country music. While he strummed through his repertoire, I played around with a few guitar licks of my own (thanks to my knowledge of the basic blues scale).  It’s pretty ridiculous how closely early rock n’ roll and classic country follow the blues tradition.  It’s humorous in a sick way to think of how unapologetically the white man stole the blues from the likes of Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, and Willie Dixon.   

Hey whitey, you dont know Diddley.

"Hey whitey, you don't know Diddley."

On Monday, Rhi and I headed to Kansas City where we would part ways for the summer.  Unlike me, her preschool teaching job is year-round.  I knew I was asking a lot of her – it’s one thing to be away from your significant other for a week or two, but six weeks was asking a little much.  She of course didn’t like the prospect of being apart that long, but I reminded her that she knew from our first date about my road trip, and she also knew how much last year’s trip changed my life.

At the airport, the scene played out like a chick-flick, with us saying our goodbyes, kisses and all, and heading off on our own. Watching her walk away through the gate, I realized how difficult it would be to not see her for a month and a half.  At that point we’d only been dating for nine months and had already been through many ups-and-downs.  Back on the road, I thought about how the summer apart could make or break us.  Would we grow apart or would it make us stronger?

From Kansas City I headed north to Des Moines to stay a few nights with my brother Alex.  He lost his job at a graphic design firm only a few weeks prior, and I knew he’d probably need something to take his mind off the situation. We planned a mid-week sailing excursion, because as I told him, “If you have time off, you might as well enjoy it.”  When I arrived we took a quick trip to the grocery store to get food and supplies (and beer) and then returned to cook up supper. 

We sat on the deck for a while sipping a couple Boulevard IPAs and discussing the shitty economy.  He explained to me how his firing was a no-brainer for the company.  Not that my brother’s not good: believe me, he’s damn good at what he does.


One good thing about having an unemployed graphic artist for a brother: they have time to create kick ass album artwork.

One good thing about having an unemployed graphic artist for a brother: they have time to create kick ass album artwork.

They originally hired Alex as a Creative Director, meaning he’d be the overseer of other designers. But then only a few short months in, the company reconfigured departments and realized they now had one too many Creative Directors.  This meant he was back to being a designer but by contract was still making the money of a Creative Director. So when the economy came tumbling down and the company needed to cut corners, the designer being paid to be a creative director was an easy call, along with about a dozen other designers and copy writers. In the meantime, my brother had to sit back and watch other designers skate free, some of which who only weeks earlier were involved in a designer’s nightmare, getting caught plagiarizing a recent ad campaign by Lays potato chips.  Alex actually caught the similarity, and how was he rewarded for attempting to save the company from making a major design faux pas? A pink slip; mother fuckers.

What is it you DO here other than save our company from complete and utter embarassment?

"What is it you DO here other than save our company from complete and utter embarassment?"

I shared with him the changes at my job also. Somehow, during the early weeks of June, I got tricked into taking a promotion as the English Coordinator at my school.  This would entail me being in charge of 10 other English teachers, ensuring they have supplies, are teaching the curriculum, and handling all their district benchmarks. Being an unorganized buffoon with no leadership qualities (unless it’s 14 year olds) I didn’t want the job. But somehow, I left San Antonio with the new promotion that would have me stressed out the upcoming year. 

My brother understood my fears, stating that he didn’t like being in charge of others the few months he was creative director.  While Alex prefers to stay in his office, performing his designing genius on his own, I prefer staying in my little classroom and inspiring minds without worrying about others on campus.  We were both shocked at how alike we are, preferring to do our job well without being bothered. After our heart to heart, we headed in for bed. Before calling it a night we checked the weather and were greeted by a nerdy weather man telling us we’d have clear skies for our day of sailing.  

The next afternoon we packed up our cooler and headed to Saylor Lake.  At the marina we had to wait around in the humid heat for the incompetent marina workers to lower his sailboat into the water (for some reason they won’t let you do it yourself, yet they allow some two toothed yahoos handle all of Des Moine’s expensive boats).  After an hour the boat finally arrived, and we were both in dire need of cooling off.  With barely any wind at that point, Alex put his little 10 horse power motor down and we putted out to the middle of the lake.  We finally settled on a spot, pulled down the sails, and dove into the murky green water. Breast stroking through the refreshing water, I remembered how only days prior I swam across a lake.  Although it made me proud, my joints began to ache within seconds.  The two of us floated around for a few minutes when I noticed dark clouds to the north.

“It looks nasty over there,” I commented.

“Yeah, I think we’ll miss it though. It’s heading east to west.” He seemed certain, so I didn’t worry, swimming back to the boat. Back on board, the wind began to pick up.  We started preparing for our sailing endeavor.  Pulling up the jib sailing, I looked back toward the grey clouds and navy sky, and reiterated my concern to Alex. It looked to be getting closer.

“We might get hit by the edge of it. I’ll drive us over to the South bay. Hopefully we’ll miss it.”  As we slowly putzed along to the tune of 10 mph, I noticed ripples in the distance upon the water, slowly rolling towards us. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing – I could actually see the storm creeping up on us inch by inch, ripple by ripple.  “It’s coming our way,” I yelled over the grumble of the little engine that could. Alex looked back, then back to me with eyes the size of saucers.

“Crap. We’re screwed.” He hadn’t counted on the wind changing directions, and now it pursued us crawling along like a gimpy dog running from the dog catcher. Within minutes the ripples were catching us.  I braced myself as it swallowed the last few feet between us and instantly the boat was sent into a frenzy, tipping us back and forth like we were pawns in a game of “Smurfs Ahoy”. 

I never understood why they made a game about Smurfs sailing, but it ruled regardless.

I never understood why they made a game about Smurfs sailing, but it ruled regardless.

The misty rain soon overtook us, and the waves began to white cap, pushing us to and fro.  The waves picked us up every few seconds, and the little engine would be completely out of the water, buzzing in pain.  “This engine isn’t doing us any good,” Alex yelled to me as he bent down to turn it off. “We’ll just have to guide our way to that bay using the rudder. I’m going to go up to the front to put the jib sail away.  Take the rudder and keep us steady.”

He balanced his way up the deck to the front and I grabbed the rudder, attempting to keep us from any sudden movements that would send my brother overboard. When he reached the jib, he began stuffing it down the hatch below.  Just as I began getting the hang of the whole rudder thing, the wind decided to switch directions and within a second the entire boat laid perpendicular with the water, on the brink of being capsized. I was almost upside down, looking into the water in front of me. It was like riding a Viking Ship at an Amusement park, but not quite as fun. 

At least we didnt have to worry about a little kid puking on us.

At least we didn't have to worry about a little kid puking on us.

My eyes moved from the water below, to my brother, hanging on for his life up front.  “THE OTHER WAY!” he screamed, motioning with his thumb to the right. I pushed against the rudder, feeling the weight of the boat fight back.  As I strained Alex continued screaming, “THE OTHER WAY!” He again motioned the same way. I was confused. I was pulling the direction he motioned but did he mean to pull the other way? I never could get a hang of the whole goofy foot style on“Skate Or Die”. 

I started pushing back the way I had been in the first place and it sent Alex into a rage, standing up and attempting to run up the deck screaming, “NO!”  I knew by the look in his eyes that I had done something terribly wrong. As he neared me, the ship sent him flailing to the deck face first. I quickly pushed back on the rudder again, somehow leveling us as Alex stared at me in shock.  He gathered himself and lowered down next to me, ripping the rudder from my incompetent hands.  I tried to explain the whole confusion with the thumb directions, but he didn’t seem in the mood. I don’t blame him, I had almost capsized his boat.  “Go down below and pull down the rest of the jib and lock the hatch.”

I ran down to the living quarters and hurried to the hatch the best I could, balancing the entire way.  I locked it up, feeling ashamed for being such a worthless Skipper.  When I returned to the deck the weather had gotten worse. The waves shoved us violently, the rain picked up to a down pour, and Alex struggled to keep us level with the water. “Stay down below,” he shouted over the thunder. “There’s no reason we should both get soaked.” I stayed in the entry-way watching my brother lead us through the hellish storm.  My nerves wouldn’t allow me to sit down and relax.  Was this it? Was my end going to be at the hands of a storm?  Yes, I swam across a lake and back two days prior and both of us had years of lifeguarding experience, but something seemed out of sorts on this day.  The weather man’s prediction had been completely wrong, and now we were stuck amidst one of the worst storms I’d ever witnessed, from land or boat. If the boat did flip or sink, I wasn’t completely confident that we could swim our way to shore amidst the crashing waves. 

Not even this stud could survive a storm of this magnitude.

Not even this stud could survive a storm of that magnitude.

Just when I felt it couldn’t get worse, it did. Lightning, tons of it, like darts striking the water all around the bull’s eye: us.  20 foot tall metal masts and lightning equal a recipe for disaster.  Alex reassured me we’d be fine sitting upon the fiberglass body of the boat.  I was skeptical, watching the lightning tease us from all directions.  The rain decided to also kick it up a notch, and soon we were in Iowa’s version of a hurricane.  

Alex couldn’t hack it anymore. We needed to both be safe below, and he knew it.  After pulling up the rudder, he threw the anchor overboard, knowing it wouldn’t catch in the 40 foot deep water below, but hoping it would eventually catch onto something before we crashed into the rocky shoreline.  He locked up the doorway, leaving the two of us in the darkness below, swaying to the motions of the boat. We sat and watched out the small tinted windows as we slowly approached shore.  I could tell Alex felt nervous, wondering if his boat would soon meet its fate.  After a few minutes, Alex whispered through gritted teeth, “We’re going to hit it.”  We watched in agony when suddenly, a jolt rocked the boat to an abrupt stop. “The anchor caught!” Alex said, the first moment of celebration all day.  Sure, we were still stuck on a lake during a lightning dance party, but his boat had survived. 

With the rain, wind, and lightning still raging, we laid down in hopes of calming our nerves. Plus, we both needed to rest with sea sickness taking over.  After an restless hour, it sounded like the rain had died down. Alex sat up to check our surroundings and noticed a house boat sat near us with a speed boat tied up to it.  As he observed them, he said, “There are people over there partying on the deck. Morons.”  I sat up to take a look and could see the drunken college crew chugging beers as thunder battled with the sounds of their blaring rap music. As I returned back to my resting position Alex continued. “There are two people making out on that speed boat.” I lifted my head once again to discover more was going on than just a quick make-out session during a lightning storm. 

“Dude, they’re having sex.”

“No…” he said, voice trailing off at the realization that I spoke the truth.  On one of the boat’s bucket seats sat a balding, beer bellied drunk, as a pudgy girl in only a stretched wife-beater rode upon him like she was straddling a bucking bronco.  He lethargically sat back while she thrust her child baring hips as if her life depended on it.  Just then a bolt of lightning hit the water right behind their boat. Unfazed, the obese bronco-buster continued her impassioned performance, sending ripples up and down her cellulite body and out onto the water surrounding the swaying boat. 

“What idiots,” Alex said, laying back down, not interested in the show.  Unlike him, I couldn’t take my eyes off the freakish display. Not because I was getting some kind of sick voyeuristic thrill, but because the sight of the two heifers humping boggled my mind.  Hours earlier I feared for my life, and these two sweaty love-turds were having intercourse without a care in the world. It was a fornication fuck you to Mother Nature.  “Strike us down if you like, but we’re going to enjoy this moment regardless.”  As much as the image of the two porkers made my sea sick stomach even woozier, I admired them. With death crashing down around them, they were enjoying every moment, and in some strange way, I could learn a thing or two about living from these manatees.

Who knew manatees mated during lightning storms?

Who knew manatees mated during lightning storms?

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