Still Life at 80mph

As I write this I am laying in bed in a hotel room in Florham Park, New Jersey. The TV is on and I am unwinding after a long day of travel. On Tuesday we will head south with my brother and his family to spend a few days along the Jersey Shore. Travelling is something that we love to do, as it is a great way to make memories.

Yesterday, we left home, picked up my mother, who lives just a few blocks away from us. We then headed for Strongsville, Ohio. This is approximately halfway between our home in Illinois and my brother’s house in New Jersey. Memories have already been made, and a third-degree misdemeanor was accidently committed.

After hitting the road around 8 a.m. this morning, we made our way across the eastern side of Ohio. We then entered Pennsylvania, which is actually quite a beautiful state through which to travel. Around noon we stopped for lunch at a Dutch Pantry. This appears to be a franchise popular along I-80 in Pennsylvania.

This chain of restaurants could best be described as Pennsylvania’s version of the Cracker Barrel. In other words, the lobby was filled with chachkies no one needs, and the menu was filled with dishes considered, “homestyle.” However, the silverware was really nice, as one of us (not me) decided to walk out with a set. Sadly, this was not the most heinous crime of the day.

My mother, who is in her 70’s, has a smartphone. Today, as we passed particular landmarks, she would snap photos with the camera on her phone. I’m not sure she was very successful. She takes decent photos with her when she is stationary. However, get her in an SUV going down the highway at 80 mph and things are not so pretty, especially through a bug-spattered windshield. By the time a subject was in focus, we were already passed it by a mile or two. When I asked my mom to send me a few of the shots she took she refused. My suspicion is that she got some nice candids of insects entrails and nothing else.

We travelled over 400 miles today, a restaurant is down one set of silverware, I’m exhausted, but I am still curious to see what the rest of this week brings. Tomorrow, we begin with an Independence Day parade. The pictures should be better, as my mom will be standing still.

The End of the Road

Yesterday, we started the 1,003 mile journey back home from Florida to Illinois. We left Panama City Beach a little after 7 a.m. and headed west towards Biloxi, Mississippi. Amanda and I had visited there previously and we wanted to visit again before making our way north.

We stopped and had our last taste of seafood at a place called The Reef. We had eaten there before and had enjoyed the food quite a lot. Plus, Biloxi has some beautiful beaches as well as some very lovely homes along the coast. After having a great lunch we travelled up through Mississippi and in to Tennesee. We stopped in Memphis for the night.

Memphis is a city we have been through twice, but have never had time to explore while here. It is on our list of places to visit again once we have an opportunity to more fully sample the tastes, sights, and sounds of this great city.

I love to visit places with rich cultural histories. Memphis is certainly one of those places. From food, music, to the civil rights movement, it has much to taste, hear, and see. It is also a place with some family history for me as well. My paternal grandparents lived in the city for a while. In addition, my great uncle, Aldo Bastari, apparently once worked as a chef at the Peabody Hotel. We definitely could make a week of it in Memphis. However, that will have to wait for another time.

We left Memphis this morning around 9 a.m. and drove north through Arkansas and Missouri. Then we crossed the Mississippi River back into Illinois. I think we are all ready to be back home. It will be nice to sleep in our own beds tonight.

Paducah – Day 1

Amanda, Baby Boy, and I set out on a trip yesterday. I thought I’d chronicle our adventures over the next week here in my blog.

We left our home in Sterling, Illinois last night around 6:00 p.m. Our final destination will be Panama City Beach, Florida. However, for the sake of everyone’s sanity, we thought we’d do the 1,003 mile journey in stages. Last night we stopped in Paducah, Kentucky. We arrived at our hotel just after midnight. Fortunately, Baby Boy slept quite a bit in the car.

On the way down through Illinois there was a lot of road construction, which means there was also a plethora of flashing lights. There also seemed to be quite a few cars broken down along the highway. I am not sure if I have ever seen so many flashing lights in one night. We were even “lucky” enough to have a flashing light in our hotel room!

As I write this I am running on about 3 hours of sleep. That is because in addition to the flashing light blaring in my eyes, I also had a little boy keeping me awake. He has learned how to play peek-a-boo, which he was doing with me. We left his “pack ‘n play” in the car and he slept with me. Amanda had a bed to herself. I could tell Baby Boy had his eyes open, as our room was almost bright as day. When he saw me look at him he’d quickly put his head under the covers and giggle. I love this little boy so much. Anyway, after about thirty minutes of this we both settled down for a restless night sleep.

I think I was elbowed in the face at least ten times. I was also almost disembowled by Baby Boy’s dagger-like toenails. He will be getting these trimmed before we beddown in Montgomery, Alabama tonight.

After our three hour “nap” we were awoken by the rumbling of Harley Davidsons leaving the hotel parking lot. This was just like being at home, as a Harley barrels down our street every morning at 6:30.

I am looking forward to seeing some of the historical sites around Montgomery. Tropical Storm Claudette looks like it has drenched the Gulf Coast, which is where we are headed. I believe by the time we reach the coast on Sunday things will be okay, at least I hope. Stay tuned for more of our travelogue.

Day 2 – Paducah

After a fitful night’s sleep in Paducah, Kentucky, Amanda went and got us all some breakfast of powdered donuts. I believe this was Baby Boy’s first time experiencing those. Powdered donuts always bring back memories of a “staycation” my family and I had when I was a kid.

We stayed at a local hotel for a weekend and did a lot of swimming. Afterwards, we ate powdered donuts by the pool. The Ramada Inn and powdered donuts will forever be linked in my head, but I digress.

Paducah is a town with a lot of nice, little shops. If I was a shopper it would be a great weekend getaway spot. It is also home to Hancock’s of Paducah, which apparently is popular with those who quilt. Amanda and Baby Boy went in for a look while I stayed in the car. The ladies at Hancock’s were nice enough to give Baby Boy a fabric sample. We then went for some sandwiches at Kirchoff’s Deli & Bakery. If you are ever in Paducah, it is worth a stop here. The sandwiches were delicious, and so were the cookies.

After lunch it was time to get back on the road. Our destination for day two of our travels was Montgomery, Alabama. Despite hours of torrential rain, we eventually reached Montgomery last night around eight. After so much travelling, we were all pretty worn out. Well, Amanda and I were anyway. Baby Boy was ready to bounce on the bed, after which he procedeed to vomit. I guess the comedian Ray Romano was right when he said, “Having children is like living in a frat house. Nobody sleeps, everything is broken, and there’s lots of throwing up.” I am ready to see where else this “frat party” takes us.

Nowhere Man

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time you probably have noticed that I am a Beatles fan. I’ve enjoyed their music for quite some time. My favorite Beatle was John Lennon. I have always appreciated his wit, and I can relate to his cynicism. These two things combined made his songwriting something that speak me on a very personal level.

I often have a very cynical view of the world. I believe that things will turn out all right in the end. However, sometimes I just need to convince myself of that fact. In order to deal with a world that can seem like a rather dark place at times, I try to use wit and humor to lighten the mood. Sometimes all that you can do when life throws your a curveball is laugh. I feel as if I have had my fair share of curveballs.

One thing that I have had trouble dealing with recently is a sense of isolation. This is something that most, if not all, can relate to as we look forward to the world once again hanging out its “Welcome-Come On In!” sign. I just want to go to a public place without wearing a mask. However, I must say the Chicago Cubs mask that Amanda made for me is pretty cool, but I digress.

With warmer temperatures and sunshine here now, it is even more difficult to “social distance.” I want to be in the bleachers at Wrigley Field with a hot dog in one hand, and a cold drink in another. I want to hear the sound of the pipe organ between innings. Most of all, I just want to be able to travel again to the places that I love.

This week I have been perusing my “Facebook Memories” quite a bit. I’ve been able to look back on trips I have taken together with family and friends. Nearly a year ago Amanda and I were in Washington D.C. enjoying Memorial Day weekend. Eight years ago we were in New York City visiting the Statue of Liberty. Finally, my brother Shannon and I were in Alaska twenty years ago this month. May apparently has been a great month to travel. I long to have more adventures and to make more memories.

Until then I will remain a “Nowhere Man.” The opening lines to this John Lennon penned Beatles tune sum things up for me perfectly for now:

He’s a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody

Ticket to Ride

“My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.” -Stephen Hawking

When I was younger I never really thought of myself as disabled. I was able to do most of the things any other children my age could do. Moreover, I never spent much time thinking about being disabled and what that meant. I am not sure there really is one true definition of what “disability” actually means. We all have things we do well and things we don’t do so well. I can do things you can’t do. Conversely, you can do things I cannot.

Growing up if there was something that I wanted to do, I usually found a way to do it. I don’t think I ever focused much on my limitations. It is only since I have gotten older that I have begun to see that I do indeed have limits to what I physically can do. For instance, when I go somewhere that requires a lot of walking I will take my wheelchair. When I was younger I never used a wheelchair unless I was in the hospital. It seems like time has caught up with me a little. However, I don’t see this as something that interferes with the things that I want to do. Sure, there are many places that are not very accessible to those who are in wheelchairs, but I am usually stubborn enough to find a way in to those places.

Surprisingly, when I was younger I had a hard time relating to others with disabilities. I think this is because friends and family never treated me as someone who had a disability. Looking back, I think I would have learned more about myself if I had joined groups where I could communicate with other disabled people. I never felt like the world owed me anything, and I still don’t. However, I do feel the like the older I get the more I feel like advocating for others who are disabled.

The world was not made for people like me. For instance, there are very few places where wheelchair users can easily use public transportation. I do believe that access is becoming much better than it once was, especially in larger cities across the world. There is still much work to be done though to level the playing surface for the disabled. One place that I have visited that has made great strides is Washington D.C. Most of the train stations have elevators that go down to the platforms. All of the trains are flush with the platform so wheelchair users can roll directly on and off the trains.

London is another city that seems to be working to make access to public transportation easier for those in wheelchairs. Many of the stations are becoming easier to access for those in wheelchairs. Platforms are being made level with the entryway to train cars. All of the busses have ramps as well, which allows for easy entrance to those on wheels. Progress is being made in other cities as well.

I think as access to various places and events increases for those with disabilities, we will able to regret less the things we cannot do. For, there will be ways in which we can now do them. In the meantime, I hope those with disabilities will focus on the things that we can do.

Finally, if anyone out there is looking for a travel writer, Amanda and I would love to explore the world and report back on the accessibility of the places we visit. Maybe would could start in Australia or New Zealand…

The Winter of My Discontent – Part 1

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all– Helen Keller

My winter of discontent crept up on me so subtly that I did not even realize what was happening until it was too late. The day was November 24, 2004. My brother, his family and I were on our way to visit relatives in Louisville, Kentucky for the Thanksgiving holiday. As we began our trip it was snowing and the wind was howling. However, the conditions were not so bad that we could not travel, or so we thought.

The first hour of our trip was quite uneventful. I began to work on a crossword puzzle book that I had brought along to pass the six hours that we would be in the car. A little while into this the roads began to get very snow packed and the traffic around began to come to a halt. This is when we began seeing cars in the ditch alongside the road. Certainly this was a warning of things to come.

As we inched ourselves along in traffic the number of cars that we saw off the road way began to increase. Darkness eventually fell and the traffic began to get heavier. At one point we decided that it had taken us almost an hour to move just a fourth of a mile. Should we turn around and return home or continue on this trip?

We decided to venture on at least a little further. Making our way onto I-74 just outside of Bloomington is an experience that I’m sure I will never forget. The road was very icy and consequently quite slick at this point. Headlights were the only things we could see while trying to get on the interstate. These headlights were coming from cars that were backed up for miles in both directions. It looked like something out of the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. We now were inside a real life horror movie.

As we sat on the entrance ramp to the interstate we could see cars behind us sliding around, trying to get at least a little traction on the icy pavement. We sat on this ramp for nearly at least an hour before traffic began to let up and we were able to move at a reasonable rate of speed. We were only half way to Louisville after nearly four hours into a trip that was only supposed to be six hours. Would we ever get there? I was beginning to think not. We finally made our way into Indiana where road conditions began to improve quite rapidly. At least there were no more cars in the ditch at this point. We had counted a total of 66 cars that had slid off the road during our trip through Illinois.

The trip through Indiana was rather uneventful as I think it usually is when you travel through the Hoosier State. This was just fine with me, as I had already had enough drama on this voyage to last me a lifetime. I was ready by this point to get out and just bed down along the road for the night. However, I eventually came to my senses and realized that this probably would not be the best course of action to take. So I continued bravely into that cold night.

We eventually made it to Indianapolis, a city known for speed and excitement, something this trip had seriously lacked. By this time all of us felt like we had competed in our own Indianapolis 500. Spirits had seriously dampened and I’m sure we were all ready to get some sleep. I certainly know that I was ready to find a bed and crash. However, we still had about two or three hours to go.

This time was filled with listening to my brother change the radio station every six seconds followed by occasional whimpering from the back where my niece and nephew were fitfully trying to sleep. I was beginning to entertain thoughts of climbing out my window and riding the rest of the way on top of the vehicle. Strapping myself to the luggage rack would have been a welcome change to my prison in the front seat. Again I came to my senses and realized that this would not be the best course of action to take. What the best course was I still do not know.

The miles began to melt away and we inched ever so closer to Louisville. We had finally reached the Kentucky state line, a sight that I welcomed with so much inner excitement. Never had I been so glad to be so far away from home. However, I knew that we were nearing our final destination. This was finally a goal that was within our reach. We were determined to not let anything more hold us back from reaching Louisville.

At long last, there it was, the skyline of Louisville. After ten and a half hours we had finally arrived. A trip that normally takes a little over six hours had taken us over ten hours. I’m sure we were all just a little excited to have reached our destination. I think some of us may have been a little confused as well judging by a comment I heard from my nephew Dalen. When we arrived he quietly leaned over and informed his sister Clair that when they woke up in the morning Santa would be there. I don’t know, maybe the trip had just taken so long he thought it was now Christmas Eve. It was an honest mistake that almost any five year old would make after having traveled for what seemed like an eternity.

After having slept rather well I woke up refreshed and ready for Thanksgiving Day, although I was a little disappointed that Santa had not made an appearance during the night. The day was spent watching football, eating until it hurt, and then falling in and out of consciousness until it was time to once again head off to bed. It is such a shame that this day only comes around once a year.

The rest of the trip to Louisville was spent visiting the sites, bonding with family, and listening to my nephew tell stories about dinosaurs and friends that he has had in his rather short life. My favorite story was perhaps the one of his friend Carol who died after eating what he called a “dirty cherry”. However, that was not the end of the story. Somehow this friend had a miraculous recovery and is once again among the living. I think perhaps the boy has spent too many hours on long car trips.

Saturday, November 27, is the day that we decided to return home. We left Louisville around six in the evening in hopes that my niece and nephew would spend most of the trip home sound asleep. Fortunately, the roads were in excellent shape all the way home and the trip was rather uneventful. We arrived home about 1:00 a.m. I could hear my bed calling my name. Therefore, once I got my bags from my brother’s vehicle I climbed into my Blazer and headed straight to my own house.

It felt so wonderful climbing into my bed after having slept on an air mattress for three nights. As I lay there trying to go to sleep I felt this frigid wave of chills come over my body and I began to shiver quite vigorously. I thought this was strange, as this had happened to me the previous night in Louisville. Despite this I eventually fell asleep.

The next morning I woke up and began to get ready for church. I was getting set to climb in the bathtub when I sat down on the edge of the tub and realized something felt odd. It was very uncomfortable to sit down. The left side of my butt felt like a piece of iron and it was very warm. This is when I knew that the chills I had been having were very serious…

Bathroom Humor

“Life is a long lesson in humility” – J.M. Barrie

Have you ever just had one of those days where nothing seems to go as it should?  What do you do when faced with a day like this? Do you cry?  Well, don’t despair because we have all faced times like this in our lives.  One thing I have learned is that in order to get through life’s dreadful days one must have the ability to laugh at themselves and the situation.  This is something I learned in a rather unique way.

The day was May 24, 2000.  I had graduated from college just four days before and I was getting ready to embark on an adventure that would take my friends and me a few thousand miles from home.  We arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport at around noon to board a flight that was to take us to the “Land of the Midnight Sun.”  After making it through the check-in process at the airport we set off to our gate, where we discovered that our departure was to be delayed.  This, I thought, would not unfold into much of an ordeal.  However, as I was to learn later it is never wise to assume anything, especially when it comes to air travel, for as the hours passed and my anticipation of touching down in Alaska grew more intense, a horrific hand of cards was slowly being dealt in our direction.

After nearly a three-hour wait in a crowded airport café we were ready to board a flight that would take us on our first leg of the trip to Alaska.  The first part of our trip got underway and we were off to Seattle, where we would catch a connecting flight to take us to Anchorage.  However, due to our delayed departure out of Chicago we knew that catching this plane was going to be nothing short of a miracle, and this is where things began to get horrendously surreal.

Arriving in Seattle, we all ran to see if our flight to Anchorage had departed yet, and sure enough it had.  Consequently, the airline we had flown into Seattle on, offered to put us all up in a hotel for the night.  However, we were determined to get to our final destination.  To that end, we sprinted to catch another flight out of Seattle. 

Watching me “sprint” is not a pretty sight.  It is like watching a whale that has beached itself on the sands of some tropical island.  There is a whole lot of grunting and heavy breathing, but not much movement.  Fortunately, a man with a motorized cart came to my rescue.  However, as I was soon to discover, this gentleman did not speak English very well.  Add to this the fact that I did not have the proper gate number for our next flight and you have the ingredients for a potential disaster.  If it was not for the observant eyes of my fellow travelers I may still be cruising the corridors of Sea-Tac Airport with my affable, but very confused chauffeur.  Once we got to the proper point, my companions, who had run on ahead to the gate, flagged us down.

Boarding the flight, my mind began to think ahead to what would take place once we arrived in Alaska.  Would our luggage be waiting for us once we arrived there, or had it gotten lost in the shuffle?  As it turns out, this was to be the least of my worries.  Upon finding my seat, I realized that I was going to be stuck sitting between two very large people, something that may not have been a problem if it were not for my own size.  I placed my crutches in the overhead compartment, and then proceeded to squeeze in between my seat-mates.  Three hours of the most uncomfortable trip I have ever taken was just beginning.

Once I began to settle in things began to heat up, which is not surprising seeing as how I was sitting next to two people who were giving off enough heat to warm the entire plane.  This, added to the heat my own body was giving off, was just too much.  Just as I was about to scream in agony I remembered that I had an air vent above my head that would provide me with at least a small dose of relief.  Reaching up to turn the vent on I realized that it was broken.  If ever there was a time that I felt like screaming this was it.  I felt helpless.  Here I am about ready to melt and I cannot get any relief.  I had to think of something to keep my mind occupied or I was going to asphyxiate myself with a barf bag.

Being a geography buff I began to recite all of the state capitols in my mind, an activity that really did begin to take my mind off the fact that I was about a five-cent cab ride from taking my own life.  It was about this time that I began to faintly hear the call of “Mother Nature.”  How could this be?  I thought I had sweated every drop of liquid waste from my body, and here I felt the urge to visit the lavatory.  After working up enough courage to ask the rather large, and surly looking woman sitting next to me to get up so that I could get out, I proceeded to the bathroom.

By this time my bladder was quite full, so I decided instead of taking the time to reach up in the overhead compartment to retrieve my crutches I would just grab a hold of the seats as I went along to the back of the plane.  This I can tell you now was not too bright of an idea, for as I made the mile- long trek to the restroom I fell down in the aisle a few times.  Thank goodness the aisle was dark or I’m sure I would have had the other passengers questioning my sobriety. 

At last I finally made it to the restroom.  This, I soon found is kind of a misnomer, for an airplane’s bathroom is neither restful, nor is it very roomy, especially for someone that is carrying a few extra pounds.  I think a better name for these places would be “torture closets.”  If you need a visual aid to help you understand what I mean by all of this just watch the hilarious comedy “Tommy Boy.”  This movie does a very good job illustrating the horror that large people go through while trying to use the bathroom on an airplane.  This closely mirrors my own experience.

Once inside the bathroom, my bladder let go a little prematurely and my underwear ended up a casualty of this struggle.  Therefore, not wanting to go back to my seat with soiled underwear, I began to take my shoes and pants off so that I could discard my underwear.  This is where the real fun began!

Having a limited range of mobility made the process of disrobing very cumbersome and awkward, however, with all that was in me I finally got the job done.  By this time, though, my shirt had somehow gotten soiled as well so I ripped it off and tossed it in the trash.  I was very fortunate to have worn my jacket back to the bathroom, for this was now going to have to act as an impromptu shirt.  After what seemed like an hour I was once again dressed and ready to exit this chamber of horrors.

Going back up the aisle, I gave a repeat performance of pratfalls and grunts, until I finally arrived back at my seat.  To my relief the flight lasted only about another forty-five minutes before we touched down in Alaska.  However, the nightmare was not over.

Once we got inside the airport we discovered our luggage had indeed not made the trip with us.  So, there I was in a strange city, thousands of miles from home, with no underwear, wearing a jacket as a makeshift shirt.  After reporting our lost luggage to the proper personnel, we left the airport in a rental car and headed for our hotel.  We could finally get some sleep.  Luckily, the next morning our luggage arrived at the hotel, bringing an end to one of the most overwhelming ordeals of my life.

Next time you are having one of those days where nothing seems to be going your way just imagine that your are trapped inside the restroom on an airplane and compare that to your present circumstances, and I’m sure you will see most things will pale in comparison.  Oh, and one last thing, always make sure you have a clean pair of underwear with you at all times.  You never know when you are going to need them. 

“Life is a long lesson in humility.” – J. M. Barrie

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