This post is a transcription of three emails that I sent back to my office mates, which in 1997 seemed like a novel and technically complicated thing to do. And the emails were transcriptions of my diary entries. Photographs from the trip show that I was still carrying my diary, which I kept in a big black art notebook. The tornadoes I reference are the ones that devastated Jarrell, Texas, killing 27 people.
DISPATCH No. 1
Please excuse any poor writing on my part, but I have had 2 and a half hours of sleep in the last 42 and a half hours.
(10 hours later) Well, I fell asleep after writing that sentence. What a sissy. Anyway, Dave and I made it to Rob and Michelle’s around 11:30pm last night. We would have been here earlier, but we got lost for a couple of hours and ended up in a couple of wrong states trying to find their house. We bucked the “I’m a man, I’m not lost, and I don’t need help” tradition and asked for help a couple of times. We ran into good-intentioned people, but even the firemen we talked to got us more lost than we already were.
Before I begin, I will quickly break-down the cast of characters:
- Me – Well…you know.
- David – My best friend; I have known Dave about 18 years. DaveÂ lives in Dallas with his wife (I was his best man) and is a high school teacher.
- Rob – One of my best friends, though I have only known him about 9 years.Â Rob lives in Laurel (about half way between Baltimore and D.C.) with his wife (I wasÂ his best man, too). Rob is a Russian interpreter in the Navy.
- Michelle – Rob’s wife. It was soon after I met Rob that he went on hisÂ first date with Michelle, so I have known her as long as he has. We all used to work atÂ the San Francisco Steak House together, which is where we met. Michelle is aÂ regional supervisor for Jenny Craig.
The set-up: Because Rob is in the Navy, we never get to see him. So, a few years ago, Charles (another best friend of mine) and I decided to road trip to Monterey, CA to see Rob. Rob was there to learn to speak Russian. Anyway, we wanted to surprise him, so only Michelle knew we were coming. So, we rode our motorcycles across the country and had more adventures than I could possibly go into here, only to have the surprise ruined by the following conversation:
* ring * (telephone ringing)
Rob – Hello.
Jimmy’s Grandmother – Hello. Is Jimmy there?
Rob – No. Why would Jimmy be here?
J.G. – Oh. Could you tell him that he got some mail.
Rob – Uh, sure.
J.G. – Thank you. Goodbye.
Rob – Bye.
So, Rob put two and two together and was waiting at the door for us with possibly the most underwhelmed expression on his face that I have ever seen. I was so disappointed that the surprise had been ruined. So, this road trip was to be my revenge. Dave and I again coordinated everything with Michelle and I told others about this trip on a strict “need to know” basis only. The idea was to leave from work on Friday, pick-up Dave in Dallas, and drive through, so we could be there in time to go out Sat. night. It was only 21 hours away. No problem.
Except for the rain, the leg to Dallas was uneventful. I made a briefÂ detour to Pflugerville, where my mom had made me a care package ofÂ sandwiches and peanut butter crackers. Truth is, she just wanted to hug meÂ goodbye; she worries so about these journeys that I make. What a good mom.Â And, who’s to blame her – I promptly jumped in my car and drove 95 mph allÂ the way to Dallas in the pouring rain. Once in Dallas, we loaded everything into Dave’s car and pulled-out rightÂ at 11:00 pm. David took the first shift since I had just driven. We had aÂ nice time catching up on current events, so we didn’t have any problemÂ staying awake in the early morning. We stopped around 4 am at a convenienceÂ store just outside of Little Rock, AR to fuel-up and switch drivers.
Dave stayed outside and put gas in the car while I went inside to get us someÂ Cokes and pay for the gas. I was standing at the counter for about fiveÂ minutes because their card machine was running slow. “It’s because it’s aÂ holiday weekend” the counter girl told me. So, I asked where the restroomÂ was, she pointed to the back of the store, and I walked back there. TenÂ seconds after I walked into the restroom, a late-80’s model Ford MustangÂ convertible smashed through the front doors of the store! I don’t meanÂ that it hit the doors and the glass cracked, nor do I mean that it sort of broke the front doors and stopped, I mean the car drove all the way intoÂ the store! David said that it was squealing around the parking lot whenÂ it suddenly fishtailed towards the store, missed all of the parked cars andÂ the brick walls of the store, and leaped right through the front doors! TheÂ store was set up like most where the counter was off to the side of theÂ doors and anyone being helped at the counter is in front of the doors. IfÂ I wouldn’t have been killed outright, I would have been seriously injuredÂ either from the car, the flying glass, or by my trying to get out of theÂ way.
So, here is the kicker: I DIDN’T HEAR A THING! The bathroom wasÂ standard convenience store fare – two urinals, a stall, and a Muzak versionÂ of “Cat and the Cradle” playing over a low-fi PA speaker. I was only inÂ there for 60 seconds and as I walked out a guy was walking in laughing hisÂ damned head off. I wondered what his problem was and walked out into theÂ store. Here is where it becomes difficult to explain. There was oneÂ remaining shelf standing and it was blocking my view of the front of theÂ store. I had to walk the length of the shelf to be able to see what wasÂ going on. So as I am walking, I still don’t realize that anything unusualÂ has happened. At the end of the row that I am walking down, there is aÂ couple who I notice look really shaken-up. At their feet are about a hundred candy bars. That’s strange, I thought. That’s when I notice thatÂ there is the haze of smoke in the air. Now I am really confused. As I getÂ closer to the couple, I realize that besides the candy bars, there areÂ video tapes, souvenirs and all kinds of junk that has spilled to the floorÂ for some reason. So, I walk up to them and in a perfectly calm voice ask,Â “What happened?” They looked at me as if I had just stepped off of aÂ spaceship. Then the woman answered me in that slow, shaky, monotonousÂ voice of a survivor that’s in shock, “He…just drove in.” That’s when IÂ turned to the right and leaned around the end of the counter and saw theÂ car sitting smack-dab in the middle of the store in sea of candy bars,Â microwave pizzas, and broken glass. The passenger had gotten out of theÂ car and was ranting and raving to nobody in particular and kicking thingsÂ and generally causing a big scene. It turns out that he was the owner ofÂ the car and he had let his 14 yr. old or so cousin drive the car. TheÂ cousin was standing there slump-shouldered and quiet as the reality of whatÂ he had just done washed over him. The police were swarming over the placeÂ in no time, which is usually my signal to leave. So, we did.
I drove from 4:30a until about 8:30a while Dave slept. We came upon the sunrise as we were crossing the bridge into Memphis. It was beautiful. At the time I was chasing an ambulance who had his lights going and we were making great time. After half an hour of chasing this guy, I realized that we had crossed a state line. Now, why would this guy be going so far? It didn’t make any sense. Was he in the Cannonball Run or something? We split-up in Memphis and I never did find out. The rest of the trip was pleasantly uneventful. The Smoky Mountains in Tennessee are beautiful and Virginia was beautiful in a more manicured church-steeple-in-the-country sort of way. We lost a little time in Virginia because Big Brother won’t allow radar detectors in that state, but to my surprise, my radar detector is so good that even though I had put it in it’s pouch and it was sitting down by the parking brake, it would still squawk at me when we happened across speed traps! (* Endorsement for the Cincinnati Microwave Solo Radar Detector *)
When we finally pulled-in, Michelle heard us and let us in the door. We went up the stairs to their room where Rob was in bed with his face buried in a magazine. So, we both stood in front of the bed and I said something. Rob dropped the magazine and the look of surprise was worth all of the work we had put into it. His eyes were as big as saucers and he was speechless for minutes. It was great! Anyway, we stayed up for a few hours drinking beer and they chain-smoked. It was just like the old days. We turned-in, slept-in, and this afternoon we have sat around catching up and telling old stories. I’m having the time of my life. I will file another report soon. Take care.
DISPATCH No. 2
Exhaustion is calling me to sleep, but I will try to file a brief report.
As I mentioned before, Sunday was spent resting, catching-up with each other, and watching half-a-dozen AbFab videos. Michelle prepared a delicious dinner of homemade crab cakes, boiled shrimp, corn on the cob, etc. The seafood is so good here.
On Monday (5/26), the Jenny Craig Nazis made Michelle work, so the boys and IÂ decided that it would be appropriate for us to go to D.C. and pay ourÂ respects to the dead on Memorial Day (especially with us all being militaryÂ guys, Me – Air Force, Them – Navy). So, we visited the Vietnam Memorial,Â the Korean War Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. They were very impressive and moving. The flags were allÂ flying at half-mast and everyone (not just us) seemed to be very quiet thatÂ day. It was a beautiful day and afterwards, we drove to Georgetown and hadÂ dinner.
We went home and turned in early, because we had to wake-up earlyÂ to go to…NEW YORK CITY! I’m sorry if I sound so excited, but I had never beenÂ before and it is something I have wanted to do for a very long time. WithÂ only one day to visit, we couldn’t possibly see all of the “sights”, soÂ except for going to the top of the Empire State Building, we simply walkedÂ around. This is really what I enjoy most, anyway. We covered a lot ofÂ ground; Rob figured we walked at least 10 miles (and when he did that, weÂ weren’t finished yet). We started at Times Square, walked south down 5thÂ Ave. (Rockefeller Center, Empire State Building), walked south on BroadwayÂ and into Greenwich Village, where we stopped and had a couple of beers in a really cool neighborhood bar modestly called “Corner Bistro.” No muss, noÂ fuss. There was more bar space than table space, the Indy 500 was playingÂ on a couple of TV’s (not big-screens, just TV’s), it was only $2 for a SamÂ Adams on tap, the patrons looked working-class, and the bartender, whoÂ looked like a big, ruddy Irishman named Mike or Jimmy or something likeÂ that, was helping himself to drinks as well. It was great. The illusionÂ was tainted, however, when I overheard Mike talking to another guy and heÂ said something like, “The Pentium Pro and the Pentium MMX…how muchÂ difference can there be?” Oh, well. Then, we walked back up north throughÂ the Garment District, back through Times Square, and into Central Park,Â where we rested for awhile.
It was another beautiful day, so we spent someÂ time sitting on a park bench and watching everything go by. New York isÂ just like other cities, except that it has so much more of everything – so many people, so many buildings, so many…cabs. Jeez, EVERY car is a cab! Looking down from the Empire State Building, one can only see a sea ofÂ yellow cabs. It’s bizarre. Anyway, I can rattle on and on with myÂ impressions of New York, but if you have already been there, you mightÂ become bored, and if you haven’t been there, my descriptions won’t matterÂ until you have seen it for yourself. Besides (and this is the realÂ reason), I’m tired. One more thing before I go – I have been eating veryÂ well here and today was no exception. For dinner, we ate at a FrenchÂ restaurant that Rob’s family has been going to for years. It is calledÂ Tout Va Bien, located at 311 West 51st Street. I can’t recommend thisÂ restaurant more highly; it was to die for, dahling. I even ordered inÂ perfect French, and the waitress ignored my effort in that rude, FrenchyÂ way they have. It was great. Oh, and a cab honked at me while I wasÂ crossing against a light. That was great, too. Well, I really must goÂ now. Please take care of yourselves; I hear there are tornadoes andÂ whatnot going around down there. See you soon,
DISPATCH No. 3
Yesterday (Wed, 5/28), we went to the Inner Harbor in Baltimore and kickedÂ around for a bit. It was very pleasant and the weather was beautiful, asÂ usual. Then we met Michelle for dinner at a nice Italian restaurant whereÂ we gorged ourselves again on delicious food. I bet I have gained a poundÂ since I have been here. I need to get back to Austin and not eat. ThatÂ night we played the Nick at Night Trivia Game (I won) and then we turnedÂ in. I was still feeling the exhaustion from New York.
Today, we didn’t do much of anything. We dropped-off our film at a 1-hour place and went book and CD shopping while we waited. When we got home, Dave and Rob fixed the grill and Rob cooked up some chicken. Michelle came home with some fixin’s and well…you know the rest. After dinner, we divided up the pictures and spent the rest of the night talking. At one point, they were downstairs in the TV room digging up boxes of old pictures of us when we were impossibly young doing impossibly young things and I was upstairs retrieving my box of Kleenex (which I needed because of the allergy attack I was having that was bad enough to swell my left eye shut). While I was upstairs, I put my new Garbage CD in and sat down in front of the speakers. Anyway, while I was sitting there, half a bottle of Cabernet in my belly, “I’m Only Happy When it Rains” (a current favorite of mine) blaring at me, and a bunch of people who I love and who love me within
shouting distance, I had an epiphanous moment that made the excitement of seeing New York pale in comparison. It is moments like those that make what is important in life so easy to figure out. I hope you know what I am talking about.
Well, unless something happens on the trip back (and I wouldn’t rule that out), this will be my last report on this trip. It has been a great holiday, but I hope to see everyone soon. Take care,
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