it’s not that bad, pt. 2

I completely forgot there was a new Muse album. It was a pleasant surprise.

Saturday

For obvious reasons, it was extremely slow going Saturday morning. For a chunk of it, we watched Bill and Karen’s kid play and closely scrutinized children’s songs and the videos accompanying them. Eventually, we felt up for the task and Bill, Brandon and I got ready for our day out. It was the day of the Kansas-Kansas State game, and we couldn’t get tickets. It was cold, so I’m a little glad we didn’t. 

We took an Uber into Aggieville. I deleted my Uber back when it was fashionable, so I would have gotten a Lyft. But, if I was in charge of hailing a ride, we would have missed out on our delightful driver. A native Texan, she immediately told us not to be alarmed because she needed to take her knife out of her boot because it was uncomfortable. She then went on to regale us of her verbally abusive childhood. But, seriously, she was a hoot.

Our first stop was Kite’s Bar and Grill. It was crowded, as was every other place in Aggieville, so we spent the entire duration of the football game standing or leaning against the bar. I had nothing but water, for obvious reasons, and some of the surprisingly delicious nachos they served.

The most disappointing thing about this entire trip was that I didn’t really experience a lot of local food. I was warned that this would happen.

After a football’s game worth of water, I recovered enough to head to Keltic Star Public House, where the hair of the dog, a lamb slider and rebel drumsticks rejuvenated me. From there, we called Karen to pick us up and went to So Long Saloon to some more drinks and its chipotle raspberry and black bean dip. Bill and Karen did not tell us there were raspberries in it before we tried it because it sounded a tad odd. I would have tried it anyway, though. (It was spectacular, by the way.)

Back at Bill’s house, we analyzed the absurdity of children’s programming once more before I drove us back into Aggieville and we headed to The Varsity Truck.

I keep forgetting to do Alt Text. Butts.
One of its slogans is “The Varsity Truck for some late night back alley fun!” Oh, college towns.

The Varsity Truck is the back half of Varsity Donuts. Legend has it that the historic building housing the doughnut shop lacked a kitchen and the shopkeepers were not allowed to install one. The solution was to permanently park a food truck in the alley to cook.

As this is a college town, drunk students were lured into the alley by the smell of doughnuts cooking in the moonlight and began asking for food. This led to the truck becoming a late-night food spot. Its wares include corn dogs (I love corn dogs, so of course I got one) and grilled macaroni and cheese sandwiches. (I love the occasional gross, fattening food, so of course I got one.) We ate them in the alley as The Walking Dead played on mute and a grossly inappropriate song — I think it was Andy Gibb’s An Everlasting Love — played.

We ended the night with ranting at Tiny House Hunters, which might be my new thing, and the house was asleep by 11:30. Because we’re in our 30s, and multiple days of rallying all night long are out of the question.

Sunday

After waking up at about 8 a.m. and subjecting ourselves to more children’s programming, Brandon and I decided against breaking our ride back into two parts (I initially planned to stop somewhere in Kentucky). When then dedicated the day to Karen. She’s been as much as a integral part of our college experience as Bill. And before Bill and Karen were dating, our road trips began to include her (which led to me realizing Bill liked Karen before Bill knew he liked Karen).

Karen gave us a driving tour of the city that included all of the places that weren’t Aggieville. Although we went to Aggieville. I needed to get a magnet for Renée, and I also got a key chain. Because why not?

As the tour began winding up, Karen mentioned that there was a winery. So we went.

I didn’t take a lot of photos, and this was the only one I enjoyed.

The winery was called Liquid Art. We each did a flight and briefly sat outside. It took a while for us to figure out the fire pit, and then the wind picked up.

Back inside, I decided that the winery’s boldest, reddest wine was pretty good. But I decided against buying a bottle.  On the way to Kansas, we brought in Virginia beer and cider and Kentucky bourbon. There was a brief mishap with the bourbon in transit from St. Louis to Manhattan, so I decided against carrying any other quantity of booze over state lines. 

Unless the ghost of Burt Reynolds could be my blocker.

We could have been East Bound and Down, though.

Afterward, we went to Little Apple Brewing Co., where the featured meal was Memphis loaded sweet potato fries. I ordered supplemental food, because I wanted soup and it somehow didn’t register that a flatbread was a small pizza, 

While we were eating, Mandy visited because I hadn’t seen her in seven years and just getting a cup of coffee just didn’t seem right for the only other person who know as much as — if not more — about me than Bill.

FINALLY, A LOCAL RESTAURANT.

 After Mandy left, we decided it was time for dessert, so we headed to Vista.

If I hadn’t had entirely too much food that day, I would have gotten a Vistaburger. Although it’s a hamburger, I at least would have been able to say I ate something unequivocally local. Instead, I got a hot chocolate float. I’d never heard of one before, so I guess that counts.

We wrapped up the night with more Tiny House Hunters, two shots and a beer and an early bedtime so Brandon and I could hit the road at 6 a.m.

Monday (and about 40 minutes into Tuesday)

Brandon and I woke up at 5 a.m. so we could leave by 6 a.m. Brandon had to get to work on Tuesday, so we had to get going early. If we only stopped for gas, we could have made it back to Charlottesville by midnight. I was shooting for 12:30 a.m. (and I probably would have made it too, if I noticed like all the locals that there was a cop up ahead, as I mentioned in the first part).

Once we got to the St. Louis Metro area, I drove the portion that I missed while passed out in my backseat and completed driving the entire length of Interstate 64. I stopped short of doing the entire Hampton Roads Beltway earlier this month, so I can’t say I did the entire thing in less than a month. But I did it. I’ve wanted to do it ever since the early ’90s, when I found out where 64 ended.

We made a few stops in Missouri to get gas and then for me to get a Mountain Dew. I was still a little sleepy when we started, and nothing perks me up lie doing the Dew. I rarely drink it because a 20 ounce bottle keeps me moving for about 18 hours.

Oh, I forgot to mention that it snowed from Kansas to the Mississippi River. It wasn’t sticking to the pavement, but that was awful. It was also interesting to go from scraping ice and snow off my car to effectively driving into a sunny fall day.

We didn’t make another real stop until we grabbed food in Mount Vernon, Illinois. It was an arbitrary stop, but we went from Manhattan to Times Square.

Yes, it’s at Broadway and 42nd.

Seriously.

Again, we did not plan this at all.

A few hours later, after stopping for gas in Kentucky, it began to rain. A lot. A whole lot.

And it was foggy in West Virginia, too.

But I soldiered on.

“Years of playing driving simulation video games with a steering wheel and gas pedal prepared me for this,” I said to Brandon, who sometimes woke up to me more or less navigating by dead reckoning along some higher elevations.

We got back at 12:40 a.m. The rain still was coming down in buckets. The Mountain Dew kept me up till nearly 3 a.m. I slept until nearly noon Tuesday.

I’m grateful that tomorrow is Friday.

All in all, I greatly enjoyed this trip. Again, it was great to see people I’ve known for between about 13 years, in Karen’s case, and as much as about 25 years, in Mandy’s case. (Mandy and I knew of each other since fourth grade but didn’t truly become friends until 10th grade.)

That saying about being able to pick up where you left off with good friends is true. If stepped into night out with Pete and our banter felt like my favorite, most comfortable pair of shoes. Both coming and going from Kansas, Brandon and I went a good four hours before the conversation tapered off. Bill, Karen and I have have quiet and raucous times in equal measure so mostly sitting on the couch as their child played seemed like a natural progression. I talk to Mandy so much, there wasn’t exactly much to catch up on. Unfortunately, we’ve drifted away from some of our mutual high school and college friends to the point that there isn’t as much gossip as there used to be.

Since I’ll still have three weeks of vacation to Renée’s two, I might split those days into weekend trips to St. Louis and then another trip to Manhattan.

Although I want to explore St. Louis, I’m looking forward to returning to Manhattan more.

This is the key chain I bought.

If you didn’t see this coming, I’m disappointed in you.

it’s not that bad, pt. 1

This song really is unrelated. I just happened to hear it a few minutes ago.
I didn’t grasp why everyone ahead of me slammed on their brakes until it was too late.

Thank you, Sgt. Wooten. I was absolutely going well over the speed limit on Monday when you pulled me over on Interstate 64. Everyone else with Indiana plates was doing it, so I figured, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.  I guess that only counts when you have Indiana plates.

When I pulled over, my first thought was, “Well, he’s got me dead to rights. It kinda sucks because I’m certain a lot of people were going faster than me.”

That was true. Those faster people weren’t stupid enough to continue driving slowly so he could catch up. But I’m 35 years old. Fifteen years ago, I probably would have punched it, and I would you be telling you the funny story of how the home stretch of my trip went disastrously wrong.

Thursday, Nov. 7

It was sleeting in Kansas when Brandon and I left. I was told that it wasn’t likely to stick to the roads, but it was a little disconcerting. Either way, Kansas is good at clearing roads, Bill said, so there shouldn’t be a problem by the time I arrived on Friday. Bill called me at 9 a.m., 8 a.m. his time, to tell me this news. My alarm had just gone off. I was set to leave at 10. This definitely was going to be a TauDelt adventure.

Bill, my best friend and best man, currently is stationed in Fort Riley, Kansas. He plans on leaving the Army soon, which is why he bought a house. His current plan is to finish his masters and become a history teacher. He and his wife — Karen, a friend from college who also is a great friend — decided they were fine with settling in Kansas because they were surprised that they were OK with living in Manhattan, Kansas.

My reasons to visit Bill and Karen a week ago are varied: I’d been meaning to visit Bill since he finished basic training. I wanted someone to go with me so it could become a grand adventure. I wanted to take a road trip with fraternity brothers like in the old days. Due to where they lived, I could fulfill a childhood dream of driving the entire length of Interstate 64.

Everything finally came together.

The plan was simple, and it managed to stay simple. Brandon and I were going to power through Thursday morning and arrive in St. Louis in time for another brother, Pete, to get home from work. On Friday, we would go the rest of the way to Kansas and see Mandy, my friend since Hampton City Schools, on our way to Bill and Karen’s house. On Saturday, we would spend all day out with Bill. On Sunday, we would start the first leg of our trip. Monday would be the remainder of the drive home. On Tuesday, I would sleep.

Pete partially threw a kink on those plans. We expected to stay at his place Thursday night. I only wanted to buy a hotel room for the ride back because, again, I wanted to have the whole crashing on couches or whatever experience. At the same time, I also did not want to be stuck in horrible conditions, so I figured we’d have to get rooms both coming and going to Kansas. Pete on Wednesday night said we couldn’t stay at his place. Old Pete wouldn’t have given us that much notice. It wasn’t too bad — I would have liked to have locked in a lower hotel price — but we were at the Hotel Avyan, which wasn’t that far from his place.

In West Virginia, we stopped at a Wendy’s. The cashier called me Eleot. That’s a new one. Also, that sandwich wasn’t as awesome as the name states.

The drive there was pretty uneventful. The weather was great, and when we stopped for gas in Louisville, we also found this curious fellow.

Stop giggling at the name of the tutoring place next door.

“Is that? …” Brandon said.

“That’s a Kroger-brand liquor store,” I said.

I had seen a Kroger that sold hard liquor the first time I was in Indiana. This was the first time I’d ever laid eyes on a standalone Kroger liquor store.

Since we were in Kentucky, we had to get bourbon. I decided that that I was going to get something that I’d never had before. One charming little bottle caught my eye because it made a bold statement. I like bourbon, so I decided that I would be the judge of that statement.

It was called Old Bardstown. It said it was ruled the finest bourbon in Kentucky. I took a photo of it, and I could have sworn I downloaded it with the other photos from the trip, but I did not. I could just hop on the app and do it from there, but I’m testing out the new CMS for this entry, and I don’t know if I can do that without undoing everything I’ve done thus far.

Anyway, it was very smooth and delicious. As far as I can tell, it isn’t sold in Virginia. Bill said he really likes Four Roses, and that’s sold in Virginia, so I’ll settle for that for now.

But enough about the bourbon.

After we were settled in St. Louis, where it was sleeting, we met up with Pete and his girlfriend. We barhopped, but I only remember one of them because I had a tab at two, Mission Taco and The Beale on Broadway. The night was a bit of a blur. Because it was a good night.

Friday

Technically, we did not check out on time. I set an alarm before we went out, and that two hours wasn’t enough. As I was having an extremely tough go a things, I told Brandon to go downstairs and check out for me. He got down there right before the buzzer. I crept out about a half an hour later. I’ll say I was about at 70 percent at that point. It didn’t help that we were up for a very long time, too.

We then met up with Pete to get lunch. We headed to Southern, which touted Nashville hot chicken. It wasn’t melt-your-face-off hot like Prince’s, but no one can compare to Prince’s. 

Spicy foods are my hangover cure. This wasn’t spicy enough, so I passed out in the backseat while Brandon drove across most of Missouri. 

I woke up about when we needed to stop for gas. While Brandon pumped, ran over to Sonic. What I should have done is gotten this vaguely racist pizza.

You eyes deceive you not.

Really? Really? Trap Haus Pizza?

If you can’t read it, the slogan is, “It tastes so good, you’re trapped for life!” It’s probably good, but it’s also attached to a gas station. But that’s probably what makes it good.

I was back at 100 percent, so I got back in the driver’s seat.

As we neared Kansas, I found that Mandy’s husband had been transferred from Leavenworth, so I was meeting her in Manhattan. We got coffee at Bluestem Bistro in Aggieville. We didn’t have an awful lot to catch up on because there are times when we talk as much as we did in person. But I haven’t seen her in about seven years.

When I wrecked Nicole back in January, I lost my dad’s commemorative plate for when he was stationed outside of Savannah, Georgia. My mom found it a while back and gave it to me. I had all intentions of putting it on my desk at work but I kept forgetting. In the wreck, I was in a spot I couldn’t readily see when I was cleaning the car out and I didn’t realize it was there until I turned over the keys.

I recently posted on Facebook about how I wish I had it still, and people suggested that I contact the 260th Quartermaster Battalion and tell my story. I hadn’t gotten around to it yet, but Mandy’s husband, Mike, saw it.

While we were in Bluestem, Mandy told me that Mike obtained a challenge coin for me. I quickly looked at it and pocketed it because I knew if I acknowledged its existence any longer, I’d make like a Carrie Underwood song and not cry pretty. 

That night, after we got to Bill and Karen’s and drank in the basement, I went the room I claimed and held that coin for a long time. It’s now in my wallet. After I measure its diameter, I might buy a holder so I can wear it as a necklace.

That singular event was worth the entire trip.

august

So, I didn’t write about what happened in August because too much happened in August, and I didn’t have time to catch my breath. I’m not even going to properly caption all the photos.

So, I left my old job and started my new one. I had to hit the ground running, and it’s been incredibly hectic, but I finally feel like my pay is equivalent to the amount of work I’m putting in, so it’s been great. I think things will work out very well.

Anyway, my first week culminated on the anniversary of Aug. 12 in Charlottesville.

Nothing truly violent happened this time around, but now there is an argument about how the police response was disproportionate  to compensate for the approach last year.

All I will say is that, from these pictures, I obviously was out there on the weekend because 1) it’s kinda my job and 2) I refuse to be afraid.

Anyway, while I was still trying to figure out things like where the bathrooms are, another week of work went down into the books, we set up some things, like having radio spots and then I took a trip with by brother Butler to the Danville area. We went to an event at Virginia International Raceway, but we got distracted by the AAF Tank Museum.

Butler works near a Lamborghini office, so we got VIP access. It was one of the most awesome things I’ve ever done in my entire life.

After this, I felt like I was kinda getting the swing of things at work. We had a lot of breaking news, though (as a matter of fact, I need to do real work either later today or all day tomorrow — and I definitely have to do something tonight), but it’s been great to mostly have my weekends back again and not have the pressures of daily deadlines constantly hanging over my head. I mean, I have deadlines, but now the idea is to get the best and most accurate story out instead of the first. This has taken a great load of stress off me over the weekends and allows me to do things like go to my mom’s house, fire up the grill and play with my dog in her backyard.

And now, here we are: Labor Day weekend. August feels like it went by in the blink of an eye. I’m excited about getting more settled in my role at my new journalism job, having a better work-life balance and feeling more like a member of the community.

Friday night, I was on the Downtown Mall. There has been so much strife and unrest in our country over the past few years, but seeing it full of life and hosting a rally for the University of Virginia the night before its drubbing of the University of Richmond reminded me of what could be. Of what we hope will be.

“everything is 45 minutes away”

OUR THIRD ANNIVERSARY

After witnessing a robbery that was brushed aside, I got a beer and stayed up later than I planned. We left late for Los Angeles. Renée drove in because we were curious about traffic and an adage that New York people hate Los Angeles.

Because I was tired from the day before, I dozed off a few times we as traveled through the vast emptiness the 15 cuts through. When I was awake, I was struck at how the road stretched into the horizon and drank in the beauty of the San Gabriel Mountains.

I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t a sign noting the San Andreas Fault.

Traffic was atrocious. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Renée as angry as she was as we tried to exit into downtown LA when getting to Rodeo Drive seemed out of the question. We were going to visit El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula to wait out rush hour. Taking the exit was arduous in itself.

We were getting hungry, and I suggested eating at Musso & Frank. There wasn’t any (cheap) parking nearby, so that was right out. We reached a point where I was certain Renée was going to start mowing down Californians when a cursory search for restaurants noted that The Stinking Rose had a parking lot.

We got to Beverly Hills after all.

After we ate, we shopped at Beverly Center — where I replaced my Vegas-ruined shoes — and met up with Ben, a fraternity brother from our George Mason University chapter.

We managed to see him because we left so late and because we got stuck in traffic heading to the Santa Monica Pier.

We had no idea there was a concert going on, and it let out as soon as we arrived. It was pure pedestrian chaos. Luckily, I was driving at this point. We missed sunset from the pier, but we made it to the Pacific Ocean.

Before we met up with Ben, he mentioned that he was 45 minutes away from where we were. I apologized, saying I hoped it wasn’t too out of his way.

He said it wasn’t a big deal because, in Los Angeles, “everything is 45 minutes away” and everyone is chill about traffic because it’s a given.

I also couldn’t handle the relentless traffic. Be said he likes it more than DC traffic. I hate DC traffic. Los Angeles is my third least favorite place to drive after Boston. At least it didn’t make me fly into a blind rage like Washington and Boston. (New York isn’t even in my top 10; I actually like driving around New York.)

Afterward, it was time to head back. I didn’t want to drive through the night through the desert, but that’s what happened. There were a few traffic jams on the way back, but driving through the night through the desert as our anniversary turned into my birthday was an amazing gift. So was the sunrise over Las Vegas.

MY 34TH BIRTHDAY

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Four days in, we finally saw Las Vegas.

We had to take a glorified nap because we had to return the Esportage. Originally, we planned on not driving on the second half of the trip. Then we decided to rent a convertible. Then the price shot up for the convertible because it was Friday. Then we got an Altima.

That made me happy because I drive an Altima. I named her Giovanna because that’s the name of Nicole Cobb’s sister in my novel (the Cobb sisters’ parents are Italian and Irish from New Jersey).

After going back to sleep, we prepared to go to Circus Circus to get steak at THE Steak House with my fraternity brother PaulAnthony and Linda. If you’ve been following this blog since the early years, or are a friend from my college/early journalism days, you remember those names.

I dressed formally. I was told twice that I looked like a hitman. One man appeared to hope I would say I was.

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Tonight, he sleeps with the fishes. I promise.

I had the best steak of my life and it was very, very good to see PA after all these years. Additionally, I discovered that day that another brother, Brandon, was visiting from Virginia. I made plans to see him the following day. I hadn’t seen him since going to Maryland to see The Revolution.

After dinner, I wasn’t ready to end the night. Because it was my birthday. We drove around the Strip and eventually ended up in the actual city of Las Vegas. I have more photos, video and a video I was going to use to get stills. It would have been too much effort to do that and post these entries in a timely fashion. Perhaps later this month.

Also, the following photos do not have captions.

The Fremont Street Experience truly is an experience. The canopy created a humid microclimate. Passersby smelled of booze, cigarettes, weed, sweat, desperation. We entered a souvenir shop where a woman was perched on a wheeled platform ladder to scan for shoplifters. We pushed through the crowds to get inside the Golden Nugget to go to the bathroom. We lingered for a while. I got three glasses of Makers, neat. I wanted a bottle. I got one.

On the way back, I got McNuggets. Because Tipsy Elliott loves McNuggets. Being able to get, for the same price, 20 McNuggets nearly 3,000 miles from home is all that is good and bad about America.

We took some city streets. Having a familiar feeling so far from home also is what is good and bad about America. If you had told me I was actually in Virginia Beach, I would have believed you.

I completed my birthday by downing more bourbon and watching Bosch, an Amazon series based on a series of crime novels I’ve been obsessed with since 1996. It is superb.

Still exhausted from driving through the night, I slept for a very long time.

an american tail: elliott goes west

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Really west

DAY ONE

I neither gambled nor worked on my novel during this trip.

Our Lyft driver came sooner than expected, so we didn’t get a chance to take the garbage out. Additionally, I had turned the thermostat up into the 80s. As we dashed downstairs, I hoped for the best.

The trip to Las Vegas was uneventful. I had decent sleep, wasn’t hungover and ate before we took off. I was dreading the temperature, though. The Southwest was in a heat wave and  it was 116 when we landed.

A dry heat just means it feels like an oven. It wasn’t terrible, but I was disquieted by the lack of sweat. I understood how people wind up passing out/dying here and made a note to constantly drink water.

The cabbie who transported us to our North Las Vegas hotel (it was cheaper and quieter) played Crazy Train as we rode. I took that as a good omen.

Because of the time difference, we had to at least stay awake till 11 p.m. That was as far as we got. Before bed, we went to In-N-Out Burger because it was nearby.

We walked. I wore white shoes. I had to clean them afterward.

Because of the heat, the asphalt roads weren’t completely solid. My soles were pitch. The lane markings were smeared with grey to the point that some were nigh invisible. Bott’s dots were the only hope.

In-N-Out’s burgers bore a slight resemblance to Smitty’s Better Burger. Hands down, Smitty’s would win in a fight.

Afterward, we willed ourselves to go out to stay awake. The last thing I wanted was to be up before dawn each day. We went to a local bar a few blocks down (we got a ride that time). It was terrible, even for me. We then went across the street to the Cannery Casino, we were disappointed in large portions of it being closed for the night. Then we remembered it was a Tuesday.

“Because who’s here on a Tuesday?” I said at one point.

Next up was our first road trip: the Grand Canyon by way of the Hoover Dam.

DAY TWO

We still got up a little earlier than I wanted, but it worked out. As our Lyft driver headed to our rental car in Henderson, he played a ’50s radio station as we passed countless lawyer ads and a cell tower incongruously disguised as an alien pine. I was starting to groove on this arid, quirky place. Part of the route was on U.S. 95. I noted how we traded one 95 for another.

We didn’t get the SUV we requested. Instead, we got a Kia Sportage (or, as the receptionist said it, “Esportage”).

It did not have fantastic acceleration. I drove to the Hoover Dam.

From there, I drove through miles of Arizona desert and mountains to the Hualapai reservation to their portion of the Grand Canyon. It was two hours closer than the national park entrance and I wanted to give natives my money.

It goes without saying that the canyon is utterly beautiful. Our tour included two overlooks. The best was Guano Point, where I scaled numerous rocks to get sweeping views of the canyon. Additionally, I survived taking a cliffside selfie.

Renée got altitude sickness but was a trouper and drove back to Vegas. Once we returned, I walked to a 7-Eleven to get her a soda.

The 7-Eleven got robbed while I was there.

theresa

I love you, sis.

Theresa. May 13, 1969-May 6, 2015.

You big-headed galoot.

My eldest sister, Theresa, and I were watching Looney Tunes one day, and Yosemite Sam called Bugs Bunny a “long-eared galoot.” We thought the phrasing was hilarious for some reason.

It also sounded like a Robinson-worth insult. Before the day was over, one of us called the other a big-headed galoot. It stuck.

For years and years, we called each other that. Depending on the situation it was the beginning of the fight, the escalation of an argument or a greeting.

On Wednesday, my big-headed galoot left me. Theresa died of complications from multiple sclerosis a week before her 46th birthday.

Although we were 14 years apart, we were incredibly close. She named me while my mother was still out of it and my dad wasn’t at the hospital yet. I was almost always invited to tag along whenever she hung out with her friends. It’s part of the reason why I know so much about ’80s culture and identify more with the Xers. She loved anything that was purple and, of course, loved Prince and his “Purple Rain” — the film, album and song. I co-opted her love of Prince, because I really had no choice, and you can see me on occasion singing Theresa’s favorite song at karaoke.

I proudly crashed her prom photos to the point that, 14 years after I was born, she had a kid and, 14 years after her prom, she drove over to our mom’s house and plopped that kid front and center for one of my prom photos. For us, it never was about winning the battle, it was about winning the war.

I was an exceptional tattler, but I could play being the innocent one. I once slipped and fell into a pond. After being pulled to safety, Theresa got me somewhere to take a shower and all my clothes were washed. The entire time, I swore, I absolutely swore that it was between the two of us. As soon as we got home, I told my mom that Theresa didn’t watch me well enough so I fell in a pond.

I was grinning the entire time I wrote that previous paragraph.

Because of Theresa, I am the silent treatment champion. I can guarantee I won’t crack first because I discovered that she couldn’t bear the thought of her baby brother never speaking to her again.

Because of Theresa, I can be sneaky as all get-out. Ask me how to get down a creaky staircase, out the front door and into the car without making a sound.

Because of Theresa, I can not only keep a secret, but be loyal enough to rub it in your face all day and all night and never tell. She once told me a secret. It will go to my grave.

Because of Theresa, I always had someone there for me.

There were times that you would think we were twins because of how much we thought alike. You would think we already had 14 years of stories and adventures by the time I was 4. But, despite learning every conceivable way of annoying her in the greatest possible way, I considered her my second mom.

She not only saw me off to my first day of kindergarten, she sobbed at the bus stop because her baby brother was growing up. Whenever our parents weren’t around and something happened, she could switch gears in a flash. It was obvious when she was in Mom Mode. Sibling fun and games were definitely over.

But she was also irresponsible enough to think letting a 10-year-old drive her car because she was hungover and wanted some seafood. I promptly steered into a ditch because I didn’t realize you really, really had to turn the steering wheel.

That was another tattletale moment.

One day, Theresa met a boy and moved with him to Maryland and then got married. I was despondent for days because my sister left me. But, thanks to the wonders of 1990s technology, she was only a (short) long-distance call away. I got used to her being the disembodied voice and looked forward to every summer.

Not long after school let out, we’d pack up some of my things and we start the long, three-hour drive up U.S. 17 to U.S. 301 and then to Lexington Park, Maryland. Sometimes, we would meet halfway at the Burger King in Tappahannock to switch cars. After years and years of it at least being a food and bathroom waypoint, it took me until 2002 to take a look around the town.

In Lexington Park, in those apartments that are now called St. Mary’s Landing, it was like we’d only been apart for a day. But, as I got older, it fully sank in that she was an adult and I couldn’t expect her to pause around age 26 until I caught up.

It sank in more when we learned she was pregnant with my nephew Tré. I was there that summer in 1997. I was in the hospital in Leonardtown, Maryland, the day he was born. I held him in my 14-year-old arms.

Although that was a great day, it was the beginning of the end. Unbeknownst to us, Theresa was beginning to show the symptoms of MS. Once we figured it out, we were told not to worry because, although it wasn’t treatable, it was manageable to the point that she could live a long, relatively healthy life. It was helpful that she had the relapsing-remitting form, they said. Never mind that one of the first bouts effectively paralyzed her for a while. So we went about our business: Theresa moved back to Hampton in 1998. My niece Shonda was born a year later. The new family had a house built. My nephew Michael was born. Although I had no idea where I’d go for college and where I’d be beyond that, I began thinking about how I’d stop by one day, watch the kids play and tell my sister about some ridiculous college story as we sipped on beers.

Instead, the disease turned malignant. She tripped and fell one night, breaking her ankle. She was in a wheelchair while it healed, but that night was the last one in which she was able to walk. We still kept our spirits up. It would be nothing for me to stop by while I was in college at Christopher Newport University to push her out of her house on Allison Sutton Drive, guide her into my car tell her some ridiculous college story and head to get cheesesteaks, a Smitty’s Better Burger with cheese, Dairy Queen or, our nostalgia food, Taco Bell.

But, by then, she was losing the ability to use any of her limbs.

Back in the early ’90s, when she got married, I was to keep her from stress eating to the point that she couldn’t fit in her wedding dress. I was still in Fat Elliott mode, so hells yes, let’s go to Taco Bell at 12:45 a.m. She barely fit in her dress.

By the time I was packing up to head to Petersburg, she was effectively bedridden. And her husband was headed to Stafford and then Hawaii with the kids. Theresa wound up at my mom’s house in what was our dining room/den because my mom doesn’t have a first-floor bedroom. One of my first memories is of her celebrating her 16th birthday roughly in the spot her hospital bed occupied.

It was strange. This time, I was the one in a different area code calling the sibling in my mother’s house. She had a custom-made wheelchair by then and my mom had a hard time transporting her for anything more than doctor’s visits because of it unless she made arrangements with someone to haul it. In retrospect, a van wouldn’t have been a bad idea.

That didn’t stop me. When I came to visit, I would sometimes wheel my sister out to my car and we’d at least go for a ride.

Then things worsened again. Not long after Grandma died in 2008, MS struck Theresa’s vocal cords. My sister — who, after fighting, was best known for yelling and cussing — was silenced. After nearly 25 years of feedback, I didn’t know what to say to her beyond idle updates. My time with her was reduced to sitting by her bedside in silence as the TV blared.

For about seven years, my trips home have been to see nearly every trace of my sister disappear into that atrophied shell. I didn’t start mourning her loss when Ma called while I was driving on High Street between Park and Seventh streets in Charlottesville — I’ve been mourning my sister for all those years.

Despite that, I still wasn’t ready for her death. Before her diagnosis, I thought I’d be at least 70 when I had to think about burying Theresa. I hoped for the chance that someone, somewhere would find at least a partial cure. Instead, I’ll see her in person one last time on Thursday, the day after her birthday.

I miss my sister. I’ve missed my sister with every ounce of my being for years, but she’s now free of that damnable disease. And we made the most of the short time we had together.

I love you, Theresa.

You big-headed galoot.

‘imagine your worst nightmare times 15’

Because of the Super Bowl, and “All N My Grill” being in my head for about six months, I grabbed Missy’s first two albums when I went to my mom’s house last week. I have a spindle with some hip-hop and R&B albums I “retired” from my collection after my tastes changed began drifting away from what I considered my jams back in middle and high school, and I’ve noticed that I’ve been reclaiming albums as of late. I’ve been chalking it up trying to cling to my youth after a few years of being well on the wrong side of 25 and attempting to right the wrong of abandoning entire genres of music because I was becoming “educated” and “cultured.”

Thursday afternoon, I finally got around to popping in Da Real World and it wouldn’t play. I was adamant that it wasn’t scratched, so naturally, I started cursing at Nicole’s radio, which I plan on replacing within the next 12 months anyway. I finally inspected it to discover that there was some schmutz on it so I licked my finger and wiped it off, because I’m a grownup now. About a decade ago, I would have licked the entire CD. I was almost at work at that point, so I decided to wait until after work to give it an official spin.

I took a different route home than normal, and I’ve completely forgotten the track order, so the string sample I was looking for started (about 45 second into the video at the head of this entry) when I was less than half a mile from my house. I decided that I’d ride around until the song was over, which led me to 10th Street Northeast and East Market at about 11:30 p.m. While I was waiting for the light to change, a disheveled young man clad in a superb blue blazer, a bow tie, boat shoes, khakis — you know, the whole nine yards — started crossing the street to where there was no sidewalk.

“Where the hell is that UVa student going?” I asked myself as I realized he was walking to my car.

It happens a lot. I have a black Nissan Altima, a.k.a. the black Lincoln Town Car private taxi of the teens. I’ve largely stopped driving down Water Street on weekends, because every time my car is stopped for any reason by the Downtown Mall, I get hailed. There’s been more than one occasion that a drunk person has tried to get in. I’m glad my doors lock automatically.

I turned the music down (I didn’t want to because ALL N MY GRILL) and was about to tell him I wasn’t a taxi when I saw that he was more distraught than disheveled.

“How close am I to the Corner?” he asked.

The Corner, the restaurant-retail strip on University Avenue opposite the University of Virginia, unofficially begins at 14th Street Northwest. The grid starts over downtown, and I’ve long suspected that some wayward UVa students see the numbers going up regardless of which direction they go on Main Street and assume they’re heading the right way until they reach worst combination of them all: dark and unfamiliar.

“Dear God, that’s like two miles that way,” I replied, pointing west.

“Isn’t it just another left up here?” He was standing by the front passenger-side door. I could smell the booze on him.

“No, you keep going that way and you end up at the river.”

“Oh my God, how did I get this far?” In an apologetic way, he eventually asked if I could drive him to the Corner.

I cleared off the stuff I piled in the seat and told him to get in. I wasn’t worried as was obviously a student, waifish it wasn’t the first time I’ve given a stranger a ride since I’ve had my license.

My wife is going to yell at me about that.

I headed down Water and the student mentioned that the Corner was just to the left, which would have been his right a few moments before when he said it was another left. At this point, “left” was the railroad tracks and the Belmont-adjacent neighborhood that has been renamed the Strategic Investment Area because it’s about to be gentrified by way of bulldozer.

I pointed out that we were passing the bus station and the Downtown Mall was to our right. He calmly freaked out while texting. He told me he though he was on his way to a friend’s place in the Flats @ [sic] West Village. I asked if he wanted to be dropped off there, but he was adamant about going to the area of the Jimmy John’s on the ground floor of what is about to be The Graduate Hotel.

“This is bad. I’m not even that drunk. This has been a bad year.”

“What’s been going on with you?” My first thought was that I had a suicidal student on my hands.

“It’s been a bad year,” he repeated. “You know, with everything that happened. I live in Kellogg. Hannah lived with us.”

He was referring to Hannah Graham, a second-year UVa student who authorities say was abducted and murdered by Jesse Matthew Jr. after wandering from the Corner area to the Downtown Mall a few months back.

“They never gave us all counseling, just the people who lived with her and her friends,” he continued. “We were just … we needed someone. … They never told us how to get back and now here I am. Thank you for taking me back.”

“No problem. It happens. If I had a dollar for every time I wondered how I got back to my place in college …”

“No, this is really bad. Oh God, I know where I am now. I was so far off. … You’re not a taxi, are you?”

“No, I work at the paper, I was on my way home from the newsroom and just happened to take the long way.”

“Oh God, that’s even worse. This is a nightmare. Imagine your worst nightmare times 15. That stuff happens with Hannah and I have to get a ride back to the Corner … no offense.”

None taken.

I pulled over at a loading zone on Main between 13th and 14th Northwest. I asked if he was going to be OK. He said he was going to be fine now that he was back, apologized again and insisted on giving me his last three bucks. He eventually headed into the 24-hour convenience store on the block tapping away on his phone. There were some cops nearby. I hoped he’d be OK and set off for home.

I’ve been home about two hours now. Although I’m certain one of his texts before he got out of the car was “He dropped me off near Boylan,” I’m a little worried. I also feel a little queasy.

If I had a dollar for every time in college I’ve wondered where I was or barely know how I got home, I’d be a wealthy man. I wandered around Savannah, Georgia, drunk and alone about seven years ago. It was my first time there. It wasn’t a problem.

Nine times out of 10 nothing bad happens. Drunk twentysomething Elliott wandered home or back to where he was staying. Sober thirtysomething Elliott drives Drunk UVa student back to UVa Adjacent.

But.

I now really, really want Charlottesville to rename the northeast numbered streets.

I can’t stop thinking about what could have happened to that kid if I didn’t want to hear some Missy. I can’t stop thinking about how numbered streets ascending in both directions in an entertainment district could lead to huge problems. I can’t stop thinking about how something as simple as NE or NW on a street sign might have contributed to Hannah Graham’s demise.

I’m sure that guy’s vomiting into a friend’s toilet right about now or will be in about eight hours, but I’m still fretting a little. We don’t think about the consequences of something bad happening when we’re wastefaced when we’re feeling invincible in our undergraduate years. I guess I’m concerned because of all the “Dude, you were so drunk and stupid” dollars I would have amassed from my time at Christopher Newport University.

When I posted the abridged version of this on Facebook, one of the comments was, “You’re officially a grownup.”

I guess I am.

Stay safe out there.

down in nashville, tennessee

I want to live in a place (again) that has a song people were familiar with at some point in history.

For this year’s trip to commemorate Renée’s birthday, we decided to head south. Ultimately, we went to Alabama to go to her parents’ house, but, officially, this was a trip to Nashville.

Because I wanted an excuse to post this song.

Since the vast majority of my travels have been along the East Coast from Boston to Miami, this is only the third time I’ve been outside of this time zone. For shame, I know. I never got used to Central Standard Time, so I got up at about 8 a.m. every single day of this adventure.

It wasn’t an enormously action-packed trip, but I made a point to take notes. I’m toying with making this one giant post; it took me a decade to realize turning trips into miniseries makes them populate in reverse chronological order. We’ll just see what happens when I get to the end of being in Nashville.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Dec. 26

Traffic in Tennessee is weird.

I know, I saw that about every driver I encounter whenever I go out of Virginia. I even say that about Virginians. I have no idea who I managed to get through biking and driving in Hampton Roads alive.

But, seriously, it was odd as we headed down Interstate 40. It appears that people there take the left lane being the passing lane seriously and take it upon themselves to enforce that rule.

I hung out in the left lane because I run about 9 mph over the speed limit nowadays, especially when the speed limit is 70. I call it “keep it under reckless.” I was passing people all over the place, but if I camped out there too long, someone would tailgate me so I yielded.

Next to no one passed me when I did that.

They’d get behind me and fall back. Like way back.

Then I’d catch up to someone in the slow lane, get in the passing lane, pass four cars in rapid succession and then someone who doesn’t pass me pulls up to my rear again.

The last time something like this happened when I was in the Further South, I sped up instead of holding my ground or getting out of the way. I got a speeding ticket for my trouble.

Aha. I see what you’re trying to do there.

I may not be from ’round these parts, but fool me twice …

Also, outside of Knoxville, I wound up in near-standstill traffic for miles. Once I got to the scene of the action, it was a single cop who pulled over three bikers.

Ugh.

Surprisingly, we arrived at our hotel (we made a left at the strip club at the end of the exit; it was like I was back in Richmond) precisely when my 100-song playlist ended. The night before, I screwed up the booking and had to call the front desk.

Apparently, they screwed up as well when I changed the date to the correct one.

We got a pretty sweet suite for the same price. I wanted to live there. All that was missing was a stove. We had complimentary cookware, but there wasn’t even a hot plate. (I’ll add photos later.)

After we got settled in, we walked a few blocks down the curiously named Demonbreun Street (apparently, it was de Montbrun at some point) to a Puerto Rican restaurant, Salsa. Since ’twas the night after Christmas, we were the only ones there. The food was great and, obviously, so was the service.

We nearly went out that night, but Renée was tired. I swore that I wasn’t, but I didn’t make it to 2 a.m. Or maybe it was 1 a.m. Who knows.

Dec. 27

I woke up at 8 a.m. to discover that Renée was already at breakfast on the ground floor. We both got up as if we were going to work. As I was getting myself together, I checked my phone. My heart then skipped a beat.

I had an allergic reaction. Come downstairs.

My biggest fear in the entire world is that I bring some allergen home or she eats something by accident, she has an allergic reaction and then I’m a widower. She swears she’s fine if I eat certain things, but the two times I ate fish in Charlottesville, I took a shower afterward. I stayed on the other side of the house and scoured my face and teeth the two times I ate pecans.

I threw on a shirt and my shoes then ran to the lobby. Her eyes were extremely irritated and some other minor issues that weren’t life-threatening.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

The front desk apologized profusely, bought her eye drops and offered to change the sheets. We were heading out that day anyway, so that was unnecessary.

Since we had a few hours before checkout, Renée tried to sleep off her troubles.

I decided to get a haircut.

I had meant to get one before we left, but Shaunelle visited the day I was going to go. As we were going to my in-laws, I decided I needed to look more presentable. I’ve fallen out of my habit of getting my hair cut every two weeks because of my No Shave Till Wedding campaign in January, and I was definitely overdue.

Through the power of Google Maps, I blindly headed a few miles north of the hotel in the dreary day. After cruising down a street with an unusual number of barber shops that were all closed, I spied a squat, brick building with a sign saying it was open.

According to the name painted on the window, this was Craighead Barber Shop. It looked like it was where old men got their hair cut. I like older barber shops.

I was right on the money.

The was a lone old man cutting hair. As I walked in, I could smell the ancient wood paneling. Hits from the ’70s were playing on a boombox propped a few feet above the worn red and black tiles on the floor. There was organized chaos on the back counter.

The wait was two old men deep, so I sank down in one of the red pleather chairs below faded hairstyle guide posters. The only sounds were an early Saturday local news show on the 13-inch TV in the rear, the buzz of the clippers and Midnight Train to Georgia.

The sun appeared, we reached the warmest part of this trip. I played Git It Awn on the way back to the hotel as I checked myself out in the mirror.

When I returned, it was time to check out. The front desk apologized yet again for something in the room causing an allergic reaction. Then they comped the room. I still can’t believe it. I mean, it wasn’t the Ritz-Carlton or anything, but it was the most I’d ever shelled out for a room. Because of how attentive they were, I would totally stay there again … but it probably would screw up Renée’s face again.

We were going to meet one of Renée’s sorority sisters for brunch later, so we did some sightseeing. By happenstance, I almost got to where Dave and I crashed last year when my friends Tim and Cathy lived with some of The Wooly Mamas. I couldn’t lead you to that house for $1 million, though.

Renée was a right as the rain that began to fall by the time we arrived at Noshville, followed by a trip to one of the area malls and an order of hot chicken to go. After that it was a long slog in the rain to Alabama.

I was filled with trepidation. Renée’s reassurances notwithstanding, this was my first prolonged period with them. This was Do Not Screw This Up. They’re really relaxed. It was fine. Mr. Walker’s like a sillier, more outgoing Renée.

Considering how ridiculous I am, the world should fear the precocious creature(s) we eventually set out into the world.

I have no idea what to call my in-laws. I’ve mastered the art of not using people’s names. I can keep this up for years.

Once again, we considered going out. To do what in northern Alabama, I do not know. Instead, I watched a college bowl game with my father-in-law, and then, when Renée all but went to bed, watched an episode of Archer.

If at any point in my life up until this weekend you told me that visiting my in-laws’ house for the first time would entail snickering at Archer with my wife’s father, I would have called you a liar to you big, fat, lying face full of lies.

I went to bed with a sigh of relief. Then woke up at 8 a.m. again because that’s what we do now.

At this point, 9/8c is less than eight hours from now. I better not. I better not.

Dec. 28

The next day, I continued my unhealthy food tour with Bojangle’s. Eating horrible-for-your regional foods or fast food I can’t get at home is a road trip tradition. Sometimes, it’s the sole point of the trip.

Afterward, Mr. Walker ferried one of Renée’s sisters, Joy; her beau; Renée; and me to a local mall.

In a minivan.

“We’re going on a double date with my dad,” Renée said with a laugh.

After some sightseeing, Renée was down for the count with her second migraine of the day. I went down for dinner and hung out with the family for a while. I had two long conversations with my mother-in-law. She means well and her beliefs are unshakable. As a whole, they are not supplementary family members I gained on June 22. They are undeniably complementary. Like with my mom, I kinda wish they were a little closer.

Once again, I tried to hang with the family late into the night, but I’m an old man now and I had a long drive ahead of me. Again, I’m still surprised I’m awake now. That Mountain Dew I had in Bristol is probably the culprit.

I do not want to know how many typos are in this entry. If I had a Mortal Kombat-esque energy bar over my head, my editing skills would be one more punch (or PBR) from FINISH HIM!

I’ll fix them in the afternoon when I upload the photos.

Dec. 29

Rock City. Ruby Falls. Fireworks.

Rock City. Ruby Falls. Fireworks.

Rock City. Ruby Falls. Fireworks.

RockCity. RubyFalls. Fireworks.

RockCityRubyFallsFireworks.

ROCKCITYRUBYFALLSFIREWORKS.

ROCK CITY

RUBY FALLS

FIREWORKS.

ROCK! CITY!

RUBY! FALLS!

FIRE! WORKS!

ROCKFALLS! RUBYWORKS!

¡FIRE CITY!

G!E!

O!R!

G!I!

A!!!

TEN!

NES!

SEE!

!

I refuse to link to those attractions.

Our goal was to get home by 9. We got home at 10:30.

The Volunteer State struck again.

Other than the ubiquitous ads for the two main Lookout Mountain attractions that began near Scottsboro, Alabama, and sundry pyrotechnic supermarkets that drove Renée crazy, there was a massive traffic jam in Chattanooga.

We tried to select an alternative route, but Google Maps’ navigation kept insisting we get on I-24 in the middle of the jam.

Finally, at a traffic light, I took matters in my own hands and created my own route.

The rest of the ride was mostly uneventful. I timed the distance between an imaginary place in my novel and a real place someone had less than 30 minutes to reach. It’s impossible in 2007 without going over 80 mph. I’m going to adjust that to 35. I did it in 38 at about 78 mph and a few slowdowns. I think 35 is doable on a dry day with light traffic.

And here we are. It’s now after 3 a.m. and, if you don’t count this as Tuesday yet, I have two vacation days yet before the big, fantastic changes in 2015.

This certain has been a ride, figuratively and literally.

Here’s to this year going out in style, and hopefully, a lot of hours of sleep before it’s back to the newsroom.

Rock City. Ruby Falls. Fireworks.

there will be photos

Our story starts in Richmond on Friday, because of course my wedding had to involve Richmond in some form or fashion. I headed back to my old stomping grounds in Church Hill to have my favorite, formerly friendly neighborhood, barber cut my hair. He went out of his way to make it into the glorious beard you can see in the photo I posted yesterday. It was the most intense barber visit I’ve ever had. Ben having to work his way through more than four months of unbridled hair growth probably aided in that.

Afterward, my destination was Craig’s house. My mom’s bus arrived in Richmond on Saturday and I figured the easiest way to do everything was to just be in Richmond already. Also, I had no idea exactly how any sort of bachelor party would happen so I thought being in Richmond one day and Charlottesville the other would be the best course of action.

It would have helped if I remembered to charge my phone.

While my phone was dead, Craig and I went to Friday Cheers downtown to see St. Paul and The Broken Bones. I needed a good concert in my system. Of course I have their album now. We got drinks afterward with some friends. I would have grabbed more people but my phone was beyond doornail at this point. After that, I got a pretty good night’s sleep. I’m glad I did because I needed it Saturday.

Where do I start with Saturday? Would it be me slightly fretting over not getting a refund back yet from the University of Virginia? Would it be me being in Richmond way, way longer than I expected? Would it be getting to the reception hall late and the Fry’s Spring Beach Club’s coordinator freaking out because there was miscommunication? Would it be that we never got a chance to map out moving the wedding entirely there? Would it be at 6 a.m. Sunday, when I thought everything was fine until the food arrived entirely too early?

I think some people will talk about how stressed out I was for quite a while.

But it all worked out. At UVa, the trees in the garden contracted fire blight, a disease that makes them look like they’ve been burned. The best plan of action to save the entire tree is to aggressively cut the portions that were stricken. It’s currently a lovely promenade of half-dead sticks. Additionally, the forecast varied wildly from high 90s and incredibly humid, like some days in the middle of last week; mid-80s and stormy, like some of the later days last week; and a what seemed like an impossibility: times of clouds and sun with a high of 78.

That was exactly what we got.

Despite the torrential rains, dead trees, panic and literal last-minute changes, our wedding was outdoors with living trees on the second most pleasant day so far this June. The first was 75 and partly cloudy on June 1, this blog’s anniversary.

Much of the day is a blur, obviously. But it was such a great day in Fry’s Spring. Some people I have known for years mentioned that until Sunday, they hadn’t seen me smile that much. Or ever. Of course I was: I told myself 12 years ago I was going to marry that woman and here we are! It was the happiest day of my life thus far.

And I had a pincord suit with a matching hat. And white shoes.

The next day, yesterday, was my birthday and it was more of us starting to catch our breaths. We’re continuing that today. I can’t remember the last time I hadn’t done more than go out on the deck by 2:40 p.m.

Well, I bet you’re looking for photos. As I said in the title, there will be photos. A ton of them are on Facebook and I’m giving people a day or so to send me their favorites to the wedding email before I go through them all and post some. Also, I should have some from Ryan next week or so.

Other than that, I need to get that typewriter fixed so I can start sending out thank you letters.

And get ready for work Thursday.

the less than epic adventures of elliott and dave

A few years ago, I promised Falyn’s future siblings-in-law, Tim and Cathy, that I would visit them. They lived in Manassas at the time.

Years passed. They moved to Nashville.

It may take me a while, but I make good on my promises.

I hit the road last Friday with Dave, who was a coworker until earlier that week. He lived in Nashville before and offered to come with me. I was looking for someone to come along, as I figured one person wasn’t going to make it and another said he couldn’t (but swears I never asked him because he’s full of lies).

I was a sub-supervisor of sorts to Dave. I got to direct his work at times but he was in theoretically in another department in the same newsroom. If I were inclined, I could draw an organizational chart but I’m making an effort to not be as boring as I am. It’s not going so well. If you know me, you know I’m not only drawing this chart in my head, I’m choosing the typography.

But I digress.

Somehow, Dave and I became friends. It was probably our mutual love of music and hatred of everything else. And everyone.

On the way down, we passed through the area that’s the setting of my novel. Since we didn’t take U.S. 58 through Grayson Highlands State Park, this doesn’t fully count as the final redo of that trip. I had forgotten how beautiful it is down there, though, and I’m looking forward to finally finishing it up.

Hours later, we were in Knoxville. We waited until Tennessee to get lunch because I needed to be out of Virginia before I stopped. That took a lot of effort since I’m more that 200 miles northeast of Bristol.

Ah, the joys of living in a deceptively large triangular state.

Dave led us to some place downtown and we wandered around on foot to find food. We wound up at a gastropub. Stevie Ray Vaughn blasting. ESPN deconstructing an injury. Ham and cheese sandwich with an unexpected over easy egg tucked inside. Charming accents.

We then went to the Sunsphere. On the way there, I wondered if having the World’s Fair was like having the Olympics as far as decaying remnants an a hit to the municipal budget. Knoxville did a good job of redeveloping the area but I did expect the sphere to be a bit more prominent. I did the touristy things and took a few photos from the top, which were nearly the only photos I took. I made a point to use my phone sparingly and I have noticed that people are beginning to experience things but staring at their phones the entire time.

Surprisingly, there wasn't a wig to be found

I was going to fix these photos to compensate for the gold window tint and such but, no.

Since it's in the Great Valley, I think you can typically see the Great Smoky Mountains.

Apparently, one of the Sunsphere’s selling points is that, on a clear day, you can see the Great Smoky Mountains.

Finally, after about eight hours and another time zone, Nashville. It was my longest drive since my four-hour retreat from Jacksonville last summer.

It was fun.

Especially after I purchased this

Later, I had it aged in an oak barrel and it was delicious.

It tastes like sweat and regret. Don’t ask what the spice is.

BECAUSE HOW COULD I NOT BUY THIS?

Later that night, I was in an airport, as Cathy was coming back from Mississippi. I should not have been in an airport at that time.

Even later, we headed to Five Points and I met up with a friend from Richmond who was visiting his sister. Because you should understand how my life is a closed loop at this point.

I may as well point out now that, because Dave is the type of person I hang out with, I’ve explained this weekend to a good chunk of the staff already, including taking a brief nap in a Subway/gas station. It’s a good thing that journalism is the least professional profession.

The next day, I had Nashville hot chicken from Prince’s, which is apparently awesome. Hot chicken was great and, due to my fingers being greasy, the photos never happened.

If you don’t know what hot chicken is, it’s fried chicken with a spicy breading. I presume it is marinated in it because it’s spicy through and through.

You know how I love my spicy food. I need this shizz in Virginia, like yesterday. Or I need to move to Nashville because, by this point, I totally had a mancrush on the city. It’s now my third favorite city after New York (2) and Richmond (1). Sorry, New Orleans.

Anyway, I just discovered there is Nashville hot fish and I now wish I had it since Renée is allergic to fish and SHE HAS NO IDEA HOW MUCH OF A SACRIFICE I HAVE MADE TO NOT EAT FISH SO SHE DOESN’T DIE. THE DEGREE OF HOW BADLY I WANT A CATFISH, TROUT, WHITING OR SALMON RIGHT NOW IS LITERALLY MAKING ME TWITCH.

But I digress.

Later in the day, Tim and I headed to a brewery to see 2/3 of his roommates play. They are called the Wooly Mamas. They’re pretty rad and from Manassas, hence why Isaac and Tim know them. Remember: My life is a poorly written Charles Dickens novel.

The beer here is delicious.

Another example of my lack of desire to take great photos this weekend.

Afterward, we headed to a house party since it was one of the band members’ birthday. We were supposed to start there and bar hop but the cabs never came. Eventually, we worked our way back to the house and, the next morning, it was time to head back to Charlottesville.

I would say the weekend went too fast but it was basically a day longer than any trip I’ve ever taken to New York and New Jersey. Speaking of that, I haven’t been to Newark or New York in more than a year. I used to say a year without being in New York is a year wasted. I should visit some of my Jersey brothers on an extended weekend and head into the city. Also, I really need to head up to Boston one of these days. It’s a nine-hour drive. I now regret promising my mom I would spend an upcoming five days off in and around Hampton Roads. I do have three vacation days left though. …

But I digress.

I kinda wish I named this blog “but i digress” back in 2004.

The ride back was uneventful. Much like going to New Orleans with Joseph, Dave offered to drive part of the way. I declined. He did bring up another aspect of the weekend.

“Ready to move a couch when we get back at midnight?”

I had purchased Dave’s couch as we never got around to buying one, didn’t think one would fit and would like one when we have a full-sized house toward the end of the month.

I don’t know how I still had the strength to haul the couch out of Dave’s house and into my apartment. It managed to fit. It was in an odd spot until earlier this week. I was going to make it less awkward today — along with doing the dishes, cleaning the house and doing laundry — but only laundry happened. Today was my first true decompression day since the trip; the remainder of the chores have to wait till Sunday.

As I mentioned a couple of times before, Dave is heading to Oregon. I didn’t exactly know when he was leaving.

“Well, this probably is the last time we’ll see each other,” he said after we got his couch into my place.

He was right. I’m not going to Oregon just to visit him and he won’t come all the way this way to visit me. Since we both are degenerate transients, we’ll probably cross paths again by happenstance.

I did hope he wasn’t leaving so soon. I wanted a couple more evenings on his porch before I faced the reality that, despite having a handful of friends here, I don’t have a go-to person in Charlottesville at the moment.

“I’ll probably continue to harass you electronically,” he continued.

Ah, technology.

At least there’s that.

And then that was it. I grabbed the rest of my stuff out of my car. His station wagon rounded the corner and disappeared from view. I went inside.

If anything, last weekend showed me that, regardless of how long or short the relationship is, it is easy to have a profound effect on someone’s life. My innermost circle of friends consist of people with whom I know I could take a road trip or people I’d take a road trip to see.

Something will happen. Dave and I will cross paths again. For now, it’s time to focus on what adventures lie ahead. For starters, all this wedding stuff needs to be nailed down and this bachelor party in Cheyenne, Wyo., need to be planned.

Yes. Cheyenne.

I wonder if they have hot chicken.