Ruminations from The Road

These entries will be snippets and observations from the road trip I took with my brother last week. We covered 1600 miles, five states and every subject under the sun. I'll post these as long as I can remember them. Enjoy...

Entry Seven

Our goal on day two was to make it to Oklahoma City. Kyle wanted to spend the night in a decent hotel, eat a good steak and then smoke a cigar—all designed to give ourselves a reward for a hard day of driving. Naturally, I was on board with every aspect of his plan. As we approached Oklahoma City, we decided to get to the eastern side of town before we stopped so that we would not get stuck in any traffic on our way out the next morning. It was, unfortunately, one plan too many. As we looped around the city limits I noticed we had suddenly, with no warning, been dumped on to a toll road. This particular road was completely void of civilization: no restaurants, no hotels and no discernible exit for over 50 miles. When we finally transitioned from the toll road we were only thirty miles from Tulsa so we decided to wait and stop there. Adjusting our plans would prove our maturity and inner strength.

We spotted an intersection that seemed to have a lot going on so we pulled in to secure room and board. The only hotel option was a Super 8 Motel and they only had one room remaining—a non-smoking room with two beds. And they accepted dogs. It was soon clear why they there was only one room available—this particular motel seemed to be a very popular layover for truckers. The parking lot was full of tractor rigs (the kind that pull 18 wheel trailers) and we had trouble finding a place to park. Walking past all of the loitering truckers with two poodles in tow did not cause quite the stir I had anticipated. This was fortunate because our room was located next to the laundry room and there was a group of truckers doing laundry all night long, leaning on the fence overlooking the “pool” (don’t ask), drinking and smoking cigarettes.

Our room reeked of cigarettes proving that being surrounded by smoking rooms is the equivalent of being in a smoking room. By the time we got settled it was late and we were not real high on our prospects of finding a restaurant open at 10:30 p.m. Instead of a nice juicy steak and a glass of wine we enjoyed a hot meal at The Village Inn. Standing in front of our room to smoke a cigar seemed, well, dangerous, so we skipped that part of the plan as well. It was not the night we had anticipated but, frankly, living to check out the next day seemed like a monumental accomplishment so we took our victory as it was presented.

The hotel parking lot at night.


Ruminations from The Road

These entries will be snippets and observations from the road trip I took with my brother last week. We covered 1600 miles, five states and every subject under the sun. I'll post these as long as I can remember them. Enjoy...

Entry Six
Every trip needs at least one scary moment, one (mis)adventure that can be embellished and exaggerated over time to mythical proportions. Outside of the hotel choices which cannot be considered for this category strictly because they were choices, Kyle and I’s big moment came a few miles outside of Amarillo, Texas the afternoon of our second day on the road. I was driving, admiring the gigantic wind turbines that stretch across the otherwise flat landscape of the panhandle of Texas when the northern sky started changing from light blue to purple. It seemed safely in the distance so we weren’t concerned, especially since the southern sky to our right was still clear and cloudless. That didn’t last long. The buildup was quick and it wasn’t long before we knew we were headed into a major storm. By the time the wind hit us and tried to push us off the road we were between exits and committed. Soon we started getting pelted by waves of rain and I felt like we had just entered the rinse cycle of a car wash. The visibility was measured in feet and I had to use all my aging faculties to keep us on the road. I could see the yellow line at the front left edge of the car so I used that as my north star. Then came the hail. It arrived in swells, leaving for a few minutes only to return and pound us some more. Our first thought was our own personal safety followed closely by, “What is this hail doing to the outside of this brand new car?” (Sorry dad, not once did either of us say, “Aw, hail!”.) I glanced over at Kyle and he was alternating between rubbing his temples and pinching the bridge of his nose. I guessed he was trying to push the visions from his brain of a brand new Cadillac DTS with a “golf ball” exterior but I’m not sure it was working. There was no place to pull over, no underpass under which to seek refuge; we were in it to the end but the end was slow in arriving.

Of course we eventually drove out of it. I have no idea how long the storm lasted. It felt like three days to us but it probably was no more than 30 minutes. When we were finally safely under blue skies again, we pulled off the interstate and bucked up our courage to look at the destruction. Miraculously the exterior was perfect, not a ding or bump. The only damage incurred was the plastic under-plate next to the front left wheel had been beaten to the point of breaking loose and was dragging on the ground. Kyle bought some plastic ties, cinched it up and we were back on our way. Granted, not an incredible, life-changing adventure but it will always be our adventure. Let the embellishing begin...

Maybe we should have seen it coming...


Entry One Hundred Four: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[This entry is the current story I am working on. This is thirty-three of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

Chapter Fourteen
To stave off the omnipresent boredom and help ignore the ache in his gut, Adam began to branch out of his routine, trying things that only made sense in his unique situation. He broke into his neighbor’s houses, poked around in their belongings and sat on their furniture. At first he was afraid he’d find something alarming but soon realized everyone on his street was just as boring as Adam Mahoney. The one good thing about his adventures into their homes was he was able to find more supplies that kept him from having to visit the IGA again. He procured enough frozen meat and vegetables to keep him nourished for two weeks after his supplies started running thin. But everything about it wasn’t positive. After some time he limited the break-ins to need, less out of respect for the long-gone and more out of a desire to not be confronted by all of the family photographs lining walls, dressers and tables. They were painful reminders, ones that tore into him with an ache that refused to dull with time. He needed to stay busy but he was sure he could find things to do that didn’t require trips down Memory Lane.

Another activity he added to his routine was taking DVD’s to Sears and watching them on the big screen televisions in their showroom. He found a comfortable, leather recliner in the furniture section of the store and dragged it in front of the biggest TV, enjoying a movie or two without the worry that he would fall back into his earlier sluggard routine, something he did not want to repeat. It was strange the first time he tried it, sitting all alone in the aisle of a large department store, but the excitement of watching movies on a larger screen in High Definition quickly usurped the oddness of it all and he allowed himself to enjoy the movie with no lingering emotional side affects. There were no lines in the bathroom and he could stop and start the movie when necessary, which he did occasionally to ride a scooter he had absconded from the toy department across the linoleum floors and through the aisles. He eventually added speakers to the large television and created his own home theatre with surround sound. The movies were a diversion he allowed himself twice per week, limiting himself merely to save its novelty. If this was his life he had to stretch out new activities as long as he could, whether it be passive movie-watching or an engaging hobby.

Adam had always wanted a hobby; something he could work on in his off time between his job and eating. He’d never endeavored to start one and now that he had more than enough free time he made a concentrated effort to come up with something to collect or create. Like most kids, he had built model cars and collected baseball cards but it wasn’t an obsession; just something to do with his friends. Most of the cards ended up as flaps clipped to the wheels of his bicycle and discarded when they wore down and didn’t make enough noise. All of the models were eventually thrown out as he outgrew the desire to sit and glue plastic together. He laughed thinking about that, especially remembering all those folks who had spent all that money to collect, trade and cherish old player cards for investment purposes. They always said the cards were only worth what someone was willing to pay for them and his situation placed him in a unique position to comment on that canard. “Since I am the only person left to buy the cards and, thereby, am the only person who can establish their worth, I, Adam Mahoney, deem all baseball, football, basketball and soccer trading cards worthless.” It was his first glimpse of power as the last man standing on the face of the earth.

All words and images ©2007/J. Colle


Ruminations from The Road

These entries will be snippets and observations from the road trip I took with my brother last week. We covered 1600 miles, five states and every subject under the sun. I'll post these as long as I can remember them. Enjoy...

Entry Five
My shampoo was confiscated in Jacksonville. I forgot to pour some in a smaller container and got busted by TSA. As I prepared for bed in the Ramada Limited, I opened my travel Zip-lock bag and discovered my deodorant had exploded (The heat? The lack of humidity? The interesting, hard-to-define odor of our hotel room?). Without either of these items, my “overnight bag” now consisted of a nail file, a partially used mini-lotion from a previous hotel visit and my toothbrush (which now tasted like anti-perspirant, the upside being my teeth did not sweat while I slept).

Ruminations from The Road

These entries will be snippets and observations from the road trip I took with my brother last week. We covered 1600 miles, five states and every subject under the sun. I'll post these as long as I can remember them. Enjoy...

Entry Four
There was a purpose behind the road trip. My brother, having finished up a Fellowship in Phoenix, was now headed to Missouri and, at long last, gainful employment. He had loaded one car on the moving truck which allowed his wife and daughter to fly to their new home but he needed to drive his new car and bring their dogs—two poodles named Penelope and Einstein. It wasn’t until we pulled off the interstate the first night into a one road town called Holbrook, Arizona that we fully grasped the visual vibe we were giving off on our travels. Two middle-aged men in a brand new red Cadillac (white, leather interior) with two small poodles in tow. After we chose a motel based on outward appearances as well as their willingness to allow pets, I mentioned my concern to my brother about how we might be perceived as traveling partners. I added, “At least we look enough alike that people will surmise we are brothers.” He responded by reminding me that as couples grow old together they tend to start looking alike. And he grinned.

When he returned to the car after checking-in to the hotel, his first words were, “The Ramada Limited is not as nice on the inside as it is the outside.” Then, as a punctuation to our earlier discussion, he told me there was a sign at the front desk that informed all customers there were “No refunds after the first hour.” There is nothing quite like living a sitcom.

Downtown/all of Holbrook, Arizona.

The winner of The Truth in Advertising Award: Ramada Limited (now with less internet!).

A dinosaur across the street from our hotel, eating breakfast.


Ruminations from The Road

These entries will be snippets and observations from the road trip I took with my brother last week. We covered 1600 miles, five states and every subject under the sun. I'll post these as long as I can remember them. Enjoy...

Entry Three
As we approached Phoenix by air, the pilot made the announcement that the current temperature at our destination was 110 degrees. It was actually 114 degrees but, honestly, I doubt the measly four ticks on the thermometer made that much difference. As I departed the plane and started the short walk through the tube that leads to the Phoenix terminal I felt like I was in a convection oven and I was deeply concerned that my internal organs were being baked (or convected or... whatever). And all those folks who throw out “but it’s a dry heat” need to come experience it before they rattle off inane comments they picked up on the internet. Getting hit by the 114 degree wind as you cross the street is the equivalent of the first step into a dry steam room. Your breathing gets shallow and it feels like you got a high-voltage blast from a tanning booth. And then you realize that the asphalt you are walking on is sticky because it is in a constant state of melting. And this is the fifth largest city in the United States? Whose idea was it to build a big city in the desert? And why are all these people still here? These were questions that leaked from my mind, never to return, as we started heading north...

There's always that...

Over the years I have made a few attempts to get signed by a literary agent, researching agent listings, setting up spreadsheets to follow progress, massaging and re-massaging query letters to make my writing projects sound brilliant and unstoppable. Alas, there has been no success but yesterday I received a rejection letter in a rare category: it was nice, encouraging and not a form letter. It was still a rejection letter, of course, but I actually felt pretty good after reading it. Either I have been beat down to the point of "a little means a lot" or I can appreciate that a non-form letter is a small sign of encouragement in the brutal world of literary representation and book publishing. Glass half empty? Meet glass half full. When the bell sounds, come out fighting...


Ruminations from The Road

These entries will be snippets and observations from the road trip I took with my brother last week. We covered 1600 miles, five states and every subject under the sun. I'll post these as long as I can remember them. Enjoy...

Entry Two
The aisle between the seats on an airplane are extremely narrow. They must have a “width of buttocks” maximum for the flight attendants. A person can only be so wide before they are a hazard to the aisle sitters. I know they don’t have that requirement for the people buying the tickets. When our plane landed in Birmingham, Alabama I had no need to get up from my aisle seat since I was staying on the plane as it continued to Phoenix. As soon as the “ding” sounded to release the departing passengers, my personal space was severely violated by a large man who promptly jumped into the aisle and then let people pass him until he could reach his suitcase stored in an overhead bin. As people worked their way around him he began leaning back toward me, poor defenseless aisle sitter, his massive, denim covered derrière filling over half my already cramped space. His actions caused me to have to lean toward hairy-armed man which created an immediate involuntary reaction of my arm reaching up across my body, resting my left hand on my right shoulder. With the crook of my arm near my face, I had a ready made nose shield in case the large man broke wind. I was only mildly frightened and it was all over in a few minutes. I began looking forward to the wide open spaces of the Midwest.

Ruminations from The Road

These entries will be snippets and observations from the road trip I took with my brother last week. We covered 1600 miles, five states and every subject under the sun. I'll post these as long as I can remember them. Enjoy...

Entry One
The fellow next to me on the flight to Birmingham suffered from “space creep.” Before I sat down he had the arm rest (that serves as a minimal personal space barrier) raised and out of the way. He was working a sudoku puzzle the entire flight and his right arm kept breaking into my non-barricaded area, his arm hairs grabbing the hair on my arms, linking like Velcro and sending small, nauseating ripples up the back of my neck. No matter how far I pulled my arm away from him he filled the gap and he never seemed to notice there was an issue. Apparently I was the only one bothered. It just gives me another reason to hate sudoku puzzles.


A Quick Howdy

I am currently in Phoenix, sitting in my brother's soon-to-be former office at Barrow Neurosurgical Associates, waiting for him to finish his day and his fellowship. The flight was fine. Flying stand-by is always a challenge but all went smoothly from Jacksonville to Birmingham to Phoenix. We plan on heading out tonight in an attempt to get a small jump on our 1600-mile journey.

As expected, I already have some blog fodder. Traveling is inspirational if you pull your head out of your book (or magazine) and unplug your iPod long enough to observe. Some things you may be hearing about in the future:

1. Why people in airplanes think the back of my chair is a handle;
2. Exploring the possibility that there is a "width of rump" requirement for airline personnel;
3. The benefits of a breakfast cigar.

Until we speak again…

Taking a Break

I will be out of blogging commission for the next few days. I am flying out to Phoenix this morning so that I can drive with my brother to Cape Girardeau, Missouri where he will begin his career as a neurosurgeon. It is roughly 1600 miles so I expect there will be plenty of blog fodder created before the trip is complete. If you think about it, pray for our safety and that I learn to love Penelope and Einstein (our canine traveling companions). Until next week...


Tuesday Night Thought

The only people who see the whole picture are the ones who step out of the frame.

Salman Rushdie
The Ground Beneath Her Feet



If looking forward is looking north, then, to round out the metaphor, looking back would be looking south. What does that make looking in the present? Can we actually do that? I’m not sure we are ever in the present long enough to look at it. Within a blink it becomes the past and we have moved incrementally north. On Father’s Day I find myself very sensitive to this moving target. I tend to focus a lot of my time, energy and prayers north, dealing with my three almost-grown children and their slowly forming plans for the future, trying to encourage and help without getting in the way. (Which, by the way, is a ridiculously delicate balancing act.) Some days it is consuming, often to the point that it bothers me that I care and dwell and grind so hard about things that are, in the big picture, pretty much out of my control. (I am betting that the lack of control is the number one cause of the grinding. Just a guess.) Is this natural? Am I too involved? Am I wasting my time on things that are already in place and rocketing toward predetermined destinations? Long ago I made the resolution that my career goal was to release into the world (at the proper time) three humans that were ready to be positive, solid contributors in the world. Three adults who would be focused on others, aware of the mark they could potentially leave in their path and desire to make a difference. And above all, be tuned in to God’s direction in their lives—regardless of where it takes them. Maybe part of my angst is that this chapter is drawing to a close. I can see it and, more importantly, I can feel it. Where does all of this weird mix of love, concern, hope, desperation and pride come from?

Oh yeah. My dad.

It is a rather tired cliché that we become our parents. It is also a tired cliché to wave off a tired cliché as meaningless since the cliché became a cliché because it is grounded in the truth. As I experience the winding down of a pretty remarkable season in my life, I am more aware than ever of my dad. I see him a lot more in the mirror. I hear him more and more as I speak. The kids are labeling my jokes as “Paw Paw Jokes” with alarming regularity. I have gained greater clarity of what he meant when he told me things years ago. And how he reacted to things. And how he responded to things. He makes more sense. He has to, otherwise I would have no way to explain myself (or at least anticipate that one day I will be able to explain my actions of today). I am so thankful that I am dealing with a heritage based on love and empathy instead of the all too common legacy of aloofness and lack of emotion. And for that I thank him from the bottom of my conflicted, loving, sympathetic heart. With more and more frequency the kids are telling me, “Oh my gosh, that sounded just like Paw Paw!” I calmly respond that I could do a lot worse than end up being like my dad. After a thoughtful pause they always say, “You’re right.”

Happy Father’s Day to the north, south, east and west. Pass it on...

Writing Quote for Casual Friday

"We're past the age of heroes and hero kings. If we can't make up stories about ordinary people, who can we make them up about?"

- John Updike


Don't Rain on My D.N.A.

I finally figured out a fundamental truth. There is a core nugget of humanity inside each of us that makes us who we are. It doesn’t matter if we are an electrician or a musician, we will react and respond to certain situations in certain ways because that is “just how we are.” When we are cut off in traffic, when we witness the birth of our child, when we see a sunset, when we see fireworks--our DNA is woven in such a way that we feel and sense things without much choice.

I hate parades. I can’t imagine a circumstance or profession that would cause me to feel differently when faced with huge, sweaty crowds and grown men on scooters. I don’t think my parents are very huge fans of parades either. I remember attending a few of them growing up but it was never a valued tradition or an event we could never pass up.

Is my deep, emotional response to parades influenced by my upbringing? Did their love/hate of parades taint the way I viewed them? What if I had been born into a family that planned parades for a living? Would I still hate parades? Would I be able to get past that emotion to carry on the family business? Or, because I am who I am, would I have begged off and gone to art school anyway? Would I then have ostracized myself from my parade loving family? Cut myself off from their respect and admiration? Would I then pass on my distaste for parades to my own children who in turn would be influenced by me in their opinions of their grandparents life work? What if one of my children has it in their DNA to love parades? Would they be able to express that in the hostile anti-parade environment I have established in our home? And when they finally “come out” as a parade lover, will that repair the fissures in my fractured relationship with my parents and have everyone talk to me again at the family reunions? And maybe, just maybe, all of this plays out because of who we are at our core.

Okay, I haven’t figured out squat.


Speech! Speech!

This time of year always brings a lot of commencement speeches to our attention—both in real life and on the internet. I found this one to be especially well done. Given the person delivering it and the audience she was speaking to, the poignancy is a nice added layer. Plus it has the option of reading or watching it (which is another nice thing about the internet). Enjoy...


Entry One Hundred Three: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[This entry is the current story I am working on. This is thirty-three of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

After his workout, Adam wasn’t ready to leave the gym. The thought of driving straight home after his shower didn’t appeal to him so he decided to explore the school and see what treasures he could discover in its deserted halls. The first corridor off the gym doors held the history classes. He remembered that a lot of the coaches taught history so their proximity to the locker rooms made sense. He started walking east, stopping and looking over classrooms when he had the urge, but mainly staying within the confines of the halls, the contents of the rooms not offering much of interest. He was an alumnus but felt very little nostalgia.

Somewhere near the middle of the school he came across the library. The sign over the door stated it was the “Media Center” but it had always been a library to him. Shelves of books, no matter how many computers were interspersed throughout, was not enough to warrant a name change, at least according to Adam and he was the only one who counted anymore. He walked in and for the first time the silence of the world seemed appropriate. He meandered through the rows of books, scanning titles and occasionally pulling a book down to thumb through. He had never been much of a reader because it had been too time consuming. Now, faced with nothing but time, the books still didn’t appeal to him. “Maybe I just don’t like to read.” And he was okay with that. He suddenly wanted a cigarette so he left the library and lit one in the hall.

Around the corner from the library was the cafeteria. It was the one place in the school that looked and felt the same to him based on his limited memory of high school. It was large, but smaller than he remembered, with high ceilings, all the tables lined up in rows with the chairs upside down on top of them. The maintenance crew had created the sculptures in order to mop the floors the night everything changed. He walked in through the double doors and stood still, finishing his smoke and thinking about how much activity that room would normally have sustained—laughter, flirting, fights, pranks, bullying, hiding, staring. It would never be that way again and it made Adam sad. He reached into his pocket for another cigarette and turned to leave but something on the wall that had been at his back made him stop. It was a large mural of the United States of America. It covered the entire wall and he had to step back deeper into the room to take it all in. It wasn’t drawn very well, almost crude in execution, probably created by the same artist who painted the bulldog in the weight room. Quality aside, the sheer size of it was impressive. Each state displayed its capitol, labeled and denoted by a star, plus a smaller graphic of some item or thing that represented that state. Georgia had a drawing of a peach, Texas an armadillo and Nevada a poker chip. Adam stood and stared, quietly smoking and examining the mural state by state. It wasn’t signed so he’d never know who created it. The only words were the labels for the capitols and the names of the states. The finished mural wasn’t much of a concept but Adam gave it an “A” for ambition and the diligence to get it up on the wall. “The United States of America.” He let that hang in the air. “I pledge allegiance to the mural of the United States of Adam Mahoney.” He saluted, flipped his cigarette butt in a water fountain and started walking back to the gym. He was suddenly ready to go home.

All words and images ©2007/J. Colle



In preparation for my daughter’s triumphal return home from college, my wife created a list of improvements and to-do’s to accomplish before she arrived at the house. One of my jobs was to move the blinds from her room, hang them in the garage (replacing the old, damaged blinds currently hanging there) and then hang a new set of blinds over her bedroom window. This was not a complicated chore since all the brackets and hardware were in place; it was just a small matter of sliding out and sliding in.

I measured (twice) to make sure I bought the correct replacement blind and travelled to Lowe’s for the purchase and subsequent trimming of the width. Back home with my purchase, I began the process by taking down the old blinds in my daughter’s room. I quickly figured out that it would be easier to transport the old blinds if I pulled them up and compressed them as far as I could, making them compact and less wobbly. I pulled the string down, hard, to roll them up and was suddenly falling back on the bed, my head throbbing and vision blurred. Apparently one of the brackets had come loose and the force of my pull had dislodged the blind and it had whacked me in the head. I was initially stunned but then grew scared when I realized I couldn’t see, at least I couldn’t see clearly. My vision was impaired, alternating between blurry and clear but with no ability to focus on anything for more than a second or two. I looked around the room, blinking, trying to regain any sort of visual clarity. “Oh Jesus, I can’t be blind, I can’t be blind. I need my eyes.” I was praying out loud, panicked and not sure what to do. No one else was home and all I could think was my life had changed in an instant.

I stumbled to my daughter’s bathroom, expecting to see a huge gash across my head and was surprised that, through the blur, all I could detect was a small slash of red near my hairline. Now I was confused. Did a glancing blow damage my eyesight that drastically? Is this one of those head shaking moments that no one will be able to explain? Then I started thinking more practically. How was I going to explain this to people? Blinded by the blind? Would people eventually make fun of me after a period of time? Why didn’t I learn to touch type? I pulled my glasses off to rub my eyes and when I reopened them, things were still blurry, but they weren’t as dizzying blurry; there was a consistency to the haze. As I reached to put my glasses back on, my thumb poked through the left side of the frame—right where one of the lenses was supposed to be. Apparently, the blow to my head had dislodged the left lens of my glasses and I had been looking through one lens with my right eye and looking through air with my left. I wasn’t blind after all, just temporarily broken. I was able to locate the missing lens on the floor, replaced it and relished the restoration of vision for a few minutes before I raised my hands in the air and let everyone in the house (which was no one) know, “I’m alright! Everything is fine! Nothing to see here. Move along.”

I see this as a sign that I should get back on those typing lessons.