Holy Toledo, I’m in the Wrong Car

As I got off the chair lift up over the par-3 course and looked off the bluff over hazy Lake Michigan which, along with the sky, glowed with every shade of blue, I reflected on how far I’d come from that exhausted soul in D.C.

Views from the train–West Virginia.

After leaving Aimee off at Raegan International, I made my way back towared Union Station and prepared for my first overnight train ride. I stopped in a market and bought a sandwich, an apple, and some chips, and I threw in a small bottle of whiskey in case I needed help falling asleep.

They boarded the train and I shuffled my way onto a packed car and sat next to a woman eating a Big Mac. At least I got a window seat, I thought.

Maybe you can tell me how a guy with as much student loan debt as I have can misinterpret instructions so badly as to get in the Chicago car when his ticket is for Toledo. I thought they meant toward Chicago, not to Chicago. Anyway, I raised my hand during the attendent’s final lecture about no smoking and find your closest exit. He called on me like a home-room teacher in middle school. “I think I made a mistake,” I said. “I’m going to Toledo.” Continue reading

How to View the National Mall

After Aimee and I were treated to surprise mariachi on the New York subway we boarded the Amtrak in Penn Station and bumbled our way down to Washington D.C. Aimee got our her smartphone, as she does, and navigated us over to Columbia Heights where we stayed with my good friend Callie from back home in Central Florida. Callie works with the government to try and improve standardized testing across the nation, is heavily involved in mentorship programs in Washington, taught English for two years in Japan, and also plays golf.

Whoever’s plate this is will have to sue me to take it down.

When we emerged from the subway onto the bright, hot street, life moved at a different pace. The power walking necessary to not get knocked aside in Boston and New York City didn’t jibe here. Rows of pedestrains ambled around us clapping their flipflops and yakking on their phones. We couldn’t pass or weave and had to settle into a languid stroll. We were back in the South. Continue reading

America So Far

Dear Reader,

This morning I woke up in Chicago with no immediate plans, no train tickets booked, no parades or weddings to get to or airports to visit. After the past two weeks of constant movement, this opportunity to rest, recharge, and ruminate on my experiences is a welcome respite from the quick pace of the trip so far.

The past two weeks have simultaneously flown by and been jam packed with diverse and edifying experiences. I met the crunchy hippies of Vermont, the simple folk of New Hampshire who live by one motto: “Live free or die.” I chilled with Ben Franklin and Paul Revere in Boston, went to New York City and wandered the hard streets of Brooklyn, walked the hipster haven of Williamsburg, dropped my jaw before the neon metropolis of Manhattan. In D.C. I slogged across the National Mall through heat and chaffing to pay homage to our nation’s greatest figures. I rode the train, flew on three planes, hopped in my buddy’s rental car in Michigan to see the charming college town of Ann Arbor, the National Lakeshore with its humongous sand dunes and bluffs overlooking Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan, the tough downtown of Detroit whose streets are so quiet you can hear the buildings whisper stories of a golden past. Continue reading

Close Lobos and the New York Subway

The story of my 43 hours in New York City really begins at the end, as Aimee and I rode the subway out of Crown Heights in Brooklyn toward Penn Station. Feet sore, eyes rolled backward, speech garbled and brains short circuiting, we jostled listlessly to the back and forth of the subway car, our painfully heavy bags at our feet. I looked up and noticed a Mexican man, serious and sombreroed, standing against the door. Two more appeared and…

     It’s not that important that the first time I saw New York City from the ground happened when Aimee and I emerged from the subway onto the streets of Crown Heights. I felt a bit overwhelmed. Pedestrians filled the streets in all directions–coming at me, away from me, crossing the street, exiting doorways. Four-story apartment buildings lined every avenue with countless markets, cleaners, coffee shops and mystery establishments beneath them. Each building had a front stoop, fence, and bars on the door. We walked toward Aimee’s old friend Joe’s apartment about seven blocks away where we stayed for the two nights, and the bustle never let up.
     Nor is it important that the guys where we stayed were playing Magic the Gathering and watching a live feed of the Mortal Kombat World Championships from Las Vegas. They were good guys, and I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions about them or the city. Aimee and I set our bags down in their flat and went looking for excitement.
     It hardly even matters that a couple hours later, while searching frantically for a bar to a buy a beer so Aimee could use the bathroom, we stumbled into Trash Bar, rated by The Village Voice as the number one punk bar in NYC. When I found out about their distinction, for fear of getting my head butted in, I turned to Aimee and said, “let’s chug this and go.”

The Ghosts of Boston’s Past

Wafer graves, with the Franklin plot there in the middle

Boston straddles the line between history and modernity, keeping one foot planted in the American Revolution and the other in the consumer culture fundamental to our post-industrial society. I know this because yesterday I took the walking tour with Ian “Meat” Miller, 10-year Bostonian, as a guide.

Aimee and I met Ian (they’re cousins, by the way) in Boston Commons where we picked up The Freedom Trail, established in 1953, and followed the red line–sometimes paint, sometimes brick–around the city. It led us first to the Granary Burial Ground where headstones look like wafers–thin and stone gray–and we found the graves of Paul Revere, John Hancock, and the Franklin family plot less one important Benjamin. A little girl left a penny face out on the Benjamin marker and said to her daddy “I did it!” then jumped down from the stone step. I slid in to snap a picture. Continue reading

Good Times at the Liberty Hotel

An impromptu Haney on the Train theme song. A dancing Eleni. B House got spliced in. Ian’s belly again. The theme song again. And again.

Why did you bring Aimee? Toft asks. For the companionship and ‘cuz she’s awesome.

And so someone could snap a photo of my first ride on the train heeyaw!

Toft plays at the Liberty Hotel


On July 6, our good friend Toft Willingham, producer, engineer, and lead singer of Spiritual Rez, happened to play a solo acoustic set at the Liberty Hotel in Boston, which is a converted prison. We sat in the courtyard in the cool, breezy, sunny Boston afternoon and drank beers brewed in Nantucket and ate oysters plucked from Nantucket Bay while Toft sang for the crowd. Here’s a sampling of the afternoon.

Check out the crowd pan at 2:08. My apologies to Ian “Meat” Miller, drummer of Spiritual Rez, for the belly zoom at 2:22.

After the Parade

On the Fourth of July, as part of my nascent and ongoing search for America, we went to my mom’s hometown of Woodsville for the largest parade in New Hampshire. The town itself is pretty dinky–a main drag with some restaurants and gift shops, an old train station converted to a plant nursery, three blinking yellow lights next to the WalMart which moved in to siphon money out of the local economy–but you’d be amazed at the crowds of people turning out for the event. “I don’t know where the hell all those people come from,” my Uncle Bob said. He entered the parade on his tractor and came bumbling down the street toward the bridge over the Connecticut River and on into Vermont.

We saw more than tractors, as the pictures can attest. There were the requisite shriners in their tiny motor cars, the clowns and motocyclists wheeling uncomfortably close to the children lining the streets grabbing candy, a whole battery of military trucks, local elder brass bands and men in the VFW regalia, politicians in the convertibles and firetrucks from all the surrounding towns. Continue reading

The Cult of the Still-Beating Trout Heart

He pulled the fish out of that there water.

Traveling with my older brother Greg is always…interesting. When he, his girlfriend Jordan, and my mom picked me up in Burlington, it didn’t take long for Greg, in the driver’s seat through the green mountains, to lean his head to me in the backseat and say, “I’ve got to tell you what I did.”

“Oh boy,” the ladies said. I put down my smartphone and gave him my attention.

“I caught a trout out of the river below Aunt Judy’s house, and I cut it open and cleaned it right there, and I pulled out its heart, and it was still beating, and I popped it in my mouth and swallowed it.” Continue reading

Vermont and New Hampshire

View on Flickr.

You’ll see a variety of photos in this album. Some are the sunsets over Windmill Bay on Lake Champlain at my Uncle Dave’s house and photos of the marina at the corner of New York, Vermont, and Canada. (Fun fact: gas in Canada is something like $8.50 a gallon, so the Quebecians drive down into Vermont to fill up for less than half that amount.) Some photos are of that tie dye shop I wrote about earlier. Then there’s the parade in my mom’s home town of Woodsville, NH, Aunt Jane’s house in Warren, NH with the mountain view and the graveyard behind, Aunt Judy’s house in Bath, NH with the big beautiful property on the Ammonoosuk River, and the aftermath of the wicked surprise storm that blew down off the mountain on the evening of the Fourth and toppled trees all over Aunt Judy’s property with 100 mph winds.

Postcards from New England

My first batch of postcards. I sent four from Vermont and snapped the photos using my iPad. I sent six from New Hampshire and photographed them with my camera. They came out blurry and I lost three somehow somewhere in the transfer process. Now I know. IPad’s the way to go.