The Album Challenge

So, as we all continue to wait out COVID-19, much of the country is looking to Facebook to provide needed escapism. Of course, if your Facebook feed is like mine, much of it is filled with political opinions regarding COVID-19 from a variety of sources who are just as clued in to epidemiology as you or I are. But hey, if they’re wearing scrubs and were ER physicians at one point in their lifetimes, they must know more than everyone else, right?

Anyway, I find that Facebook memes regarding COVID-19 are my personal favorite. The world is full of truly gifted comedians who just keep pumping these things out day after day by the dozens, and yet here I am still laughing. My personal favorite today is:

Image may contain: 4 people, meme, possible text that says 'PEOPLE WHO SAY CORONAVIRUS PEOPLE WHO SAY COVID-1 19 PEOPLE WHO CALL IT THE RONA දත'

I’ve always wanted to wear a cravat. And if my religion didn’t forbid smoking, a pipe is probably the way I would choose to ingest my daily tobacco allowance, so I think this meme has merit. However, I also own some golf shirts that would give me street cred cover to call it The Rona from time to time as well, so…

Anyway, a current Facebook trend is the Album Cover Challenge. The Album Cover Challenge says that each day for 10 days you should post an album cover that influenced your musical preferences throughout your life. You aren’t supposed to make a comment, you’re just supposed post an album cover and then let everyone else comment on how crappy your musical taste is.

Well screw that!

I blog and therefore, I will post all of my album covers at one time and I will comment on each and every one of them. So there!

(Yes, I’m a talker and I am just as bored of this COVID-19 quarantine as the rest of you. Commenting far and above what is necessary is what’s keeping me sane. So indulge me a little. Plus, if I don’t explain some of these…well, I just feel better commenting here and there.)

So without further ado, I will now present the top 10 music albums that have been most influential on my music listening over the course of my life. I will not go in order of current favorite, but rather chronologically. And who knows, maybe it will be more than 10 or maybe less. I don’t know.

Oak Ridge Boys X4 Autographed Signed Fancy Free Album Flat AFTAL ...

This is the first album I remember owning myself. The song was Elvira and I was eight-years-old. I played the living crap out of this album. I mean, to this day I worry that my brother Jerry might have recurring nightmares of being stuck in an Eastern European prison as the words, “Oom-papa, oom-papa, mow, mow” echo off the stone walls in time with the dripping water outside his cell. I loved this album and although I cringe a little when I hear that particular song today, I still have a great love of four-part harmony (not barbershop, so calm down Mike Bradley) that I believe began with Oak Ridge Boys. Harold Reid of the Statler Brothers died this week and it reminded me of this album and the Statler Brothers and Alabama and all the country groups I used to listen to religiously as a kid.

Young MC - Stone Cold Rhymin' [LP] - Amazon.com Music

In high school, I went through my rap phase. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as white as the next white guy and the rap music I loved was limited to the commercially successful rap that was packaged largely for the suburbs. But man, I loved Bust A Move. I still love Bust a Move. I have It Takes Two on my iPod, as well as the Run DMC/Aerosmith version of Walk This Way. I owned the 45 single of Parents Just Don’t Understand back before we learned that Will Smith had a real name and wasn’t actual royalty. But this album was my favorite and definitely got the most play during my high school days.

ERASURE - Innocents - Amazon.com Music

I still can’t explain what happened my junior and senior year when I became enamored with this album. I played it over, and over, and over. Not just to the point that I drove my family nuts. I played it so much that now if I hear songs from this album, I want to punch a hole in my wall. A Little Respect was the song, but the whole album was like a high school romance. Intense, powerful, and something I can’t explain to my children.

Ropin' the Wind by Garth Brooks on Amazon Music - Amazon.com

This marks the peak of my Garth phase that just about everyone my age went through at some point and time in the early ’90s. I think No Fences is a better album top to bottom, and I did purchase In Pieces after returning home from my mission, but this was the album that got the most play on my car stereo and was his current album when I liked Garth Brooks the most. Also, it should be mentioned that Papa Loved Mama is right up there with Goodbye Earl as one of the best upbeat songs about murder you’ll find.

I no longer care for Garth all that much. He’s as annoying as h**l to watch sing live. (I mean is there anyone who comes off more like a used car salesman when he tries to sing songs meant to tug at the heartstrings?) And I really got annoyed when he started releasing greatest hits collection after greatest hits collection and you had to buy each one in order to get the one new song he had produced. He was also one of the last holdouts with regard to iTunes. But if you go back to the early ’90s before all of that, he was pretty good. And I did play this album a lot as I drove around Eastern Arizona College in my father’s prized 1970 Chevy Nova in the years before I left on my mission.

Joe Diffie - Third Rock From The Sun (1994, CD) | Discogs
Byrd, Tracy - No Ordinary Man - Amazon.com Music

To understand the number of country albums that appear in the early part of this list, you have to understand that growing up in the small town where I did, we had two radio station options and both of them were country. It was kind of inevitable. So when I returned home from my mission, where my music selections consisted of hymns, Michael McLean and…pretty much Michael McLean and hymns, it was inevitable that I would jump as far into the genre I had been deprived of as possible. Neither of these artists have a song on my iPod currently. However, with Joe Diffie passing away recently from COVID-19, I have thought about adding John Deere Green and Pickup Man to my playlists. I haven’t done it yet, but I’ve thought about it. Tracy Byrd, on the other hand, no longer holds any interest for me. His album is kind of like that girl/guy you semi-dated back in college that you smile about real quick when you initially think of her/him, but then immediately shudder and thank all that is good in this earth that the relationship didn’t last.

Alan Jackson - The Greatest Hits Collection - Amazon.com Music

For the first ten years after I got married, I purchased every Alan Jackson CD that came down the pike. But the Greatest Hits Collection probably got the most play because it had most of his best songs as well as being the only album that the single Livin’ On Love appeared on. I don’t listen to much country today, but I still like his smooth voice and the easy melodies that he put out album after album. One of my favorite concert memories is going to see Alan and George Strait in Sun Devil Stadium when Abby was just a baby. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that all of those Alan Jackson CD’s are somewhere in my storage closet. I should go pull those out and…nah, it’d take way too much effort and I don’t even own a CD player anymore.

Brad Paisley - Time Well Wasted - Amazon.com Music
Brad Paisley - 5th Gear - Amazon.com Music

We’re gonna count these as one because I can’t decide which would be more representative. I listened to both of these, A LOT! Just ask my wife. Brad would be the last country artist I really consider myself a fan of and I think his lyrics are truly some of the most clever and effective out there. Plus, how many people can duet with B.B. King and hold their own on the guitar. Brad’s awesome and I still have a ton of his music on my playlists. Just ask my kids. (They are not fans, by the way.) The interesting thing about Brad Paisley is that he and I are roughly the same age. So as he was experiencing things in life that affected his music, they happened to line up with my life experiences, such as getting married, having kids, becoming more socially aware, etc. I’ll always feel connected to Brad even though he would probably consider that statement just a little bit stalkerish.

Chris Isaak - Best Of Chris Isaak | Releases | Discogs

Speaking of being a stalker, I have been to Chris Isaak concerts five times and, thanks to my wonderful brother and his husband, Kirt, I have met him and sat front row with my wife and son at one of those concerts. I have a signed picture on my wall (not in my bedroom, just clarifying). I actually have video of his base player’s guitar stalk swinging out over my head.

I knew who Chris Isaak was, barely, when I was in college. But in my late thirties I rediscovered him and realized how much I loved his music. Amazing guitar and catchy tunes. Plus, best rock-a-billy falsetto singer, hands down! Bottom line, he was a better Dwight Yoakam than Dwight Yoakam ever was.

VAULT: DEF LEPPARD GREATEST HITS (1980-1995) | Def Leppard
Album Covers - AC-DC - Back In Black (1980) Album Cover
Bon Jovi - Greatest Hits - The Ultimate Collection | Discogs

We’re going to count these three as one. I know it’s cheating, but…crap, I’m not even doing this on Facebook so…my blog, my rules. I’m almost ashamed to admit this, but I didn’t really listen to these artists, or anyone else in the big hair band genre until long after I was married. I knew who they were. I knew their songs, somewhat. But I just didn’t really have an interest. Now, I have all of these artists on my playlists while most of the music I listened to in high school and college has gone away. Go Figure! However, I still don’t like Guns & Roses, despite my wife’s affinity for Don’t Cry, November Rain, and Sweet Child o’ Mine. I just think Axl Rose’s voice is the musical equivalent of raking a cheese grader over a chalk board. But let ASU’s marching band play the first three notes of Highway to Hell, and I am ready to jam out to the three bands above all the way home (which is a three hour drive from Sun Devil Stadium.)

Basil Poledouris, Various Artists - Les Miserables - Amazon.com Music

This album is symbolic of my growing love of Broadway musicals. It started back in my 20’s but has only grown with the passing of time. I love music from a lot of the biggies: Phantom, Wicked, Dear Evan Hansen, Hamilton, Mary Poppins, Joseph, The Producers, and so many more. But I also love the experience of going to the theater and being taken away to another place in a way only live theater can. Assuming COVID-19 allows, The Band’s Visit is supposed to come to Gammage this season and I desperately want to get tickets. But so far, all of them pale in comparison to my first experience seeing Les Mis. I know it has to do with the power of the actual story, but the music of Les Mis is, in my opinion, inspired. I first heard it 25 years ago and yet I could still put on the soundtrack tomorrow, sit in my comfortable chair, and drift away. As long as it’s the original London cast that is. No Russell Crowe as Javert for me, thank you very much.

Seal - Soul (2008, CD) | Discogs

This is my last album on the list and my current obsession. I love the songs. I love his voice. But add his voice to R&B classics from the 1960’s and you have something special. This album actually represents my love of R&B in general. I have never really cared for Jazz, but I can groove to R&B all night long.

So there you have it. My answer to the Album Cover Challenge. Some of those listed make me nostalgic. Some just make me a little embarrassed. But, whether I like it or not, the above is a pretty good representation of my historical taste in music. Feel free to let me know how sad it is or simply laugh in private. I’m good either way. But right now, I just feel like plugging in my headphones and letting all thoughts of COVID-19 melt away. Because there is nothing better than music to do just that.

In Defense of the Politician

Have you ever noticed how much people who live in America claim it’s the greatest nation on earth? I live here and I think it’s pretty great and so I tend to agree (mainly out of national pride), but it’s a pretty common refrain among Americans. In fact, I’d be willing to bet you individuals from other nations who have had to deal with us Americans are probably pretty sick of hearing it.

But do you know what else is a pretty common refrain among Americans? That politicians suck! That anyone who has ever held political office should be thrown out and replaced by like-minded individuals who will actually work for the people who sent them there. You know, the voters!

You know what is also interesting, though? That the system works pretty much the way it’s supposed to. Majority voters in just about every congressional district and state are represented by people who act in a way their voters want them to. For instance, it is not uncommon to hear conservatives rail against dirty and corrupt liberal politicians they don’t like, such as Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer. It’s also fairly common to hear liberals cry out for the head of Mitch McConnell. But if you ask a majority of voters in San Francisco, New York or Kentucky about those individual politicians, you’ll find that they are pretty satisfied with the job their own representative is doing. So it’s not that we dislike all politicians, we just don’t like the ones who represent people who disagree with us.

Now, all of this quarreling about politics and who is right and who is of the devil is all well and good when times are normal, but when something like COVID-19 comes up, then…not so good. And when lives are literally on the line, it can become much more difficult to be the representative your constituents want.

But the problem is, in the age of social media, people have more power than they have ever had before. You see, the public that thinks all politicians are corrupt and moronic (except their personal favorites, of course) has a much more direct say on what they expect of their representatives. Social media mobs can form in a heart beat and they can kill a political career faster than an affair with an intern ever could. And unfortunately, here’s a sad truth that most people aren’t going to like to hear. In large groups, human beings as a whole become very ignorant and…frankly non-smart, very quickly.

Which brings me to my ultimate point today. Being a politician during this pandemic has got to be the worst. Especially if you are a politician that actually wields a significant amount of power. It’s this reality that actually makes me feel a little bit bad for President Trump. Not real bad, but at least a little bit.

You see, conservative media and President Trump downplayed COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic, which turned it into a political issue rather than the health issue it always should have been. It was called among other things: a hoax, a tool of liberals to bring down the president, nothing more than the common flu, etc. But as days went on, it became more and more clear that COVID-19 was serious. How serious? The truth is we’ll never know. Many states, followed eventually by the President, started issuing directives designed to “flatten the curve” and limit the effects. When this started, Dr. Fauci acknowledged that if those efforts were successful, we would all claim that we as a nation had overreacted. But regardless of how successful we’ve been at limiting the damage of COVID-19, there is no doubt that it was serious and it was something never to have been taken lightly.

Which is why I now feel bad for the president. For reals! I feel bad for the president and frankly any governor who is faced with the responsibility of how soon and how widely to open back up our country.

You see, it’s easy to be a media commentator who coins the phrase, “The cure can’t be worse than the disease.” It’s also easy to be a media personality who downplays the realities of facing another day without a paycheck to pay for rent or food or any other necessities. It’s incredibly easy to be a protester who goes and waves a sign around demanding that your God-given freedoms be returned to you, when in actuality your freedoms to endanger the lives of others were never granted under the constitution, nor by God. On the other hand, it’s quite simple to be a social-distancing shamer who happens to be living out their quarantine in a comfortable home with a loving family while their income continues to be automatically deposited into their bank account as opposed to a battered wife who is now imprisoned 24/7 with a much more immediate danger to her life than COVID-19.

In other words, it’s easy to be anyone other than the person who has to make these ultimate decisions.

I’ve never seen the problem our president and our governors face better illustrated than in the movie, The Dark Knight. In that movie, there is a scene where two ferry loads of people are pitted against each other and given the choice of blowing up the other ferry boat before they themselves get blown up. The ultimate catch is that if neither boat chooses to “turn the switch” then both boats will explode, killing everyone.

When the situation is presented to the passengers, everyone has an opinion. One boat even takes a vote, with the vote producing the outcome that the passengers on the other boat are expendable because they are prisoners currently serving time. The catch is, they only need someone to turn the key.

And nobody can.

Because it’s easy to claim life is expendable when placed in comparison with the greater good. It’s easy to say that 60,000 additional lives are a reasonable sacrifice if the rest of us can get back to work. Heck, it’s easy to SAY anything. DOING? That’s hard. Because if you are a governor, or a president who gives in to the pressure to open everything back up too early and COVID-19 deaths spike as a result of your decision, that’s on you. No protester, media personality or low-rung politician whose vote ultimately didn’t matter is going to step up and take responsibility for you. You’ll be on your own.

But on the other hand, if a large swath of the population have nothing left when they emerge from their homes because you let the economy go completely down the toilet due to an over-abundance of caution, that’s on you too.

The difficulty of this situation is playing out before our eyes. It’s obvious the president wants to open things up, like…yesterday. He tweets about it like we should move forward right now. He makes comments practically goading governors to open non-essential businesses. But when the governor of Georgia actually makes the call on opening up his state, the president immediately says he’s acting too soon.

So which is it? Liberate Michigan? Or is the current liberation of Georgia irresponsible? We’re not sure. No one is. But those people we denigrate and run-down every day as corrupt and dirty politicians are now the ones we have to trust to make those decisions.

And as far as I’m concerned, I have to believe they are doing their best. Because, at the end of the day, we Americans live in the greatest nation on earth, right? So then we have to acknowledge that the system we’ve had in place for over 200 years demands that politicians make these calls. Politicians we voted for as well as politicians that our political foes voted for. It’s just the gig.

So to bring it home, I wish President Trump all the best as he wades through this time of extreme trial. I still think he’s a disaster. I still think he should shut up just about every time he opens his mouth. But he’s the guy who has to make tough decisions that I’m very glad I don’t. And as an American, I need him to get those decisions right. So I’ll pray for him. And I’ll pray for Governor Cuomo and Governor Newsome and most especially Governor Ducey. Because I, and 350 million of my closest friends, can’t really DO anything else. We can talk and argue and speechify all we want, but the doing is in the hands of a very select few. And boy am I glad it’s not me.

Finding Delight

I love podcasts.

Okay, that’s not totally true. Most of the podcasts I come across I consider idiotic wastes of time. So it would be more accurate to say I love a select few podcasts. Anyway, I was listening to one of the few podcasts I truly enjoy this past weekend and the topic was about delight: what is delight and how do we find it. In these current days of never-ending monotony, it was a truly uplifting hour. And it got me thinking about when I have experienced moments of delight or true joy in my life.

Now the culture in which I exist asks this kind of question all the time. When are you truly happy? What is true happiness versus momentary joy that is fake or unsustainable? Of course the expected answer in those constructed moments is that my faith, my good choices and my family are what brings me true sustainable joy. And I acknowledge those answers to be true. But in reality, those very things also bring me some of the biggest frustrations in my life. So that realization made me reflect a little deeper with the hope that I could identify when I have felt most at peace, most contented, most delighted.

Over the last few years, I can pinpoint several moments when I have felt truly peaceful and contented. And it is interesting to me how many of these events share similar characteristics. What is also interesting to me is how I have documented a few of them, but most I haven’t. I’ve never been a great journal keeper and one of the main reasons is, I can’t figure out who would ever want to read about my life. Having lived it, I can attest that it is remarkably uninteresting.

Yet, I blog. For what purpose? None, really, other than it provides an outlet for me. But looking back at my posts over the years, I realize it is somewhat like a journal and it’s probably the closest I will get to effectively journaling. So today, I’ve decided to document those moments I can recall with perfect clarity when I have felt pure joy and contentment. I know there are probably many others, but these stick out in my memory for reasons I cannot explain. Anyway, without further ado, my moments of delight.

5th Anniversary Trip

For the first five years of our marriage, Shannon and I did not go on a vacation by ourselves. We went on a trip with my parents (which they largely paid for) and maybe the odd overnight getaway, but never a true vacation. For our fifth anniversary we decided to change that.

Now our actual anniversary is in January, but we weren’t able to get away until the end of February. Nevertheless, we were excited to go spend a week in Disneyland and see this brand new park that had opened up just a couple weeks earlier called, Disney’s California Adventure. Overall, it was an amazing trip. Everything about it was great. It was rainy and so the crowds were remarkably light. We walked on to just about every attraction all week. I remember going on Soarin’ Over California for the first time and being awestruck. It’s still my favorite theme park ride out there.

Unfortunately, so much of that trip has been lost to memory. I don’t recall exactly where we stayed. I don’t remember what we ate. We were there for a total of three days and I don’t remember maybe even an hour’s worth of experiences. But there is one part of that trip I can recall with vivid clarity and I can still feel the joy associated with it. What memory could be so worthy?

The drive.

Okay, not the entire drive necessarily. In fact, the moment I recall is very short, but I love it. In the early days of our marriage, Shannon was not inclined to rise before the sun. She often railed against the very idea. But that first morning, I convinced her we needed to get up about 4:30 a.m. and get on the road. It was dark as we left our condo in Mesa and drove across Phoenix. As we passed Buckeye, the first light of morning started to illuminate the open expanse of desert all around us. The road was a dual strip of asphalt that stretched as far as we could see and the colors playing off the mountain to our right were spectacular. We were listening to our favorite CD’s because we weren’t really radio people and iPods were not a thing yet. In that moment, I felt…free, happy, content and delighted.

As I stated before, the entire trip was wonderful, but if I could bottle one moment and relive it periodically, it would be that moment in the car just a few miles outside of Buckeye, AZ. I was sitting next to my best friend. I was enjoying music that seemed to understand and compliment the scenery unfolding in front of us. The morning was brand new, symbolizing the anticipation we felt as we headed out on our first “family vacation.” It was amazing. Since then, leaving on road trips before the sun rises has become a thing for me. Maybe it’s because I just love that feeling and am constantly trying to recapture it.

Holding Maggie

I didn’t want a fifth child. I was happy with four. Very happy. So when I found out we would be welcoming a fifth child into our home in the same year I turned 40, I was not as excited as a new parent probably should be. But the first time I held Maggie, it was perfect. In many ways, it was no different than when I held my other children for the first time. But with Maggie, I was in need of a severe heart softening. I knew in the weeks leading up to that morning that I would do my best to be a good dad. I knew I would fulfill my familial responsibilities to this child. What I didn’t know was how I would feel toward this little girl prior to her arrival. What I did know was that I resented all the life rearranging she had caused to interfere with my well-planned out existence.

When the nurse handed her to me, that all changed. She was perfect. And she was perfect every time I held her after that. She was perfect as I held her in my recliner at home, rocking her to sleep. She was so perfect, that I was reluctant to let anybody else have that experience of getting her to sleep at night. She fit so perfectly on my chest and she would lay so still. I miss those evenings with a desperation I cannot begin to describe. They truly were an unforgettable delight.

Still My Sweetie, at 4 Years Old

Kaanapali Beach – 15th Anniversary

When people talk about going to their “happy place,” this is the place I think of. For our 15th anniversary, Shannon and I traveled to the islands of Maui and Oahu for a week-long getaway. The first morning after our arrival, I woke up early (which I always do when I travel) and slipped out to the beach just beyond our hotel while Shannon got a bit more sleep.

If you look up top 10 beaches in the world on the internet, Maui’s Kaanapali beach will show up on a lot of those lists, and rightfully so. The sand, the water, the view…they are all beyond amazing. Which is why I was stunned to find myself entirely alone that morning. Yes, it was 6 a.m. but still. I could literally see only one other person, approximately half a mile down the beach, walking a dog. Beyond that, there was not a single other soul within view.

The horizon had a pink hue to it and I could see the islands of Lanai and Molokai off in the distance. The water was perfectly clear and neither warm nor cold. The sand was the whitest and softest I’d ever experienced. I’ve taken a lot of deep breaths in my life, but none has ever put me in a relaxed state like the one I took that morning as I lay with my legs slightly submerged in the water, leaning back on my elbows, just staring out at the perfect horizon. I consider that morning a personal gift from God. I realize I was probably just lucky; that it was the right time of year to be there, that it was earlier than most people would be out, that…fill in the excuse. But to me, it will always be a personal moment between me and my Creator as He showed me just a glimpse of the true delights He is capable of.

Wrong Time of Day, But Still Amazing

The Guys Trip

I can already see the eyes rolling as I say one of my moments of pure delight was on a guys’ weekend, largely due to the reputation associated with a guys’ weekend. How can four dudes hanging out in San Diego produce moments as meaningful as the ones described above? Well, what can I say?

Last year, my golfing friends and I traveled to San Diego to golf the world famous Torrey Pines Golf Club. It was a trip we had been planning for two years. So much about the trip was great. The golf was beautiful. The weather outstanding. My obnoxious golf shirt with a parrot/palm frond pattern was exquisite. But the two moments that I look back and remember as being filled with joy had little to do with golf. The night we arrived in San Diego, the four of us went looking for a place to eat in the commercial section of the village we were staying in. We found a nice little restaurant that served amazingly good food. The memory of contentment is the camaraderie of four friends. We have been golfing together for well over 10 years. We have seen each other through a lot of life’s different twists and turns. Hopefully that will continue long into the future. But that night, it just felt like a culmination of what good friendship should be. We tried taking a selfie only to learn that apparently 40+ year-old men are not very good at selfie taking. Dan called us a bunch of girls, which earned several glares from the table next to us which was filled with actual girls/women. To this day, we refer to that evening as Girl’s Night. The golf that played out over the next three days was great, but none of it was quite as delightful as that night was for me.

Along the same lines, the next night one of the guys and I walked over to the beach near our rental. Without any real plan, we set off walking past the hundreds of people playing on the beach and in the water as the sun set on the ocean. The conversation drifted all over from deep life topics to very surface non-important topics. I don’t even remember any specific thing we talked about. I just remember the bond of friendship. I’ve always appreciated good friends. These selected memories of that weekend are symbolic to me of what good friendship can and should be.

Play It Where It Lies
I Told You My Shirt Was Awesome
Last Day At Coronado Island Golf Club Was Pretty Legit As Well

Seattle – The Hike

Shannon and I had never been to Seattle before I got a chance to go for a business trip in 2018. It’s a beautiful city and we had a great time experiencing all that it had to offer. But the moment of true peace and joy for me came on our first full morning there. We had awoken to some unfortunate news that would have required our immediate attention if we were home, but we weren’t. So there was little we could do except continue on with our planned morning, which included a drive and then hike at Wallace Falls State Park.

In that morning of turmoil, a hike through some of the most beautiful forest I had ever experienced, with my ultimate best friend, was the exact thing I needed to bring a little peace to my soul. Hiking in the desert beauty of Arizona is something not to be missed. But hiking through a literal rain forest in the Pacific Northwest, at least for me, holds no equal. The views spoke to me. I desperately wanted to capture what I was seeing on “film”, but as anyone can guess, that was impossible.

I can remember the smell of the soggy wet earth. I can remember the cold that caused the slightest running of my nose, but yet was not unpleasant. I can remember the feel of an occasional raindrop as the weather remained undecided on which course of action to take. And I remember the awe-inspiring beauty of the falls when they came into view. I remember being grateful for what I was seeing and that I could see it with Shannon. The memories associated with that morning are a shared delight we hope to see again in the future.

Again, Pictures Don’t Do These Well Over 100-Foot Falls Justice

On The Road Again

The last two years I have taken my two sons and embarked on ridiculously long road trips across great stretches of our nation. In 2018, we traveled to New Orleans via San Antonio to see the July 4th fireworks on the Mississippi and visit Tulane University. In 2019, we traveled to Salt Lake City, UT, Rexburg, ID, Reno, NV, San Francisco, CA and Los Angeles, CA to visit BYU, BYU-I, and Stanford and see Hamilton in San Francisco. We also planned on watching the July 4th fireworks over the bay near the Golden Gate Bridge, but learned that fog generally kills that experience.

Both of those trips are filled with memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Not many dads get to have this kind of experience with their sons. Not many dads have teenage sons who would necessarily want to do this with their dad, so right there I feel incredibly grateful.

But the two memories that stick out the most with regard to peace, contentment and pure delight are a mirror of the memory I started this post with. Both trips began long before the sun rose. On our first trip, we discovered the joy of listening to the podcast This American Life. With absolute clarity, I can still remember the peace and gratitude I felt as we drove through Lordsburg, NM, the sun just beginning to rise, as we listened to the struggles of Abdi Nor. Abdi is a Somali refugee to our country and the podcast chronicled his experience of winning the immigration lottery and the travails he would experience along the way to eventually arriving in America. I can’t begin to explain the emotions I had listening to his story and all the sacrifices he had made as the dawn rose on the first day of our “historic” trip. Both of my boys were listening with rapt attention just as I was. Despite the anxiety associated with the podcast, I remember feeling peace and contentment as we drove, the anticipation of all we would experience ahead of us. Just as it had been almost 20 years earlier, the experience was remarkable. It has stayed with me more strongly than so many events of that trip. It’s a feeling I wish I could duplicate. However, I have learned that most of the time, you must enjoy those moments when they come because they cannot be planned and they cannot be replicated. They just come, and then they leave.

Thankfully, a year later, I would experience the same feelings as our trip began. I can remember the sun rising over the Salt River Canyon as we neared Show Low, AZ. My boys will eventually grow up and leave me. One will actually do so in less than two months. But I will always have those early morning delights that no one can take away.

From Our Driveway at 3:15 a.m. Before Setting Out for SLC in 2019
Official BYU Visit 2019
The Name Above It All Speaks For Itself. San Fran 2019
Official Stanford Visit 2019
Jackson Square 2018
The Mighty Mississippi, July 4, 2018

Music

Finally, I cannot deny that some of my most contented and peaceful moments on this earth have come through encounters with music. Two of those moments came in All-State Choir concerts in which my son, Braden, has taken part. When done right, music can transport my soul, and both of those concerts accomplished that for me. Unfortunately, this past Saturday would have been my son’s third and last opportunity to take part in the Arizona All-State Choir Festival. It would have been held at Arizona State University’s Gammage Auditorium. It was the one event he had been looking forward to more than any other during this, his senior year. But like so many other events across the world, it’s gone. It also would have been my son Logan’s first opportunity to try out and possibly take part. It was huge loss for our family.

But thank heavens for the two concerts we do have and the possible future concerts that remain. I love music. I love listening to it, I love making it, I just love being a part of it in any way. The feelings of peace, joy, and delight that music provides I have felt not only in Braden’s concerts, but also my daughter Abby’s concerts at EAC, Shannon and I’s own concert experiences at EAC, various professional concerts we have attended in a variety of genres, and so much more. But one area that rarely fails to provide me an experience worth remembering is musical theater. One other aspect of the second trip I took with my sons was the opportunity to see Hamilton in San Francisco. I didn’t know much about it, but as I sat there and the production unfolded, I was blown away. It was truly incredible. And like so many times before, the music provided me a level of peace and delight that is all too rare in this earthly existence.

I am grateful for music. In fact, I am grateful for all of these experiences I’ve mentioned. I am grateful for them, and so many other delights in my life, and I am grateful to be allowed such clear and vivid memories of when pure contentment has settled upon my soul. For those who actually made it this far, I hope you take a moment and reflect on the moments of true delight in your life. During this COVID-19 event, you should have plenty of time to do so.

If We’re Gonna Open Up, Let’s Really Open Up

In recent days, there has been much clamoring for the re-opening of America and it’s economy. Living where I do, I have to admit that I totally understand this sentiment. As I have documented previously, our little county in Arizona identified two cases of COVID-19 back in mid-March. Both of those cases have fully recovered. Since that time, not a single test for COVID-19 in our area has come back positive. NOT ONE!

Does anyone have any idea how difficult it is to stay committed to stay-at-home orders or true social distancing when not a single case of the dreaded disease everyone is hoping to avoid hasn’t shown up in your backyard for over a month? Of course some of you do, because you are probably experiencing something similar. And I get it, everyone just wants to get back to normal, get back to work, and get back to…being America.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, this yearning for normal has lead to some less than ideal arguments being floated into the grand marketplace of ideas. For instance, Indiana Republican House Representative, Trey Hollingsworth, suggested that the “lesser of two evils” is to let more Americans die rather than let our American way of life (our economy) die. He later walked back this comment to a certain degree, but he is not alone in his view that in order to save the greater good for a greater number of people, we probably need to re-open the nation, let everyone get back to work, and let the virus do its worst. Most people advocating this view tend to be younger than retirement age and free of underlying health concerns and therefore feel a little more at ease with their chances.

The tough part is, frankly I get it. My wife and I have both been extremely blessed to remain employed through this historic worldwide event. There are many who haven’t been as fortunate. But we can relate in the slightest of ways. My son is preparing to leave on a religious mission for two years. These missions are largely paid for by the missionaries themselves and their families. For the last year he has held a job that was providing money to pay for his mission. On March 20, that job went away. I would very much welcome the opportunity for him to go back to work. It would be a true financial benefit for our family if he could go back to work. So please believe me when I say I understand the allure of the idea now permeating a large portion of our culture, “The cure can’t be worse than the disease.”

It’s tough, though, when facts get in the way. Since January, we’ve been hearing the refrain that COVID-19 is nothing more than the flu, or that the number of those dying is not even reaching that of those killed by the flu each year. The truth is, the CDC reports that in the 2018-2019 flu season 34,200 Americans lost their lives to the flu. Admittedly, in previous years that number has been as high as 57,000. Yesterday, the United States experienced its highest 24-hour period of fatalities related to COVID-19 to date with a number of 4,951. Our total deaths related to COVID-19 in the United States now stands at 35,371 and we’re not even close to done.

Never fear though, numbers like those can be explained away easily in this age of social media which overflows with an endless supply of unverifiable information. The new arguments sprouting up all over Facebook and Twitter, perpetuated by those hell-bent on re-opening the country, are that the numbers being reported are inflated. I suppose it’s possible. There is absolutely no verifiable proof that this is true, but I suppose it’s possible.

But the main issue is that we can’t lose our American way of life, our liberties, our freedoms. That’s the only thing that matters here, am I correct? What we are doing nationwide with social distancing and stay-at-home orders is an overreaction that cannot stand for the mere argument of safety. Freedom comes with a cost. That’s just the way it is, right?

On September 11, 2001, America lost 2,977 people to terrorist attacks carried out by Islamic extremists. As a result, all flights were grounded for a week, but then we got right back to normal. Except that when travelers returned to the airports, they were told to arrive two hours in advance in order to navigate new stringent security measures that had been put in place. The days of people walking their friends or family directly to an airport gate were over. Large trash cans were placed in airport security areas as thousands of bottles filled with personal hygiene products got thrown away due to new restrictions on the amount of liquid one could carry with them onto a plane. Weeks later, after another attempted terrorist plot failed, millions of Americans were forced to remove their shoes and belts every time they passed through airport security. What followed in the coming months were implementations of machines that would basically provide the TSA a very reliable view of what you looked like naked. It was a little off-putting, but…in the same of safety, right? All of these basic removals of privacy and loss of freedoms were accepted by the masses in the name of safety. Overreaction? I guess we’ll never know. We didn’t like it, but it was being done in the name of saving American lives.

What’s interesting is that if you fly out of an airport in Canada, you don’t go through all of that extensive security. Don’t get me wrong, you do go through security, but you don’t remove half your clothing and the process is much simpler and less invasive. Since 2001, Canada has not had a single significant terrorist attack related to airplanes originating in their country. So why do we keep up these ridiculous over-reactive practices at our airports?

We want to be safe! We want to feel safe and if that is the price we have to pay, personal liberty and privacy be damned.

Since 9-11, the number of individuals killed in airline related terrorism inside the United States is 0. The number of individuals killed in reported domestic terrorism incidents unrelated to air travel but associated with Islamic extremism in the last 18 years is 83. However, because of this threat to American lives, we currently have a travel ban in place for individuals from the following countries: Yemen, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania.

Please understand that I understand that these nations are home to a significant number of people who want to do harm to Americans. However, these same people also want to do significant harm to citizens of their own countries. Refugees pouring out of Syria since 2011 due to a never ending civil war are doing so under the threat of death. The entire number of Americans killed in the US due to terrorism since September 10, 2001 is 3,060. The number of Syrians killed by Islamic extremists since 2011, ten years less than the American time frame, is over 400,000. The UN Refugee Agency estimates that between the number of Syrians who have fled their country after being displaced (had their houses and livelihood utterly obliterated) is approximately 5.6 million. An additional 6.6 million are displaced but still reside in Syria with no ability to escape. That is a total of 12.2 million people who are without homes and without hope due to Islamic extremism. Most of those people are Muslims.

I don’t know, looking at those figures it could be argued that being a Syrian is much more dangerous in the face of Islamic extremism than being an American. And that doesn’t even touch on the numbers of those affected in the other nations listed above.

In 2016, United States policy allowed for 110,000 refugees to be vetted and resettled within its borders. In 2020, the total number allowed, the ceiling, the most we will accept, is 18,000. Each year, the US generally takes in about half of the number allowed which means that the US could expect to see 9,000 refugee resettlements in 2020.

Why? Why would a nation that claims to be steeped in the traditions of Christianity turn its back on millions in need? Don’t get me wrong, I understand that we can’t take everyone and that the vetting process should be extensive, but 9,000 out of literally tens of millions?

States like Arizona and Utah have made clear to the federal government that they are more than willing and ready to accept refugees. Utah especially has had amazing success helping refugees displaced from middle eastern nations acclimate to a new home in the Rocky Mountains. They are begging for more. But due to US policy, there aren’t any more to send them.

Again, why? Because we’re afraid? Because we’re concerned that a terrorist might slip in among the innocent and kill us? Again, since 9-11, 83 people have been reported killed in the United States by Islamic extremism. By comparison, over 50 died when a wacko white guy broke out a window in the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas and shot up a music festival.

Now follow me here. If not losing our American way of life is important enough to open back up our nation even though doing so could cost us thousands of actual American lives, wouldn’t it be just as important not lose our Christian identity and ideals by opening up our borders to the tired, the poor, the huddled masses that are fleeing certain death in their homelands? By the way, of those 83 people killed by domestic Islamic extremism, exactly zero were killed by refugees vetted and allowed into our country through the refugee resettlement programs. ZERO!

So, if we’re going to get all patriotic and self-righteous about our liberties and freedoms by demanding a reopening of our country despite scientific evidence that suggests it may not be the best idea to do so, then I think we should get equally serious about remembering who provided those liberties and freedoms to us in the first place. We need to really open this place up. It’s time to do what’s right for more of God’s children than we currently are, especially if we have decided that loss of American lives is no longer a barrier to protecting our American values and Way of Life.

Time To Address A Real Controversy

This era of COVID-19 and social distancing has at times given me way too much time. As such, I have engaged in behavior I am not necessarily proud of.

One, this last week I broke my rule of arguing with people on social media. I have managed to stick to my guns on not posting things that are argumentative and political in nature, but I did get into it pretty heavy with an elderly grandmother type who self-described as an”old white woman” (definitely her words, not mine) in the comments of Mitt Romney’s social media page. By the way, that is a place to avoid at all costs. It is also a place filled with individuals who do not understand the definition of the words “traitor” or “decency”, but that is a whole different discussion.

Two, I keep looking at the Total Deaths number both worldwide and in the US on Worldmeter.com. Don’t do that either. It’s not uplifting nor is it productive.

On the other hand, I have continued to enjoy uplifting news where I can find it, and I’ve enjoyed spending time with my kids on a more regular basis. I’ve documented the latter over my last two posts pretty extensively, but those efforts do continue in earnest, mainly because…those poor kids have no other choice.

However, it’s this time I’ve been spending with my kids that has forced me to confront a real controversy that exists in the world. Before COVID-19, I had managed to avoid it. But last Friday, that all ended as I finally sat down and watched Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. And so today, I weigh in on that ongoing controversy of: J.J. Abrams vs. Rian Johnson, Last Jedi vs. Rise of Skywalker, casual fan vs. zealot.

Now for a majority of human beings, the conventional thought might be, “What controversy?” To that I would reply, “Oh dear, you’d better sit down!” (BE WARNED, SPOILERS TO ALL STAR WARS MOVIES ARE FOUND BELOW)

Let me start by providing context and a heavy dose of personal opinion. First of all, I am not a fan of the original Star Wars movie, now entitled Star Wars: A New Rise of Final Hope or something like that. It was in that movie that Luke Skywalker earned the title of whiniest protagonist ever in a motion picture, a title he would hold for well over a decade until Paul Reubens came along in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

There are so many problems with that movie that I could spend a day enumerating them, but I won’t. In contrast, I very much enjoyed The Empire Strikes Back, which was the first movie in the series I actually saw, and I thought Return of the Jedi wasn’t too bad. It helped that I managed to collect all four collectible glasses at Burger King when it came out, which might have influenced my enjoyment of that movie since I was, you know, 10 , but there were Ewoks so…

Furthermore, I firmly believe the three Star Wars prequels that George Lucas directed and produced some twenty years later are among the most wasteful uses of celluloid ever documented and did a lot to show us what a mediocre writer and director he actually is.

It seems to me that a great deal of the allure surrounding the original Star Wars trilogy was that people were seeing special effects on screen that had never been seen before. I’m pretty sure it was those special effects that clouded the senses with regard to the weaknesses of the movies themselves. The three prequel movies did not benefit from such an edge. They came out around the same time as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy and suffered greatly in comparison. Both had stunning visual effects, but Peter Jackson actually used his in benefit of a strong story whereas Lucas tried to make up for a lack of story by filling the screen with so much eye candy that it actually rotted out movie screens across the world. (Okay, I made up that last bit, but…just barely.)

I realize that by writing those words, many Star Wars fans will consider me guilty of gross acts of blasphemy, but I submit the following as an endorsement of my opinion. Disney agreed with me. Don’t believe me? Then ask yourself, why was the first order of business for the Mouse, after purchasing LucasFilm in 2013, to fire George Lucas and scrap all of his ideas for the final trilogy that would make up the original canon? I’ll tell you why. Bob Iger sat through Attack of the Clones at some point in his life and swore that he would never helm a company that would put out that kind of atrocity. The fact that Disney then released The Long Ranger years later proves that he made that promise rashly, but still…

Which brings us to the latest and last trilogy in the original canon Star Wars saga. Disney brought on J.J. Abrams to direct The Force Awakens because he had the touch for salvaging franchises that were languishing or near dead (See: Star Trek and Mission: Impossible). Unfortunately, in the era of social media, Abrams faced a fresh challenge that has eviscerated many a director: the die-hard fan base.

The Star Wars fan base has evolved over time to the point that Charles Manson would be kicked out of their ranks for being a little too lax in his commitment. These individuals (many of whom weren’t even alive when the original Star Wars came out) believe in their hearts that they are the true owners and protectors of the mythology that makes up the Star Wars universe. They destroyed Lucas himself for years (and I agree, rightly so) when the famed director decided he couldn’t leave his movies alone and kept going back to re-edit them over and over despite the fact that, you know, we’d already seen them. This annoying habit of his culminated in the most controversial move of the entire series when he changed the scene introducing Han Solo so that it appeared that the bounty hunter fired first at Han instead of the other way around. As if we would all forget the real sequence of events we had watched a dozen times before. It was like he was providing a tutorial for how to run a country to his young padawan and eventual emperor, Obi Don Trumponi, or something. (Sorry, sorry. That was bad on so many levels. No more politics or bad puns based on Star Wars type names, I promise.)

Anyway, J.J. set about trying to make a movie that would be both fresh and appeal to the faithful who, as a rule, want nothing changed from the original formula. The result was The Force Awakens and the response was immediate. Half the faithful loved and half hated it, which was about the best he could have hoped for. The biggest criticism was that he basically remade the original movie. And to be fair, that’s pretty much what he did. The difference was, he made it a million times better. So bottom line, success. The faithful were not storming the gates and the rest of us had an original Star Wars movie to watch minus the whiny refrain, “Unnncle Ooowennnn.”

But J.J. has a history of being a one and done director when it comes to his reclamation projects. He remains a producer, but he likes to hand the reins over to someone else, and so for the second movie in the latest trilogy he turned things over to a man named Rian Johnson.

Now in my opinion, Johnson’s entry into the Star Wars ethos is the best movie of the nine. BY FAR!!! And the reasons I love it are the very reasons the faithful seem to absolutely loathe it. I mean they HATE it! From the first early preview showings the grumblings began about how Luke Skywalker would never act in the way Johnson portrays him in The Last Jedi. And what did he do? He showed true emotion. He was fallible. He was bitter. He was real!

The fact that he wasn’t a carbon copy of the wise, older Jedi played by Sir Alec Guiness, Liam Neeson, and the world’s most recognizable rubber mask was awesome. It provided layers of texture and realism to a stable of movies decidedly devoid of such things. I also loved that his villain had moments of doubt and instability. It was the first Star Wars movie I had ever seen where I actually wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. I reveled in the final showdown between Luke and Kylo Ren which turned out to be a complete facade. I loved the cockiness Luke displayed which provided a complete contrast to the whiny kid we had met in the original movie. I loved the maniacal rage of Kylo Ren when he realizes he’s been had. Vader would have never got played like that. We all know it and in that moment, we knew he knew it. There was more human drama on display in that one sequence than we saw in the entirety of Hayden Christensen’s portrayal of Anakin Skywalker. (That poor sucker watched his entire career go down the drain thanks to Lucas. Or maybe he really can’t act. I guess we’ll never know.)

Bottom line, I believe Rian Johnson produced the best movie of the series by far. And…Star Wars nation killed him for it. They didn’t want all those things I mentioned above. They wanted the fan fiction they had created in their minds and in their dreams many years earlier when they would go to sleep clutching their Luke Skywalker action figure.

Which is what J.J. Abrams was facing when he came back aboard to direct the final movie in the original canon series. I’m sure that wasn’t daunting at all (sarcasm definitely intended). And so, J.J. did what he had done before. He made a decent movie for the die-hards instead of a great movie for the masses.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a good movie. However, I would rank it third in relation to the other two in this particular trilogy. As a point of reference, I would also rank it third in the list of nine, but under no circumstances will it ever pass the first two. The suspensions of belief required so that fanatics can get another look at the Emperor were just a little to much for me. I prefer the emperor’s ending in Return of the Jedi. His return, to me, felt…forced. Also, as much as I like Disney, I didn’t care for the Tangled, Beauty and the Beast, Frozen treatment for Rey at the end of the climactic scene. C’mon, really? And finally, we saw that Leia nearly died when she was ejected into space one movie earlier. Yet in this movie, we have characters riding around on horses on the outside of a spaceship that is currently in space. (Picture me shaking my head ruefully as I’m typing this because that is what I’m doing.)

So bottom line, Rise of Skywalker wasn’t made for me. I accept that. The fact that I actually didn’t see it until this last weekend drives that point home. I am not a member of the faithful. And for those who are, I hope (and have heard) that the final chapter gave them the closure they were looking for.

But for those of us who don’t own a full-on Storm Trooper outfit or a golden metal bikini, I now hope the faithful will ease up. Because I believe the story telling possibilities that exist within the Star Wars universe are endless and wonderful. I absolutely ate up The Mandalorian, not because it was Star Wars, but because it was the best Western movie/series I had seen in a decade. I want more of that. And I certainly don’t want future film makers to be held to an unrealistic standard of “What Would George Do?” because that kind of expectation is completely unattainable. I mean, let’s be honest, we’ve actually seen what George would do. It was called Jar Jar Binks, and the sooner we’re all able to collectively forget that the better.

The Amazing and The Weird: Things I May Never Again Experience In My Lifetime

A single word seems to be standing out when it comes to describing this shared experience we are having in relation to COVID-19 and the resulting quarantine/stay-at-home orders/social distancing requirements. The word is WEIRD. I’ve heard it over and over again from a wide variety of people. This whole thing is just…weird.

And I gotta tell you, they’re right. This thing is weird. Everything about it is weird. It is truly bizarre to be sitting in southeast Arizona watching events unfold almost three thousand miles away in New York where the city looks like a war zone and try to have it equate here in my little town where we continue to just wait. And wait. And wait.

We don’t know what to do. We haven’t had a new positive test for COVID-19 in our county in almost a month. Let me stop here and express how truly grateful I am for that development. I know how lucky we are. But it is hard to be on shutdown when no one is sick. I’m not advocating we open everything back up. I don’t have enough knowledge or experience in epidemiology to ever be so bold. I’m just saying, it’s weird. The closest thing I can compare it to is 9-11. That was a national (whereas this one is a world-wide) shared experience that those of us in a rural portion of a western state would never actually share in directly. We could only witness the horror through our television screens and then marvel when the only real change in our lives was the absence of airplanes flying overhead for three to four days.

Don’t get me wrong, I am so glad my little valley has never been targeted by terrorists. I hope and pray it never is. I also hope and pray that COVID-19 leaves us comparably alone. But it does lead to a feeling of…I don’t know. It’s just weird.

In light of this observation, I want to document some of the things that have occurred in my life or that I have seen that I have never seen before and possibly will never see again in my lifetime. Some of them, I hope I never do. Others? Well…

The Pictures

I have been fascinated by some of the pictures I have seen from around the world of places that are always so full of people, now just…empty. Some of my favorites can be found below.

Disney tourists look through the fence after Disneyland was closed due to Coronavirus.
Disneyland, Anaheim
Piazza Navona, Rome
Jackson Square, New Orleans
Temple Square, Salt Lake City
Hong Kong International Airport, Hong Kong
Arc de Triomphe, Paris
Times Square, New York
Trafalgar Square, London

The Togetherness, Apart

Celebrities have been taking it on the chin for not being sensitive enough to the plight of the middle and lower classes, not being humble enough, not being…whatever. But how awesome that a group of celebrities who have no motivation-other than to be kind to a little girl they don’t know, who can’t offer them anything in return-would do what these impressive individuals did for a 9-year-old girl who missed out on a birthday dream due to the COVID-19 restrictions. I think a key lesson here is to remember that celebrities are people too. And in situations like COVID-19, we’re really all in this together. (Also, the whole concept of SGN is awesome. I’ve always liked John Krasinski, but I am now a fan for life.)

The Coming Together

During the annual worldwide conference of my faith held this last weekend (entirely via technology), the leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints called for a worldwide day of fasting and prayer to be held this coming Friday, April 10. The day is widely recognized throughout Christianity as Good Friday. The response on social media has been amazing to me and has served as a reminder to me that the silent majority of this world is filled with good people who genuinely care about their fellow human beings, regardless of politics, nationality, faith, race, ethnicity, or any other silly division that suddenly is of little consequence. Here is a small sample of the social media responses the above mentioned invitation for a day of fasting and prayer by the leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has received (Acknowledgement to the website thirdhour.org which compiled the following examples plus many others):

Worldwide Fast Facebook post
Worldwide Fast Facebook post
Worldwide Fast Facebook post
Worldwide Fast Facebook post
Worldwide Fast Facebook post
Worldwide Fast Facebook post
Worldwide Fast Facebook post
Worldwide Fast Facebook post
Worldwide Fast Facebook post
Worldwide Fast Facebook post
Worldwide Fast Facebook post
Worldwide Fast Facebook post
Worldwide Fast Facebook post

The Historical on a Personal Level

Finally, as I mentioned in my last post, this time has been really tough on my 18-year-old senior who is now missing out on a number of different “milestone” events in his young life that he will never get back. For a young man who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, one of those moments is receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood. This priesthood is acknowledged in our faith as the authority to act on God’s behalf through, among other things, giving blessings and administering certain ordinances important to members of our faith. When this happens for a young man, he is presented to his congregation for a sustaining vote of support. Without this sustaining vote of support, the priesthood cannot be conferred. Currently, no church meetings are being held ANYWHERE and the opportunity for my son to be presented to his congregation is not going to happen for some time. However, to my pleasant surprise, local church leaders have determined that in our technological world, a young man can be presented to his congregation via email. To my knowledge, this has never happened before in our little corner of the world. It certainly has not happened to anyone I know. So for us, it is historical. It is memorable. And despite some feelings of missing out on the norm, in years to come it will be personal to him and his children. It will be his historical moment that may never be repeated again in his lifetime.

Conclusion

As social distancing and “quarantining” stretches into week four (for those of us in Arizona at least) and we see the literal death toll continue to rise across the world, I will admit it has been hard. It’s been hard to sit still and do what is expected of us. It has been hard to fully grasp the hard times we have ahead as we try to recover a world economy that got shoved into a freezer for a couple of months. It has been hard to see the petty politics play out on a canvas that highlights how pathetic petty politics truly are.

But through all this…weirdness, there has been so much good to behold. By and large, I believe we are good people. And so far, that is what I will remember from the days of COVID-19. It is a similar memory to the one I carry from the days immediately following 9-11. Deep down, we really want to be good to each other. Maybe when times get better, we can remember that and put a little more effort into doing so.

Are There Really Positives Here?

I have generally avoided overt expressions of religion on this blog. Actually, I suppose it could be said I have avoided any written expression of anything on this blog for the last two years. But before that, I rarely ventured too far into religious topics. It’s not that I’m not religious (I am) or that I’m ashamed of my religion (I’m not). It’s just a topic that didn’t necessarily fit the themes I tended to discuss. Today won’t be much different, but based on the topic, I don’t see how I can avoid religious tones altogether.

I feel like I need to start with a major disclaimer, so here goes. This shared experience we are having as a human species is terrible. I am shocked and saddened at the loss of life being experienced worldwide. I am extremely disheartened at the economic suffering so many are experiencing. In no way shape or form am I glad this is occurring nor would I ever hope to see this event again in my lifetime.

Is that strong enough? I hope so. Because on a personal level, it goes even deeper. I am one of those individuals with a senior in high school who is watching so many things he has waited his entire life for go down the drain. Arizona just announced this morning that school is done for the rest of the year. For him, that means that on top of the lost All-State Choral festival and an opportunity to perform on the stage at Arizona State University’s Gammage Auditorium (the one thing he cared about more than anything else this entire year), he will also be losing both his senior Morp and Prom, scholarship honors night, graduation, and the all-important graduation all-night party. Beyond that, he received his mission call (a letter telling him where he would be serving his two-year religious mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) to Dallas, Texas. He is supposed to report June 17th. Since that letter came, he has watched as missionaries from all over the world have been recalled. So even that life milestone that he has been looking forward to since early childhood is somewhat in limbo. He’s missing out on time spent with friends that will never be recovered. It’s been very tough for him and very tough as a parent to watch him grieve these losses that are piling up.

However, having said all that, there are times in our lives when we don’t get to decide the events that will shape our days, weeks or even months. The only thing we can decide is how to respond. And admittedly, there have been moments over the last three weeks that I have not responded as positively as I could have. But in the midst of all the frustration, I have noticed something.

I’ve noticed how truly lucky I am.

This past year has gone by at warp speed. My son, one of my best friends these last few years, has been hurtling towards adulthood and every day I could see my final moments with him at home just slipping away like sand in an hour glass. He was so busy with school activities, a job, friends and all the things associated with being a senior in high school that I didn’t get to see him all that often on a regular basis. But on March 13, all that changed.

Days still go by and the time for him to leave our little family unit is still coming far too quickly for me. On the other hand, I cannot complain that I am not getting enough time with him. For the first time in years, we are consistently having family dinner with everyone present every night. (With the obvious exception of my daughter Abby who is already adulting and whom we wish was home but recognize why she isn’t.) We have played more board games in the last two weeks as a family than we have played in the last six months. My younger children are getting a chance to be with and play with their older brother in ways they would never have had under normal circumstances. And in a time frame where normally every Saturday would be spent running from one year-end event to the next, we are finding time to go out as a family and…not rush to a single d*** thing.

I can’t lie. As selfish as this sounds, it has been a little bit of wonderful.

March, April and May of 2020 will totally shape these young people and the way they live their lives. Bonds formed, at least in my family, due to this horrific event will alter the trajectory of sibling and parent/child relationships for the next 50 years. That may sound like hyperbole, but I don’t think so. As a world society, we had gotten to a speed of life that, just maybe, was becoming unsustainable. So God shut it down.

Or maybe He didn’t. Maybe we as a species did that by ourselves with the agency we’ve been given. Regardless, it happened. And I am coming to see that if we so choose, it can possibly be one of the greatest things to ever happen to us.

Of course I am not speaking about those who are losing loved ones or those who are experiencing economic setbacks. But I am speaking about those who were maybe losing loved ones in a different way, but who are now being given an opportunity to salvage, repair or form those relationships in a positive way they wouldn’t have otherwise had.

COVID-19 will never be something I, nor anyone else I imagine, will look back on positively. But I can say with all certainty that these months spent in seclusion with my family will be memories I treasure forever.

My wife made an interesting observation this morning. She said that it occurred to her that this event we are going through could be compared to the Children of Israel and their interaction with a band of nasty, venomous snakes. Anyone the snakes bit was guaranteed a death sentence. However, the Lord, through Moses, provided a staff upon which they could look and be saved. That’s it. All they had to do was look at the staff and they wouldn’t die even if they had been bitten. It was so simple. And yet, because of how simple it was, there were many who wouldn’t do it. And they died.

To greatly enhance our chances of not only surviving this pandemic but emerging on the other side of it unscathed, all we have to do is stay home, social distance, be with our family. It’s that simple. And I am coming to see how great the blessings are if we do that. It’s not just that we’ll survive. We’ll gain so much more if we allow it. The memories made may not be what we expected, but they have the potential to be so much better. And yet, because of its simplicity, so many of us (me included at times) fight against it.

Well, I’m done. I’m done fighting it and I’m just going to enjoy the ride as much as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I am going to continue to watch multiple times a day for a sign that we are reaching the peak and beginning the descent back to normalcy. I’m going to mourn for those that have lost loved ones. (RIP Joe Diffie. You were one of my favorite artists all through college and I still smile a little every time I hear John Deere Green.) I’m going to do all I can to help those local businesses survive and I will hurt for those that are not sure where their financial security lies in the future.

But at the same time, I’m going to take this gift I’ve been given with my family and enjoy it to the fullest. I’m going to stay up a little bit later than I should each night and watch Jeopardy reruns with my boys. I’m going to let my Saturday to-do list go a little bit and spend those precious Saturdays experiencing local outdoor treasures I never even knew existed so close despite having lived in this area my entire life. I’m going to have dinner with my family every night. Heck, some nights I’m even going to make dinner for my family. Bottom line, I’m going to enjoy what I’ve been given, even if that gift came in a package I’d rather avoid.

Between us and God, we turned the world off. We might as well see what there is to see while it stays that way.

Where we spent this last Saturday as opposed to where we would have been expected to spend this last Saturday under normal circumstances.
Social Distancing at it’s best
How had I never been here before??? It’s only like 90 minutes away!

Oh Yeah, The Reason We Actually Came

The following post is the 6th in a series recapping a recent road trip I took with my two sons. Part 1 can be accessed by clicking here. All posts in this series can be accessed from this site’s home page.

My experience with college campuses…campii?…whatever, is not extensive. Following high school, I attended Eastern Arizona College, a small community college in the town of Thatcher, Arizona. EAC is not large. It does not pretend to be large. If anything, it celebrates and thrives on its general lack of largeness. There is no college scene, per se, unless you count the library or the occasional trip to the local Sodalicious. Everything in Thatcher is shuttered by 9:30 p.m. except the local convenience store, and the lobby to the post office. In other words, Thatcher does not have the feel of a typical college town.

Not to say I didn’t have fun. EAC was great. But as far as a typical college life experience? It was pretty tame. Which in retrospect, for a teetotaling Mormon wishing to remain a teetotaling Mormon through the whole college experience, tame was probably the best option for me.

Following EAC, I moved to the big city and attended the main campus of Arizona State University. Now, in light of the previous paragraph, I know what some of you are thinking. Isn’t ASU like one of the top party schools in America. The answer is no. Not anymore. That designation now belongs to the U of A. But in the ’90s when I attended? Yes, that would be true. However, I got married before I ever attended one class in Tempe and I lived off campus, only venturing in for classes and the occasional football game. Again, not the normal campus experience. Plus, very little about the ASU campus is historic. Same with EAC.

Now I share all of this only to set the stage for our last morning in New Orleans. The entire stated reason we had embarked on this trip was to engage in an official campus tour of Tulane University. Braden was super excited. And to be honest, my emotions weren’t far behind. This was something I had never done. How could it not be cool?

And you know what? It was. Really cool! From the tree covered drive down St. Charles Avenue to the stately historic building that greeted us at the entrance to the campus, it was just…awesome!

Tulane 1

Now, we did learn something very valuable very quickly when it comes to future campus visits. In my mind, a campus visit was something that would qualify as a big deal. Big deals generally require some amount of dressing up. Apparently, campus visits are not all that big of a deal because even in our jeans and polo shirt combos, my sons and I were the most dressed up of anyone there, including the tour guides. But in retrospect, I should have expected this. They want these kids to come here. It’s July in New Orleans. Why on earth wouldn’t everyone dress down and enjoy the experience?

Tulane 2

Surprisingly to me, Tulane campus was not that big. Especially compared with what I had experienced at ASU. I could be mistaken, but I believe the entirety of Tulane might fit inside ASU Stadium. But that is what made it kind of cool. Okay, cool isn’t the right word because by 10 in the morning, it was freaking hot. When they would actually take us into buildings likes the library, the wellness complex or the business school, I could practically hear my sweat glands sighing with relief. They hadn’t been worked out this hard…maybe ever.

Tulane 3

But overall, it was great. As we walked along the sidewalks, I couldn’t help thinking that this felt like a college campus in a way that I had never experienced. And Braden was totally awestruck. I think for the first time he was actually realizing he could go to a place like this. Whether he will or not? Doesn’t matter. He knows it’s a possibility and that’s enough.

Following the tour, we slipped into the bookstore and got some mementos of our visit and we even found Kate a souvenir. Which, admittedly would not have looked very good on Logan.

Tulane 4Tulane 5

Then we headed back toward our point of entry. As we neared the main building, we were met by a nice lady who either lives nearby and uses the campus walkways for exercise…or is a ghost. Not sure which. But anyway, she met us by the “Bead Tree”. The Bead Tree is a campus tradition that totally makes sense if you’ve ever been to New Orleans. The legend goes that if, as a freshman, you throw a string of beads into the tree and they stay, you will have success and finish your undergrad degree within four years. The nice lady informed us that the tradition can be altered and if you throw a string of beads into the tree and they stay, you will have four years of good luck. There were some beads on the ground and she handed them to Braden. He tossed them up and…good news, things will apparently go his way through his 20th birthday. Then…the ghost lady walked away and we headed back out to our car so we could get on the road and begin our long trek home.

Tulane 6

It was hard to pass through the outskirts of New Orleans. Our time there had been truly memorable and it’s always hard to see a good time come to an end. It’s even harder when you know how much driving you have ahead of you without the promise of an adventure waiting for you at the end. Nevertheless, we cranked up Willie and moved along.

The string of events that occurred once we reached Baton Rouge had to be the most frustrating of our trip mainly because we were up against the clock and just couldn’t seem to get anywhere. First off, we pulled off the freeway to get gas and get a bathroom for Logan only to find that the promised gas station/freeway town was four miles away. Then, when we did find the “gas station”, it turned out to be two gas pumps in front of a grocery store that no one in their right mind would ever buy produce from. If you don’t understand, well…be glad you’ve never been in a grocery store like that. Anyway, I wasn’t going to get gas there, but Logan was desperate so we sent him in. He claimed it was possibly his most disgusting/frightening bathroom stop ever. He had to go into the back storage area and find a barely marked door in a dimly lit corner. I felt bad for him until I remembered the old AJ Bayless in Safford where my mom used to shop growing up. Upon reflection, his bathroom and that bathroom sounded exactly the same. Unrelated to anything, that AJ Bayless bathroom is where I learned the concept of a dirty limerick. Anyway, the other problem was that time was movin’ on. Logan finally emerged, shuddering. We rushed him into the car, queued up Willie and took a back road to Baton Rouge where a Chipotle was supposedly waiting for us.

Except we couldn’t find it. Braden’s GPS swore it was there, but we’d already had the Shipley Donut experience so our trust level in him wasn’t exactly brimming. Nevertheless, we finally did find it, ate, changed, got gas and somehow managed to put Baton Rouge into our rearview mirror just 1 1/2 hours after we’d arrived. It felt like twenty.

I could describe the convenience/cigar store we stopped at just inside the Texas border, but I’ll let these pictures do the talking.

Suffice it to say, I know as a general rule I try to get my boot, crucifix and John Wayne portrait shopping done at roadside gas stations so this store totally spoke to me.

It was coming up on dinner time when we hit Houston, but our Chipotle stop had been later in the day and was still with us, so we decided to skip dinner and just go with a box of…you guessed it, Shipley Donuts. Rest assured we found a different location not associated with downtown. They were good. But then again, they’re donuts. It’s pretty hard to mess up a donut.

The night before, we had decided to be adventurous and return home through Austin rather than San Antonio. This meant getting off the I-10, which turned out to be one of the prettiest drives I’ve ever experienced. Rolling green hills and plenty of trees made for a nice change. It was a little disconcerting that the speed limit remained 75 mph despite houses now being less than 50 feet from the road, but hey, it’s Texas. And…I’m sure there’s some macho allegory that ultimately teaches us that Texas is superior to all in there somewhere.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see much of Austin because darkness was settling in as we hit town. The one thing I did take away from our Austin experience is that whoever their city planner was, I hope he hangs in effigy somewhere in the downtown complex. I mean, seriously, that was the most convoluted set of roads I’ve ever experienced in my life. And I’ve been to England…and Tucson.

As a final event for our trip, we decided to take in Ant Man and the Wasp since it was opening night. After another adventure on the streets of Austin that I’m fairly certain actually took us through several people’s backyards, we made it from our hotel to the theater. Great flick. The Ant Man movies are by far the funniest of the Marvel library and yes, I’ve seen the Guardian movies.

There isn’t much to report about our final day of travel. It consisted of waking up early, getting on the road and driving. And driving. Stopping for gas and a bathroom, and driving. It was enjoyable enough except, it gets hard to keep everyone’s attention after five days together and so Braden drifted into his own music and Logan slept a lot. But it was good. When we finally made it to El Paso, we knew we’d broken the back of the trip and it felt good to be almost home. We’d definitely missed the women in our lives.

However, one last thing that brought us all together was that over the course of several trips, we had now driven the entire length of the 1-10 freeway from California to Florida with the exception of the small stretch between Lordsburg and the turn off just before Willcox. We decided there was no time like the present so pulled a Thelma and Louise/Kramer and the car salesman, and watched the Lordsburg exit fly by as we embarked on one final adventure. Turns out it wasn’t that adventurous, but, we are now numbered among the very few (other than truckers) who can claim to have driven the entire 1-10. I feel very proud.

To wrap things up, I couldn’t have asked for a better time with my boys. I am so glad Braden talked me into it. We’re already planning another one for next year, although the fact that it is planned already takes some of the fun out of it. Nevertheless, the men of the Ryan Rapier family will always look back on the summer of 2018 and smile. And maybe even start humming an old Willie Nelson song that will forever be attached to those fabulous memories.

Chillin’ In The Big Easy

The following is part 5 of a series recapping a cross-country road trip I recently took with my sons. To see part 1, click here. All other episodes in this epic saga can be found at this site’s home page. If cross-country road trip sagas are not for you, slip away quietly right now and no one will ever even know you were here.

There is something almost life-changing about waking up in the morning when your body feels like it’s ready and not to the hideous sound of a man-made alarm. I’ve had this epiphany on several different occasions throughout my life (my first day home after my LDS mission where 6:30 a.m. was the ironclad rule, or the first time as an adult I ever took the day after Christmas off) but as I awoke in my hotel bed in New Orleans on the morning of July 4th, 2018, it was brought home to me in a powerful way all over again. For the first time all week, there was no rush. And it felt amazing.

Amazing that is, until I rolled over and I was immediately confronted by the reality of what happens to a 45-year old body that sleeps in a foreign bed after having driven over 1,100 miles in 48 hours. It only took an instant for the euphoria of not having to be on the road again by 6 a.m. to be replaced by near hysteria as I wondered if I would ever walk upright again in this lifetime.

Thankfully, a nice hot shower and a few stretches fixed everything (well, everything except being 45) and I was ready to face the day. Much like me, I could tell my boys were equally thrilled with the prospect of having little on the schedule and being able to ease into our day. At no point did anyone protest the tortoise-like pace we’d adopted. There was no rush, there was no agenda. We were true natives of the Big Easy, happy to accept whatever came our way…

…As long as everybody got there butts in gear before the maid service came along. Good crap, we were going to waste the entire day if we didn’t get a move on.

Yep, my laid back approach to vacationing lasted all of…I don’t know, 45 minutes? Then I was back to being my old, “gotta make time, gotta make time” self. I’ll admit, I was kinda happy to see that guy. I’d started to miss him. My kids? Well, I think they’d have been fine if he’d stayed home completely. But, they rolled with it and by 9 a.m. we were back on the street, ready to go.

As far as plans go, this was again a new concept for me. We didn’t have many. The only things we knew for certain were that we wanted to go to a movie at 12:30 (we’d scouted out the theater the night before thus the specificity on the time) and watch the fireworks at 8:30 that night. That was pretty much it on the docket. So, for our morning adventure we decided to take in a little self-guided tour of the Garden District.

For those unacquainted with New Orleans, the Garden District isn’t really anything other than a fancy neighborhood of houses that are really big, really ornate and really old. Think antebellum, old south…zip a dee do dah style homes and you’re getting a pretty good picture. Also, several of these homes are owned by very famous people and yet, you can pretty much walk right up the front gate and be 20 feet or so from their front door. For instance, Archie Manning’s house (father of Peyton and Eli) has no gate on the driveway and his car was parked just a few feet off the main sidewalk. If I were a Patriot’s fan, I could have had Braden kick his bumper and then ran like heck and there wouldn’t have been much he could do about it. Except throw Braden in jail I suppose, but then that’s why I would have had Braden do it in the first place. Plausible deniability. Anyway, along with famous houses, the area also includes the well known Lafayette Cemetery.

So, after a ride on the historical street car (a ride we found extra exciting due to our love of the Disney movie, The Princess and the Frog) we spent two hours wandering around the Garden District. We had a pseudo breakfast (large pastry) at a cafe in an old historic building called The Rink, strolled through the graves at a cemetery and visited some pretty cool houses. Highlights included:

  • The pastries. That little coffee shop that didn’t look like much from the outside had some pretty dang amazing pastries. The water we got to go with them? Eh. But it was free so how much room do we actually have to complain?
  • Lafayette Cemetery. Apparently it is a really bad idea to bury people underground in New Orleans because the ground is so wet. I didn’t know this was possible, but I am told that bodies and caskets can work their way back to the surface with ground that waterlogged. It’s not like Arizona where the ground is so hard that when we bury someone, we have to worry about whether issues might arise at resurrection time. Anyway, the above ground graves and mausoleums were pretty cool.
  • Sidewalks. Only in a town like New Orleans would famous people who have paid millions for their home put up with sidewalks like these. But here, stately trees that are hundreds of years old get preferential treatment and if that means a millionaire has to get out their all terrain hiking equipment to get to their front door. So be it.

Sidewalks

  • Jefferson Davis’ death home. I don’t know why, but historical places are so much more interesting to me when I can place a historical figure in them. And knowing that we were standing outside the place where the president of the Confederacy died was like…huh, pretty cool. It’s the same feeling I get in the French Quarter when I see the plaque stating that people had stood on the balcony above to shout support for Andrew Jackson as he rode by following the Battle of New Orleans.

Jefferson Davis

  • Famous people’s houses. As mentioned, we saw the family home of Peyton and Eli Manning. We also happened to stop by John Goodman’s house and Sandra Bullock’s house. As near as we could tell, they were not home. Or at least they were not out working in their garden when we happened by. And why should they be? It was July in New Orleans. Hot and unbelievably humid! I’m sure that’s why they didn’t come out and say hi. We also happened by Anne Rice’s old home, but I’m not a big enough fan to have bothered with a picture.

Manning Home

Home of Archie and Olivia Manning

Goodman Home

John Goodman’s Home

Bullock Home

Sandra Bullock’s Home (Not very visible from the street, by design)

Sandra Bullock’s home was one of the last we visited and so, having decided that we’d had enough of the majesty and beauty of the Garden District (not to mention sweltering heat with 893% humidity) we decided to commemorate the moment by going back downtown and taking in the movie Ocean’s 8, starring…Sandra Bullock. It seemed only fitting.

The movie was pretty good, but the one comment I’ll make about the whole experience was that I had never been to a theater before that had no concession stand. They just handed us menus on our way into the theater and that was it. I think I might have warmed to the concept better if the old couple in front of us hadn’t decided to enjoy a full seven course meal with after dinner wine, all served over the course of our feature presentation. Because of that alone, the “menu with a call button in a movie theater” idea gets a big thumbs down from me.

After the movie, there’s not a lot to report other than we wandered around the French Quarter and The Riverwalk for a couple of hours trying to decide what it was exactly we wanted to do. This is one moment when I wanted to desperately strangle both of my boys for nothing more than being teenagers.

“What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know. Whatever.”

“Would you like to (Fill in the blank)?”

“Not really.”

“Then what would you like to do?”

“I don’t know.”

This stimulating conversation repeated on an endless loop while we aimlessly walked and it led to two different outcomes. One, we ended up having beignets for lunch and two, we found ourselves outside and no where near shelter when an afternoon monsoon appeared from nowhere and pounded us with a vengeance. Beignets? Awesome! Walking around soaking wet on the streets of New Orleans with heat and humidity at levels that would kill most small canine breeds? Not as awesome. We headed back to the hotel for a rest and a much needed change of clothes.

That night, we decided to get crazy and go to the hole in the wall diner next to our hotel (there really aren’t any diners in New Orleans that aren’t of the hole in the wall variety) and try proper Cajun cooking. At least Logan and I decided this. Braden had a hamburger.

Logan and I on the other hand had gumbo, a shrimp po’ boy, fried green tomatoes, and my personal favorite, alligator. Okay, it’s my personal favorite in that I get to tell people I ate alligator. But in actuality, I probably wouldn’t rush out and have it again. But the rest of it was exquisite. And Braden liked his hamburger as well, in case you were wondering.

Food 1

Food 2

Finally, the hour we had traveled half way across the country for arrived. It was time to go get our place along the river for the fireworks. Having never been here before, we decided to leave two hours early and wait. As it turned out, that was probably a tad excessive. But, we ended up with a great spot.

River spot

With nothing to do for two hours, we took turns going into the Riverwalk mall behind us to cool off and do something other than stand along a railing by the Mississippi River. What we discovered is that Cafe Dumond had a satellite cafe here. We decided it couldn’t hurt to top off our highly rich dinner with another round of beignets. This leads to a question we should have asked ourselves before making this decision. That question being: how many beignets are too many beignets to consume in a 24 hour period. So that you are aware, the answer is 9. I will elaborate no further other than to say that this answer may also hinge on whether or not you have eaten alligator in that same 24 hour period.

Finally, the sun set and we prepared for the fireworks to begin. It was kind of fun. In the half hour leading up to the fireworks we made friends with a couple who were originally from Jamaica but now lived in New York. They were really nice and friendly and it was neat for my boys to be in a setting where they could literally be chatting with people from all over the world.

And the fireworks themselves? Holy Cow!!! Pictures or videos can’t begin to do them justice. Let’s just say it was definitely worth all of the effort we had made to see them. However, I did want to get one final picture of our vantage point from a different perspective.

Nighttime 1

Once the fireworks ended, it didn’t take long for brutal exhaustion to come crashing down on us. There would be no partying late into the night for the Rapier boys. We were done. Slowly, along with several hundred of our new best friends, we trudged the streets back to our hotel with the promise of a soft bed providing the only incentive to keep going. And sadly, with our Tulane visit scheduled for the next morning, the luxury of easing into our day was not an option we could look forward to again.

The sixth and final chapter in the Rapier Guys Road Trip series will appear later this week.

I Just Need A Bathroom And A Donut

The following is the fourth installment in a series of posts detailing my recent road trip with my sons. For part 1 of this series, click here. All installments can be found on the homepage.

There’s an aspect of traveling that I utterly despise. It’s that horrific game of chicken one has to play of knowing when to pull off the freeway for gas or food while traveling through an unfamiliar city. If you pull off too soon, you can find yourself in a maze of twisted traffic filled with street options that promise to take you anywhere you could possibly want to go except back to the freeway. On the other hand, if you wait too long, you can find yourself with no options at all except maybe a truck stop with toilets that stopped flushing two visitors before you and food options that suggest expiration dates are for suckers. This seems to be what happens to me every time I try to get out of Las Vegas headed for St. George. Of course, it may just be that there is actually no good place to stop on the north side of Las Vegas and I really should just accept my fate and try that Steak and Lobster buffet being offered for $9.99.

Anyway, as the sun rose over San Antonio and day two of our father/son road trip got underway, Logan, Braden and I found ourselves tense with anticipation as our latest dalliance with this game of chance played out. As light began to streak through the mildly overcast sky, it was clear we hadn’t pulled over too soon. But the jury was definitely still out on whether we had waited too long. Making matters worse, this stretch of I10 between San Antonio to Houston (and we would discover, all the way to New Orleans) is much more like the I10 stretch between Tucson and Phoenix than we had experienced the day before. Dozens of semis surrounded us on the road making it difficult to spot signs advertising food and gas options at the upcoming exit.

Finally, with swaths of wide open spaces taking the place of city, we decided not to press our luck any further. As it turned out, we could have done better. But boy, could we have done a lot worse. Yes, we had to eat smashed croissant sandwiches from a Burger King smashed into the corner of a large “Travel Stop”. But the entire place was remarkably clean and I felt no need to seek out a tetanus shot upon our departure.

The drive to Houston was pretty unremarkable. It was basically a continuation of what we had experienced the day before. The only real mishap was that Logan misread the itinerary and thought Houston was only about two hours away. Thus, as his bladder began to fill beyond capacity, he held off saying anything because surely we would hit Houston at any time, right? By the time we finally did, he was not looking so good.

Needing a stop myself, I recalled someone telling me about Shipley Donuts and how they should not be missed. In a moment I would come to regret many times over the next hour, I thought to myself, “Why not kill two birds with one stone and stop for a bathroom break and a donut?”

I asked Braden to find the closest Shipley Donuts and get us there. He decided to direct us to the closest Shipley Donuts in a place he really wanted to go. Downtown-smack in the middle of everything-Houston. This decision required us to find a parking spot in a maze of one way streets because the Shipley Donuts was not visible from the street. And there were no available parking spots (I should say, visible parking spots because we found out later there were plenty of parking spots right next to where we were trying to get to, we just couldn’t see them) near our desired location. So, we ended up parking on a side street about three full city blocks from Shipley Donuts. The pained look on Logan’s face was quickly transforming from discomfort to panic.

After walking for several blocks in my traveling clothes (basketball shorts, t-shirt, and orange slip-ons that don’t stay on my feet very well) we finally found the block where Shipley Donuts was located…

…except it wasn’t. There was no Shipley Donuts anywhere. Apple had led us to a high rise building with a weird little grocery store in it, but no donuts. And even worse, no bathroom.

Now things were getting desperate. We quickly started back the way we had come because I remembered an open air mall we had passed that would surely have a bathroom. Problem was, I got confused on exactly where we were and couldn’t find it. Logan was walking with a slight Quasimodo gait by this point and things were looking grim.

Eventually, we found the open air mall and…it was not so much a mall as an open air collection of restaurants and wine shops. Most of which were not open at this time of day. AAAAAHHHHHHHH! Finally, I found a tobacco shop that was open and asked about a bathroom in the complex. I was directed to the third floor. We got to the third floor, found the hallway where the bathrooms are located and were greeted by this sign:

BATHROOMS ARE CURRENTLY UNAVAILABLE AT THIS TIME

Down the hallway, I could see the bathroom doors. At this point, I basically said screw it, and we all headed toward the off-limit bathroom anyway. Thankfully, they weren’t locked, we accomplished what we needed to accomplish and decided we wanted nothing more than to get out of Houston. And so we did, sadly without any donuts.

Houston

As we piled back into the van, I looked once more at my front two tires. I had known for several weeks that we would probably need to replace them soon. Unfortunately, when you plan a trip in less time than it takes some people to blow their nose, you don’t always address every issue you might need to before you leave. Bottom line, I felt like I couldn’t push my luck any more. As we drove out of Houston, I had Braden look up Discount Tires between us and New Orleans. There was one in Baton Rouge. And with that, we had decided upon our next destination.

By the way, as we got back on the freeway headed out of Downtown Houston, Willie Nelson made his second aural appearance of the day.

As we crossed into Louisiana, it started to rain. It wasn’t too bad, but it was constant. And with semis as far as the eye could see and constant road construction leading to very narrow traffic lanes, it led to some very white knuckle moments. Finally, we rolled into the outskirts of Baton Rouge and…severe traffic.

I have been in many traffic jams in my life, but this one provided something new. A bridge that you cross to get into Baton Rouge is unique. Unique in the fact that it looks like it was formed on the hump of camel. I’ve never in my life driven over a bridge that steep. What made it truly scary was that we happened upon this bridge in the midst of stop and go traffic in the rain. I seriously began to worry about my van stalling and rolling backwards, or the guy in front me stalling and rolling backwards. Basically, all stalling and rolling backwards scenarios played out in my mind in that short three minutes we were stuck on the Baton Rouge Bridge.

Nevertheless, we got through to the other side and eventually found ourselves on the other side of Baton Rouge at our Discount Tire. And interestingly enough, it was located in a suburb of Baton Rouge called, Gonzalez. I don’t know why I found that slightly humorous, but I did. I would expect a town name like that in Arizona, but it caught me off guard in Creole country. I guess I would have expected it to be Gonzaleaux. Anyway, we got the van checked in and headed out to lunch at a Jimmy Johns nearby.

While at Jimmy Johns, the rain intensified to Noah like proportions. Which meant that in order to get back to Discount Tire, we had to run through it and get soaked. Which we did. What I found funny was that Braden had taken to heart the instruction that one should not get close to any standing water in this part of the country and told me it was completely on me if he got attacked by a ‘gator during our dash back across a parking lot, small field and construction site.

Back on the road, it was only about an hour or so later that we finally reached our destination. NEW ORLEANS!!!

Without incident we drove by the Super Dome, found our hotel, checked in and then headed out to the Quarter. I showed the boys the small little hotel I had stayed in for a night just off of Bourbon Street called The Prince Conti. They were justifiably horrified.  We saw a street band performing on Bourbon Street. They got to see the incredible salesmanship/con job of a street shoe shiner (something I had already witnessed in Chicago but thought they would enjoy so I let it play out). We walked around Jackson Square. And of course, we stopped at Cafe Dumond and had beignets. Observing Braden’s face as we ate them, I had the sneaking suspicion that maybe this one moment was the real reason we had driven halfway across the country. Forget Tulane, forget the fireworks, it was really all about the beignets.

Bourbon Street

Jackson Square

Beignets

Finally, as a closer for the day, we walked next door to Cafe Dumond and climbed up the stairs to an overlook of the Mississippi River. I’m sorry, but for an Arizona kid who is told that the Gila is supposed to be a river, the Mississippi is just something beyond description. We sat down and just watched it go by for several minutes, not one of us expressing any desire to do anything else. It was pretty cool.

For the rest of the evening, we walked around a bit more, explored the Riverwalk, and then eventually decided we were tired and we should probably go to bed. But for me, we could have turned around and driven home right then and the entire trip would have been worth it after our trip to Cafe Dumond and the time we spent watching the river. It was peaceful, and it was a memory with my sons I will never forget. And it certainly is a better memory to end the day on than the bonding moment we shared later that night when a random guy on the street called me a skinhead white piece of…you know, because I wouldn’t buy his homemade rap CD. Gotta love NOLA!

Episode 5 of The Rapier Guys Road Trip will appear later this week.