My Dog is Applying to College, a Father’s Experience

It’s happening. My dog is applying to colleges. Well known colleges. Prestigious colleges. Colleges she has no chance of getting in to because she slacked off a little too much third period.

It feels entirely too soon to be going through this. Just yesterday, it seems, we (my wife and I) were meeting her for the first time. There she was, sitting in the grass outside of PetSmart, a toy fox by her side. We couldn’t have been more excited, and less prepared.

Now, almost two years later, she’s applying for colleges. Sure, she’s just a young teenager. But it’s what you have to do just to stay competitive. Dog colleges, as it turns out, are extremely competitive. Perhaps more so than human colleges, even. For instance, our neighbor’s dog, a young sheltie, is off at her second piano lesson of the day. After that, she’s got advanced ballet, followed by woodworking for people who are already pretty good at woodworking. She’s the only dog in a class full of humans. She’s that good! Rumor has it, she’s even got a paw in the door at Barkvard University. Meanwhile, we (my dog, wife, and I) just mastered the doggie door.

It’s also expensive. I hate to be the dog dad that points out how much his dog’s school could cost, but $20,000 for a year at state? $50,000 for a year at Barkmouth, the school she so desperately wants to go to? It’s a lot to take in. And, if Dad is being honest, it sometimes makes him feel as though that “pleasant little surprise” a couple of years ago may not have been so pleasant. But then, as always, she’ll rest her paw on my foot, or sit patiently by my side, and I’ll forget about the car my wife and I won’t be getting or the vacation we won’t be taking.

Her love for us is unconditional, and ours for her too. So of course we’ll do anything to help her achieve her goals—whether that be mastering the doggie door or applying to college—even if that goal costs the same as a manned mission to the moon. As a matter of fact, we’re working on an application now. She’s writing an essay on why she wants to go to Barkmouth, I’m editing, and my wife is editing my editing because I can be “a bit of a loose cannon” on the page. She flatters me. Anyway, here’s a brief excerpt:

“But most of all, I want to make my parents proud. I know they worry—especially Dad. I know the cost and competitiveness of college probably has him thinking about some joke involving a manned mission to the moon (nice one, Dad). But, deep down, I also know Barkmouth is where I’m supposed to be.”

Smart, funny, and intuitive—it’s clear she takes after Dad.* It’s also clear she’s more grown up than I’d like to admit. Which may be the toughest part about this process. She no longer needs me as much as I’d like to be needed, and in only four short dog years she’ll be packing her bags and heading off to college, wherever that may be.

They say it goes fast. And they’re right. One second you’re holding her in your arms, an eight-week-old puppy slobbering all over you because she’s still a little car sick, and the next she’s writing essays for her college applications. It happens in the blink of an eye. So, as much as I can, I’m going to embrace and cherish the next four dog years. Take too many photos. Play too much. Embarrass her in front of her friends. Give her a few too many treats under the table. Let her pee on as many bushes and fire hydrants as she wants. Because soon she’ll be away at college, and soon I’ll have to take out a second mortgage on the house that I don’t have yet because college is expensive, but parents will pay for it anyway because they love their kids unconditionally.

It’s shameful that colleges take advantage of that (I stand by that, Barkmouth!).

*A later draft of this read: “It’s clear she takes after Mom. Dad’s an idiot, and sleeping on the couch tonight.” My wife had nothing to do with it.

I’m Man, I Go Hunting

A couple of years ago, my soon to be brother-in-law (who, for the sake of this story, I’ll now refer to as Jerome) took me turkey hunting. He’d been asking if I wanted to go and, not having much of an excuse and hoping for an experience, I said sure.

Now, here’s a thing about me: I’m not much of a hunter. For perspective, when I was little—say, nine or ten—my brother and I begged our Mom if we could attempt to bag some squirrels with a BB gun. They were rampant in our yard, and her thinking we wouldn’t get anywhere near one, she gave us the go ahead. I won’t go in to detail about what happened next, but know things didn’t end well for one unfortunate squirrel. Or my brother, who I had shamelessly abandoned as our stern next door neighbor approached us to see what we were doing (we tracked the squirrel to his yard). It all still bothers me to this day. It was also my only prior hunting experience. Nevertheless, I thought I’d give it another shot.

We met at his house early in the morning one weekend (which also happened to be the last day of turkey season). I slapped on some extra camouflaged clothes he had, all of it a size too big, and we jumped in the car and took off.

The sun rose.

Fast forward a few hours and we found ourselves driving down a forgotten road, wondering where all the turkeys had been. We’d spent a full morning roaming fields and we hadn’t even pulled the trigger once. In fact, our biggest rush had been seeing a turkey in the distance, only to realize it wasn’t a turkey at all but really just a mound of dirt. Was this all our hunting experience was going to be?

We pulled into a dirt parking lot. Within an hour the turkey season would close. Which meant we had two choices. One, keep going. Stay positive. Give it our all until there wasn’t any time left on the clock, like a couple of five-year-olds playing basketball until the final buzzer even though they were losing seventy-eight to zero. Or two, pack it in. Tired and defeated, we chose option two. One more hour wouldn’t do us any good. Not at this rate any way. Not in our current mental state. We’d just chalk it up to what it was—rotten luck and some really convincing dirt—and try to do better next time. But then, just as we were about to take off, a car pulled up next to us.

He began talking to Jerome. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but the manner in which they were speaking suggested something of a rapport. I even began to question whether they knew each other prior to this. Maybe they shot pool together on weekends or got into some trouble back in Mrs. Clancy’s class in third grade. Maybe they met at a Green Day concert. Or maybe—and this was a stretch—they didn’t know each other at all.

As it turns out they didn’t know each other at all. The man was just enjoying the last day of turkey season with his son, who was in the passenger seat, and thought he’d tell us about some turkeys they saw earlier in the day (I guess it looked like we could use the help). Said he could show us where they were if we liked? “Hell yeah!” we said. Or at least Jerome did. I was still having a hard time believing those two didn’t at least play in a bowling league together.

The four of us got out of our cars. The man with a shotgun. Jerome with a shotgun. The man’s 12-year-old son with a shotgun. Me with binoculars.

Now, I’m pretty comfortable not being the manliest of men in a group. But there’s something about being the only guy hunting in a group without a gun, especially when one of those guys isn’t old enough to ride a go-cart by himself and your holding binoculars, that really makes you question what kind of man you are. To be fair though, there was a reason I was without a gun. I didn’t have a license. And if you got caught carrying a gun without such a credential, well, it was punishable by death. Most likely. However, if we got close enough to shoot a turkey, Jerome said he’d pass me his gun and I’d take the shot anyway.

With our man-hierarchy clearly established—random guy, Jerome, 12-year-old, flower on the side of the road, me—we took off into the woods. We walked a good half mile before coming to a stop. From here we would go our separate ways. The man told us about two options, both of which had turkeys, one being as close to a sure thing as possible. Being the class act that he was—or seeing us as a couple of guys who could use a win—the man let us choose. He and his son would take the option we didn’t want. Needless to say, we took the sure thing. We very much could use the win.

He said there were a couple of turkeys just minutes away. However, after walking just minutes we were no better off than we had been before. If anything, things were getting worse. Not only had we not seen a turkey, but we hadn’t even seen a convincing mound of dirt. Nevertheless, we pushed on. Surely the man knew what he was talking about and wasn’t just messing with us for giggles, seeing us as a couple of saps who probably got mustard on their shirt when they ate a hot dog. Or at least we hoped.

Rain began to fall. Not hard, but enough to drive a man insane under the right circumstances. With morale fading, and quick, we began discussing the very real possibility that there weren’t going to be any turkeys. Maybe the man and his son had duped us (what did we know about them after all?). Maybe the turkeys were there earlier but had since moved on. Maybe the turkeys and the man had been in on it together from the beginning, monitoring our every movement, watching us on a big screen somewhere, laughing, eating buttery popcorn. But then, as our last shreds of hope were fading, we saw something in the distance. It looked like a turkey.

But it was too far away to be certain. It could have just as easily been another convincing mound of dirt. Fortunately, I had a high-powered, all-action, man device that could help us determine the truth. My binoculars.

Peering through the lenses I saw two turkeys (they did exist! The guy wasn’t duping us! No we weren’t weeping in each other’s arms!). Probably three hundred yards or so across a field, hugging a tree line. Definitely too far away to take any kind of shot, but close enough to give us hope and a plan. We’d sneak around the backside of the trees and see if we could come up behind them. If not, we’d improvise.

We had to improvise. The plan hadn’t gone to, well, plan. The turkeys were savvy; almost certainly watching on a big screen somewhere with the man and his son. As such, I found myself army crawling through the mud and high grass, doing my best to quietly get out of the mini forest so I could start running like a maniac on the other side. That way, if the turkeys tried to flee in that direction, they’d be spooked into going back the other way, where Jerome would be waiting to take the shot. It was the best we could come up with.

With the rain falling like little cannon balls, I took off sprinting, binoculars in hand, having absolutely no idea what I was doing. It was hunting in its purest form. I ran the length of the tree line, waiting to hear a shot. But the shot never came. Jerome arrived to our meeting point and told me the turkeys had alluded us once again; scampered away as if they had been given inside information, recording us on little turkey cell phones and sending snap chats to their buddies all the while. It was deflating.

The story dwindles out from there. At that point we knew the day was over. There would be no turkeys had. Heck, we weren’t even going to fire a single shot. The turkeys had simply gotten the better of us on the day. So we trudged back to the car, however far away it was, clothes soaked, pride in shambles, binoculars in my hand.

It’s Me, Your Good Friend, Alarm Clock

It’s me, your good friend, alarm clock. It’s time to wake up. No, seriously, you have to get up now. You told me so. Wake up, please. If you don’t wake up soon I’m going to have to get nasty. Wake up. Wake up. WAKE UP YOU FILTHY PIECE OF GARBAGE!

Oh, seven more minutes? Why didn’t you just say so? Of course you can have more time! But no more than you tell me. I don’t want to have to get nasty again, but I will. And we both know I’ve said much worse than filthy piece of garbage. Remember the day after your twenty-first?

I know; I take my job seriously. And to somebody on the outside looking in I probably come across as being a bit… well, overbearing. But it’s only because I care. Do you think your mother would let you skip that day of work or important interview or early morning workout? No. She wouldn’t. And neither will I! Even if that means you despise me or throw me into a wall or smother me in your pillow like you did last week. (We have fun, don’t we?)

I think it stems from my upbringing. Me being punctual. You see, when I was a little alarm clock, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… HA! I only kid. But seriously. When I was a little alarm clock, back before smart phones even, my parents gave me a few responsibilities—chores, if you will. And one of those chores was to make breakfast for all my siblings. So every morning, come rain or shine, full battery or low battery, I’d get up at 5:30. On the dot. Because people were relying on me and I said I would. It’s no different now. When somebody tells me to get them up at a certain time, I do, because, in a way, they’re my family too. 

I don’t know, maybe I’m getting too sentimental. Maybe I’m just a control freak. Maybe I have a little OCD and you not doing what you’re supposed to when you’re supposed to do it, like I am, really rubs me the wrong way. Whatever it may be, one thing is for sure: come the time you tell me to be there, I’ll be there. Even if you don’t want me to be. Even if you accidentally hit snooze instead of turning off the alarm out of habit because you’ve worked twenty days in a row and now you have a day off and can sleep more than five hours (whoops!). I’ll always be there, whispering in your ear. Shouting if necessary.

There’s this line in a movie I really like, and I think it describes me to a tee. I’ve made a few revisions, but here it is. You might recognize it: he’s not our hero. He’s a loud guardian, a watchful protector. A dark alarm clock.

Fitting, right? Oh, would you look at the time? Almost seven minutes already! That came around fast. I guess time really does fly when you’re having fun.

It’s me, your good friend, alarm clock. It’s time to wake up…

The Power of Anticipation

Imagine being in a box just big enough to sit in. Now imagine sitting in that box for an extended period of time. That, in a nutshell, is what road trips are like. And yet, it’s something that a lot of us are compelled to do.

Yes, road trips are often just a means to an end. A way—often the easiest, most economical—to get from point A to point B. And yes, for much of the time, road trips are kind of like banging your head into a locker, with your only relief being an old burrito from a gas station in the middle of nowhere. But when you look back on a road trip, there’s often a longing feeling that makes you want to do it again.

Why is that? A few reasons, I think. But perhaps none are more influential to the allure of a road trip than the feeling of anticipation it brings. When you’re in a car for hours on end, one thing you always have, no matter how far away or how close you are, is the idea of the end destination and what awaits you there. It’s what gets you through the long, monotonous hours on the interstate. It’s what makes driving through crazy, crowded downtowns a little more tolerable. It’s what gives you energy even though you haven’t been able to sleep more than a few hours over the last day and a half. And it’s what makes that old gas station burrito more delicious than filet mignon.

This certain power of anticipation isn’t limited to road trips, either. Take school, for instance. Whatever level it is—high school, college, graduate school, etc.—there’s always an underlying feeling of anticipation. Anticipation to complete a test, or a class, or a program, so you can move on to something better, whether that’s more school or finding yourself in a position to get paid. And it doesn’t stop there. This feeling of anticipation, this source of motivation and excitement, is in everything we do. School. Work. Social life. Road trips. Whatever. It’s what makes us work harder, study more, check the clock 86 times during the last hour of work, prepare a checklist for that trip to Europe seven months in advance and maybe learn French too, and more.

And that’s because we’re perpetually excited about better days. Better job. Better salary. Better relationships. Better conversations. Better car. Better life. It’s human nature. But it’s not just the end destination we’re excited about. We’re excited about the idea of the end destination, and the belief that whatever it is is going to be better than what we’re doing right now.

Here’s another example. It’s the last hour of work. You’re in a meeting. It’s kind of pointless (that’s not to say all work meetings are pointless, just most of them). And to make things worse, it’s dull. But, after the meeting you do get off work. And after work you do have the co-ed slow pitch softball championship that you’ve been looking forward to ever since you beat the Chiseled Koala’s in last week’s semi-final. Needless to say, the anticipation is all but killing you at this point. As such, you spend an entire hour daydreaming/visualizing possible scenarios the evening could take. All of them ending with you as the hero, of course. Maybe it’s a walk off grand slam—yeah, probably a walk off grand slam. Or maybe it’s a heroic catch in center field that nobody else could have made, definitely not David, who claims to be the best player on the team. Or maybe you do both at the same time. You’re not sure how that’d work, but you could probably pull it off. And then, just like that, you look at the clock and see an hour has passed and the meeting is over. It flew by. You even had a good time, too!

The anticipation of getting to where you’re going brings excitement—hope, even. It makes everything better. Both tough times and good times alike. Now, will the softball game live up to its lofty expectations? In this case, almost certainly not  (David’s just too good not to be the hero; the guy goes to the batting cages on his lunch break, for goodness sake!). In others, hopefully. No matter how the end destination plays out though, one thing is for sure: anticipation always adds to the life experience. Without it, days would be a little duller, people would work a little less hard, and life, in general, wouldn’t be as exciting. And that, in my book, is a win.

Sound the Alarm

I walked to the backside of my car and unlocked the trunk with the key, successfully triggering the alarm. Great. I’m that guy.

Still, an accidental car alarm is nothing more than a slight inconvenience. Kind of like sitting down to eat an omelette you spent twenty minutes on only to be told by your significant other that he or she forgot their drink in the living room and wouldn’t you be a doll and get it for them? After all, all I would need to do is hit unlock on the key fob and the alarm would turn off, and I’d be free of dirty looks from strangers in the parking lot.

I hit unlock. Nothing. I tried it again. Nothing. I tried it once more, punching it with the force of a guy who’s starting to lose his cool. Nothing. Heads were starting to turn. Or at least I thought they were. Even worse, they weren’t the heads of random strangers. They were the heads of kids’ parents I coach, most of whom I’d never formally met. Seeing my inability to turn off a simple car alarm, I’m sure they were beginning to question my ability to shape their kids’ young soccer minds. “I bet he has a tough time reciting the alphabet, too,” they probably said to one another.

But then a strange thing happened and my car alarm turned off. For no apparent reason. It was as if the car had decided that the minute it sounded was more than enough time to alert the good guys that the bad guys were attempting to steal it. Good in this situation, bad in almost any other situation. Oh well. I wasn’t going to over think it. I could use the break and the car was old enough to make its own decisions.

I unlocked the driver door with the key, successfully triggering the alarm once again. Perfect.

I ripped my keys out of the door and went through the same sequence as earlier, pressing the unlock key, getting no response. I was growing increasingly agitated with each passing second. I circled the car, trying different doors, holding my hands up in self defense to all who could see (doing my best to suggest it was the car, not me, and that I’m competent enough to know how to turn off an alarm and also make a good bowl of ramen noodles), all the while pressing the unlock button like a guy who’s flipping through the TV channels as fast as possible.

Then the alarm turned off. As it had before, for no apparent reason. At that point I put two plus two together and determined my car simply would not sound the alarm for more than a minute. If any bad guy was willing to stick it out longer than that, fair enough. Take the car. You earned it. I enjoyed this thought for a moment and then realized something: the driver side door was now unlocked. This could be my big break!

I approached the door cautiously—as if sneaking up on a sleeping gorilla (but only because we were friends, and he was running late for his afternoon shift at Target). I gently placed my hand on the handle and pulled.

The alarm went off for a third time. My heart sank. I desperately tried the same bag of tricks, hoping—wishing—that this time things would be different. They weren’t. After about a minute, the alarm turned off once more, and I was in exactly the same spot. Not wanting to go through that again, at least, not while some of the parents were still in attendance, I left my car and went into the nearest building. I’ll just wait hear for a while, I thought.

Some time passed. I’m not sure how much time, but I feel reasonably confident in saying I could have juiced a few oranges in the time that did pass, which I assumed was enough time to let the parents finish up their conversations and get out of there. I walked back to my car, seeing that my suspicions were correct. The parents were gone. That solves one problem, at least.

Not knowing what else to do, and wanting to get out of the cold drizzle (Did I mention it was raining a little? No? Well it was. I was wearing mesh shoes. It wasn’t ideal.), I opened the driver door and took a seat. As expected, the alarm went off. But at least it was going off with me sitting inside it this time. And, after about a minute, the alarm quit. If nothing else the alarm was punctual. I could respect that.

Running out of ideas, I called my brother—the tech savvy/car savvy one of the two of us. If I have a car problem, he’s who I call. If I have a computer problem, say, I can’t convert a Word document to Pages or I want to know if it’s possible to be scammed by a guy on the phone who’s probably in another country but you gave him access to your desktop because you thought he was a nice guy, he’s who I call. I explained the problem to him, making sure to give plenty of detail. He seemed stumped.

A few moments passed and then he asked if I’d tried to start the car now that I was inside. I chuckled. Such a naive thing to say. Of course I’d tried to start the car. Or, I mean, at least I did when the car alarm was going off. But the little red flashing security light was still pulsating, so surely that was the same thing. But still, I’ll humor him, I thought. Get this out of the way so we can move on to solving the actual problem. However, there would be no further problem solving because a funny thing happened and the car started. I simply put the key into the ignition and turned.

Who would have thought.

Quiz: How Bro Are You?

Chances are, you’ve been affected by a bro in some way, shape, or form. And if you haven’t personally been affected by a bro, almost surely somebody you know or care about has. They’re everywhere—the gym, your class, the gym, a street corner, the gym. And their numbers are only growing. You may think they’re annoying and obnoxious, or you may admire their spirit. But, did you know, almost everybody has a little bro in them? (Yes, even you ladies!) Some more than others, of course, like the handful of guys you saw in the back of the grocery store having a push-up competition and slamming gallons of milk, only to slam cheap beer after that. But almost all of us are at least a little bro. To see just how bro you are, take the yes or no quiz below! At the end, tally up the yeses and see where you fall on the bro spectrum. Good luck!

1. Do you lift weights? Yes or No

2. Do you wear a T-shirt that has the sleeves cut off to lift weights? Yes or No

3. Do you spend time at work outlining your workout, perhaps in an excel spreadsheet? Yes or No

4. Do you pound a protein shake after you lift weights? Yes or No. If yes, do you use two scoops or more? Yes or No.

5. Have you ever skipped leg day at the gym for another round of chest and tri’s? Yes or No

6. Do you prioritize protein over pizza? Yes or No

7. Have you ever said, “Can you shave my back, bro?” Yes or No

8. Have you ever yelled in frustration after not successfully bench pressing a certain weight? Yes or No

9. Do you consider a chin strap sweet? Yes or No

10. Do you call girls bro? Yes or No

11. Have you ever called your mom bro? Yes or No (two points for answering yes)

12. Do you shave your chest more than twice a week? Yes or No

13. When starting a meaningful conversation, is the first word you say “bro”? Yes or No

14. Do you know what GTL means? Yes or No

15. Have you ever consumed more than five Natural Light’s (Natty’s) in one sitting? Yes or No

16. Do you prefer a red solo cup over a coffee mug? Yes or No

17. Have you had your tips frosted in the last year? Yes or No

18. Have you ever asked someone whether or not you should frost your tips? Yes or No

19. Do you know what frosted tips are? Yes or No

20. Have you ever eaten two or more McDoubles in the parking lot of your gym because you needed the extra protein before a lift? Yes or No

21. Is your favorite color salmon? Yes or No

Yeses: 1-7 — Level of bro: low

What this says about you: you’re the most understated of bros. When people see you on the street they see artist, doctor, teacher, bar tender, waiter/waitress, runner, gardener, nice guy/gal—not bro. And that’s probably how you see yourself, too. But deep down you’re a little bro. Not bro enough to put a protein scoop in your Saturday morning beer, but bro enough to probably go to the gym a couple of times a week or know what frosted tips are.

Yeses: 8-14 — Level of bro: medium

What this says about you: you’re a middle-of-the-road bro. You’re aware of your bro-like tendencies, but it doesn’t make up your whole identity. Sometimes you may look and act a lot like a bro, and other times you may not look and act like a bro at all. In your mind, a pleasant day could just as easily be a hike in the woods as it could be fist pumping to something by Cascade in a dark room with seven other guys/gals. You probably also find salmon as an attractive color.

Yeses: 15-23 — Level of bro: high

What this says about you: you’re the ultimate bro. When people think of “bro”, you’re what they see—say, a guy or gal sitting on the bench press longer than they need to, or somebody hanging out on a street corner lawn that has a sign reading, “You honk, we drink.” At this point, being a bro is more than just Saturday football tailgates or sharing another bro’s Sperry’s or asking another bro if they need help shaving their back—it’s who you are.

An Ode to Road Trips

I recently drove from Springfield, Missouri to Key West, Florida with my Mom, Fiance, and brother. It took approximately 24 hours. Regrettable things were said. Poor choices were made. Too much greasy food was eaten. And time, more often than not, passed as though the minute hand had a bum ankle (he wasn’t exactly Usain Bolt to begin with). And yet, I had a blast.

I’ve always liked road trips. Even when I hated them. There’s just something compelling about it. Sure, a large part of it is the anticipation of where you’re going and what you’re going to do there—the snowy mountains you’re going to ski, the beaches you’re going to sit at and do nothing at all, the friends and family you’re going to see, the alcoholic beverages with little umbrellas you’re going to down by the fistful because it’s all inclusive and cousin Marty paid for the trip anyway. But it’s more than that. It’s the actual driving part, too. Or at least how you fill your time while driving.

What’s one of the biggest complaints or excuses people have today? Being too busy. Too busy to read that book that’s been sitting on the coffee table since two Christmases ago. Too busy to write. Too busy to work on that one project you’ve been wanting to do forever but haven’t been able to find the time (knitting a sweater, making space boots for little cousin Jimmy’s Halloween costume but it’s not really for little cousin Jimmy it’s for you because space boots are cool and Halloween is too and you know what back off me!, etc.). Too busy to do this. Too busy to do that. Well, guess what? On a road trip, you have nothing but time. (If you’re on a solo road trip or find yourself in the driver’s seat, you still have all the time in the world, but the space boots should probably wait. Seek other ways to pass the time. Like listening to the radio or enjoying the scenery or talking to another human or just thinking.)

It’s one of my favorite things about a road trip. Slowing down. Embracing the monotonous hours. In a world that’s moving ever faster, it feels like a privilege to sit in a car for hours on end without having to worry about an appointment or an email or an assignment you’re not into. You know how much stuff you can accomplish when you don’t have other stuff to do? A lot (and at the same time nothing at all! It’s great). For example, I came up with these jokes while driving north though the southern part of Florida on our return leg from Key West.

Q: What do you get when you mix an orange and steroids?
A: Orange juice.

Q: Why can’t you trust the sky to make a good decision?
A: Its judgement is clouded.

Q: What do you call it when a bunch of people get together to make jokes about beef?
A: Roast beef.

Q: What do you call a room with an uncomfortable amount of people in it?
A: Chick-fil-A at noon.

Q: Where do you go if you want to see NASCAR but don’t want to pay the money?
A: Florida’s North Turnpike.

What a productive way to spend one’s time! But perhaps even more fruitful than having the time to come up with genius jokes is being able to spend time with people you care about. Like a lot of things in life, a road trip is better when shared. That’s not to say a solo road trip isn’t good, either. It’s just different (and sometimes exactly what you need). But it’s nice to have people to talk to and share moments with, even if it’s just hours of silence, stupid laughs, or the gas bill.

Take our trip to and from Key West. On both legs of our journey we went long stretches saying nothing at all, with the only exceptions being some remark about a nice building or someone asking what we were going to eat next. Other times we’d play dumb games mispronouncing common restaurant names we passed, like “rubby” Tuesday instead of Ruby Tuesday, or saying anything in our best Rick Grimes voice, which often ended up sounding like Christian Bale in Batman while trying to wolf down a chicken wing. And other times we talked about funny, forgotten stories from our youth or discussed future aspirations and hopes. Which, I think, is pretty neat. There aren’t a lot of places where the range of conversation is so widespread.

There’s also the novelty and adventure of a road trip. Passing through foreign landscapes for the first time. Seeing unique towns, both big and small. Stopping to eat at unique restaurants along the way. Seeing how other people live, if only for a moment. Watching how much of a difference a few miles makes, or how little a difference a couple of hundred miles makes. It’s like we’re pioneers all over again. Plus a few minor conveniences, of course. Like cars and stuff.

When you’re on a road trip it’s more than just getting from point A to point B. It’s the experience of the journey (wow, this sounds a lot like a motivational speech about life, and how it’s not about the end destination but about digging in deep and enjoying the road there, which almost certainly consists of piecing on the same leftover takeout for a week). A unique one at that. There’s monotony, idle chatter, meaningful conversation, excitement, boredom, and more.  And what an adventure and privilege it is.

[Author’s note: I wrote a good majority of this while on the return leg of our road trip to Key West. And what better time to write about road trips than when on an actual road trip?]

Kicked Off a Mountain

It was early in the afternoon in Taos, New Mexico as my brothers and I discussed our plan for the rest of the day. More of the same? Or tackle that climb to the top of the mountain? After a spirited conversation, we chose the latter.

We were on a family skiing trip. For the past few days we’d been lucky enough to enjoy good skiing on runs that didn’t require you to throw ski’s over your shoulder and an oxygen mask on your face. And, if it was any other day, more of the same would have been better than anything I could hope for. However, it wasn’t any other day. It was the last day. So doing stuff that didn’t necessarily sound super appealing began to look more appealing.

To be fair, the hike didn’t look too bad and we were in reasonable enough shape. From the top of the ski lift you could see little specks of people trudging along a ridge that appeared to be relatively flat. If they could do it, why couldn’t we? Maybe twenty minutes of walking with our heads down and we’d be atop the mountain, strapping in to our ski’s and board, ready for the best run of the week. (The whole point of hiking to the top of the mountain was being able to ski down afterward. It was a run that was supposed to be unlike anything you could find anywhere else on the mountain.)

With that in mind, we slung our skis and boards over our shoulders and began our hike. Spirits were high. We navigated through clusters of snow laden trees that remind you—if you could forget—how beautiful the mountains are, before hugging a little ridge that spit us out into an open, expansive area of the mountain. From there, the next stretch almost appeared to be downhill! It was all so pleasant.

At the end of our “downhill” stretch, we came to a halt. There was a rope between us and the rest of the trail. It had a sign attached to it that said something about being closed because it was too late in the day and conditions on the mountain could rapidly deteriorate after said time. Something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. So we discussed our options briefly, and, without much concern, decided to jump the rope. After all, there was a group of five or six people some two or three hundred yards in front of us plugging away. Plus, it was only minutes past the aforementioned cutoff time. How much of a difference could a couple of minutes make?

On the other side of the rope, the severity of the slope quickly increased. For a while, it wasn’t so bad. After all, we were hiking a mountain. We expected this. We were ready for this. But then, a few minutes later, as the slope continued to increase, something changed. It was no longer a casual walk in the woods. It was climbing stairs while being sucker punched in the stomach (a little known fact about hiking at 12,000 ft: it’s harder to breathe than hiking at, say, anything below 12,000 ft).

There was no more casual conversation. Just heads down, one foot in front of the other, straight into the wind and snow that was now falling, seemingly not at a vertical angle, but at a horizontal angle straight into our face as though each and every freezing snowflake was piloted by some angry little snowflake pilot.

The one bright side—for me, at least—was being a snowboarder. My two brothers, on the other hand, were skiers. This meant a couple of things. First, my boots were significantly more comfortable. Think of walking in a pair of sneakers vs. walking in bricks cemented to your feet. And second, I could use my snowboard to dig into the snow like a very wide, and not incredibly convenient to carry, ice axe. The combination of which resulted in me scampering up the mountain quite a bit quicker than my skier counterparts (at one point, I was so far ahead, I even sought respite in a igloo; something I’m still a little unsure about).

Finally, though, we all made it to the top of the mountain, my brothers a good ten to fifteen minutes behind me. An accomplishment that put our total hiking time a touch past our initial twenty minute estimate to an hour and a half (this would now be our last run of the trip). But, no matter how grave our miscalculations were, we had made it.

We sat at the top, snow still falling suspiciously angrily at our faces, taking in the view and admiring our achievement. Minutes passed. Then a few more. Then, somewhat inevitably, we decided it was time to move on from our pretty, chilly perch—rather, we could finally feel our legs again—so we walked to the edge of the steep slope, strapped in to our respective slide-down-mountain-on-wood equipment, and took off.

The run was good. Was it the best run I’ve ever been on? Probably not. But the snow was largely untouched by other people, and no human machinery ever ventured that high, so it made for a natural skiing/snowboarding experience. And between that and our unforeseen trek to the top of K2, there was something extremely satisfying about it.

As we approached the bottom we could see a man motioning us his way. He appeared to be an employee of the mountain. Thinking he was waving us over to congratulate us on our achievement and welcome us back with freshly baked brownies, we obliged. However, it soon became clear this wasn’t a celebration over tasty treats. Quite the opposite. He was scolding us.

Apparently he had been watching us for some time. Maybe he picked us up around the odd igloo—or, Basecamp 1, as I like to call it. Or maybe he picked us up shortly after we jumped the rope. It’s anyone’s guess, really, but the latter is surely the likelier of the two considering this was a chief concern of his. Why would we disregard the rope like that?

It was a fair question, but we had a good answer: the people in front of us seemed to. Not surprisingly, our answer did little to appease his concerns. In fact, it made things worse. He laid into us about being reckless, and putting more than just our own lives at risk. Which was a justifiable thing to say, however, we weren’t totally unexperienced on a mountain, we began our trek at an appropriate time, we came to the rope only minutes after the path was closed for the day, and people were still skiing down the mountain around us. But again, he wasn’t wrong to say what he did.

So it wasn’t all too surprising when he informed us that he would be removing us of our ski passes. We didn’t protest the decision. After all, it was the last run of our last day, so it had no impact on our skiing adventure. We would be skiing down and packing our bags either way. That, and we kind of deserved it. Something we explained to the man, which seemed to sour his experience, but he went ahead anyway. Snip. Snip. And snip. And then we went ahead and skied down the rest of the mountain, pass-less, and packed our bags.

This story is now some seven or eight years old, but it’s one we often reference. Why? I think for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a good story. There are mountains. Adventure. Danger. An igloo that probably served as both a hideout for some secret military group and a place of respite for a group of rowdy, borderline alcoholic, foxes. But also, and more pertinently, it’s a story about mishaps.

It can be easy to forget the stuff that went right. The stuff that went according to plan. Sure, there are pleasant, memorable moments there to—like going for a walk in the park with a loved one and not getting pooped on by a bird. But if everything went right those “according to plan” moments wouldn’t be as sweet, and our memories would be full of indiscernible moments. You need stuff to go wrong every once in a while. It’s a key component of life. So take chances, do things you probably shouldn’t (like dancing on a slippery floor; not robbing a bank), make mistakes, and laugh about it later. It’ll serve you well in the long run.

[Authors note: In this instance, we were, of course, in the wrong. Skiing on a mountain is dangerous enough, let alone doing it when and where you’re not supposed to. Should we have hopped the rope? No. Mountain rules, like most rules, are very much something to be taken seriously. Thankfully, nobody was harmed or ever really at risk of being harmed in this story. We never even considered what we were doing to be dangerous. That’s not to say what we did was right, or justifiable, but it wasn’t a case of neglect. We made a calculated decision (fortunately it worked out and we can now look back on it as a fun, humorous story), albeit the wrong one. To anyone who works on a mountain or looks at this as an act of negligence or defiance: sorry, and thank you for putting up with stuff like this.]

The Worst Listener I Know

There’s this guy I know. He’s a terrible listener. That’s not to take away from the type of professional he is, or his ability in other departments, it’s just a fact. He’s a terrible listener. Always has been.

His name is Stop Light. You may have heard of him. He likes to hang out at intersections—even when he’s off duty he just stays there, for fun, flashing his yellow or red light—and tell people when they can and cannot go. Which is something he takes very seriously. For example, the other day, I was running a few minutes late and and found myself fast approaching Stop Light. As I drew closer, I politely asked Stop Light if he would stay green. Upon which, he immediately turned yellow and then red without so much as considering my request. Can you believe that?

Here’s the kicker, though. That wasn’t an isolated incident. This sort of thing happens daily. Sometimes it happens when I’m approaching Stop Light, sometimes it happens when I’m already sitting there abiding by HIS rules. And no matter how polite I am, or what I’m trying to do, it’s always the same: complete and utter neglect. I could be on my way to the hospital to check on a family member (who’s not in any dire condition or imminent danger, maybe a sprained ankle, but it looked bad at first and I’m trying to show my support), or an important meeting (with Google, probably, who want to buy the App I’m about to think of), or to get a free ice cream cone (because I was caller number seven on an obscure radio show, but to capitalize on my good fortune I have to get there in ten minutes or less otherwise my winnings go to caller number eight, who is already there), and it still wouldn’t change a thing.

Even so, if that was it, I think I could get past it. I could respect the fact that Stop Light is just doing his job. Quite admirably, too. He’s actually one of the better workers I know. If we all had the same professionalism and work ethic as Stop Light, I’m sure things would run a little smoother, people would be disappointed less, and the world would generally be a better place. But it gets worse. This neglect happens at all hours of the day. Here’s what I mean:

It’s the middle of the night—2 a.m. or 3 a.m. You’re coming home from a long road trip, or finishing up a late shift at work, or returning from a night out on the town. You’re exhausted and all you want is to get back to the comfort of your home, maybe microwave a corn dog or two, and slip into bed and bury yourself under the blankets. But, before you can do that, you have to navigate past your good friend Stop Light. Which may seem like a simple enough task, but, unfortunately, Stop Light likes to make things difficult. Nine times out of ten, he’s going to stop you. And not only that, but he’s going to make you sit there longer than you have to. There’s no reasoning with him. You can tell him how nobody is around for miles—not a single car has passed within the last 30 minutes, and not another one will for another 45 minutes when Tad and his buddies make their way to IHOP for some middle of the night pancakes—or how tired you are, he’s simply not willing to listen, no matter the circumstance. And that’s what bugs me.

Look, I’m sure Stop Light can be a nice guy. Heck, I could see us being friends and grabbing drinks or going rock climbing together on weekends. Sadly, though, unless something changes, that’ll never happen. I’ll keep asking for little favors, hoping my words are heard one day, and that we can put all this I’m better than you stuff behind us. But, for now and the foreseeable future, I’ll have to accept Stop Light for what he is: the ultimate professional AND the worst listener I know.

12 Things That go Faster Than the Last Hour of Work

It’s four o’clock. Or whatever time it is that you have one hour of work left. You’ve put in a good shift—even got a few things accomplished that you didn’t expect to—and now all you desire is to see that last second of work tick off the clock. The only problem is, the last hour of work always, ALWAYS creeps by with the speed of a snail who hasn’t seen a treadmill in a few weeks longer than he’d like to admit. For perspective, here’s a list of things that seem to go faster, and in reality probably do, than that last hour of work.

1. Painting a fence AND watching it dry. You applied more than one coat because you’re a professional and you stand by your work.

2. Watching a Trilogy called The Mechanics Behind Stuffing a Sleeping Bag. It’s not as exciting as it sounds.

3. Driving from Boston to Amarillo, Texas.

4. Folding the laundry. It’s a large load. You had to separate it into two different loads in the wash, and we all know those two loads should have really been three loads.

5. Cleaning a rather large house. It’s approximately 7500 square feet and every inch is filthy because it’s inhabited by a gang of toddlers.

6. The math behind a NASA mission to space.

7. Carving an intricate model of the New York City skyline out of brick.

8. Getting a commitment from your super indecisive friend, Brian, to go on that weeklong camping trip. It once took you two full weeks to get a maybe from him for Wednesday game night. When Wednesday finally rolled around that maybe turned into a I have measles and won’t be coming in to work today.

9. Fixing your printer’s “communication error”. You’ve been talking to a guy who may or may not be trying to scam you for the past two hours and now has complete access to your desktop.

10. Cooking anything in the crock pot. Okay, probably ribs.

11. Packing for a two week trip to Europe. But we all know two weeks could turn into I want to spend the next year in Europe, perhaps finding a prominent piece of real estate to open up a cafe or trampoline gym, so you pack for three weeks.

12. Doing your taxes. Because it’s that time of year and good luck to everybody.