leg 3 – minnesota to missouri (post 5 of 7)

This is a guest post by Kim Bagby, Steve and Mimi’s daughter-in-law. At Mimi’s invitation, she and her husband, Joe, are sharing a “2 Roads Diverged” view of their recently completed trip:

 

Minneapolis, MN

Omaha, NE

Kansas City, MO

 

I open my eyes and the ceiling of the Edina Westin comes into a hazy focus. Groggy, but we need to get up. We need to pick up the sandwiches for the post-memorial brunch. We need to see family, we need to drive to either Iowa or Nebraska. I raise my arms and arch my back, ready to enjoy the massive type of stretch #hotelement life can’t afford you.

 

Something is wrong. Something is very, very wrong.

 

I don’t know what’s happening, I’ve never felt like this before. At the base of my skull, something deep tangles and pulls taut. I’m not in severe pain yet but my body senses I will be; a subconscious level of my being knows what is coming. Without trying, I know I can’t move. Prone to stupid decisions, I gently attempt to turn my head.

 

An absolute searing cut of pain rocks my neck, my head, and shoots through my stomach to my core…and I’d only tensed the muscles to prepare to move my head.

 

“Joe, Joe. JOE. I need help.” He’s heavily asleep, no alarm set. I can barely move my forearms to swat at him. Cursed enormous bed. “JOE. JOE. JOEJOEJOEJOEJOEJOE. Wake up, now, wake up wakeupgetupgetup. I can’t move. GET UP. Please get up, help me. I can’t move.”

 

It’s the last “I can’t move” that finally jolts him awake. I may live my life in a state of anxiety, but panic is not my thing and I NEVER ask for help. Joe sees that I’m doing both and he’s suddenly wide awake. Ok, pause. This is some type of back problem, and everyone has back problems. I’m an adult, adults figure these things out. This isn’t even a big deal – honestly, I’m feeling a little like a back-problem-late-bloomer. Since I’m an adult and adults know how to handle these situations, I’m going to……….…I have no idea. What do you do when you can’t move?

 

Numerous feeble attempts at getting out of bed stop before I can get my muscles to shift any of my limbs. At some point, I try to move my legs. White hot pain, no go.

 

I can’t move and I’m out of ideas. Joe calls a nurseline. We are going to be late picking up the sandwiches. I find tardiness unacceptable, I’m furious that this is happening. The nurse won’t speak to him about my health. He puts the phone on speaker and holds it to my face. If I wasn’t in excruciating pain, this would be laughable. She asks a few questions. She tells me to go to the emergency room. If it escalates and I can’t get out of bed, to call the paramedics. She actually says that. Paramedics.

 

I’ll have a self-induced stroke getting out of this bed before I call 911, thank you very much. This is ridiculous. I’ve pulled a muscle, it’ll be fine in a few minutes. Except it’s been over thirty minutes and it’s getting worse. We are so, so late for sandwich pickup.

 

The nurse had suggested someone stabilize my neck while I try to move out of bed. No. One. Is. Touching. My. Neck. I decide I’ll attempt to do it. Joe picks up each leg and places my feet flat on the bed. I gingerly hold my own skull. Joe rolls me out of the bed like an injured baby elephant. Fireworks of pain light up the back of my eyelids while my eyes fill with tears. I’m up! Whew, that was horrific. But I’m up!

 

Now standing, I see that yesterday’s exhaustion has one redeeming quality: last night, I changed into yoga pants and a comfy sweater before spending time with Joe’s extended family and friends. We came back to the hotel late, and I laid down to talk to Joe before getting ready for bed. I promptly fell asleep. And now, here I stand, in those same yoga pants and sweater. Thank sweet baby Jesus, I’m already dressed.

 

I had insisted I wasn’t going to the ER, but post-bed fiasco, it’s apparent that will be our next stop. Joe searches for in-network hospitals. He starts making phone calls. Until this moment, I’ve never really pondered the phrase “adding insult to injury.” As I watch a cloud move over Joe’s face, this phrase comes to mind. Today is April 9th. Joe is told that our coverage was cancelled April 1st. I’m barely standing, holding my own head, wearing dirty clothes, and have completely forsaken the brunch sandwiches. So, you’re saying that technically, every hospital is out of network? Because there is no network? Because we don’t have health insurance? AFTER I ENSURED MULTIPLE TIMES OUR COVERAGE WAS SET BEFORE WE LEFT LAS VEGAS? The fiery pain consuming my neck, and at times my whole body, is not enough to keep my fury at bay. I can’t focus on anything except the pain right now, but it’s highly likely that the next IATSE benefits rep I speak with will end up in tears.

 

We go, slowly, to the nearest hospital. I feel nothing short of stupid as I am triaged because “my neck hurts.” People are dying, Kim. Try getting into a horrific car accident and have some real problems. The doctor is quick. He determines I haven’t torn any major blood vessels. No stroke danger (I probably figured that one out forcing myself out of bed, thanks). He gives three options to help me move again. Injections of both Valium and Toradol (an anti-inflammatory), a prescription for Valium to take by mouth over the next several days, and a neck brace.

 

Yes to the Toradol, no to the Valium injection. I’ll take the pills, please and thanks, so I can sell them to stagehands in order to pay for this delightful visit. And for the love of God, please get me that neck brace so something can take over the job of holding up my head. My arms are getting tired.

 

excited to have a sweet new neck brace and bracelet

 

I’d like to title this art photograph “dedicated blogess”

We’re out of the emergency room in no time. Joe feels bad laughing at me – but he still does – as I hobble around the parking lot in dirty clothes and a neck brace. I don’t blame him, it’s hilarious when it’s not horrifically painful. Within the hour, I can feel the Toradol working. They assured me I wouldn’t be groggy, but I fall asleep almost immediately. We won’t be driving anywhere today. Joe extends the dogs at the boarder, Joe adds another night to the hotel. Joe attends the brunch, where the sandwiches were valiantly saved by Tom and Ashley (Thanks, Tom and Ashley. Thanks, Joe.). I’m furious I’ve missed the last family gathering. There are so many people I haven’t talked to, today was my last chance. They all talk to Joe while I blissfully slumber…in a neck brace.

 

By the evening, the drugs are working. I don’t feel great, but I can move. We have a quiet hotel dinner and sleep.

 

The next morning, we are on the road. Until today, I’ve done almost all of the driving. It’s obvious Joe has to take over now. We pick up the dogs and they immediately struggle in the car. Harry starts to fall from my lap and I instinctively grab him. The pain is as severe as when I woke up the morning before. It amazes me how quickly my recovery backtracks from one jolt to the neck. I’m back to moving slower, with a smaller range of motion. I can barely adjust how I’m sitting in the passenger seat. My head throbs for hours. For the first time this trip, the dogs are banished to the floor. They do not like it. I do not care. With me in the passenger seat, they soon resign to their fate. They know their sad faces only work on one of the car’s occupants, and he’ll be behind the wheel for the next several days.

 

We stop in Des Moines to visit Mimi and her sister, Mary. Mary provides us with a gluten-free spread of snacks and veggies. If there’s an end to the thoughtfulness of this family, I have yet to see it. Mary loves on our dogs, our dogs eat it up. We’re sent on our way with gluten free snacks for me and gluten-regular snacks for the dogs.

 

Omaha is an easy drive. We arrive past dinner time and invade the midtown neighborhood that’s home to our goodestfriend™ Nick. We’ve stayed only in hotels for years of trips to Omaha, but this time we were looking for a driveway. Nick immediately offered not just a driveway, but his guestroom. He’s one of the few people Joe and I feel completely comfortable taking up on the offer. A friend from many years back, maybe better described as an almost-brother, Nick has known both Joe and me longer than we’ve known each other. He perfectly understands my discomfort with emotions. We hurl insults back and forth like adult teenage boys. We make fun of each other, we talk slightly more seriously about our families and jobs and Omaha. We don’t discuss the time in college that Nick came to my house to see my roommate, fell asleep on our couch, woke up after I returned from work, and ditched my roommate to go out to the bars with me, but I love that story and now I’ve put it on the internet just because I can. Bearing pizza late on a Monday evening, two wild yapping dogs, a tall hairy man, and a jerk in a neck brace take over Nick’s home. Our dogs meet. Mr. Pickles, a delightfully fluffy and underbite-y Pekingese, has neither love nor hate for Harry and Leeeroy. I had imagined a long, deep dog friendship and I am disappointed. In response, Harry poops on the floor. My disappointment deepens.

 

pickles, leeeroy, harry. and also joe.

 

Omaha. I was born here, I grew up here. I was an ill-behaved Mercy girl, and then an underachiever/overachiever at the University of Nebraska. I was a student because I was smart enough to be on a full scholarship, and a theater major because I had no desire to be a student. I attended few of my classes, but produced enough work to consistently stay on the Dean’s List. I worked in the scene shop, I put on shows. I worked full-time or, when I was busy with shows, nearly full-time as a sass-mouthed waitress/bartender. I lived in what I’ve been told was the Theater Department’s party house (post FAUST house era, should anyone from UNO be reading and think I’m out of line). I lived in this house when, at the infant age of twenty-one, I met some guy working at the Des Moines Opera. He had long hair and was pretty funny. He was smart, he was skilled at an unnecessarily complicated job. He was alright, I guess. But whatever to guys and jobs and school – my plan had always been to get out of this town. It was a pleasant surprise when that guy decided to get out of this town with me. I never imagined early on that we’d end up married. I really never imagined we’d end up living in my car, driving the stretches of Interstate 80 we so often used to drive as baby-adults, or driving our car-house past my college-house to reminisce. Omaha. I still have good friends here. Friends, like Nick, that – likely unknown to them – helped me deeply at ages nineteen and twenty and twenty-one. In those years, I considered these people my family. I still visit and bother them for breakfasts and bar nights. We’re all getting older and busier; I don’t want them to slowly slip away. I want to always know these people, I want to celebrate their wins and mourn their losses, I want to watch their kids grow up – at least as best as one can from thirteen hundred miles away. Omaha, more represented by my people here than the city itself (ok, and maybe also the bacon cheese fries). My city until the age of twenty-two, when I packed my belongings into a 1993 Honda Accord, sold everything that didn’t fit, and left for the bright lights (literally) of Las Vegas.

 

I’m nostalgic in this city, unless I’m irritated by the slow pace of people walking or driving (sorry Omaha, it’s true). Nostalgic for when life was the exciting type of exhausting, not the plain old exhausting it’s recently become. We drive through the city. I miss greasy Midwestern food, hash browns from the 11-Worth Cafe, loosemeat sandwiches at B&G, bacon cheese fries from the Millard Roadhouse. I miss drinking champagne on tap (Homy Inn, I pledge my eternal love.). I miss all of my people here.

 

omaha exhaustion

Omaha is always over-scheduled. We see family, we see friends. Being a resident in a city of visitors, I understand everyone here has busy lives. I’m grateful they find a few hours for me within theirs. I feel disconnected, I reconnect as quickly as I can. My grandma, a life-long dog lover, meets Harry and Leeeroy after nine years of only seeing photos. She loves them, they love her snacks and her attention. We visit friends, we find that the dogs refuse to be left alone in Nick’s condo. The dogs come with us and shackle us to outdoor activities. My parents, who now “winter in Las Vegas” (chichi, right?) have just returned home. We take the dogs to their non-animal friendly home, possibly as an act of childhood “no, you can’t have a pet” rebellion. The dogs run free in the backyard and then sleep on the floor of the kitchen, house undestroyed. It’s already time to leave. We’ve barely made a dent in what we meant to do, but we need to move on. Joe has business to attend to.

 

mom and grandma and harrold

 

Our sixteen hours in Kansas City were not part of the original plan. Kansas City surfaced as an idea somewhere between Texas and Florida, and was made official with the purchase of baseball tickets in Nebraska. The drive there is so easy, it’s laughable. Three hours during the day? No near misses with deer? We’re damn near party bus status in the #hotelement. We stop for VIP BBQ treatment at Joe’s Kansas City,

thanks for the delicious snacks!

compliments of Joe’s cousin Doug. In a quiet back room, I pile brisket and potato salad into my face – both outstanding. Joe has a massive brisket-onion-ring-provolone sandwich and a pile of golden fries, I long to try both. Gluten robs me of happiness yet again. We enjoy the meal and the company Doug provides. We talk about barbecue, we talk about writing and books (Doug’s written a few), we talk about Steve. Almost as quickly as we sit down, it’s time to move on.

 

Joe finds a hotel near Kaufmann stadium. It’s the last game of the Royals’ opening homestand. I’ve never been to a Royals game before, always demurring so Joe, his dad, and his brothers could enjoy their game weekends as they had since their youth. It’s now my turn to attend. As we walk through Kauffman, I instinctively observe the facility. To embark on our life in Baton Rouge, which morphed into this trip, I’d left a job in which I’d managed the operations of two facilities – one of them a AAA baseball stadium. Out of habit, my eyes move from the staff, to the cleanliness of the concourse, to the food and beverage lines. I observe trash removal and watch the flow and control of the crowd. I think of the facility and staff I’d recently left behind. Over a thousand miles away, they’re also in the middle of their opening homestand. I wonder how they’re doing. That version of my life feels entirely foreign now, how could it have only been three months ago? As we join the crowd climbing the stairs to our seats, I return to the present. Joe’s familiar with this place, he knows exactly where he is going. He’s mostly quiet. I imagine the Buttry brothers here with Steve during the World Series. I imagine them here as boys with their dad.

 

Kauffman Stadium

 

Our seats are in the Craft and Draft, which means we get a waitress and nicer food. We place an order. The game starts, announcements boom, things happen. The national anthem starts. We stand, we cover our hearts. It finishes, we sit. I look at Joe. It’s rare to see, but his eyes are watery. Immediately, so are mine. We look like we’re unstable, or maybe like we’re in the middle of a fight, when the waitress returns. She leaves and we dry our eyes. Joe watches the game, I post baseball photos on Instagram and discover I like gin. I think people are booing but they are actually yelling “Moooooooose.” Moose is one of the few players I can point out. I used to know who Country Breakfast was, but I guess he’s gone now? I’m pleased I’ve never done anything to earn the nickname “Country Breakfast.” I mix up all the other important players (Salvy? Also #6? And that guy that pulled his hamstring that one time?). Joe is openly disdainful of my Royals knowledge. The Royals win and we walk back to the hotel. Families entirely decked out in jerseys are celebrating. We smile at them, we go to bed. We need to get up very, very early.

 

Tomorrow begins our journey west – we have our sights set on Denver and Manitou. After that, it’s either Utah or the Grand Canyon on the way home. Joe has booked a job and our time is dwindling. Our old life, and Las Vegas, begin to hazily reappear on the horizon.

 

 

leg 3 – minnesota to missouri (post 5 of 7)

This is a guest post by Joe Buttry, Steve and Mimi’s middle son. At Mimi’s invitation, he and his wife, Kim, are sharing a “2 Roads Diverged” view of their recently completed trip:

 

Remember how I talked about how old I feel? Well, the day after the memorial, Kim woke up, stretched and was overtaken by terrible pain in her neck. (No, not me.). To be clear, this was not a little tweak that meant she would have to take it easy for a few days. This was a “no, I really don’t know if I can stand up” level of pain.

My wife does a lot of things very well. She is smart, funny, and very determined. Everyone likes to work with her. She is fun to be around. She is a truly strong, independent woman. That can make it hard when she needs help, which is rare. Any time she needs help from another person, Kim can turn…..petulant. It reminds me of the time when my brother Tom was a child and, frustrated that he could not tie his shoe on his own, threw it at my mother. I spent most of this morning trying to help Kim feel better and on guard for metaphorical and literal shoes. (I would be remiss if I didn’t say that this is a joke. Kim has never thrown a shoe at me. But I am a smart ass, and I take nothing for granted.)

We decided to call the nurse line. Surely, they would have advice that would calm us down! It didn’t. They told us that if the pain was that bad (And it was, I have never seen Kim in pain like that.) that there were concerns about nerves and vascular tissue that could have been damaged. That meant that we needed to go to the ER. Shit.

I got her up on her feet. I got the great idea that I could use the rolling chair as a wheel chair and use it to move her around (some real “Weekend at Bernie’s” shit). She, uh, declined, in no uncertain terms, to use the chair. She hated the chair. And probably “Weekend at Bernie’s”. I decided to give up on tying ropes to her arm and working them like a puppet. We would clearly not be checking out by 11, so I arranged a late checkout. I called Tom and commissioned him to take over our responsibility to pick up the sandwiches for the gathering at Mike’s house. He really needed to get on it. He was already late. (seriously, though thanks Tom.) I researched ERs (And Kim worked on why our insurance company thought our coverage was cancelled. Spoiler alert; not our fault, everything ended up fine eventually.). The nearby ER was in the network we should have had, so we got Kim ready and headed out.

Kim babystepped her way into the lobby (it would have been much easier in a rolling chair) and I grabbed the car. We drove around the block (it was really close) and I dropped Kim off at the door. I went to park, but all of the patient parking was in the garage (in Minneapolis they call them parking ramps. It’s like how the English say “lift” instead of “elevator”, but with a different accent.) that a was not tall enough for the SUV and the storage container on top. It was the weekend, so there was plenty of doctor parking. Despite the fact that I do not qualify (they do give out doctorates in theatre, but I do not have one.), and I was driving a very undoctorly 2009 car/house I took one and told the nurse up front. She said she would let security know.

The doctor (of medicine, I assumed, not theatre) checked Kim out and told us she had a condition, the name of which I do not recall. Kim turned down the bigtime drugs in favor of a shot of anti-inflammatory. I still don’t know why. They also gave her a prescription for valium, which she never took. Again, I still don’t know why. She also got a totally sweet neck brace. I dropped her at the hotel which we booked for another night and headed to Mike’s house to regale the family with tales of aging and neck braces. Even though she was on the lightweight anti-inflammatory, Kim passed out and had a nice drug dream.

We spent the rest of the day resting, reading and working on the first installment of this blog series. Kim looks very sad in her neck brace and I feel bad for laughing at her, but every time I stop she makes an overly dramatic sad face just to make me laugh again.

Not pictured: Horrible cries of pain.

The next day Kim was already feeling better. She still hurt, but she was able to get out of bed on her own, which was quite a boon to her disposition. We picked up the dogs and took them for a quick visit with our niece Madeline. (Julia was at school, so sadly she missed the dogs.) The dogs loved it and shortly after leaving Susie texted us that Madeline “just turned into Leeroy”.

We hit the road and there were two big changes to our driving situation: I was driving and the dogs were riding on the floor and they would have to be ok with it. Kim was in no shape to drive, so it was my turn to drive long stretches. Up until this point she had handled the vast majority of the driving. I think she saw it as a point of feminist pride. Driving thousands of miles was not the woman’s role, so that is exactly what she did.  Before we left, Kim’s Dad asked if I would be driving. She simply answered “No. It is my car. Why would he drive?” I see myself as a feminist, so who am I to fight it? With her new-found injury related shotgun seat, Kim could also not deal with the dogs climbing all over her. Both dogs would have to ride on the floor. Leeroy had been fine with riding on the floor. He typically made himself comfortable and slept. The concern was Harry. He would settle in on his bed in the back seat from time to time, but for the most part, he wanted to be on my lap. With some little whiney protest noises, he eventually saw that it wasn’t going to happen and he settled in with his dog brother.

Leeeroy is happy to ride on the floor of the car.

Our next stop was a brief layover in Des Moines to see my mom and Aunt Mary. We swung by Mary’s house for a quick bite to eat and a nice chat. The dogs loved Mary and she loved the dogs. She sent us on our way with a load of gluten free snacks, fruit, and even a box of dog treats. The memorial didn’t allow us to spend very much one on one time with people, so it was lovely to actually sit and talk. Growing up, our family was very close with their family. My uncle Jim spoke beautifully at Dad’s memorial about just that topic. Mary and Jim are my Godparents. The three boys of my family were all close in age with the three girls in theirs, often arguing about which birth position was best (Consensus was the middle children are the best. Meg and Joe win.). I spent a lot of time at this house as a child, and it had been years since I was here. Many of you reading this know that my family was fairly transient, moving frequently. Two years after I left Omaha for Las Vegas my parents moved to the Washington, DC area, reuniting with Mike and Tom who were already out there. Mary and Jim’s house is probably the longest tenured home in my life, so walking into it is as close as I can get to walking into one of my several childhood homes.

We continued on to Omaha, which would be our stop for the next few nights. For the four summers I worked at the Des Moines opera, I made this drive many many times. As long as it isn’t snowing it is as simple as a drive gets. We grabbed food for all of us and pulled up to our friend Nick’s condo a little after dark.

Nick is the kind of friend who, no matter how much time has passed, we pick up right where we left off. A good deal of the time that is making fun of each other, which makes the fact that Kim got out of the car with a neck brace on extra funny. Except for all Kim’s terrible pain. Nick has an awesome place inside a giant old Omaha home that has been divided into several condos. Our dogs met his dog Mr. Pickles with the kind of enthusiasm usually reserved for the dog park. Mr. Pickles is a Pekinese with a super sweet disposition, which is good, because our dogs come in like little furry wrecking balls.

In a time of upheaval and uncertainty in my life, Omaha was still Omaha. Ever changing, it will always hold a special place in my heart. I spent some of the best years of my life here hating this town. It grew on me once I left. It has also grown into itself in that time, though many of my old haunts have been a casualty of that progress. The friends I made here are what gives the city it’s life. Nick is one of the deepest of those connections.

The next morning Kim went to see one of her old college roommates and I stayed behind, so the dogs wouldn’t wake up Nick’s entire building. Jerks. We spent a lot of time just hanging around Nick’s place. I am a true-blue introvert, and the last few days, while amazing, had me drained. I was happy to spend some time at the laundromat reading a book and washing my laundry. Kim and I have found a love for laundromats that had laid dormant for some time. It is so much more efficient to wash everything at once, with a couple of nice breaks perfectly made for sitting quietly, ignoring everyone around you and reading a book (three of my favorite things to do).

Kim’s Grandma is a huge fan of our dogs (because she only sees them in pictures), so we took them over to her place for a quick visit. They took turns spending time on her lap while the other one tried to find trouble. I ended up shuttling them outside a few times.

We continued the tour of visits with friends from the past with a visit with Kim’s college friend Mario and his family. Mario and his wife recently had a baby (Isabell). Gabby, Mario’s older daughter, arrived dressed in a drapey cardigan and a scarf in an attempt to dress like Kim. It is adorable. We had some ice cream and caught up.

The next day we grabbed some lunch and took it to Kim’s parent’s house. The dogs got to run around the back yard until Leeroy decided to leap off of the 3’ tall retaining wall in an effort to earn another expensive knee surgery. We sat in the kitchen for a bit and talked about where we’d been, where we were going and how the dogs were managing.

I took a look at the weather for the next couple days. Our plan was to swing through Kansas City and catch a ball game, but with thunderstorms in the forecast we start to rethink. We opted to go with seats in the covered bar area over seats on the first base line where I watched games as a kid in case the storms hit. I could tell that Kim was only into the plan because I was and that spending the game in the rain was going to have significant impact on her enjoyment. I booked a hotel walking distance from the stadium that Kim’s parents suggested. They have a free happy hour. I like free happy hour.

The next morning, we hit the road to Kansas City. This is another stretch of road that I have traveled many times. For the last few years that I was in Omaha, Kansas City served as the town over the hill that was everything I wanted Omaha to be. It has a culture to it that few mid-sized Midwestern towns have.  There is a performing arts scene. There is a rich African-American history that has directly contributed to its deep-rooted Jazz and Barbecue cultures. There are professional sports teams that I have invested in all of my life. Only recently has that investment started to pay off. Growing up, my brothers and I spent many nights at the ballpark with my dad. More recently, he paid off a 30-year-old promise to take Mike to the World Series the next time the Royals went.

Game Two was worth the wait for my sons and me

I would consider moving back to Kansas City. It is what Las Vegas isn’t. People on planes landing in Kansas City don’t yell “Kansas City, Baby! Whooooo!”, and I fucking love that. If the two cities were people, Las Vegas is the friend of a friend who gets you arrested while Kansas City is the genuinely kind aunt who welcomes you into her home and sends you on your way with gluten free snacks for your wife. I’m 36. I will take the second one all day long.

I made it my mission to get Kim to view Kansas City differently. While we were still in Omaha, I contacted my cousin, Doug Worgul. Doug literally wrote the book on Kansas City Barbecue. Two actually, one Non-fiction and one novel. Get them both and read them.

Thin Blue Smoke, by Doug Worgul

Genuine barbecue enthusiasts from real barbecue towns know a few Truths (capital T on purpose). Real Barbecue has a wait. While in Minneapolis, my cousin Jonathan, who is from Austin, spoke about the wait to quality ratio. The best barbecue will have the longest wait, but very very good barbecue has a much smaller wait. Doug works for marketing at one of KCs best places. There is always a wait. Doug has opinions about barbecue. (and, because he is a Kansas City guy, they are the correct opinions.) He is not shy to talk about burnt ends. Burnt Ends are the truly Kansas City addition to the barbecue zeitgeist. They are the crispy, caramelized ends of the brisket. (and only the brisket. There are places that will say they have pork burnt ends. Even Kansas City places. They are not. They may taste good, but have some damn integrity and eat the real deal.) They used to be cast off. They were considered waste. However, barbecue as a tradition is rooted in taking cast off waste and making it delicious. Burnt ends are the cast off of the cast off. This makes burnt ends the pinnacle of that tradition. But you would know all of that if you owned Doug’s book.

We pulled into town and headed to drop the dogs at a boarder for the night. I took Kim down 39th Street, which was a really cool area of Kansas City. We stopped at Prospero’s used books, which is probably my favorite used book store in the world. My favorite part of Prospero’s is that in the Midwest even the quiet, hard to crack, introverted used book salesmen are nice. We then headed to Joe’s Kansas City. Doug told us to meet him at the original location (they have grown to have 3) inside a gas station. There was a line almost to the door when we got there at 3 pm on a Thursday. Doug met us and we grabbed some food from the to go counter. He walked us through the back of house to the conference room. I work in entertainment and know this move. Walking people backstage during a show or load in is like a mini tour. They see a little of what goes into the show. I also worked in kitchens for most of college, so there isn’t any allure to being in a professional kitchen, but I ate this shit up. He walked us by the pit while he told us about the wood they use and why. And it was awesome. He took us to the conference room where there were rolls of paper towels on the table. NEW LIFE GOAL! Work at a place that has so much barbecue they need paper towels on the conference table. We sat and talked for a while about his writing, my dad, and Kansas City. He is something of an ambassador for Kansas City. If you watch the show “The Mind of a Chef” about barbecue (more specifically, smoke), he is in it talking about Kansas City barbecue in the Joe’s Kansas City gas station (more specifically, about how Kansas City is THE barbecue capitol of the world). He talked up the city to Kim, who has seen a little more of the charm on this trip than she had previously. We had a pretty much perfect visit. FYI, a pretty much perfect visit starts with a Z-man sandwich with family and ends when it is time to get to the Royals game.

We arrived at the hotel and unloaded the hotelement. I hit up the free happy hour and had a few free drinks. Kim borrows a Royals shirt (a personal high point in our relationship) and we walk to the ball park.

Walking into Kauffman Stadium I am sadder than I had thought I would be. Up until this point, things that remind me of my father were welcome. I have many things of his that I see and they always make me smile. His memory is never far. It might be that I steeled myself for the hard moments knowing they would be hard and I did not do that before this game. We entered through the right field gate and crossed the outfield concourse. I walked over to the railing behind the right field fountains and take a second. It was at this spot the previous summer the four of us stopped to have our picture taken. It was the last trip to Kansas City that my father took.

Mike, Tom, Dad and I.

On that trip, we caught two games. The picture was taken just before the first game. It did not go well. That is the only time that I have seen a position player pitch (Drew Butera, he pitched well then doubled the next inning.). The next day we watched a much better game with Ian Kennedy pitching a great game and Kendrys Morales hitting two home runs (he hit one the game before). That was the last baseball game that I watched with my father. Kim and I found our seats and took a breath. We shed a few tears, but, in the words of a fictional drunken baseball manager, “there’s no crying in baseball!” Then we settle in and watch one of the few Royals games worth watching early in the 2017 season (Jason Vargas went 7 2/3 scoreless, striking out 8. The Royals offense did enough to get it done, all of it early in the game.). Kim enjoys the fancy gin drinks, I have a few Boulevard wheats, and we enjoy our time together. After a Royals loss, Dad would often say “Even a bad day at the ballpark is a really good day.” Well, this was a really good day at the ballpark.

Just in case anyone forgot….

leg 2 – louisiana to minnesota (post 4 of 7)

This is a guest post by Kim Bagby, Steve and Mimi’s daughter-in-law. At Mimi’s invitation, she and her husband, Joe, are sharing a “2 Roads Diverged” view of their recently completed trip:

 

Baton Rouge, LA

Hannibal, MO

Minneapolis, MN

 

on the road again

Knowing our next stop brings a home in which we can stay makes us lackadaisical in our planning for the weekend. Unprepared in Baton Rouge, we do laundry and eat a lot of Jimmy John’s and Bonefish Grill. They are easy, gluten free, and nearby. We are lazy. What a travesty in the state of Louisiana.

 

Over our days here, we select Steve’s memorial photos. I could spend my life looking through people’s pictures, always nosing rudely through coffee table books and albums on shelves. I find a sad enjoyment sorting through the images of Steve. More than one family member has expressed that if you were to be a couple, Steve and Mimi are the couple to be. But in this massive pile, there are few photos of the two together. I mention this, and Mimi tells me they often traveled alone and each needed to play photographer. She produces a photo from her junior prom.

 

A handful of images stand out – the prom photo, where they are babies in another era. They slow dance in black and white. Mimi’s hair is precisely curled. She’s wearing gloves. There’s the ever-present, and ever-amazing, shot of Steve with his young sons – youngest Tom on Steve’s shoulders, Steve looking the happiest one could imagine a father with his boys. Mike and Joe are both looking different directions, but both looking happy. How did the photographer (I imagine Mimi?) manage to compose this shot? What skill and/or luck struck in that second – three little ones ready, yet unposed for the camera. There’s a photo of Steve outside of a restaurant called the Love Muffin Cafe. I can’t decipher the look on his face; I picture Mimi telling him to pose and him patiently playing along. Maybe it was his idea and he finds himself amusing, although he’s not laughing. Love Muffin. Despite his lack of perceivable smile, I find the image particularly funny. I intend to ask the story but forget. Among several other photos, I request that Love Muffin make the cut (and it does, thanks Mike and Susie). I produce a shot of Steve and Mimi slow dancing at Joe’s and my wedding. I pull a photo of Steve and his sons at Mike’s wedding off the fridge and place it on the pile.

 

Love Muffin, Buttry boys, and prom

 

The smaller of Steve’s memorials, kindly hosted by LSU, is planned for a Monday afternoon. Mimi rehearses what she will say in her kitchen. A little background on myself: I’m stone-cold. I have a little hard, black heart, thirty-five solid years in the making. Ask my mother, she’ll tell you – my nickname from infancy has been “Mean Baby.” Mimi rehearses for me. She quotes The Little Prince:

 

“In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so, it will be as if all the stars will be laughing when you look at the sky at night…”

 

Mimi tells the story of how, over the years, she and Steve would read The Little Prince to each other. She was reading this to him for the final time, uncertain if he could hear, very near the end. At those lines, he squeezed her hand. Mimi does not include the rest of the passage, which goes:

 

“And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend…I shall not leave you.”

 

Thirty-five years of “stone cold” mean nothing. Steve’s own widow keeps a straight face. She continues speaking, I am a mess. I don’t think I’m helping this rehearsal very much. I wipe away my tears. (I’m not crying. You’re crying!) I know far in advance I’ll be looking at the floor when she takes the podium.

 

Joe’s older brother, Mike, arrives. There’s a hazy afternoon of financial discussions, and discussions about the second memorial to take place in Minneapolis. Somewhere along the line, I finalize the flowers. We board the dogs. I get my hair blown out and my toes done. I may currently reside in a car, but I’m self-aware enough to understand when I need to look like a non-car-dwelling adult.

 

It’s strange to be on the LSU campus. I think about my years in school and how any student could easily identify those that didn’t belong, mostly because they looked so very ancient (for example, maybe they were twenty-eight or so?). I haven’t been near a college campus in ages. What a strange feeling to know exactly what I look like in the eyes of the students that pass me.

 

Steve’s students are well spoken and look like they are about twelve years old. We listen to their stories. The extent of Steve’s impact on other lives never fails to amaze. Mike speaks well, Mimi takes the podium. She gets through it, I stare at the floor as promised. There is a little cocktail hour to follow. I do not partake, I have to drive to New Orleans tonight. As I pack up Steve’s photos and awards, I recall my plight as a poor, hungry college student. Despite the somber occasion, I would have been all over that cheese plate and wine. These kids clearly have more manners than I did at their age.

 

Joe and I have one last meal with Mimi and Mike. Via text message, it becomes obvious our friends in New Orleans are tearing it up. We’re going to a bachelor/bachelorette party before our long drive to Minneapolis. This had been the plan since long before Steve died, and my idea. A quiet California wine weekend evolved into a knock-down-drag-out in New Orleans, all at my suggestion. Sitting in Mimi’s kitchen, the heaviness of bookending a New Orleans bachelorette party with my father-in-law’s funerals sets in. I sit at the dinner table regretting our commitment, and alternately feeling guilty for the regret.

 

The bride has never been to New Orleans. Never been to New Orleans?? Upon hearing this, a lifetime ago, I suggested the party move halfway across the country. It certainly would have been easier for Joe and me – we thought we would be living in Baton Rouge right now. We thought Steve would be living in Baton Rouge right now.

 

We load up Steve’s old Honda Civic (no #hotelement parking in the French Quarter, thanks), leave Mimi, Mike, and the dogs, and venture towards The Big Easy. It’s after dark when we leave, and nearly 10pm when we arrive.

 

Given this platform, I would like to shift gears and announce to the world that I (along with my fellow vacation expert, friend, and the Maid-of-Honor-to-be, Laura) can pick an Airbnb like you don’t even KNOW. She and I had been looking for a place to stay (on the clock where we both work, naturally) and excitedly emailed each other this rental at the exact same moment. The building is brick and contemporary and beautiful. It’s giant, with a saltwater pool and hot tub. 4bed/4bath with a pool in the French Quarter? Do you understand how rare that is?? It’s vacation GOLD. Everyone is out when Joe and I arrive. We wander through the space. We peruse the kitchen, we lean out of the windows. We open and close the automated skylight cover in our bedroom, we figure out the fancy lighting, we locate the washer and dryer. You could say it’s a step up from living in a Honda. We unpack and respond to the steady dinging of texts from friends, luring us out into the streets.

 

 

music and food and hand grenades (better photos on the 2roadsdivergedblog instagram)

New Orleans. What could I possibly say about New Orleans to do it even a shadow of justice? Quite possibly my most favorite city, a sister to Las Vegas as an adult playground, exuding the things I long for which Las Vegas sorely lacks. History, culture, architecture, music, SOUL. Amazing food not procured from an overpriced restaurant on the strip, but from the back of a dirty (and I mean dirty) convenience store. Waiters that call every single one of their customers “my babies,” waiters stone-faced that drop sass so quickly you barely catch it as they walk away. Bartenders heavy on the pour, heavy on the gimmicks. Hand grenades and hurricanes. Hustlers in the streets, with tubas and trombones or sometimes tricks about your shoes. Street poets that type up wedding vows one trip and bad poems about loss on another.

 

I’m somber, but I’m grateful to be in this city.

 

We don’t party like we used to party when someone’s about to get married, but we still drink too much. Eat too much. Sleep in and gossip about the drama back home. Consume cheap champagne. We ride rickety street cars with odorous tourists dressed like they came straight from the fields of Woodstock. We spend lazy afternoons on the balconies of old buildings. I catch myself slipping out of the moment. These friends are younger than us, and therefore some of the last to get married – most of our friends are older and on second and third children. If it was just yesterday that I was a student, and today I sit enjoying a breezy balcony with the last of my engaged friends, what does that mean for tomorrow? When do life’s little bumps become insurmountable mountains? How long before we’re mostly looking back and only occasionally looking forward? I’m so frequently told it’s but a few minutes away. I spend our days in New Orleans quietly pulled between grateful highs and wistful lows; trailed by haunting thoughts in a haunted city. Exceedingly fortunate to have good friends and be in good health. Unbelievably privileged to travel. I know these days won’t last forever; I’ve been told they won’t even last a few minutes. I try to appreciate the fullness of these moments, I know I can’t. Someday, twenty or forty years from now, I’ll look back. Then I’ll understand, then I’ll fully appreciate. My “funeral bookend” regret slips away. I can’t speak for Joe – to be honest I worry what he’s feeling under his ever-steady exterior. But as for me? My time here is invaluable. This is where I’m supposed to be. I spend three days contorted, juxtaposed. I celebrate the beginning of a couple’s new life, I reflect on one that has ended.

 

 

On our last night, we pack and set our alarms. We wake early, we slip out while everyone sleeps. We have one day for an eighteen hour drive – and that’s without stopping for gas, food, the dogs, or swapping cars in Baton Rouge. There’s a massive accident and the interstate is shut down about twenty minutes into our journey. Cars have been stuck there since last night. Joe, I think this is going to be a rough one.

 

It takes us double the normal time to get to Baton Rouge. We rush to meet Joe’s mom before her flight to Minneapolis departs. We reunite with our dogs. Mimi calls to say her flight has been cancelled, she returns. We delay our departure from Baton Rouge and I sleep like the dead while Joe helps her rebook.

 

We are, again, woefully behind schedule and this time we do have somewhere to be. As the miles pass, it becomes more and more obvious that we shouldn’t stop at all. Joe naps while I drive. I’ve done all of the driving so far, and I push as far as I can. Somewhere north of St. Louis I get cranky and my eyelids get heavy. I don’t want to sleep while Joe drives, he’s tired too. We swap, we agree he’ll pull over at the first sign of fatigue. Before I close my eyes, I see a flash. Exhausted, I’m surprised I have time to scream “stop….STOP!!” and grab at the dogs. Joe slams on the brakes and is smart enough not to swerve. He keeps our house upright. Having nearly been asleep, it is a good thing I had just given up driving. I’ve never been this close to hitting a deer, let alone three. And narrowly escape three deer, spanning the width of the interstate, at 2am in the middle-of-nowhere-Missouri in our car house is what we did. I’m now wide awake.

 

We stop at the next truck stop.

 

After a solid four hour nap, we’re on the road again. The sun is up and it’s an easy last few hours to Minneapolis. Minneapolis doesn’t have the soul of New Orleans (does anywhere?) but I love it here too. We see an old friend we knew when we were kids, we talk about his daughter. She’s already three. We eat, we gather with Joe’s family. The Buttry family is expansive, and I’ve never seen so many of them in one place. There are aunts and uncles I haven’t met in fourteen years of knowing Joe, and cousins by the dozen. There’s so much to catch up on.

 

The morning of the memorial comes early. Our Thule has performed its sole duty, our clothes are dry and wrinkle free. As I rush around getting ready, Joe writes his portion for the memorial. It’s mere hours before he needs to speak. He doesn’t have it finished, yet he remains calm. His lack of anxiety compounds mine. I bother him. I ask if he wants to rehearse. I ask him if I can help. Clearly, what he wants is for me to stop helping.

 

We travel to the venue; setup is done when we arrive. The flowers aren’t right, but it’s too late to change them (sorry, Steve). The room is packed.

 

So. If you want your memorial to be knock-it-out-of-the park amazing, I suggest you make sure all your friends and colleagues write for a living. It’s embarrassing to think that anyone who spoke at Steve’s service might stumble across his old travel blog and actually read this post. Scratch that – it’s mortifying. Their words are crafted so precisely; their stories so effortlessly evoke laughter through tears. They’re just so fucking articulate. And here I am, “blogging” like I can take a crack at the craft they’ve made their life’s work. If you’re reading (and I mean you: Dan Finney, Ken Fuson, Chuck Offenburger, Jim Brady, Robin Tomlin, all Buttry relatives), I’m humbly sorry. This was all Joe’s idea.

 

everyone here is better than me at everything

 

The memorial is beautiful. It’s funny, it’s poignant, it’s true to Steve’s core. A hallmark of a truly amazing life, and of a family and career both well-loved. Steve’s gift of writing is visible in all three of his sons. My fears of Joe getting to the podium and not being able to speak are totally unfounded. He speaks flawlessly. High five, Buttry. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud.

 

It’s a long, good night of being with family. A family that’s welcomed me over the years, a family I look forward to seeing each and every time. A theme of gratitude flows through this week, especially in this moment. I struggle for words in a room full of people who make easy work of them.

 

Again, so somber. But so grateful to be here.

 

 

leg 2 – louisiana to minnesota (post 4 of 7)

This is a guest post by Joe Buttry, Steve and Mimi’s middle son. At Mimi’s invitation, he and his wife, Kim, are sharing a “2 Roads Diverged” view of their recently completed trip:

 

Before I start, this post contains some salty language, some of it quotes from my father. It is also a little more somber.

We woke up the last morning in Fort Walton Beach and headed for Baton Rouge. We stopped off at the Pensacola Farmer’s Market and grabbed some provisions. I got tricked into buying some crazy expensive artisan guacamole and chips. Farmer’s Markets are tricky, man. We got back on the road quickly. At this point long drives were no longer the trial that they had been. The dogs were more used to the car by now. Harry would even lay down on his bed in the back giving the passenger (to this point mostly me) a respite from his hot rotten dog breath. The miles of pavement and hours in the car didn’t take the toll that they had in the beginning. The drive back to Baton Rouge was actually kind of easy.

The plan all along was to have 2 memorials. Jerry Cepos, Dean of the Manship school, wanted to honor Dad in a gathering at LSU and we would have a service in Minneapolis for family and friends.

For me, the LSU memorial for my father was strange. First off, I was used to doing the talking. Since he died, most of the time when I talk about my father, others are kind of unsure what to do. I get the feeling that they are worried I am going to start blubbering. There is nothing sadder than a hairy guy crying so hard he has snot bubbles. Jerry Cepos very kindly asked if I would like to speak, but I was woefully unprepared. The experience of watching people talk about my father in the past tense was weird. Not bad. They all had eloquent, lovely things to say about him. Things I see in myself when I am being my best me and that I don’t see when I am at my worst. I was a week into working on my remarks for the Minneapolis memorial and far from finished, and these were the kind of genuine things I hoped I could put together for my remarks at the second memorial. But it was still a little strange.

And I have never felt fucking older. The last two years have taken a toll. There are times that it feels like my brothers and I have aged 10 years. We all have less hair than we did before Dad started treatment, a fact that has never been more in my face than when one 20-year-old after another got up to speak.

Another weird thing was the people. These fresh-faced kids and sweet, friendly coworkers were a departure from the people Dad worked with for so long. I have always been drawn to the outcasts. The only lines of work that I ever considered were always with people who were brilliant, but on the fringes of society. The coworkers I chose were probably as far out of “normal” as I could get. My father’s coworkers were very similar people. Daniel Finney would later call newspaper people “exiles from the Island of Misfit Toys”. People who could level you with their written words, but you could never imagine being out on a date. People who can say more with swear words than most can with a thesaurus. People like me.

These coworkers were different. They were the kind of people that you could serve cocktails on the patio without reservations. The kids had yet to fight their way through a business that breaks you down. They love the media industry, but do not yet know that it does not love them back. They have not yet felt what happens when you fall into the cogs of the machine. That machine does stop. It can destroy your world and the world of those around you without slowing.  They have also not seen the depth of love that the band of misfits who lived on the fringes of society, while championing the first amendment were capable of. One such bright face told the story of missing out on an internship opportunity in Washington DC that he had been promised. Clearly, this was a big deal to him, as it would be to many kids in college. The response from my father was exactly what you would expect of a journalism man who had the rug pulled out from under him for the last decade; he leaned back in his seat, laughed, and said “Welcome to Washington, DC…..Fuck you.”

Few things make me miss my dad like the thought of him swearing. As a child, I remember being amazed that people could speak like that (though it was rare as a child to hear him swear). It was rarely when he was angry (But even as a Child I could tell when he wanted to swear out of anger). As an adult, the Dad that swore became a part of our relationship. It was rarely unnecessary. It almost always moved the conversation or emphasized a point. It was never to fill space. There was always a point. In an interview, he once was asked what his favorite swear word was. The answer; “probably Fucking, as an adjective.” There might not be a more Steve Buttry answer to any question ever. (At least one that does not involve Roger Maris)

The event was simply lovely. My mother shared a story about reading “The Little Prince” to my father. My brother thanked everyone who shared their lovely words. I had met a few of Dad’s coworkers, but many of the people were strangers. They were all very warm and welcoming. They all had simply wonderful things to say. At the cocktail reception after the ceremony, several students shared stories about Dad. He was either telling someone he would write them a recommendation letter (almost insisting) or taking time to get to know his students beyond their shared interest in journalism. The only thing that wasn’t there was him. He would have been uncomfortable with so much attention directed at him, but you could have never gotten the smile off his face.

We headed back to my mother’s house for a quick meal and to load up my dad’s car for the next leg. In perhaps the strangest transition ever, we went from the memorial to a three-day long bachelor/bachelorette party in New Orleans. You see, when the plan was to move to Baton Rouge, Kim had told a friend of hers that it would be a great idea to have her bachelorette party in New Orleans. It went from being a few of the girls hanging out to 7 people renting a four-bedroom condo and partying for 3 days. That they all got there on the night of my Dad’s LSU memorial was just a coincidence.

I feel like I need to share a true talent of Kim’s. She can plan a trip. When she is planning a vacation (as opposed to whatever we have embarked on with our hotelement) she will go through every possible permutation of airline, hotel options vs. vacation rentals, and all manners of transportation. She leaves no stone unturned. She will figure out the best plan. When we got to the condo we scored a great parking place out front. We parked my Dad’s car, which we had swapped for the hotelement, figuring a homemade camper filled with stuff would be an easy target parked on a side street in New Orleans. The condo was perfect. We headed out to meet the others at a karaoke bar. We proceeded to have some drinks and eat our way through New Orleans for the night. For what it is worth, if you are ever there check out Verti Marte. It’s a shithole of a bodega with a food counter in back. Eat as much food there as you can. You can diet later.

The next morning I was the first one up. I worked on my remarks for the next memorial for a while. I was starting to get parts built up that I needed to weave together with some tact and a greater command of the English language than is normally required of me. The vibe in the house was a little odd. Kim has prepared everyone for the possibility that I might not be feeling up to doing much. Yet, at that point I was up for a bit of escapism. I had a bit of guilt. We were just hours clear of a memorial for my father’s memorial and I am here partying it up in New Orleans. I have to remind myself that we didn’t plan it this way. That this was to celebrate the wedding of one of our best friends. Everything has been heavy for a few days and there is plenty more somber on the horizon, so I welcomed the respite. All of the people we were with had also been incredibly supportive. Most of them are closer to Kim than to me (almost all of them are her coworkers, most her friends before that), but they still sent cards and a kind word that really touched me. We spend the day doing New Orleans things. We ate. So much. We went to brunch and had drinks. We go to Magazine Street and had drinks. We went to Frenchmen Street and had drinks, watched some Jazz and ate even though we weren’t hungry. I tried to get a tattoo, but Kim thought that since I had been drinking for most of the day that I should wait.

So the next morning I got up and went to get the tattoo. When I was a 6 I got the chicken pox. I don’t know if it was a particularly bad case, but I know it felt like it was. The constant itching made it impossible for me to be comfortable. In an attempt to take my mind off of the itching, Dad taught me how to play chess. We spent a large part of the next week playing. Twenty-eight years later, when he started inpatient chemotherapy, I wanted a way to show my father that even though I wasn’t there he was in my thoughts. I downloaded a chess app and sent him a request. We played sporadically, mostly while he was in the hospital or awake late at night, unable to sleep. I decided that a fitting tattoo would be the silhouette of a knight from a chess game. It only took ten to fifteen minutes. It hurt, but not as much as I thought a tattoo on the inside of the wrist would. The process of healing would hurt more. I never realized how many times a day I put my hands in my pocket until there was searing fresh tattoo pain each time.

We met back up with the group and continued our quest to eat and drink at every single place in the Crescent City. And multiple trips to Verti Marte. We headed to the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel, also known as the last place a freshly tattooed long hair in a t-shirt and jeans like me is expected to hang out and drink. We moved on and ate more oysters than is reasonable.  In all it was a fantastic time with some good friends during a time when that was just what I needed.

We left New Orleans for Baton Rouge and navigated an Interstate 10 shutdown. After a quick nap for Kim, car swap for me, and some travel complications for my mom (fittingly, Dad’s memorial would be fraught with travel difficulties.) we were on the road. This was the killer drive of the trip. We went from Baton Rouge to Minneapolis in about 26 hours. It was long. It was dull. In the middle of Missouri at 2 in the morning we almost hit two deer that came out of the median. Had I been paying less attention I probably would have. I rode the adrenaline rush to a truck stop where we slept for the night. After a few hours of sleep, we were back at it, driving the remainder with delightfully few near deer experiences.

Once we arrived in town we headed to Kim’s favorite Minneapolis restaurant, Sawatdee. We met a friend who Kim went to college with. He works at the nearby Guthrie theatre. After that we headed to a Fuddruckers’s where my family was gathered.  Anytime that my family can get together is a wonderful time. The feeling of being surrounded by people who love you and are there to support you was almost overwhelming. My mother’s side of the family has always been very close. Any family event is well attended. Those who can’t be there always wish they could be. My father’s side is a little less close, though no less loving. It has been a long time since we were all together. Most of my cousins from Dad’s side were there and that would have made him happy beyond words. He recently wrote a letter to all of us telling us that in the twilight of his life, he held times together with his family in his heart, and that he wanted that for all of us. We have already begun planning a family reunion for 2018.

The next day I spent the morning getting my remarks together. My father had spoken at family funerals in the past and he did it with amazing eloquence. I very much wanted to be able to do the same for him. I also would be following some amazing writers, preachers, teachers and storytellers. They were bringing their A game and I would have to as well.

We got to the venue and settled in. I found a quiet place and wrote out my remarks long hand, just to have in case I needed them. All three my father’s siblings spoke beautifully, as did my uncle Jim from my mother’s side. Several colleagues spoke, all of them with the edge and bite that only comes from years of stacking paragraphs in an uncertain environment, but also the genuine true love and respect that comes from time in the trenches together in defense of the first amendment. Daniel Finney, who could not be in attendance, wrote a piece that was read by my uncle Dan.

Daniel has been close to our family since my father’s second stint with the Des Moines Register. He has recently written a series about his struggles with his weight, depression and anxiety. On more than one occasion, Dad and I talked about what truly remarkable work it is. Dad thought that it should win a Pulitzer, but noted that Finney’s work didn’t fit well into any one category, but loosely into several, making it unlikely to win any of them. I think the idea that a young man who he took under his wing (one of many) writing as honestly and unflinchingly as Daniel while breaking the rules of what is typically celebrated journalism really tickled Dad. A journalist was telling his own story and telling it in such an unfiltered way that makes himself a little uncomfortable. Yet, he does it anyway and incredibly well. Dad also loved to see his friend getting healthy. He was as proud of Finney as I have seen him towards a coworker. Last Christmas Daniel wrote another article. It was the story of my parents’ Christmas letter. He told how in the face of his own mortality my father remained positive. Almost frustratingly positive. He was never unrealistic. At that point, we knew how it was going to end. Yet his thoughts were not on the end, but making the most of the days that he had left. It was one of the kindest things I have ever read. Both that piece and his words for my father’s Memorial are gifts that I will always be grateful for.

My sister in law spoke wonderfully about Dad as a doting, softy grandfather. My brothers and I spoke about Dad as a father. Tom spoke about how even in his last days, he was assuring everyone that everything was ok. Mike talked about how Dad’s life was a love story, with his work, with my mother, and with family. I talked about baseball. I talked about how cancer strips you of your identity. How all of the phone calls become about doctor’s appointments and platelet counts. Yet, through the Royals 2015 run to win the world series, we remained kids watching a baseball game with their Dad.

After the ceremony, we had a nice meal and drinks, before returning to the hotel to play board games in the lobby. Kim and I left after a bit and headed to a tiki bar to meet my cousin Jon, my bother Tom and some of his friends who travelled to be there. These were the kind of events that Dad would have loved. He reveled in the opportunity to be with his family. He would have played with his granddaughters, had a drink and some laughs and posted more photos to social media than even his most millennial nieces and nephews.

As his treatment wore on, his smile changed. I don’t know if it was the smile of a man that was bone tired, or if it was the smile of a man who knew he didn’t have very many smiles left. Part of that change was that he relished every one of them, holding it for a little longer, as if taking a picture in his mind. This night would have been full of that smile.

 

I miss you, Dad.

 

 

leg 1 – nevada to florida (post 3 of 7)

This is a guest post by Kim Bagby, Steve and Mimi’s daughter-in-law. At Mimi’s invitation, she and her husband, Joe, are sharing a “2 Roads Diverged” view of their recently completed trip:

 

Las Vegas, NV

Flagstaff, AZ

Algodones, NM

Amarillo, TX

Dallas, TX

Baton Rouge, LA

Dauphin Island, AL

Fort Walton Beach, FL

 

 

“What are we doing? We’re really doing this??” is the sentiment as we roll out of Las Vegas. It’s late in the day, way later than we should be leaving. We’ve frantically thrown the finishing touches on the car. I run through the house picking up. “Please universe, don’t let us get into an accident. If we roll the stupid car, someone else will have to clean this disaster of a house. How mortifying.” My anxiety levels might be a little high.

 

Our neighbor, Chicago, has been watching days of our rushed planning and building from the comfort of his garage. As he stands in our driveway and agrees to keep an eye on the house, I tell him we will be home in a month or maybe 3 days – could go either way. I mean these words. He shrugs.

 

Back to “What are we doing?” You may not be familiar with that moment where your big-talking, sass-ass catches up with you…I, eternally the loud mouth, most certainly am. That moment and I are long, fast friends. That moment is where I live (although I also now live in my car). There’s a bit of warm fear in the pit of my stomach, followed by one of two things: backing down or following through. I’m not one to back down, and I’ve been talking about living in my car for weeks. The moment is here. I won’t lie – I’m in disbelief. We’ve been doing all of this work, yet my brain struggles to wrap itself around the concept. I’m actually supposed to live in my car now?

 

Oh shit.

 

It’s snowing in the Grand Canyon. Thirteen years in Las Vegas and neither of us has ever seen it. We confirm the weather; our Grand Canyon-less streak continues. Plan A is out the window. We don’t know where we’re going. We don’t know where we’ll stay. Trying to avoid snow, we rule out Sedona or anywhere closer to Las Vegas. Holbrook. What’s Holbrook? Has literally even one person ever heard of it? Well, it’s a city near a National Park where the temps are supposed to be above freezing. There’s at least one Walmart where we can probably park. Sounds like our first stop.

 

We roll out of town, past Lake Mead, and across the Colorado River. The wind is fierce. I’m driving a square with a Thule on top (that is now officially our home) across the country in winds strong enough to toss around semi-trucks. We’re all cool here, no big deal. Right?

 

a camper, and a river

After a short while, we reach a scenic overlook of the Colorado River. Should we stop? Sure, why not. It starts to set in that we can do whatever we want. Whatever we want. Yes, we are hours behind schedule. Who cares? The sun is low and the river is winding through some valley I should know the name of. The dogs are wild and the wind is crazy and everything is really, really pretty (except for a pair of tourists who are overly aggressive in their scenic-overlook-make-out-session. Get a car house, already).

 

We roll on. My anxiety calms down a bit, giving more space to my excitement. Day turns to night and it dawns on us that we aren’t going to get anywhere near Holbrook. I watch the temperature gauge on the dash sink, my heart a long with it. It’s foggy, drizzling, and there’s snow on the ground. It’s late at night now and the roads are wet. They’re not yet icy but promise that outcome. Well. I guess we’re going to stay in Flagstaff, where the low is 28°. I’ve camped one night in my life, as a child in a neighbor’s pop up. It was summer. My violently purchased (when at an REI Garage Sale, do as the violent hippies do…) sleeping bag is rated for 45°. Um, Joe? How cold are we going to be? Like kinda cold or dying cold? He doesn’t know. Google (yes, I do actually try to Google this) proves useless.

 

Maybe I should have legitimately camped just once before this trip. What a newb. What a mess. The needle moves on the anxiety-excitement spectrum.

 

Walmart, an establishment I visit as infrequently as possible, is often the choice of RVs in need of overnight parking. We locate one near the interstate and circle the lot. It seems as if Walmart allows overnight parking…unless you’re in Flagstaff, Arizona. Signs are posted everywhere that we will be towed. It’s midnight, so Covert Walmart Parking Ops it is. We walk the dogs down the street, return, and somehow convert our car without opening any doors. We never intended that to be possible, nor practiced it. High five, Buttry.

 

Immediately, a chill runs through the car.  We burrow into our sleeping bags. I’m not sure who’s idea it is, but one of us grabs a dog. The dogs, not usually allowed to sleep on our bed, are THRILLED. Or maybe they’re cold, who knows. We all end up surprisingly warm. If you’ve read our “process” post, you know that at some point in the night I wake up sick to my stomach and tear up all our chemical-laden blackout panels. So much work went into them, and so little time is taken to determine they are unusable. I fall back asleep and awake the next morning warm, comfortable, un-towed.

 

SUCCESS. You guys – am I a legitimate camper now??! I am, right?! Just watch, I’ll be hiking the Appalachian Trail in no time.* Do I feel gross brushing my teeth in a Walmart bathroom? Absolutely. But hey, it looks like I might actually be able to do this. I’d almost describe myself as giddy. Dirty, and almost giddy.

 

this photo is colder than it looks

 

We chat with another couple that parked in the night. They are clearly professionals, they pull out their camp grill, eat, and clean up in what seems to be 5 minutes. Must be nice to be the Walmart parking lot cool kids.

 

We pack up and move on. Woefully behind schedule at this point, we have a lot to see and a lot of miles to cover.

 

But we made it through our first night and it wasn’t even hard.

 

The next several stops are a blur. We see crater holes (totally underwhelming), a calmer night at a casino truck stop (legitimately delightful), farmer’s markets (delicious), and a giant blue swimming hole (worth it in Santa Rosa). We hop on Route 66, and off, and back on again. We stop and stand on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and we see Santa Fe. We make dinner and clean up at midnight in an Amarillo campground, to the dismay of our neighbors. We begin the exhausting cycle of finding fast, cheap, gluten free to-go meals when we need to cover more miles quickly.

 

santa rosa blue hole

 

dog-friendly hotel under the threat of storms

We encounter the threat of tornadoes in Oklahoma and decide to go south through Texas. The threat turns to reality for several unfortunate Oklahomans. We opt for a hotel in Dallas when hail threatens, and luckily watch the storm amount to nothing more than lightning and rain. We wake the next morning in Dallas bored with our options for stops. We decide to go further south to Baton Rouge. We invite ourselves to Joe’s mothers house.

 

photo taken from Mimi’s refrigerator

Our car skills are building, and we’re more than willing to sleep in the car in Baton Rouge. Mimi offers us the guest bed, a shower, and the kindest travelers gift of all – wifi. Showers are few and far between, wifi is desperately needed. We take over her home. Leeeroy and Harry meet their Uncle Duffy, resulting in an unholy cacophony of barking at the slightest neighborly sound. Three small dogs have never protected a home so well, or so loudly.

 

 

The next day, Joe’s mother is off to the airport for her own journey and we’re off to the Gulf. We’ve spent every night of the past week in a different location and promised ourselves a few easy days on the water. We didn’t anticipate how difficult it can be to secure a campsite on the Gulf. Our idea was far from original.

 

After extensive research and numerous fruitless phone calls, I locate an RV park in Alabama (now doesn’t that sound like something two youngish, liberal adults are dying to experience?). It has space for one van. If we leave immediately, we might make it before they close for the night. Cue the mad dash for the Deep South.

 

Oh, the Southern United States. Where life moves slower, people are more talkative in the grocery store, and then they blow by you in a shit-kickin’ pickup with a Confederate Flag or a “This is My Peace Sign” (crosshairs of a rifle) bumper sticker.

 

I don’t know about this, Joe.

 

I don’t know about this, Harry and Leeeroy.

 

I’m already uncomfortable with the overly friendly strangers and proud display of Confederate flags Alabama brings. To assist with the emotional discomfort, the universe layers on the potential for physical distress.

 

Are you aware that Alabama is one of the top five worst states for fleas? Coming from Southern Nevada, where fleas don’t exist, I certainly was not. My first day in the state of Alabama includes educating myself on dog fleas via spotty cell service. Unlike the moments of fear facing whether we would freeze to death in our car in Arizona like dumbasses, Google proves quite helpful with fleas. Now aware of Alabama’s flea rank (#3, according to Banfield), our second day in this fine state is largely occupied with locating preventative treatment. And this is how I find myself gloved, spraying down two agitated Yorkshire Terriers, in the dirt, with presumably highly toxic pesticide, behind an RV park in Alabama.

 

Joe’s RV park kitchen skills on display

Dauphin Island is a slow, sleepy town of small shops and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. It was cut in half by Hurricane Katrina. A structure built to offer protection from the BP oil spill helped re-deposit sand and make it whole again. We select the area because it’s home to one of the few dog-friendly Gulf beaches. The beach is wide, thanks to the new sand deposits, pristine, and almost deserted. The dogs are confused by the noise of the ocean and respond by biting at the waves. They withdraw with mouths full of seawater and sand. We stay for two nights. Joe cooks amazing meals, we politely but very briefly interact with our RV neighbors. Everyone is “Southern Nice” but it’s obvious we don’t fit in here. It could be our age, it could be how we vote. It could be that we’re sleeping in a car with trashy Reflectix window panels instead of a behemoth luxury RV complete with actual window coverings and portable flower beds. Who knows.

 

dauphin island, hashtag no filter

 

We pack and politely leave after our last night. The eastern/southernmost point of our journey is Destin, added specifically so Joe could cross Florida off his list. The drive there brings torrential rain.

 

Just as I’m not interested in a flea infestation, I’m not interested in wet dogs sleeping in my car. We Hotwire a hotel, one of the few still available. The drive is short. We arrive anxious to stretch out, do laundry, and visit the beach. I check in, look at the room, and return to the car where Joe and the dogs await.

 

“This place is kind of a dump, dude. I don’t know if we should stay here…” I can tell he thinks I’m being a princess.

 

“Also, Hotwire didn’t mention they charge fifty dollars each night for the dogs…” Joe is not swayed, thinking we can sneak them in.

 

“Fine. Give me a dog. It’s room 131, I’ll text you when I’m in and then you can sneak in your other son.”

 

I sneak in undetected and text Joe that he’s free to begin his own dog smuggle. Although he has the room number, I ensure he knows that he can stop at the giant hole in the hallway ceiling – our room is the one right underneath it. His mind begins to change before I open the door. The smoke detector is wrapped tightly in a bag, someone has been smoking (Cigarettes? Meth? Both?). There is heavy spatter of something(s) on all of the chairs. The beds are full of hair and the dogs keep finding floor mysteries to snack on (the dogs are still alive, if you’re wondering). A woman in the next room is screaming expletives about a swimming suit.

 

We check out.

 

We wind up the coast in the rain, seeking a dog friendly hotel anywhere. Our standards are low – no ceiling holes, no mystery spatter, hopefully in Florida. Traffic snarls, the sun sets. Reviews on TripAdvisor guide us to a Fort Walton Beach La Quinta using adjectives like “beautiful” and “superb.” I roll my eyes and book it. I’m tired, I’m hungry. Yes, let’s go see how superbly beauuuuutiful a last-minute Floridian La Quinta can be.

 

The manager is quiet and seems kind. You can tell he is proud of his property. We’re already 10 steps ahead of the last place. I open our room to find wood (ok, wood laminate) flooring and vaulted ceilings. There’s a giant, comfortable, hair-free bed. The décor is more up-to-date than my own home. Our wet dogs cost nothing and are not the worst behaved in the building. It’s win/win/win/win, and I’ve learned my lesson. I’ll never roll my eyes at a La Quinta again as long as I shall live, so help me God.

 

We’ve done nothing but drive, eat, and socialize for days. How are we exhausted? We drag in our bags, we drag in our dogs. We sleep well, leave the dogs at dog daycare, and lounge on pristine, sugar-sand Florida beaches. The temperature is perfect but the wind is brutal. No swimming allowed today. I watch the waves roll in; I listen to them crash on top of one another, crash onto the shore. At ease, at peace in a beautiful place. I wonder if we could have driven to California instead and saved ourselves about 2,000 miles.

 

fort walton beach

 

We do a deep clean of the car. Laundry, coffee, car wash, coffee. We pick up the dogs and sleep well again. We find ourselves at the end of the first leg of our trip.

 

The dogs are tired and surprisingly well behaved. They’ve taken to the car better than we ever thought they would. Neither Joe nor I have threatened divorce yet. It dawns on me that this trip will be the longest amount of time we’ve spent together since meeting 14 short years ago. I look forward to the next few weeks with my favorite person as navigator. He possesses a razor-sharp talent for finding exits that bear both gas and gluten free menus. He remembers to clean the windshield at least 75% of the time. His Texas highway ad-libbed rendition of Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend” is sublime.

Oh Bagggbyyy you, you have a disseeeeaase…

They call it Cel-i-ac, they call it Cel-i-ac

And Bagggbyyyyy youuu, you can’t eat wheeeeeaaat…

Cuz you’ve got Cel-i-ac, you’ve got Cel-i-ac

(chorus below)

He excels at repeating the Google Maps Navigation for his mildly hard-of-hearing driver. His patience rivals that of the great Steve Buttry himself. The more kind words and memories I hear about Steve, the more I see Steve in Joe. Strange that it’s taken so long to see how the father shapes the son.

 

So it’s been a week and a half. It’s been freeing, it’s been exhausting. Tomorrow we head to Baton Rouge for the first of the memorials. The time moves quickly and slowly, slowly and quickly. I’m both eager to move on, and loathe to leave each place.

 

 

 

* I will literally never, ever, ever hike the Appalachian Trail. It’s unlikely I will ever even lay eyes on it.

leg 1 – nevada to florida (post 3 of 7)

This is a guest post by Joe Buttry, Steve and Mimi’s middle son. At Mimi’s invitation, he and his wife, Kim, are sharing a “2 Roads Diverged” view of their recently completed trip:

 

When we finally left it seemed underwhelming. We kinda just got in the car and went. Like we were going to the store, but with the dogs. We didn’t even make it all the way down the block before we realized that I had not locked the door. I don’t know what I expected, but that was not it.

I guess that part of it is that we don’t really take road trips anymore. We take the occasional weekend drive down to the ocean, but anything more than that involves a trip to the airport. That has a much more involved send off. There was no TSA for this. The magnitude of this trip did not match what we had to do to actually leave. Maybe there should have been someone there to ask “Are you sure that you want to do this? Do you know how many miles 6,000 is? That little rescue dog is not great at riding in a car. Do you know how hard your father would roll his eyes at the prospect of having a dog on his lap for 6,000 miles?”

I have always been prone to impulsive ideas. As a child they were kept in check by my parents and the fact that impulsive ideas usually require some money and I spent my allowance on baseball cards as soon as I got it. College was nothing but a series of impulsive ideas. Even the act of going to college was a snap decision. I never lived up to my potential in school. I had no real plan for what I would do after High School. I had taken the ACTs and done well, but that was mostly to get my parents and teachers off of my back. I remember sitting on the couch as Dad walked through the room. I stopped him in the middle of something and his mind was clearly elsewhere. I said “Hey, I think I am going to go to college. What do I need to do to apply?” My father was a pretty unshakeable man. It is one of the few times I saw him totally at a loss. He stammered out something about getting me all the stuff that I would need and that he was so happy that I had made this decision. I’m fairly certain that if asked him to give me a piggyback ride down to the registrar’s office he would have done it.

Without a doubt, the impulsive idea that has had the greatest impact on my life was moving to Las Vegas to be with a girl that I had been dating for a little over a year. I knew then that this was one of those crazy ideas. I knew that it could end poorly and if it did it probably wouldn’t end just a little poorly. But this girl was unlike anyone I had ever met (and is still unlike anyone I have ever met). If you had told me that it was going to end in a year, I would have gone to have that year. Just like this trip, as I pulled out of Omaha there was no one telling me I was being crazy. There was no one encouraging me to stay and work a 9-5. I don’t know if it is just that my parents have always been that supportive, or if they knew I wouldn’t have listened and they were saving their breath. They did get married at 19. They could teach me a thing or two about crazy.

But back to our current insanity. We both had our reservations. Messes stress Kim out, but they seem to follow me around. We would be sharing a 36-square foot space. Could we really do this for a month?

Harry, our rescue dog, has never been good in a car. He no longer gets sick, but he always wants to be on the driver’s lap. For long drives (like halfway across town long, not road trip long), he will eventually settle for the passenger’s lap, but this drive would be much longer than any he has ever been on. We took him with us to the beach once and tried a sedative, but it never seemed to really calm him down. He was tired but still managed to whine a lot of the way. And a whining dog gets on both of our nerves.

We changed plans before we crossed the state line. There was snow in the Grand Canyon. I always think of Arizona as just a desert. Hot when Vegas is hot. Less hot when Vegas is less hot. That is not the case. In late March, when the snow has melted from the mountains around Vegas, there is still plenty of snow in northern Arizona. (Thanks, public school) We chose Flagstaff to stop for the night. The low overnight was a little below 30 degrees. We found a Walmart just off the interstate and claimed our spot among the RVs. Why ease into hotelement life? I have always felt like if my life goes off the rails and I end up an addict or homeless that my rock bottom would happen inside a Walmart. Good thing we were in the parking lot. We switched over from car mode to sleep mode and settled in. It was quite comfortable, but in the middle of the night Kim had to pull the fabric off of the window coverings because they smelled strongly of fire retardant (something we didn’t notice in the expanse of our normal house, but was pretty overwhelming in our car house). Between the construction of the bed platform keeping us up off of the floor of the car, sleeping bags and the two dogs that we shoved inside of them, we stayed perfectly warm. The next morning, we pulled up stakes, said a quick hi to our fellow car camping neighbors, and took off. First night was a win. The only downside is I can no longer say that I have not brushed my teeth in a Walmart bathroom.

We stopped off at a privately-owned meteor crater. It’s a tourist trap and no dogs are allowed inside the crater. Kim ran inside and reported back that it was better in pictures, so we hit the road quickly. We caught a little stretch of Route 66 through Winslow, AZ (Cause if we are doing tourist shit why not?) and I took a Big Lebowski themed version of the picture everyone else was there to take. Fortunately, a street corner in Winslow, Arizona is boring for kids so all of them were more focused on their phones than my questionable sign.

Standin’ on a corner in Winslow, AZ really hating the Eagles

We stopped down the street for a nice lunch on the tailgate of the Element and got back on the road toward New Mexico. Kim looked up parks along the drive and picked out Petrified Forest National Park as a good place to hike with the dogs. It sits along the edge of the Arizona/New Mexico border. The hike we chose winds along fallen petrified logs. There was beautiful scenery and the dogs loved the exercise. We even optimistically bought a year park pass with intentions of hitting more on the trip and when we take the dogs out to parks close to Vegas when we got home.

We passed into New Mexico and headed to Albuquerque. Our plan was to hit farmer’s markets along the way and at least try to eat healthyish for a little while. I googled for a bit and found that the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market is better than Albuquerque, so we adjusted the plan to go through Santa Fe the next morning.

We struggled to locate food in Albuquerque (Why doesn’t everywhere stay open as late as Las Vegas? It is one of the few things this town gets right.) and settled for some BJ’s Brewhouse. Then we rolled up the road toward Santa Fe and struggled for a little bit to find a place to stay (The Santa Fe Walmart does not allow overnight parking). Eventually, we found a nice truck stop/ casino and set up for the night. We learned something important on that night; Truck stops beat the shit out of Walmart. It becomes easy to find the nice ones (Love’s are consistently nicer than all of the others). They know that people plan on sleeping there. It’s not weird to brush your teeth in the sink. Also, it has the distinct advantage of not being Walmart. For real though, Walmart sucks.

We drove to the farmer’s market and parked with relatively little trouble. I went in and got eggs, tomatoes, and chicken sausage while Kim dealt with the dogs. Harry found a nice spot with heavy traffic on one side and people eating on the other and took a giant shit. Then I found a unicorn restaurant. A place with a dog friendly patio and gluten free options. Kim decided she didn’t want to go in though so I grabbed order to go.  It was great. We made a quick stop at the Santa Rosa Blue Hole, because Kim loves swimming so much that she will stop just to look at a place where people like to swim.

We learned our lesson from the night before and made a new rule; We should figure out where we are sleeping before we need to sleep (not a bad rule for life). We planned our stopping point ahead of time this time and decided to try a campground (read: we stink and need to shower). I booked a tent site at the KOA in Amarillo, TX. They didn’t even bat an eye when I asked if we could sleep in our car instead of a tent.

I feel like we were in an unusual situation. The people who were there to camp probably looked down on us for not bringing a tent and drum like the rest of the hippies. The RV people might have looked down on us for not having a real RV. Is the sizeist nature of the RV community just something I made up? Do the little old people in the GIANT RVs look down on the RVs that don’t require a special class of driver’s license? Do the ones towed by giant trucks look down on the vans we looked at renting? Am I never going to be a part of that culture if I don’t tow a car behind my RV? Does all of this just exist in my head and these people are just happy to be out on the road?

What I do know is that my father, who loved a well packed vehicle, would be immensely proud of how much shit I fit in that car. Everything had a place. For the first leg of our journey we had a little extra space, but once we picked up the guitar everything had to be in its place in order for us to close the doors. The Thule storage box on top was the only place to add cargo, unlike the behemoth Semi truck sized RVs that we parked next to. That space was very limited.

We got to the camp site just before dark. I whipped up a quick meal of chicken tacos. It was my first time cooking on a camp stove and I did it mostly in the dark. It didn’t go too poorly. Sadly, washing the dishes in the dark went much less smoothly, and after a battle with a stubborn cheap dog poop bag Kim was ready to have some car wine and go to bed.

Kim, in her Element

The next morning, we discovered that we are headed into some rough weather. We decided that the best plan of action was to head south to Dallas and find a hotel. This got us off of the interstate and onto a state highway which made the drive through Texas much more bearable. It was still Texas, but a better version than what the interstate shows. We found a La Quinta in Arlington and head there. La Quintas allow dogs and have Wi-Fi, and this one was in a good area allowing us to get out of town the next morning without experiencing much morning rush hour. It also had nearby food, so Kim ran some errands and grabbed us some Mexican takeout. The storms we were dodging (and the hail we were worried they may bring) barely missed us.

The next day we got up and started to plan for the day. Our planned path took us through northern Louisiana on Interstate 20, but when we looked at what a good stopping point would be there were few options. The best course of action was to drive a little longer today and head to Baton Rouge. My mother, always a good sport for my flights of fancy, told us she would love to have us. She pointed out that she wouldn’t even have to wash the sheets because we would be there soon anyway. A longer drive also gave us the chance to get the dogs more accustomed to the marathon drives that were ahead.

It is great to see my mom. We invaded her house like something out of Christmas Vacation, unloading the contents of our hotelelment into her pristine house, slightly bleary eyed from a long few days of driving. The dogs introduce themselves to their uncle dog, Duffy. Leeroy promptly dumped all of Duffy’s toys on the floor, found his favorite then immediately eschewed it for his new favorite until all toys had a turn, then began over, repeating the process until it was time for bed. Harry, always quick to spot a sucker who will let him on the couch, made himself at home cuddling with my mom.

Leeeroy, Harry, Uncle Duffy

I made sure that the guitar fit in the space I had allotted (it did, but a second far less nice guitar did not, so there is still a guitar of mine at my mom’s house) and ran a load of laundry. It was a nice visit, but very quick. My mom was getting ready to travel to see my aunt and cousin, and we were getting ready to travel…… somewhere on the gulf coast. We retired early.

The next morning, I got up early to send Mom off to the airport. We took our time getting loaded up and started to work on a plan for the day. We researched some campground options near the beach and discovered that many are farther from the water than they may let on in promotional materials. We originally wanted to go to Destin Florida for a few days, but decided that a better plan was to start by car camping on Dauphin Island, Alabama and continue on to Destin. The only problem was that to make it to the campground we had to leave. That second. We left like it was a scene from the movie Twister, only instead of life saving weather research, we had to get our car/house to an RV park before it closes. Also, there are dogs.

The drive was short because we did a long day getting to Louisiana. It was also interesting. We were in the no bullshit south.  The drive to Dauphin Island took us through a rural area south of Mobile. The last recorded lynching in America occurred in this area in 1981. Confederate flags became more and more noticeable. Looking back, that rural area seemed to have a darkness to it. As if it was trying to work off a karmic debt that it had only recently started making payments on. The kind woman who ran the RV park was a little unsure of the long-haired van dweller she was now confronted with. Fortunately, I didn’t want to discuss Satan, I just wanted a soda and a bag of ice.

Harry surveys the Dauphin Island causeway

For all of the darkness and mixed feelings, Dauphin Island is kinda cute. For the first time in our trip we had more than one day in the same place. We got there in time and headed for a quick walk on the beach, but it is getting dark so we cut our walk short so we (I) can get our dinner cooked. I made a stew with purple potatoes from the Santa Fe farmer’s market, chicken, pinto beans and some bone broth I stole from my Mom’s freezer. It was really friggin good.

We spent the next day running some errands (It turns out that we needed to get some flea treatment for our dogs before they caught fleas and infested our car/house. Something that I never considered living in the desert) and hitting up a local store called “Ship and Shore Supplies” for some food and a little liquor. Kim got a swim suit (because she forgot hers, even though swimming is her most favorite thing ever) and headed to the beach for a while. I sat and read and watched the dogs. It was a nice quiet day. I’m sure that Kim would have liked to spend more time at the beach, but I enjoyed a little time doing nothing.

The next day we moved on to Florida. The drive was not too bad, but we had to drive around the bay of Mobile, so it was twice as long as it could have been. The forecast called for rain and lots of it so Kim booked a hotel, whose name I will withhold to save them embarrassment (Extended Stay America. 4615 Opa Locka Lane, Destin, Florida 32541. Oops.) We arrived around 3pm. Kim checked in while I stayed with the dogs. She came back out to the car and told me that the room wasn’t quite up to her standards in the “the last person’s hair has been cleaned up” department. She grabbed Harry and headed in while I took Leeroy to go to the bathroom. I texted her and ask the room number and she response was “131. Stop at the giant hole in the ceiling.” Her directions, while unusual, were completely accurate.

I mean, really?!

I found our room under a large hole in the ceiling. I’m talking about a hole that looks like a man has fallen through the ceiling. Maybe while carrying something. Like a truck tire. Comically large. I went inside and I was a little surprised. I typically have a lower standard when it comes to hotels than Kim. But this place was gross. The smoke detector was wrapped in a plastic bag, because the last people in here were smoking. And it didn’t smell like cigarettes. Or weed. More like old batteries dipped in Windex. I am a generally hairy person, and, as a man in my mid-thirties, some of that hair stays behind once I have left. My shedding ass was stunned by how much hair is in the beds. (Extended Stay America. 4615 Opa Locka Lane, Destin, Florida 32541) The chair (which was a basic black office chair, pushed up to a rickety dining table, none of them real furniture) looked like it had been used to beat the makeup off of a sad clown. It was so gross I sat on the bed. For a second. Then I stood. For an hour while we tried to find a new place. We could hear every word of our neighbor’s conversation. It was colorful. And Loud. And Angry. With no promise of stopping anytime soon. Even the dogs didn’t want to sit down. I may be anthropomorphizing here, but they looked at me as if to say “I know that twice a day you have to yank on my leash to stop me from sticking my head into my dog brothers stream of urine. I know that every time I vomit I try to eat it, then while you are stopping me my brother does eat it. But please don’t make us stay here.” We looked over our options and found a La Quinta down the road a few miles in Fort Walton Beach. We booked it. On the way, out a man who was visibly a drug addict told me he likes my dogs. Both of them growled. I considered doing the same.

In the time that we were in the murder hotel (For clarity, the Extended Stay America. 4615 Opa Locka Lane, Destin, Florida 32541. Look it up on trip advisor.) a storm rolled in. Kim shot a quick boomerang of the rain through the windshield to put up on Instagram. The drive to our new hotel took a while, but it was quite nice. It had a nice clean bed, and laminate floors, and an area to walk the dogs with poop bags and a trash can. But we were really just happy to be out of the Extended Stay America (4615 Opa Locka Lane, Destin, Florida 32541).  I looked up a place where we could get some gluten free food and ran out and grabbed some tacos and something to drink. I thought about burning my clothes just to be safe. I didn’t, but I kind of wish I had.

I brought the food and drinks back to the hotel and we had a nice little meal. We planned a trip to the laundromat and to clean the car/house for the morning then some beach time in the afternoon. We went to sleep with no concerns of what living creatures might be sharing our bed with us.

The next day we got our plan rolling. We dropped the dogs off at a daycare, because freedom. We parked at a public beach and walked down to a resort’s chairs. An attendant informed us that we could rent them and we do. I sat in the shade and read while Kim walked the beach and pined to get in the water, but there were high winds so she could only watch the waves. We hit the laundromat and I stayed with the clothes while Kim went to a car wash. We met back up and headed for the beach with clean clothes, linens and some of the bugs washed off the grill of the car. We grabbed the dogs and loaded them up into our clean car/house. I got more tacos from the same place (what? They were good. You find a different place with gluten free options every night. It’s a pain in the ass.) and settle in to our bed where the only hair was mine. Gross.

 

 

 

 

 

 

process (post 2 of 7)

This is a guest post by Joe Buttry and Kim Bagby, Steve and Mimi’s son and daughter-in-law. At Mimi’s invitation, they are sharing a “2 Roads Diverged” view of their on-going trip:

So you want to turn your Honda Element into a #hotelement? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Read on for a handy-dandy guide, complete with photos! This post will have a lot of details, so Kim (purple text) and Joe (green text) will be working on it together. No sense in boring everyone with the same post twice, and if anyone is insane enough to try this all of our research will be in one spot (you’re welcome, hippie). Should any of the following text be confusing, we’ve linked two video tours of our Element at the end of the post. Two things to note:

  • All of this is merely suggestion, it’s what’s worked for us.
  • This stuff is EXPENSIVE. We hit up a lot of sales (including a perfectly timed REI Garage Sale for a crazy cheap Thule) and did a ton of bargain shopping. We don’t suggest you pay full price for almost anything on the gear list.

With that said, let’s get started!

 

K: Step one! Know a bunch of dirty hippies. They love this shit and will be your most valuable resource. Don’t know any hippies? Start eating Non-GMO/organic, drinking kombucha, and using essential oils. Hit up a drum circle. You’ll be on your way in no time.

 

J: My step one was to figure out where I was going to build our #hotelement. I chose my garage. Step two was to remove all non-essential equipment from the space. I skipped this step and made a giant mess, which will be waiting for me when we get back home.

 

Phase 1: Research

K: OK for serious – I started this project with a ton of research. Well, as much research as I could get done on the clock while at work. Pintrest and Google image searches were helpful in narrowing down the type of build we wanted to do. YouTube tours were my holy grail. Here are a few great starting points:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SYfZhP9AWw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rVNvteLmlA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1j9HWEXQcA

 

There are also a few apps we’ve used that have helped:

Roadtrippers

KOA

Allstays

TripAdvisor

Find Me Gluten Free (sorry)

Google Maps (duh)

Instagram (so our families could tell we were still alive)

 

J: I drew inspiration from my favorite childhood vehicle, the A-Team van. I began my research with Netflix. Additional research indicated I am a tall person. This meant that the bed height had to be as low as possible to make it easier to get in and out.

 

Phase 1 Summary:

For our build, we made the following overall decisions:

  • Full bed with driver and passenger seats flat to accommodate tall person. Back seats would be removed.
  • Roof cargo would be necessary.
  • Bed platform would have to be tall enough to fit all kitchen and guitar cargo underneath.
  • Blackout windows, Reflectix, and mosquito netting all needed.
  • We would have to buy like a ton of stuff…we don’t camp.

 

Phase 2 – Build

K: I highly recommend you marry a carpenter that owns both a table saw and a chop saw.

 

J: As a carpenter, when I design something like this I tend to start by looking at specific challenges I’ll face.

 

K: I’ve been told I think catastrophically, so this is me in my element (HA IN MY ELEMENT). What if we get a flat? What if we get into an accident? What about clothes for the memorials? HOW DO I CHARGE MY PHONE? We had a lot of topics to address.

 

J: Let’s start with the bed. It consists of two main components – understructure and bed platform. I used 3/4” ply for everything. Understructure started with a box running crosswise.

Understructure box – secured

This box is not flexible or hinged, it’s secured with ratchet straps to the backseat floor anchors. From this box, all other supports are hinged. This way we can easily access the spare tire. I based the storage compartment measurements off what we planned on storing (guitar, books, water jugs), but these compartments can be any size.

 

Bird’s eye view of the understructure layout – we might have forgotten to get a real photo of this one

 

K: Height of the bed platform was also determined by our storage underneath – specifically, the guitar and the stove. Our platform is 15” overall, with 14 ¼” clearance underneath.

 

J: The bed platform (top) has two pieces – one piece that is secured and unmovable (attached to the box) and a second piece that is hinged to both the other top piece (piano hinge) and the structure below (loose pin hinges). To secure the hinged portions and eliminate road noise, bungees attach the bed platform to the two rear tie-downs. I painted all of the structure and put cheap outdoor grill matting on the top of the platform to protect our mattress.

 

K: Structure built! High five! Extra points if you color match the bed structure paint to your car trim…which Joe did. I hear that Ikea has mattresses which exactly fit the width of an Element. We found that our futon mattress did as well, and saved money by using what we already had. Ikea was our Plan B.

 

Full size bed, cargo netting, battery operated lights. Neighbor’s car – he thinks we are crazy

 

J: We were left with empty space between the guitar and the bed platform. I installed two drawers for kitchen utensils and dishes to utilize the space.

Joe showing off his kitchen drawers

 

K: We tried to keep the rest of our kitchen supplies near the back of the car so cooking would be convenient. We ended up storing our clothes and packs towards the interior, with our food/cooler/stove/dog food to the rear.

 

Kitchen layout – cooler, stove, drawers. power supply (in empty guitar storage area)

J: Let’s talk storage. Our biggest challenge was transporting our clothes for my dad’s memorials.

 

K: We discussed several options, and decided we couldn’t properly transport formal clothes without some type of rooftop cargo box. This space has proved invaluable. Initially purchased specifically for our suit/dress/shoes, it’s become home to our cold weather gear, extra dog food, and a catch all for rarely needed supplies (tool box, extra Reflectix, portable dog crate etc.).

#hotelement with thule

One of our hippie van dwelling advisors (thank you, Karolina) suggested cargo netting for the interior of the Element as well. We purchased two bicycle cargo nets and used sash cord to rig them to the interior roof. The nets reach from the rear of the car to just behind the front seats. We’ve found this space to be most useful holding our bath towels, pajamas, and basically anything you’d need going to bed or waking up. Also great for keeping paper towels easily accessible.

 

J: I found the door storage pockets convenient for human and dog toiletries.

 

K: One of our biggest and continued challenges was/are the windows. We experimented with several options for blackout panels and mosquito netting. I’ll cut to the chase – Reflectix was by far the fastest and most effective way to block the windows. We started out with black duvetene around the Reflectix. It was fabulous – total blackout, basically no gaps. And then we slept in the car for the first time and realized how heavily duvetene is fire treated.

 

J: There was a smell issue. It was, for once, not dog-related.

 

K: I was able to sleep about two hours before it made me sick. The covers we had so lovingly sewn were torn up and thrown away not even halfway into our first night. Perfect blackout product, completely unusable. We haven’t worked on a better blackout solution yet.

Mosquito netting was one of the items we ran out of time for. We purchased several cheap dollar store mosquito nets and cut them to window size with about 2” of excess on all sides. When we want to sleep with the windows open, we throw the netting up with some magnets. Each net is stored in each door’s storage pocket. There are definitely better solutions for this, but we haven’t had time to find them.

 

Reflectix and mosquito netting – a horrifically ugly solution, but a solution nonetheless

 

J: Once we figured out how to blackout the car, we had to figure out how to light it.

 

K: I had two runs of battery operated LED wire string lights that I had purchased for my office at Christmas. I zip-tied the battery packs to the “oh shit handles” over the rear seats. The lights wound to the rear roof tie downs and back to the driver/passenger “oh shit handles.” BOOM! Done. It was enough light and we each had a string for our own side of the car. It was probably the fastest project undertaken on this build.

 

J: One of the YouTube video tours listed above discussed fans and power supplies, which turned out to be total necessities. We found a fan that could be powered by both battery and USB. One has worked for us, but two would have been better. We also purchased a GoalZero Yeti 150 power supply to charge our phones and laptop on days we don’t drive.

 

K: This power supply is awesome because you can charge it with 110V (normal outlet in your house), 12V (cigarette lighter), or add a solar panel. In theory, this is the perfect solution for our power needs. However, it’s brand new and doesn’t seem to be keeping a charge very well. Further investigation into this will happen when we get home…

 

Phase 2 Summary:

Make sure your bed structure is flexible enough you can access your spare tire, and secure enough that it won’t go anywhere in case of an accident. We based our entire build off our cargo needs. Various window coverings are a must. A power supply isn’t necessary, but sure is (should be) awesome.”

 

Phase 3: Gear List

 

Kitchen:

Stove – Coleman Classic Propane Stove (2 burner) http://www.coleman.com/classic-propane-stove/2000020943NP.html

Cooler – Stanley Adventure Cooler, 16Qt http://www.stanley-pmi.com/store/stanley/en_US/pd/ThemeID.39334800/productID.325306100

Water storage – WaterBrick 3.5 gallon (with spigot) http://www.waterbrick.org/product/waterbrick-standard-3-5-gallon-blue/

Dog food – OXO Good Grip POP Containers https://www.oxo.com/products/storage-organization/food/pop-container-big-square-4-0-qt-3-8-l

Various bins, dishes, cookware, and kitchen utensils – either previously owned or purchased to fit our drawer size

Bed:

Grill matting – Cheap from any hardware store http://www.homedepot.com/b/Outdoors-Outdoor-Cooking-Grill-Accessories-Grill-Mats-Pads/N-5yc1vZbxc2

Mattress – standard futon size with washable cover

Sleeping bags – evrgrn Crash Sack (Kim) https://www.rei.com/product/882939/evrgrn-crash-sack and Ozark Trail Deluxe XL Warm Weather (Joe) https://www.amazon.com/Ozark-Trail-Weather-Rectangular-Sleeping/dp/B00N375Y8A

Previously owned sheets, pillows, one heavy blanket

 

Storage:

Roof – Tuhle Force (Large), 50” square bars with 460 feet and 3109 fit kit https://www.thule.com/en-us/us/cargo-carrier/car-top-carrier/thule-force-l-_-1688652

Interior ceiling – Topeak bicycle cargo net (2) https://www.topeak.com/global/en/products/basket/324-cargo-net

 

Electronics:

Power supply – GoalZero Yeti 150 Power Station http://www.goalzero.com/p/164/goal-zero-yeti-150-solar-generator/

Fan – Honeywell Turbo On the Go Fan http://www.target.com/p/honeywell-turbo-on-the-go-black/-/A-16974338

Lighting – Cheap Walgreens battery operated LED strings

 

Windows:

Windshield – ACE Hardware Solar Shield reflective mylar sun shade http://www.acehardware.com/product/index.jsp?productId=1401283

All other windows – Combo of Reflectix and black fabric http://www.homedepot.com/p/Reflectix-16-in-x-25-ft-Double-Reflective-Insulation-with-Staple-Tab-ST16025/100012574

Windows capable of opening – dollar store mosquito netting

 

Safety:

Fire Extinguisher – First Alert Rechargeable http://www.firstalert.com/index.php?option=com_flexicontent&view=item&id=936

Carbon Monoxide detector – Kidde Battery Operated http://www.kidde.com/home-safety/en/us/products/fire-safety/co-alarms/kn-cob-lp2/

First Aid Kit – Sportsman Series Big Horn medical kit https://www.amazon.com/Adventure-Medical-Kits-Sportsman-Bighorn/dp/B008CZZV6I

 

Misc:

Chairs – Moon Lence Outdoor Ultralight Camp Chair (Joe) https://www.amazon.com/Moon-Lence-Ultralight-Portable-Backpacking/dp/B00Y2A6OAO/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8 and Compaclite Oversize Folding Chair (Kim) http://www.acehardware.com/product/index.jsp?productId=121006756

Bath Towels – Gaiam Microfiber Yoga Towels http://www.target.com/p/gaiam-thirsty-yoga-mat-towel/-/A-51130084

Dog Crate – Nature’s Miracle 26” Port-A-Crate http://www.petsmart.com/dog/supplies-and-training/crates-gates-and-containment/crates/natures-miracleandtrade-port-a-crate-dog-crate-5163317.html

Tool Kit – made from our own tools, including screwgun, pliers, multi bit screwdriver, channel locks, electrician’s scissors, mat knife, super glue, assorted bed hardware, webbing, carabiners

 

Phase 3 Summary:

Buy whatever it is you think you need, these are just the items that worked for us. We feel that we’re using everything we have and that we are not missing anything major.

 

Our #hotelement video tours:

 

  1. Drive Mode https://youtu.be/2Ab8dbiUDHw
  2. Sleep Mode https://youtu.be/Cn4AprZUqzI

 

Thoughts

K: I did the majority of the research, but Joe did the majority of the building. He did an amazing job and will be accepting future offers for Honda Element conversion work. I’d recommend giving yourself more than 4-5 days to do a project of this size. We probably wouldn’t have needed the Thule if we didn’t have the guitar and formal clothes, so look for it on a Craigslist near you soon. A 45° sleeping bag is surprisingly warm (good to 28° so far) with one Yorkie added. Overall, the build was pretty fun – I got to exercise skills I haven’t used in 15 years (turns out, I do remember how to thread a bobbin). Our Element has been super comfortable, I’d call our build a success…just don’t ask me about going to my first REI Garage Sale.

 

J: This type of construction and problem solving plays to my strengths. I got that from both of my grandfathers. I took over the construction of any prefab furniture at the age of 12. My father had almost endless patience, but it was no match for cheap pressboard and allen wrenches. I have a great appreciation for the efficiency required for a trip like this to happen. There isn’t much room for clutter. Just about everything must have a place and it must be in that place. Now I just need to spread that into my garage…

 

process

the decision (post 1 of 7)

This is a guest post by Kim Bagby, Steve and Mimi’s daughter-in-law. At Mimi’s invitation, she and her husband, Joe, are sharing a “2 Roads Diverged” view of their on-going trip:

 

It’s been a hard year.

 

It’s been a hard year and I’m not a writer. I don’t know the first thing about telling a story people want to hear. I wish Steve was still here, he could probably give me a pointer or two. But if he was here, I suppose we wouldn’t be living in my car right now. I might be a bit ahead of myself already (the first of what I’m sure are to be numerous writing blunders).

 

Well ok, I’m definitely ahead of myself, but that’s how I roll. Fifteen steps ahead, hypervigilant, mapping out A, B, and C choices for each and every detail. Nevermind that we can’t finalize any details until we get to them, I’m still mapping out our options. I like love well-laid plans. Apologies for how that translates to my writing (or if you end up playing in any part of this journey).

 

I am (We are?) such a cliché. Mid to late thirties, so done with our jobs. I had taken a chance with a job outside of my industry in a position for which I seemed quite well suited. It turned out that the position was not well suited for me. It had been a year of struggle, preceded by three years of entertainment struggle that led me to search outside the industry in the first place. Steve’s precarious health situations had always been woven into our life together. He’d long since recovered from his first round of cancer when Joe and I met. The lymphoma diagnosis came, and Steve’s path through it was brutal. He made it, though. We barely had time to catch our breath and pancreatic cancer struck. Another good friend of mine had been living with pancreatic cancer. It hadn’t ever seemed like a walk in the park, but still. He’d been living. So maybe that’s partially why my ever-cynical outlook turned hopeful. That was always Steve, defiant in the face of looming threat. He seemed ok at Thanksgiving. Not great, definitely not robust, but ok.

 

It was terminal.

 

An unassuming question became the theme for our next few months: now what? Joe had just quit his job to go full time with our own lighting company. I was the adult with health insurance and a regular paycheck, and I was miserable. We were about to leave on a trip; we had to make a decision within days.

 

I quit the week after Thanksgiving.

 

I went back to freelance trade show coordination. I committed to a massive show in the spring, a show big enough that we could pad the bank accounts and secure health care for the rest of the year. I would end up vested in my pension. All of the adult boxes were checked, which pleases me so, and like that (poof!) we were going to leave Las Vegas for Baton Rouge. We would help Joe’s mom and dad, we’d take the dogs and get an apartment. Joe could spend those last few invaluable months, weeks, days with his dad. Like I said, fifteen steps ahead with A, B, and C options. I’ve read Joe’s companion post to mine and – spoiler alert – his words are impolite yet precise: “Cancer does not give a shit about your plans.”

 

Before my show went onsite, Steve was gone. The speed both merciful and cruel, a devastating relief.

 

For at least the second time in three months, now what? Joe stayed in Baton Rouge to help sort the “things” of death. I was thrown into 14-16 hour days for weeks on end. We both emerged foggy. We’d quit our jobs (stupid?). We’d saved a bunch of money (smart!). We could take a few weeks, months, whatever without freelance work if we so chose (questionable?).

 

Joe was ready to go back to work. I was done. I needed to be away. We’ve spent our years in Las Vegas working unbelievable hours, multiple jobs, and creating our own company. The last year was rough in a new way and I’d reached a limit.

 

But again, now what? What a rare occurrence, to possess both free time and money saved (although both in finite amounts). We’re childfree, still 100% able to be irresponsible adults. We do have dogs. Those sweet, loving, irritating creatures cost a fortune to board, so they’d need to come along.

 

Looking at us, you might think Joe possesses more dirty-van-dwelling-hippie friends. WRONG! The results of a quick, unscientific count: Joe (0) Kim (at least 5). Not only was I aware that people willingly drove around the country living in their vans, I knew people that had done it (and 4 of those 5 people took their dogs!). But we, in the exact words of one dirty-van-dwelling-hippie friend, “are NOT van people.” If we tried it, it would be unlike any trip we’ve ever taken. I owned a vehicle that lent itself to the project (shout out to all those Honda Element owners – ugly but versatile!). It already had its own hashtag on Instagram, FFS. Let’s recreate that first conversation:

Kim: “You know, we could build a bed in my car and drive around the country for a month or so. The dogs could come.”

Joe: “No.”

In his defense, the man is 6’4” and has a bad back. But something stuck. The next day, Joe had found a luxury van (he gets me) with kitchen, bathroom, king sized bed, the whole nine. DONE DEAL. Yeah, what is that saying about champagne van taste on a Honda Element budget? Further research proved RVs were cheaper…but neither of us were ready to commit to being 75-year-old retirees just yet (no judgement, just not ready for that step at 35). We researched, we ended up out of options. But somewhere along the line, Joe’s hard no became a soft yes. He started talking about #hotelement life more frequently, he seemed to settle into the idea. A few days later, an actual yes. I was, and continue to be, dumbfounded. I grabbed a calendar – we did have a few work commitments lined up, along with a group trip to New Orleans and two memorials for Steve. This left us one week to figure out how to do it – how to build it, what to pack in it, how to live in it, and where we were going.

 

So here we are, as I so frequently find myself – with an overall plan, back up plans A-B-C (more like A through M), unable to finalize any of the details until the last second. Still asking “Now what?” on the daily, along with the slight variation of “Now where?”, dragging you kind readers along with my mediocre (at best) blogging skills. I’ll at least try to include some pretty pictures ( https://www.instagram.com/2roadsdivergedblog ), and to park in as few of your driveways as possible.

 

 

 

the decision (post 1 of 7)

This is a guest post by Joe Buttry, Steve and Mimi’s middle son. At Mimi’s invitation, he and his wife, Kim, are sharing a “2 Roads Diverged” view of their on-going trip:

I probably wouldn’t have turned my wife’s SUV into a camper and driven five thousand miles with my dogs if FEDex hadn’t broken my guitar.

Sure, taking a turn as a guest blogger is a good way to honor my late father who died seven weeks ago from pancreatic cancer. But I could have found a way to do that without googling “Walmart overnight parking”. (Many allow it.) And my brothers and I are already planning a trip to a Royals game. Every time any of us watch a game we will think of the time we spent at games with our Dad. (It is unclear if we will be sleeping in our cars.) I could have (and still may) gone with the memorial tattoo. Some little symbol that holds a meaning that few would understand. I could throw myself into religion, or drugs, or therapy, or working out. But none of those sound that appealing, and they don’t solve the problem of my guitar.

Oh, the guitar. It’s a long story. And here it is. I play left-handed guitar. It stems from a deep seeded desire to be a little bit different. It was a horrible decision. Left-handed guitars are hard to find. There is, however, a store in Houston that sells nothing but leftys. It’s a thing in the left-handed guitarist community. Last October my wife and I went to Austin for Halloween with some friends, but we decided to move our departure from Las Vegas ahead a few days and surprise my Dad for his birthday. We then drove from Baton Rouge to Austin through Houston, stopping at Southpaw Guitars. And I bought a guitar. It is a nicer guitar than a musician of my talent deserves. Jim Duncan, who started the shop in 1980, told me he could ship it to me and even waited until I got home from Austin to do so. About a week after my return, I got the package, immediately unboxed it and strummed a chord. And something was wrong. I had never really heard an acoustic guitar do what this one was doing. I flipped it over and discovered that perpendicular to the neck, just below the headstock was a crack. Not a hairline, “probably nothing” crack. It was a “is this guitar just pretty firewood” crack. Just to underscore the point, the crack ran right through the Gibson Custom Shop logo as if to say “well, it was a custom shop instrument …..”
I called up Jim, sent him pictures and he had it shipped back immediately. (For what it’s worth, anyone looking to buy a lefty guitar should do it from Jim at Southpaw Guitars.) His in-house guitar tech fixed it (no small feat), even hand painting the spots in the custom shop logo. The only problem left to solve was that neither of us felt safe shipping it. It languished in the shop for several months.
I ended up driving from Baton Rouge to pick it up almost a week after Dad died. It had been an intense week and I felt like some time alone in a car would do me good. So I drove from Baton Rouge to Houston and back in a single day. The next problem was getting the guitar from Louisiana to my home in Las Vegas.
Which brings us back to how we made the decision to turn my wife’s car into a camper, which is without a doubt the weirdest of my life. We had planned to spend a significant portion of our time (think months) in Baton Rouge to support my Mom and Dad. But one thing that anyone who has dealt closely with cancer can tell you is that cancer does not give a shit about your plans. So, when Dad’s death came sooner than we had steeled ourselves for, we were left with choice. We could either try to return to life as normal or we could take that time and do something with it.
A quick side note: “Life as Normal” for us is not actually normal at all. We both work freelance which means we work in brief sprints that send our life into upheaval followed by periods of relative calm. We already had sprints planned that would make space in our lives for a long stretch of calm. We each had gigs that we had committed to back in Las Vegas (Kim’s much larger and draining than mine) before anything could commence. And they gave us time to figure out what that “anything” would be.
The other big thing we had to consider were actually two small things; Leeroy and Harry. Leeroy and Harry are two Yorkshire terriers (Harry weighing in at 8lbs, Leeroy tipping the scales at a robust 10lbs) who dominate entirely too much of our lives. They both can be a handful. They both have their issues. We could not, in good conscience, foist these issues onto a friend who offered to watch them. And the vet charging us a fortune to board them is a different problem. When we travel we can end up spending a lot on boarding dogs (for which they never seem grateful). The original “move to Baton Rouge for a while” plan included the caveat that we would have to bring the dogs with us. So, for a new plan to work financially, the “anything” would have to include the 2 dogs.
The clear answer was an RV. We could rent one and it would have everything we needed. We would have all of the space for all of the guitars and yorkies that one could dream of. I even found a large van that was outfitted as a small RV. It was perfect. At least it was before we learned that they charge more for mileage than they do to rent the vehicle. We looked at the budget we had set and it became clear that we would have to come up with another plan. Kim’s internet research had already revealed an option that I immediately shot down. YouTube is full of videos of people showing off their #hotelements. (Yes, her solution was an effing pun.) Turn her Honda Element into a hotel. Hotelement.
Yet it seemed that the only feasible option. It was decided. We would get an Instagram, buy a bunch of plywood and turn my wife’s 2009 Honda Element into a rolling pun/camper for the two of us. And our dogs. And a guitar. For a month.