leg 4 – missouri to nevada (post 6 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:


Kansas City, MO

Denver, CO

Manitou Springs, CO

Moab, UT

Las Vegas, NV


The road to Denver is long, boring, and windy. We stop in the middle of nowhere for gas and realize the wind is so strong, it’s changed the position of our Thule. I walk the dogs while Joe attempts to fix it. We stroll next door to what looks like a murder motel, with attached murder restaurant. The windows are dark, with 1970’s curtains pulled tight. Through the door, I can see the ceiling has partially collapsed. There’s broken glass all around the lot and the windows are painted with Christmas decor from 2015. The restaurant is closed, maybe even condemned, which makes sense. The attached motel, in not much better shape, seems to be open for business. Creepers. I quickly return to the car. Joe is…upset.


the single roadside difficulty we encountered. harry inspects

Let’s take a pause to discuss Joe’s demeanor. Upset is barely part of his vocabulary. The man exists within the word unfazed. I don’t think I’ve heard him raise his voice more than once (and Bank of America totally deserved it, you guys). He climbed up to fix the Thule, and the runner on which he was standing gave away. He nearly breaks his arm falling. He’s pissed off, he tries cramming the car part back to where it came from. Whoaaaa, Buttry! Pump the brakes! This is why YouTube exists. I YouTube what appears to be a common problem. We review a short clip, Joe snaps the car runner back into place. On the road again.


We roll into Denver intending to meet some of the world’s finest people – Joe’s cousin Meg and her husband Dave. Intending to stay with them? Not so much. Meg, the middle child in a family of female cousins that mirror the ages of Joe and his brothers, is in the midst of a demanding fight for her health, the details of which are hers and not mine to tell. I worry she’s tired, I worry she’s stressed. I know she’s been through (and is currently going through) an unimaginable amount of…shit, for lack of a better word. The past few weeks have been a lot for everyone, I imagine especially her. The last thing we want is to add to her burden. Joe and I plan to camp or just pass through. She continues to offer her home. We eventually acquiesce.


We follow Google Maps slowly through their neighborhood. We observe houses. Cute. Cute…cute. Cute. We eventually locate theirs and parallel park our car-house in front. Meg and Dave’s home is of the big, old, beautiful type you can’t find in a city like Las Vegas. Push button wall switches and wooden floors, etched glass, a sun room, a mud room, and wood molding around all the windows and doors (so many doors!). A murder basement (you’ll have to ask Meg about that one, she said it first…but she’s right.). Our house is cookie cutter and suburbs, theirs is personality and city. I never locate the speakers, but music floats room to room. I’ll never be cool enough to have days of awesome playlists in the background while guests visit, but that’s the type of cool Meg and Dave are. Meg has left us a gift bag on the guest bed, complete with scratch off lottery tickets, easter candy, and homemade buttons of our dogs. She’s welcoming us and our dogs into their home free of charge, and she leaves us a gift bag.


We had planned a nice dinner out, but post-Omaha we’re now aware that Harry and Leeeroy will not be left alone in a strange place. Knowing they have a capacity for destruction that far exceeds what you’d expect from such small animals, and that Meg and Dave have a beautiful home, we change our plans. A night in is in order.


dog friends, dog buttons


Meg and Dave have a sweet-eyed, older dog named Ravell. Harry promptly makes his home on Ravell’s bed. Leeeroy, who loves every dog he’s ever met, feels the need to casually show Ravell his teeth over and over. And over. Leeeroy, can you kindly explain your behavior in a home with the best hospitality life has to offer? Can you stop being a jerk for literally 18 hours? After what seems like ages, Leeeroy decides to be nicer to the dog owner of this home. We all settle in. We order in arepas. Mine is full of chicken and black beans and Venezuelan awesomeness. It’s the best I’ve ever had (sorry Las Vegas, thank you Quiero Arepas). We drink Moscow Mules, complete with copper cups and freshly squeezed lime juice. We chat about family and books and mostly the dogs. Meg shows us – and then gives us – her backup button maker (see above dog button photos). We go to bed. I try to make us as small and unobtrusive as possible in their busy, complicated lives.


middle cousins and dogs. image stolen from meg’s instagram

In the morning, Meg produces a magical restaurant that meets each of our extensive needs. City ‘O City has a patio for dogs, gluten free options for me, and vegan options for Dave (yay! Safety in dietary restriction numbers!). It’s a beautiful day. Living in Las Vegas, we no longer get to experience that feeling of the first day of spring – where everyone is nice and in a good mood and you realize halfway through the day it’s because the weather is finally nice, for the first time in 4 months. That simple pleasure isn’t part of my life anymore. The weather in Denver today isn’t quite that sublime level of amazing, but it’s pretty close. We order, the food and coffee are perfect. We enjoy brunch. We replenish Meg and Dave’s Moscow Mule supplies. We pack our things and move on. Meg and Dave are young, cool people in a cool city and it’s the weekend. I’m sure they have things to do.


An hour away lies Manitou Springs, along with Alexis and John. Alexis and I have known each other since high school, where we were voted (together) most likely to carry off a jewel heist. We did used to steal a lot of things, including (allegedly) a tree from a librarian without a sense of humor. We haven’t lived in the same city since, but we’ve managed keep ourselves firmly fixed in each others lives (especially for swimming, especially in rooftop and/or infinity pools). Alexis married John, then I married Joe. Poor John and Joe, each kind of eternally bound to the two of us. It wasn’t until recently that Joe was given the front seat of a car over Alexis. To be fair, it was her spot first. We were in each others’ weddings. We travel to each others’ houses, we go on vacations together. Apparently, we now camp in each other’s driveways.


Denver to Manitou is the easiest drive of our trip, and makes me dread the long haul that lies on the horizon. I’m not going to write a storybook, but pretend I have. Manitou is the city from that storybook, nestled between mountains and filled with little shops and restaurants…and also hippies. Our hippie friends reside on one of Manitou’s mountains. They have dogs and cats: Colfax and Ginsberg and Tibalt. Joe and I haven’t been training at altitude (be it exercising, drinking, or breathing) and Joe has enough problems breathing as is. We plan to visit their home and sleep in their driveway, which is literally just the side of a mountain.


nature driveway


Another story not mine to tell, Alexis and John have had fairly severe health problems befall their home the past few days. We offer to stay out of the way, to continue on our journey. They insist it’s ok. We attempt to buy dinners and help shuttle vehicles in return. I do not feel our debt is paid. No one warned me that life-altering health problems start knocking at your door in your thirties. I have several friends with life and death situations on their hands right now. I joke about being old all the time, but apparently, we genuinely are. When did that happen?


backyard hike, mountain dog

We drink on Alexis and John’s patio, and hike in their backyard (which is, again, a mountain). The dogs are allowed off leash, a rare treat for which they do not always respect the responsibility. We crate the dogs and have a normal dinner without them like adults. We clean up the small dog destruction when we return.


We are kind of lazy and tired. We make buttons (thanks, Meg). We play games. I die on the Oregon Trail, but not before Alexis. Harry tries to be one of their cats, Leeeroy tries to eat Colfax’s food (it does not go well for him the first or fiftieth time he tries, yet he is persistent).


Las Vegas is 12 hours away. Joe has a job scheduled for our company within the week. Our journey is coming to an end. We decide we have time for one last stop. Moab lies halfway between Manitou and Las Vegas, near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. There’s a campground with available spots. We’d initially thought we could revisit the Grand Canyon at the end of our trip, but the extra miles are deemed too many. It’s decided – we are headed to Moab.


blogging in car, dogs napping at feet

We begin the drive. We meet a close friend Joe hasn’t seen in years. We have tacos, I walk the restless dogs. We continue. We talk about how Steve loved his visits with family and good friends. We talk about how he would have rolled his eyes at parts of our trip, and been delighted with others.


A few hours on the Utah interstate seem like ages. When the trip began, I imagined short 4-5 hour drives each day. That’s been the exception, with 6-8 hour pushes becoming the norm. I enjoy this time with Joe, but I’m also tired of limbo, tired of being between destinations. “Let’s just get there already” has become my impatient theme for this trip, as it has always been in my life. I’m relieved when we exit the interstate and begin the last thirty miles to our campsite.


Now on the highway, we must pass along the edge of Arches National Park and wind through Moab in order to arrive at our campground. I’ve never been to this part of Utah and the scenery is unlike anything I’ve seen. We call out awesome camper vans, Honda Elements, cars with Thules, and verygooddogs™ as we see them. All strangers, yet all our brethren. We note where to enter Arches for tomorrow. We move slowly down Moab’s main street. The town? It’s the cutest. Blue sky and red cliffs surround the small-town-cute mix of restaurants and shops. Hippies, extreme sportsfolk, and FLDS Mormons wander the sidewalks. There are rock shops and bike racks, kayaks and tie dye. Stoners and rock climbers, and rock climbing stoners. The speed limit is low, we coast slowly and take in the town.


I don’t know who sees it first. I don’t remember who is driving and who has to Google. Joe claims me, me, him. All I know is that as we survey the town’s main drive, the Love Muffin Cafe sign reveals itself. Love Muffin Cafe? As in, Love Muffin from Steve’s memorial photo? No. No way, too strange a coincidence. Must be a chain, or a different restaurant entirely. We never asked the origin of the photo, we certainly didn’t expect to stumble upon it here. Google confirms. Not a chain. Same logo, same restaurant. There’s only one Love Muffin Café, and it’s right in front of us.



Ok. So. I’m a realist, a skeptic. I don’t believe in signs. But even my skeptical, hard heart has to take a pause. I make a mental list: we just happened to be in Baton Rouge the day Mimi selected the memorial photos. I just happened to find and attach myself to the Love Muffin Cafe shot. Short on time, we just happened to decide on travelling through Utah instead of Arizona, and it just happened that Moab was the best stopping point from where we woke up this morning. An entire trip’s worth of random moments and decisions culminate here – at the sole location of a restaurant where a years-old photo of Steve was snapped, a photo that was picked out of a pile and loved by me, weeks ago in Baton Rouge. Maybe you believe in God in one of His or Her various forms, maybe instead you believe in the Energy of the Universe, or maybe you think the human brain assigns meaning where there is only coincidence. Regardless of creed, I think that most would find comfort and a bit of wonder here. There’s the idea that maybe someone, something, some energy has been with us all of these miles. Maybe someone is here with us now, as we stand outside of the Love Muffin Cafe.


Joe later tells me the parks in Utah were some of his dads favorite places, and he expected to find something of him here. Well, Joe. Maybe you could have mentioned that before I started questioning my belief structure.


Moab camp

Moab’s KOA is our last stop, and also the first campground we get to, cook, and clean up before total darkness. High five, Buttry. Four weeks in and we are starting to get the hang of this. Our campground is full of desert sand and dust, with a background of deep red cliffs. The dogs are disgustingly dirty, but the scenery almost makes up for it. We sleep easily in the cool night. The warm day get us out of bed early. We laze about in the morning, comfortable in this place. After a slow start and breakfast dishes, we are off to Arches.


Arches is a dog friendly National Park where you cannot take your dogs anywhere other than the parking lot. We spend an hour driving around. We take some parking lot photos. We leave.


arches, as viewed from the parking lot


Alexis had recommended a trail outside the park. We locate it at the edge of town. I’m promised a swimming hole with waterfall at the end of this hike, and I. AM. PUMPED. The trail winds along a creek. We begin by climbing down into the water and letting our dogs take a swim. I only get in to my thighs. It’s freaking cold, you guys. A giant dog shows up sans owner, our dogs decide to “protect” us. Harry almost gets away, eight pounds of Yorkie willing to take on this perceived intruder, who weighs in at at least seventy-five. We scramble for his leash (it was a terribly timed accident! I didn’t mean to let him go!) and subdue the small dog. We get out of the water. The trail itself is easy, but the sun begins to beat down. We continue to cross paths with hikers in bathing suits and towels. I begin to notice every one of them is model-level beautiful. What is this place? I want to find this fountain of chiseled abs, toned arms, tanned skin, and magically flowing beach waves and/or man buns. Apparently, Joe and I are going to wash away the start of middle age when we get to the end of this trail. That seems easier than diet and exercise, so I’m in. I forge ahead. I had read the trail crosses a creek several times and prepared myself thusly. I thought this had been made clear to Joe, but he is wearing real shoes and full length pants. I scoop up a dog and waddle across the first junction in my sandals and bathing suit. I try to help him. I don’t get very far. Models continue to cross our path. WHERE IS THIS MAGIC SWIMMING HOLE OF YOUTH? I feel bad as the heat increases and Joe struggles through a second muddy creek with dog. It’s hot, it’s been a few hours. Joe is not setup for this, his pants and shoes are ruined. We give up on magical swimming holes and second youth. We turn around.


We return to the campground after a full day of mild nature encounters. Joe cooks our last camp dinner, I find a dish sink at the camp office that makes our last dinner dishes a breeze (finally). It’s our final night on this journey. A month away from the real world, away from jobs, away from house cleaning and yard work. We’ve barely checked our bank balance, I might have been late paying our last bills – I don’t really know because we can’t get our mail. There’s been no twenty-four hour news cycle, no Donald Trump or Russia or North Korea. No work emails, no deadlines, no irresponsible stagehands. I don’t know if I could stay here forever, but I would be willing to make an attempt. Joe’s ready to return to life. We pack up the car and prepare to leave in the morning, some of us more reluctant than others. Night falls. It’s pitch black, but the sky is crystal clear. For the first time in years we can see the expanse of the stars. Joe notices them first. We stare for a few minutes, he picks up his things and goes to shower. The dogs have curled up to sleep. I pull out the laptop and begin to work on a blog post. I think about the places we’ve been over the past month. I think about what’s brought us to this place over the past many years. I notice how quiet my surroundings have grown.


Alone, under a silent blanket of stars in the Moab desert, my mind goes back to the Love Muffin Cafe. I think of Steve. I reflect on the many years I knew him, I think of the last few hours I had with him. Though there for his last days, I arrived too late to see him conscious. I missed my chance at a proper goodbye (whatever that is, if one even exists). Those days are hard to think about, they’re painful and they’re unfair. I shake my head to clear the thoughts.


I sit for a while, mind blank, in the dark of the Utah night. My mind returns to Mimi, always returning to Mimi. I think of her story and The Little Prince. “In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing.” I lean back and stare into the night sky, scanning the thick field of stars. I search for Steve among them. It’s here, alone in the quiet desert night, that I begin to say goodbye. It’s always that I will say thank you.



leg 4 – missouri to nevada (post 6 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:


Kim and I woke in Kansas City. As a child, I loved riding Interstate 70 and driving past the stadium, so I was fittingly nostalgic as I loaded the car looking across at the scoreboard. There are worse places to wake up (Extended Stay America. 4615 Opa Locka Lane, Destin, Florida 32541). The plan was to head to Denver. As with Kansas City, there were more people we wanted to see and commitments waiting for us in Colorado than we would have time for. I started the drive west out of town filled with dread. Anyone who has made this drive knows that it is a wasteland. The five hundred miles west of Kansas City seem to repeat themselves as if one has entered the Twilight Zone. But instead of finding it creepy or super natural, it’s just incredibly boring. This trip added the extra concern of high winds. As we have already discussed, we were traveling in a fairly high profile vehicle on top of which we attached a box.  The wind blew from my left to my right. And I fought it the entire way. When we stopped for gas, I found that it had pushed the front of the Thule (which was quite tight) over, jamming the hooks that attached it to the roof rack. I fought it back to straight, tightened it as tight as it could go, broke a piece of trim off of the car, and fixed that same piece of trim while Kim walked the dogs around the gas station and a nearby sketchy hotel. As we got closer to Denver the wind began to relent, but my nerves were wound as tight as the Thule hooks.

We got to Denver and I remembered that I like this city. *Warning: mean-spirited sports content ahead* I am a loyal Kansas City sports fan. My teams are the Royals in baseball and the Chiefs in football. As a Chiefs fan, I have a hatred of the Denver Broncos that runs deep. So deep that as a child I may have convinced myself that I hate Denver as a whole. It wasn’t until a 2014 visit that I recognized that maybe this was a little extreme. (I do still really hate the Denver Broncos. Especially that mouth breather John Elway.)

You would think the thin Denver air would be easier to breathe through one’s nose……

Now I view it differently. It’s more like a friend who is a pretty good person, but casually kicks their dog. I mean, it’s a deal breaker you’ll never be able to look past, but maybe they just don’t know how horrific what they do is. Maybe they were raised that way and just can’t see outside of themselves enough to break the cycle. Like people who think ketchup goes on spaghetti, or racists.

Colorado has legal recreational marijuana. Here is what I think about that; I think there are a finite number of things that I can care about at one time. Who does or does not smoke pot has never been and will never be one of them. As long as I don’t have to listen to too much jam band music.

We rolled into town and headed to my cousin Meg’s house. Meg is Mary and Jim’s daughter. We grew up close. She was my fellow middle child. She also wears the scars of a fight with cancer.

Word of Meg’s cancer came shortly after my Dad’s pancreatic diagnosis. They faced their treatment together, with my father promising that “we will be strong together.” My family sent Meg a pencil case to take with her to treatment and tokens to keep in it, to remind her that we were all behind her. My token was the champagne cork from the bottle of champagne that Kim and I shared to celebrate the end of Dad’s lymphoma treatments. I wrote in my note that I hoped to replace it with two. One for Dad and one for her. Two days after I sent it we found out that there would not be two corks. The cancer had spread from my father’s pancreas to his liver and his treatment was over.

That remaining cork has become ever more important to me and my family. Meg is the kind of person that makes the world a better place. She is quick to laugh and wears her heart on her sleeve. Her courage is a true inspiration.  When I spoke at Dad’s memorial I knew if I was going to make it through without getting choked up I wouldn’t be able to look at Kim or my mom. In fact, I avoided eye contact all together. When I was talking about how a fight with cancer takes your identity, I made eye contact with Meg. She was in tears. That was the only moment I was in danger of losing it. It was also the moment that I noticed there was a phone in her hand. I was being recorded.

Meg also has a very nice house with an empty guest bed. We got there and took over the house like only two people who have driven their car/house too far and 2 ten pound dogs can. Meg took us on a tour of her super cute house. With it’s charm and character, it is the kind of house that simply does not exist in Las Vegas. Leeroy and Harry met Meg and David’s dog Ravell. Leeroy spent most of his time pulling all of Ravell’s toys out of the box and spreading them around the room. I thought about how weird it would be to have a dog that would let you put his toys in a box. David made a run to Quiero Arepas for dinner. If you have never had an arepa, you should. As soon as you are done reading. They are a Venezuelan sandwich. Mine had chicken, black beans and avocado. It was crazy good. Meg made gluten free onion rings (who is actually nice enough to do that?) so we snacked on those, had some Moscow mules and watched Leeroy try to destroy Ravell’s toys. Meg told me about the EXTRA BUTTON MAKER she had that only needed a handle. I can make a handle, so she sent it with me. The combination of the hard drive, button maker excitement, and a few drinks sent me to bed pretty early.

The next morning Meg found us a place 1- With a gluten free menu 2-With a vegan menu (David is a vegan) 3-With a patio where the dogs can go. There are like 10 of those in the country. I’m pretty sure most are in Denver. We went there and put our names in, but the patio wasn’t opened yet (this is NOT what they told Meg on the phone) so we had to wait. We talked, got coffees, and laughed at the dogs. We told Meg and David that Harry hates things with wheels (skateboards, bikes, strollers) but they were surprised just how serious we were. Every time a bike, skateboard, or God forbid rollerblader rolled by, Harry lost his damn mind. Keep in mind that Harry is tiny, and he has the bark of a tiny dog trying to be tough and failing. Soon enough we were seated and I ate and thoroughly enjoyed my vegetarian breakfast. We headed back to the house and packed up our hotelement.

We hit the road and headed to Kim’s friend Alexis’ house. Manitou Springs sits just outside of Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs is like the conservative older brother who joined the Air Force to Manitou’s college dropout who joined the peace corps. It is a cool little mountain town. The last time we visited we stayed at a bed and breakfast, but this time we crashed in our car outside Alexis’ house. Alexis was very excited because she has lived in vans (by choice, in a hippy kinda way. Not homeless) and was one of our advisors on the subject of van dwelling.

Alexis and her husband John live on the side of a canyon. A few years ago, a wild fire almost burned down their neighborhood, but fortunately for them it was only a close call. Then, because fires had had killed so much vegetation, they had terrible flash floods. Again, Alexis and John were close to the damage but they were more fortunate than many. Their house was unharmed.

Seldom have I seen a house that fits people I know like Alexis and John’s house. The main draw of the house is the setting. There may be no more appropriate place for Alexis and John to live. It sits on a hillside across the canyon from the cave of the winds and looks out over the valley.  They have real wild life. Their dog Colfax chases away bears and John has seen mountain lions on the dirt road that leads to their house.

We got in and hung out for a while. We busted out the button maker and John and I started trying to figure out what we had that would work as a handle. (Answer: the handle of a pair of channel lock pliers) We researched gluten free restaurants and decided on a place. I got some trout that was dynamite. There was a nice little deli attached to the restaurant which is usually the kind of place that I end up spending a ton of money, but I managed to hold it together. Until dessert. We ate our desserts and had a few drinks before heading back to John and Alexis’.  Once there, we talked and made buttons until it was time to turn our car into a bed and go to sleep. Our dogs didn’t even get eaten by a mountain lion.

Leeroy prepares to ford the river

The next morning, we got up and Alexis made breakfast. (I never do this for my house guests. Am I a bad host? Your answer doesn’t matter. I’m not going to start.) We got our act together and the four of us and all the dogs went on a long hike. Our dogs are not the kind of dogs that you can usually trust to be off leash. Leeroy is a runner. One time, he got out late at night (like 3 a.m.) and, unaware of how much Nevadans love guns, found a nice dark backyard across the street and down a few houses. He holed up like a prison escapee, only coming out after Kim was in a full blown panic and became liberal with the treats. But this hike was through a canyon and there were not a ton of other people so we let them off leash for a little bit. They loved the freedom and only once did they start to run off. They got to cross creeks and climb up rocks and all of it tired them out so they would hopefully sleep. The hike itself was beautiful. It wound through the canyon, and ended at a waterfall with a few natural pools cut out of the rocks by the water. The whole area was only recently cleared of underbrush by the flash floods allowing it to be hiked. I was amazed that a hike this incredible was only a few steps from Alexis and John’s house. Once we got back we picked another restaurant and went to grab dinner. It was also very good. We sat outside in the sun and enjoyed ourselves. On the way back home we picked up groceries for the rest of the trip as well as some cheap champagne. We spent the night having some drinks, playing some board games, and making a few more buttons. Before too long, my allergies act up (Alexis has cats and I am very allergic to pretty much everything, but especially cats) and I retired to my bed/car.

The next morning, we had a quick breakfast and headed out. Our stop for the night would be Moab, Utah, but first we would see my friend Mike from high school. I downed a good deal of Red Bull and we drove toward western Colorado. We decided to take the smaller highways through the mountains. It was a pretty sweet drive. I-70 through the mountains is scenic, but it’s still an interstate. This drive got us off the beaten path. (A little. It was still a highway.) Eventually, the highway went up through Breckenridge and joined with Interstate 70. We took that to Glenwood Springs.

I sent Mike a Facebook message asking if he would be able to get together and it worked out perfectly. He had time off and we wouldn’t even have to change our plans to see him. He suggested meeting in Glenwood Springs. It was the prototypical awesome little mountain town. The main street had a ton of character. We headed to the place I had researched that met all our dietary and dog friendly needs (we are awful) and Mike met us there. Mike has always been one of my closest friends. Life has taken us to different places. After high school, he served in the Army and went into law enforcement upon his discharge, while I went in the opposite direction and got an arts degree. We don’t see each other nearly as much as I would like. However, our connection is still as deep as ever. After my dad died, there were lots of kind words in many different forms. I don’t think that anyone said anything that meant as much to me as Mike.

Mike and I go back to when I moved to Omaha in the 6th grade. Very few people know me as well as he does.

We grabbed a table outside and ordered some tacos. We ate and caught up, sharing news of long lost high school acquaintances and what each of us were up to. I feel like the excess of Red Bull and time in the car have my entire body vibrating. Too quickly, it was time to once again hit the road. My father maintained long distance friendships like this better than I do. Certainly, on this trip there were too many people to visit and not enough time. In almost every city there were people important to me that I was unable to see. But putting in the effort to reunite with one of my oldest friends was a no-brainer. The fact of the matter was Mike made most of the effort, driving far enough to meet us that it was on our way. Over Thanksgiving, I went with my Dad to meet with a group of his friends for lunch. It was like a stop on the Steve Buttry farewell tour. The group was a mismatch of former co-workers, friends, and Twitter contacts. As far as I could tell, the only thing that they had in common was Dad. He did this over and over on that trip, and all the trips he took from then on. I have written before about how in the twilight of his life it was these relationships that were important to my father. After our visit with Mike, it would only be Kim and I, yet I can’t help thinking that the lesson is that I need to pay these relationships the attention they deserve.

We continued to Moab, Utah. Moab is situated between Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. The national parks of Utah were some of my father’s favorite places. He lived in northern Utah as a child and visited the canyonlands of the south frequently. In 2011, my parents visited Moab, Canyonlands, and Arches. Just prior to visiting his 50th state, Dad ranked the other 49. Utah was number 6.

As we pulled into town, Kim recognized the Love Muffin Café from a picture. It was from my parents’ 2011 trip and my father was standing next to the door. My mother would go on to say “it is Dad checking in.” I don’t know if it’s that or if we are simply in a place that he loved and therefore took lots of pictures (who are we kidding, Dad always took lots of pictures). One thing is certain: Kim was drawn to the picture of him in front of the Love Muffin Café at the memorial and none of us knew where it was until we were driving down the main drag of Moab, Utah. (Even my mother didn’t remember where it was taken until we sent her a photo of me in the same spot.)

We settled into the campground and started to cook. We hadn’t yet perfected the skill of getting food cooked and cleaned up before dark, but we managed to get it done this time. It would have gone even better if we had found the camp sink that would have made washing dishes easier. I set up my hammock and read for a bit as darkness fell. We had a few drinks. In a strange reversal, Harry whined until we let him go into the car. We settled in and slept.

Leeroy is on the lookout for lizards. Intensely.

The next morning, we got up, made breakfast, and used the sink to do the dishes. We attached the dogs to the pergola that the hammock was hanging from when Leeroy noticed something. Lizards. Everywhere. His little obsessive brain flipped into overdrive and for as long as he was at the camp site, all he wanted to do was kill. The lizards darted from tuft of brush to tuft of brush, but always remained just out range of Leeroy’s tether. Much dog frustration ensued.

Once we got tired of laughing at Leeroy, we headed to Arches National Park. We went in and drove to an area with a few of the more popular arches. Dogs are not allowed on the trails, so we took turns walking up the trails and taking photos while the other watched the dogs. The park was beautiful.

Some fairly awe-inspiring arches.

We moved on to a hike that sat outside the park, so the fascism of the national park’s dog rules no longer applied. We parked and headed down a smaller trail that started before the main trailhead. It went straight down to the creek. The sand was so hot that the dogs were happy to jump in and go for a swim. They met some dogs and gave them a suitably chaotic greeting. We took them back onto the main trail. The dogs cruised right along through some fairly tricky rock scrambling (well, tricky for a 12” tall dog), a few river crossings, and more dog on dog chaos. Eventually we decided that crossing the river/creek with 2 small dogs was getting old and we turned back.

We headed to the state liquor store for some supplies. I have been to many liquor stores, but this one was probably the saddest. There were people who appeared to be already drunk, mentally ill, or simply without the desire to shower that week. Kim grabbed some champagne to celebrate the last night of our road trip. I picked out a bottle of Gentleman Jack from the modest selection. If all liquor stores had that vibe I might never drink again.

We headed back to the campsite, made dinner, and had it cleaned up before dark. We toasted to the final night of our weird, strangely poignant journey. It may have been the weight of the last few weeks catching up with us, it may have been my Mom’s words at the Baton Rouge memorial, or maybe it was simply the feeling of his presence in this magical place, but Kim and I thought about Dad as the sun set. One by one the laughing stars came out, as bright as I have ever seen them.


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.