March 27, 2022; 6:01 a.m.

St. Petersburg, Florida

Vacationing with a child is infinitely more difficult than vacationing as a couple. There’s just no comparison. Before having our son (Conley), my wife (Caitlin) and I traveled all over the country, into Mexico and Costa Rica, and even through parts of Europe. But nothing could’ve prepared us for driving 660 miles to St. Petersburg with a 14-month old strapped in a carseat. That’s a special kind of hell. 

Wisely (we thought), we split up the trip over two days. Even this clever foresight didn’t lessen the torture. At a certain point, a baby simply stops tolerating the immobility. This is understandable from the baby’s perspective: he’s strapped down for hours at a time, facing backward, often sweating because the car is stuffed with luggage. This perspective-switching does little, however, to soothe a parent’s mind when the baby won’t stop crying regardless of how many times you sing “Wheels on the Bus.” It’s frustrating, because the one thing that would definitely work – holding the baby – isn’t an option. Thus banshee-like screams must be endured. 

Or so we thought. For months, we resisted the urge to use YouTube/TV/et cetera to soothe our son. The impetus behind this was, first and foremost, brain development. Our son suffered an HIE (hypoxic brain injury) at birth that had the potential to stunt his intellectual development. So we did everything within our power, including keeping him away from television, to give him the best chance at a typical development. This approach has worked so far: there was no sign of a brain injury at his six-month neurology check-up. It was one of the best moments of his life thus far.

Fast forward to our Florida trip. See our son howling in the backseat like someone is holding a flame to his feet. See us doing everything in our power to calm him. Toys. Exaggerated faces. Peekaboo. Fart noises. All to no avail. See two parents ripping out their hair from the roots. See Caitlin grabbing her phone and opening YouTube.

“Screw it,” she says. “It must be done.”

She does it. Finds an educational channel by someone named Miss Rachel. Miss Rachel is one of those grown women who acts like a child. Over-the-top voices and faces. Caitlin plops the phone down in front of Conley. He’s instantly calm. Like, instantly. And for a very long time. 

We sit back. Settle into this strange new world of non-crying. Conley’s joyfully kicking his legs. Smiling. Laughing. Completely transfixed. Miss Rachel is working better than any drug ever could. Saying things like wow and that’s so silly and what number do you see on the treasure chest. Singing “Wheels on the Bus.” 

Fast forward to our Florida trip. See our 14-month old son crying in the backseat like someone is holding a flame to his tiny feet. See us doing everything in our power to calm him. Toys. Exaggerated faces. Peekaboo. Fart noises. All to no avail. See two parents ripping out their hair from the roots. See Caitlin grabbing her phone and opening YouTube.

But Caitlin is concerned.

“We’re bad parents,” she says. “Plopping him down in front of a video like that.”

“No we’re not,” I say. “We’re just practical. It’s a last resort type of thing. Miss Rachel won’t do him any harm.”

“I guess you’re right,” she says.

This particular Miss Rachel video lasts an hour. She sings “Wheels on the Bus.” Speaks of sharks eating fish. Croons of baby ducks going for walks and never coming home. Conley occasionally gets fussy, and when he does, we switch to another Miss Rachel video. She’s singing “Wheels on the Bus” again. Crooning about ducks. Singing “Wheels on the Bus.” Singing “Wheels on the Bus” again. Singing “Wheels…

“Oh my God, I can’t take it,” I say. “Find something else.”

“It’s keeping him calm,” Caitlin says. “It’s either ‘Wheels on the Bus’ or his ear-splitting squeals.”

The choice is obvious. As Miss Rachel sings that familiar tune, for the umpteenth time, the wheels on our Prius go ‘round and ‘round, rolling closer and closer to the Sunshine State.

March 28, 2022; 6:46 a.m.

St. Petersburg, Florida

Every time we go on vacation, I decide it’s a good time to start running again. I do this even though it’s never a good time for me to start running again. My chiropractor has told me on countless occasions that it’s the worst possible exercise for my bad lower back and achy left knee. I always respond “Yeah, I know, Doc. I’m going to get a bike soon. That way I can get cardio without crippling my body.” 

But I never buy a bike. Because they’re expensive. Then we go on vacation, and there I am: running, again. Like an idiot.

After driving 660 miles over two days, we finally made it to St. Pete. A (mostly) beautiful city in a (mostly) beautiful state. We came here to visit our friends, Bobby and Elayna Sanchez. The original plan was to stay with them for three nights. But then their daughter, Sydney, a real sweetheart, came down with a stomach bug that caused her to, by turns, feel totally fine then violently ill. We didn’t want to risk getting Conley sick, so we booked an emergency AirBnB close to downtown. And I started running.

A lot. Like, 10 miles in three days.

That may not sound like much to all of you super fit people out there. All you CrossFit Gods, or whatever. But to my aging 32-year old body, 10 miles in three days in the Florida heat is akin to being repeatedly kicked in the lower body by a thick-hooved oxen. I’m not in bad shape, but running just doesn’t agree with my constitution. Yet I continue to abuse myself and I can’t explain why.

I suppose there is a logical explanation for my decision to go running. First of all, I enjoy cardio. Increasing my heart rate allows me to trascend my grumpy, prickly default setting. It lets my mind float in reverie for a while. Also, jogging is a good way to explore a city. Biking would be better, sure, and easier on the joints, but once again, I don’t have the money.

So a-jogging I must go. Down the palm tree-shaded streets of St. Pete. Flushing flocks of white ibises into oncoming traffic as they peck at cigarette butts. Past old folks gardening in their lush front yards. Avoiding beat-up Honda Accords with drivers who can’t see me crossing in front of them at stop signs. I usually run in the afternoon, the hottest part of the day, because I enjoy torturing myself as much as possible. Some days, it feels like I barely know myself. 

White ibises are a St. Pete staple.

The first half-mile always sucks. Joints ache. The skin remains dry. But somewhere around the half-mile mark, the heart beats faster. Muscles loosen. Sweat flows from the pores. The zone is entered. From this point until around the second mile, I run with my chest puffed out, feeling proud, sure that every passer-by is gazing at me and thinking look at how fast that guy is moving! What good shape he’s in! 

This is the honeymoon period. A time when running feels like it’ll always be easy. But somewhere around the two-mile mark, it begins to unravel. My left knee acts up. My lower back compresses like an accordion. My upper back tightens. I begin to perceive myself less as a marvel of fitness and more like a wounded animal. My pace slows to tortoise-levels and now I’m limping. Just getting by. Everyone is gazing at me in disgust and thinking: is that old man OK?

This state of torture lasts for the rest of the run. Yet somewhere around the three-and-a-half-mile mark, the torture starts to become enjoyable. The mind stops focusing about the terribleness of it all and accepts the pain as some kind of demented therapy. A means for becoming a stronger person, or whatever. This, I suppose, is what seasoned runners refer to as a “runner’s high.” A period when suffering melts away and you’re totally immersed in the moment. 

I experience this high, to an extent, every time I run. But for me the aches never fully goes away. It used to, when I was younger. Nowadays, the pain in my left knee increases with each step and various body parts go numb. By the fourth mile, I’m ready for it to end. 

I see my Prius in the distance. I’m back at the AirBnB. I lie on the ground, stare up at the hot blue Florida sky, my skin/heart/brain glowing from the cardio. I stretch my hamstrings so I won’t experience shooting nerve pain in my lower back. I ponder why I must physically punish myself to feel whole. More therapy will be needed to unpack that, I think, before heading inside to chug a glass of water, half of which I spill down the front of my shirt like a caveman. 

All this running nonsense gets a little out of hand sometimes. Yesterday, after helping put our son down for a nap around 4 p.m., I turned to my wife, Caitlin (who was reading in bed, wisely, after drinking a hard frozen lemonade at the St. Pete Pier), and said: “I am going for a run.”

“You’re an idiot,” she said, not even looking up from her kindle. 

She’s right. But she married this idiot. 

March 29, 2022; 5:45 a.m.

St. Petersburg, Florida

To the great annoyance of Caitlin, I’ve become obsessed with oats as a breakfast dish. So obsessed, in fact, that Caitlin has said on multiple occasions that it’s as if “I invented oatmeal.” To be clear, I didn’t. But I did recently discover they’re packed full of protein. Ten grams per cup! What a nutritious way to start the day, I think to myself, as I stuff multiple spoonfuls into my mouth for the 14th consecutive morning. 

I’ve got Caitlin on the oats-eating train. I make her a cup every morning. The recipe goes like this: a half-cup of oats, a healthy splash of milk, some nuts (either walnuts or almonds), a banana, and a handful of coffee bombs (basically M&M shaped candies packed full of caffeine). She eats it because it’s objectively delicious and healthy. But she won’t suffer me rambling on about how nutritionally beneficial they are. 

“They’re a great source of sustained energy!” I shout while gnashing oats with yellowing teeth. Wondering, on some level, how I reached this point in my life. 

“You and your damn oats,” she moans.

I know I’m annoying about it. I’m annoying about a lot of things. But try to imagine how it feels to be stuck in this body. At least Caitlin can tell me to shut up, or just leave the room. I’m trapped in here with all of my selves until the day I die.

March 30, 2022; 5:15 a.m.

St. Petersburg, Florida

I had a dream during our first night in St. Pete. It was a stress dream. I felt myself grinding my teeth through the haze of sleep.

I was a ghost. I was walking around, interacting with people. Not friends. Not family. Just…people. They didn’t realize I was an apparition until I told them. We’d be standing there, having a casual chat, when I’d reveal that I’m not, in fact, among the living. 

These strangers reacted to this news not with fright or concern, but with genuine devastation. Like I was the most important person in their lives. Like they couldn’t possibly dream of going on without me. They collapsed in a heap on the ground as I apologize profusely. I tell them I wish I was alive so they wouldn’t be so upset. 

That’s the whole dream: Going from stranger to stranger, telling them I’m a ghost. Watching them fall to pieces.

I woke up not knowing what this meant. 

March 31, 2022; 6:41 a.m.

St. Petersburg, Florida

The plan, as I’ve discussed, was to stay in St. Petersburg for five nights: two in an AirBnB and three with Bobby and Elayna, and their daughter, Sydney. Caitlin has known Bobby since they were kids. Their parents were friends, raising them right here in St. Pete. They were party people. Restaurant and liquor store people. Big group of friends revolving through the house kind of people. 

Caitlin has told me stories of the unrestrained nature of her upbringing. Stories of little-to-no supervision. About how, when she was super young, she’d press her bare chest up against the window of her parents’ restaurant. Her mom would march over, out of the kitchen or whatever, and tell her to knock it the hell off.

The bare chest against the glass story, I think, illuminates the difference between Caitlin’s childhood and mine. My parents were decidedly not party people. We rarely had people at our house, save grandparents and aunts and uncles who’d come down from Pittsburgh, where both my parents were born. I wore a helmet when I played in the woods because I was scared of branches falling on my head (I guess?). My brother and I were given free rein to explore the outdoors, sure, but we weren’t exposed to much in terms of human behavior. We were, in a way, sheltered. Not like living-on-a-commune sheltered. But maybe a milder version of that.

Caitlin and I are raising Conley somewhere in between. Thankfully Caitlin knows how to make and keep friends. A lot of those friends (at least five that I can think of, off the top of my head) have children around Conley’s age. None of them live close to us, but that’s OK, because it gives us good reason to take trips to Roanoke, St. Petersburg and other cities. We won’t have a revolving door of people moving through our home, like Caitlin’s parents back in the ‘90s, but we’ll take vacations to visit friends in far-flung cities. It’ll be good for Conley to travel. To see the world, interact with people.

“We’ll take many vacations to visit friends in far-flung American cities. It’ll be good for Conley to travel. To see the world, interact with people.”

But I’ve gotten off track: Sydney’s stomach bug (which a doctor later diagnosed, somewhat questionably, as constipation) gave her a 100-degree temperature. Staying at their house was out of the question, yet we were still able to chill outdoors with the Sanchez family. On our second day in St. Pete, we hung out in their backyard, basking in the joys of Florida in early spring (see: few bugs, non-smothering temperatures). After a while, Elayna said: “We have something I Conley would like,” and showed us a tree swing.

Conley, indeed, loved it: with his hearing loss, any kind of vestibular stimulation (i.e. hanging upside down, looking at a fan, swinging) is pleasurable. We plopped him down in that thing and for 20 action-packed minutes, he giggled his cute little head off. Kicked his feet and laughed the day away. His carseat freakout was totally forgotten. Everything felt right. It’s these small joys that make the frustrations of parenthood worthwhile. Sorry for being cliche, but I don’t know how else to say it. 

April 2, 2022; 6:02 a.m.

Navarre Beach, Florida

The last time we were at Navarre Beach, Caitlin and I were on the nexus of a major life change. It was October 2019 and I was set to start the Asheville Fire Academy in November. On the last day of the trip, we drove onto Gulf Island National Seashore and I sprinted out into the crystal clear water. At the time, I considered that vacation – and that last leap into the Gulf in particular  – the end of…something. Youth? Freedom? Whatever it was, something was undeniably ending. We could feel it in the cool October breeze. This initial assessment has withstood the test of time: Afterward, everything did change. I started that job as a firefighter. We bought a house. We got (a third) dog. And Caitlin gave birth to Conley. 

On the last stretch of our 2022 Florida vacation, we were back on Navarre Beach, about a mile from the Gulf Island National Seashore. Given my already-established penchant for physical self-punishment, I rented a bike (because I can’t afford to buy one yet, remember?) and rode through the dunes for a couple hours every morning. This wasn’0t a nice road bike designed for long distances. Just a rusty old beach cruiser. With a bell, a basket, an uncomfortable seat and tires just shy of full.

That first morning, after downing my requisite bowl of uncooked oats, I queued up Joao Gilberto on my phone and set off on that dilapidated old thing, heading toward the dunes in mid-50 degree weather, the wind at my back, lightning jumping from cloud-to-cloud on the horizon. 

“It’s just heat lightning,” I told myself.

It was not just heat lightning. 

Soon the ominous black-gray clouds were swirling overhead and the (actual) lightning was striking in my immediate area. Several bolts leapt between clouds directly overhead. It was a dicey situation, so I hopped off the bike and stepped onto the beach, where a suprising number of people were milling around in anticipation of the sunrise. Some douchebag in a jacked-up truck turned on his headlights and blinded a group of people. A frumpy middle-aged woman seated in a camping chair shouted: “turn off the damn lights!” But he didn’t hear. Or else he chose not to listen. 

I stuck around long enough to watch the sun rise through the clouds, lightning still leaping overhead. Something about being around other people made me feel safer, even though I was in no way actually safer. I suppose I was comforted by the idea that the lightning now had other bodies to strike. When I was out on the bike, careening through the dunes, I was sometimes the highest point in a given area. It didn’t help that I was also on an all metal bicycle. I kept waiting for my hair to stand on end, followed by a crush of electricity that blasting me into oblivion. 

I don’t think I was struck by lightning. Though it’s possible I was. Maybe I’m actually dead now, writing from the other side. Nothing can be ruled out in strange times like these.

Then the rain started. Cold, fat drops hit me in the eyes. I peddled quickly toward Pensacola Beach, trying to reach the edge of the storm. After 10 minutes I succeeded, and the remaining ride through the National Seashore was peaceful. Save for the fact that I was soaked, and one of the tires kept flinging cold water onto my back. I tried to focus on the beautiful scenery, with mixed results: I kept getting lost in my muddled thoughts, my shivering body. I turned back after reaching the 10-mile mark, hoping for an uneventful ride back to the AirBnB. 

I didn’t get an uneventful ride back to the AirBnB.

“That first morning, after downing my requisite bowl of uncooked oats, I queued up Joao Gilberto on my phone and set off on that dilapidated beach cruiser, heading toward the dunes in mid-50 degree weather, the wind at my back, lightning jumping from cloud-to-cloud on the horizon.”

I ended up underneath the bloated, slow-moving clouds again. There wasn’t much lightning this time, but the raindrops were thumping my face. I was doubly soaked. Riding against the wind, too. When I reached the AirBnB, over two hours after I left, Caitlin was awake. She warmed my chilled hands on her body. 

“Did you check the weather before you left?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “There was a 65-percent chance of rain.”

She sighed and shook her head. Frustrated by her union with me. 

That’s the difference between the two of us. Mainly, she’s smart. She sleeps in when we’re on vacation. Doesn’t ride a bike in the rain in 55-degree weather at 6 a.m. 

Me, I wake up at 5 a.m. on my own volition. Go directly into the shit. Not because I’m courageous or virtuous or anything. Simply because I lack better sense. 

I rode the hell out of that crappy beach cruiser for three days. Fifty miles total, according to my calculations. I even used it to pick up dinner from a Thai place across the bridge. One evening, some car show in Pensacola had cars backed up on Navarre Beach for over five hours. We kept waiting for the traffic to break, but it never did.

“Forget it,” I said. “I’m taking the bike.”

“Does it even have a basket?” my wife asked.

“Are you kidding me? It’s a top-shelf beach cruiser. Of course it has a basket.”

The ride to the Thai restaurant was the sketchiest part of the whole trip. There were no sidewalks once I crossed the bridge onto the mainland. This forced me to brave the dreaded bike lane in heavy traffic without a helmet. It was one of the dumber things I’d done in a while. And that’s saying something, coming from a guy who casually defies the advice of his chiropractor.

(Perhaps overstated) danger notwithstanding, I reached the restaurant without incident. As I parked the bike and walked inside, a legless man in a wheelchair rolled out of the building. He politely asked if I could move my bike so he could climb into the driver seat of his Nissan Frontier. He apologized, even though he’d done nothing wrong.

“No, I’m sorry for being in your way,” I said, and moved the bike a few feet to the left. I went inside to pick up my order, which was stuffed inside four separate styrofoam containers, then stuffed inside a plastic bag. 

I looked at the bloated plastic bag.

I looked at the bike basket.

I looked at the bag again.

I looked at the basket again.

Shit, I thought.

Then, I heard a voice. It said: “You’ve got this.” 

I looked up. The legless man in the Frontier was leaning out of the window, cheering me on. I smiled.

“I’m trying to make it work,” I said.

“You can make it work,” he said. 

OK, I thought. I can do anything if this guy believes in me.

I stuffed the bag into the basket. One of the containers crunched. I hopped on the cruiser and rode across the bridge, trying to keep the handles straight as dudes in jacked-up trucks sped past me going well over the speed limit. At one point, a group of what I presume to be teenagers hung out of a window, screaming incoherently. That’s probably my least favorite part about beach vacations: the obligatory group of teenagers so high on parental emancipation that they drive aimlessly up and down the strip, shouting nonsense at random civilians. 

I get it, teenagers: I was that person once. I think we all were, to an extent. But I’m no longer that person, so I dislike those types of people. Their blind lust for life is what grinds me. They’ve never had to worry about rent, or a mortgage, or a baby in a carseat who won’t stop crying. There’s a war on in Ukraine, damn it, and these fools are hanging out of windows, shouting gobbleteegook, acting like the world is a godforsaken amusement park. Like they are the stars around which the rest of us revolve. “Grow up, you babies!” I shout at the youths in my front lawn. 

That’s probably my least favorite part about beach vacations: the obligatory group of teenagers so high on parental emancipation that they drive aimlessly up and down the strip, shouting nonsense at random civilians.

Ah, I’m sorry. I got carried away there. I didn’t mean it. Enjoy your youth while you have it, teenagers. There’s nothing wrong with acting a fool when you’re young. Drink and hook up. Be beautiful and awkward. Get all of that mischief out of your system so you can grow into grumpy adults like the rest of us. It’s no Eden on the other side, but it’s not so bad. There are sometimes babies in swings and these babies often make it all worth it.

I eventually made it back to the AirBnB. I pried the to-go bag out of the basket. There was a puddle of brown juice at the bottom. Dinner is ruined, I thought. That gleeful legless man made me too confident in my basket-packing skills. Now our meal is crap.. 

It wasn’t, though. One of the plastic containers was cracked, but the noodles, etc, were still edible. Caitlin and I sat on a mat outside on a warm Florida evening and shoveled Thai food into our mouths while our amazing son rolled around in a tie-dye shirt, picking his nose and occasionally farting. 

It was good. Pleasant. Way better than being an idiot youth hanging out a truck window, hollering something no one can understand.

April 3, 2022; 5:23 a.m.

Navarre Beach, Florida

A week after I dreamed about being a ghost, I thought I dreamed my left arm was dead. I tried to lift it, but the blood flow had been cut off for so long that it felt amputated. Groggy and delirious, I moan-shouted for Caitlin to shake the thing. She rolled over, annoyed, and started flopping it all over the place. It was like my arm was a wacky-arm-inflatable-tube man at a used car dealership. It felt like something separate from me. A ghost. 

When Caitlin awoke the next morning, I was standing over the bed eating raw oats and yogurt. She glared at me, unamused. 

“Oats good?” she murmured.

“Yup,” I said, smacking my lips.

“Do you remember waking up in a panic and making me flop your dead arm?” she asked. 

“Shit,” I said. “I thought that was a dream.”

“No,” she said. “It happened.”

The older I get, the harder it becomes to decipher the real from the imagined. 

April 4, 2022; 5:53 a.m.
Navarre Beach, Florida

I love Florida. Let me backtrack. I love natural Florida. Look past the endless condo monoliths and the oppressive summer heat and the questionable (to some) politics at this stunning tropical oasis. Just picture this place without urban build-up:  Palm trees swaying in the breeze. White sugar sand beaches. Crystal clear water. Abundant pristine natural springs. The Everglades. Warm weather year-round. It’s no wonder Ponce de Leon believed the Fountain of Youth was located here. Florida is, without a doubt, the closest thing to Costa Rica within American borders. 

Hell, I even like inland Florida. A place much-derided by some. With its disgusting buffets and rundown towns and expansive farmlands. When I see a long dirt road stretching back through palm and pine trees, I wonder what magic lies there. I daydream about purchasing a piece of property nestled in the forest, wasting my finite days lounging around in a tank top and flip-flops. Killing wild hogs with a .22. Drinking the occasional IPA. Sweating. A silly dream that will never come true. 

It’s hard to pin down the true soul of Florida because it’s so vast and diverse. Florida is old people. It’s Cubans. It’s world-class beaches. It’s jacked-up trucks with TRUMP 2024 flags whipping in the wind. It’s the wonderful St. Pete pier. It’s a buffet in Plant City with shit and vomit covering a bathroom stall (this is something I actually once saw).  It’s cows and pine trees. It’s condos and tourists. It’s long summer days. Warm winters. It’s DeSantis. It’s live and let live. It’s people traveling there from the mountains to escape the last threshings of winter. 

This is why Caitlin and I have come. We’re trying to run out the clock on winter. Right now, on Navarre Beach, it’s 5 a.m. and 70 degrees. We’ll go back to the mountains soon, where there’s a low of 30 and a chance of snow. I love it there, we love it there, but winter can go to hell. 

Florida is, perhaps above all else, an escape. That’s how it markets itself. Endless summer and all that. It’ll always be an escape for those who love it, but call elsewhere home. Florida cannot be permanent. Should never be permanent. To expect permanence out of anything is to expect too much. To give that beautiful state some grander meaning than it deserves is to set oneself up for a letdown. 

But I refuse to be let down. I see lightning striking overhead out there on the seashore. The sun rising through the swirling clouds. I feel the sand between my toes as I lie down at night. At some point, we must leave. But at some point, we’ll come back. We always come back. 

A return. Maybe that’s what Florida is. What Florida should be. 

April 6, 2022; 7 a.m.

Powder Springs, Georgia

On the day we left Florida, we followed a massive storm that stretched across, like, four states, all the way to our stopover AirBnB in Powder Springs, Georgia. That morning, I made two obligatory bowls of oats, packed our crap in the Prius, and set off down the road, riding underneath a torrential downpour for the better part of six hours. 

Driving long distances in the rain is a drag in itself. But we were also worried about Conley having another freakout. This time, though, we were prepared. Caitlin sat in the backseat with him, which put his troubled baby soul at ease. We had Miss Rachel videos ready to go, a worthy counter-offensive to the crying we knew would eventually come. 

I was sluggish up there in the driver’s seat. The weather was getting me down. My left knee ached and I was exhausted from waking up unnecessarily at 5 a.m. everyday. I needed something chaotic to strike life into my nerves. So I played Nirvana’s “Live at Reading” album. I didn’t blast it like I wanted to, because baby wouldn’t have liked that. Instead I played it at about 9 (out of 50) volume, which is not an ideal listening level for a raucous band like Nirvana. But still. The heavy riffs and feedback kept me awake, even at their stunted volume.

Then I started getting really bored, as is want to happen from time to time on long car rides. So I drummed up a stupid contest for the two adults in the car. I grabbed a tin of Mr. Planters cocktail peanuts from the passenger seat. Placed a single nut in my mouth.

“Let’s play a game,” I said to Caitlin. “Let’s see who can keep a full peanut in their mouth the longest.”

“That’s not a game,” Caitlin said.

“Yeah but it’s, like, a contest.”


“To see who can resist the temptation.”

What temptation? I’m not doing it.”

“Just take a peanut.” I handed her one.


“Just do it,” I said. 

She popped a nut in her mouth. I saw her moving it around in there. She stared blankly at me in the rear view mirror, then smiled.

“Did you eat it already?!” I shouted.

“No!” she said, working the peanut to the tip of her tongue.

“Just checking.”

The ride dragged on. The rain continued to pour. I snacked on carrots. Baby stayed in a good mood. We listened to things to pass the time, including an episode of the Ron Burgundy podcast in which he leaves his (fictional) guest, Jill Biden, on hold so he can discuss with his assistant what he wants to watch on television that night. It made us snicker, here and there. 

Then I started getting really bored, as all of us are want to do on car rides from time-to-time. So I drummed up a little contest for the two adults in the car. I grabbed a tin of Mr. Planters cocktail peanuts from the passenger seat. Placed a single nut in my mouth.

We passed at least two accidents: a car in the median with a busted hood and, several miles later, a totally undamaged car facing the opposite direction along the woodline. The rain was apparently bringing out the worst in everyone’s driving ability. Small lakes and rivers formed where they hadn’t been the day before. 

After a few hours, Caitlin looked up.

“I ate mine,” she said. “Do you still have yours?”

I worked it to the tip of my tongue. She was stunned.

“How?! I saw you chomping on carrots!”

“Just put it under your tongue,” I said.

She grabbed another peanut and tried to put it under her tongue.

“I don’t have enough room under there. You had an unfair advantage!”

“Sometimes life isn’t fair,” I said. “Most of the time, actually.”

It took us over seven hours to reach the AirBnB in Powder Springs. Our bodies were sore from sitting for so long.  Soon after arriving, I left to grab some Chinese takeout. As I exited the restaurant, bags in hand, I noticed the peanut had been rubbing the bottom of my mouth raw. I don’t know if it was from the salt, or what the hell. But it was time to end the madness. I gnashed the soggy peanut with my teeth and swallowed it down. It was toasty and bland. Kind of gross, if you want to know the truth.

The final peanut had been eaten. There was no point to any of this. Tomorrow, we’d be back in the mountains. My left knee ached, but my back was OK.

I considered Florida, what it meant.

Pondered buying a bike sometime soon.

Thought about watching Conley swing for the first time.

Heard Kurt Cobain losing himself in a feedback frenzy on a stage in Reading.

I thought about the rain that kept coming earlier that day and knew that it would all be ending soon, though we’d come back eventually, when the time was right. Life is nothing but a finite cycle of escapes and returns, with us humans in the center, being yanked this way and that, trying to find something that will last. Trying to find something beautiful.

Latest from the Blog

One Day in Danville

This once down-and-out mill town is now being called the “Comeback City.” It’s easy to see why.

On the Road Again

Eight years ago, I left my home in Virginia for a temporary life in Texas. This is the unabridged story of that 1,300-mile trip.

Post-Yuletide Blues

I didn’t know what to do the day after Christmas. So I stayed in my pajamas until 11 a.m.

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