It's 1100.7 miles from my front door to the Region 4 Education Service Center in Houston, Texas -- or 1771.4 kilometers in your un-American metric system. You need to know this to understand why I know about gas station casinos, Whataburger traffic jams and the Great Signage War between the Athiests and Puritans. I guess I could tell you about these things without telling you that I traveled 1100.7 from my front door to the Region 4 Education Service Center in Houston, Texas—but, I spent 17.5 hours driving a Honda CRV on Tuesday and 17.5 hours driving back on Friday—so, I feel like these insignificant points are relevant.
Here are the ten (10) things I learned on the trip:
1. Louisiana has gas station casinos: Yeah, get me $20 on pump 7, a Blue Frost Gatorade, this package of Ho-Ho snack cakes, and let it ride on 35 Black. Every gas station had a gambling parlor, from large truck stops to Mom-and-Pop two pumpers. They had names like "Little Mame's" and "Jumping Frogs" and reeked of cigarettes and broken dreams. Finally, I can feed my gambling addiction performing routine errands!
2. There's a suspicious lack of graffiti in the men's bathroom: Where else will I find who to call for a good time? I have no idea what sub-group sucks. I can't even remember what the male genitalia looks like. It's like people don't poop with pens anymore. I blame technology.
3. I ran the gamut of emotions with a GEICO radio spot: There's a fifteen second radio ad that features a talking glue stick espousing the wonders of GEICO car insurance. At first I chuckled at the novelty of a talking school supply -- what a novel approach. Then the ad played again...and again...and again...and again...and again 364 times over, and I started loathing this stick. What the hell gave her the right to lecture me on car insurance? She can't even drive. The most she could do is mildly paste a construction paper mosaic of a car together, or at least until the weather got too hot or too cold or too moist or too weathery. Screw her and her thrifty sensibilities!
Then on the 365th listen, I became more philosophical about the ad, wondering how the glue stick became sentient. Was she always able to talk, or did a wizard bring her to life? Perhaps a genie tricked a young master into wishing she was a glue stick. She could have spent eternity yearning for love and friendship, only to be ferreted away to the bottom of a backpack next to a half-eaten Nature Valley granola bar. Wiping away a tear, I vowed to be more accepting of my own office supplies. And while I don't own a glue stick, there's a Swingline stapler I've been neglecting.
On a totally unrelated note, I do feel better saving 15% on my car insurance.
4. Every seafood restaurant from Alabama to Texas was voted #1: Evidently, there is a lot of good fish in the South. I also saw billboards spouting "Voted #1" burgers, steaks, pasta, beer and gumbo. Never Chinese food. I wonder why?
5. There's a weird signage war between Atheists and Evangelicals: I'm used to the Christian billboards, letting me know that Hell is indeed real and that Jesus is on the move. But I'm not used to seeing the alternative viewpoint. Dotted along Interstate 59 and throughout the South, the two opposing sides commence in an expensive war of words. Who knew that such a desperate battle for my soul would be waged through place-based advertising?
6. A Whataburger event will completely shut down an interstate: On the way home from the Region 4 Educational Service Center, I was stopped on Interstate 10 in between Houston and Lake Charles for 25 minutes. When I pulled off for gas and a cup of coffee, I was told that the back-up was because a Whataburger was giving away free hamburgers for a year to one "lucky" person. I assume that comes with their own personal defibrillator. One person was so excited that he ran into the back of a sheriff's car, which is what caused the slowdown. He didn't win the free food.
7. I rock Disney-themed music: Between Birmingham, Alabama, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, Amazon music inadvertently loaded a playlist of Disney songs. Usually I play this when my daughters get a little edgy in the car. Since I wasn't in the presence of any princesses, I started the mad fumbling for my phone so I could change the music to the Rolling Stones, Gun 'n' Roses, or something else that smelled of testosterone.
Fortunately, I spied a police officer that was driving like she would just love to pull over someone who was fumbling on a cell phone instead of observing the many possible traffic hazards. And the Disney playlist stayed on. Two hours later and I was wiping away the tears generated from a heartfelt rendition of Let it Go. I wonder if they already cast Elsa in the Broadway rendition of Frozen.
8. Houston is now officially labeled "The Worst City for Driving": Roads have no rhyme or reason, they just appear at random times going any which direction they damn well please. It's the only place that I have ever seen that has an interstate surrounded on each side by an expressway. I can just imagine the conversation between the mayor and the city planner:
Planner: I don't think the Interstate is “express" enough. How about an expressway flanking each side?
Mayor: I don't know. Local businesses won't like having two non-stops out of town.
Planner: Don't worry, we'll put stoplights on the expressway.
Mayor: So, it'll be like a local street.
Planner: No, we'll have those, too.
Mayor: I'm sure nothing will go wrong. Just build it all in a flood plain.
Planner: Of course!
9. The "What's That Smell" game is not as much fun when you are alone: Mostly because it becomes the "I hope that smell isn't me" game. The game where everyone is a loser.
10. After you drive 1100.7 miles, it's hard to walk: When I finally reached my destination in Houston, I opened the car door (like you do) and fell flat on my face. My legs had silently cramped, and when the brain said that they should start walking, the legs told it to go straight to hell. It's hard to remain professional when you’re lying prone in the parking lot. I saved face by pretending that I was looking for change under the driver's side wheel.
When I finally did get up, I believed I could actually feel the Earth rotating under me. I walked as if I was navigating a bouncy house that was rapidly losing air. If you ever rode a roller coaster 21 times without disembarking, you know the feeling. Don’t worry, after a few beers, the Earth leveled out.
Was driving from my front door to the Region 4 Educational Service Center in Houston, Texas, and back worth the trip? (That's 1100.7 miles one way, 2201.4 miles round trip -- just in case you forgotten). I don't know. At that distance, I forgot why I went.
I am not Jack Grubb. I am Mr. Married White Male Age Range 35-54. I am Return User US-en Bounce Rate 84%. I am a statistic -- a series of digital bits of information -- and you are, too.
I know this as truth from numerous conversations to and about social media marketing companies. The discussion usually goes as follows:
Them: We utilize multi-channel SEO algorithms to generate a larger, faster click-funnels.
Me: I just try to create stuff that creates a connection between an individual and the organization.
I understand where these folks come from, as a sales-funnel approach can be beneficial to the bottom line. Keywords, cost-per-clicks and conversion rate optimization needs to factor into a budget. Brand managers need sales to grow exponentially. Marketing companies need to ensure the big bucks keep flowing as efficiently as possible. And if they can look cool doing it, so much the better.
You drag yourself into the weekly Leadership 'Level 10' Meeting, fully prepared to hate this morning. As you enter the room, you notice a bright pink box. Your heart rate quickens as you lift the lid, and there before you are twelve assorted halos of happiness just waiting for devouring.
But then you hear her -- the Doughnut Slayer. Her shrill voice wafts down the hall like nails on a blackboard. She hasn't even reached the doorway, and already you grab your delicate treat and dive into your seat. Looking down you noticed that you grabbed a plain cake ring. You wince and try to replace it with the Boston Creme you really wanted, but it's too late.
She walks in with purpose, ready to proclaim her doughnut intentions.
Last Friday I had the pleasure of taking my littlest Princess to an enchanted land called Food City. It's a magical place, full of bananas, discount canned raviolis and disgruntled stock workers. It's also has a whole lot of customers unawares that a father can take his 2-year-old daughter shopping without anyone ending up dead or deported to Guam.
Now, I have been taking my spawn, and the one before her, shopping for groceries once a week going on seven years now. We enjoy our weekly treks, starting off by singing Mr. Blue Sky by ELO and ending with a nutritious meal of Chicken Nuggies sans sauce. Whether it be Kroger or Meyer or Walmart, we have braved them all. We're so confident of our shopping prowess, that we'll even go on a triple-coupon Thanksgiving Wednesday before a snowstorm.
And being a studly man carting off a much smaller human, I've been treated differently than female caregivers. Story time at the library usually has me sitting a table all alone, with the other mothers avoiding eye contact while keeping a hand on their rape whistle. Waitresses at the fine establishment, Bob Evans, have pulled me aside to explain how the children's menu worked. And there's been more than six times I had to change a poop on the bathroom floor because the changing table only resides in the women's room -- and these are poops I didn't even make.
The trip to Food City last Friday brought the term "Daddy's Day Out" to a whole new level. The moment we left the car, I was greeted by:
I've been pondering a lot about wizards lately. The way that think they're vastly superior to all us No-Majs. With their secret societies, and their bathrobes for clothing, and their penchant for endorsing creature-based indentured servitude. Who died and made them Dumbledore?
Maybe I'm just testy because of the last conversation that I had with Joe Pigglebottom, who just happens to be an auror in this place called the Ministry of Magic. We were going to go to see Paddington 2, and he just pops in and...well you tell me.
Joe: Hey, man, you ready?
Me: Dude, you can't just pop in like that. We talked about it. What if I was naked?
Joe: Then I could tweak your nipples.
Me: I don't think you understand. I don't want my nipples tweaked.
Joe: Fine, I won't apparate in anymore. I'll ring the doorbell like a schmuck.
Me: That's all I'm asking. Anyway, Jenny said she may want to go with us.
Joe: Great! I'll just apparate over and...
Me: No! You can just pop out of thin air inside people's houses. What if she's naked?
Joe: Then I'll tweak her nipples.
Me: That's called sexual assault. And it's genuinely frowned upon.
Joe: You muggles are so prudish. Fine, just let me get my parchment, an ink bottle and a quill.
When you find yourself unwillingly self-employed*, each day employs a fairly predictable schedule:
6:00 am - 7:00 am: Wake up and shower
7:00 am - 7:55 am: Force kids through morning routine
8:00 am - 8:05 am: Deposit kids at school
8:05 am - 4:25 pm: Apply for jobs
4:30 pm - 4:45 pm: Entice kids (with candy) to actually leave school
5:00 pm - 9:00 pm: Dinner, dancing, and bedtime
9:00 pm - 11:00 pm: Check to see how many times I can give plasma in a given week
11:15 pm - 5:59 am: Dream about koala bears
If you ask anyone with a pulse, 2016 blew chunks. Those same somebodies also claim that 2017 crapped bricks. Now they tell me that 2018 should be generally unpleasant. No wonder 80's nostalgia has hit an all-time high. If only we could have fun again. If only we could Wang Chung again.
But should the 80's deserve this connotation of a Mecca of wonderfulness? After all, the "Me Decade" gave us the Cold War, an assassination attempt, Just Say No, Olympic Boycotts, Chernobyl, the Challenger Explosion, the Iran Contra Affair, the McDLT, New Coke, and the fact that you could hire an entire army from the back pages of the magazine Soldier of Fortune. The rich still got richer, the poor still got poorer, and yet optimism reigned supreme.
So what's different from today and yester-year? Perhaps the constant barrage of social media heightens our social issue defensiveness. Perhaps identity politics reduce us to angry stereotypes warring with our closest friends. Perhaps its a conspiracy from the powerful Frozen Orange Juice Cabal.
Perhaps its the lack of TV theme songs.
I don't accept help well, and I don't know why. It's not a "don't show weakness" thing as I routinely list all the things I do wrong. My pride and ego live in a tiny shoe box located in the upstairs closet, so I know they don't get in the way. I guess I could blame the ingrained stubbornness of American ingenuity, but that seems way too philosophical. I just have trouble with help.
For instance, I could be hauling a player piano up 30 flights of stairs in 105 degree heat. Each step pulls my back further out of alignment, resulting in excruciating pain, and I'm pretty sure I just tore my ACL. On the third flight, a professional piano mover comes up and lets me know that they'll take this behemoth the rest of the way up -- free of charge. I still would say, "No, that's ok, I go this," while mentally highlighting who gets my Bugs Bunny baseball picture in the will.
From the beginning, I thought optimism equaled survival.
I didn't get over the hemiparesis effects of a neonatal stroke by accepting my lot in life.* No, I bucked up and said, "With physical therapy and determination I will run like everyone else. One day I won't have to wear my shoes on the wrong feet to force them to turn out. One day I will place fourth in state in the 400 meter dash -- even if it is only among private schools. One day it will be better."
When never-ending mind-numbing migraines knocked me out of work, I didn't lay down and whimper. No, I staggered up and quietly proclaimed, "So what if the doctor, the hospital and a nationally renowned neurologist can't figure out what's wrong with me. One day I'll stop these headaches. One day I'll be able to remember that bills get paid in the mailbox, not the front dresser drawer. One day I'll be able to understand why critics call Reba 'middling and pedestrian.' One day it will be better."
Not much to talk about this week regarding my health. Thyroid came out -- stitches came out -- and I feel fantastic! Like I was 25 again. Except I have two kids, rising costs, 1/2 the income and a car that may need a new battery -- so maybe like I am still 41. But a 41 that can stay awake past 9:00 PM EST.
As I spent time recuperating, all I heard about was Bitcoin.
That's a lie. I also heard about Matt Lauer, Al Franken, Roy Moore, Garrison Keeler, North Korea, Net Neutrality, Jerusalem, opioids, and Disney buying Fox. All I choose to acknowledge, though, is Bitcoin.
Jack Grubb writes an incredible blog, Losing the Internets, which is read by at least 37 people and over 2,100 Russian SPAM bots. In his spare time he helps small companies find their marketing voice. Jack currently lives deliberately in Appalachia, Kentucky with his wife, two daughters, Jack Russell and a Lego collection beyond compare.