Road warriors diary: Day four

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Jordan and George celebrate the end of the journey with burgers, ribs and brewskis at T.G.I. Friday’s on, yes, a Friday night.

Friday, June 2:

After three days of driving across the Northwest states and the Great Plains, plans for our final day on the road called for a straight shot to the eastern border of South Dakota, a sharp turn to the south through Iowa and western Missouri, and then another straight shot east to our final destination: Columbia, Missouri.

Jordan and I were eager to get this Road Trip From Hell over, knowing we had to arrive on time so that we could spend the next day unloading the 20-foot U-Haul trailer we were driving.

Jordan took the Honda Fit with the two dogs and cat, and I hopped up into the cab of the U-Haul truck.

We hadn’t done any sightseeing and today would be no different. Except for breaks to get fuel, use the rest area bathrooms, and grab a caffeinated drink every so often, we were moving.

That meant no stopping at the George McGovern Legacy Museum in Mitchell. (The former U.S. senator was a decent man who was trounced by Nixon in ’72, and he was the first candidate to receive my presidential vote.)

Likewise, no stopping in Sioux Falls, the state’s largest city, as we turned off I-90 and picked up I-29 South.  Originally, I’d hoped to at least go on a quick drive around town, as that’s where my lifelong best friend, Al Rodriguez, attended his first two years of college on a track scholarship before transferring back to a state college in our home state of California.

Not a chance.

We cruised right on past the sign to the University of Sioux Falls and did the same when we passed Vermilion, home of the University of South Dakota.

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Brandi, Jordan and Jax take a walk at a rest stop in Brule, South Dakota.

Before long, we were crossing the state border into Iowa. No offense, Hawkeyes, but Sioux City is one ugly city. Reminded me of what my Texas friend Mike Granberry used to say about Waco, Texas. “If you were going to give the United States an enema, you’d do it in Waco.”

Things got better as we zipped through one small town after another, the names meaning nothing and the scenery failing to hold my attention. That’s a shame because I’ve driven across Iowa a few times and I mostly remember it as pretty — even the endless fields of corn.

Click on images to view captions.

 

 

After three days of burgers and other greasy foods, we opted for something “healthy.” Best thing we could do was pop into a truck stop that had a Subway franchise. Didn’t know whether to be amused or appalled at the guy next to me who ordered a Cu-BAN-o sandwich with Chipotle dressing.

***

Refreshed and recharged, we did our best long-haul trucker impressions and kept on keeping on.

Soon enough, we were in Missouri. And the first thing we both noticed was the preponderance of giant fireworks stands, like those you see along I-5 just north of Vancouver. Are folks in this state unusually patriotic? Or just fascinated with fireworks?

(The Fourth of July is my least favorite holiday, owing to what I consider the ridiculousness of setting off these loud devices that serve no purpose other than to cause someone to clean ’em up afterwards.)

We passed a sign for Oregon, Missouri (population 857, according to the 2010 U.S. Census) and made a point of stopping at the last rest area before approaching Kansas City, a Portland-sized city that straddles the Kansas-Missouri border.

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Coming or going? Both. Jax (foreground) and Brandi take a water break.

As I feared, we entered the city from the northern end just as Friday evening rush hour was materializing. I was in the lead as we snaked our way through the city (try it in a 20-foot moving van), zigging and zagging from one lane of the interstate, and keeping an eye on the rear view mirror to be sure Jordan was staying close behind.

We managed to exit onto Interstate 70, the route between K.C.  in the west and St. Louis at the opposite end of the state. Columbia was 125 miles, just a couple of hours under normal freeway conditions.

But were these conditions “normal”?

Of course not.

There were fender-benders, work zones and reduced speed limits that together added another hour to this final stage of our trip. True confession: Traffic was at such a standstill that I pulled out my phone and made an online reservation for a motel room right there on I-70.

We pulled off the freeway one last time for fuel and a nature break. We were so ready to be done with driving.

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Tired (actually, exhausted) and a little punchy after completing our four-day road trip.

Finally, we crossed into the city limits. Of course, our motel wasn’t located off the first or second exit, but the last one, which extended our trip just a few miles more.

We finally reached the exit and pulled off; tried to follow Google’s directions in a confusing jumble of local and state roads; and at last found the driveway into the asphalt lot where we could finally park, shut off the engines, and declare victory with a father-and-son hug.

We’d logged 625 miles — the most of any of the three days — and nearly 2,000 miles total.

It was time for a treat: a sit-down dinner at T.G.I. Friday’s and a couple of frosty mugs of beer. Jordan had yet another burger and fries, while I opted for a half-rack of ribs, mashed potatoes and cole slaw. It was so good.

***

Postscript: Saturday, June 3:

A full day of unpacking the truck and car lay ahead, and I wanted to start the day off right with a hearty breakfast. On the recommendation of our waiter from the night before (a chill dude from Seattle), we found ourselves at a sidewalk table at Ernie’s Cafe & Steak House, a local institution since 1934.

Nothing fancy, but it hit the spot.

 

 

We checked out of our motel room, picked up the keys to the apartment where Jordan, Jamie and Emalyn would be living a few miles northwest of the University of Missouri campus, and got to work.

It had taken three of us (thank you, Lori) to load everything on the other end. Now it was just two of us unloading it all.

Miraculously, nothing had broken despite the sudden jerking and stopping caused by the first two days’ flat tires. We kept at it, filling every room on two floors and a small patio with furniture, bicycles, endless boxes and other stuff.

I was running low on energy and we still had the heaviest pieces to unload. That’s when a fellow resident of the apartment complex showed up and offered his help. He was a thin but fit guy in his mid-to-late 20s, in a nondescript T-shirt and jeans, and his name was Michael. He pitched in and, within 30 minutes, we were done around 6 pm.

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Whew! Done!

We invited him to join us for takeout pizza but Michael had a better alternative. He’d just made a pot roast, with spices and carrots, and had plenty left over. Would we be interested? And did we drink beer?

Yeah. And, hell yeah.

Michael brought over a crock pot, plastic bowls and utensils, and three bottles of Blue Moon. We stood around in the kitchen (of course, there was nowhere to sit and no utensils, either) and learned a little more about our helper. He’d grown up in a small community in south-central Kansas. He’d recently gotten his A.A. and was transferring this fall to Columbia College, an independent liberal arts college there in town, with plans to study Information Technology.

You’ve heard of Midwest hospitality, right? It’s a real thing. I’ll offer up Michael as proof of that.

Jordan and I went back inside the apartment. By midnight, he was sound asleep on the couch — the only piece of usable furniture — with Jax, the pit bull, curled up on his lap. I went upstairs, laid on the carpeted floor for an hour of sleep, and pulled an all-nighter.

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Everything was unloaded and the temperature had cooled to the mid-70s by nightfall Saturday.

My return flight to Portland would depart at 6 am Sunday and that meant we had to leave the apartment around 4:30 to get to the regional airport on time to check in. I would catch naps on the two legs of the journey and be back home at PDX by 11 am.

Lori was there to greet me in the airport, with a fresh haircut and a bear hug. She had just hosted Jamie and Emalyn during the entire time Jordan and I were gone. Lori had just driven mother and daughter to the airport so they could fly to Missouri to reunite with our son, while I was in the air going the opposite direction.

It felt so, so good to be back home again.

In the passenger seat.

Road warriors diary: Day three

SD sunset

Spectacular sunset neat East Lyman, South Dakota.

Thursday, June 1:

As we braced for another day of pounding the asphalt, I realized in frustration that we were still in Montana. We’d ended our first day in Missoula, in the western part of the state, and driven several hours the second day, only to get as far as Billings, in the southeastern corner.

And yet here we were, on our third day, and we were looking at another 260 miles of driving — four hours-plus – just to cross the state line into South Dakota.

After the previous day’s fiasco with a second flat tire in two days on our moving van, we went directly to a U-Haul dealer in Billings to have the lug nuts tightened on the replacement tire. The guy who’d changed the tire didn’t have his power socket wrench with him and suggested a safety check.

The service technician inspected our tires and said not to worry about the log nuts. He had a bigger concern. He said he was sending us to another U-Haul location in town to have three tires replaced.

“Really?”

We appreciated his concern for our safety but we knew the job was going to delay our departure from Billings. We hoped to reach Sioux Falls in easternmost South Dakota by nightfall but I knew there was no way that would happen.

By the time we got back onto I-90, it was already 9 am.

Our slow start was compounded by slow travel on a portion of the route that AAA had recommended to us as a shortcut.  The marginally shorter route took us off the four-lane interstate and onto a two-lane federal highway through Indian Country – specifically, the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations.

Intermittent road repairs and construction meant we had to slow down as we traveled through work zones. Passing slower vehicles also was a bit of a challenge at times on the narrower highway.

Travel was beginning to resemble a blur.

As before, we had no time to dilly-dally, so we passed by the sign pointing to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument where Lt. Col. George Custer and his band of U.S. soldiers died fighting died fighting thousands of Lakota and Cheyenne warriors. Likewise, after we cut through a tiny section of Wyoming and finally crossed into South Dakota, we had to pass on the opportunity to see the Badlands.

***

We stopped for lunch, gas in both vehicles, and a water break for the animals in Broadus, population 451.

Talk about the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t exactly a ghost town with tumbleweeds blowing down the middle of the street. There was a municipal building and a small park, a couple of gas stations, a grocery store, a bowling alley and a Western-themed business district consisting of a handful of shops and a tired, old motel.

But, still, with the midday sun beating down and nearly 100 miles more to the state border, it felt like the end of the Earth.

Back on the road, we pretty much pointed ourselves eastward and pushed ahead. We bore down in our separate vehicles, trying to chew up the miles and stopping only as needed for fuel, rest area breaks, and beverages (coffee, energy drinks, snacks) at gas station convenience stores.

We passed through Belle Fourche, a farming town of 5,600 I’d never even heard of, in western South Dakota. At some point, the monotony turned to surprisingly green and beautiful, with lots of gently rolling hills and generally flat landscape. We saw plenty of grain silos, old-school highway billboards at ground level, and, in my rearview mirror, a spectacular orange sunset.

Just before dusk, we pulled into Chamberlain, in the middle of the state, and caught our first glimpse of the fabled Missouri River. It was 8 pm. We’d covered more than 500 miles but had lost another hour due to the change to Central Time Zone. We were tired and hungry but thankful there hadn’t been an issue with the tires.

 

We checked into a motel, hauled our bags into the room, then watered, fed and walked the dogs. We put them in the room and walked across the street to an Arby’s for dinner. I pulled on the door but it was locked. They had closed at 9 pm. It was 9:05.

We returned to the front desk. The clerk made a couple of calls to restaurants she thought might still be open. Nope. Nope. Nope. Literally our only choice was McDonald’s.

Sigh.

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Lake Francis Case, a large reservoir behind Fort Randall Dam on the Missouri River near Chamberlain, South Dakota.

Thankfully, Jordan is not easily ruffled. We made light of the situation and agreed neither of us would ever want to live in such a small community (population: 2,400) so far from an ocean.

We watched some cartoons, I did some writing, and we crashed, knowing we’d need to cover 600 miles and three states the next day to make it to central Missouri as planned.

Up next: Road warriors diary: Day Four

Road warriors diary: Day two

MT window

Even through a rest area window, the Montana landscape is dazzling.

Wednesday, May 31:

Montana is a big and beautiful state.

So big that you can leave Missoula, in the western part of the state, and drive all day to Billings, in the eastern part, and still find yourself a couple hours short of the state border with South Dakota.

So beautiful that you can’t just drive through it. You’ve got to pull over to the roadside and snap at least a few photos that attempt to capture the rugged beauty of the place they call Big Sky Country.

On our trip, we saw pristine rivers; muscular peaks, still capped by snow; spacious blue skies, with white tufts of clouds; and, late in the afternoon, ominous storm clouds over the Crazy Mountains.

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Storm clouds gather over the Crazy Mountains near Livingston, Montana.

Montana is the fourth largest state after Alaska, Texas and California, measuring 630 miles across (roughly twice the length of Oregon) and 255 miles up and down. Even with a legal speed limit of 80 miles per hour, it still takes several hours to traverse the state.

On the second day of our trip, we aimed to get from Missoula to Billings by early evening and keep on going into South Dakota. It didn’t happen, though, because we got another flat on our moving van. We had to endure another three-hour wait for a service call and limped into town closer to 9 o’clock, well short of our 500-miles-a-day goal.

Here’s how it happened:

We got up early and left Missoula without even touring the town. It’s too bad because Jordan and I had visited the University of Montana campus when he was a high school senior, trying to decide where he wanted to enroll in an Army ROTC program. We both had good memories of our visit in 2006 but there was simply no time to dawdle.

All was going well as we passed by Butte, the former mining capital, and smaller towns like Deer Lodge en route to lunch in Bozeman, the home of Montana State University, about 200 miles from Missoula. We had our one sit-down lunch – burgers from Five Guys – and resumed our travels. We had gotten barely than 30 miles east of Bozeman when the front tire on the passenger’s side of the U-Haul truck came apart as Jordan was driving.

The same frustrating scenario from the day before repeated itself. We were just outside Livingston, a town of 7,000 residents nestled along the Yellowstone River, and just a half-hour from the college town, with ample services, that we’d just left. Yet, we had to wait three hours for service. Turns out the U-Haul dispatcher, based in Arizona, gave the repair guy a wrong location, so he was driving back and forth on Interstate 90 looking for us, when we were miles up the road.

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Jordan was driving on I-90 just east of Livingston, Montana, when the second tire blew out. This time it was the front tire on the passenger’s side.

When he finally arrived, he replaced the tire in 15 minutes but also advised us to check the lug nuts the next morning because he’d forgotten to bring a special power tool to tighten them properly.

We hit the road again, drove a few hours, and checked into our motel in Billings, tired as heck. We ordered Chinese takeout to be delivered to the room, watched some mindless TV, and fell dead asleep.

Before we did, I reflected on the similarity of this experience with a solo road trip that I made on this same highway some 33 years earlier. In the spring of 1984, I had just finished a fellowship at the University of Michigan. I was traveling with our two cats in a U-Haul trailer, hauling our tired Volvo station wagon back to Oregon after 10 months in Ann Arbor. Lori was flying home with Nathan and Simone. (Jordan wouldn’t come along for four more years.)

Entering Montana from the east, the plains of North Dakota, I remember being numbed by the sameness of the barren landscape in eastern Montana and then dumbstruck by the awesomeness of western Montana, with its towering mountains, endless vistas of evergreen trees, and occasional waterfalls. I recall stopping several times just to admire the state’s beauty.

This time, driving eastbound on I-90, I felt cheated.

Because of the long delay caused by the second flat tire and bungled service call, we had no time to really appreciate what we were driving past. We had a schedule to keep and now we were looking at 600 miles a day for the next two days to arrive on time in Missouri.

Next up: Road warriors diary: Day Three

Road warriors diary: Day One

WA spanaway

Gentlemen, start your engines.

Tuesday, May 30:

Long before Jordan and I hit the road on our recent multi-state trip, there was much to do to get ready. Not just plan the route and calculate how much ground we needed to cover each day on the 2,000-mile trek, but actually rent a moving van and pack it.

That process began in earnest three days in advance of starting the trip. Jordan and Jamie had arranged to sell their split-level house and vacate the premises on Tuesday, May 30, the day after the holiday.

For that to happen, everything had to be packed, sold or given away, and then the entire house cleaned. We started in on Saturday, picked up a U-Haul truck Sunday, and finished packing it Monday. We were exhausted before even starting the trip.

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Having sold their home in Washington state,  Jordan, Jamie and baby Emalyn looked forward to their Midwest move.

Come Tuesday morning, we were ready to roll. I hopped into the cab of the 20-foot truck trailer while Jordan took the Honda Fit and the three animals – Jax, an energetic pitbull terrier mix; Brandi, an aging chocolate Lab; and Sage, a thankfully mellow cat.

Leaving Spanaway, their suburban home just outside Tacoma, we headed for Interstate 90, our route for most of the first 1,500 eastbound miles.

Click on images to view captions.

 

I’d never been on this particular freeway, the main connector between Seattle and Spokane, so I looked forward to seeing new things. We drove over the Snoqualmie Pass in drizzle and fog. Crossing into the drier eastern side of the state, we passed by Moses Lake, the town where our daughter-in-law Kyndall grew up, and Spokane, where Jordan began his college career 11 years ago at Gonzaga University.

(He wasn’t ready for college then, he readily admits, and he has no regrets about withdrawing as a first-semester freshman so that someone more motivated could claim his four-year, full-ride scholarship in the Army ROTC program. Suffice to say things turned out just fine.)

We were cruising along in the early afternoon, admiring the splendor of Lake Coeur d’Alene in northern Idaho when things started to go wrong. About 40 miles east of the resort community, I heard a loud “pop” come from the back of the truck and pulled over.

The inside left back wheel had blown out. Here we were in the remote mountains of northern Idaho, somewhere in the 10-mile stretch between the towns of Kellogg and Wallace, and I wondered how long it would take to get help.

Two calls to the U-Haul “hotline” produced the same result: 10 minutes on hold and no answer. Jordan went online and, despite sketchy internet connection, managed to file a claim for road assistance. We wound up waiting for three hours for a crew to arrive from neighboring Montana. Yes, it’s that sparsely populated in that part of Idaho – services few and literally far between.

A burly guy with low-slung pants that looked like they’d last been washed 5 years ago got to work replacing the tire while his companion, an older guy wearing a baseball cap and a sleeveless shirt revealing sun-burned, tatted arms, periodically offered advice.

The younger guy had the word “redneck” inked on his neck. I found myself trying to remember if the movie “Deliverance” was filmed here in Idaho or somewhere in the South.

 

Turned out the guys were a father-son team who’d recently moved to Montana from Missouri, where we were headed.

While we were waiting for them to arrive, the most amazing coincidence occurred. Through Facebook, Jordan learned that one of his former Army buddies had just moved back to Wallace, Idaho, a couple weeks earlier. He texted him and in minutes, his friend, John Ramirez, was on his way. John’s ex-wife and daughter live in a small town 20 miles to the west. John himself had recently interviewed with the county sheriff’s office for an entry-level patrol position and was feeling good about his chances of getting hired in his old hometown.

The two ex-soldiers laughed and chatted and got caught up while I took a walk on a paved bicycle trail running parallel to the interstate. If we had to be stuck somewhere, this was a beautiful spot.

 

Finally, the replacement tire was put on. We thanked the rednecks (nice guys, by the way) and resumed our travel. We were too late to shop at the local market (it had closed a few minutes earlier at 8 pm) and so we braced for the remaining hours of driving through a national forest that took me, in the lead, down steep mountain grades and several S curves. Not the most fun thing to do in the dark of night.

We arrived in Missoula – 500 miles from our starting point – and checked into a motel just before midnight. We fell into bed knowing we’d have to be up at 6 am to grab breakfast and hit the road.

Next up: Road warriors diary: Day Two

Missouri or bust!

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Father and son just before starting the four-day road trip.

Even under normal circumstances, a road trip covering 2,000 miles of asphalt across seven states and two time zones would be challenging.

But these weren’t normal circumstances. This was a no-nonsense, no-time-for-sightseeing trip with my youngest son, Jordan. Not a leisurely car trip at all.

We were hauling the contents of a three-bedroom house in a 20-foot trailer to Columbia, Missouri. We were leaving the Seattle-Tacoma area on May 30, the morning after Memorial Day, and we had exactly four days to get there, and one day to unload everything so that I could fly back home today (Sunday) and be back at work early Monday, June 5.

We were planning to put Jordan and Jamie’s compact car on a trailer and tow it. But when we made a last-minute decision to put their three family pets in the car so the animals could travel in relative air-conditioned comfort, that changed everything.

No. 1, it meant we would each drive 2,000 miles, taking turns with each vehicle.

No. 2, it meant we’d have no opportunity for casual conversation – or even sit-down meals – because we had to ensure the two dogs (a pit bull terrier mix and a Chocolate Lab) and an adult cat wouldn’t overheat.

ID blowout

A rear tire on the driver’s side came apart as I was going about 65 mph on I-90 east of Kellogg, Idaho.

We figured we could handle that.

What we didn’t count on was having a rear tire blow out on the rental truck in the northern Idaho mountains the very first afternoon. That resulted in a 3-hour delay for a service call and ended with us driving through the night, with no dinner, to reach our motel in Missoula, Montana, just before midnight.

And what we certainly didn’t count on was another tire blow out the very next afternoon on a remote stretch of highway in eastern Montana that resulted in another 3-hour delay. This time it was a front tire on the U-Haul rig. We limped into Billings at around 9 pm, well short of our 500-miles-a-day target. Now we’d have to drive about 600 miles each of the next two days to get to Missouri on time.

MT blowout

Jordan was driving on I-90 just east of Livingston, Montana, when the second tire blew out. This time it was the front tire on the passenger’s side.

Day Three meant driving from Montana, across a slice of Wyoming, to a small town in central South Dakota, again arriving around 9 pm. It would have been 8 pm but for the change to Central Time. In the hour it took to check in and then walk, water and feed the dogs, all the town’s restaurants had closed but one — McDonald’s.

SD sunset

Spectacular sunset near East Lyman, South Dakota.

Day Four was pedal to the metal. We drove to Sioux Falls at the eastern end of the state and, after 1,500 miles of traveling east, finally turned south and powered down through western Iowa and Missouri. Naturally, we got caught in Friday’s outbound rush hour as we came upon Kansas City and the turn onto Interstate 70 eastbound. The extra traffic and a couple of construction work zones guaranteed the last leg of our trip would go slower than planned.

But, hey, we did it.

We found our motel, put the pets in the room, and headed out to T.G.I. Friday’s for the only sit-down dinner of the trip – and our only beers.

We raised a toast to ourselves, devoured our meal and agreed to “sleep in” until 6:30. After all, a truckload of furniture and other possessions awaited our attention and, first, we had to pick up keys to the apartment where all this was going.

In the end, the degree of difficulty made the feeling of accomplishment twice as satisfying for Jordan and me. Though we didn’t have the luxury of hours of conversation, we did have the shared experiences of white-knuckle driving, countless rest area stops, greasy food and energy drinks to fuel us mile after mile after mile.

There may not have been time to discuss politics, American culture and world events, but there was at least time to get a better sense of what awaits our youngest child, now 29, in Middle America.

He and Jamie will be in one of the country’s great college towns, far from family and all that is familiar. Just having received his B.S. in Biology from Saint Martin’s University, a small private college in Olympia, Jordan will be one of more than 30,000 students on the University of Missouri campus. He will be there for a year, possibly two, doing a Professional Research Experience Program fellowship (PREP for short) that’s designed to prepare students for graduate study in biomedical research.

He’ll be working in a lab with a faculty mentor, taking advantage of the ample resources offered by a leading research university that weren’t available at his comparatively tiny college.

MO jordan-george done

Whew! Done!

We will miss Jordan and Jamie and our 10-month-old granddaughter, Emalyn. But we will be rooting for his academic success, as well as a smooth transition to Columbia for him and his wife. When I return to Mizzou next year, I’ll have the satisfaction of seeing how they’ve decorated the place with the furnishings I helped haul across the country. That’s worth something, right? Another brewski, at the very least.

Be sure to check back in the coming days to read more about our Missouri-or-bust experiences.

Vancouver, U.S.A.

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A quiet morning on the campus of Washington State University Vancouver.

Until this year began, I’d spent amazingly little time in The Couv, the nickname for the city directly across the river from Portland. You’d think that after 30-plus years of living just a few miles away, I would have found reason to eat a meal or take in a cultural event there, but no.

Things are changing, though, thanks to my getting hired to teach two undergraduate courses at Washington State University Vancouver.

Since January, I’ve become a regular commuter, making the 25-minute trip two mornings a week. I’m lucky to be going north because drivers headed in the opposite direction toward Portland endure horrendous traffic that stretches for miles on Interstate 5.

I’ll be doing more of this, starting next week when the summer session begins, and again in the fall.

wsu. nanu iyer

Narayanan (Nanu) Iyer heads the Strategic Communication program at WSU Vancouver. He’s the one who hired me to teach there.

Some might complain about the road warrior aspect, but I honestly don’t mind the commute. It gives me time to mentally prepare for the day’s lesson plans, and more than once I’ve tweaked things based on last-minute inspiration.

The drive also makes me feel more like a resident of metro Portland than of the city itself.

Just as I gained perspective on the relationship between Portland and its suburbs during the time I worked in Hillsboro and Forest Grove for The Oregonian/OregonLive, so too am I gaining an appreciation for Vancouver, a sprawling city of nearly 175,000 residents.

Portlanders often make fun of the place, calling it “Vantucky,” as if it were a northern outpost of Kentucky. I haven’t spent enough time there to form any opinions, but I do know the city is more conservative than Portland and probably more diverse than many might think, with about one in four residents belonging to racial or ethnic minority groups.

wsu.strat com panel

Students, at left, moderated a panel discussion that featured six strategic communications professionals from the Portland-Vancouver area on May 5.

A recent panel discussion at WSUV that featured public relations and strategic communications professionals working in the Portland-Vancouver area reinforced that broader perspective. I felt very much like an undergraduate student listening to the perspectives and challenges described by these pros. I know the insights I gained that day will help me in preparing the syllabus for my summer class in Media Ethics.

Likewise, I anticipate another rich experience at a public forum at the Vancouver Community Library on a subject I know well. On Wednesday, June 14, I’ll be part of a panel discussing “News or Noise: Separating Fact from Fiction in Today’s Media.”

Here’s more on the program.

I look forward to questions and comments from members of the Vancouver community. I think it’s a given that this will be a boomer-heavy crowd, as opposed to the millennials who dominate my college classes.

Jordan’s journey

SMU jordan

A journey that began 11 years ago produced a college degree and a big smile from Jordan.

This time of year is commencement season at campuses all across the United States. Like proud parents everywhere, we celebrated when our youngest son stepped onto a stage inside a small gymnasium and accepted his hard-won college diploma.

Hard-won? To say the least.

It’s one thing to graduate from high school, enroll in college in the fall, and emerge in four years with a degree.

It’s another thing entirely when you embark on a path that takes to you to multiple states and one foreign country, includes marriage, parenthood, home ownership and military service; and culminates 11 years later with high academic honors as you receive your degree.

That’s the path our son followed — and we couldn’t be prouder. Call it Jordan’s Journey.

SMU lori-jordan-george

Proud parents flanking our youngest son, Jordan.

***

When Jordan graduated from Grant High School in 2006, with a full-ride ROTC scholarship to Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, we figured we knew the script. Jordan would put in four years, get a degree and graduate as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

A few weeks into his first semester, he wanted out. The physical challenges weren’t a problem, but he’d burned out on the classroom and couldn’t stomach the thought of even more.  He withdrew, gave up his scholarship and came back home, trying to figure out what to do next.

He worked for a while and, after a time, he enrolled at the local community college. He did well in the auto repair program and won a scholarship. But, again, his heart wasn’t in it.

When he turned 21, he shocked us both by announcing he wanted to join the Army, specifically to serve in the infantry. He’d always wanted to be where the action was, he told us, and he had a sense of public service dating back to the September 11th attacks in 2001, when he was still in middle school.

When Jordan enlisted, the United States was deep into the Afghanistan War under President George W. Bush. We were hardly stoked by our son’s decision, fearing that he might be called to serve abroad in a dangerous part of the world.

Sure enough, he was, in the last year of his enlistment. You can bet we held our breath and said our prayers while he was deployed for a year. Thankfully, he made it home physically and mentally sound in December 2012 and received his honorable discharge the following spring.

Jordan.boots

To Afghanistan and back.

Before all that, however, came a series of transitions. Boot camp in the Deep South. He did basic training at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. Initially, he was stationed at the ironically named Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. He put in for a transfer and got moved to Joint Base Lewis McChord near Tacoma, Washington, about 150 miles north of Portland.

While still a soldier, he came home to Oregon and married his sweetheart, Jamie Lynn. They moved to Texas and then to Washington. Using his G.I. Bill benefits, they bought a house on a culdesac in suburban Spanaway and he enrolled in school, a freshman again at age 25.

***

For the next four years, he would commute about 25 miles each way to Saint Martin’s University, a small Benedictine school with a reputation for being veteran-friendly.

After meeting all the physical challenges the military could throw at him, Jordan did the same in the classroom. He majored in biology but also took chemistry, physics, calculus and other rigorous courses, earning high marks in every one.

When baby Emalyn was born last July, Jordan had just completed his junior year. His final year of school would mean adding a layer of responsibility as a young father.

Well, he did it.

He graduated magna cum laude, meaning with a grade-point average between 3.7 and 3.89. As a rising junior, he was selected for a federally funded summer research fellowship in cellular and molecular biology at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Now, with diploma in hand and Emalyn already 10 months old and crawling, Jordan’s life path is taking him and his young family to the American Heartland. They are moving to Columbia, Missouri, where Jordan will do science research in a fellowship program designed to help students prepare for the rigors of graduate school.

It’s the next phase of Jordan’s journey, one that could take several years and culminate in a Ph.D., there in Missouri or elsewhere. Obviously, we will miss having Jordan, Jamie and Emalyn three hours away — now they’ll be 2,000 miles and two time zones away. But we are excited for all three of them as they embark on this new adventure and we are already making plans to visit.

This weekend, we are paying them one last visit in Spanaway, helping them to pack up their belongings and their animals for an anticipated four-day drive in a U-Haul truck and trailer. Jordan and I will split the driving. Jamie and Emalyn will come down to Portland to stay with Lori for a few days, then fly out to Missouri to join Jordan.

***

On Graduation Day a week ago, we were thrilled that our other children could share in Jordan’s accomplishments. And we were struck by the oddity of one number all three have in common.

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How uncanny that Nathan, Simone and Jordan all would receive a college degree at 29.

Nathan, the oldest, started at the University of Oregon, dropped out, found himself, and returned to school at Portland State University. At age 29, he graduated with degrees in business and marketing.

Simone, the middle child, graduated from Vassar, studied in Mexico and worked in Portland before returning to graduate school. At age 29, she graduated with a masters from Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh.

Now comes along Jordan. He, too, just graduated at age 29.

If this pattern holds, Lori and I will be somewhere in the year 2046 watching Emalyn receive a degree of some kind at age 29.

 

Losing things, losing a father

when things go missing

Illustration by Bianca Bagnarelli/The New Yorker

For a while, it seemed that if I wasn’t writing about my father’s recent death, I was thinking about it. I didn’t want to seem preoccupied with death, so I held off calling to attention to a marvelous essay I read the day after Dad’s funeral.

It was purely coincidental but the piece could not have come at a better time. Authored by Kathryn Schulz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at The New Yorker, the essay was like an emotional salve. It gave me perspective and it gave me pause — literally — to appreciate the elegant prose.

With six weeks now passed since we paid our final respects to Dad, it’s time to share the author’s reflections and mine, too.

***

The essay begins on a humorous note. Schulz recalls spending a summer two years in Portland and inexplicably losing things — keys, clothing, a wallet, a cell phone, a bike lock, even a truck she drove downtown to attend an event at Powell’s, the famous bookstore.

Schulz, normally one of those people who organizes things by size and color, consults her sister, a cognitive scientist at M.I.T., to discuss her sudden propensity for losing things. Turns out her sister is “the most scatter-brained person I’ve ever met.” And her father would be the runner-up. having once spent an entire vacation wearing mismatched shoes.

From a discussion of how to find missing objects and why we lose them in the first place, Schulz pivots to self-blame, the failure of memory, and the relative weight we put on these missing objects.

“Part of what makes loss such a surprisingly complicated phenomenon, then, is that it is inextricable from the extremely complicated phenomenon of human cognition,” she writes. “Beyond a certain age, every act of losing gets subjected to an extra layer of scrutiny, in case what you have actually lost is your mind.”

From there, it’s another transition — from the loss of things to the loss of a loved one.

Here, Schulz writes tenderly about losing her father in late September after a decade of poor health. Her scatter-brained father is also someone who immigrated from Germany in 1948 at age 12 on a refugee visa, learned to speak six languages, and made a successful life for himself and his family in the United States..

George and C.A

With my dad, Catarino Rede, during a 2011 visit to Silver City.

Here I thought of my father, born into a family of nine children, the sons and daughters of Mexican immigrants who moved from the Southwest to California, where they picked lettuce and other crops. My dad grew up learning the value of hard work and urged my sisters and I to pursue the educational opportunities he didn’t have. He joined the Navy at 18, served in World War II, raised a family, became a homeowner, married twice and provided love, encouragement and support along my path from adolescent to college graduate, husband and father.

Schulz even discusses the origin of the verb “to lose” and how the contemporary meaning of “loss” has come to encompass everything from mittens to life savings to loved ones. Ultimately, we will lose everything we love in the end, she observes, so maybe we should spend more time appreciating what we find.

“You meet a stranger passing through your town and know within days you will marry her. You lose your job at fifty-five and shock yourself by finding a new calling ten years later. You have a thought and find the words. You face a crisis and find your courage.”

***

I read this masterpiece as I was riding shotgun in a rental car hurtling at 75 mph across the desolate stretch of interstate highway from Silver City, New Mexico, to Phoenix, Arizona. My daughter Simone was driving us back from where we had spent time grieving with relatives in the last place my dad lived before passing at age 91.

sc.catarino

The scene at the funeral home in Silver City, New Mexico.

I read more than one excerpt aloud as the miles flew by. It was pure coincidence that I happened to choose this essay rather than the other compelling material in this late-February issue — the legacy of James Baldwin, a profile of Anthony Bourdain, a review of a new book called “The Refugees.”

Had I chosen one of those articles instead, I would have missed Schulz’s extraordinary essay. And it would have been my loss.

Read the entire piece here: “When Things Go Missing”

 

Tuxedo

tuxedo3

Mayer Hawthorne on vocals and Jake One on keyboards epitomize “cool” during a show at the Wonder Ballroom in Northeast Portland.

It’s hard to say exactly when I became aware of Mayer Hawthorne. But I loved his sound — a Motown-influenced R&B — when I first heard it a few years ago. Since then, I’ve enjoyed his evolution as a singer, songwriter, musician and producer.

I got to see Mayer (born Andrew Mayer Cohen) and his band in concert in February 2014 in the company of my oldest son, Nathan. He was terrific, playing to a sold-out crowd at the Wonder Ballroom.

Read the “Man Date” blog post here

Last night, I got to see Mayer again at the same venue. This time he had a new band, Tuxedo, a collaboration with Jake One, a hop-hop record producer and keyboardist from Seattle.

Together they put out some great, high-energy music that’s been called neo-soul and funk. Think Fitz and the Tantrums, just a little more amped up and a lot better dressed.

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Mayer Hawthorne and his backup singer synchronize a move.

Mayer and Jake came out in black tuxedos, white shirts and big black bow-ties. They had a guitarist and another keyboardist in white shirts, white pants and the same black bow-ties. There was a backup singer, too, someone with an enormous Afro that made me think of Angela Davis, except this woman was shimmying and shaking in a snug, glittery dress.

Tuxedo played for an hour to an all-ages crowd that drew the under-21 kids to one side of the room and a range of adults on the other. It was refreshing to see black, brown and white people all grooving together, some in their 20s and 30s, others in their 40s and 50s.

Oh, and then there was me.  Lori doesn’t do weekday concerts because she rises so early for her personal training job. Nathan couldn’t go either because he was working last night, but he did predict I’d like Tuxedo. A recommendation from him, a professional DJ, carries a lot of weight.

tuxedo2

Mayer Hawthorne changed into a shiny tux for the two-song encore.

Lori would have loved the concert. Very danceable music. Or, in my case, head-bobbing music.

I had a good view from the middle of the room and enjoyed all Tuxedo had to offer. Constant motion, a few choreographed moves, infectious beats, and a sense that the band members were truly enjoying themselves.

It’s pretty remarkable that a Jewish kid from the Detroit suburbs would become such a polished performer. But Mayer Hawthorne shows that where there’s a passion for certain genres of music, there’s no limit to what a dude can do.

Check him out:

Mamalogues

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Simone reads a Mother’s Day tribute to Lori.

Mother’s Day began with a 90-minute wait for a table at Portland’s premier dim sum restaurant. It ended with a 90-minute concert by women of all ages that was both moving and meaningful.

First, the food.

In the morning, Lori and I arrived early at HK Cafe, thinking we’d get a little ahead of the crowd while waiting for our two older kids and their partners to join us. Think again.

With an overflow crowd on the sidewalk and the entrance to the restaurant stuffed like sardines (sorry, obvious food reference), I squeezed in after 30 minutes to check on the waiting time for our table, clutching the paper slip with our No. 90 on it.

“Number 27?” the hostess called out.

Yikes.

Yep, it was a long wait but worth it. We’ve been there before and always enjoy the variety of plates brought to us the moment we sit down. Never again, though, on Mother’s Day.

Second, the music.

I’ve written previously about Lori and Simone participating in the Portland Intergenerational Women’s Choir. They sing together in the midst of a group whose members range from about 8 to 80. The choir is comprised of mothers, daughters and grandmothers, many if not most of them with no musical training and a few who’ve served time in prison.

mamalogues posterIn fact, Sunday’s performance was a fundraiser for the group’s sister choir at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville. Credit the choir director, Crystal Akins, for creating and leading both groups. Credit the women in each choir for setting status and judgments aside to perform alongside each other for the joy of singing as one.

And so it was that Simone’s wife, Kyndall, and I joined a supportive crowd at the Mission Theater in Northwest Portland. What used to be an old movie theater has been transformed into an intimate performing space under the entrepreneurial hands of the McMenamin Brothers.

Arriving just before the show, we grabbed pizza slices and a drink and found ourselves at a front-row table just behind the choir director. And what an inspiring show it was.

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Lori and Simone sing side-by-side in the Portland Intergenerational Women’s Choir.

This was the third annual Mamalogues — a program that mixed nine songs with a dozen readings from choir members honoring their mothers. The stories ranged as much as those telling them, touching on themes of loss and love and the special bond between mothers and daughters.

  • A teenager, taken from her drug-addled birthparents as an infant and placed with a loving adoptive family.
  • A middle-aged mother, recalling the scorn from classmates at her high school graduation, her pregnant belly making her a social outcast decades ago but her mom’s support making her feel “legitimate” nevertheless.
  • A woman laughing at the silly songs and inside jokes they shared on long weekend drives, now tearing up at her mother’s recent death.
  • A self-described member of the “sandwich generation,” recalling the difficulty of caring for her young child while also caring for her aging, ailing mother. She told a tender story of giving her mother a shower, feeling her skin as soft as a baby’s.
  • A formerly incarcerated woman boldly asserting that anyone judging her by her past mistakes was missing out on who she is now — a confident, imperfect but rehabilitated individual, with much to offer the world. So powerful.

And then there were two pairs of mothers and daughters, one of them the Redes.

Lori and Simone read their “Side by Side” compositions, each thanking the other for her love and support through the years, and then joining the choir in singing Ben E. King’s classic “Stand By Me.”

simone-lori-stephanie

Simone and Lori with Stephanie, another choir member.

I enjoyed every one of the songs, some of them originally performed by Sinead O’Connor, India Arie, Michael Jackson and Pharrell Williams. (No surprise that the women would sing “Happy.”)

Mamalogues was a wonderful way to spend a Mother’s Day afternoon. As much as I love my wife and daughter, it’s even more heart-warming to see how the two ladies in my life cherish each other so. How sweet that they’ve found this choir to share some creative energy together.