Road Trippin’

I recently broke with tradition and accompanied the Jarhead on a seven-day journey into the wild. The trip took us to the Rockies by way of the Trans Canada Highway, so we weren’t exactly in No Man’s Land; but since we spent most of the week alone driving at high speeds near deep lakes, raging rivers, open fields and dense forests—not to mention steep drops and sharp curves—it did carry an element of risk of death and/or bodily injury. Thus, the fact that you are reading this entry is either evidence of my value as a travel companion, proof of the Jarhead’s patience and restraint, a testament to the power of negotiation, or a sign of my intense will to live.

Unless, of course, he’s actually posting this himself in an effort to make things seems as normal as possible for as long as possible. As any fan of Law & Order or CSI can tell you, such a ruse would enable him to keep my family, friends, and followers from realizing I’m missing until such time as my remains can be disturbed by wildlife or sufficiently degraded, thereby preventing investigators from finding evidence of his crime and improving his odds of escaping punishment.

Then again, if the Jarhead were going to do me in and conceal it by impersonating me, it would be silly of him to even mention the trip—much less to make a point about evidence—so you can assume these are my words you’re reading. Sure, he could have posted all of the foregoing in order to throw people off the scent—much in the way the talented Thomas Ripley impersonated Dickie Greenleaf and sent messages to his loves ones to give the impression he’d left town of his own volition and not been beaten to death with an oar—but truth be told, even on paper, the Jarhead isn’t that good of a mimic.

The goal of our trip was to complete the Jarhead’s whirlwind tour of all 50 US states, which he started at some point in the late seventies when he flew to Colorado and wisely gave up in favor of earning a high school diploma. In the spring of 1984 he managed to squeeze in a brief visit to Florida, but this was the extent of his travels until that June when he answered Uncle Sam’s call and got to spend 12 fun-filled weeks on board Marine Corps Recruiting Depot San Diego. Between 1984 and 2011, he managed to visit nearly every state in the country—plus a handful of Canadian provinces, and parts Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Middle East—but somehow managed to miss Idaho and North Dakota.

Idaho, I get. It’s surrounded by mountains and seemingly endless prairies, and offers potential visitors little in the way of incentives other than the promise of great potatoes, which quite frankly you can buy almost anywhere already. Oh, sure it also offers you the chance to see some gorgeous scenery, but apart from Demi Moore and Bruce Willis—if he happens to be visiting—there’s nothing of beauty in Idaho that you can’t also find in Montana, Washington, or Wyoming, so I can understand why he might have chosen to put that one off.

But I’m having a little harder time with North Dakota. Because I can’t fathom how a man who grew up in Minnesota managed to visit 47 other states including Alaska and Hawaii—both of which require a plane ride and a fair amount of dedication to reach—but could not muster a trip to North Dakota, which involves no oceans, mountains, or other major geographic obstacles; costs almost nothing to get to; and is literally right next door.

Not that I’m a globetrotter myself. In fact, even after this recent trip I still have 7 states and 15 countries to see before I can claim to be as well traveled as he is. But I still managed to visit Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and Manitoba before I turned 17 because—and I can’t stress this enough—they’re close by and it isn’t hard.

In any case, although I had already seen North Dakota, I agreed to accompany the Jarhead on his quest to cross the last two states off of his USA Bucket List. It wasn’t a sacrifice, to be sure. The Jarhead is a gem among stones on a bad day, and the best of the best on any other. When it comes to drivers, navigators, and spouses you honestly can’t do any better.

And I had no objections to going back to North Dakota. After all, the last time I was there was about 1973, and I figured it would have changed enough since then to make it worth seeing again. Plus, I had fond feelings leftover from my last visit owing to the bloody nose I got when my step brother knocked me down on the ice rink, and because, despite my injury, I was able to both demonstrate my considerable skill and highlight his lack of liberty by gliding back and forth in front of him while he sat grounded on the sidelines. Ah, memories.

It was with all of this, and so much more, in mind that I and the Jarhead boarded the USS RAM 1500 and embarked upon our journey west. Destination: Grand Forks


TV and Reality

Despite rumors to the contrary, TV hasn’t changed much in the past 40 years. Oh, you may hear a few words on the tube that viewers were not allowed to hear back in the seventies—like sex, pregnant, and lesbian—but as far as content goes, things are still pretty much the same.

Take the ABC drama Eight is Enough, which was basically a seventies version of Nineteen Kids and Counting only with better hair, cooler clothes, and about half the cast members. If you don’t know what I mean, I suggest you Google some photos of the Duggar clan, do the math, and then see for yourself whether the threads and coiffures worn by the Bradford family don’t somehow look MORE modern despite having been off the air for more than thirty years. In any case, both shows focus on the adventures of a large family, only instead of taking a bus, an RV, or multiple cars to town, the Bradford brood could travel by station wagon.

Not to brag, but my two brothers and I lived in an eight-child family long before the Bradfords made it to the small screen, thanks to our dad’s marriage to our first step mother, who had five kids. Let the record show that neither of my two step brothers looked a thing like Willie Ames or Grant Goodeve, and my two real brothers are still way cuter than Nicholas ever was. And our stepmother, Betty, looked and acted a lot more like Joan Crawford circa 1949 than Abby Bradford circa 1978.

Unlike Mrs. Bradford, who was a teacher, Betty did not work. I don’t know what she did before she became our step mom, but I suspect she would have made a great reality TV personality given her fondness for snapping her fingers and saying “What Betty wants, Betty gets.”

Actually, even back in the seventies, our version of Eight is Enough would have made for great reality TV. We had the rebellious oldest sister Lori, who ran away from home on a regular basis and once took her two sisters with her. And there was Heidi, who once jumped out of a tree and landed on the chainsaw my dad was using a few feet below her.

And if that wouldn’t make for enough drama, our step siblings were often grounded for committing what Betty referred to as ‘Night Raids.’  These heinous crimes, which involved one or more of her kids sneaking out of their bed(s) in the middle of the night and eating cake, cookies, or whatever dessert was left over from the day before, occurred at least weekly, and led to long, drawn out trials and sentences commensurate with how long it took the accused to fess up.

My brothers and I were never tried nor convicted of such atrocities. I’d like to say this was because we had exceptional criminal minds and were smart enough to either avoid detection or frame our step siblings, but the sad truth is that the three of us would sooner have eaten our own flesh than get out of bed without authorization, since doing so for any reason could earn you a lick or two of Betty’s favorite belt and a sentencing enhancement of no dessert for a week.

Like the TV series, our version of Eight is Enough had a short run. In fact, it was bumped out of its time slot by another drama called Johnson vs. Johnson, which did not star Dustin Hoffman or Meryl Streep but was clearly ahead of its time, having predated the critically acclaimed Kramer vs. Kramer by three years.

Not long after Johnson vs. Johnson ended its run, our dad married a woman with three kids, and my brothers and I got our own version of The Brady Bunch. As was the case with Eight is Enough, the Johnson Bunch differed greatly from the Brady Bunch. For example, we had four girls and two boys instead of three boys and three girls. Second, my brothers and I were all blonde and lovely, while our step siblings were all brunettes and wicked. And third, although I have no way of proving it, I’ll bet neither Mrs. Brady nor the person who inspired her ever sang in a honky tonk or raided their children’s piggy banks in order to pay for a bottle of Coffee Brandy.

Fortunately, the Johnson Bunch ran for fewer seasons than did the Brady Bunch. And while it was followed by several seasons of our version of One Day at a Time and Good Times, living in a single-parent home and/or in the projects with just my dad and two brothers was still better in my view than being part of Enough, or a Bunch of anything.