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A Bicycle Trip For Two

Not so much about the song, but about a book I finished today. Maybe it’s all the stress, but I’m burning through books these days.

But I ain’t complaining.

Today’s adventure was Across America by Bicycle: Alice and Bobbi’s Summer on Wheels by Alice Honeywell and Bobbi Montgomery.

This book is one of my favorite types to read; travelogues, complete with maps (hand-drawn) and mileage counts. This book details Midwestern grandmothers Alice and Bobbi’s journey across the USA on their bicycles in just 13 weeks, from Astoria, Oregon, to Bar Harbor, Maine. In about 250 pages, the two travel through Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, and have lots of fun adventures along the way. They (or I should say she, since the book is written from Bobbi’s point of view) focus on the hidden gems of America, from the cinnamon rolls they ate in Montana to the many “road angels” who stopped them and helped along the way.

But the trip isn’t all just a grand old time; they face a lot of serious issues, both on the road and at home. Each state brings its challenges, from closed campgrounds to aggressive drivers to unkempt roads (they do mention how nice the roads are in Wisconsin, but then again, Alice lives here in Madison, according to the book). Their bikes and bodies get worn down, but it strengthens them in the end. Though both of them contemplate quitting at different points – Alice due to family drama and her husband’s poor health, Bobbi due to an injury and other reasons – they stay steadfast and remain best friends. A lot of the book is repetitive, describing this little boy and that group of ladies asking them the same questions, over and over, but I guess that’s part of a trip across America, especially the more rural parts where it’s just hill after hill, tree after tree. And though they compliment most of the people they meet, there’s more than a fair share of complaining, mostly about dingy old hotels and bad food, but they paint an interesting picture of America on the whole, a mix of small towns and even smaller towns.

Overall, the story flows along really nicely without dwelling too much on insignificant or uninteresting details. And aside from their references to it, you wouldn’t be able to tell that the protagonists are two older ladies crossing America from coast to coast. Plus, they don’t make any Odyssey Expedition-esque attempts at purism, accepting rides when necessary or when they just don’t want to ride with all their gear anymore.

That is, though, quite the accomplishment in and of itself. If you’re thinking “hey, I could do that,” let me tell you about the last time I rode a bike.

On my second Summer Odyssey, when I was staying with Dan in Boston, we decided to spend a day on Martha’s Vineyard, a place I’ve always wanted to see. So, we drove to Woods Hole, left the car there, and took a ferry. One we landed in Oak Bluffs, and had lunch, Dan suggested we see the rest of the island, and rather than taking a bus or hitching rides, we could…rent bikes. Now, even though Dan bikes to work every day, I haven’t ridden a bike since elementary school. I don’t feel comfortable on a bike, and I don’t know what exactly got into me that it would be a good idea to try one out, and especially in a place I’d never been before.

Martha’s Vineyard is cut in half, with Oak Bluffs at the center, so we rode west along the southern edge of the island, stopping off for ice cream or window shopping in the island’s small towns. For the first hour or so, I was terrified, and by the end of the day, I was exhausted, but…slightly less terrified. It ended up being fun and I didn’t fall or die, but I’m not in a rush to get back on a bike anytime soon.

So the fact that these two ladies spent four months crossing unknown territory on bikes means that they’re probably more hardcore than I’ll ever be.

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Here’s a Sincere, Heartfelt Apology…Oh, And Something Else

Finally getting back to one of the real reasons I started this blog – collecting and recapping various random memories.

I received some plays the other day via InterLibrary Loan, and I was reading down the cast list of one of them when I noticed a particular name, an unusual name, a last name. The name of someone I went to elementary school with, and around whom this story revolves.

He transferred to my school when we were in fifth grade. I won’t say his name, so let’s just call him…Levi Dungarees, since despite wearing a spiky silver belt to complement his spiky silver-blond hair, his jeans sagged so low you could see exactly which Looney Tunes character was on his boxer shorts every day (it was usually Taz). Remember, this was the nineties, when such things were in. I’m glad that my mom refused to let me wear jeans that sagged like that, otherwise I’d forever remember what underwear I was wearing that day.

Anyway…

I wasn’t popular at all, and Levi, even though he’d only been in school a month or two, was already one of the most popular kids in the class. And of course, he tormented me pretty much every day, making fun of my hair, my clothes, everything about me. Especially my thick glasses. One day, he was chosen to hand out the hot lunch stickers (in my school, when we went to the cafeteria, if you were getting hot lunch you wore a sticker saying which meal you were signed up to get), and instead of peeling it off and handing it to me or sticking it on my shirt like a normal, kind human being, he peeled it and stuck it on my glasses. Right across the bridge of my nose. Of course, he thought it was funny, but I actually couldn’t see. He tried to then peel it off, and it wouldn’t come off, so I had to spend the next 10 minutes blindly chipping away at the residue of the sticker until my teacher let me go to the bathroom and attempt to soak the rest of it off in the sink.

In October, we Jews celebrate Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, when we’re supposed to ask forgiveness from our fellow man and atone for our sins, among other things. In Hebrew class, our teacher gave us an assignment to write an apology note to someone else in the class. Of all people, who did Levi decide to write to, and hand deliver to?

Me.

He gave me the note to read, and it was actually quite nice. In it, he apologized for putting the sticker on my glasses, and for teasing me in front of all the other boys. I thought it was sweet, and I thanked him and accepted the apology.

But with someone like Levi, you know that something else is up.

After I finished reading the note, he said something like…

“I’m really sorry. But look, I just want to tell you three things about yourself that you need to change, if you want people to be nicer to you…”

I don’t remember what those three things were – it was probably about wearing better clothes or stop using big words or something – but I kept thinking, “so this is what he really had in mind to tell me when he wrote that note.” I nodded along with this impromptu lecture, more or less zoning out, and probably responding with something like, “okay, I understand,” or something sheepish. Because the whole time he was talking (and even now, when I think of it) I’m all…

Image result for what a load of crap rachel

Seriously…if you’re that garbage-y of a person that you see an apology note as an excuse to shit all over them, don’t write the note. As a matter of fact, don’t exist at all.

If I could redo that moment, I would have probably done something differently, maybe said…”here’s three things about you that I don’t like” or maybe….”hold that thought”, and then called over a teacher or someone else – anyone else – to listen to what he was saying, and been like “okay, here’s someone you can complain to, because I don’t care” (even though I was 10 years old so I probably kind of did care).

A non-apology apology is chicken shit, and I have another story about that for another time. But a seemingly sincere apology that’s essentially a non-apology apology, and is a cover for backpedaling caveats and side-complaints, that’s worse. It just defeats the whole purpose of apologizing in the first place. So let that be a lesson. When you apologize, be sincere about it, and if you can’t, then don’t. 

And that’s probably the first time I’ve thought about him in about sixteen years.

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Open, Open Damned Bag

It’s been a long week so far, and I haven’t been too inspired to write…well, much of anything. I don’t really know why. But I need to be writing more, in general, so I thought I’d just let out what’s on my mind today.

I feel like I may have written about this before, so apologies if this sounds familiar.

Both yesterday and today, I bought something that came in one of those Zip-Loc pouches that you have to cut or tear before you can easily pop open. Or, I mean, “easily.” Both times, I cut/tore the plastic, only to not be able to get into the bag. One I eventually pried open with my nails, but for the other one I actually had to go in with scissors and make an incision, which meant I had to eat the whole thing because it didn’t really close all the way. Is there a more annoying sensation than wanting to get into a bag that’s designed to be easy to open, and having to resort to near violence to get at the treats inside? What did we do in a past life to deserve this? I mean, if the bag is designed to be easy to open, actually make it easy to open. Or tell us to cut it open.

Anyway. I ended up getting to enjoy the snacks eventually.

How are you doing?

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Jodi Picoult Convinced Me That Parents Are Gross

I always knew that fact, but after finishing reading The Pact today at work, I’m even more convinced that the core message of the book is that parents are, in fact, gross.

Briefly, The Pact in the title refers to the suicide pact made between protagonist Chris Harte and his close-enough-to-be-a-sister girlfriend, Emily Gold. They live in perfect America, AKA Bainbridge, New Hampshire, where they live normal, happy lives and have basically sprung from the same acorn, born three months apart and progressing from best friends to lovers. Even their parents consider the other child to be like their own, and are not at all grossed out by the fact that they are dating, in fact they encourage it. That is, until one night when Emily and Chris are found at a carousel; Emily shot in the head, and Chris wounded and holding a smoking gun. Naturally, the idyllic lives of the two families are shattered, as the Golds bury Emily, and Chris is faced with a lifetime prison sentence for murder, which his parents (or at least his mother, Gus – short for Augusta) think is not the solution. The book goes back and forth between then (the murder) and now (the murder trial of Chris Harte), where Jordan McAfee, Chris’s kind of scumbaggy (at least to me) defense attorney is trying to prove his client’s innocence. It ends kind of how you’d expect, a little on the mushy side but not too unrealistic, as far as the Golds’ reaction to the verdict.

Okay, first, the bad. Well, not so much bad, but blah. Let’s start with Chris and Emily. They are in high school. She’s Jewish, he’s some unspecified Christian. He’s a star swimmer, she’s a gifted artist with her eyes on the Sorbonne, they’re both extremely intelligent and unspoken, and of course, (spoiler alert), she gets pregnant with Chris’s baby, which spurs the whole suicide pact theme of the book. That’s what drives the plot forward and gives the characters “depth.” The reason I put it in quotation marks is because Picoult herself says in the author’s notes that she meant for it to be an opposite Romeo and Juliet story, with Montagues and Capulets who are neighbors and best friends and everything’s peachy keen between them up until the death. Especially because Chris doesn’t die, so of course he’s immediately blamed for Emily’s death by her mom, Melanie. I didn’t find Chris or Emily to be particularly likeable, so that kind of hurt the story a little for me.

Also, there is way too much background info on the lives of Jordan, the defense attorney, and Barrie, the state attorney. They also came off kind of badly, which I think was the opposite of Picoult’s intention, but they sure sounded bossy.

Then, there’s the good, which are the parents. At the beginning of the book, I liked Chris and Emily but not the parents. Over time, however, they grew on me. I was rolling my eyes when they were introduced. Both men are doctors and obviously the family breadwinners so Melanie (Emily’s mom) can be a librarian, and Gus (Chris’s mom) can fulfill her dream of…being a professional line-sitter. Yep, she sits in lines for people for a living. Though it takes a murder, they become a lot more dimensional over the story. Melanie spins into a raging bitch, wanting nothing to do with the Hartes and blaming Chris for everything despite finding Emily’s journal, which says otherwise, and James (Gus’s husband and Chris’s dad) refuses to take part in any of this business until the very end because it might damage his high-flying career. In the wake of their spouses going bananas, Michael and Gus create an alliance of grieving parenthood, with Gus appropriately sad at Emily’s death and believing that her son is innocent, and Michael feeling sorry that Chris is in this mess in the first place, which leads him to testify for the defense instead of the prosecution, which of course thrills his wife. There are hints of it possibly turning romantic, but Picoult does a good job of not letting it get too gauche and mushy.

But finally, going back to the title of this post and why I felt compelled to write it today rather than catch up on a review of one of the books I’ve read in the past few weeks, this book taught me that parents are gross. Not only can they behave like dicks (for example, Gus and James also have a daughter named Kate who is crazy underutilized), but they are also surprisingly sexual at odd times. It’s not erotic, but Jodi Picoult just gives a little TMI when describing the two sets of couples in their bedrooms. Yes, I know that parents have sex, and in the book they don’t have it excessively or weirdly or anything, but the author paints quite the mental picture of parents who have young adult children, especially in a book about murder and not a romance novel. I found myself cringing and trying to speed-read through the few scenes where they’re in bed. I don’t know why, but when your kids have had sex, conceived, and then made a suicide pact, I don’ think it would get me in the mood.

Anyway, it was a page-turning read, otherwise I wouldn’t have written 900 words on it. I still like Jodi Picoult even if her characters are paper dolls.

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Summer Odyssey 3.2 (Summer Od) – Northern California, Part 2!

I spent the last part of my Northern California trip in Berkeley at the LMDA (Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas) Conference. Even though I’ve been an LMDA member for quite some time, their conferences have always been either a) in an inconvenient location, or b) at an inconvenient time. However, I resolved to make it one year, and I guess this year was that year.

Day 3 of the trip, or Thursday, was Day 1 of the conference. I headed across the bay from San Francisco to Berkeley, bright and early. I couldn’t check into my Airbnb until 2 PM, so I had to spend the first few hours of the conference lugging around all of my stuff around the building in which the conference took place, the Ed Roberts building. A community center of sorts, we were sharing space with people of varying abilities going about their daily business, whether it was going to the employment office or a yoga class.

The elevators in the building were probably the most interesting ones I’ve ever seen. When the doors opened, a lady walked in and actually kicked the wall. I was thinking, well someone’s having a bad day, until I realized that there were floor buttons on the bottom of the elevator walls. Of course, they were in the normal place as well, but this way, someone with a cane or wheelchair could hit them easily. Pretty neat.

This conference was way smaller than ATHE. I’m talking 120 people, maximum. I actually counted, and I only saw 10 people I knew before. Fortunately, they were 10 people I adore and was excited to reconnect with, in passing. I got to talk with some of them at our regional lunch (Midwest/Metro Chicago/Great Plains), on the second floor terrace.