An Inflated View Of My Own Self-Worth: How a hot air balloon ride led to 147 hours of bad TV.

June 3rd, 2014 Gerry No comments

Today’s story intertwines through a hot air balloon ride fiasco, white-knuckle skydiving, watching 84 hours of television in a week and the road back to launching three point shots. As the saying goes, you can’t make this stuff up!

It all began on with my 40th birthday gift from the lovely Kathy, a hot air balloon ride.

There’s a little backstory to this particular gift. About a year earlier, I had purchased two skydiving passes for Kathy’s birthday, but as the appointed day approached, my throat began constricting as I envisioned hurtling myself out of an airplane. While I’m not afraid of air travel, I do not like heights as a rule. So I did what any other self-respecting acrophobic would do, I finagled out of the sky diving commitment by invoking the good old worst case scenario. I asked Kathy, what would the kids do if we both bit it in a horrible skydiving fiasco?

Kathy muttered something mostly unintelligible, but I thought I heard something like…. simpering wimp. Kathy wasn’t chickening out and along with our oldest daughter Shannon they took the plunge safely and successfully.

But Kathy declared there was no way I was wiggling or waggling out of the hot air balloon ride.

On a humid early evening, we lifted off somewhere near Fenton. I’m guessing it was a pretty cool ride, but I couldn’t really tell because my eyes were closed as I riffed through every prayer I ever knew…. Now I lay me down to sleep….Bless me Father for I have sinned…Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry for all my sins both venial and mortal…rub-a-dub thanks for the grub, yea God!

My eyes were closed for two reasons: First the height thing. Second, along with Kathy and me were two other passengers who were giants. I’m not kidding; they were a monumental man and woman. We were Lilliputians compared to these folks. Because of the size and weight difference the basket was tilted crazily toward the Brobdingnagian’s*. Added to the mix was our balloon driver, or balloon master, or hot air wizard, or whatever the heck you call the guy who was in charge of this mismatched voyage of the damned. His name was Archie and he was an identical twin of the bass player in the rock band ZZ Top. I was pretty sure that he had as much helium in him as the balloon did.

So we sailed the skies for our 30-minute ride, I looked down once to see a gravel pit and then it was over. We landed nicely enough and I let out a sigh of relief…. just a tad too soon. Because of the size difference between our offensive line companions and us, our basket hemmed, hawed, seesawed and then all 13 feet, 600 pounds of mountain people fell on top of me. The good news was they missed Kathy, but I was crunched, and my right shoulder immediately turned to mush. After the giant and giantess rolled off me they jointly picked me up like I was appetizer and started talking in Low German or some guttural dialect… Wo geiht? Ya est heidegger, schopenhauer, kant or hanna arendt? Or, something like that, but I think it was an apology.

I answered: Vundaag is de worm in! (Which is Low German for: Something is very wrong with this day!)

So it came to pass that at age 40, I found myself in physical therapy for the first time. The diagnosis was a bruised shoulder and tendinitis. The pain should go away. But it didn’t and every few years I would go in for more PT and build up the muscles around the shoulder so I could continue playing basketball and other sports. Except I couldn’t play much golf because the injury had the odd impact of hurting so much that once I reached the 8th hole I had to take the beer ice and make an icy shoulder pack.

Five years ago, now in my mid-50’s, my oldest friend, Jerry McEntee, introduced me to Dr. Gary Gilyard at DMC Sports Medicine. He ordered an MRI (a test which taught me that I had severe claustrophobia, yet another story) and the results were a badly torn rotator cuff and labrum. I should have had the surgery right then, but did I mention I’m a tomophobiac too? Yep, fear of surgery. I’m a veritable cornucopia of phobias!

I put off the surgery for 5 more years, which gave me a good excuse for being a crummy golfer and didn’t prevent me from launching plenty of three pointers. But basketball finally got the better of me. In one of our pick-up games at Shrine Grade School, I forgot that I’m an eyelash away from Social Security and tried to save a game-winning basket by fouling Adam Ruhle on his way to a lay-up. Adam is around 25 years old, about 6′5″ and pretty much in the prime of life. He never knew what hit him. Really, he actually never knew that I hit him with my best Rick Mahorn hatchet job. Meanwhile, my arm was dangling so low I could untie my shoelaces without bending over.

I had no choice now and under the knife I went. Six weeks ago, I showed up at the DMC Surgery Center in Madison Heights and honestly, after the IV drip started, I couldn’t remember a thing past my last recollection of singing the Ballad of Davy Crockett to a maintenance man in pre-op. When I finally woke up it was later that night and I found myself in our recliner chair that had been repositioned in my bedroom. I had night sweats from a nightmare that I was in a straightjacket. I was sort of, with my right shoulder and arm in a sling-like restrictor.

I tried to sit up on my own, but it was a no-go. I couldn’t dis-incline the recliner, so I started rocking the chair, thinking I could launch myself out of it. Did I mention I’ve never taken any painkillers before?

It seemed like a good idea, but Kathy woke up out of the Sleep of the Dead with a jolt.

“What in the name of God is going on?! Why is your chair in the middle of the room? And why are you humming What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?”

I was told later that I was an ideal patient. Again, I have little recollection of the first days of recovery. I was feeling no pain because I had some kind of pain block in a pouch that reminded me of one of those circa 1970 bota bags. I also was taking some kind of pill that shortly after I took it would cause me to suddenly break into song. Kathy said I sang the entire soundtrack from Jesus Christ Superstar, Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne and a Jethro Tull medley.

Kathy told me that she really was enjoying my particularly agreeable, puppy dog behavior.

She said, “I’m going to miss this recovery time we had together. One morning, you came up behind me tapped me on the shoulder and with tears in your eyes, you said, ‘I love you, Kathy. You’re the one for me.”

“But Kathy, I do that all the time, right?”

“Yeah, but this time it was like you were on truth serum!”

The recovery time for my surgery is about 3 months and Dr. Gilyard highly recommended the use of “The Chair.”

“The Chair” was just that…a chair, but with a motorized arm rest that moved up and down, very, very, slooooowly. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it? That’s what I thought until Doc Gilyard told me I needed to spend 12 hours a day, every day, for a month, in the chair.

I’m reasonably certain that in my entire life I have not sat still in a chair for more than two hours and 50 minutes in my life. That record was set watching Scarface which was our Christmas Day tradition movie, a decision I still have nightmares about. So, spending half of my day in a chair for the prescribed month would pretty much describe my version of Purgatory.

But sit I did, mostly in front of the TV. I did not realize that there are actually over 400 channel choices of good, bad, ugly and really ugly television. I believe that I may have visited them all, although I also believe my mind was kidnapped by the Muppets somewhere around 146th hour of my video tour-a-rama.

This is what I did learn about round the clock TV:

-There truly is a show for everyone. Christian shows: check. Satanist series: check. Agnostic thong wearers cooking show: check. You name it, TV has it.

-I also learned that many women do not, repeat, do not wear the proper bra size.

-I learned that very late at night you could learn: Who wouldn’t want to be bigger?!!

-I learned that ESPN and TMZ are really the same show.

-I watched both seasons, all 27 hours of House of Cards, a Netflix series you can watch at one time if you had the inclination. I still feel smarmy from that really well done series.

I watched Sister Wendy’s Odyssey where a retired nun does a marvelously quirky job of explaining art. She reminded me of a cross between Sister Jean Romunda and Sister Bernadette Therese, two of my favorite St. Mary’s of Royal Oak nuns.

I finally hit my breaking point when I watched an entire Hillary Duff movie…. and it brought tears to my eyes! That convinced me that I wasn’t going to be able to complete my full sentence of The Chair. I applied for a weekend pass to the physical therapy equivalent of Limbo and while there, I was able to obtain a plenary indulgence, which allowed me exchange 6 hours a day in The Chair for 6 hours of good thoughts and deeds.

It’s six weeks later now and my shoulder rehab is moving along nicely, mostly due to the highly competent physical therapists Stephanie, Ann-Marie and Dawn at DMC’s therapy unit in Birmingham. Thank you, ladies!

The Chair

The lovely Registered Nurse Kathy is also once again my heroine, being extraordinarily patient with her patient. She said it

wasn’t that bad and sometime during the early recovery I took her shopping for several hours, another record for me, and that the bills should be arriving soon.

And to finish the story, several years ago I was shamed into finally sky diving with my youngest daughter Moira. I believe ou

r pilot was the hot air balloon maestro’s twin ZZ Top brother and the skydiving experts name was Hippy Dippy Dave.

But like I said, that’s another story!

* I had to look this up, but Brobdingnag is another island in Jonathan Swifts Gulliver’s Travels, inhabited by the giants Brobdingnagians.

Counting Blessings – A Thanksgiving Story

November 20th, 2011 Gerry 2 comments

The story below titled, Counting Blessing is truly a Thanksgiving tale, is included in my short story collection: Gerry Tales.  Nearly all the stories in the book are light-hearted and humorous, with much of the fun coming at my expense! This story is different.  I’ll leave it at that. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.  Gerry Boylan.


I had finished writing this collection of stories and was just about to submit the final version to my editor as Thanksgiving weekend of 2009 rolled around. There is a fine line between life and death, exultation and despair, and as that weekend unfolded, our family brushed up too close to those boundaries. My hands shake and my heart quakes as I begin to tell this story of what families are all about. There is no Irish license taken; this is real life.

On the Tuesday evening before Thanksgiving, our daughter Shannon checked into Beaumont Hospital, accompanied by her husband Steve. After nine months of pregnancy, it was baby time! Her mother, Kathy, joined them later in the evening, and, after a night of increasing contractions, Shannon’s labor began in earnest in the early hours of the morning. At 1:30 p.m., Asher Avery Crepeau joined us. Asher is Kathy’s and my first grandchild. As I cradled the little guy, I recognized the same bright eyes that had shone out at me at Shannon’s birth nearly three decades ago. Oh, we’re going to really enjoy this part of life, I thought.
When Shannon had first gone into labor, I had started to call our other three children. They were not expected to join us for Thanksgiving due to job, college, and family commitments, but one by one, they told me that if it was possible to book a flight, they could make it in to see their first nephew. Dan had two days off from his basketball practices at Emerson College (and was feeling good, having just scored his college high of seventeen points, making five straight three-pointers, earlier in the evening). Joe, who is working for the Maine Red Claws, the Boston Celtics Development League team, also had an unexpected break. Moira’s husband, Mike, a smart and generous fellow, told Moira to go see her nephew, earning a nomination to the In-Law Hall of Fame. Moira, a high-school history teacher in a New York City suburb, booked her flight immediately.

So the Boylan family converged, and it was grand. Moira imitated a Hallmark commercial by calling her mom a few minutes before we turned into our driveway and telling her that she really wished she could make it home for the holidays but wouldn’t be able to. When she walked into our kitchen, where Kathy was baking cookies, still on the phone, Kathy laughed and cried.
We enjoyed a great Thanksgiving Day, even though we attended the Lions–Packers game (the Lions got thumped, as expected). My mom led the roster of our guests, including siblings and members of the extended family. The turkey was perfect, the laughs were loud, and before we knew it, the dishes were done, and we could recline in the joy of it all.

Steve, Shannon, and Asher were headed home by Friday morning, and while we left them alone for their first night, Kathy and I began to plot a lifetime of spending time with our grandson. I have to tell you, saying “my grandson” out loud sounded strange and very cool at the same time. Of course, within the first twenty-four hours of his birth, I had invented twenty-seven reasons to tell complete strangers about our new grandson and what a beautiful boy he was.

With Moira, Joe, and Dan home, we took advantage of the helpful labor and brought all the Christmas decorations downstairs. Then the five of us went out together to buy a Christmas tree. Joe and Dan even re-created the family tradition of chasing each other through the Christmas tree lot, although it was harder to hide behind the trees as full-grown adults. For the first time in forever, we didn’t purchase the tree on a subzero day with the wind howling and a slushy combo of sleet and snow pelting us! By evening, the tree was up, decorated, and lit. And so it was that this Thanksgiving was a whirlwind of family blessings.

The next day, the winds of fate changed direction and altered everything.

I was returning from running some errands at around two on Saturday afternoon, and as I pulled into the driveway, I saw Joe in his stocking feet, one hand holding a phone to his ear and the other motioning at me wildly. His face was contorted with a worried look I had never seen before.

“What’s wrong?” I said as I stepped out of the car.

“It’s Moira! Hurry!” Joe pointed past our side door to the house. As I pushed the door open, I heard him say, “Yes, 911? We have an emergency.”

I walked hurriedly through our kitchen and saw our twenty-seven-year-old daughter lying on the floor. Kathy was sitting next to her with her nurse’s stethoscope on her heart.

“I can’t get a pulse, Gerry,” Kathy said calmly. But then she said it again: “I can’t get a pulse.”
My heart raced, then froze. “Is she breathing?” I asked.

“Yes, but very lightly.”

“What do we do, Kathy? Should we pick her up and drive her to the hospital? Beaumont’s only five minutes away.”
“Joe called 911. I think it’s better to wait. They can start treatment faster.”

“What can I do?”

“I don’t know.”

I rushed outside. Joe was in tears, waiting to direct the forthcoming ambulance to our driveway. I decided to move my car to allow it easier access to our house. I wanted to do something, anything, because I was helpless. I rushed back inside and ran back to Kathy and Moira, then turned and ran back to the door. No ambulance yet.

Everything will be okay, won’t it? I thought. Whatever this is isn’t happening, is it? My God, my beautiful little girl is lying on the floor unconscious. We can’t lose Moira.

“Kathy,” I said, “is Moira going to be okay?”

“I don’t know, Gerry.”

I couldn’t catch my breath.

The sound of the siren reached the house, and Joe frantically waved the EMS ambulance and a fire engine to the side door of our home. A portly man in a blue uniform moved toward our door as two younger EMS firemen rushed into our house with their gear. They replaced Kathy at Moira’s side, working toward identifying vital signs as their older colleague asked questions rapid-fire.

“How old is your daughter? Has this ever happened before? Does she have a history of seizures? Is she pregnant? Describe what happened to your daughter.”

Kathy answered every question calmly and professionally, like the RN that she is. She explained that Moira had started having an allergic reaction to what she thought was an antibiotic she was taking for a sinus infection. In a twenty-minute period, she had gone from having itchy arms to having full-blown hives to vomiting in the bathroom to slumping to the floor unconscious. Kathy explained she had given her a Benadryl as the hives appeared and was on the phone calling our family doctor when she heard her fall.

I was listening half to the Q and A and half to the young fireman working with Moira. After installing an IV, they started calling out her vital signs. I only heard one: “Blood pressure is thirty-eight over twenty.” The numbers jumped into my head, and I knew my daughter was in real trouble. I was frightened to my core.

Within minutes, Moira was on the stretcher trolley and then inside the ambulance, headed to Beaumont Hospital with Kathy. I stood in the doorway, watching the ambulance scream off, my heartbeat reaching the same pitch. Joe was sitting on our porch seat, sobbing. He had been there for the entire episode, and I knew we were feeling exactly the same thing. He stood up, and we hugged hard without exchanging a word.

The drive to Beaumont is only a mile and a half long. I backed out of the driveway and waved to Joe, waiting until I was down the block before I began to sob and quiver. I made myself calm down by the time I had parked at the hospital. I was escorted to the critical care section of the emergency room. Kathy was sitting outside a curtained-off area where six people were still working on Moira. Kathy stood up and calmly explained to me that the doctors were using adrenaline and steroids to get her system “up” again.

Just then, a young doctor opened the curtains and walked over to us. “She’s stable and she’s going to be fine,” she said.

For the first time, tears filled Kathy’s eyes. Her face showed the wrestling emotions of fear and relief. She was Moira’s mom again, not her nurse. We grabbed each other for support.

“Your daughter had a very serious anaphylactic shock reaction. I understand she was taking a penicillin-based antibiotic and that that was likely the cause. I also understand that you gave her a Benadryl early in the reaction, Mrs. Boylan. You probably saved her life by doing that. The antihistamine likely kept her from completely shutting down and kept her airway open. She’s a lucky young lady, and she’s going to be fine. We’ll check her in for the night to keep an eye out for an unlikely rebound effect. You can go in and see her now.”

With one concise medical narrative, we stepped back from the edge of a precipice over which lay a damaged future for all of us. Instead of looking down into that precipice, we looked forward—and saw the face of our shivering, scared, and very alive daughter. We had Moira back!

Kathy held her daughter tight, warming her and stroking her forehead. All was nearly right with our world, and I think we all exhaled at exactly the same time.

Kathy prepared to spend a second night with a daughter in the same hospital within a week. Joe arrived to keep watch over Moira, and I took Kathy home to pack an overnight bag.

“Stop at that McDonalds,” said Kathy emphatically on the drive home. “I want a Big Mac.”

“Really? How many years has it been since we stopped at Mickey D’s?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t care. My daughter is going to be okay, and I want a Big Mac, fries, and a shake.”

And that is exactly what she got.

Three days later, Moira was packed and ready for me to take her to the airport for her trip back to her husband, Mike, and their home in New York. She hugged her mom tight and, in a full flood of tears, said, “Thanks for taking care of me, Mom. Thanks for saving my life.” I can’t write the emotion of it all.

Returning home from the airport, I was surprised by a visit from Shannon and her husband, Steve, over for their first visit with Asher. I saw Kathy sitting in her favorite chair with her grandson’s chin tucked neatly into her shoulder. Shannon sat on the arm of the chair, and I saw beside each other three generations. And I can’t write the wonder of it all.

Later that evening, Kathy and I were walking her little dog, Zeke. “I can’t believe how calm you were during the whole crisis,” I said. “How did you do that?”

“I’m a nurse, and I had the most important patient of all,” she said. “But don’t kid yourself. As I held Moira in my arms and couldn’t find a pulse, even with the stethoscope, I thought I was going to lose my little girl. I thought I was going to lose my little girl.”

The aftermath of our thrilling and harrowing Thanksgiving was akin to post traumatic shock syndrome. Kathy explained to me that she was going to be crying on and off for at least a week. Everyone in our family, including Moira’s husband, Mike, has considered all of the “what ifs” and realized how the situation turned out for the best. We’ve stumbled about reconciling the miracle of birth and the fragility of life, and how they will never fit nicely into a box with a bow on top.

Tonight our grandson is in the house and in our arms. And so we count our blessings—and keep the Benadryl ever so handy!

The Swingset Setup

December 1st, 2010 Gerry Comments off

I saw our youngest daughter Moira doing a series of cartwheels in the yard. Yes, she was the accomplice I would need to pull this off. Moira was fearless and coordinated, just the characteristics that were needed. I was up off the lawn chair now, a man of action, a man with a plan. “Moira, I need your help,” I said. I jogged into the work shed to retrieve the swing seats. “Mo, grab that seat and two chains and follow me.” Ah, Moira. She didn’t need an explanation. I picked up the other seat and chains, and Moira and I marched into the house and down to the basement.

I had recently convinced Kathy to let me buy a weightlifting machine, the kind with various stations connected to a pulley system that tied the weights together. It had looked like it was going to join a long line of unused exercise equipment when I developed a permanent kind of tendonitis in my shoulder, but my “aha!” moment had now found the perfect use for the device. “All righty, Moira, here’s what were going to do. I’m going to sit in this leg press station. I’m going to set the weight at a hundred fi fty pounds. I’ll leg press the weights up as high as I can. Your job is easy, but it will require some skill and timing.”

I showed Moira how to hold the S-hook in her little fingers and insert it onto the swing seat just so, and then how to position the combination below the weights I would be holding aloft with my leg press. “Now, Moira, when you’re ready, say ‘go,’ and then I’ll let the full weight come hammering down on the hook. We’ll batter that hook into submission and get this swing set show on the road. Are you with me, Mo?” “Sure, Dad,” said Moira, fully trusting her dear old dad that this was as normal a request as asking her to make her bed. “Now,” I said, “you’ll need to be careful not to get your fingers anywhere near the hook or weights. In fact, at the very last second, just before the weights smash into the hook, just let go. Can you do that, sweetie?” Without a moment’s hesitation, she said again, “Sure, Dad.” Gotta love that kid.

So we began Operation Battering Ram. The thought never crossed my mind that my beautiful daughter could smash her fingers in this cockamamie scheme. Nope, I was sure that the two of us could time this perfectly. I would push up the weights with all the might my skinny white legs could muster, hold it for a second, and let it go. And Moira would time it perfectly. The hook would bounce harmlessly away from the weights and be ready for another hit. My only miscalculation was how many blows from the weights it would take to close the hooks. After a couple of smashes Moira and I could see that we were making progress. The gap had shrunk ever so slightly, but it was apparent this job was not for the weak of heart. After fifteen blows we had full closure on one side of the pesky S-hook. Remembering that we needed to close four hooks on two ends, I did some quick mental math. Success was only one hundred leg presses away!

Moira and I kept at it. Of course, I had no idea how incredibly difficult it was to do one hundred leg presses of one hundred fifty pounds. No idea at all. Moira started singing show tunes, which distracted me from acknowledging that the pulsating veins in my head might have been a sign that my noggin was about to explode. I started to get a second wind when Mo was imitating Ethel Merman in a rousing rendition of “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” but I was fading fast as she wound up with “Old Man River.” By the end of the ordeal, Moira was rooting me on. “C’mon Dad, that’s ninety-nine. Only one more, and I think we’ll have it. You can do it, Dad. One more time!” I pushed the leg press outward, drenched from head to toe in sweat. My legs were quivering uncontrollably. I made a little progress, pushing the weights up halfway to 113 the top. Suddenly, Kathy appeared at the basement door. She looked at me, the weight machine, and Moira with the S-hook in hand, and while she was unable to decipher exactly what the hell we were doing, she instinctively knew it was wrong, all wrong. Kathy’s gaze burrowed into the spot right between my eyes. I knew I was toast.

As the words “Gerry, what in God’s name are you—” came out of her mouth, my legs gave out, and the weights came hurtling down one last time. Moira timed her release perfectly for the hundredth time. She picked up the now fully closed S-hook and the swing seat, and showed it to Kathy and me. “Ta-da!” she said. “That’s it, the last one. We’re good to go, Dad.” I’d rather not go into all the details involved in the aftermath of this episode. The polite way to describe Kathy’s reaction would be to say that there would never be sex in our marriage again if I pulled any stunt that resembled this one. On a happier note, our plan worked, and before you knew it, kids and neighbors from far and wide were using the swing set to touch the sky with their toes. I can still see Kathy with our one-year-old son Dan in her lap, gently swinging and singing “Summertime” to him.

Thanksgiving Football Gerry Tales Style

November 28th, 2010 Gerry 1 comment

Joe Pure SportsFor as long as I can remember, I’ve had to compete. I can’t help myself. It’s a lot like leadership. You have to do it, or there’s a fair chance you’re not going to enjoy life much. I’m guessing it’s in the DNA, but it doesn’t much matter, because no matter the reason, you’re stuck with who you are. For about a year, during my neo-hippie phase, I pretended that winning wasn’t really that important, that I could live without betting my entire ego, id, and psyche on a game of pinochle or pickup basketball. It took me two years to get rid of the eyelid twitch and patch of psoriasis from that little experiment in contradicting the nature of things. We are who we are.

My reconciliation with my competitive nature happened when I figured out that I’m not going to win everything, every time, but I damn well better give whatever I’m competing in my best shot, or I’m not going to be happy. The more important revelation I had is that if you mix together a dose of intensity, a dash of obsessiveness, and two parts real life, you’re darn near guaranteed that something funny is going to happen. What I finally learned is that not taking yourself seriously is a requirement for avoiding ulcers, early heart attacks, and colitis.  After we take our best shot at learning just who the heck we are, we get to watch the movie all over again as we pass this inherited casserole of idiosyncrasies on to our unsuspecting children.

Playing sports is probably the best way to avoid the anger management classes the courts will insist ultracompetitive people take after that inevitable road rage incident. It sure helped me. You play, and there are rules, and you follow them, or it will hurt you. I started playing sandlot sports by the time I was eight years old, and organized sports from age ten. We didn’t have travel teams, personal trainers, or specialized sports in the early 1960s. Heck, our parents came to some of the games, but they were way too busy working to see them all. And my teammates and I were a heckuva lot more interested if Marylou the redheaded cheerleader was there shaking those pompoms!

We lined up against the other team in a modified backyard wing-T formation for the First Annual Thanksgiving Day Backyard Football Game. My nephew Will hiked the ball to me, the thirty-eight-year-old dad. I spun and gave a gentle pitch to my five-year-old son Joe, who followed Will and his younger brother Liam into a sweep left, blocking my sisters, Sue and Maryanne, and our still-spry seventy-six-year-old dad. The play worked, and Joe sprang free. He was off to the races and ran quickly into the Frisbee-marked end zone. Except he didn’t stop there. He just kept running with the football, streaking around the garage at full speed and into the side door of the house. We all stood there a bit dumbfounded. I trotted after Joe and found him inside the door, clutching the football and sobbing. “Joe, what’s up?” I said. “That was a good run. Why the tears?” He wiped his eyes and nose with the sleeve of his sweatshirt. “It was my first touchdown, Dad,” he said. “I’m just so happy.” Nearly twenty years later, the recollection still brings tears to my eyes. I saw in Joe’s five-year-old eyes all that I love about athletics, all that is pure about sports. A boy, a ball, a touchdown.

A Real American Football Story…with a twist, of course!

October 13th, 2010 Gerry 4 comments

It’s the heart of the football season and I have story that I think even a football widow might enjoy. To set the stage: I played football for nine seasons in row from the time I was 9 years old through varsity football at good old St. Mary’s High School in Royal Oak, Michigan. I played for some bad, so-so and very good teams through it all, the best team being my senior year when we scored 215 points and gave up only 35. I still find it hard to convince people I was a 5′ 7″  135 lb. captain of that team with Danny Colombo and Larry Hermann who played college ball at Wayne State. I wasn’t that gifted, but I did have big mouth and I liked to hit people, unless it was Danny C. in one of those crazy one-on-one drills that have my ears still ringing 40 years later.

I played football with the same group of guys all those years, Lyle Moon, Brad Richards, Tony Brunet, Bob Zajdel, Dave Debastos, Bob Stachel, Chuck Villerot, Pat Rhodes, Steve Wright, Gerry Reed….and along the way we lost an entire talented team to moves or transfers to the public schools…Tim Roy, Mark Rose, Luke Moran, Chuck Schmidt, Bob Munecas, Rick Blatz, Gary Ryniak and Tom Lama. 

One of my very favorite seasons, when fun ruled the roost, was a 4-4 season when I was in 8th grade. Our coaches were Tom Klier and John Hermann, both recent graduates of St. Mary’s High School, but I still am not sure if they ever played football themselves.  They didn’t know much football, and we were just in beginning of our Rebellion Through Ingenuity early teenage phase which was centered on driving authority figures bonkers through a combination of Eddie Haskell and Mad Magazine oriented hi-jinks.  It was a good fit with Coaches Klier and Hermann. They were good eggs, we were pretty good athletes and they never made us feel like our lives depended on winning the next game.  This was the era when when big yellow salt pills were given to us to replensish the salt lost through extreme sweating, but water breaks were thought to give cramps…as a result,  we loaded up on a ton of salt which pretty much dried us up like smoked herring!

We entered our last game, a league cross-over with St. Michael’s of Livonia, with a respectable 4-3 record.  We traveled  crosstown on Ten Mile Road to St. Michaels to find that they did not have a scale for the customary weigh-in. Let me explain: The Catholic Youth Organization, the governing body of the Catholic League, had a rule that no one over 146 lbs. could play. Remember that this is in 1966 and 146 lbs. was huge. I weighed exactly 100 lbs. and our average player was maybe 120 lbs.  It  was a very enlightened rule and prevented the 87 lb. seventh grader from getting crushed.

It became very clear why there was no scale available. St. Michaels had gone out and brought in the descendants of the Purple Gang to play against us. They had ten guys that not only would have broken the scale, but they had 5 o’clock shadows, packs of Lucky Strikes stuck under their should pads and girlfriends who looked like strippers. 

Coach Hermann pointed out to the referees that there were obviously player over the weight limit, but when the zebras saw the blackjacks and brass knuckles come out, they shrugged and said if we didn’t play it would be forfeit.

So Coach Klier gathered us around the goalposts and gave us his best pre-game speech.

“Ok, boys, it’s the last game of the season and St. Michael’s sure appears to be bending the rules. But do we care? No we do not! Why? Because…(he broke out into song..)

We are the Irish, the mighty, mighty Irish

Everywhere we go, people want to know,

Who we are, So we tell them: Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

A Knapsack, A Sign and a Really Bad Tigers Hat

September 21st, 2010 Gerry 1 comment

“The beginning, always start at the beginning.”  I have a lot of ideas bouncing around inside my mind, just itching to get out into the world. The problem is that most of these thoughts should continue to permanently rattle around inside my head and never, ever see the light of day or a pale moon night. I’ve learned over the years to identify these thoughts and steer them to a cordoned off part of my mind that allows them to be sealed for safekeeping into a sort of Tupperware haven for eccentric inspiration. But every once in a while, a cockamamie idea sneaks out beyond my common sense perimeter and reaches the oxygen of real life allowing the thought to bloom wildly into an out-of-control actual event. That’s pretty much how at 57 years old I found myself standing on the side of the road with my thumb out, beckoning for a ride in 100 degree heat.

The train of thought seemed innocent enough. I was publishing a book that very easily could be lost in the sea of a half million books that are published every year. I could distinguish myself if I did something to draw attention to the book, or myself. A theme of my novel Getting There was hitchhiking in the 1970’s…hmmm maybe I could hitchhike a little and write about it. Better yet, since the novel focuses on the main character Luke Moore’s hitchhike on I-75 from Michigan to Florida, I could replicate that trip. Even better than that, I could hitchhike from Detroit to Miami, repeating my very first, real life long distance hitchhike in 1971, nearly forty years ago.

Fiction replicating real life replicating fiction!

That flash of insanity bloomed into my contemporary road story. It may be true you can’t travel the same road twice (or maybe it was a river, or you can’t go home again, but you catch my drift) but I did get to tiptoe into my past as I stood on the side of the highway and performed my off-key hip-hip version of road patter willing the cars to pull over and pick me up.

Yo, I’m an old guy, so stop your freaking ride,

Or I might pass out, pass gas or cap your freaking hide

I’m out here beggin, so don’t you make me mad

Or I’ll place a curse on ya that will make your cracker-ass sad

Yo, I’m an old guy, but that don’t make me no punk

Give me a freakin ride or I’ll rap your head th-thunk!

I didn’t get a ride, but a two roofers pulled over and asked if I was having a seizure..a group of young hipsters yelled “Go, Geez-diddy, go!

Once in the cars, I had to remind myself I was not a kid trying to impress someone…I was an old guy trying to impress someone! Some things just don’t change, I can’t stop selling.

The strange part of this journey was the time standing by myself led to the same wacky introspection that drove me to write Getting There in the first place. As I stood out there in the August liquid heat, my old life on the road, the novel and who I am today seemed to blend together into the deeply satisfying and yet absurd sensation. My mantra became: while I may never be able to make sense of the grand disorder of life, it doesn’t much matter, there is contentment in the nature of human discontent. You just need a sense of humor as the cipher for the ride.

And in spite of the potential for a deeply personal metaphysical examination (which also can be described as slap-happy drivel) this adventure confirmed the most basic and important part of living I have learned: There is a whole lot of funny stuff happening out there in the world!  The theme of the trip turned out to be: You can’t make this stuff up! Which isn’t going to stop me from trying.

My summary of the journey is that hitchhiking as an old guy provided a grand opportunity for boredom intertwined with the exhilaration of the road, peppered with re-connecting with old friends and meeting new road characters. All of this was under the familiar umbrella of laughter, my constant and treasured companion. And yes, the joke is still mostly on me.

Here’s how it went.

There’s a saying we use in my business: Hope is not a strategy.  What’s worse is a poor plan. Hitchhiking from Michigan to Florida in mid-August is a poor strategy and plan. Other than the sauna like conditions, I made some good decisions. Del Fishman, as he promised, showed up at 8:30 am and Kathy waved goodbye with smiling grimace as we sped off in Del’s red Mercedes convertible, willed to him by his dad. I had my trusty and musty Boy Scout canvas backpack with side and front pockets and a gold thumb sewed on by my sister Maryanne in 1972.  I only carried a copy of Getting There, an envelope with my itinerary, an apple, a payday, a bottle of water, a bag of peppermints, my sign, a small Dobbs kit with an arsenal of anti-inflammatories, sunscreen and a really ugly Detroit Tigers hat. In my pants pocket, I carried my brand new Droid X smart phone, which as my daughter Moira reminded me, was clearly smarter than me.

This time around, I was thoughtful enough to use any and all resources at my disposal. Moira flew in from her home in New York and co-piloted Kathy’s mini-van, which they christened The Comfort Station.  The plan was they would wait 3-4 hours and then drive behind me. Because I had interviews and bookstore signings planned in Cincinnati and Knoxville, I needed a back up in case I didn’t get picked up fast enough to make my appointments. This turned out to be a very good idea. So, even though this was a hitchhiking trip that might correctly be described as loony, a Comfort Station mini-van with a cooler and other goodies, a smart phone in my pocket, parka, a gold card and more than a few bucks in my wallet made this a far cry from hitchhiking with Jimmy Colombo to Yellowstone via Banff with $24.62 in my pocket.

But of course I digress, that’s what I do!

Del and I took off around 8:30 am, the top down in spite of threat of rain and headed out to I-75.  I can’t remember what we talked about, except that it wasn’t different than most conversations that this interesting Jew and salty ex-Catholic have been having for 40 years. It’s Del’s world and I do like spending time with him. We went over the Rouge River bridge, which is defining geographical point of interest for me and in Getting There. The worse it smells from the top of that bridge, the better the economy is doing. My sniffer on this trip tells me things are improving.

You can view nearly a century of industrial history from the bridge and it’s worth taking a drive over the bridge and through the neighborhoods, even to the wonderfully named Zug Island. I took my sons for this tour on a weekend day and saw colors in the fumes that don’t normally exist in nature. Other than this toe growing out of my forehead, I’m none the worse for wear. (Digression: a habit or disease?)

I was soon standing at Allen Road, waving goodbye to Del and watching my paparazzi brother David stalking me in the weeds of the right-of-way. Allen Park was always my go-to starting point for my hitchhiking trips, so it made sense to start with tradition, right? It took me a few minutes that the Allen Road on ramp had been re-routed into a service drive of sorts and it was a good mile walk to the actual entrance. I started to hike, sticking out my thumb to any car passing on the service drive. I saw the first of thousands of glances asking, “Whatcha doing out there kinda-old-guy?”

By the time I made it to the ramp, I could see this was not the ideal starting spot I remembered. And my first mistake was vividly clear. It was already 84 degrees and I was wearing blue jeans. Fifteen minutes into this trip and I was sweat soaked. So, I calmly took out my Droid and called my brother David.

“Uh, Dave, this isn’t working so well here, can you pick me up?”

“Didn’t you just get started, bro?”

David came and collected me and dropped me off at the next exit, which had a far longer and more visible ramp. This time I waved David off and strode forward with resolve, but alas, still soaking with renewed and fully open pores.

Now I was officially on the road!

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Installment Two: The First Ride: Monday morning, August 9th, 11:02 am.

September 21st, 2010 Gerry Comments off

p>I walked up the Eureka Road on ramp toward the main body of I-75, which is in Taylor, Michigan, a downriver suburb of Detroit that is also the home to Masco Corporation where I worked for fifteen years and came to know a lot great downriver folks. Downriver describes the suburban communities….well, down the Detroit River or south of Detroit proper.  Trenton is another downriver town nearby and was the childhood home to Carleen Butler and Terry Varady, who were fine looking and enterprising young women met by my pals Gerry Reed and Jerry McEntee (yes, two Gerry’s and a Jerry) in Indian River, Michigan. If you’ve read Getting There you’ll remember that Indian River/Topinabee is an interesting stop for Luke Moore, the main character. These four paved the way for a lot of stories that must have provided inspiration for my writing.

The on ramp was busy with traffic, so I shouldered my knapsack and walked backwards, right thumb extended, hopeful for a fast ride.  I kept this up until the on ramp merged with the main highway and I found the right spot where the merging cars could see me easily, but the cars on I-75 could also spot me and have time to slow down from the 70-90 miles an hour they were traveling as they screamed by.

I kept my backpack on my shoulder for that long distance hitchhiker look and did not put on my hat or sunglasses so people could see my innocent looking countenance. Who wouldn’t want to pick up this older gent in a polo shirt, jeans with a warm smile and smiling eyes?

After two hours of waiting, apparently thousands of people didn’t feel the need to pick me up. Oh, I saw the same old glance away from drivers not wanting to acknowledge I was standing out there. Some folks jaws dropped, but mostly people sped up and provided a bit of car-breeze to interrupt the oppressive muggery of moist Michigan morning.

I sang a bit, smiled a lot, put my bag on the ground in front of me, smiled some more, put on my Tigers hat, took it off…I tried a whole bunch of different combinations but still I stood, and stood and stood.

It was hear on Eureka Road that I realized a few simple mistakes I had made. First, why was I wearing jeans? The weather forecast had noted the heat and humidity, my lovely wife Kathy had asked why jeans. Was I making a hitchhiking fashion statement? Nah, it was just the recollection of how I used to dress for the road.  I’m very glad I didn’t go completely old school and wear whitey-tighties along with the old school jeans! The effect of that decision is way too much info for you and me alike!

Secondly, I had sign prepared for use that I was sure would work. This is pretty embarrassing, but I even had it laminated. On one side it said: I’m Writing A Book and on the other side it said: Pick Me Up. In hindsight, that’s about the lamest sign I ever made, and now it’s laminated for posterity and years of reminding what I dweeb I am. My drop off rider Del Fishman, looked at me like I was wearing a dress when I showed it to him, but he nicely only made a better suggestion.

“GB, make a sign that says: Headed to Tea Party Convention!! That will work for sure.” He was probably right, but I’m a stubborn dweeb.

Another problem arose after about an hour of hitchhiking. First my extended right elbow started to ache, then my shoulder. I don’t remember that happening when I was 19…when my elbow started throbbing I switched to a left handed, cross-body thumbing stance…I’m sure this looked odd to drivers. I was thinking I wished I had packed some Icy Hot or Tiger Balm, but I popped an anti-inflammatory cocktail of two aspirin and an Aleve and toughed it out….because there was no-one to whine at!

After an hour and a half, steam was rising off my sweat-drenched polo shirt, my face felt flushed, cars were rushing by a foot from my thumb and I started muttering foul epithets at my fellow man and woman who were ignoring my plight by the thousands.

“Don’t any of you #@%&*$% have any compassion for a ^&%(+@! guy who is standing on the side of the %$^&*#@ highway looking for stinking ride. Doesn’t any one care about me!”

This didn’t work either.

I was starting to wonder after hyping up this trip for weeks, if maybe this wasn’t just a really dumb idea, but even worse, nobody picked me up at all. Oy vay!

Then, the green Aspen swung from the high speed lane, over the next lane and onto the shoulder of the road about 200 yards ahead of me.  Just like old times I grabbed my bag and sprinted toward the car. I can tell you that this was absolutely the exact same exhilarating sensation that I felt near this same spot in 1971 when Gary Ryniak left me off for my first cross-country hitchhike.  I move slower these days, but I was streaking toward my first ride!

I reached the car and looked inside; the first requirement of any veteran hitchhiker is to check out the driver. If I looks like the Son of Sam, don’t get in! It didn’t. In fact, it was a woman with a pink hat.  I hopped in and offered a handshake.

“I’m Gerry. Thanks for stopping.”

“I’m Tina, no problem. Where you headed?”

“Cincinnati today, Florida before I’m done.”

“I can get you as far as the Ohio state line. That’s about 45 minutes.”

It was a great ride.  Tina was a great gal. I explained early on what I was doing and offered to send her a copy of the book. I also told her that I had done a lot of hitchhiking and been picked up by very few women who were alone in the car.  She told me she had grown up on a farm and grew up tough and could handle herself and that I looked “ok” as she passed me by.  This became a common theme on this trip and consistent with my decades ago experience.  You have to look presentable to get someone to take the plunge and stop.

Tina was not afraid, but she did have a few stories to tell, some quite sad. We commiserated the entire trip and her stories were personal and won’t be repeated here. But she wouldn’t mind me saying that she cried more than once during our time together and while her life had stormy periods, she was tough, a survivor.

She landed up taking me well into Ohio and when we she finally pulled over, she allowed me to give her some gas money and my bookmark with a number to call for the book, which she has since been sent.

As I exited the car and headed back down the entrance ramp looking for my next ride, I knew I could do this. I little bit of road luck is powerful motivator. I was off!

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Third Installment: Onward to Cincinnati!

September 21st, 2010 Gerry Comments off

I walked up the ramp and noticed the sign prohibiting a variety of animate and inanimate stuff from entering the freeway. I understood bicycles and farm implements, but what constituted a motor scooter? I didn’t really know what a metal tread was, but the one item on the list that caught my attention was animals on foot.  I guess it made sense, but I thought it was kind of funny. Surely, the highway department didn’t thing the animals afoot could read their sign, did they? The final prohibition was pedestrians, in fact it was at the top of the list.

Yes, hitchhiking is not legal on the highway proper, but my interpretation is that it’s ok to thumb on the ramp and stretching that just a tad further, it I positioned myself just before the on-ramp blended into the main road, I would have a legal leg to stand on, so to speak, if and when the police happened by.  My logic was much the same as speeding on the interstate. Later in this trip, a man who picked me up told me the police viewed speeding as, “nine is fine, ten you’re mine,” meaning you could go nine over without a hassle. I love grey areas!

I stuck out my thumb and in about fifteen minutes a pickup truck with two toothless roofers pulled over.  The passenger said, “we can give you a ride, pal, but you’re gonna land up in bad spot near I-280 where we gotta turn off. It’s your call, but I’d wait.”

I knew this was a tough spot, and agreed with the roofers. They gave me a double peace sign and screeched off. It didn’t take long before a dark blue Ford Fusion pulled over and once again I made the sprint to a ride.  This time it was a Delta Airlines pilot headed to Akron. Unfortunately, he was making the turn off at 280 and five short minutes later, I was on a nasty stretch of road with I-280 merging into I-75.  There was way too much traffic for anyone to stop and I knew it.  I only had one option: I hoofed it to the next exit. I’m not sure how long a walk it was, but I was now cursing my decision to wear blue jean instead of shorts.

In spite of the splendid ride from Tina, I wasn’t making much progress, I was drenched in road sweat and it looked like it was going to rain soon.  I made my way up the ramp and decided to stop about halfway, because traffic was still very heavy up top.  Forty minutes later, I was more than discouraged.  A heavy case of road doubt started creeping up my toes.  What if I can’t make it? What if I have to give up the very first day and have Kathy and Moira take me to Cinci? Damn!

Then the green work van stopped and the driver, a big guy, maybe in his forties, smiled and called out through the half-open passenger window, “I don’t pick up hitchhikers.”

I was slightly befuddled. I thought:  Ok, is this just a proclamation or are you rubbing it in?

But I said, “Well, there’s a first time for everything!”

He replied, “No, what I mean is I haven’t picked up hitchhiker for over 20 years, but I guess I’m picking up you. Hop in.

Which I did. If you’ve read Getting There, you know that an experienced hitchhiker always sizes up the driver before making the commitment to jump in the seat.  Once in the vehicle, it’s a lot tougher to get out of jam with a drunk, pervert of thief.  No alarm bells went off with Danny, but as we introduced ourselves with a handshake, I noticed the van had a curtain rod just behind the cabin with a black curtain hiding whatever cargo was making such a racket in the back of the van.  I had just a sliver of fear run up my spine, but Danny explained what he was carrying and why and kept repeating to himself how crazy it was that he had picked me up.

The best news is that he was headed to Cincinnati. I was going to make my book-signing on time and via hitchhiking. All it takes is one ride!

Danny was a gem. I won’t give all the details, because he was working and I’m not sure I should “out” any of my road benefactors who were on the clock. But he had retired as skilled tradesman and took occasional work to pay for his kids’ education.  He had a cooler of water bottles and a bag of granola bars that he shared willingly.  I explained about the book and the tour and he laughed out loud.

This is the great thing about the road. Here was a guy that hadn’t picked up a hitchhiker in two decades, who I just met, but we talked easily for two hours about our kids, college tuition, the state of the country, our love of sports and when the three plus hours were done and he let me off at my exit, we were road friends. I gave him a bookmark with my phone number and an offer to get a free book, and asked him to sign the book I was carrying, which he did.

It was 104 degrees in Cincinnati as I trudged to the Wendy’s for a Coke, but I was floating. I can do this!

As it turned out, Kathy, Moira and the Grand Caravan Comfort Station wasn’t far behind me. They picked me up and we made our way to the Marriott located on the University of Cincinnati’s campus. We didn’t have a lot of time before we headed off to my first non-local book signing, but man, the ac, a bed to take a power nap, a restaurant meal….it felt a bit like I was cheating on the whole road-trip experience, but I cared not….I was freaking tired. Exhilarated, but exhausted.

The book signing was set up by Sydney Schnurr.  Until very recently, I had not talked or contacted her in over 35 years. Syd was member of the Abbott-Mason Hall/dorm community that housed some grand people like Del Fishman, Scott Ouellette, Jackie Bell-Moore, Gail Greenfield, Sherrie Giddings and host of others in 1971. I promise I will not write that story, at least not in non-fiction.  Let’s leave it for now that those were very tumultuous times to go to college.  I spent a lot of time at MSU in those days, at one point being recognized enough to get into the cafeteria for free meals, passing as a student. Oh, I can only shake my head and hope my kids don’t read this.

At some point, I convinced Syd that is was a perfectly reasonable idea to take her spring break with me and hitchhike to the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee where we would camp. Everything seemed so possible and plausible to me back then.  Syd and I found ourselves standing on the same Allen Road entrance where I began this trip. After about an hour and no rides, Sydney started complaining that this was taking an awfully long time.

I gave her my best road-wizened look, lowered my voice two octaves and said, “Syd, my dear, when you’re on the road, you must take what the road gives, nothing more, nothing else.”

She wasn’t impressed. “What the hell does mean?”

Fortunately for me, a car screamed over from the passing lane to the side of the road two hundred yards ahead of us. “Let’s go!” I shouted. And we did.

The driver, a young guy, driving a powder blue Catalina with bucket seats smiled and asked us where were going. When we told him Tennessee, he told us he was going to Ft. Lauderdale. And he needed help driving. And if we went to Florida with him, he would drop us off at a campground and pick us up in four days and give us a ride back to East Lansing. So we did it.

One ride, Detroit to Ft. Lauderdale, 2700 total miles. There’s a whole lot more to this story, but as Syd told her three daughters: “It was the stupidest thing I ever did!”

What is particularly troublesome to me is that this trip didn’t even make the Top 20 Stupidest Things I ever did.

But we survived, Syd married has been married for over 35 years to Russ and they live a full life in Cincinnati, which I learned from my friend Jackie, mentioned above. Not being a shy, reserved sort of fellow and remembering Syd, even as teenager was kind person and fast to laugh, I contacted her asking her to be a Facebook friend.  She and Russ embraced my tour, and even better, Syd is a development pro for the Cincinnati Playhouse. She arranged for a book signing at the Red Tree Art Gallery and convinced her friends to come and meet the guy who orchestrated her Stupidest Moment.  I was strangely honored.

My sister Barbara Boylan and her son Connor Albers also came and Barbie brought along a host of friends, including her pals who march in parades as the Lawnchair Brigade (youtube video attached!). My brother Mike had lived in Cincinnati for over forty years before recently moving to Columbus, Ohio. Mike reminded me that he was the first published author in our family, co-writing the classic: Diving Out In Cincinnati, where the various restaurant dives were awarded mustard splats for their cuisine. Yes, it runs in the family!

We had a grand time, sold a number of books, met a lot of interesting and fun people and the whole shebang made my heart smile. Of course, there was a couple of interesting moments that must be reported. First, Syd’s husband Russ Schnurr, is an artist and he had several painting on display, one of which Kathy and I independently loved. Which Kathy bought. Bonus! Moira was having a lively conversation with Russ and on our way out said to Syd, “You know up until we walked in here, I always thought you were a man!”

Finally, as Kathy handily rang up orders on our portable charge machine, one of Mike’s friends asked me sign his book. As I signed, he said, “You know we have a few things in common.”

I half listened, thinking he had also hitchhiked. Nope.

“I also have a scrotum story!”  He said.

I should note that the upcoming Gerry Tales short story book does indeed have an innocent story featuring a scrotum. Nevertheless, it was the first time anyone had ever noted that this was a shared experience.  There was only one appropriate reply.

“Really?” I said enthusiastically.

“Yep, I had chiggers on my scrotum!”

I didn’t really hear the details of the story after that. Let it be said I was in Cincinnati at the Red Tree Gallery, hosted by Sydney and Russ Schnurr when I heard my first chiggers on the scrotum story.

It was going to tough beating this first day on the road!

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Knoxville or Bust!…or demise by perspiration! Day Two

September 21st, 2010 Gerry 1 comment

p>I started my day with breakfast in the Marriot after a swell night’s sleep in an air-conditioned room. This sure beat sleeping on somebody’s couch or worse yet, under a highway bridge or an attempt at night hitchhiking, when the road perves come out in droves. I was on the road early, but by the time I started my serious hitchhiking across the Ohio River and south of the town of Covington the temp was already a steaming 90 degrees. I was in my khaki cargo shorts and snappy polo shirt and if I wasn’t wearing this gawd-awful looking Tiger cap, I might have been considered mildly stylish. I was upbeat, rested and confident that I could make it to Knoxville by 5 pm for the book signing at the Carpe Librium Bookstore, set up by yet another talented and charming woman friend named Helen Hewitt.

My mood remained buoyant as I picked up a few rides, short and meaningless, but hey, they headed me down the road. Then I waited, waited and waited some more. Another dink of ride kept my head up, but my elbow and shoulder started aching, followed by lower back….and listen to me, I sound just like I felt, some old guy whining about his health. I sang a few road songs…did I mention I’m lyric dyslexic?  Yep, I only know four songs well enough to get mostly through them: Molly Malone, What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor, Try To Remember (from the Fantastik’s) and Sunshine. All but Drunken Sailor would coincide with my tuck-the-kids-in song ritual when the children were little. Other than that, I can usually get a few lines sung of numerous before I go straight to the la-la chorus.

Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.
It’s not warm when she’s away.
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
and she’s always gone too long
anytime she goes away.

La, la, la, la…, la, laaaaa…..

You get the picture. I’m hopeless. So I sang, waited and sweated.

You’re in separate time-zone when you’re on the road and random thoughts ranging from panic (these cars are screaming past me at 90 miles an hour two feet from my thumb…I’m one fumbled text message away from getting clipped, flipped and zipped!) to delusional (I could be picked up by Elmore Leonard on his way to Nashville to listen to some music and we could travel to together and introduce me to his agent and…)

I woke up from my road-daydreaming when I heard the horn honking and looked over my shoulder and saw the grey work van was ready and waiting for me on the shoulder. I double-timed it up to the passenger door and quickly assessed the driver, with cig hanging from his lip and jumped in.  Sonny was his name and he was headed to Knoxville! Glory Hallelujah!

The ride with Sonny was a gas. He had stories to tell, I had stories to tell, we told them and listened and laughed.

Sonny announced early in the trip: “You’re going to be calling me chain-smoking Sonny by the end of this trip.” Then he reached his right arm up violently to the roof of the van’s cab, snatched a Bic lighter that was hanging there….attached to the roof by a elastic band. In one fell swoop, the lighter was in front of new cigarette, flame on, cig lit and then released with the elastic band snapping the lighter back to the roof.  Sonny smiled and continued his current story, not missing a beat.

His stories ranged from ugly wives to smuggling contraband (not drugs) to pay for children’s educations to a girlfriend with a “beard” that was, well….barking and included  female waxing. Hey, it’s not my story!  Sonny reminded me of my friend Tom Bell, the best joke teller I know.

Oh, one more thing. The van’s air conditioner was broken and it was smoking hot. Early on in the over three hour ride, Sonny warned me that if he received a cell phone call, we’d have to roll up the windows so he could hear the caller.

“It get’s pretty warm when that happens,” he announced.

Yes, it did. He had four phone calls and each time we rolled the windows up and our foreheads busted out in sweat bullets followed by the rest of our pores. But Sonny started laughing about it, I started laughing and each time we it happened, we laughed louder. I know this sounds entirely silly, but this is what the road is all about.  Laughing loud, with a stranger in a stifling hot van headed to Knoxville for a book signing? Nope, I couldn’t make this stuff up!  More tomorrow on meeting new friends and the folks that gave me inspiration for characters and settings in the novel.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

If Only Jeff Potratz had picked me up! A brief non-sequitur

September 21st, 2010 Gerry Comments off

I saw my Masco friend Gail Potratz today…we worked together over 25 years ago. She was righteously ticked off at me for not giving her an update on, well, everything, but particularly the book and hhiking. Then she said, “This is crazy, a few weeks ago, Jeff (her husband) said he was driving down I-75 and saw a hhiker that looked just like Gerry Boylan, but said that was crazy, he wasn’t that nuts, right?” This allowed me the opportunity to push back a bit.

“Jeff saw me on the highway and didn’t pick me up? That could have changed the whole trip if he had stopped. Heck, I might have not been picked up by the Flint serial killer!”

Which brings me back to Knoxville. Ah, Knoxville. When I was 19 years old Gerry Reed and I were hitchhiking back from Florida and we stopped to see Helen Hewitt, our St. Mary’s friend who moved there her sophomore year in high school. Helen wasn’t around that time, but her roommate was and as was the custom in 1971, that was good enough for the roommate to offer us a place to stay. That night we saw our first streaker. Actually, we saw hundreds of streakers running through the middle of the University of Tennessee’s campus. It was truly a sight to behold. This was the first of many stops in Knoxville in both my younger years and later on when my daughter Moira was attending Vanderbilt, I’d stop by and visit with Helen. Yet another Knoxville player was Mrs. Hewitt,  who used to pick me up and take me to her house, if Helen wasn’t around much. Ken Verla and I were saved by Mrs. Hewitt one night when we were hitchhiking to New Orleans for Mardi Gras to meet up with the PhysTester Car Mike Moore was testing for GM.

This last paragraph reminds me why I love to write stories. There are three or four stories right there that as I look back are just bursting to be told. Me and Verla at Mardi Gras…oh my! Me and Reed living in Miami Beach with an Egyptian who spoke no English and a singing drunk who had a crush on all three of us. Mrs. Hewitt plying us with Scotch to get us to tell us what was really going with us young people. Oh my, oh my!

I’ll have to get back to the story tomorrow, but I’m off to play basketball….which is a whole ‘nother story! More tomorrow!

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: