harry hits the road


Ending A: Extra! Extra! Needs All About you!

On Saturday, December 19, 2009, the biggest blizzard in over a decade socks Sag Harbor, New York right in the kisser. We get almost two feet of snow in less than twenty-four hours. Had Muse and I driven back from San Francisco in the Smart Car, we would have run straight into the teeth of the storm. Instead, she’s safe home at her house on Glover Street with her son Otto, and I’m snug inside Halsey House with Harrison.

Over the next few days, between snowball and pillow fights with my son and intermittent predawn cranial attacks by the microscopic little bastards with jack hammers, I do a statistical tally in the tradition of Henry David Thoreau’s self-mocking account of his expenses during his stay at Walden Pond. I’m still jobless and the figures are rather depressing.

I drove 13,682 miles in the Smart Car. spending $861.03 on gas, oil, and servicing, plus $1,150 on the shipping, plus $6,835 on down payment and car notes.

I spent $7,399.27 on lodging, and $10,456.63 on food and beverage, a large portion of which went to my amigo Jose Cuervo.

I also doled out $5,311.58 for equipment and computer services; $3,190.01 for clothes and gear; $742.56 for day passes at gyms and fitness centers; $2,650.40 for plane fares and rental cars on my return trip and the trip back for Harrison’s birthday; and $1,922.48 for “miscellaneous,” whatever the hell that was.

Total retail price of the road trip: $34,518.16.

As I do the math, images flash through my mind on fast rewind. The fateful audience with Bush #41. Lobstering. Newport. Stunt man school. The Amish farm, Parachuting. Mule skinning. John Sevier. Roller derby. Broken wrist. Tortoises. Rednecks, New Orleans. Mickey Leland. Ruby Jane. Patsie. Roughnecking. Taos Pueblo. Petrified Forest. Camp Skunk. Inazone. Nell, Don, Jerry and Liz. Buckhorn Valley Ranch. Bye-bye turtles. The Fillmore. The Golden Gate Bridge.

I reckon it’s not often in life that you get a chance to reach Paradise, to achieve the goal you set out for yourself, to find your pot of gold at the end of the American rainbow. It’s probably even less often that you realize that wasn’t what you were really looking for all along. After more than five months, more than 13,000 miles, and more than $34,000, I am less certain about the future than ever. I have no GPS. My one and only guidance system remains GWS -- guess we’ll see.

I do realize, reluctantly, that I’m not a hippie kid anymore. That said, I have no intention of acting my age just because people the same age say I should. To paraphrase Bush #41, I may be an old coot, but that doesn’t mean I have to sit in the corner drooling. I can drool right in the middle of the living room, the front porch, in the backyard, and try to do interesting things, fun things, and not bump my ass when I hop like a frog.

In the meantime, I have reinvented myself as a one man traveling broadband in the relative eye blink of a single cross country trip. Hey, I can friend on Facebook, tweet on Twitter, shoot videos with a Flip camera, edit my videos, and perform all sorts of cool post-production tricks in iMovie, including grabbing still photos off the videos.

What’s more, I’ve now got all the materials to create and publish a first of its kind e-book. Mine will be the first e-book of serious (okay, mainly serious) original long form nonfiction journalism. It will be the first e-book to feature original videos, original photos, and original text created entirely by the author. If I”m lucky, it will also be the first e-book of nonfiction journalism to offer video ads and click through display ads to sponsors. I’m thinking, hoping, praying I’ve raised the bar for future nonfiction e-books.

But wouldn’t you know? I’m already hearing less than encouraging feedback from my contacts and acquaintances (can’t really call them friends) in traditional book publishing world. They’re saying the road trip genre is dead. They’re warning that nobody wants to hear about another guy having a midlife crisis, even though a vast numbers of my 76 million fellow baby boomers seem to be going through one. They’re predicting that my work won’t have the mass appeal necessary to be a commercial success no matter how artfully I combine videos, still photos, and printed words.

Once again, I can only fall back on GWS -- guess we’ll see. I do know that I’ll get information on the market’s reaction PDQ, as in pretty damn quick. Why? Because my e-book will also be the first long form nonfiction journalism to offer a feedback page that enables the audience to register their reactions in real time.


On the night of the big snow, I take Harrison to a Christmas carol sing-along at the American Hotel. As if that’s not embarrassing enough, I dress up in the tricornered hat and Continental army coat I ordered after my visit to John Sevier’s homestead in Tennessee. When we get back to Vail House, I announce that our regular one sentence rule for father-son sleep overs is back in effect.

“We both get to do whatever we want,” I say, adding in a faux tone of parental outrage, “Now get upstairs and have fun, damn it!”

“Yes, sir,” Harrison replies, saluting me.

Turns out we both want to do the same thing, which is watch “Saturday Night Live” on TV.

Next morning, I awake to the sound of a tsunami in the bathroom. I find Harrison standing on the rim of the bathtub, clinging to the shower curtain rod, naked as he was newborn, with flood waters rising from the toilet. The fault lies not with him: it’s Halsey House’s antique plumbing.

Slip sliding to the rescue, I realize Harrison hasn’t yet learned to use a plunger. Or change a roll of toilet paper. Or wash a dish, do the laundry, pump gas, drive a car, balance a bank account. In another year or so, he’s going to drive right into the blizzards of puberty. He’s likely to be bored by me, disappointed in me. He may start to resent me even before I refuse to let him borrow my car to go to Las Vegas with his buddies and some nice girls they just met.

But Harrison’s still going to need my male guidance at least as much as he’s going to need a manual typewriter. Many of the tasks and challenges before Harrison are mundane, banal, boring. Finding someone else’s car to borrow for the drive to Vegas for example. But they’re also inevitable, unavoidable in life. Like the flat tires and gambling losses he’s going to suffer in Vegas.

I may still be an extra man at the economic table, but I’m not extraneous or expendable in helping my boy through a pause before becoming a man that may save him from man-o-pause. I can help him avoid the mistakes I made -- like not stopping in Vegas on my road trip -- so he can make brand new mistakes that are all his own.

“Thanks, Dad,” he says after I free him from the bathroom. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” I reply, hugging him.

On Christmas Eve, I put Harrison on a bus back to New York City. I want to leave him with some kind of thought for the season. Since his mother and I have seldom made him attend church, St. Augustine won’t resonate, and frankly, I’m Augied out at this point. So I ask Harrison what he thinks about a quote from The Rebel by Albert Camus which declares, “The important thing, therefore, is not, as yet, to go to the root of things, but, the world being what it is, to know how to live in it.”

Boy looks at me like I’m crazier than ever, and says, “If you don’t find out much about what you’re living in, it can be dangerous, Dad.”

We hug again, and then it’s good-bye until after New Year.


Muse meets me for another round of caroling at the American Hotel. ware that I’m upset about having to separate from my son, she insists on buying dinner and several rounds of adult beverages, including a couple of Jose’s and my favorite after dinner Cognac. She makes my night with four words.

“You’re a good father,” she says.

“I know Otto is probably too cool for school, but...”

“Ja, he is. Since the snow stops, he is already out partying with his girlfriend and their buddies.”    

“Maybe someday soon we get Harrison and Otto together.”

“That would make us official, no?”

“Maybe. Already we are officially certifiable.”

We trudge back to Halsey House hand in hand, drunk as skunks, past snow the plows have piled thirty feet high. Muse slips on a patch of ice. I catch her with both arms, and kiss her on both cheeks.

“Real people can’t be like Romeo and Juliet,” I say. “We don’t have to kill ourselves to prove our love for each other.”

“We go already through this in San Francisco. Romeo and Juliet didn’t have children.”

“Nein, they were children.”

“Sometimes so are we, but at least we don’t become old fogies. That is good?”

“Ja,” I reply, adding. “That means yes.”

“Ja, I know what means ja.”

“According to the pot farmers, Ja also means God. As in, God, I love you,”

“I love you, too,” Muse says at last.

Now I’m in a tizzy, and it’s sure to be continued even if I have to hit the road again, twisted and turned, time and again driven off course, on a quest to survive my apparently incurable case of man-o-pause with Muse by my side living happily ever after...


Photograph Captions and Credits: 1. HH3 and Harrison at the American Hotel (Teddy Conklin) 2. American Hotel bartender Paul Novack (HH3) 3. Pianist Brenda Landrum at the American Hotel (HH3) 4. Harrison Hurt (HH3)