Three friends showed up to help me load my rental truck, along with a fourth, from Philadelphia, who also followed me the 400-plus miles back to North Carolina in the rental truck.
There are two types of friends in the world — those who say they’ll help you move, and those who help you move. And while they’re all worth keeping, one must take special care never to take the latter type for granted. A friend who helps you move is right up there with the person who pulls you from the path of an oncoming bus: You are forever in their debt — at least until you help them move, or save their life.
Will Weaver of Philadelphia flew down from Baltimore, did most of the heavy lifting and masterminded the loading of my Budget rental truck in such away that the contents would not be crushed — at least I think so, we haven’t unpacked yet.
Three Baltimore friends showed up to help load, including the couple who, as they have before, let us stay at their home, which they occupy with a Boston terrier named Darcy. They even saved us a space to park the truck on the street in front of their house.
All the shows of friendship gave me second thoughts about departing the city — even if it’s only temporary. And as for Ace, he was thrilled to visit, reconnect and suck in the smells of Riverside Park. Despite his herniated disc, he frolicked as he hasn’t frolicked for at least two weeks.
But just as we when we left Baltimore 11 months ago to start our journey, the city made leaving a little easier, slapping a parking ticket on my rental truck sometime during the night. Though it was otherwise parked legally, apparently “commercial” vehicles aren’t allowed on the street. Cost of the ticket: $250, almost as much as the truck rental.
The ticket was one of only two moving mishaps (so far). The other was when I stopped at my ex-girlfriend’s home (the real one, not the cardboard one). I was picking up a few items I left in her care, and Will and I grabbed lunch to go at the eatery across the street. We sat at her picnic table to eat, and, just after I took my last bite — as if it somehow that last swallow of cheeseburger put me over the limit — the legs on the bench cracked, sending me falling over backwards.
I was fine. The bench is not.
As for the cardboard girlfriend, I passed her on to another male friend, leaving her on his doorstep.
Yesterday, we pulled out of Baltimore in the rain, and arrived seven hours later in Winston-Salem, also in the rain.
That allowed us to put off unpacking until today. Instead, Will and I went out to eat at a Vietnamese restaurant, where we got soup in bowls bigger than my bathroom sink. I, the ever-frugal one, got what remained of mine packaged to go.
As we walked back to my car (which thankfully had no parking ticket this time), a large man approached me and said he wanted to shake my hand.
His story, as they always do, followed: Just got out of jail three hours ago, trying to raise $14 for a cab ride to his aunt’s house, already had $10, needed $4 more.
I informed him that, with his $10, he was in possession of more cash than me, but — feeling his pain and smelling his breath, and realizing I should probably stay on his good side – I offered up what I had.
“How about some soup?”
Being new to town, and not having my protector, Ace, with me, I figured it was better to make a new acquaintance than to have soup tomorrow.
For me, the choice was simple: Friend or Pho.
Posted by John Woestendiek April 13th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, animals, begging, budget, dogs, friends, frugality, move, moving, north carolina, panhandlers, pets, pho, rental, road trip, soup, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, trip, truck, vietnamese, winston-salem
The past week has been a hectic one, mostly spent avoiding snowstorms, seeking out landlines for radio interviews and, just when we thought our traveling was done, traveling some more.
No sooner were Ace and I back in Baltimore than we left again — this time back to North Carolina for my mother’s 85th birthday celebration.
Now we’re back again, just in time for a snowstorm – that’s the ohmidogmobile at the bottom right of the picture — seeking a place to squat for a month or so while we ponder our long terms plans.
Step one is to visit my storage unit to try and find some winter clothes.
Living out of one’s car — convenient as it is in some ways — is a pain in the butt in others. I can easily locate most things I need in the course of a day, but when it comes to things that I only sometimes need, and are thus buried deeper, it’s nearly hopeless, requiring a good bit of unpacking and repacking.
It will be nice to have that chaos straightened out. And Ace, though he has said he enjoys the constant traveling — 22,000 miles of which we’ve done since May – is, in my interpretation, ready for a return to something resembling a routine.
Our goal is to find someplace dirt cheap to stay for a month or two before we wear out our welcomes. I have not been focusing on it as I should, and I think, deep down, it might be because I don’t want to return to the routine.
I want a bed, and a refrigerator, and a TV and heat. I want a big table on which to spread things out. But part of me hesitates to get back into that situation of paying all those bills every month — rent, utilities, Internet, cable, telephone, and all those other things I’ve come to see as sucking away not just my money, but my freedom.
Then, too, promoting my new book “Dog, Inc.: The Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend” — is also taking up a lot of time, most of it spent searching for landlines to borrow for radio interviews.
Speaking of the book, which has been out about 10 days now, it has been having some pretty nice things happen to it.
It got nice mentions in Mother Jones and Real Simple magazines, and was chosen by Parade magazine as a “Parade Pick.” This week, it was named one of January’s ”Mover and Shakers” by Goodreads.com, where it has also gotten some good reviews from the public.
Posted by John Woestendiek January 12th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, baltimore, book, books, cloning, dog inc., good reads, goodreads, home, house, interviews, maryland, north carolina, parade, road trip, snow, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, trip, weather
While I feel pretty attuned to my dog – though nowhere near as attuned as he is to me – there have been times, lots of times, during our seven months of traveling that I’ve wondered what he really thinks of it all.
We’ve been on the go since the end of May, not staying anywhere, until our most recent stop, for longer than two or three days. More often, it has been a new Motel 6, or similarly priced lodgings, every night, followed by four, five or six hours of drive time, then landing in a new place, with new smells, which must be sniffed out and, of course, peed on.
By the time we’re done, in another week, we will have traveled over 22,000 miles, he will have peed on 31 states (and Canada) and we will have crossed the country twice in our red Jeep Liberty.
And he will have, hundreds of times, looked up at me with those big brown eyes, which are so highly expressive.
If only I knew what they were expressing.
The back of my Jeep, which once meant he was heading on an outing, has become — other than me, and dinner — one of the few constants in his life of late. It, more than any place, is home, and he still jumps in it excitedly.
During our four weeks of sitting still in Arizona, he still waits to jump in the car. Is it conditioning, or is he truly eager to go; and, if the latter, is it because he has come to love the road, or that he wants to finally get the hell home?
Is he enjoying the adventure, or, irony of ironies, does he find the Liberty confining?
While Ace seems to have adapted wonderfully to the new routine – or lack of one – and shows no visible signs of being unhappy, I still wonder if not being rooted, not having one place to call home, is bothering him.
Does he find being a vagabond liberating, as I – most of the time – do, or is he longing for a place of his own, an end to the travels, a return to the daily routine? Dogs do seem to love their routines.
His tail has remained curled most of the time, and that has always been the most obvious barometer of his mood.
But there are times I look at him, when he’s lying with his head on his paws that I wonder: Is he sad, is he depressed, or is he just lying with his head on his paws?
It’s important for me to know, because this trip, in more ways than one, is about him.
In addition to having nothing better to do, thinking it might be fun to travel across America, documenting our daily exploits and seeking out dog stories — to put together a “Travels With Charley” for modern times, only a more dog-centric version — this journey was also sparked by a feeling I was left with after writing my first book, “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”
After researching the often incredible lengths bereaved pet owners go to when their dogs get sick and die, including that most high tech length of all – cloning – it struck me, in what is likely neither a deep nor original thought, that we humans could, and should, do a better job of savoring our loved ones (of all species) while they’re still around. Maybe then, rather than prolonged and paralyzing grief, we could, knowing we had fully celebrated their lives, better accept their deaths.
I don’t really know if that would lessen the pain of a loved one’s departure. It could, for all I know, only make it worse. But that’s not the point. The point is we humans, as the song goes, “don’t know what we’ve got ‘til it’s gone,” that we take things for granted – not just unpaved paradises, but our parents, our planet, our friends and our dogs.
And while I’m as guilty as anybody on the parents and friends part, I resolved – after writing about how people go so far as to “stuff,” mummify and freeze dry their deceased pets, or pay $100,000 to produce a genetic replica through cloning – that Ace would be appreciated. In life.
That doesn’t mean spoiled and pampered — that’s entirely different. But I made a promise to myself to fully enjoy my dog — to, if it’s not too precious a word, treasure him (not that I didn’t already) — in our relatively brief time together. (Ace, who came into my life when he was 6 months old, is going on 7 years now, and being a big dog, will be lucky to reach the teens.)
I saw the trip, rightly or wrongly, as a way to do that – to take the time we shared beyond the routine of coming home from work, walking to the park, eating dinner and snuggling in front of the TV — though, again, for all I know, perhaps that was the life that Ace really preferred.
If, as I suspect, our dogs reflect our moods, then doing what makes me happiest, I reasoned, would make him happiest – especially given the fact that we’d be doing it together — and probably nothing makes me happier, other than Ace laying his head on my belly, than traveling, writing, seeing new things, and meeting new people.
So, even though finances didn’t really permit it, with an assist from my 401K and unemployment benefits, we set off on this journey, not being sure where it would lead, how long it might last, or what, other than some stories to share, it might result in.
At first, I planned for three months on the road. When that was done, we kept going, heading to the former home of John Steinbeck on Long Island and, on the same day he left 50 years earlier, starting again, roughly following the same route the author took in “Travels With Charley.” That took another three months.
Now, we’re preparing to head back east – we’re still not sure where home is, but Baltimore will do for now. We’ll be sticking to interstate highways to make better time. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on this trip, it’s that schedules and itineraries – and particularly interstate highways — make traveling, at once, more stressful and boring. They snuff out any opportunities for spontaneity. You miss out on the character, and characters, America has to offer.
But as we “make good time,” I’ll be a little less stressed about whether Ace is enjoying the ride.
Despite all the time I pondered the questions; despite my long looks into his soulful brown eyes attempting to gauge his emotions; despite some one-sided conversations where I’ve attempted to explain things, with his only response being giving me his paw; despite priding myself on having some dog empathy, I’d been unable to figure out the answer to that question: Is Ace having fun?
So, last week, before I left Cave Creek, I sought a second opinion.
It was Ace’s second visit with an animal communicator – the first having come when I was researching a series I wrote for the Baltimore Sun about trying to uncover the past of my mysterious new dog, adopted from what used to be the city pound.
What was he, and where did he come from? For the answers then I turned to DNA testing (which showed him to be a Rottweiler-Chow-Akita), to legwork (walking the streets of the neighborhood where records showed he’d been picked up as a stray) and, finally, to an animal communicator. Perhaps the answers, I figured, could come straight from the source: Ace.
I’m neither a big believer, or for that matter a big disbeliever, in those that claim animals talk to them, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to listen – to them, or, if possible, to Ace.
Not long after parking myself in Cave Creek, Arizona, I visited For Goodness Sake, a thrift store that donates part of its profits to animal rescue organizations. At a weekend fund-raising event there, I entered a raffle for a session with a local animal communicator, and I won.
Last week, Ace and I sat down with Debbie Johnstone of Listen 2 Animals.
And according to her, Ace had lots to say.
(Tomorrow: Ace talks)
Posted by John Woestendiek December 28th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, animal communicators, animals, arizona, behavior, cave creek, communicate, country, debbie johnstone, dog, dogs, dogs on the road, empathy, happiness, john steinbeck, liberating, liberty, listen 2 animals, miles, moods, pets, reading, road trip, routine, steinbeck, travel, traveling, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, travels with charley, trip, vagabond
It’s time to pull out of Petite Acres, say goodbye to Arizona and make our way back east.
We’ll hit the road tomorrow morning – bound, eventually, for Baltimore — having accomplished most of what we stopped here for.
First on the list was sleep, and I got lots; followed by catching up on work, at which I was somewhat less successful; and getting organized, a goal I didn’t fully reach, either.
We had our recreational vehicle experience, staying four weeks in a camper in the desert – though, come to think of it, I didn’t recreate in it. Nor, it being a detached trailer, anchored in a trailer park, did I use it as a vehicle.
Nevertheless, we got to spend Christmas with family. (And, yes, they all liked their regifts.). We got the car washed, our clothes clean, and did some hiking in the desert.
I peered out the window of my camper before I went to sleep and saw three of them, about 30 yards away, walking through the shadows of the trailer park, appearing almost comical with their giant heads and tiny legs. They walked in a row, one behind the other, from trailer to trailer, looking like a family shopping at the mall.
It was one final offering from the desert, in whose wild side I find serenity. I’ll miss it.
I’ll miss my little trailer, which – with its pop-outs popped out — actually is quite big; I’ll miss Petite Acres, my modest trailer park, which actually is owned by a millionaire, who lives in a trailer, too; I’ll miss Cave Creek, which transforms from a quiet little town during the week to a hopping destination on weekends.
I’ll miss my neighborhood bars – the Hideaway Grill (the biker one) The Buffalo Chip (the cowboy one, with live bull riding two nights a week) and Harold’s (the Pittsburgh Steelers one).
Crowds gather at Harold’s when the Steelers are on TV, and, with their cheerleading led by a guy on a microphone, I can hear them from my trailer: “Here we go, Steelers, here we go.” Once you hear that phrase chanted 300 times, it tends to keep replaying in your head, long after the game is over.
I stopped in for a beer there last Thursday, not knowing a game was about to start. When I took a seat at the bar, I learned that they were all reserved. People buy season tickets to sit at the bar and watch the game. Each stool had a placard with a name on it, and I had inadvertently taken “Wild Bill’s” spot. I thought about moving over one stool, to one marked “Brenda,” but decided if Wild Bill showed up – hopefully without guns a blazin’ – I would just explain I was keeping it warm for him. Wild Bill never showed up, but then I only stayed for the first quarter, as the game, against the Carolina Panthers, wasn’t much of a showdown.
Ace seemed to enjoy the break from traveling – tune in later this week to learn more about his feelings on that – especially his visits, several of them unauthorized, with my closest neighbor, Ramiro, who dispensed a few treats, including slow-cooked pork and a tamale. Ace, not understanding Mexican culture, ate the corn husk, but returned it later, in my yard.
Knowing a soft touch when he sees one, Ace would station himself in my yard, waiting for Ramiro to come outside. When I wasn’t watching, he’d sneak over to Ramiro’s, taking a seat at his feet and leaning on him. Ramiro, who thought Ace looked like a lion, called him “leon,” which is Spanish for lion, or would be if I knew how to make an accent thingy over the “o.”
Before leaving, we’d like to thank, first off, our landlord, Tami, for providing our housing, teaching us the ropes of trailer life and showing us around town.
Thanks as well to Desert Foothills Library – the first library on earth to get a copy of my new book, “DOG, INC.” They – in addition to being where I checked out free movies to watch in my cable-less trailer — allowed me to use an office and landline for a radio interview.
Thanks also to the Sonoran News for letting me do another radio interview there.
The book — about the cloning of dog, and the marketing of that service to bereaved pet owners — officially comes out Dec. 30, and promoting it is the main reason for my return to the east coast. Assuming we make it across the country in one piece, I’ll be in Washington for the Diane Rehm Show Jan. 5, and in New York for the Leonard Lopate Show Jan. 7.
In between, with help from The Book Escape in Federal Hill, we’ll be squeezing in a couple of book signings in my old south Baltimore neighborhood – Jan. 5 at the Idle Hour, 201 E. Fort Ave., and Jan. 6 at Captain Larry’s, 601 E. Fort Ave.
(Javelina photo from BisbeeBirders)
Posted by John Woestendiek December 27th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, arizona, baltimore, book, captain larry's, cave creek, cloning, desert, desert foothills library, diane rehm, dog inc., dog's country, dogscountry, home, idle hour, javelina, leonard lopate, petite acres, promotion, return, road trip, signings, sonoran news, the book escape, tourism, trailer, trailer park, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, trip
From the waterfront Long Island house where John Steinbeck wrote “Travels With Charley,” and in whose yard Charley is buried, Ace and I shoved off for the second phase of our six month trip today– 50 years to the day after Steinbeck began his cross country journey with his soon to become famous poodle.
We pulled out of Steinbeck’s driveway in Sag Harbor, down his gravel road and caught the South Ferry to Shelter Island, the North Ferry to Greenport, then a bigger ferry from Orient Point, across the sound to New London, Connecticut.
For the next three months — the same amount of time he traveled — we will follow, more or less, in Steinbeck’s half-century-old tire tracks, going some of the places he went, seeing some of the sights he saw and taking note of the differences between that America and this one, in terms of its people, its landscape and its dogs.
Some of what we expect to be the highlights ahead: traveling to the remote, northernmost point of Maine; visiting Niagara Falls, crossing Montana, a state that enthralled the famous author, and this less famous one as well.
But we’ll be departing from his route frequently — because our trip, as it has been for the past four months, is more an homage to dogs than one to Steinbeck, even though he does happen to be one of my favorite authors. Our trip will be our trip, and while he inspired it, and some of our future stops, Steinbeck would have been the first to tell you no two trips can be alike. They have lives of their own, and are only partly under our control.
So instead of following the route from Connecticut that he took to visit his son in college in Massachussetts, we’ll veer east and check out Provincetown, named the dog-friendliest town in America this year by Dog Fancy magazine. During our time in New Hampshire, we’ll visit the new home of the Rolling Dog Ranch animal sanctuary and see how their relocation from Montana is going.
Like Steinbeck, we’ll continue to stop and talk to strangers — something I, like him, have found is far easier to do with a dog at your side.
Ace and I arrived in New York yesterday, avoiding the Big Apple, but experiencing plenty of traffic all the same as we cut through Staten Island, Brooklyn and stopped in North Merrick to meet the man who’s providing our directions.
Terry Ballard, a Steinbeck fan and systems librarian at New York Law School brought Steinbeck’s trip to life on the Internet by putting together a Google map of it all. That labor of love was primarily a practice run for his map of all of the significant places in Mark Twain’s life.
Terry took me to an Irish pub while his wife, Donna, and dog, Yuji, a Lhasa Apso, stayed home and babysat Ace, forcing me to take back those semi-in-jest things I said yesterday about New Yorkers. (You can find a photo Terry took of us on his Flickr page.)
Even with the Ballard’s graciousness though, Long Island struck me as not very dog friendly, or wallet-friendly.
Finding no motels for much under $100, Ace and I just kept driving east, hoping to stumble across a small and dumpy place that might take us in. I stopped at two and was told no pets were allowed. At a third, I walked into the empty lobby and saw a sign saying “No Pets,” turned around and walked back to my car. As I pulled out a woman came running up. “Why you leave?” she asked. “I have a dog,” I answered. “Oh,” she said, “we no allow dogs.” “I know,” I said, “that’s why I’m leaving.”
Once we hit the Hamptons, I stopped trying, figuring all chances for affordable lodging were lost. Eventually, after passing our fourth Sleepy’s, a mattress store chain, we turned around pulled in behind the store and went to sleep — Ace immediately, me after much rearranging of my torso and limbs, which were limited to the space in the driver’s seat and atop the pile of luggage in the passenger seat.
I was worried we would get rousted by police — we were in the Hamptons after all — but we spent the night undisturbed, except for when we heard a honking train bearing down on us. I didn’t realize that, just on the other side of the shrubs I parked next to, were train tracks. After the first one, though, we got used to it, and amid a gentle rain, soft breeze and distant lightning flashes in the sky, I eventually dozed off.
At 6 a.m., we were awake, and we drove another half hour to Sag Harbor — a lovely but not too dog friendly town. Despite being home to one of America’s most famous dogs, and Charley’s final resting place, almost everywhere we went we saw signs — in parks, shops and restaurants — stating, in no uncertain terms, that dogs weren’t welcome.
Sag Harbor could do a lot more when it comes to dog-friendliness, a lot more when it comes to honoring Steinbeck as well.
His house is still owned by the family, and empty except for a caretaker. With no one home, we took the liberty of doing a tiny bit of trespassing before heading to the first of three ferries.
As usual, he drew some stares, made some friends and took the whole thing in stride.
It wasn’t his first time on a boat, just his first time on one that moves.
We spent most of our time aboard the Cross Sound Ferry talking with a fellow journalist with a funny last name who was following Steinbeck’s path as well — but without a dog. We’ll tell you more about him tomorrow.
Posted by John Woestendiek September 23rd, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: 50th anniversary, ace, animals, charley, dog, dog friendly, dog's country, dogscountry, ferries, ferry, hamptons, john steinbeck, long island, map, new york, ohmidog! john woestendiek, pets, road, road trip, route, sag harbor, sleepy's, steinbeck, terry ballard, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, travels with charley, trip
Speaking just for myself, I think I’ve bumped almost every body part I have: head (four times), knees (three times), toes (two times), elbows (two times).
For Ace, I think it has been even tougher. He’s fine once he’s settled on the deck, or ensconced in the cabin on a cushion, but — being sneakerless — getting around on the boat’s slippery surface has been more difficult for him.
He has become adept at turning around in tight spaces, climbing up and down the ladder-like stairs to the cabin, and getting on and off the boat by crouching to fit under a railing and then leaping to the pier.
For the most part, he obeyed my commands to “stay on the boat!” when I ventured off to hit the bathroom or bar, but the other day was an exception.
The boat’s owner, Arnold Sherman, had come aboard. I had taken some photos of the boat’s interior and exterior, so he could use them in his attempts to sell my temporary home. After passing them on, we persuaded each other to go to Nick’s, where the boat is docked, for a beer and some of their happy hour, half-priced, fist-sized fried oysters.
“Stay on the boat!” I told Ace. The way the boat is tied, there’s a gap of one to three feet between it and the pier and, given the railing in the way, I worried he might end up in the water if he tried to get off when I wasn’t there — a bad thing because once one falls in the water, there aren’t a lot of ways out.
And at 130 pounds — him, that is — I’m relatively certain I wouldn’t be able to hoist him up.
Arnie and I had walked 100 yards down the pier, turned left and were headed to the gate when a dog head suddenly brushed up against Arnie’s leg. Ace, in total silence, had somehow managed to get off the boat, tippy toe up behind us and nonchalantly fall into step, with a look on his face that said, “Where we goin’, guys?”
I walked him back to the boat, put him in the cabin, gave him a mild reprimand and a pile of treats — mixed message, I know – and put a barrier at the top of the stairs.
Other than that defiant moment, he has adapted, once again, magnificently.
He loves walking along the pier, watching the birds, humans and other goings on, and sitting on the boat’s deck with his head draped over the side.
When he gets tired of that, or knows it’s almost dinner time, he’ll rearrange himself so he can peek through the entrance to the cabin, watching me — until dinner is served.
His only truly anxious moments were on Sept. 11 when the city saw fit — though it seems somehow wrong to me … a bit too festive and explosive — to have a fireworks display.
I’ve made sure to take him to nearby Riverside Park everyday, so he can enjoy some time on solid ground and sniff some grass, and yesterday — having some errands to attend to — I dropped him off for doggie day care at the Downtown Dog Resort & Spa, just around the corner.
Five hours later, I picked him up, along with his report card: “Ace was a little shy at first, not knowing any of the dogs. In the afternoon, he loosened up and played with Kallie (a Lab), Coby (a boxer) and Mocha (a pit mix) in the pool. He and Mr. Brown (his favorite playmate) seemed inseparable.”
From there we headed to Ace’s favorite bar, where he got his requisite human attention, and then some.
We stopped and picked up a cheesesteak and fries on the way back to the boat, and he bounded down the stairs to the cabin, not wanting to miss out on that.
As Ace sees it, home is where the cheesesteak is — no matter how cramped and slippery it (and by that I mean the home) might be.
Tomorrow, we’re off to Philadelphia — home of the cheesesteak, home, once, to me. After a couple of days there, we’ll move on to New York, in search of John Steinbeck’s Long Island home. There, in the backyard of a cottage in Sag Harbor, under a willow tree, Charley — the dog he toured America with — is buried.
That will be the starting point for the next few months of our journey, in which we plan to retrace, at least partially, the route Steinbeck and Charley took — starting with three ferry rides to Connecticut, then heading up to the northernmost tip of Maine, then moving west.
You can stay on the boat, or come on along.
Posted by John Woestendiek September 17th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, adapting, america, animals, baltimore, boat, boats, dog friendly, dog's country, dogs, dogs on boats, dogscountry, john steinbeck, journey, maryland, nick's fish house, pets, road, road trip, travels with ace, travels with charley, trip
One month ago today, a man and his dog left the comfort of their Baltimore rowhouse and set forth across America on a journey with no firm destination and of no definite duration.
An unemployed Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and soon to be published author (the man, not the dog), he decided he could keep doing his website and look for jobs just as easily on the road as he could from home — and in the process feel a little less dejected and rejected, a little more alive, perhaps, even, at 56, a little less old.
Don’t get him wrong, he loved his routine, and so did his dog — but within routine, you can also find the word rut, and sometimes there’s not much different between the two.
Rather than pay for housing, he decided to pack up his website, his dog and himself and hit the road, documenting their adventures — a la John Steinbeck and Charley, but with the modern-day benefits of Mapquest, Google, WordPress and cellphone – all while trying to get by on the amount he once paid for rent, roughly $1,000 a month.
After one month, and 3,300 miles, he — who, in case you haven’t figured it out, is me — can report that he nearly met that goal; that his dog, himself and, we hope, the website are all better for the experience; and that the journey is going to continue for a period that, like the man, will be indefinite.
Life on the road has its downside — the constant packing and unpacking; the where did I put my so and so; the heat; the where am I going to stay tonight; the expense, which we try our best to mitigate; and the uncertainty, which can be both good and bad.
But the gypsy in us — and there’s more gypsy in us than perhaps we thought — is loving it as we drive across America, through cities large and (preferably) small, checking its pulse (it still has one), revisiting some people and places and getting acquainted with some new ones.
So far, I can report, Ace, car and I are holding up well, though just this week a “Malfunction Indicator Light” started flashing (on the car, not me or Ace). It’s a little disconcerting since we’re contemplating crossing a few empty deserts in the week ahead, and according to my owner’s manual it could be a sign of major engine or transmission problems, or perhaps nothing at all. I think I’m glad I don’t personally have a malfunction indicator light.
So far, healthwise, my only problems have been dental, even though some have questioned whether they might be mental.
A trip to the dentist would have sent me over budget, so I decided on do-it-yourself dental work. Since no pain was involved, at least if I refrained from eating, I bought a product called Dentemp O.S., and, after locating my detached cap in a pocket of last week’s pants, glued it back on. I used some more of the product to fill the cavity.
Health insurance for me, like a lot of Americans, is still — despite all that reform (is it done yet?) – something my finances won’t permit.
Looking at our overall spending since we departed, our biggest expense has been gas ($580 worth), followed by lodgings (eight nights in motels at $334), then food, which — if you subtract the amount spent on buying dinner for those who took me in (about $200) – was $120. That comes out to $1,034 — less than I was spending on rent and electricity during my stay-put existence.
The key to staying within my self-imposed limits is going to be mooching accommodations when I can, camping when I can, couchsurfing some more, continuing to avoid dentists, and not covering so much ground that gas eats up my budget.
Ace and I have both lost a little weight — not a bad thing for either of us — and he seems to be enjoying the trip so far. He’s as eager to meet new people as he ever was, and with all the new dogs he has met, he’s becoming even more sociable and reliable.
No matter where we are, he has taken to giving me a look around 11 a.m. that — and maybe this is just my imagination — seems to ask, “Is it checkout time?”
He’s getting used to being a rambling dog, and next week we plan to get motoring again, heading out of Phoenix for a while and going north and then west, or maybe west and then north.
We’re trying to set up doing some volunteer work at Best Friends, the Utah animal sanctuary, hoping to visit the Circle L animal rescue ranch in Prescott, and maybe will venture into California, where I’ve been feeling the urge to revisit Salvation Mountain — a man-made, hand-painted, mostly garbage monument (to God, not Dog) I wrote about nearly two decades ago when I traveled the country (sans dog) as a newspaper reporter. It’s near the Salton Sea in an area known as Slab City, which attracts an interesting mix of vagabonds and nomads.
Our trip may or may not be a neverending journey, and it may or may not someday evolve into a second book, but this much is for sure, there’s a neverending supply of stories — dog ones and people ones — out there.
And we’re off to find a few more of them.
Posted by John Woestendiek June 25th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace does america, america, animals, arizona, camping, dog friendly, dog's country, doggin it, dogs, dogscountry, expense, food, freeloading, gas, highways, home is where the dog is, john woestendiek, lodging, miles, motels, new mexico, ohmidog!, pets, road trip, salvation mountain, slab city, travel, traveling with dogs, trip
Ace stepped lightly between the tombstones, paused to sniff a clump of artificial flowers, then moved on – past Flop, Train, Daisy, Black Ranger and Bear. He paused at the final resting places of Patches and Preacher and Bean Blossom Bomma, then sauntered by Smoky, Squeek and Easy Going Sam, whose rusting collar is looped over the cross marking his grave.
We were alone at the Coon Dog Cemetery in Cherokee, Alabama – except for the 215 dogs buried beneath us — on a hot and drizzly Friday, silent except for the chirps of birds and the whining hum of mosquitos sizing up my ears.
I’d long wanted to visit the Coon Dog Cemetery. We’ve featured it on this website before. But those were long distance, second hand dispatches. Being there, especially when no one else is, is another story.
Between the bursts of color provided by the fake flowers on almost every grave; the eclectic mix of memorials, ranging from engraved stone, to etched metal to carved wooden crosses, and the homey epitaphs and monikers, the cemetery is at once haunting and inspiring – a Southern icon, and a reminder of the powerful, difficult to relinquish, connection between dog and owner.
Especially when that dog and owner were hunting buddies.
Located in a grassy meadow in the wilderness of Freedom Hills, the cemetery permits only coon dogs – 215 of which are buried there, according to Susann Hamlin, executive director of the Colbert County Tourism & Convention Bureau, which now maintains the property.
The cemetery got its start when Key Underwood chose the spot – not far from where coon hunters gathered to share stories – to bury his faithful coon dog Troop. On a dreary Labor Day in 1937, Troop was wrapped in a cotton sack and buried three feet down. Underwood marked the grave with a rock from an old chimney. He used a hammer and screwdriver to chisel Troop’s name and date.
After that, other hunters started doing the same – first those from Alabama and Mississippi, later from all around the country.
We found it after driving 15 miles down a winding road through the gently rolling hills of northwest Alabama, and for an hour had it all to ourselves. Then another car pulled up, driven by Hamlin, who was escorting a photographer working on a project about Alabama for the National Archives.
Hamlin said about three dogs a year are buried at the cemetery nowadays – a reflection of the declining popularity of the sport, in which the dogs track raccoons and chase them up trees before the hunters … well, you know the rest.
How much pride those hunters took in their dogs still lingers though, in tall tales, folklore and, most of all, at the cemetery, where heartfelt tributes are hammered, carved and burned into grave markers:
“He wasn’t the best, but he was the best I ever had.”
“He was good as the best and better than the rest.”
“He was a joy to hunt with.”
Every year on Labor Day, a festival is held at the cemetery, hosted by the Tennessee Valley Coon Hunters Association. The cemetery is spruced up and decorated, and the event features bluegrass music, food and a liar’s contest.
Better yet, check it out in person. Admission is free, but the mosquitos do take up donations. I added about a dozen more bites to my ongoing collection – a small price to pay for such a big, colorful and moving sampling of southern culture.
To read all of Dog’s Country, click here.
Posted by John Woestendiek June 7th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, ace does america, alabama, animals, burial, cemetery, cherokee, coon dog cemetery, coon dogs, coonhounds, coons, death, dog, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, epitaphs, florence, ground, hunting, journey, key underwood, loss, memorials, pets, raccoons, roadtrip, tombstones, travel, trip, tuscumbia
The first leg of our journey around the country has begun — almost.
There’s one more load of last minute items to drop off at the storage unit, then a car to reload with what Ace and I will need for our month, or two, or three, on the road.
A few hours from now, Ace, who has been stressing out with all the packing up and furniture moving, will jump in the back of the Jeep, and settle in for the nine-hour drive to North Carolina.
For the past two weeks, he has known something is up, generally going into his crate or the backyard and assuming a position — head between his paws — that seems to say “Harrrumph, I’m not sure I like this.”
When I disassemble his crate about an hour from now, he’ll grow even more disconcerted, up until the moment he jumps into the vehicle and we get rolling. Then he’ll stick his head out the window, suck in some fresh air and be fine with the world. I’m hoping I will be too.
A few hours from now, I will either be feeling liberated, or thinking “ohmigod, I don’t have a home … what have I done?”
The plan? Well, there’s not much of one. After a stop in North Carolina to visit Ace’s grandma, we’ll push on to Alabama, for my son’s high school graduation. After that, we’ll meander west, eventually hitting Arizona. In other words, we don’t really know where we’re going, but we hope to have a good time, find some good dog stories and sample some dog friendliness as we make our way there.
Basically I decided to stop paying rent for a while, and — the book that has kept me busy for the past year being done – catch up with family and friends, all while reporting for ohmidog! from the road and continuing the job search.
How the latter goes will determine whether we return to Baltimore, which a big part of me is sad to be leaving – even after the city left me two goodbye notes, in two days this week, both slid under the windshield wiper of my car, which I’d parked on the illegal side of the street for moving purposes.
Thanks to all of our friends for helping us get on our way — to Dan and Marite for taking my fish, to Diane for the oatmeal cookies, to Don for helping me move the heavy stuff, to Tamara for far too many things to mention, to Tobey for the send-off party, and to all the humans and dogs at Riverside Park who were Ace’s friend, and mine.
With some trepidations (I’m pretty sure I packed the trepidations), we depart. We might get a little misty as we pull out of town, waiting for that feeling of liberation to kick in. I predict that will come once we get south of Washington. If it doesn’t, if we get that far and still feel sad, we know what to do:
Stick our heads out the window, take a deep breath and let our ears flap in the breeze.
Posted by John Woestendiek May 25th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, animals, baltimore, dog, dog friendly, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, journey, leaving, ohmidog!, pets, road trip, travel, traveling, travels with ace, trip
Restless, poor, unemployed and finished with THE BOOK, I — along with my two co-dependents, Ace and ohmidog! — am hitting the road.
Maybe for a month, maybe for two, maybe for more, we’ll be traveling the country — or at least those parts of it that are dog-friendly and in the red zones of that Verizon wireless map.
Basically we’ll take what we are spending on rent, and spend it on gas instead, see some America, visit some family members, camp out a lot, mooch off friends, continue to blog and job search and keep an eye out for places that are particularly dog friendly.
We depart with no real destination and no firm plan. We’ll be stopping in North Carolina for a quick visit with (Ace’s) grandma, tool on down to Alabama for my son’s high school graduation, and, proof of citizenship in hand, drop by Arizona, where my father and brother live.
Beyond that, it’s pretty wide open, and we are, of course, open to invitations, especially if you know of a good place to pitch our tent.
If you run an especially dog friendly — not dog tolerant, dog friendly — institution, program or business, feel free to drop us a line (firstname.lastname@example.org). The same holds true if you run a rescue, shelter or dog-related organization that’s doing new and exciting things. Depending on where you are, and how close we’re passing by, we’d love to come see and document your efforts.
In part, our journey will be a search for dog friendliness — and by that we mean the true and sincere form, not dog friendliness based on breed, weight, or a non-refundable deposit.
What prompts the trip, more than anything else, is being finished with the book I left the Baltimore Sun to write, and my guilt about all the family members and friends I’ve ignored during the research and writing of it.
As for the book, it’s a behind the scenes account of the quest to clone a dog and the subsequent marketing of that service. It’s title will be “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”
It’s scheduled for release in December, but don’t worry, I’ll remind you.
Posted by John Woestendiek May 17th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, animals, book, cloning, dog, dog friendly, dog inc., dogs, dogscountry, john woestendiek, journey, ohmidog!, pets, readers, road trip, travels, trip, website