Truth be told, I could have made another week on the road with ease. Of course, I would’ve had to figure out where to go. Virginia Beach in mid-October sounded like a good detour, maybe some museums in D.C. or the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. One big takeaway from this trip was this itinerant road life was very agreeable to me. I’ll talk more about that in a summing up conclusion post.
I had also made a lunch date with another old Westerberg Message Board friend who lived just outside of Pittsburgh—the fabulous Dave Smith. Dave was a Photoshop magician in the early aughts—way before it was cool. And he used this emerging photoshop skills to hilarious effect. There was indeed a short lived golden age on that Westerberg board and he was one of the primary reasons why.
|Dave's Photoshop work|
To get to him I was going to drive six hours today and then park for the night about an hour outside of Pittsburgh. After lunch I would do the last three hours home to Buffalo. Normally I would go I-81 north through Cleveland to get home. It’s a little longer but you avoid driving through the mountains, saving gas and wear and tear on your vehicle. But since I was going to Pittsburgh it would be I-77 to I-79.
It was another beautiful day and as I got to West Virginia I started to see the red and yellow colors of fall. This was something I might have anticipated but didn’t and was an unexpected treat. While the start of a new earthly cycle begins with spring, living in the northeast the autumn drum you hear banging at the end of summer signals another kind of birth—fall. Though I’m a long time removed I suppose it’s mostly tied to the new school year and to a lesser extent all the sports seasons, minus baseball. I love fall except for the part where I’m a homeowner and have to put away outdoor furniture, hoses, flower pots and all the goddam leaves that need to be raked.
But all that fall homeowner stuff was for another day. Today I was rolling along, again listening to this trip’s go to playlist—the 97 song outlaw countryish: “June 25, 2020.” I typically don’t last long with a playlist, but if I can put together something with a hundred songs it has some staying power. It made for a nice day winding through those West Virginia hills and into Pennsylvania.
One thing I wondered about Pennsylvania was all the dead animals that were hit by cars and left to decompose on the side of the road. My last trip back from Pittsburgh—the summer of 2019, it wasn't so bad, but now again they’re everywhere. Road crews in New York make quick work of the deer on the side of the road. In fact, I think some of the food kitchens process these animals who have met their fate on the bumpers of F150’s and serve them to people in need.
When I pulled over for the night at a rest stop I did a Google search about it and came up with nothing. Dead animals on the side of the road doesn’t seem to be a problem for anyone in the Keystone State. Very weird. But who am I to judge?
I had a long lazy morning waiting to hit the road. I worked on this blog which I was hopelessly behind on and started to prepare for disembarkment from the van later that day. I took all my clothes, such as they were, out of the overhead cabinets and laid them on the bed, pulled all the shoes out of a little closet—Donna had left her hiking boots behind, threw out everything in the fridge except for some cans of Coke Zeros and a few beers. Same went for the non-perishable cupboard. I decided the white rice and lentils we hadn’t eaten in the year or so we had the van were perishable.
Once I got rolling, but still in killing time mode, I pulled off I-79, got my last tank of gas and a coffee. While fixing my coffee, another guy about my age also getting a coffee asked if that was my van outside. When I acknowledged that it was he said that he had a Promaster too and we had stayed at the same rest stop the previous night. We got to talking and I told him my story about traveling around the country for the last two months. He also was traveling around, as a semi-retired independent contractor delivering a variety of small freight to various businesses throughout the southeast in his van. During the week he pretty much lived in the van, sleeping on a fold up cot and using a cooler and a hot plate. Said he had to keep it simple and adaptable because sometimes his freight came on pallets.
From there I would stumble upon shady characters trying to move their illicit small freight week after week. The show would be called “The Cop and the Contractor.” Of course, a main sub-plot would be the sexual tension between Peggy Lipton and myself. She would be hopelessly in love with me and make inappropriate comments about my ass. Not only would I have to steer her comments in a more politically correct direction, but I would also have to politely decline her amorous advances because you know, I have Donna at home. And, occasionally Donna will make a cameo through her phone: “Paul, when are you coming home…”Godammit Paul, I’m sick of walking this dog. When are you coming home? Paul, PAul, PAUL!!!”
Okay, maybe not, but I really could see myself living that on the road lifestyle.
So I was meeting Dave at his place of employment—Pennsylvania Rail Car Co. Back in the day when people on the Westerberg board found out he worked at this place and he was an expert in train parts, we thought it was another joke. But it was true. I forget the connection, but Pennsylvania Rail Car was owned by some family member and when Dave got out of college he took a job there and over the years slowly became an expert in train parts.
It made no sense. He would photoshop pix of Paul Westerberg on stage with the Stones or make some hilarious quip—you thought artist or wanna be stand up comedian. The last thing you would have tagged him as was a train parts expert. Dave is a decade younger than me and on top of his other skills is a very good writer. He’s sort of in the same boat as me, trying to get someone to notice his work. He’s a big J.R.R. Tolkien guy and in a distant way you can see that in his writing.
Anyway when I arrived at Pennsylvania Rail I sent Dave a text and was expecting him to say that he’d be right out. Instead, he wanted to meet at the back door to show me around the plant. In my previous life I’ve wandered around a million plants like this trying to deliver my goods to the right area or the right person.
These places are all the same. Usually there are a couple of women working in the front office—one was a very young cousin of Dave’s—a few more offices and then it opens up into a dark impersonal plant. Dave took me around and introduced me to everyone and explained what they were doing and what parts they were fabricating. I think their bread and butter product was some kind of handle for train doors. It was pretty cool, but hard to process all the information coming at me. Everyone was very nice.
When the tour was over I showed Dave the van and then we went in separate vehicles to Rachel’s Roadhouse a few minutes down the road. The waitress who took our order knew Dave and said she hadn’t seen him around in awhile. I didn’t ask, but given the distance from the plant figured this was a go-to lunch place for all the parts experts at Pennsylvania Railcar.
Dave ordered the “Big Fish,”—cod on a baguette and I got a Reuben. We both got fries and diet cokes. Our conversation mostly revolved around writing—this blog and some other projects I was going to continue working on when I got home. More exciting, Dave was waiting for the results of a writing contest he had entered. Out of thousands of entries to this contest he had made it through several cutdowns and was in a group of the final twenty. If he survived this next cut down he would be in the final round.
The structure of the contest was kind of cool. You were given a premise and would have to submit something like a two-thousand word story within forty-eight hours. It sounded fun, but pressure-filled. If he made that last round, he had a shot to win a cash prize of several thousand dollars.
The sixty minutes or so we sat there just kind of flew by and Dave had to get back to work. So we bid adieu and left Rachel’s in opposite directions. I was down to the last three hours of the nearly thirteen-hundred hours (7.weeks) I had been gone.
Besides being alarmed at the continuing dead animals on the side of the road I didn’t have any big thoughts rolling through my head as I headed into the stretch run. You know, the things you’re supposed to think—trip of a lifetime, so grateful for this opportunity, memories to cherish. Nor did I have big thoughts about things at home: Donna, my son Patrick, the dog, a hot shower in my own house, my seat on the end of the couch. Sure this was all good stuff and I appreciated them, but it wasn’t like I was returning from some harrowing expedition.
As I pulled in just before dinnertime it kind of just felt like any other day. Donna was happy to see me and Patrick was a bit indifferent, which is pretty normal for both of us. The dog was overjoyed. As the main caretaker and person who takes her to the park daily, I might have expected a little stink eye for abandoning her for so long, but she was overjoyed, jumping up and down and licking me all over.
Next morning, right on schedule, Donna and I got in a fight.
It was good to be home.
How we got here...
An Ode to Fire and Donna
Chronological Posts From The Road
Going Mobile: What We Learned
Our Rig: A Pictorial Essay