Note To Readers:


January 1

Erin and I go ice skating near this mall at Myrtle Beach. As far as we can tell, this is the first photo we take together - even if it's just our skates: 

January 23

Breakfast at Corine’s Café in Mooresville. Not amazing but they give you a lot and it’s cheap. Coffee sucks, however. No flavor whatsoever. Erin likes this place, takes a menu home for her mom. I start to drive her home, assuming she had no interest in going down to Charlotte with me today, but she asks me where I’m going to and it occurs to me now she left all her stuff in my room, obviously she wanted to go.

Erin and I give blood down at the South Blvd HHM store. Mike Maddox’s son Travis is in the same time as we are - they have four chairs for such in the Bloodmobile. I’m doing great throughout the whole process, and actually the pinprick on the finger, which I’ve had countless times and much worse (and Erin agreed, was marveling about her finger for hours herself) hurt more than the needle in the arm, which I’d been dreading. I almost made it through the entire ordeal, but start to feel lightheaded maybe 3/4 of the way into filling up the pint bag, tell the nurse, she says think about something else, so I start to think about what kind of house I’m going to buy someday with my poker winnings. Next thing I know two nurses are screaming my name and the needle is out of my arm and one’s bandaging me and Erin’s looking back from her seat in horror. Apparently I conked out somehow with my eyes open and was shaking really bad, but I don’t have any memory of such. I feel really, really out of it. 

 “You didn’t wanna wake up for me, that’s not cool,” my nurse says, “you scared me there for a minute.” 

“I was thinking happy thoughts and just kinda fell asleep,” I tell her. She and the other nurse laugh.
They give me Pepsi and water and eventually I begin to feel better. Erin, meanwhile, is having her own difficulty - they found the vein in her right arm, got a dribble, then it completely went into hiding. This is what often happens with her, she says.

Travis tells me my mom is “a sweet lady.” He’s painted some murals at both our Davidson and South Blvd stores, does a pretty awesome job with this. 

Erin and I walk inside the store, she says it looked like I was having a seizure or something, describes it. “Hmm, interesting,” I note.  

“NO! Not interesting, you nut!” she says, “I don’t think you should be giving blood anymore!” 

We walk around the store, which is jampacked, try a few samples, some good wine, otherwise nothing too amazing. After this Erin and I hit Ikea, where she buys a few things, we head back to my house and sleep awhile. We do head out later for a movie and some frozen pasta concoction, are wiped out after the blood ordeal.  

January 24

Lying around watching Jets-Colts playoff game. Erin went home early in the afternoon to console her mom, Elaine, who just lost her job. I drive the Honda back to my parents' house, then the three of us ride over to Jim's house to watch Vikings-Saints. 

        Jim and Michelle, Steve, and Daniel’s old roommate Roy are already here. I’ve been texting Erin, who was planning on coming back to my house, and she plugs Jim’s address into her GPS & shows up later. 

March 5

So excited about the poker tourney at 7 & the beginning of my vacation. Leaving work at 2pm, I have the bike I bought for Emma loaded into my car. But then my vehicle mysteriously breaks down on the outskirts of Statesville, so I call the folks right before they leave. A bunch of us are meeting at the casino in Charleston WV, and I just so happen to be slightly ahead of my parents. So they drive up to Statesville in two vehicles, meeting me at this car repair place outside of town on 21. I drive Mom’s Honda up instead.

Jackie drives down from State College, Dewane and Mona from Mansfield. My parents' friend Floyd, who lives here, is also in the mix somewhat. Jackie gives me this awesome baseball book I’ve never heard of, called Stolen Summer, which I immediately love, as an early birthday present. She and Mona are asking me how old I’m going to be (35) and then warmly reminiscing, agreeing that they think 35 was pretty much their favorite age.

Later on, Kyle and Sean arrive from Columbus to hang out with me. Kyle for some reason insists upon playing slots in the dingiest corner of the basement. I’m torn because slots are about the most boring thing in the universe, and I really want to play cards, but don’t want to be antisocial, either. So I hang out with them and drop $60 down here.

Bored with this, the three of us leave and drive around at random in search of a strip club. We eventually find this hilariously low budget one in some vaguely industrial area. After a short while there, we pick up some alcohol at a gas station and chill out back at the hotel.

March 6

One aspect of these casino adventures which always seems to hold true is that you wind up going to grab food with random combinations of your crew, every time out. It depends upon either whom you bump into at the casino, or else whoever just so happens to be back at the hotel room the same time as you. This was especially true before cell phones, but remains so even now. People can’t just get up from a poker table sometimes – and those playing slots with crazy eyes are not to be disturbed. 

So it is that Dad, Jackie and I drive over to Nitro at one point, to check out this restaurant that Floyd was recommending. Floyd was of no help whatsoever with the directions, though, would only tell us that it was located “the next hill over.” So we wander around until stumbling across the place – Diehl's, which is pretty awesome, specializing in what you might call down home cooking. 

Following this brief detour, we return to the casino. Reuniting with our crew here (Kyle and Sean have already returned to Columbus), we all pile into Dad’s ride and take off in search of the local Moose lodge. Mona is a member and they have some bylaw in place, apparently, that this means she can get us in as guests at any location, anywhere. 

The funny thing about this odyssey, though, is that while Daniel and I bought Dad a TomTom device for Christmas, which he really wanted and uses a lot, for some reason he refuses to turn it on now – preferring to navigate without assistance, in search of this Moose lodge. We have all spotted it from I-77, of course, along the river right there in the heart of Charleston. So it seems like stumbling upon it should be a simple task. But this winds up taking endless twists and turns, false leads and backtracking, until we eventually find it. I have mentioned the TomTom on a couple of occasions, to no avail. He keeps saying, “yeah, I got my TomTom right here,” meaning somewhere in his head. I laugh and repeat the phrase.

“Found it, didn’t I? I got my TomTom right here,” he scoffs, when we finally arrive. Then, turning to Dewane, who is riding shotgun, says, “these kids.”

“Yeah, you found it,” I retort, “after about the 15th road, it was definitely on.”

All for naught, as we step inside the Moose lodge and their doorman refuses to admit us, even after Mona shows him her membership card. He claims that they “just changed” this rule, although Mona thinks this is a crock and that he simply didn’t want to let us in.

We have no choice, no choice at all, I tell you, but to return to the casino and gamble some more. At some point I ask Dad about their chances of being here until 3am again.  “Nooo. Huh uh. Not happ’nin,” he says. Then, to Mom, advises, “I mean you do what you want, but I’m not gonna be there.” 

(he is there until 3am) 


Though it used to close at 3, the casino is actually open until 5 now. And will become 24-7 when the hotel next door is finished. 

March 7

I get to Jill’s house around 4:15, after a leisurely drive up from Charleston - looking for 35mm film at a Big Lots in Gallipolis; “buffalo pork slammers” and tall Sam Adams Noble Pils, play video poker machine thing at BW3 near Circleville. 
Jill takes Madison & Emma for one stuffed creature each at the Build-A-Bear at Tuttle, as birthday presents. From there we head up to Polaris for dinner at Cheesecake Factory. Maddie has chicken tenders, Emma spaghetti she barely touches. But then does attack Maddie’s food for some reason, who responds by doing the same. Emma cries when the employees sing Happy Birthday to Madison, accompanied by giant cheesecake (cookie & cream flavor) slice. All is forgotten when she gets to share it and a massive mound of whipped cream, however. 

March 8

Madison’s 9th birthday. She has school today, though, and Jill’s working, which gives me a great opportunity to spend some time with Emma. She and I drive over to Tuttle Mall this morning – so she can goof around in the play area.  

“I wanna ride on the elevator (pronounced elabator) because the house is goin’ down down down and it’s goin’ up up up!” Emma says, as we’re walking toward the mall. 

The play area here is "solar system" themed, made of heavyweight foam planets and spaceships. While we're here, I buy Maddie a gift card at Justice for her birthday. Afterwards, I ask Emma what she wants for lunch & she says “it would be very special” if we went to Asian Star. I’m skeptical because she doesn’t eat much, not enough to justify going to a buffet, and also because it seems kind of unfair to Maddie, if she hears about this. I have some serious doubts that Emma can keep this secret. 

“Nuh uh, because I knew about Madison’s birthday (birfday) present, & I didn’t tell her anything (anyfing)!” Emma squeaks in protest. So I take her. She takes one bite of pizza, otherwise will only eat raisins & French fries. 

Back at the house, we’re looking out the kitchen window, watching for Madison. Her school bus drops her off at about 2:45. 

“It’s like fifty-nine degrees out! That’s why I took my coat off! It skipped spring, it went straight from winter to summer!” Maddie gushes, running into the house.  

Emma’s standing on a chair at the table, so she can see out the window. “If we don’t have to wear our coats, that means it’s summer!” she chips in, agreeing with Maddie. 

There are still piles of snow all over the front yard. Emma immediately tells Maddie about the Asian Star lunch. Then gives me a sly little smile when I protest that it was supposed to be a secret. 

March 9

I drive over to Jill's house, then ride with her and Emma out to Jill's grandpa's house. He recently died and the basement is like a hoarder's paradise. The whole house, really, but especially the basement. Jill and her mom know there's a safe down there somewhere but need my help trying to find it. So this is a strangely interesting time, helping those two root through the basement in search of a safe. Newspapers from the 70s, books w/ hilarious titles like Family Fun with Tape Recording or Today’s Teen: 1001 Hip Ideas from the 60s & 70s. 

-at home later (Emma’s home, that is) & she & I are playing with this flimsy doll house Jill & I put together, from the 80s, also a basement find, & Barbies that were still in their package (Heart Family Visits Disneyland – 1989; some hair stylin’ Barbie, 1986, sticker for $13.97, etc) 

            “Come on, Daddy, come up to the helicopter!” Emma says, which is the second floor of the doll house for some reason. 

            “Don’t forget your CD player & your tennis racket!” I advise.

Emma is talking about this mysterious “dark haired lady in the hall.” We believe it’s the same ghost Madison & Jill say they’ve seen numerous times. “I see her when I come outta Mommy’s room.... she likes to dance with me, & pretend to be a beautiful fairytale princess with me....,” Emma tells me today. 

She is on fire with the speeches, actually. Here’s another classic: 

“Someday I’m gonna get a magic brush & my hair will be long, long, long....and I will have shiny shoes, and a beautiful princess hat, and a pretty dress! And I will live in a castle, and I will have my own blanket with a pony on it! That would be nice... and Madison & Mommy will be in my tummy, and that would be nice! (giggles) And you will be there.” 

“Can I have my own room in the castle?” I ask. 

“Mmm hmm!” she enthuses, which leads to “we can pretend my room is a castle!” to her playing cashier somehow behind a plastic play oven. Everything she “scans” she sells to me for “um...forty five bucks,” except once I hand her a coupon (half completed page of princess torn from coloring book) & she only charges “five bucks.”

March 11

Erin flies in to town and I drive over to the airport to scoop her up. Later, we will head over to Nationwide Arena and watch the Blue Jackets play the Thrashers. Flipping through the program before the game, we are amused to see that one of the C-bus players was born on the same day as Erin. Both teams kind of suck, though, and seem more interested in fighting than playing. As far as actual goals are concerned, the Blue Jackets win, 2-1. Afterwards we hit the Surly Girl Saloon for dinner.

March 13
Since we will have to leave somewhat early tomorrow, we’re doing Emma’s 4th birthday celebrations a day early.

It’s dinner at the Spaghetti Warehouse downtown – Jill & her mom, Maddie & Emma, Erin & me ride over in two vehicles, plus my Dad & sister Robin are driving down from Mansfield. I give Emma her bike before we leave, though she seems much more impressed by the bell than the bike itself. "But it has a bell!" she kept saying, whenever we tried talking about the bike.

March 14

-great morning with Erin and I visiting Emma and Madison one last time, before driving back to NC. Emma’s in an extremely chipper mood. “Pause game,” she says one time when I’m chasing her, and she wants to climb into this tiny Barbie tent that she and Erin have been sitting in, brought up from the basement for just this purpose. “You are the people capturer!” she tells me at another point. Discussing favorite princesses, and decides that Erin has to see her bathroom upstairs (“but don’t look in the sink!” she advises, because of some dirt), then both bedrooms, then Jill’s room, then the kitchen. “Those are some nice sparkly pants,” Erin says, as Emma begins this impromptu cleanup session of putting all the clothes on her floor into the dresser. “Yeah, but they are too tight, so I am never ever gonna wear them again!” Emma says.

Emma also keeps talking about this ghost, some woman she sees in the hallway at night and dances with. Now she’s insisting that Erin is the woman she sees, the nightly ghost.

-Erin and I stop at this Hopewell Indian museum in Chillicothe, so she can get her “national parks passport” book stamped.

-long drive otherwise. McDonald’s drive thru in Rio Grande, OH; Starbucks & gas at the Tamarack gift shop exit in WV; Erin has on her shades to encourage the sun to come out, but it doesn’t work - gloomy all day; off at exit 8 in Virginia for potty break (a new exit in my repertoire, never been).

-finally off at exit 54 and out to the mechanic shop to pick up my car, but my key isn't under the mat, total wasted trip. So then out to Erin's neighborhood, pass her aunt & uncle in the road, neighbor John, everyone smoking & walking dogs, etc.

Erin picks up her key at her aunt & uncle’s house, then I drop her off at her car. Kiss in cul-de-sac, her dad pulls up, feigns running her over. Looks over at me as I’m pulling out, and a wave.

March 19

My 35th birthday. Glorious day weather wise. Erin shows up around 7:15 with my final gift, a full (hot) personalized coffee mug. She had also gotten me a full arsenal of the “blue” Axe products last time I saw her (spray, deodorant, shower gel & scrubber).
So with my steaming hot coffee in the personalized mug, we drive down to Charlotte, having decided to goof around in NoDa for the Gallery Crawl. At Revolution Pizza, we start off with this “anti-pizza” offering, called Hunter’s Plate: pickles, pickled green beans (odd), brie, prosciutto, “brown” cheese, “white” cheese, crumpets (I guess you might call them – we certainly are), some other oily but delicious meats.

Erin gets a frozen yogurt at one place, we check out galleries, I have a beer at Salvador Deli while we chill. I take her around the corner to that hilarious Rat’s Nest place, where they’re playing an old (I’m guessing? Never heard it) country tune on the overhead speakers, about, “if I’d a-wanted you for my wife, I’d a-married my mother...” Hilarious.

March 23

        Erin goes to urgent care because of her knee. They tell that somehow she sprained it. She is given a knee brace to wear, though referring to it as a "leg immobilizer" -


April 4

Easter Sunday: We have a nice meal over at Mike & Jane’s house, good turnout. Elaine says of me, “he’s such a nice boy!” There’s some old grandma aged woman going around the patio with various pills, asking people if they want anything; at one point most of us are in the house, and for some reason a bunch of the women on the patio start singing something, and smoosh their boobs against the picture window. I’m not really sure what that was all about. There’s some sort of religious discussion and Joe says, with complete seriousness, that “frankfurter” is one of the things the wise men brought Jesus; Erin & I grimacing as her dad’s telling us about getting shots in his knuckles for arthritis. John & Joe are standing off to the side, cracking up. “You’re supposed to tell him you’ll kick his ass if he does anything to your daughter, not how crippled you are!” Joe tells Tom.

April 11

I had said last night that I intended to sleep in all day, and we manage to do exactly this. Though awake off and on, we don’t get out of bed until after noon. It went from Erin saying she was going to make me breakfast, to saying let’s go get breakfast, to saying, no, let’s go get lunch. At 1st we discussed packing a picnic, but then she asked what places I knew of on the lake & I suggested Vinny’s. So Vinny’s it is. 
        We have lunch on the patio there. Then head up & around the corner, out onto the Brawley School peninsula, down this side road that has a park on the lake. We lie on a blanket reading books, listening to the Yankees game on Erin’s phone. She is also taking surreptitious pictures, such as this one of me:

At one point we’re on the edge, above the rocks, & I make a joke that she deserves to be splashed for a sarcastic comment she’s just made – and then out of nowhere, a wave crashes in & hits her. Spooky!

May 28

Our Disney adventure begins at 5:30 a.m. Somehow I wake up a couple minutes before the alarm goes off, despite a long drive to Jacksonville & about 4 hours of sleep. I was dreaming they were putting Mom in some brick house in the country because she only had “32,000 blocks of memory” & woke up disturbed. I wake Erin up, & the alarm goes off as I’m starting coffee. 
        Erin drives. I read the USA Today, then sleep. She announces, “it said two hours & forty minutes, but I made it here in two hours,” as I am waking up.
        She takes a picture of some metallic Mickey right after we park. This is basically her favorite place on Earth, so she already has a yearly pass. I buy a 2 day Park Hopper pass, which runs about $221.

-the entire entourage sings Good Morning at 9am, which is when the park opens.

-Erin makes me wear this yellow “1st Time Visitor” pin. I jokingly protest, she gets offended, I have to assure her I don’t mind.

-we check out some trading post. Erin’s wearing this purple lanyard with 6 pins she hopes to trade. Joking with employees that this is our favorite thing so far.

-Haunted Mansion
-It’s A Small World
-Space Mountain (roller coaster)
-Carousel of Progress
-Pecos Bill’s (lunch)
-Pirates of the Caribbean
-seagull eats this dude’s hamburger
-getting on then off Tom Sawyer boat
-over to Epcot
-Spaceship Earth
-Coca Cola samples


Faces of Disney: Angry Multi-Child Mom; Exasperated Dad Trying His Best To Have Fun; Intense Picture Taker Guy; Monorail Family; Distracted Map Man; Mr. Protest-on-Principle; Adventurous Yet Befuddled Grandma; Middle Aged Way Too Much Fun Dude; Mrs. Taskmaster

-American Adventure
-Mexican boat ride 

-out to pin/Disney outlets. I'm driving and Erin's trying to use the GPS to get there, but it winds up getting us lost - we notice this after driving in circles a few times. The hilarious part is I had said something about printing off directions, which she thought ridiculous. "I'm not on some big quest to be modern. I just wanna get somewhere, I don’t care how it happens," is what I tell her now.

Quote: outside Nine Dragons (Chinese): “is this pizza?” (guy to wife)

May 29

Up at 7:30am. Erin drives us to Epcot. We’re there at like 8:15, & they actually open the park up early (8:30 instead of 9) to allow more space for the developing crowd – rides still don’t open till 9. Erin looks thru Disney pins at this kiosk to kill time. 
        Yesterday, we'd focused almost exclusively on the Magic Kingdom park, but today will be about Epcot and Disney Hollywood for the most part. Test Track is first, the wait for which is not too bad. Up next is Soarin', and as we're about to go on it, I joke, "you're only allowed 3 ounces of shampoo on this ride." Erin giggles & sticks out her cheek for me to kiss it. After this, we are on an indoor boat ride through a greenhouse, which shows a bunch of futuristic techniques they use here for growing food, etc. It was actually extremely cool.

-Sylvester Juniper: trees in the Asian section of Epcot. Sign saying they are dioecious. I have no idea what this means.


“this is your son too! You’re gonna discipline him! Stop walking in front of me!” (woman yelling at husband in front of giant wizard hat at Disney Hollywood)

“I feel like you have a lack of letting me sit outside,” kid to mom in Japanese restaurant.

“I’m horrible with directions, & I know I'm probably wrong, but when I’m mad at you, you need to not say anything,” Erin to me. 

"come on let's go before we get stuck doing the pledge." Erin also, after we watch some kind of indoor show.

Next we take the monorail over to Hollywood Studios. She made reservations at a restaurant over there, but a line has formed completely out of the building anyway – and this is for people who quote unquote have reservations! When we question this out loud to the hostess (her podium is outside), and cancel, a middle aged guy in line says to us, “unbelievable, isn’t it?” and shakes his head (See: “Faces of Disney” - guy, protesting on principle). Yet he continues to stand in line with his family. We wander off and find a different place to eat.

Now we're walking around trying to find the location of this place that’s selling Star Wars pins, so Erin can buy one for some dweeby pin collecting Disney maniac friend(s) of hers. We ask one employee for directions, but determine before we're even a quarter of the way there that this dude didn't know what he was talking about. "Okay, mister directions, show me the way, then," she says to me, but it's not like I really know, either. We eventually ask a 2nd employee, backtrack based on his directions, which leads us the long way around thru a fake San Francisco et cetera before we eventually find the place.

               At one point, Erin inexplicably bursts into tears & says, “I wanna go home! Don’t you?” She concedes that the steroids her doctor prescribed might be making her moody. Plus, I think excursions like these, especially when drawn out over multiple days, leave everyone feeling a little frazzled.

        So now we mercifully leave this park. There’s some High School Musical parade down the main drag up front which fortunately only commences just after we are past it. Then, surprisingly, Erin wants to take the ferry back to Epcot instead of the monorail, so we do.

        We walk around the back side of these “countries,” have some fairly crappy Chinese food inside this temple looking place. Erin’s distraught to learn they don’t have chicken tenders at this one stand where she normally gets them, which is how we end up here. At some point - & I’m not sure if it’s now, but it’s one trip through here that this happens – we wait forever for this old guy to wrap up some time share spiel at this booth because Erin wants one of his pins.
        Soon after we take the monorail back over to the Magic Kingdom, it starts raining hardcore. Somewhere along the line we end up chilling out in a baseball themed café on the back end of this gift shop, to wait out the downpour. It’s extremely crowded in here. We have French fries basically just for something to do & talk to this middle-aged couple who are nice enough to share their bench with us.
        Somehow we end up bouncing over to that area over by The Haunted Mansion et cetera & sitting forever in this barely covered alcove of a gift shop, to wait out the rain, talking to this young & friendly couple for a long time.
        We end up watching “Philharmagic” a 2nd time because it’s one of Erin’s favorites, walk thru the castle (there’s only a ramp right thru the middle of it that’s accessible) & take pictures of it in various colors, from various angles, after nightfall. By dark, she & I are sitting on a curb on Main Street. Her favorite parade, Spectral Magic, rolls through “town” here. There are also fireworks over the castle (I can’t remember which came first) that feature Tinkerbell flying (really on a zip line) & a very brave Erin, who is terrified of fireworks, burying her face into my chest. 

-she's always ahead of me in line for rides & I keep accidentally stepping on her feet. I attempt to blame it on "hitchhiking ghosts" but she's not buying this explanation.

-at the end of the night, as we’re sitting on the curb watching SpectroMagic, Erin’s talking again about Extra Magic Hours.

“Extra Magic Hours,” I laugh, “ol’ Walt was on some pretty good drugs, wasn’t he?”

“They didn’t start it until after he was dead,” she says. 

“Oh, so Walt was opposed to Extra Magic Hours? This actually came up at board meetings & he said, no! I will not stand for Extra Magic Hours!

She laughs & shakes her head, says, “you’re an idiot.”


May 31

Memorial Day. I intend to go in to work today for a few hours, voluntarily, but never quite make it. Last night at around midnight I was invited over to my folks' place this morning for breakfast - Dewane & Mona and Allie & Karen are all in town and staying with them. So I drive over there early this morning. Then it starts raining and I just come home afterwards, around 11.

Kind of a fun & different night. Daniel's painting the living room and cleaning the carpets, so the internet's unplugged. I listen to a bunch of cassettes and go through my box of unprocessed written material.

June 11

Erin & I have a somewhat light, somewhat serious talk about moving in together! Aside from that, though, this just seems like the kind of night that will always stick out in our minds. We start out to see the Knights play the AAA Yankees team (Scranton Wilkes-Barre, perhaps the most awesomely named place in the world), but instead her car overheats near exit 23.

Her dad, Tom, comes to rescue us from the Wendy's parking lot there. Then he drives me back up to my car, in Mooresville. He is driving this black Ford Ranger and nearly swerves off the road on Rhinehardt looking for his phone. After depositing me at my car, he follows me out of the subdivision to 115.

Cigarette in hand he got out of his truck & walked up to my car. “All I ask is when you’re with my baby, take care of her," he tells me.

“I think I can manage that,” I say.

Then I drive back down to Huntersville to pick Erin up, we wait on tow truck man.

June 17

Erin emails me these photos with no explanation given. I think it's pretty obvious what she's up to today, however: she bought a new swimsuit and is lounging in the pool!

Meanwhile, chumps like me are stuck at work on a gorgeous summer day.

June 18

The 1st meeting of the parents. Erin’s nervous but I’m not sweating it. After work I drive up to her parents’ place, & her mom is worried that the dress she has on is “too booby” for my mom. They invite Jennifer, Erin's sister, but she says no.

We stop to pick up Jane. Then I realize I forgot my cooler, so Erin & I (in her car) head back to mine. “He forgot his beer,” she explains.

“Hey! How do you know it’s beer! All I said was cooler!” I protest.

She gives me a gimme a break look. “How long have we been dating?”

“There’s cheese in there!”


“Beer. But theoretically it could just be cheese!”

Lake Myers is hilarious. I see now why Erin always cracked up when I mentioned it. After driving clear back to my parents’ lot, we park & everyone is introduced. Mom’s been up here with Addison since yesterday. Elaine braids Addison's hair while we wait.

-we jump in Elaine’s car, 5 of us, after Addison threw a fit & refused to go. So Dad's stuck hanging out at camp, halfway keeping an eye on her. As for us, we’re here for bingo, 7pm Friday nights for 25 cents a card. They have shuffleboard painted in orange here on the cement floor of the rec hall (or bingo parlor as I call it), & Halloween paintings leaning up against the wall up on the stage where the old woman calls out the numbers. A board lights up behind her. The cards have sliders that shade over the numbers, & many are personalized with “Lake Myers Mocksville, North Carolina.” Green, pine green that is, and some have dates on the back like library checkouts ranging from 1972-75. Nobody from our crew wins anything. They do funky designs instead of the usual straight lines – a 6 pack, or the bottom four on all 4 corners, etc. I joke that a crescent wrench will be next.

In the middle Erin & I walk over for food, after seeing Jane go get some fries. We bring my mom some fries & ketchup too. The food here is surprisingly good. Erin orders a cheeseburger & fries, & when I get a ham & cheese, tries to talk me into fries. “You get fries?” I ask.

“You’re not getting any of my fries,” she says.

I order mozzarella sticks. She’s full after the burger & half the fries, slides them over to me. I thank her & eat them.

“I like how you let me have my way thinking I’m right, but you know in the end you’ll be right & you don’t even say anything,” she says, “that’s why this (points back and forth between her & me) is working.”

She’s wearing the purply flowered cotton top she bought on Tuesday, looks great on her.


July 4

My parents come to a cookout at Jane & Mike's house, since it's basically just up the highway from Lake Myers. We're at this Food Lion nearby, on 64, and cracking up at this unpleasant looking woman in the soft drink aisle. She has her cart turned sideways in the aisle and is extremely deliberate loading 2 liter after 2 liter into it, pyramid style. Completely oblivious that she’s blocking the aisle, or that people like us are standing a short distance away, smirking up at her with amusement.

July 8

Erin & I stay up at Lake Myers alone, in my parents’ RV. We discover Miller Restaurant in Mocksville. Old lady patting her on shoulder, our waitress. Erin says they have the best sweet tea she’s ever tasted. She has BBQ cole slaw, BBQ pulled pork. We totally love this place - picked it because there were a ton of cars in its gravel lot, just driving around looking for something unique. There’s a hilarious series of old pictures in the foyer, one of which looks like a young Mike Sexton.

That night we chill out in bed watching TV. I give her a massage & she passes out. It drizzles briefly sometime after midnight.

July 9

Howie & Lisa got into town & stayed with my parents last night, today they all come up to Lake Myers. Erin & I hang out in the pool for hours, much of it crowded around the cold water pipe, & get somewhat scorched. The DJ here plays the oddest mix of music imaginable. From Dueling Banjos to Sean Paul's Get Busy to something from Grease etc. We meet them at the RV when they get in, chat awhile, have dinner. A family member who shall remain nameless is still trying to get someone else to try salsa on a baked potato, his favorite. He has no takers.

July 28

Erin & I swing by Jill’s house to drop off some gifts my parents have gotten the girls. Nothing major, just some little fun stuff (craft projects, flip flops, et cetera).

“I like your necklace!” Emma enthuses to Erin, first thing when we walk in. Then we all hang out in the living room. I plop down on the floor & play Legos, color, glue crafts, and so on with Emma & Madison. Jill & Erin chitchat extensively.

From here we continue north to Mansfield. I’d been planning on taking Erin to Leaning Tower of Pizza tonight for the longest time, and do just that. I get off at exit 165 so we can drive thru Lexington.
She’s impressed by the neat interior of Leaning Tower – posters, distinctive brick floor assembled from all over, etc. At the suggestion of an employee, she has the antipasto salad (she doesn’t like hot lunchmeat, thus no sub), I order a 16” sub and we get a bag of BBQ Jones Chips. Then we’re waiting, & one of the workers back there recognizes me. I have to admit not recognizing him, though it’s been about 15 years and he looks a lot different. This is Andy Prinz, basically a friend of a friend from back in the day. Music wise they’re playing Vampire Weekend in here and Erin asks me what this is, because she really likes it. She even texts her sister, Jennifer, to ask if she listens to these guys, because the music seems right up her alley.

We drive further downtown, and when Erin asks if the reformatory is near here, I indicate that it’s only 5 minutes away. She’s excited so I drive her out to it, up route 13. And then we head out to Dad & Faith’s place, to spend the night. Erin hits it off very well with all of them. She has met my dad & one sister (Robin) already, at Emma’s 4th birthday party, but not my stepmom or other sister (Laura). Everyone’s home, and the 6 of us stay up late sitting around the table talking. She & Robin & Laura are laughing talking about old pop songs, etc, looking them up online.

July 29

Erin & I get up and take off east on 30, intending to hit Canton to visit McKinley’s grave & possibly get some stamps for her book before heading up to Cleveland. Except we get about halfway to Wooster & realize I left my phone on the kitchen counter, charging. So we have to return to Dad’s house to get it. Faith & Robin were both leaving for work, so we just barely caught them.

By now we’ve decided we don’t have time for Canton & drive straight up to Cleveland. Well, almost straight – plugging the coordinates into the GPS, Erin naps briefly, & I skirt around the outerbelt over to President Garfield’s former home, so that Erin can get a stamp in her book. It’s located east of town, in Mentor. Then we backtrack into downtown Cleveland, to his memorial at Lake View Cemetery. This thing is huge (the largest for any president, strangely) and looks like a castle. These and all other pictures from our trip are shot by Erin, as I am still using a Tracfone.

Eliot Ness and cartoonist Harvey Pekar are among the other notables buried at this cemetery. Anyway after this, we head out to Lakewood, and our hotel room for the night. It’s basically a charming, somewhat older little suburb but close enough that we can take the train back into downtown, for tonight’s Indians game. This is our whole reason for driving up here today.

At the hotel’s front desk, we’re asking the receptionist how to get to the train station from here. She’s a really friendly young girl and seems really smart, on top of things. Says she hopes we don’t mind walking a little bit, and we shrug, say this is fine. She begins describing our walk in perfect detail, so she obviously knows her stuff...which is why we’re completely baffled to show up there, and see they have a gigantic parking lot right at the station. We could have just driven.

We take the train the short distance into downtown, to watch the Tribe. This is Erin’s first major league baseball game, and possibly the most interesting one I’ve ever been to. In addition to our Indians-Yankees rivalry, A-Rod happens to have been sitting on 599 homers for 6 games now.

        From the RF concourse, we watch batting practice. Also oddly enough bump into former manager Ron, in line at a concession stand out here. Then we settle into our seats, some fairly decent ones along the third base line, and watch the game.
        Cleveland loads the bases in the 1st and scores a run. Then their starting pitcher, Talbot, injures himself in the middle of Jeter’s second at-bat and has to leave the game. There’s a man on first and the score is 1-0, but soon becomes 1-1. Carlos Santana is next to leave, due to injury. When we saw Columbus play Charlotte earlier this year, he was with that AAA squad, as was current second baseman Luis Valbuena. But Valbuena is hitting .161 for Cleveland, thus we are calling him "Nobueno."
        In other major developments, Erin pretends to be in the photo with various Yankees players and has me snap her picture with them. So Derek Jeter isn’t actually four inches tall, in case you’re wondering, he just happens to be half a mile away.

Erin pretending to hang out with Derek Jeter

A-Rod comes up 3 straight times with the bases loaded. Every time, the crowd goes berserk. Erin’s observing that there sure do seem to be a lot of New York fans here, golly gee. But though Rodriguez knocks in 3 with a sac fly & a two run single, there’s no home run in 6 chances. Hard to believe this is a tight game until the 7th. The Yankees add one in the 6th, then blow it open with this disastrous inning. The handful of dudes Cleveland trots out to the mound have done well up to this point, but I was kind of wondering how long they could keep this up – and unfortunately, soon have my answer. 
          Further compounding my misery is the appearance of infielder Andy Marte on the pitcher’s mound to begin the 9th inning. Can’t say I’ve seen a position player pitch before, not in person. By now the score is 11-1, though, and Cleveland is out of pitchers. True, after nearly beaning Cano to run the count 3-0, he induces a groundout, then somehow fans Swisher on 3 pitchers (Nick walks back to the dugout shaking his head and laughing), and retires the next batter, too, but it really doesn’t matter at this point.
        The Indians actually threaten to make this a game with two outs in the bottom of the 9th. Singles, walks, and a wild pitch run the score to 11-4. Erin and I have walked from our seats to the left field gate to hang out and watch this last half inning. In front of us, this group of older guys who are also divided are glued to the action, too, and needling one another. One of them, a fellow in Indians attire, keeps asking Erin, “are you nervous yet?” There are two men on base and a reliever warming up in the Yankee bullpen. But then a flyout to center field ends it, a shot to straightaway center. One of the old guys in Yankees gear starts singing New York, New York.

July 30

We drive back down to Columbus to meet Jill and the girls at Zoombezi Bay/Columbus Zoo. We start out at the water park, of course, and spend more time here overall. Maddie’s in more of a playful, ornery mood for most of the day, while Emma is all business – as these pictures might indicate:

Erin is Maddie’s new best friend today. We spend most of our time either in the big wave pool, or else the giant, normal swimming pool. During this latter experience, Maddie keeps showing Erin her assortment of jumping, swimming, and flipping maneuvers, all of them with elaborate names. Erin spends forever in this one corner of the massive pool, watching Madison's extensive list of moves. “This is called the Triple Mermaid Flip!” Maddie explains at one point, and, "this is called the Triple Backwards Princess Jump!” during another (so the triple moves are obviously big right now; even so, while no expert, I do observe that many of these maneuvers look suspiciously alike).

Eventually the 5 of us migrate over to the zoo. Over here, Emma is now on a manic quest for Dippin' Dots, which you can see is a very serious matter indeed:

Order is only properly restored after we have successfully secured the Dippin' Dots. In other developments, we do check out some of the actual animals here at the zoo. The girls have fun fighting over this one tunnel with a hatch at the polar bear exhibit.

Emma also takes particular interest in this fox across the hall, observing his existence and musing in a quiet voice about its daily routines. “That’s his little door...,” she explains, pointing to it. Erin snaps a picture of the fox’s sad corner, but it doesn’t turn out all that well. Near the end of our adventure, we ride through the zoo on their little train, which does at least bring a smile to some faces.

After this zoo adventure, Erin and I begin heading north again. It’s kind of a kooky itinerary but the only way we could seem to cram everything into this trip, schedule-wise. Tonight’s theme might possibly be “potential serial killer hideouts,” which begins with our stopping by Damon’s house out in the boondocks beyond Marengo. Here’s a shot Erin takes of his driveway: 

We don’t stay here long. Continuing onward, it only makes sense that we drive through Mansfield, and past the prison again, on route 13, as part of this tour. Finally arrive at our destination, this hilarious low budget Norwalk Inn which has an actual room key with diamond shaped plastic fob. This is also the only room I’ve ever rented where they don’t ask for any ID whatsoever. So let me tell me you, folks, if you’re ever on the lam, this is the place to be:

July 31

We get up and drive north to Catawba Island, then take a short ferry (about 18 minutes) on Lake Erie over to South Bass Island, otherwise known as Put-In-Bay. Erin’s saying she doesn’t do well on boats, but has no problems on this one.


Once we make our way over here, she and I check out Commodore Perry’s tower, and Erin gets a stamp for her National Parks book. It’s a cool place and all, but I've noticed before that the sun never really seems to shine on this island. Anyway, we then have lunch at some restaurant right on the water, and goof around various shops awhile, before taking the boat back to mainland.

Up next on our heavily improvised itinerary, she and I decide to get a “twilight” pass at Cedar Point, which is basically good for the second half of the day. For whatever reason, the pictures we take here seem to turn out really well and are some of my favorites. Here’s one taken at the giant Ferris wheel by the lake, and another in line for I think the Mantis:



We also stand for a while and just stare at Top Thrill Dragster, which is the most positively insane ride we’ve ever witnessed. I don’t see either of us ever boarding this puppy. Upon leaving, Erin realizes she’s left her favorite pillow at the Norwalk Inn, which means a return trip through there to pick it up. Finally, we arrive in Ashland, and crash at what has to be the poshest Super 8 in existence.

August 13

We ride up with my parents to the casino in Charleston, WV. Nobody really wins much this 1st night. Coming up, we ate at this horrible Wagon Wheel restaurant near the NC-VA border. Here’s a photo of their exceedingly choice eggs & wieners combo: 

The place is packed & there’s one waitress. Mom says her gravy tastes sugary. Food takes almost an hour to arrive, is horrible & virtually cold. People are walking out left & right, as there seems to be no manager. Hilarious calendars from past years & a Gennifer Flowers book for sale up front, however. Possibly the worst restaurant, ever.
        We have Pink Floyd’s Delicate Sound of Thunder video on in this nifty VCR they have in the back of their truck, listen to/watch that all the way through, during the ride up. We check in at the hotel, and are soon on a shuttle over to the casino, all 4 of us.

Erin plays the slots and is very conservative with her money, but soon discovers a somewhat lucrative strategy. This involves finding tiny amounts people left on machines & cashing them out, combining them, playing a little & increasing her bankroll that way. My parents stick to their one favorite row of machines near the restrooms, while I sign up for a poker table, wander around, play a little elsewhere, finally get a seat. I get through exactly one orbit (am down $4) before Erin is at the rail, telling me she busted a heel on her shoe. I have no choice but to leave.

She’s happy about her winnings, though, so we go up the street to Walmart & she uses some of the $ to buy new shoes.

August 14

My folks go to their friend Roy’s retirement ceremony, while Erin & I venture to the casino. We literally just walk into the place & she hits about $300 on the low budget row of machines back where my parents like to play. We know that he especially will be ticked off & thus have to call them right away.
        We have sandwiches for lunch at that French Quarter restaurant. Later, Erin will drift by to watch me play blackjack, then sit down & win $20 quickly, call it quits. Myself, I start out in a massive hole, rally most of the way back, then call it a day "only" down about $200. I don’t get it. I used to crush at this game. But, coincidentally, ever since reading an actual book on proper strategy, have had atrocious results the past 2-3 years, while playing “by the book.” It’s surely just randomness. But really, I think it’s a sign I should be doing absolutely nothing but playing poker in these casinos.

At some point my parents return from Roy’s ceremony & join us. Tonight the 3 of them play slots without much success. I sit for hours upon hours at the tightest table in the history of poker & somehow eke out enough profit that I’m up a whopping $15 for the trip. Erin is the big winner this time around.

August 15

In the morning we drive back. This being her first experience, Erin is hooked on casinos now too & has those “crazy eyes” that I’m always talking about. This is the look that females get when you mention slot machines.

        A little further down the interstate, my parents are looking for this lake they heard about. So we get off at some exit near Pax, WV - sheer podunk if ever such a place existed. After driving for miles upon miles along a horrifically bad road, having seen not even a sign leading to the lake, we give up & turn around. Somehow end up on what clearly appears to be a person’s driveway, leading up past these gigantic rocks. Sure enough, there’s some lady in the yard beside this charming red house on an absolutely beautiful expanse of land. These huge boulders protruding from the land make it look like Scotland or something. Naturally Pops here has to stop & talk to this lady, & naturally she has to be a motormouth. They are wanting to sell this place, her husband’s too old to keep up with the yard, she has a brother in Winston Salem. Actually the brother is supposed to be coming here today, and when she saw our NC plates, she thought this was him, she says. We are here forever. Then the husband comes moseying out of the house & we mercifully manage to hightail it. Then there is some positively terrifying discussion that they might make an offer to the lady for her house. Then our driver here, who orchestrated this diversion, realizes he wouldn’t know the mailing address.

        “You probably wouldn’t need the mailing address here,” I tell him, “you could just address it to Friendly Lady With Big Rocks In Yard, Pax, West Virginia.”
        At a completely different exit, we finally stumble around long enough to locate this Stephens Lake place. It is a pretty lovely setting, and peaceful here – let me tell you, this is no Lake Myers. There’s talk about camping here sometime which will probably never happen.

August 21

Erin says the entire apartment smells like crayons, including me.

August 25 – The folks stop by the Davidson HHM store, where I am working today, and have lunch with me. We all 3 have a different Smoke Rise BBQ item & sit out front on picnic table. 

August 28 – Surprise 60th b-day party for Erin’s uncle Mike - all the more surprising in that he doesn’t turn 60 until November. A bunch of friends & family are in town from NY for the occasion. Joe is holding court out back with his usual mix of off-color jokes, political commentary, and crackpot money making schemes. Pretty hilarious, though. Reminiscing about weird random things and interrupting people constantly, and this time he also brings a Mason jar of moonshine in his cooler. It has peaches floating in it and if we had stayed any longer, I might have tried some. Fortunately, Erin is bored & drags me out of there.

September 17

I go to bed at 6am and get up for work at 8. Erin tells me I am "completely insane." I was in an online poker tournament and finished 3rd, though, for a $313 payday on $6 buy-in. So I think it was justified.

September 19

But then posts a Facebook message about how she's been awake for hours and I'm still sleeping. "Something is wrong with this picture!" she says.

October 18

I am sent on a ketchup run.

October 24

I go over to visit and see Holden for the first time. He mostly just sleeps. My parents are over, Wine Drinking Mike and his family, some other random friends of Brandy’s whom I don’t know, as well as her mom. They’ve painted Holden's room tan with baby blue solar system glow in the dark decals on the walls. My parents bring Little Caesar's pizza and some brownies that Mom baked.

November 4

Dinner at Vinnie’s in Mooresville – Jackie’s birthday. In addition to Jackie & my folks, Erin meets me at their house and we drive over in 3 separate vehicles. Then Steve Leonard, Jim & Michelle, Daniel & Brandy & Addison, and Chicago Rick show up. The service is slow initially but the food comes out faster than expected and it is uniformly awesome. Erin & I had sworn off this place after some bad experiences in the summer but are impressed & may lift our ban.

November 6

“Okay, I can’t eat with a headband on. It keeps coming off.” (Erin, breakfast at Smoky Mountain Pancakes in Pigeon Forge). Today marks her 29th birthday.

November 14

Erin and I get in the holiday spirit by putting up our first Christmas tree together, in our cozy little apartment:


November 21

I tell Erin that the first step to cleaning the house is to dim the lights.

December 10

Erin made a deal with her students that if they scored well enough on a test, she would wear a Red Sox shirt to school. She takes this photo of herself getting ready this morning. And looks like she might want to puke, or cry, or both. 

December 19

Erin's friend Melissa invites us to a Christmas party at her apartment complex. She has rented out the clubhouse for the occasion. Here we are in our rockin' holiday getups, for the party: 

And then here's a group photo from the party itself:

December 21

Erin sends me the following message:
Hey, you at work? I'm not. Bwahahahahahahaha!!!

December 24

I head over to the Walle house after work. Some of the girls are making dinner. Erin asks me to snap exactly 288 green beans for some reason. I take a picture of them when finished and post it to Facebook.

December 25

An outrageous snowstorm hits - it's apparently the first time it's snowed here on Christmas Day since like the 1940s. Erin gets a couple good pictures of the carnage today:

Walle house 12-25-10

Erin's PT Cruiser, after we make it home

December 26

...and then a bunch more photos this morning:

December 27

Christmas party at Daniel's house. Erin & I have gotten Mom & Brandy gift certificates for a nail salon in Mooresville.

Daniel & Holden
Daniel & Holden

December 31

A handful of us meet for lunch at Chris's Cafe in Mansfield. My parents, my aunt Jackie and cousin Kirstin, and then Erin and me.

Jackie and Kirstin

Later on, she and I will drive down to Columbus for a New Year's party with a bunch of my friends. Meanwhile, up in Mansfield, some of the family gets together. It looks like they start at my Uncle Dewane & Aunt Mona's house and then move to some unknown bar: