I turned 32 in jolly old England. Last time I was there I was 20, drinking hard cider in the northern lands with a crew or rowdy Manchester-ites. This time, Isabel and I stuck to Bath and Oxford.

Bath was great fun. It’s a good walking town, filled with remains from both Roman and Victorian times. The highlight was the Roman Baths museum—a relatively intact hot-spring bath from 2000 or so years ago. Part of the complex was a temple; the Romans apparently liked to combine the holy with the sensual. I wish I could have witnessed life back then. It’s interesting the way the whole museum was set up. Even in areas where most of a wall has been destroyed, they created a new wall and just stuck in the pieces where they would have been, so you can imagine how the whole thing would have looked.

Other highlights of Bath: wandering around the streets at night and checking out the lighted Bath Abbey, having clotted cream tea at tea time, and great Moroccan food, visiting this crazy cuckoo clock shop with a strudel shop downstairs. And Meatloaf, who performed outdoors not far from our hotel the first night.

One day we took a tour around the countryside. We saw Stonehenge, which contrary to warnings we heard, was pretty cool. You could get up much closer than we expected. The latest thinking is that it was either a forum-type meeting place, or a monument to the dead, with the monument to the living having been at Woodhenge not far away (but rotted away, of course). But this is probably all wrong. But I do know they druids had nothing to do with it, and the stones were dragged all the way from Wales. Then we saw Avebury, another mysterious stone circle, and the villages of Lacock and Castle Combe, where films such as Harry Potter and Dr. Doolittle (old version) were filmed. Good stuff.

Things regressed a bit from there, as the scattered rains grew more persistent, and the Brits grew more ornery. We were drenched as we headed for the train for Oxford, and we nearly came to blows with a chap on the train.

Oxford was nice, though I was generally off to work. I met a whole crew of people who I’d been emailing, calling, or conference calling for months but never met. They were most gracious. Then, surprise, I was asked to join in on a  meeting with the executives who are thinking of buying our company. Fortunately I wasn’t thrown too many difficult questions, and they appear still interested.

Meanwhile, Isa wandered the streets, and ventured to London one day, which proved quite the ordeal. One evening I reserved a punt, a boat that you push along with a pole, like a gondola. I struggled to get it out of the dock, and when we were a little ways out, another punt slammed into the side of our boat, knocking me into the water. Isabel was not happy, and my clothes were fairly ruined. But we recovered.

We also caught a little British TV. Ricky Gervais is just as awesome in stand-up. They also have their own reality TV. We saw a cooking reality show, but missed what is surely can’t miss TV—Last Choir Standing.

The last night we went to the company summer party. Everyone dressed as cowboys and Indians; our crew won first prize in the costume contest with an elaborate covered wagon. Isa and I went with a simple sheriff’s badge and bandanna, in addition to our authentic westerner’s garb.

Oh yes, and England is damn expensive! Fortunately my company was covering me for the time in Oxford, or else we would have needed a few more credit cards, and jobs. But all in all, jolly good fun.

I meant to tell you the rest of what happened during the move, but time got away, or at least it proceeded at its usual pace while I dallied. Here’s the gist:

I got back out to Chicago, leaving my pregnant wife behind, only to have her call me the next morning at work and tell me that her car had been stolen from our driveway. And, of course, I, retaining a bit of that free-spirited devil-may-care attitude, hadn’t gotten any theft insurance on it. The police came and took our information, but didn’t look for it, because what are they going to do, comb the streets for a Honda CR-V? They did find another stolen car across the street from us, in a condemned house where a few squatters were living, the same house in front of which another car had been found not long before. But that was certainly a coincidence.

A few weeks later, settled into our new apartment, we received a police report of the incident along with a photo of our beloved car, stripped bare, upside down, in a forest in Pennsylvania. We had to pay to have it removed.

We had to rent a car to complete our original plan, of driving across to Chicago with our most precious things. We stopped at Penn State along the way, the first time since 1999 or so. The place was rather different, as expected. The HUB was looking good, and on the lawn a band was playing to a large crowd as rain threatened. We wandered over to Atherton Hall, where the bad things (hallways) had been left intact and the good things (TV lounges) removed to make for more claustrophobic quarters, at least at first glance. We wandered down College Ave. and took shelter from a downpour in a clothing store, where we bought our baby a shirt. In City Lights record store I saw the owner Ken Kubala, looking much pudgier, who certainly wouldn’t remember me after our brief acquaintance a decade ago. The rest of the downtown was rather different, more national chains, fewer bagel places, no Daily Grind, though my old Uni-Mart was still there. The apartment on Nittany Ave. was charming as ever; not much had changed there. We had dinner at the Corner Room.

All in all it was good to visit. Going back to a place like that is a good barometer on the progress of your life. If you’re displeased with your life, returning to the place that held all the promise of the future will leave a bad taste in your mouth. If you’re happy with how things turned out, you’ll be thankful for the opportunities and enjoy seeing the new crowds experiencing their own first taste of freedom. 

Being back here gave us another kind of freedom, a strange interlude between the past and future, between a past that was once our future (Providence) and a future that we had thought was past (Chicago). We happy to turn away from the old life in Rhode Island, a life of enjoyment and promise only partially fulfilled, a slate we were happy to wipe clean with a return to the Midwest.

It’s been over a month, and we like it here. We got new furniture. Mike and Cynthi sold us an old car for a song. Andy and Laura cameout from D.C., and Cindy and Sergio came down from Madison, and had a great time together while showing off all our new servingware. (Yes!) (Speaking of which, Good luck in Italy, Cindy and Sergio! Update your blog often, and I promise to read it!) It’s a comfortable place, a place where I can sit on the back porch and write in my blog (though this is the first time I’ve done that) as my wife attends her knitting class.

It will be a good place to have a baby, once we have the baby room set up, maybe paint the walls, get a crib, changing table, some other furniture. Of course I’ll be looking back at these days as B.B., before baby, I’m sure, having trouble remembering what life was like before we had a baby, when we could sleep, go out, do what we wanted, without this infernal bundle of joy weighing us down, right, knowing parents?

By the way, we’re having a girl. Should be an adventure.

 

We made it back to Chicago. Feels like it’s been about, oh, six months. Sometimes I still look up from my computer at work and think about some place in Providence, and it takes me a few seconds to remember that I don’t live there anymore, won’t be back there. For a while I was waking up not sure where I was, but that’s about over now.

Now we’re settled into our new apartment in suburban Wheaton, with a new couch, newly assembled table and media stand, and a dwindling number of boxes. Mike and I painted the walls over a couple of days, though we’ll need some brighter lights in here if you really want to be able to tell the difference. We’re soaking in the warm embrace of suburbia, with wide freeways and shopping and restaurants as far as the eye can see. Back in New England you really had to plan out your trips to the store, and be sure to bring a map. Here you can just get onto the main road and keep driving until you find what you want.

Getting out of Rhode Island was an adventure. I drove out here after several days of packing, staying over in my old haunt of Sharon, Pennsylvania along the way. That was back in the summer of 1997, fresh home from Manchester, England, when I drove down Route 80 with my Dad in my new Hyundai Excel, and took up residence in the home of Jean Kooser, 70 something, of Hann Hill Road, Hermitage. And a hermitage it truly was, with little to do but wander the depressed streets of Sharon, seek out the old covered briges and winding rivers of Mercer County, and wander through the firefly-lighted abandoned air strip in back of Jean’s property, to the tune of the Beatles.

I drove up the steep Hann Hill to Jean’s old house, from which Jean passed to the next world several years ago, to see what bells it would ring. It took a minute to figure out which one it was–it now has a trampoline in the back, sign of a new family in the space where Mrs. Kooser once smoked her Virginia Slims as she watched “Quincy” on her little kitchen TV, and muttered, “Pancakes!” as I made my weekend breakfast. Out back, where I considered my place in the world on my walks through the overgrown thicket, the land has been turned into a true walking path, and beyond it, a growing technology park, a proper use of a once-neglected patch.

Downtown in Sharon, there wasn’t much to see. There was the Herald, and Lenny’s Auto Repair, where my Dad and I limped in with my already-self-destructing car as soon as we arrived, and the river that I stared down at to glean yet more existential meaning. I decided to eat over at the Quaker Steak and Lube, a gas station that had been converted into a restaurant, where I had visited for the Wednesday bike night and wrote up an article about the colorful locals.

I tried to see what I could remember of it as I walked in and surveyed the scene. At the door, a gas pump refashioned as a doorknob. Then, just inside the door, a yellowed, framed newspaper article, a bit crinkled and hard to read after a decade of aging: “At home in hog heaven. By David Andrews, Herald News Intern.”

There I was, 11 years later, my name on their wall. I had actually left a mark on this forgotten place, a place that I was sure could not have remembered me. Suddenly the whole place seemed different–it was not a dusty old place that meant nothing now; it was the launching of my (brief) journalistic career, one that yielded a work that the purveyors of this restaurant saw fit to keep hanging on their wall for 11 years, yellowing though it may have been. This article was hardly a masterpiece, but it was written by me. More importantly, it seemed, it bore my name.

I ordered up some ribs and watched the Red Sox game for a while. I told the waiter of my discovery, and he told me there was more. This is the original Quaker Steak and Lube, he said, but there are new ones being franchised all the time. And every article that’s posted on these walls (mine wasn’t the only one) is reproduced at every “Lube.”

I had to see if he was right, so I stopped at the Lube closest to Chicago, in Portage, Indiana, on my way in. I found my article (in much better shape) among the many pieces of publicity and Americana on their walls. Isabel and I found another elsewhere in Pennsylvania, and there it was again. It looks like my journalistic works will live on, in a mediocre story about bikers, in a chain of restaurants derived from a converted gas station, across a great swath of rural America.

That’s enough for now; the saga shall continue…

 

First: Welcome to life, Samuel Brix Bond! Kisses and roses for all! Way to go, Carolyn and Eric!

Also:

I started my new job yesterday. It’s at a small book publisher for mostly elementary level nonfiction, titles like “Why am I a Bird?” or “The Drug Trade.” It seems like it’ll be a good job, once I figure out what’s going on, what I should be doing every day, and get my commute ironed out. It’s strange to step in to manage people at an unfamiliar place. I felt confident managing people in my last job because I had done the work myself before, so I had an idea of what they were going through. Here, I wonder if they’ll think, what does he know? He hasn’t done this before.

I still miss the old job. I was preparing to go for weeks, but the departure felt abrupt, still scrambling to get stuff done on the last day, knowing that the people I left behind would be scrambling still. They gave me a great sendoff at the end, complete with thoughtful cards, notes, e-cards, and an amazing drawing from one of my favorite editors. Tears were shed. It was a privilege to have an ending like that, especially after just a couple of years there–made me feel like I really did have an impact, accomplished something, not just in whatever textbooks we created, but in creating some positive result for the people I worked with, which is even more gratifying. I hope they know how much I loved working with them, a talented, fun bunch who made me look forward to going into work every day. I will keep my fingers crossed that this job will be a little like that one.

Yes, I think I will. How bout next week. For the move, that is. The baby can wait till October.

We’ve been figuring it out for a while, actually, so sorry for the belated news-dissemination. Much to catch up on. I’ll dedicate this post to the baby. We’re very excited, naturally. Reading lots of book and following his/her growth from the size of a lentil to a bean to a grape to maybe now an apricot. Isa’s been feeling the sickness, but she’s just about out of her first trimester so we’re hopeful she’ll have a few easier months. We had an ultrasound today and saw the baby. He/she actually looks human, which is a good thing. About three inches long. Apparently it’s a healthy baby. She’s due October 15…about a year younger than Griffin, whom we look forward to meeting and introducing as a playmate down the road.

The baby made it easier to decide to move back–we were thinking about it (Isa’s been missing the midwest and I still like it out there), so we decided to do it before the baby comes. She likes her doctor out there more than any out here anyway. It also made it easier to tell family about the move. We’re moving back to Chicago to have a baby is easier than we’re moving back to Chicago because we don’t like it out here.

What else…got a new job, think we have an apartment in Wheaton, and just finished my old job. Also went to Costa Rica. Hopefully I’ll get to write about those things, if anybody still checks this thing.

 

I came within a hair of an accident last week. On the way in to work, the roads were slick with snow, and I was going down the windy road to Natick, when this car pulled out right into the street, and stopped in my path. I was going too fast to stop, so I swerved left to get around him, and barely avoided hitting him. But the swerve put me on a collision course with a car coming from the other direction. With the slick road, he couldn’t stop either, and when I turned my car just kept sliding forward.

At the last second my wheels caught the road and I veered right, just missing him. I got back onto my side of the road and was fishtailing around before I regained control. The whole rest of the ride in my heart pounded, I thanked God even though I don’t believe in him, and the rest of the day I felt wasted.

It wouldn’t have been too major of an accident; I wasn’t going that fast. But sliding head-on toward that car, with nothing to do but hope (and maybe pump the brakes?) — when you’ve led a charmed life, those moments of true panic stick with you.

So the Pats lost. It looked like they had it for a minute there, or two, before the Giants drove down the field with the gamewinning drive. We gnashed our teeth on Chad and Anar’s couch when the last balls sailed just out of reach, and then moped about cutting our wrists and actually reading books. This too shall pass.

It’s poetic and grand in its own way, and feels not-quite-wrong. The Pats were the impossible story in 2001, the band of nobodies who rose up for the common man and took one out of the hands of the elite. Then they kept doing it, and we got used to it: they became the elite. When they couldn’t keep on top they stocked up on star players of the sort they’d never had before, and stomped the competition like a true goliath.

But if you make yourself a big enough target, everyone’s going to take a shot at you, and they did. They scraped by when they had been cleaning up, and finally, at the very end, when perfection was in their grasp, the scrappy underdogs broke through, just as the Pats had years ago. Rather than tasting the familiar victory once again, a new team and a new set a fans got to feel that incredible feeling that comes once in a lifetime–of achieving the impossible upset, of slaying Goliath.

I feel a little sad, but it’s okay. Now I can leave this behind and look at the other things in my life. Yes, there are good books to read. I’m reading Hunger by Knut Hamsum, which is turning out to be pretty good. We’ve got literature textbooks to write at work, and a tribute to write at the home business. Plus, Isa and I plan on going to Costa Rica in a couple of months. (You can see what she’s up to at lizandrws.blogspot.com.)

This one hurts, but not too badly. How many teams would kill to turn in the season the Pats did this season? It was good drama, and I’ll be interested to see what the next chapter brings. But for now I think I’ll think about something else.