When last we met, we were in the middle of a sunny but cold February 2016 excursion into southeastern Ohio, just a couple of miles from the Ohio River itself in Washington County, whose county seat is Marietta. Washington County is one of the more prosperous counties of southeastern Ohio—its per capita income is 25-33% higher than that of neighboring counties—but everything is relative. Central Ohio counties have incomes similarly higher than that of Washington County. You can find prosperity and poverty both along the Ohio River here.
I never rode in a city bus until I was at college in San Antonio; sans car, I had to beg rides or take the bus. Luckily, San Antonio had a great bus system. As a child and a teen, I was too close to both my elementary school and my high school to take school buses, but I did occasionally go on field trips. The first field trip I ever took, which was when I was very young, was to a dairy. It wasn’t very exciting, but it got us out of school. When I was in the 8th grade, the entire 8th grade went on a day long field trip, first to the El Paso planetarium, then to a state park adjacent to the mountains that are such a big piece of El Paso’s landscape. The picnic at the state park was all fine and good but what my little geek self was excited about was the planetarium. Oh, was I excited about that.
We all got in the buses to go to the planetarium and one of the cool things about not being in school was that you could chew gum. Gum was not verboten in the real world. I have never been a huge gum chewer, but when I was offered a stick of gum by one of my classmates, I took it. Why not live the high life? We arrived at the planetarium and debarked. But as we were filing in from the lobby into the actual arium part, a pinched-face planetarium employee put his hand out to stop me. “Are you chewing gum?” he asked. Well, I was. I forgot to spit it out. I went to put the gum in a trash can but when I came back to the line, the employee would not let me in—he wanted to punish me for nearly having brought gum into his beloved planetarium (heaven forefend). No teacher intervened to help me, and so I was forced to sit in the lobby for an eternity while every one of my 130 grademates got to see a planetarium show. It would be another 10 years until I entered the doors of a planetarium again—although, in a belated soothing of my still-ruffled feathers, that second experience let me know I had not really missed anything with the first. Still, what a fucking mean thing to do.
In which our intrepid hero discovers the safe that could not save itself…
For the past 18 years, I have had to travel a lot for work. That means a lot of stays in hotels. After all these years, I know exactly what I want and don’t want from hotels (don’t worry, I won’t list them). Hotels rarely surprise me, although sometimes they definitely still do. Things were a lot different when I was a kid, though. Hotels—or, more typically, motels—were rare and strange creatures. We could rarely afford to travel much, so the few vacations I went on as a kid are pretty much engrained on my mind. They weren’t really very far—places you could get to by car—and were all in the Southwest: Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, etc. As a kid, I found motels both exciting and a drag. They were a drag, because we’d typically get a room with two double beds and my sister and I would have to share a bed and we got little sleep (plus, my parents snored). But on the other hand, they were unbelievably cool. Even things like ice machines seemed strange and exotic. There was stationery in every room! More than once, we had those “Magic Fingers” beds you could pay a quarter to have vibrate. We couldn’t get enough of that.