“You know you’ve hit trip/vacation mode when you don’t remember the day, the time or even care.  It’s a feeling all should experience more than once in this life.”

So, as promised in the last entry, I was going to try and put into words the weather we were doing our best to skirt as we approached our roots for the night, McCook, Nebraska.  Let me try and put a picture in your head…instead of blue sky and fluffy, white clouds, we were headed into satan’s playground.  A glorious mass of ever changing shape, ominous colors that spanned from dark gray to black to green, all pointing to one conclusion – tornado.  Fortunately for us before our trip, Terry had downloaded a weather application to his GPS that show’s, in real time, large storm cells, flooding, you get the picture.  Because our heads were constantly buried in weather.com (when we could GET a Wi-Fi), we knew there was a chance of encountering such a storm; this is why it was McCook, Nebraska and NO FURTHER!  The further east we rolled, the darker the sky became.  Each time I keyed up on the radio, Terry assured me that the weather was heading southeast, and that we would be avoiding its path.  Uh, huh.  I’m not really into the name Dorothy (no offense, Piazza!) and I certainly didn’t bring a little dog.  But, I did have a little child, and that was close enough for any parent.  Ten miles out, five miles out, the sky continued to change, molding itself into an even greater spectrum of colors.  But wait!  It was turning itself further south, away from our intended destination, moving away faster than we had initially anticipated.  WE WERE GOING TO LIVE!  By the time we rolled into the Holiday Inn Express, the storm had broken up (think “Twister” style) and had almost completely vanished.  No joke!  I had heard that Midwest storms came and went within minutes.  All 3 of us were a witness to such a phenomenon.  Stellar.  Frightening.  Exhilarating.  Emotionally exhausting.

There were 2 Honda Goldwings parked under the overhang when we rolled in, both branded with Kentucky plates.  Inside there were to older couples (I’m guessing mid to late 60’s – don’t hate me if I’m wrong, gang) that had just rolled through the mother of all rainstorms.  Tom, Birdie, Gary (Mr. Birdie) and one more lovely female whose name escapes me right now, were all looking pretty dry given the previous wrath of nature.  They were in great spirits, asking if we, too, had encountered such weather.  Not on this leg, but I can tell you some stories!  They were wonderfully chatty, talking of their ride, how they were doing 500-mile days, ANY and all topics that could be discussed.  As Terry and I checked in, Jack was outside holding court, pointing out all of our stickers, telling tales of our travels, not wanting mom or dad ANYWHERE near him as he played the 8 year old adult.  I knew better than to poke my head outside to check in, but I did anyway.  I was quickly shooed away.  Parents!  One of the guys let Jack sit in the passenger seat of his bike.  Wrong move!  Jack immediately sank in exclaiming, “Daddy!  You need to get one of THESE!”  Sure, kid.  Good luck with that.  We chatted a lot with the Kentucky group.  Well, WE didn’t chat much, but we sure did hear some great stories.  Gotta love it.  Now, to find a place open for dinner that wasn’t fast food.  Ick.  The ‘Nice But Genetically Challenged’ lady at the front desk suggested a place in town, a family-style restaurant.  Please keep that descriptor on your brain as THIS story unfolds.  Away we rode to grab some much-needed grub.  Found the place, parked next to a newer Suburban with a California license plate, can’t be all that bad, eh?  Ahem…as the door slammed closed behind us, we were greeted with a female voice behind the counter yelling, “Well, FUCK YOU, then!  Goddamn mother fucker!”  Apparently, she and the cook were having a bit of a spat.  Ah, FAMILY TIME!  Terry and I looked at each other with a raise of the eyebrows, but decided to stick it out.  We were instructed by another, much nicer waitress to sit anywhere.  As we approached a booth, I began to notice a recurring theme within the four walls – couples and families, all very, VERY large in size, all not talking, all slung over their respective bowls of Jell-O/meat surprise/gray veggies.  The walls were adorned with cookie jars, new and old, mostly just creepy.  We ordered our drinks and no, “We don’t have beer or wine.”  Booooo….  That would’ve made this place at least tolerable if not comical.  Jack exclaimed, “This place freaks me out.”  I agreed, saying that it gave me the creeps.  Terry looked me straight in eyes and asked, “Do you want to go?  Say the word.”  I said it.  We were outta there!  Terry gave the waitress some lame excuse, and we blasted out of there as fast as we could get our helmets on.   The classy waitress was STILL lambasting the cook as we headed out the door.  Ah, good times.  A BBQ down the street filled our bellies just fine.  Still a lot of severely obese Nebraskans, but they had Fat Tire Ale and a waitress that didn’t swear.  Ta da!

That night around 2AM, I was awakened but the most unheard of storm I’ve ever experienced in my 40, ahem, 34 years.  I checked on Terry and Jack, both sound asleep, and made my way to the window.  Outside our window was what I can only describe as the mother of weather all coming together into one MOTHER of a brew.  The flags flew straight out as constant bolts of lightening littered the sky from every direction.  Crashes of thunder hitting again and again and again as sheets of rain and balls of hail came hurling down.  Man, God was PISSED!  I’d NEVER seen such a thing!  I mean, I’ve always heard about Midwest storms, but I never imagined I’d find myself in one.  I was never so thankful to be under a solid roof.  I watched for a while until it began to scare me, fearing that the window would become shards of glass at any moment.  I ran back to bed, pulling the covers to my chin, hoping it would stop soon.  It did.  Remember, these storms come and go quickly.  The wind died down, the hail stopped, the rain softened.  I could, once again, resume my beauty sleep.  I was going to need it.

The morning brought those bright blues skies and fluffy clouds I was hoping for.  The forecast for the next week – sunny!  Finally.  We loaded up once again to an audience of genetically challenged hotel employees.  I’m sorry, McCook, but this town is just WEIRD.  I know Nebraska is not this way (T-Roy), but this place just gave us the willies.  Time to move on to Kansas!  We had very high hopes for Kansas.  It’s just one of those places that always held the promise of small town life, laid back days, and friendly, open people.  Our hopes were high, especially Terry’s.  Our small-town experiences thus far had proved vanilla with not much to report.  He wanted homemade pies, people waving from porches, the whole Norman Rockwell scene.  I was, too.  Jack just wanted to make sure that we weren’t rolling for too many miles between stops.  Don’t worry, buddy, we’ve got you covered.  And now, Kansas…and they like to wave to ya…

After a brief stop to take a picture by the “Welcome to Kansas” sign, we continued south then east on a two-lane road, rolling along with the hills, our heads on a swivel as we marveled at the natural landscape that was Kansas.  Fields of golden wheat and cornstalks of varying heights enveloped us.  With each new hill came a new scene – flat to the south, hills to the north, farmhouse and silo, horses running along the fence lines.  It truly was the Kansas we were looking for.  Awesome.  We had chosen the small town of Lenora to stop for lunch.  The dot on our map was only slightly larger than some of the others, so we felt it was “the” place to stop.  It was really our only choice at this point.  Terry spotted the sign to our right and with blinkers on, we rolled down the lonely road, passing the town grain warehouse as we entered.  Hmmmm…Doesn’t look to be much around.  A very small downtown boasted a bank, post office, tiny grocery store and several closed businesses.  I couldn’t help but think a Wal-Mart had something to do with these closed signs.  I loathe Wal-Mart, but that’s a whole other story.  There was one man walking the street, so I pulled up along side of him and asked if there was any place to eat.  Yes, the brick building with the hand written sign just a block up.  Handwritten?  Yup, there it was, The Tavern, the sign stating, “We are open”.  Were kids allowed?  You never know, as each state is different and weird about their liquor laws.  Yes, kids were allowed.  Score.   We opened the squeaky, heavy wooden door and entered a whole new scene.  I swear if the jukebox were playing, it would have come to a screeching halt.  All heads turned to watch the newcomers saunter in, odd clothing and all, carrying motorcycle helmets.  The place was now silent.  It was right out of a movie.  We slowly walked in, taking a booth to our right, hoping to not upset the natural balance of the place too much.  Folks soon returned to their meals, some resumed their conversations.  The very nice proprietor notified us of the day’s special, cheeseburger and fries, only $4.95.  Do you have hot dogs by any chance?  Goal!  Jack is more of a hot dog kinda guy.  We watched as several more towns folk meandered in, as it was almost noon straight up.  The women from the bank came in, the men from the fields, it was a potpourri of people with us thrown in just to stir things up a bit.  No one would talk to us.  Some looked our way, a couple smiled, but only one was brave enough to strike up a conversation.  “You ride all the way from California?  That’s great!”  This guy was sitting with a group of other farm guys all dressed the same in their Wrangler’s, baseball caps with the perfectly rounded bill, and button down plaid shirts, some with the sleeves ripped off.  It was the classic Kansas scene we’d hoped for.  Finally, after the first guy initiated the conversation, a couple of others began to pipe in here and there.  Our orders came and you guessed it, it was the size of a $4.95 meal.  A very small, hand formed burger, small side of fries, but it was good and it was fast.  I asked the owner if it was okay if I took a few pictures of the place.  No problem!  The walls boasted pictures and articles about the history of the town.  Headlines such as “Lenora Gets Electricity” and “The New Auto Dealership” hung over each booth and by the bar.  I love small town memorabilia.  It’s honest and there’s no hype unlike the newspapers today that grace our driveways every morning.  The owner asked, “Are you lost?  Because anyone who comes to Lenora is lost.”  “No.  We actually put it in our GPS as a spot to stop for lunch.”  “You did?  Boy, are you lucky.   I just started serving lunch last week and have only been open for 2 months.”  Yes, we were fortunate.  Had there been no restaurant, we’d been forced to buy something at the small grocery next store where the large, sweaty dude in overalls sat on the front steps like a bad hood ornament.  The dude who struck up the conversation when we were eating piped in with, “Man!  I wish I hadn’t lent out my motorcycle today or I’d ride along with you for a while!”  Now THAT would’ve been cool – GROUPIES!  We paid our tab (the cheapest meal yet) and headed back out into the heat to suit up.  The guys from the table came out for a smoke, leaning on the brick building, finishing up their conversations from lunch.  It was a classic photo, one I attempted to take without them knowing it.  We’ll see how it turns out.

Our home for the night was going to be, you guessed it, the Holiday Inn Express in Concordia, Kansas.  Hey, when you’re on the road, a place with a laundry, pool and hot tub satisfies all the members of the family!  Now, if they’d only throw in a mini bar…  And what’s with this humidity thing?  We surely don’t have THIS in California!  Ugh.  It was about 90 degrees with 90% humidity.  Splendid.  I love when my makeup just sliiiides right off my face.   We also noticed all the piles of tree branches that dotted each side of the town streets.  Looks like they felt the affects of the storm, too.  Keeping fingers crossed we don’t get another one the rest of the trip.  After unloading our gear, I looked down at my feet and noticed it was about time for a pedicure.  Just because I’m on a motorcycle doesn’t mean I have to look like ass!  I usually do my own (and I do a very good job, thank you), but decided to support the local economy and get one in town.  Time to make an appointment for tomorrow morning.  We’d passed a place on our way into town that was along the main drag.  Looked nice enough so let’s give it a go.  The place was only 1.2 miles away and it was such a nice day out, why not walk?  Hell, I’ve been in veal mode for too long and needed the exercise.  And the humidity?  Won’t bother me.  I’m tough!  Uh huh.  I made my way through the narrow streets of Concordia, taking in the beauty of the older homes, making sure not to trip over any of the piles of tree branches.  It sure was getting a tad warm.  I really wanted to have at least ONE cute day outside of the helmet.  But today was NOT going to be the day.  By the time I walked in the door of the salon, all my makeup had slid off, my hair was in a ponytail and stuck to my neck, and my pits rivaled any Wall Street stockbroker.  I was officially gross.  But I was greeted by a very young, very nice, very fresh out of beauty school Kansas girl.  I liked her.  We chatted the entire time she filed and painted.  She was not yet 20, got pregnant at 17 and was still with the babies father.  That was good to hear.  She was ambitious, wanting more for herself and her family, soaking in all the stories of our travels, eager to hear more.  She’d never been out of Kansas, with the exception of visiting her father in Colorado.  She needed to educate herself.  She needed to flee.  I told her, you can always come back but you need to leave.  There’s so much out there!   Do it while you’re young and take your family with you.  All the hassle and planning and saving is worth every memory.  I truly hope she takes my advice.  She’s not stupid, just young.  And I do hope her pedicure skills improve with time.

Terry and Jack met me for lunch afterwards at a Mexican food restaurant down from the salon.  Food!  Was it good?  So-so, but we were full.  And speaking of food, I’m sooooo tired of restaurants!  We all were.  But wait!  The hotel had a huge gas grill just outside the pool area.  Are you thinking what I’m thinking?  Those of you who know me well enough know that I’d rather cook than go out.  I’ll feed the masses anytime.  It took very little convincing to get Terry and Jack to agree to a night of BBQ, healthy, California-style.  Off to the local store we go!  Chicken?  Yes.  Bread?  Yes.  Corn?  NO?  Are you KIDDING ME?  We’re in THE corn capital and not an ear to be found.  Bummer.  Heavy sigh.  Okay, red peppers and mushrooms it is.  I couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel.  While Jack and Terry headed to the pool, I did all the prep work in our bathroom.  Remember, our “kitchen” is in the Givi top case on my bike.  Spices, a knife, Jetboil, I had it all!  And now, for a well earned home-cooked meal.  With my kitchen set up on the outside table, I found myself right at home, like I was grilling in my own backyard.  Ah, felt good.  Jack had made a friend with a girl, Hannah, so we invited her to join us for dinner.  Her mom and some other people joined in for some wine and conversation.  As the sky turned to nightfall and the clouds gathered and darkened, you could see lightening off in the distance.  Man, not again!  And was that a raindrop?  Thankfully, we were already done and ready for hit the sack.  We bid goodnight to our new friends with promises of keeping in touch.  I really hope they do.

The next day we were off and rolling, hoping to make it to Kansas City, Kansas, to stay for the night before crossing into Missouri.  On the advice of T-Roy, we set the GPS for Lawrence, Kansas, home of the Kansas University Jayhawks, as our lunch stop.  Did I mention the humidity already?  You could wring the three of us out like a sponge and our riding suits ready to walk by themselves.  Ick.  We were ready for some lunch and a very cold beer.  And what a really cool downtown Lawrence was!  Reminded me of Davis with that university, small town feel.  Thanks, T-Roy!  We parked in front of a hotel and on the advice of a local, headed across the street to the local brewery.  Perfect.  Beer AND air conditioning.  After a while, we each admitted that we were pooped and tossed around the idea of staying in Lawrence for the night.  But Kansas City was only about 35 miles away!  Doesn’t matter.  You couldn’t get me back in that suit right now for anything.  We Googled the local hotels and found a historic place right on the main drag.  AND, we were already parked right in front!  Score one for unpacking.  Once again, we unloaded our gear onto the bell cart and headed to the third floor.  Nice place!  Reminded me of a Kimpton hotel.  We left Jack in the room to some iPhone games while we took the bikes around the corner to park in the lot.  But what’s this?  A parking ticket on each bike?  But we paid!  There’s still time left on the meter!  Three dollars each, please.  And look, you can put the money in the envelope and deposit it right into any of the handy yellow boxes that lined the street.  I smell a scam.  This was confirmed by more than one of the locals.  They ticket you for everything.  Nice welcome wagon.  We moved the bikes and promptly headed to the hotel bar for a belt and some advice on the hap’s that night in Lawrence.  A jazz quartet was playing downstairs in the bar/restaurant that night.  Are kids allowed?  Yes.  Looks like we have our evening planned.  Nice and low key.  We headed downstairs around 7PM, Jack toting his guitar, just in case.  In case of what?  Don’t know, but he likes to bring it along when there’s live music to be had.  The group consisted of drums, stand up bass, guitar and trumpet.  And they were good.  We slowly made our way to a table close to them so Jack could get a better view of the gang.  After a couple of breaks, the band resumed once again, this time asking Jack if he wanted to come on up and play with them.  Now, as a parent, how cool is that?  OF COURSE he’d like to come on stage!  Up he went, confidant as ever, and strummed along with the guys, the bass player shouting the chords out to Jack with each change.  He was in his element.  But hey, there’s an open mic night just down the street after this.  A couple of the guys and special guest, Mr. Mustard (don’t ask), were heading down soon.  Did we want to bring Jack so they could all play together?  Hell ya!  So, at 11:30PM on a very humid night in Lawrence, we took Jack to his first open mic experience.  Terry signed him up at the door with hopes of Jack and the guys going on soon, bedtime and all.  But the guys weren’t there yet and they wanted Jack to go on in 10 minutes.  Little man began to panic ever so slightly.  But the boys rolled in before true panic could ensue.  They all trekked on up, Jack in tow, Mr. Mustard at the mic.  Jack perched himself on the barstool and took the lead as man in charge.  Restaurant lights dimmed, stage lights on, he was the man of the hour.  I cried.  How could I not?  Proud.  Proud.  Proud.  They took Jack’s lead that eventually led them to a fabulous rendition of Eleanor Rigby.  The guys LOVED it!  All were smiling, laughing, enjoying the moment.  I cried some more.  When their time was up, Jack hopped down, beaming proudly, surrounded by other musicians who came to play.  They patted him on the back and gave him praise like you wouldn’t believe.  These are the moments he’ll never forget.  Hell, WE’LL never forget.  All were impressed with his talent and maturity on stage.  I finally stopped crying.  I looked down at my watch – almost 12:30!  Yikes!  Time for bed, Clapton.  Yawn.  We made our way to the hotel and poured ourselves into bed.  What a night.  I couldn’t stop smiling.

So, class, what have we learned today?  If you don’t take a chance and put yourself out there, you may never GET another chance.  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.  You may make an ass out of yourself once in a while, but at least it makes for a great story.  Trust me, I used to hate change.  I loved the usual.  It wasn’t until Jack was born that I realized I needed to do something for him, to better myself, to explore beyond my usual.  And I liked it.  And now, I crave it.  Monotony is my kryptonite.  Promise yourself to take a chance.  Start with small steps; it makes the transition easier.  Just move forward.  Take care of yourself and you’ll be better at taking care of those you love.  Cheers.

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”  Eleanor Roosevelt