Road Trips & Strange Animals

This weekend A. and I jumped in the car and drove to Pittsburgh. 

That sounded too spontaneous for a couple with two highly active children and a neurotic 80 lb yellow lab. Let's try that again: This weekend, after packing two suitcases, one for ourselves and one for our two children (who required multiple outfits for multiple temperatures -- "just in case" -- and a menagerie of stuffed animals), and after packing up the dog, who requires his crate and food and his new favorite bunny toy, and after depositing the children and the dog with their respective care-takers (Grandma & Grandpa and Aunt A.L. & Uncle B, respectively), A. and I finally hit the road on Saturday.

Strange Animals at Hambone's Pub in Pittsburgh
Niina Pollari
The impetus for the trip was the Strange Animals Literary Reading Series held at Hambone's Pub in Pittsburgh, curated by Sara Emily Kuntz. Sara asked Margaret Bashaar, editor and publisher at Hyacinth Girl Press, if the HGP authors would consider doing a feature on Memorial Day Weekend, and we, the women captured in a series of fairly terrible photographs which I'll post right here, said yes.

Strange Animals at Hambone's Pub in Pittsburgh
Juliet Cook
It bears repeating that women such as myself can only do things like drive 7+ hours across the East Coast toward the Heartland when they have trusted family members (and/or friends) who are willing to help. It may seem a little ridiculous to travel that far for a reading that lasted about an hour and a half, but I was truly excited to be asked, as a new member of a new press, and for a chance to introduce these poems to a new audience. So I said yes; but I never could have said yes if I didn't have a strong support system at home, someone (several someones) willing to care for and amuse my babies for roughly 48 hours. Thank goodness for the in-laws, who baked cupcakes with the kids and took them bowling (bowling!) and generally distracted them to the point where I'm not sure they noticed that their parents were gone.

Strange Animals at Hambone's Pub in Pittsburgh
Deena November
Meanwhile, A. and I split the trip to Pittsburg in half and stayed in Harrisburg, PA on Saturday night. It felt really indulgent to be staying in two different hotel rooms two nights in a row -- and perhaps it was -- but it was so much fun, too. It was so luxurious, sleeping in! I secretly love it when the boy or the girl or both wake up early and sneak downstairs to cuddle with us on weekend mornings -- even though out loud I grumble "you should still be in bed!" -- yet I have to say, waking up naturally is a gorgeous, gorgeous act in itself.

But I digress.

I don't know if you know this about us, but A. and I like beer, so we stopped for lunch at the Bethlehem Brew Works, which we found to be a bit disappointing in terms of the beer (nothin' very hoppy) but awesome in the food department (get the soft pretzel appetizer if you go!). Then we took a short stroll down the Main Street, which was holding some kind of Arts Exhibition/Fair.

Then back in the car for more driving.

Strange Animals at Hambone's Pub in Pittsburgh
Yours Truly
Granted, we didn't see much of Harrisburg, just the downtown streets next to our hotel, but it felt a little like Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Holy Bars, Batman. We found one in which to watch the Dos Santos vs. Mir fight (I don't know if you know this about us, but A. and I are also partial to the UFC) and miraculously we behaved ourselves to the point where we didn't stumble back to the hotel, we walked like actual grown ups. (Yay for us!) And then we went to bed, got more than enough sleep -- did I mention we were able to sleep in? -- and then we drove to Pittsburgh.

I really dug the architecture in Pittsburgh. If we'd had more time, I would have liked to take an actual tour of the amazing churches they have there, and explore all of the many different neighborhoods. As it was, we saw maybe two of them -- the downtown area around our hotel, and Lawrenceville, where the reading was held. It's funny, too -- the more I see other cities, the more I feel like NYC sucks. That sounds terrible, kind of ungrateful or unappreciative . . . but it's so fucking crowded -- and dirty -- and yes, there's a lot to do there, but there's such a sameness to all of those people who are trying to be so different from one another . . . that other cities just seem so much more interesting. Maybe I'm just bored with it after living close by -- not even in it -- for the past decade  . . . and I'm sure I'd miss it if we moved -- but for now, I'm over it. Booo, NYC. Booo.

Strange Animals at Hambone's Pub in Pittsburgh
Margaret Bashaar, Editor of Hyacinth Girl Press
ANYWAY. The reading went well. It began late, and we all read for a shorter period of time than I thought we would, approximately 10 minutes instead of the 15-20 that I'd prepared for -- but I supposed that's best considering you don't want to alienate your audience by being tedious. I read last, which in theory I don't mind, but in retrospect, I shouldn't have. My pieces lacked the humor of my predecessor, Deena November, and that humor would have been a more appropriate end-note to the evening. It was really good to hear the work of the other authors from HGP, however, and to meet them in person. The reading was followed with an open mike, which was painless thanks to Sarah Emily Kuntz's job as emcee (she laid down the one poem or one-minute rule), and I was able to hear Margaret Bashaar read her work, which was lovely.

We followed up the reading with dinner at the Brillobox, a bar in Lawrenceville, and then A. and I left early-ish so that we could get a good night's sleep before the long-ass drive back to the Tri-State area.

Monday's Memorial Day Drive was actually painless, minus the five-ten minute freak-out A. had over our GPS and its inability to differentiate between different levels of roads and therefore not identify our exit out of Pittsburgh. This little snafu aside, we managed to make it back to Long Island in under 8 hours. Our children were happy to see us and full of stories about all the stuff they'd done. After we picked him up at my sister-in-law's house, our dog was beside himself with joy for about half an hour . . . and then he fell asleep.


I'm not going to really settle down into this summer break thing for another two weeks. On Saturday we -- all four of us this time -- leave for Rehoboth, DE for a week's beach vacation with my family, which culminates in my baby sister's wedding. So today I'm going to try to continue the Great End-of-Semester Clean Up that needs, so desperately, to happen to my house . . . as well as work in the vegetable garden, which needs to be planted! (Yes, I'm a little behind.)

Writing and reading are in order this morning and throughout the day, as well as a run at some point. It's so nice to think about things other than grading and classes!


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