New Year’s Bloggin’ Eve

Susie is spending the night at a friend’s house, and I’ve come back from the convenience store with three bottles of Fuze tea, and will be heading out into the cold to The Pirate House to see in 2015, but I would not feel right ending 2014 without one more post to this blog.

The week separating Christmas from New Year’s Day has been action- and emotion-packed.  Susie and I flew back from Florida on Saturday morning.  Even though the flight was at capacity, and we could not sit together, it was almost worth it to arrive in Columbus just a little ahead of schedule.

Getting back to Columbus did not have my stomach tied up in knots, however.  What did was the first meeting between Susie and Betsy.

And who is Betsy? ask my readers.

Steph and I have been separated now for over four years (three of them in different states), and I was totally okay with living solo for the rest of my days.

That seems to have changed.

When I was in Athens for Halloween, one of the plans I made was to have dinner with Betsy.  I had first met her at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens in 1980 or 1981, when I was there to give a lay service.  She was 14, and I was 17, and I met her and her best friend Danielle during the coffee hour.  We kept in touch by occasional letters, and I was very glad when the two of them showed up at a youth conference at a UU church in Cincinnati, after I had Xeroxed publicity about it and sent it to them.

We lost touch when I moved to Boston in 1982, but when I came to Athens for my semi-serious attempt to be a student at Ohio University, Betsy and I would see each other on Court St., or usually we would cross paths in Ed’s Greenery or some of the other bars.

About six months ago, I was on Facebook and looked for her.  Sure enough, she was there, and I sent a friend request, and she accepted.  We didn’t interact all that much, but when my plans to come to Athens for Halloween in October began to solidify, I sent her a private message asking if she wanted to come to dinner with me.

And she accepted.  I expected the meal to be a few minutes of inquiring about mutual friends, bringing each other up to speed on jobs and families, shaking our heads at how unruly the crowd would get tonight, and then the conversation would run out of steam.  (I was thinking of the line in Steely Dan’s “What a Shame About Me”: “We both ran out of small talk/The connection seemed to go dead.”)

This time, I was so happy to be wrong.  We ate at a Chinese buffet, and we talked for nearly three hours, with none of us realizing or caring how much time had passed.  She marveled over the picture of Susie that was on my phone, and she told me about her marriage and divorce, and her beloved cat.

Once I was back in Columbus, we began exchanging IMs on Facebook almost nightly.  Then, the W. Union St. fire happened less a month later.  I did want to take pictures of the debris, since I spent many hours and many more dollars in The Union during my tenure in Athens, but while I was making plans for the trip, I realized that I was going down to Athens as much to see Betsy as I was to take pictures of the fire’s aftermath.

Photographing the debris took all of 20 minutes, but it soon became secondary to spending the day with Betsy, first at breakfast at the Union Street Diner, and walking around the Sunday-deserted streets of Athens. When it was time for me to catch the bus back to Columbus, neither of us doubted our feelings for each other.

When I told Susie that I was seeing someone, she waited for about 30 seconds for a punch line, and I’m sure she nearly fainted when she realized I was serious.  I had also emailed the news to Steph, who replied with “Well, good for you!”, and told me that informing Susie of this turn of events was 100% my responsibility, as I knew it would be when I broke the news.

I resolved that Susie would not learn by a change in my Facebook status.  She and I had talked about it for several evenings, and she knew that I would be making frequent trips to Athens (at $20 round-trip on GoBus, it’s quite manageable).  While I was visiting earlier this month, Betsy and I decided to “go public,” and change our statuses to “In a relationship with…”  As soon as it posted, the “like”s began pouring in.  (As of now, there are 119 of them!)  I guess this is the 21st century equivalent of banns.

Betsy was here this week, and I was worried about how her first meeting with Susie would go.  Susie was still overwhelmed by the idea that I was in a relationship, since I had taken for granted I would stay single the rest of my life, once Steph and I split.

As usual, I worried for no reason.  They got along well, and will be in the process of getting to know each other for quite some time.  We ate at the Blue Danube, and at Ringside, and Susie opted out of going thrift-shopping with Betsy and me.  (Betsy bought clothes, hats, and jewelry, while I made vain searches for records and functional audio equipment.)

If I had any sense, this is what I would be doing at midnight.  But I will be watching the ball drop in Times Square.

If I had any sense, this is what I would be doing at midnight. But I will be watching the ball drop in Times Square.

At The Pirate House’s party last New Year’s Eve, I insisted that part of the festivities include burning a 2013 calendar, because the year held so many tragedies for me.  No need for that this time around.

Happy New Year to one and all!!

Christmas, and a Mad Post-Christmas Dash to Mail

This is my last full day in Merritt Island; Susie and I will be airborne tomorrow morning and in Columbus by noon.  All of us had an excellent Christmas Day, with plenty of food, good presents, and everyone zombified in front of laptop screens by mid-afternoon.

Susie’s “big” gift from me this year was a pair of Converse High-Top Justice League of America sneakers.  My major coup was a signed copy of her favorite teen/young adult novel Annie on My Mind.  Its author, Nancy Garden, died last summer, so I was glad to be able to find a signed copy on Abebooks.com.  Susie has read the book many times, and knows some of its passages by heart, but she was thrilled nonetheless.  To make sure she remains somewhat rooted in Central Ohio, I also got her a Nite Owl Theater T-shirt.

My gift to the household was a dog bed for Rex, the Jack Russell terrier.  The dog repaid my generosity by biting me on the foot (fortunately, I was wearing a shoe) when I came into the house from an errand at Cumberland Farms (the Florida equivalent of 7-Eleven).  On Christmas Eve, Susie baked an excellent four-cheese lasagna, but we rolled back to the house stuffed from lunch at a Chinese buffet in Viera, so none of us felt like eating afterward.

Susie was able to combine both my love of books and my comparatively recent habit of record hoarding collecting into one gift, a trade paperback by Brett Milano called Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting.  I haven’t started to read it yet, but I belong to several vinyl enthusiasts’ groups on Facebook, and I must admit some envy whenever I hear that someone found a first pressing of Elvis Presley (RCA Victor LPM 1254) from 1956 at a yard sale or Salvation Army, and paid $.50 for it.  I go to Goodwill or Volunteers of America and I am inundated with the 101 Strings, Jerry Vale, Enoch Light and the Light Brigade, and Lawrence Welk records.

Susie also has ensured that my diary will continue for at least 800 pages.  She bought me four 200-page composition books (and left the price stickers on the covers–they were $.24 apiece!).  Unfortunately, I will not be christening the first of them on New Year’s Day next Thursday.  I have 53 pages left to fill in my current journal (which, ironically, I bought at Barnes and Noble here last Christmas!), and then I’ll continue in the ones Susie bought me.

We decided to postpone Susie’s blood work (her physician wants to check her thyroid and blood sugar levels) either until she comes to Ohio with me, or until she returns to Florida on the fourth of January.  The lab near the Barnes and Noble which is Susie’s HQ here is out of my insurance network, and the co-pay would have been unnecessarily expensive.

What we could not postpone was finishing her AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees) Family Scholarship.  It had to be postmarked by New Year’s Eve, so Susie worked like mad to finish her essay and to obtain letters of recommendation from two people.  Before Christmas break began at school, her guidance counselor gave her a sealed envelope with her transcript (there was even a sticker across the flap, saying Invalid if seal is broken).  If I had been the guidance counselor, I would have had more flair for the dramatic, and used a signet ring and hot wax for the seal.

We had some major technical difficulties with printing her essay and one letter of recommendation (sent as a .pdf file).  The printer jammed, ran out of paper, and was incorrectly plugged into Susie’s laptop.  In addition, Susie has to relearn the laptop she is currently using.  Her present one is (temporarily, I hope) out of business because she tipped over almost a full cup of tea on its keyboard when we were at Barnes and Noble.  (It’s odd–everything lights up except the keyboard.)

Once everything was printed and organized, Susie and I rode Space Coast Area Transit (what an unfortunate acronym it has!) to Office Depot, copied everything, and put it in the mail.  I was so relieved–as was Susie, I am sure–to see that our job in this application has ended, and we can now pass the baton to the USPS.

So…  Susie and I have earned this time at Starbucks.  We’re across from each other with laptops in front of us.  I have abstained from carbonated beverages since May, but I’ve more than made up for it with sweet tea.  I’m on my third or fourth cup of shaken sweet tea (I give it a four-star rating, by the way).  I also wanted to celebrate passing this hurdle by spending some money at the A+ Thrift Shop for Education around the corner, but it’s closed.  This shop benefits Merritt Island High School, so I could rationalize buying crap I don’t need by reassuring myself I was helping Susie’s high school.

My current "20" (to those of you who are familiar with CB radio jargon.

My current “20” (to those of you who are familiar with CB radio jargon).

Tomorrow morning, Susie and I will be on a Southwest Airlines flight back to Columbus.  Susie is in telephone and email contact with friends of hers to plan get-togethers, and I am sure she will be a frequent guest at Kafé Kerouac and other places in the Olde North neighborhood.

And I can’t call myself a snowbird, even a temporary one, because there has been very little sun during my brief visit, and because the temperatures in Columbus have not been below freezing the entire time I’ve been here.

Christmas Eve at 83°

Yes, you read that right.  This is the day before Christmas Day, and here in Merritt Island, Florida, the mercury stands at 83 degrees Fahrenheit, per The Weather Channel.  Susie and I have, despite the pea-soup relative humidity, had a good walk this morning, walking the 2.2 miles from her house to Barnes and Noble (where I am currently blogging), by way of lunch at Steak ‘n Shake.  (I had their three-way chili.  It was tasty, but years of Cincinnati chili–Gold Star and Skyline–have made me more particular.)

The only bad thing about this Christmas is that I can’t lord the 80+ degrees I am experiencing over my friends back in Columbus.  The temperature right now is in the upper 50s in Columbus.  We are supposed to have rain here tonight, and Columbus and the southern part of Ohio are bracing for 50-mph winds.

Steph, Susie, and Mike have acquired a little Jack Russell terrier, Rex, since my last visit.  Susie and I walked Rex last night and this morning.  Even though Susie has pretty much written organized religion out of her life, she was respectful enough to prevent Rex from urinating on a statue of the Virgin Mary that one of her neighbors has in the yard.  (When we lived in Franklinton, one of our neighbors had a stone statue of St. Francis of Assisi in the yard.  St. Francis was nobly standing with three or four birds perched on his shoulders and arms.  Susie, who was about seven at the time, asked me, “What’s that man saying, Daddy?”  The best I could think of at the time was, “He’s saying, ‘Get off me, birdies!  I’m not a statue!'”)

One neighbor’s yard displayed a sign about how this was a Christian household and that they celebrated Christmas.  My only reaction was a popular Yiddish phrase: “Nu?”   (Whenever anyone bloviates about a “war on Christmas,” I want to invite them to spend a year in Iraq or Syria as the guests of ISIS, to see what real persecution of Christians involves.)

I am glad the bus trip is behind me.  I won’t claim that this is the last time I will ever travel by bus, because I still prefer it to flying, but I have had my fill for awhile.  I was about 15 or 20 minutes late arriving in Orlando, due primarily to an accident on Florida 417 South that slowed traffic in all directions to a virtual crawl.  Susie had texted me: The last text says you’re in Jacksonville.  Where are you now?  I was quite precise when I replied: I-4 West near DeLand.  Mile marker 121.2.  (The mile markers in Florida are broken down into tenth-of-a-mile increments.)  If you read the entry I posted in October, when I came here to surprise Susie as a belated birthday gift, you’ll see why it was so heartbreaking for me to pass by DeLand and not be able to stop!

Once I did arrive at the Orlando Megabus stop, I began to wonder if or when we would ever leave it.  The stop is located at the corner of N. Semoran Blvd. and E. Colonial Dr.  I am no traffic engineer, but the entrance and exits to and from this lot are clogged by the traffic moving (or not!) on both streets, so the wait for an opening in which to jump into the traffic flow is interminable.

It was truly miraculous that my last entry ever saw the light of day.  I don’t mean to be posting a litany of complaints about Megabus (I truly appreciate paying $1 to get from Columbus to Atlanta!), but the Wi-Fi service on the Atlanta-to-Orlando leg of the journey was erratic, so I was booted offline several times, and I have to relearn each time how to retrieve drafts from WordPress when this happens.  I was afraid I would have to rewrite the entry from scratch, but I was able to save it.

The walk from Susie’s house (she’s not even 18 yet, and she can boast of having houses in Ohio and Florida!) to this shopping plaza was quite pedestrian-friendly, and this surprised me, since this is a very car-dependent (can’t resist this: auto-erotic) area.  Sykes Creek Parkway features a wide bike lane, and a runners’ trail, so we were able to avoid near misses with cars.  The bike lanes were much better than the narrow walkways on bridges, so I did not get the jitters as we were walking over Sykes Creek itself.

The bicyclists we did encounter were quite pleasant, unlike some of the ones I’ve encountered in Columbus, who think pedestrians are like bowling pins they can hit.  And Susie and I did give the cyclists a wide berth when they did come.  When I am on the bike trail in Columbus riding the trike, the runners and walkers I encounter are inevitably wearing earbuds, so I have made a mental note to buy an air horn for the trike once I start riding it again in the spring.  My little bell seems to be ineffective.

I am not sure whether we are opening Christmas gifts tonight or tomorrow morning.  My parents started the Christmas Eve gift-opening tradition after my eighth Christmas in 1971, when I was unable to restrain my enthusiasm and we opened gifts at 4:30 a.m.  (That Christmas memorable because it was when I received my first tape recorder.)  I am proud of this year’s gift selection, but if I wrote about it today, I would learn that this is the one time that Steph and Susie would read my blog.

Monday’s gift exchange at work was a fun experience.  I contributed two bags of Hawaiian rolls to the small meal we shared, and I bought a good gift for my supervisor’s supervisor.  She’s an R.N., so I bought her a children’s toy doctor’s kit, which was in a big pink box.  (Thank God for Goodwill!  I was afraid I would have to go to a toy store or–shudder–Walmart to find her a suitable present.)  My gift was a black T-shirt with white lettering.  It says, The only good Eugene left.

This originated with my direct supervisor, whose term of endearment for me is “Paul Eugene,” the name of her favorite cousin.  (My middle name is Thomas, but it came very close to being Eric.  In one of the few things my parents did correctly in raising me, they had the foresight to see the initials Paul Eric Evans would produce!)

I called all my co-workers Eugenes, and when the 7 a.m.-3:30 people leave, I proclaimed that I was the only good Eugene left.

I proofread and edited Susie’s essay for the AFSCME Family Scholarship, another perk of belonging to the union.  (AFSCME is the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.)  It has to be postmarked by New Year’s Eve, so Susie is under the gun to finish it.  My goal is to mail it Friday from the post office in Merritt Island, before we go back to Columbus on Saturday morning.

I will probably post tomorrow night, but, if not, I wish all those who follow this blog (the “14 readers in the dark,” to borrow a catchphrase of Fritz the Nite Owl) a blessed holiday.

Howard Thurman's immortal words.  (He was dean of chapel at Howard University and Boston University, and a major influence on Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Howard Thurman’s immortal words. (He was dean of chapel at Howard University and Boston University, and a major influence on Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Southbound on I-75

Time to end the blog hiatus, and this time I am not blogging from the comfort of Olde North Columbus.  Rather, I am sitting in the front seat of the upper deck of a Megabus on a gray and rainy Tuesday morning, rolling south on Interstate 75 toward Orlando.  I am spending Christmas with Susie, Steph, and Mike, and I decided to take the more leisurely route down to Florida.  (It’s also quite cheaper than flying.  The Columbus-to-Atlanta leg of the trip cost me a whole $1, whereas the Atlanta-to-Orlando part of the journey, the part I am on now, cost $50.)

So this is a gray Georgia morning, just before 9 a.m.  This entry is going to sound like one of the “travelling tapes” that I used to make as a kid, regardless of whether we were going to Richmond, Va. or even the 12 miles to Belpre or the 50 miles to Athens.

And those travelogues were nothing worthy of National Geographic.  I remember comments about other drivers on the road: “The light just turned green, but there’s a goof-o in front of us who won’t go” was one.  Another one was “A silly lady in front of us wasn’t paying attention to the road but was just fixing her hair.”

This is my first southbound trip on Megabus.  I was quite a sight coming to work yesterday, with my overloaded knapsack and my suitcase on wheels, but I would be heading straight to E. Spring St. to the Megabus pick-up place right after work.  I would not have time to run home, get everything, and be back in time.  The bus left at 6:15 p.m. and at 8:05 p.m. we were in Cincinnati, ending up at the parking lot on Gest St. which is Megabus’ pick-up and drop-off place.  (The trip to the parking lot was a little slow.  The Bengals were playing at Paul Brown Stadium last night, so the bus had to weave through people coming to and from the stadium, not all of them sober.)

I wasn’t looking forward to nearly two hours of waiting before the southbound bus would arrive.  Wearing my knapsack and dragging my wheeled suitcase behind me, I walked a few blocks to a Shell station on W. 8th St. which also had a Subway, and the turkey breast and black forest ham sub that I bought is the last time I have eaten.

The parking lot was also a brief trip down Memory Lane for me.  In the lot was the rear entrance to a nondescript building on W. 8th which was the first place I ever worked in Cincinnati.  It was in December 1984, and I had a brief gig with Kelly Services (“the ‘Kelly Girl’ people”).  I worked at a now-defunct insurance company called Maxicare (I could never get over the idea that it sounded like a brand of feminine hygiene products!), typing their mailing lists and client lists onto an IBM Personal Computer.

Also, when I was looking toward Gest St., I could see several USPS trucks driving westbound, and I knew they were en route to the main post office at the corner of Liberty and Dalton Sts., where I spent many a night and predawn from 1992 to 1995, seasonally.

Do I give a thumbs-up or -down to Megabus and its service for this jaunt?  So far, it’s a mixed bag.  The trip from Cincinnati to Atlanta was not helped by the fact that the seat’s lights did not work.  Even though I didn’t have a seatmate, I didn’t have enough elbow room for typing, so I wasn’t able to blog last night.  Since there were no lights, that meant no reading.  My Nook’s screen is not illuminated, so I couldn’t even use that.  And of course, no light meant no writing in my diary, either.

There’s an odd juxtaposition on this trip as well.  The bus to Atlanta had its heater on full blast, and I sat in my seat fully comfortable wearing a T-shirt and jeans.  This coach, however, I have my down jacket on and would consider putting on my gloves but would not be able to type if I did.  I’ve experimented with opening and closing the vents above my seat, but it still feels cold enough to hang meat in here.

But, it’s worth it for the view I am getting.  This almost feels like looking through the Plexiglas window of a cockpit.  I’m seeing what the driver is seeing, and I have ample room to type.  Plus, I have two electrical outlets.  I’m charging my phone with one, and I’ve plugged this laptop into the other.  Our arrival time in Orlando is 4:30, with a lunch stop in Tifton, Ga. around 11 or 11:30 and letting off passengers in Jacksonville.

The bus to Atlanta let off passengers in Lexington, Knoxville, and Chattanooga, but there were no stops for food.  My stomach is rumbling a little right now, but knowing there is a food stop in the near future is worth the wait.  Plus, there is nothing to do but ride it out at the moment.

Rain is now pelting the glass in front of me.  It almost feels like we’re going through a car wash.  I just checked AT&T Navigator on my phone, and it says we are in Byron, Ga. at the moment.  According to The Weather Channel’s Website, however, Merritt Island is partly cloudy and 71 degrees.  When Steph and Susie meet me at the drop-off place on Semoran Blvd. in Orlando, I’m sure I’ll be a sight stepping into that weather wearing my heavy down coat, with a toboggan hat and gloves protruding from the pockets.

I am not sorry that I decided to take Megabus to Orlando, instead of flying the crowded skies with Southwest Airlines, but I get more impatient as every hour of this trip passes.  “The road is always better than the inn,” sayeth Cervantes.  (When I was doing lighting for Man of La Mancha in high school, I was disappointed that line never made it into the show.)

My impatience comes from being eager to see Susie.  She is now accepted at three colleges: Stetson University, Seton Hall, and Ohio University.  She has just finished doing sound for Surfside Players’ production of A Christmas Story, and so she is looking forward to some R&R, both in Florida and when she and I fly back to Columbus Saturday morning.

But I’ll still be doing some fatherly things while we’re in Florida.  She is applying for a scholarship through AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, of which I have been a card-carrying member for the past decade), and I plan to make sure that all is in order before we mail the application packet to their headquarters in Washington.  I’ve been coaching/nagging her via the Internet since I learned about the scholarship.  It has to be postmarked by New Year’s Eve, so I am not being neurotic about our being under the gun, time-wise.

The other parent task I’m doing in Florida is taking Susie to a blood draw on Friday morning.  Her doctor ordered some blood work done after Susie’s last appointment, so she and I are going to the clinic Friday.  (And I’ll buy her an ice cream cone afterward if she’s good.)

My guess is that I’m impatient about the road and wanting to get to the inn because of the people that await me there.  I will be making many frequent trips to Athens in time to come, but the full explanation about that is material for a future entry.