Road Trip! (And a couple of short reviews)


Note: Photo may not reflect actual vehicle used on indicated trip.

Would you believe I have three blog posts written, and yet, here I sit on a Tuesday evening with not one post ready to go? I have roughed out three very different essays: a review, a rant and a business / leadership reflection. Having done so, I didn’t sweat last night. Normally, on Monday nights, I finish (or start and finish) my blog while Christian has his Taekwondo class. 2,000 words in an hour. Not hard. And I can spend 20 minutes editing on Tuesday. Last night I thought I was ahead of the game.

Tonight, I looked at my three “roughed out” blogs. Put the emphasis on “rough.” None of these were ready to edit! What was I thinking? Of course, I was thinking about twelve other things–work deadlines, the story I was editing, personal business that needed to be dealt with in the wake of a whirlwind trip to my family home in the mountains…

So, no thought-provoking, infuriating, insightful or useful information is likely to come out of me this week. But here’s this. I mentioned a whirlwind trip. My family and I had been promising relatives that we’d come visit the old hometown for the better part of a year. You may recall that I returned to Burnsville and Pensacola last Christmas. I have a lot of relatives there. My dad was one of six children, and I have 19 first cousins. Many of them live in Yancey County, NC. I have two aunts and one uncle there, and one remaining great aunt. (My dear Aunt Frances is the last surviving sibling of my Grandmother Clara, whom I never met. There were eleven kids in that family, some younger than my parents. They were born between 1900 and 1930. Frances was born in 1922.)

It was a good trip, though I’ve decided that, from now on, all trips to Yancey County will be bordered by two travel days on the front and two on the back. I don’t feel like flying there, but it’s a longer drive than I care to make in one day anymore. I’ve also decided that I want to go a lot more often. We have a beautiful house there on 70 acres. Why would I go there less than once a year? And pass up the chance to see my relatives, who are an amazing bunch of people?

But I mentioned the drive. What do four family members who are essentially all adults now do when stuck in a car together for eight to ten hours? You can only talk so much. You should only talk so much, lest you get on each others’ nerves and stop talking altogether. Long drives used to be fine. I’d pick something for us to listen to, and we’d have a great time. Then God… or Steve Jobs, I guess it was… created the iPod and the iPad, and suddenly no one wanted to listen to the same stuff as anyone else. Listen? Our devices can watch TV and films via streaming whilst travelling I-81. Why would we listen? Well, except me, of course. I was driving. So no watching for me. It interferes with my naps.

It kinda hurts my feelings a little, that everyone listens to / watches their own thing in the car now. We don’t laugh together the way we used to. (Remember Basil Fawlty saying to his wife Sybil, “Remember when we were young, dear? We used to laugh quite a lot then.” Sybil responds, “Yes, but never at the same time.” I believe Basil said, “Yes, that should have been a clue.” It’s important to laugh at the same time, when you’re a family. Else you might end up running a hotel in Torquay.)

So this trip, I was determined to break the pattern of headphone listening. It wasn’t gonna be easy. I like stuff like history and philosophy. I can listen to Nathaniel Hawthorne and not plow the Jeep into a billboard to make the pain stop. Renee can listen to more than one Sookie Stackhouse novel in a year. Ethan’s more partial to the works of Douglas Adams and Christian… Christian is determined to watch every episode of Arrow… no matter how much it hurts.

We’re a diverse audience. But I was determined, as I said. I had Audible credits piling up. There had to be something…

There was. There were two somethings, in fact. So, if you happen to be the four members of the Wilson family… or any geeky, diverse group of pseudo-intellectuals who grew up on (not all at the same time) Star Trek, Monty Python, John Hughes films and 80s music, aaaaannd you’re looking for something for a road trip, consider these:

ChooseYourOwnChoose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris

NPH warns you right up front that this is a self-serving celebrity biography, but with a twist: It’s inspired by the Choose Your Own Adventure novels of Neil’s childhood. It’s a clever little premise, and it’s amusing to hear all the ways Neil envisions that he might meet his own tragic death. It’s also touching, enlightening and inspiring to hear how this still-young man journeyed from the boy who loved the soundtrack of Annie, to the mega-star who hosts the Tony and Emmy Awards and hangs out (literally, in the case of the nude beach story) with Elton John.

There are great memories in here of Doogie Howser MD, Dr. Horrible, How I Met Your Mother and Neil’s Broadway and touring career. There’s also very candid discussion of NPH’s coming to terms with his own sexuality, how he met the love of his life, and the ups and downs of fatherhood. The principle down being the 45 seconds his daughter, Harper, did not breathe immediately after being born. All was well, but it’s a horrible feeling that I’ve lived through myself. Perhaps most touching of all is his account of his 40th birthday, and the elaborate plans made by his partner, David. Almost brought tears to my eyes.

Some of the anecdotes are not quite, um, family friendly, a term which here means, “You may get a little uncomfortable listening to these stories with your parents / children in the car with you.” They were hilarious, though, as you’d expect. He reads the book himself, of course, and it’s specially adapted for audio.

That was the trip down. The trip back was…

AsYouWishAs You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

by Cary Elwes, read by Cary Elwes, Rob Reiner, Joe Layden, Robin Wright, Christopher Guest, Chris Sarandon, Carol Kane, Norman Lear, Billy Crystal, Andy Scheinman and Wallace Shawn.

Cary Elwes describes how, as a twenty-three year-old rookie actor, he landed the part of a lifetime in the movie that Hollywood had long ago decided could never be made. In this memoir you should be prepared to fall hopelessly in love with Andre the Giant, and to realize that, if we had more Rob Reiners in this world, there might never be wars and we probably wouldn’t need psychotherapy.

Elwes tells a very happy tale, albeit with a few pitfalls and injuries along the way, about how William Goldman’s perfect fairy tale was brought to the screen. It’s funny, it’s touching, and it’s eye-opening in many ways. I was especially surprised to learn that Wallace Shawn, he who cried “inconceivable!” so often and is so well-remembered as the little Jewish Sicilian mob boss in the film, feels to this day that he was miscast in the part, and spent the entire four months of filming with the very real fear that today would be the day that Rob Reiner would fire him.

Fred Savage, William Goldman and Mandy Patinkin are also quoted in the book, but sadly did not read their passages.

These two audiobooks kept us entertained for most of 19 hours of driving, and I don’t believe any headphones were worn while they were playing.

It’s nice to find something you can all agree on. One might even say it’s inconceivable, or even legend–wait for it–!

Oh, right, that phrase is trademarked, isn’t it?

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