Wrong Turns Write Life

It’s the unplanned that makes for the best stories,
especially on the road!




Cruise Excursions Gone Wrong

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

We were first-time cruisers. It was spring, so we bolted Ohio for the Caribbean! What could possibly go wrong?

Our first excursion was on a small island that had not fully recovered from a hurricane. As we were transported to a remote corner of what was still a tropical paradise, you could see where some former homes were now shelled-out buildings or stone-fenced yards with no structure left within them at all. Upon arriving at the beach stable for our horseback riding adventure, we were instructed where to go to use the restroom beforehand. When I was done, I came out a bit embarrassed and said the toilet wouldn’t flush. That’s when an island girl, a bit embarrassed, said that’s what she’s there for. And then she entered the latrine with a bucket of water.

The gentlemen – boys really – handling the horses were so full of life. Their laughter was infectious. Our first ride was on land and sand. We saddled up and trotted uphill and down, learning how to lean forward or back in the saddle. I had never ridden a horse by myself before. Of course, I got a horse with a mind of its own. He’d stop on a hill and snack on the grass, holding everyone up. When I dug my heels into his side and pulled the reigns, he cocked his head to look at me. I could swear he gave me a side-eye as if to say, “You wait, buddy!”

Ironically, my wife had a horse named Frenzy, but Placid would have been more fitting.

After a pretty lengthy ride, which I was more than ready to end, our guides removed saddles, replacing each with nothing more than a pad. It was time to ride the horses along the beach, basically bareback and into the water. It was along the stables area where all of the arriving and departing tourists signed up for this excursion waited and watched. We only went four at a time for this ride, plus two horses with guides. I wasn’t aware of the short strap for holding in front of me. I should have paid more attention to the instructions. Instead, I just played with the reigns.

When the guide unexpectedly hollered, and the horses went into a full charge in the water, I was hanging on for dear life. It felt like I was rodeoing for dear life. It was only a matter of time – not much, by the way – before I knew I was going for a swim. I might get trampled by the three horses on my tail, so when I came off that thing, I did it with gusto to try to splash clear of danger.

When I came up out of the water, you’d think maybe I’d be humiliated, but I have to say, it was exhilarating. The 13-year-old boy, who had been chasing us on foot all over the landscape that morning, snapping photos for sale, ran into the water with an ear-to-ear grin. I threw my arms up and made the most of the picturesque moment. Then, one of the guides helped me back onto my horse. That’s when I noticed a look in my horse’s eye like, “I told you I’d get you.”

My horse charged like the dickens again, thundering through the water. It was a wild ride with lots of splashing. Then we turned around, barely slowing, and charged back the way we came. This back-and-forth was repeated several times. It was pure fun! So much so that I didn’t mind losing my prescription sunglasses. Well, not entirely. A guide noticed me looking intently at the water swirled with kicked-up seaweed. When he learned what happened, he was on a mission to find them.

Making a spectacle of myself caught the attention and funny bone of everyone watching. It wouldn’t be the last time during our trip that all eyes fixated on my shenanigans. But before I explain the next island’s mishap, I must mention another secret getaway we found.

Oh, I can’t forget to say that just as I put on my shoes to leave, the young boy ran up and handed my sunglasses to me with nothing but kindness and joy. I sure made him aware of my gratitude.

When we returned to the resort area, it was thick with sunbathers. We decided to walk the beach for a while. A band of younger people had the same idea. We wrapped around a corner of the island, out of sight from the masses, and kept going. Eventually, even the college-aged kids stopped in a remote area to snorkel. But we pressed on to a soft sandy area with absolutely no one near us. It was paradise all to ourselves. Amazing when you think about the crowd we just left. The afternoon hours peeled away effortlessly, much like my skin later.

On another island, we had signed up for a dune buggy tour, which is another thing I had never done.

About a dozen dune buggies went off-road on some rough terrain. But the pace and grouping didn’t meet the expectations of every guy in the group who wanted to let loose a little bit. So, you saw some anxiousness mixed with testosterone, little jerks of the wheel here and there as we kept formation as instructed. We were painting slightly outside the lines, careful not to get caught.

At the first stop, you could hear almost every wife quipping about their husband’s driving as we sat two to each dune buggy. We saw a couple of landmarks, and then came terrain that even the guides stopped to warn about twice! As we drove in a single file line, a rather large mud puddle swallowed the path just before a bit of a steep hill we needed to ascend. One by one, dune buggies carefully navigated through the muddy water and gave it a little juice to get up the hill.

My thinking was, finally, we get to really dune buggy!

I slowed enough to allow plenty of open space between our dune buggy and the one in front of us. When the coast was clear, I opened it up, pedal to the metal, and hit that water filled crater hard! The couple behind us later said that they couldn’t stop laughing about it.

“If you could have seen what we saw,” the husband started once we reached our next destination. “Mud and water shot like a tidal wave out of every side. It was absolutely hysterical.”

We knew because most of the water and mud shot up from underneath our dune buggy. There’s no floor, so we got it all in the most unexpected direction. And it smelled! Oh, did it smell!

Fortunately, we ended up at a slice of heavenly beach with no one except our group on it. It allowed us the opportunity to go get a saltwater bath to clean off. Then, we hiked into the rocks for vantage points that say, yep, you’ve found a secluded Caribbean island paradise.

On the way back, it was as if the other husbands noted my bit o’crazy and upped the ante. The winner of the craziest dune buggy rider went hands down to the guy that darn near ended his marriage by purposely taking a turn wide then sharp, putting the dune buggy on two wheels. His wife was so close to the ground before all four wheels finally touched again that if she reached out, her hand could have dragged the pavement. Nobody was sure which way the buggy would go. Most bets were surely on them flipping over. Miraculously, and you could tell in the husband’s expression, he recovered, and they smacked all four tires down in jaw-breaking style.

His wife aired her displeasure for all to hear her emotions were so raw. The other wives nodded in agreement while the rest of the guys smiled, winked, and chuckled in pure approval.

Fortunately, we didn’t do a third excursion the way things were trending.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Vacation Friends

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

On a laid-back island that has somehow shunned commercialization, some struggled with unplugging at the communal inn we stayed in called Greyfield.

After a kind gentleman provided an orientation at this retreat on Georgia’s Cumberland Island, everyone was welcoming, and everything felt comfortable. Even when our host insisted folks completely shut the front door off the grand porch, otherwise, it’ll get toasty inside, and nobody wants that.

Before we were left to explore the island, he showed us a sign-up book for the private excursions offered that day throughout the island. Naturalists and staff members managed these tours, which may include a trip on benches in the back of a pickup truck to the tiniest wedding chapel on the far side of the island, where JFK Jr. had his small and private wedding ceremony. He and his party stayed at the Greyfield Inn and had their rehearsal dinner on the sweeping front porch. The reception was held on the front lawn. Other excursions may be to see the eye-popping ruins of Dungeness, the sprawling Carnegie mansion at Plum Orchard, birding, kayaking, fossil-finding, chimneys, gardens, and more. A new sign-up book with the next day’s tour offerings was set out at 4pm daily.

On this first day, we grabbed our picnic basket from the kitchen and bicycles and headed for the beach, where the inn provides chairs and umbrellas in a storage container at the beachhead. It was like pedaling through a scene only described by Nineteenth Century recreational affluence. The fabled inn faded as we rounded the natural crushed shell paths into lush woodlands, all bathed in pure nature and marked private for Greyfield guests only. We left the bikes and walked where the forest opened to the sand dunes. Halfway to the beachhead was an elevated open-air picnic pavilion. We were the only ones around. It’s where we enjoyed our picnic basket lunch: delicious sandwich, freshly picked salad, and treat. When we hit the beach, it was ours alone. We wondered at the incredulousness of it all in today’s day and age of overrun destinations. It was like being on your very own private island.

As we exhaled the modern world’s impurities and breathed in Cumberland Island’s purity, we had no idea this respite would grow even more magical.

We hosed off our feet and shoes when we returned to the inn. My wife tried transporting a sand dollar back in her bicycle basket, but it had been reduced to dust when she opened its protective towel coating. From our perch in a guest room overtop the corner of the porch, we could see the canopy of massive trees and wild horses in their shade grazing on the front lawn.

That first night, we learned the dining room was at its capacity with about 30 guests (13 couples and a mom with three college-age girls. The guests were mostly from rooms inside the inn, but some were from the two cottages on the grounds. Before the dinner bell rang for all of us, we mingled in the great room on the main floor in our jackets and dresses with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. A guestbook had names and where people were from—mostly Georgians, but a few entries claimed places like Michigan, New York, and now, Ohio. Conversation at the dinner table was among guests and staff alike. Some staff had the best information about the island and some of the best stories!

The best (vacation) friends we ever met would arrive the next morning.

The guests mingled on the front porch that night. One of the naturalists who ferried in with us wore a sea turtle shirt. She encouraged us to bike to the beach in the dark to see the turtle nests but emphasized how to do it without disturbing them, using the inn’s redlight flashlights and keeping a good distance. Then, the night sky opened to let a long, steady rain pour down. It was a perfect night to stay on the grand porch.

The following morning, the breakfast table brought many familiar faces from the night before. But many of those faces wouldn’t be seen again as this ended their weekend stay. After morning goodbyes over coffee on the porch, we readied for our first excursion. After familiar guests left, new guests arrived. We walked past the new arrival’s luggage in the doorway with our prepared picnic basket with our name on it to join the newcomers and our guide in a pickup truck to whisk us away on an adventure.

It was a padded but bumpy ride. But each bump loosened us all up to conversation and laughs. Our guide stopped the vehicle to move a gopher tortoise in the middle of the unpaved road. She brought it to us in the truck bed so we could see it. That’s when she noticed it was loaded with ticks. Diane, one of the newcomers fresh off the ferry and straight into this excursion, asked if we could help it. The guide looked at Diane’s husband, Jim, and asked him to hold it. The tortoise clawed his hands while the guide fetched tweezers to remove ticks embedded across the tortoise’s underside. The sturdy older fellow, who we later learned runs a sawmill and loves everything about working at it, casually let the guide know the tortoise was digging claws into his wrists, and it didn’t exactly tickle. The guide took the tortoise and gave Jim the tweezers. Poor Jim had no idea his vacation would include de-ticking a tortoise in front of a bunch of strangers.

Welcome to Greyfield, we laughed. And vacation friendships that ran deep for the week.

At the long-awaited North End of the island, we exited the truck’s bed and headed for the restroom. A bat flew overhead in the men’s room. Of course, unfazed, Jim shooed it away.

At a picnic table, we ate from our private couples’ picnic baskets as our guide, Katie, showed us pics of an alligator climbing onto her porch to say hello. After we ate, she focused on the tour and walked us through a little rustic museum that told the story of the community formed here from the island’s freed slaves.

Next to these grounds, in clear sight, was a fenced area marking the property and rugged homestead of Carol, known to some as the wild woman of Cumberland. We would meet this fascinating woman later in the week. Another heavy rain came, so we took shelter in the tiny non-descript chapel where JFK Jr got married. It was a long rain, so our band of strangers had no choice but to go deeper into conversation after we exhausted our wonder if the famous wedding in such a modest place invited Carol next door.

Carol is a self-taught naturalist dubbed Jane Goodall of Cumberland Island’s Sea Turtles. She strongly advocates for the wild island’s preservation and has caused controversy with those who do not share her vision. She is viewed as eccentric as she lives primarily off the land and what the island provides her with. Multiple books have been written about her storied life.

The three couples hauled up in that tiny chapel with Katie continued to bond. Jim and his lovely wife Diane shared their miraculous courtship, beginning with the airline groundings on 9/11. The other couple included Paula, a schoolteacher like my wife, and her husband, Brian. He later shared such an incredulous story about a bee infestation at one of his Airbnbs; we had him tell it again for others to hear later.

That night, we were seated together for dinner and had a great time. As we finished dessert, my wife said we would grab flashlights and bikes to see the nesting sea turtles if anyone was interested. It was a bit of a surprise that these new friends, dressed in suits and cocktail dresses, looked at each other and said, sure, let’s go!

After a quick change of clothes, we met at the bicycle barn to pick up our rides. We positioned flashlights in the handlebar baskets. It took a moment for everyone to find their stride in the dark on the non-paved surface with roots, rocks, and other obstacles. Once we got stopped and started a few times, this empty nest gang pedaled in a row into the dark woods on a path we could barely see. None of us were spring chickens. But at heart, we were adventurous that night. Laughter and giggles echoed off the trees as we swerved and bumped our way along the path to where dirt turned to sand.

That’s when we ditched the bikes and carried on, chuckles and all, through the moonlit sand, switching flashlights from white light to red.

We spent a long time chatting quietly while looking for the turtle nests, but we were too low on the beach. Then, we decided to split up and signal if we found anything.

I was sure I was upon one. I didn’t want to disturb it, so I kept my light off it. I signaled the others and waited. When the six of us reunited, I readied for the big reveal – DRIFTWOOD!

As they say, it was about the journey, not the destination.

Our slap-happy crew returned the bikes and washed feet with the hose out back of the inn. Then we slinked in the backdoor into the pitch-dark kitchen, flashlights back on, giggling like teenagers sneaking into the house, trying not to wake Mom and Dad.

Someone knocked the table that, of course, had the pots and pans and things that maximized clatter we hoped didn’t wake the staff or guests. But if that didn’t, the snorting laughter and she-shushing one another surely did. We all froze in silence, turned off lights, and waited for a response from someone, anyone. None came. So, we continued, albeit more cautiously.

Well, we were thick as thieves after this rendezvous.

Each day brought a new adventure. We went kayaking and birding, touring the spectacular ruins of a sprawling castle-like mansion called Dungeness and the still-standing mansion of Plum Orchard. Each adventure led to afternoon naps or quiet time before the dinner bell chimed. A couple played chess in the lavish grand room of the inn. A college student was finishing up summer studies in the library. Others grabbed books and went to the beach or relaxed on the porch.

My wife and I grabbed glasses of lemonade from the kitchen and sat in a garden on the patio adjacent to the inn. A wild mustang reared up a little distance away to keep a filly in line. He raced after her. She let out a noise of terror and shot toward us. It happened so fast. The space between my wife’s chair and the thick, tall shrubs behind it was barely wide enough for this charging horse to squeeze by. We froze to assess the dangers on both sides of us, careful not to make any sudden moves. One of the horses stopped just across the round patio table from us and glared with blood-red and white eyes, grunting and showing its teeth. I secured my hands on the edge of the table in case I needed to create a shield in an instant. The wild horses’ standoff was uncomfortable and long. Then, as fast as they entered our lives, they left. And so did we!

Another unexpected encounter with the island’s wild side was when Carol flagged down our guide to Plum Orchard! Carol had stopped her quad, looking to chat. Our guide that day had been working on the island for many years, so Carol and she had become friendly with one another. The roadside conversation was lengthy, and Carol made it a group chat. Although a very private person, she was not a bashful person. She was bustling with energy and compassion for the island. And oh, she had a sense of humor! Long story short, we learned what she wanted to teach us about the island she is determined to protect.

Each evening, we shared stories of the present and past, growing tighter and tighter.

On the day before our departure, our friends from our group of six, and others like the professor and the festive southern belle sisters, gathered in front of the inn to walk to the docked ferry and depart Cumberland Island.

It was a hug fest. It felt like saying goodbye to dear old friends moving across the globe and knowing your paths may never cross again.

Later in the day, a sweet, young, gentle member of the staff gave my wife, a little bag left by Diane. Inside was a priceless gift and a simple gesture of thoughtful kindness – a sand dollar to replace the one that crumbled.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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America’s Greatest Tourist Trap

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Okay, we embarked on an all-day power drive to The Badlands. My wife always picks out pitstops to break up the drive for the kids (all of us) to see something roadside and quirky. This day would bring two notable detours. The first was the world’s only corn palace in Mitchell, SD, which was said to attract half a million tourists annually.

The other may be the greatest tourist trap in history.

Way back in Minnesota, we spotted the first sign: Wall Drug – 355 miles.

It was followed by periodic signs stretching across three states along I-90 West that read:

  • Wall Drug – Since 1931
  • Wall Drug – Coffee 5 Cents
  • 291 Miles to Wall Drug
  • Wall Drug – Cowboy Orchestra Daily
  • Wall Drug – Featured on the Today Show
  • Hooked on Wall Drug
  • New T Rex at Wall Drug
  • Be Yourself at Wall Drug
  • Homemade Pie at Wall Drug
  • Wall Drug – Sheriff on duty
  • Old-fashioned Soda Fountain at Wall Drug
  • Wall Drug – Western Oil Paintings
  • Homemade Ice Cream at Wall Drug
  • Wall Drug – Free Ice Water
  • Rx Museum at Wall Drug
  • Have You Dug Wall Drug
  • Wall Drug: A National Treasure
  • Save Energy – Stop at Wall Drug
  • Something to crow about at Wall Drug
  • 150 Miles to Wall Drug
  • Camping Supplies at Wall Drug
  • Wall Drug – Rock Supplies
  • Take Picture of Buffalo at Wall Drug
  • It’s a Blast at Wall Drug
  • Wall Drug – Advertised on London Buses
  • Homemade Donuts at Wall Drug
  • Leather Goods at Wall Drug
  • Wallways in Season
  • Wall Drug – Western Home Decore
  • YOLO Wall Drug
  • Chuck Wagon Quartet at Wall Drug
  • Wall Drug – Homemade breakfast & rolls
  • Wall Buys Rocks
  • Find Us at WallDrug.com
  • Wall drug as Told by Time
  • Wall Drug – Boots, Buckles, Belts
  • Just Ahead – Wall Drug
  • Don’t Miss Out – Wall Drug
  • Wall Drug Next Two Exits
  • Welcome to Wall, SD – Home of Wall Drug
  • Glad You Made It – Wall Drug

These are just some of the billboards. Quotes may not be exact. After all, we were traveling at about 75 miles per hour.

So, after all that. Tell me you wouldn’t roll off the exit and into Wall, SD, for a peak to see what this phenomenon is all about. We did. Now it’s your turn.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Super Storm & Roaches

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Eight of us circled a huge wooden dining table, playing a board game and laughing it up. The island rental house had no air-conditioning because the screened windows all around provided a cool lake breeze.

Things were relaxed and peaceful until an unexpected and massive crack of thunder shook everyone out of their skin. The breeze picked up, and the sun dimmed, but we figured we had enough time for someone to finish their turn at the game before we buttoned down the hatches and watched the storm roll in.

But before the dice rolled, a near-hurricane-force wind blasted us and everything in the house!

Contents of shelves blew to the floor, a picture flew off the wall, and darkness fell on us all. At first, we tried to anchor things on the deck and around the house until a rather large limb crashed to the ground too close for comfort. We scrambled everyone to an interior closet, emptied it, and packed it with bodies, wondering if the roof would tear off over our heads or come down and bury us.

We did a quick head count and came up with one short. A flash search party found and retrieved my niece from the upstairs bedroom, closing the windows.

When all was finally clear, we assessed the damage and wondered how long it would take to restore electricity on an island. It wasn’t much of a storm as far as time went. It hardly rained, and after several minutes of wind blasts, it died down as quickly as it kicked up. But in that short time, we’d discover it had done a lot of damage.

We soon discovered that the toilets and water supply also needed electricity.

In the morning, we discovered several telephone poles on the island’s edge had blown over. The other half of the island still had power. But our fate rested in the hands of a crew that had to be notified on the mainland and catch a ferry across before they could even begin working to restore the lost power. It was estimated to take a couple of days or less.

So, we headed to the commissary and bought the last available bottled water. After a while, we decided there was nothing to do but go on a bike ride to hit all our favorite stops.

That evening, the first cockroach was spotted in the bathroom. It was slow-moving, as would be those that followed. It appeared as if the place had been sprayed heavily to keep them at bay, but either time or the storm stirred them.

In the next few days, they ventured from the bathroom and grew in numbers and quickness. Every discovery came with a shriek, “Cock Roach!”

We secured and sealed our food supply and went about our vacation, as there was nothing else we could do. On the last night, power was restored. My daughter read her cousin a book sitting in a recliner. They lept so high they nearly hit the ceiling fan. A cock roach had climbed across their skin.

We made sure that every piece of everything being packed into the cars the next morning was opened and every crevice searched. A car approached, stopped, and observed us. I think it was the owners coming to check on us. When they gathered what we were doing, they turned around and left, not wanting to deal with the thoughts behind our dead-eye looks.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

I spent a year on the porch

I spent a year on the porch one morning
and this is what I saw

THE PORCH LIFE
Being Present for Eternity
One Morning at a Time

By Frank Rocco Satullo

I stepped foot onto the porch after the long hiatus…

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Feelin’ “The Heat!”

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I was in a melancholy mood when I went to the post office. I had to pay a speeding ticket I received in a little town in Illinois named Galena. I was convinced that I was a victim of a speed trap. However, I was sure there would be hell to pay if I challenged this officer after what I had unknowingly done to him.

Our family of four was on the first-day drive of our vacation across the country. After high winds and plenty of ugly gray windmill farms throughout Indiana and Illinois, we were happy to be closing in on our first destination. The road was winding through trees, up and down hilly countryside, when I saw the new speed limit sign. It was about the same time a patrol car passed from the opposite direction. I didn’t see the cruiser brake, slow, or turn around through my rear-view mirror.

We rounded the bend and turned the music back up.

The GPS provided our navigation and we listened to Holiday Road by Lindsey Buckingham – a fitting song if you ever saw National Lampoon’s Vacation. Bobbing our heads and singing along, we drove over the hill and became mesmerized by a picturesque town ahead.

The hillside view of Galena was just gorgeous!

Our vehicle echoed with, “Look at THIS town, check out the building over there, no –look at that, we need a picture.”

The spontaneity quickly turned to, “Stop there, no –turn there, turn again…”

“WAIT! There’s a cop behind us with his lights on.”

I pulled into a roadside parking space as I replayed our course in my mind. I could only imagine that I must have rolled through a stop sign.

I rolled my window down, feeling the heat and precipitation only it had nothing to do with the muggy weather. This officer was in my ear, spitting and shouting like my old drill sergeant would to his recruits.

“Don’t they pull over to the right in Ohio!” he hollered. It wasn’t a question.

I thought this guy was gasoline and I was a lit match, so I proceeded with caution and kindness. But he’d have none of it except my license, registration, and proof of insurance.

He remained livid and shouted plenty more before storming back to his cruiser.

Then, we waited …and waited …and waited.

Meanwhile, I had to explain to my nine-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son that their dad was not going to jail (at least, I didn’t think I was) but was most definitely going to get a ticket. My mind drifted to paying a fine and whether or not my insurance rate would increase. What a way to blow the budget on the first day of vacation!

The policeman returned, and the puzzle pieces fell into place as he rattled on in a huff and a puff that suggested a lot more going on in his life than this. Here, it turned out he had been in the cop car I thought didn’t turn around wa-a-a-ay back on that country road. Now, even though we were playing the radio loud, I’m pretty certain we would have heard a siren if he had it on, especially when we slowed for the town’s speed limits. And the music only blared for a moment anyway because the kids would have complained otherwise. His flashing light was not one mounted to the exterior of the car. Rather, it was flashing from the interior. By my estimation, the officer ensued in what was a low-speed-chase covering a couple miles. He was convinced he was “chasing” defiant tourists when, in actuality, our attention had been bent on taking photographs.

Ticket apparent, I said as little as I had to when he returned to my window. I just listened to him seethe in never-ending anger.

Later, I read in a magazine that Galena was one of the hundred places I must see before I die. I also read that the town was notoriously known for its speed trap. There seemed to be a hundred or more complaints online just in July alone!

We never did take a picture of it!

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Attack of the Blood Thirsty Black Flies

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Most of us couldn’t stomach the ferry ride to Pelee Island. It was nighttime, and Lake Erie was white-capped. Grandma regretted her sugary snack and cup of coffee. Her eyes fixed on the bottom of a bag, and the contents of her stomach followed. The boys returned from the bow, soaked head to toe.

The next day, we awoke at our beachfront rental to sunny skies and still pretty big waves. We swam, diving into the breaking waves all morning. Then, we noticed swimming companions peeking out from the water, shooting from waves, and doing wild wrapping rituals on the beach. They were Lake Erie Water Snakes, an endangered species, but you wouldn’t have known that from looking around. That ended the swimming for the day!

Pelee Island was perfect for bicycle riding an afternoon away, so we decided to do that. Our destination was an old lighthouse built in 1834. Before we set out, we all took turns spraying each other with bug repellent.

“I swear they’re biting me more after I put the repellent on than before,” I complained to my wife.

She said it was my imagination. Maybe it was.

It was time to go and Grandma, my mom, zoomed ahead. She lives life like she’s forever 12.

“Why doesn’t Grandma have to wear a bicycle helmet?” asked my 12-year-old daughter.

“Just ride,” several of us sighed.

My niece was not very good at riding a bicycle, unlike her daredevil little brother. So, the pack broke in two. I kept pace with my daughter, son, and nephew. My mom stayed back – much as she loved riding fast with a huge grin and wild eyes – with my niece, wife, sister, and brother-in-law. My niece wiped out every quarter mile or so. But the fractured pack kept moving down the road toward a trailhead that would feed into the beach leading to the lighthouse.

I kept getting bit by black flies. No one else noticed, so I gutted it out and continued. I had no choice. It was more of a nuisance than anything else. Nearly two miles into the ride, there was a considerable gap between my group of kids and my niece’s group of adults. A black fly bit me so damn hard I nearly jackknifed my bike. Another bite and another and another followed it.

I was miserable.

It turned out that I was no longer the only one being bitten. My daughter and nephew were ahead of my son and me. They slowed down because the black flies grew thicker and thicker. We pressed on a little further, hoping to blow through the swarm. By the time we reached the end of the road and the beginning of the trailhead, we were engulfed in a cloud of black flies. My daughter was hurting out loud, my son had no filter as he shrieked from the constant biting, and my little nephew suffered in silence. I yelled at the flies. It was all I could do before we turned around and tried to flee. My daughter was the fastest out of there. I hung back with the two young boys. They needed to keep both hands on their handlebars and that kept them from swatting at the meat-eating flies. The swarm was so thick, and the bites so ferocious that my son was bleeding. I considered maybe it was my scent since I had attracted them long before anyone else even noticed. I told the boys to ride ahead and follow my daughter.

Once they were well ahead, I rode like the wind to escape the misery. But the misery was glued to me. As it turned out, the flies never left the boys, either, nor my daughter for that matter. When the four of us flew past the slower-paced riders, headed in the opposite direction, the kids were screaming in pain – except for my silent nephew – from the constant biting. As the slower group described to us later, when we flew past them, our white shirts looked black, and we resembled a bad Pig-Pen scene from the Peanuts comic strip. As for me, they reported that I looked just like a bee-keeper blanketed in bees. The black cloud stuck to me no matter where I went. As I rode past the slower group, I yelled to turn around, but it was too late. The flies swarmed them, too, unbeknownst to me because I had the boys to worry about. My daughter was too far ahead for me to have any immediate concerns.

It was sheer terror for about two miles. At some point, my wife left her slower group and caught up with us, which was typical of a mother needing to protect her young.

I had to make the painful decision to have the boys stop their bicycles a couple of times to shake and swat the flies away. Their desperate eyes said I should be protecting them; why couldn’t I protect them?

After a while, I said, “Just ride! The only way this will stop is by getting back to the house.”

It was awful not being able to help them. Both boys were downright scared. My son yelled out loud. My nephew had horror in his eyes but never said a peep. I could tell he was traumatized. They both rode and rode because there was no alternative. They looked to me for help, but there was nothing I could do except emphasize that the only way to make it stop was to get back, so ride-ride-ride!

Finally, we got back, shook the flies off, and ran inside to safety. I looked down the road to see how far back the others were. That’s when my sister skidded across the lawn, jumped from her bike before it stopped, and sped off in her car. It happened in a blur.

Because my niece couldn’t ride a bike very far under normal conditions, she was being eaten alive along with everyone in her group. She was in hysterics by the time the rescue vehicle brought her back.

An hour later, small amounts of blood were wiped from the fair-skinned youngsters. Medicine was applied, and tears began to dry. We sat around the room overlooking the beach and lake, completely drained from the experience.

My niece joined us. She was washed up and wrapped in a large towel for comfort.

Since I wasn’t with her on the ride, I said, “Tell me about your awesome bike ride.”

Her bottom lip puffed out as she softly replied, “I fell down a hill, got scraped, and got eaten by flies.”

“So it was fun,” I teased.

“No,” she said sheepishly.

“Was it kind of fun?” Grandma asked.

She looked through sad eyes with that puffy lip expression and faintly said, “Yes.”

The room erupted in laughter because we all knew this was an incredibly unusual experience we’d not soon forget.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

 

A Smokey Walkabout

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Tucked deep in the Arts & Crafts district of Gatlinburg, we unpacked while marveling at the skyline of mountains piercing the low blanket of marshmallow clouds. Did someone say wine and a hot tub? I did after my wife got a case of the giggles rummaging through my backpack for something but found pepper spray, bowie knife, snake bite kit, air horn, whistle, bells – oh, and a machete.

She couldn’t stop laughing and mocking me.

A little defensive, I felt compelled to explain my survival tools. The snake bite kit was self-explanatory. It may surprise you that the knife and machete weren’t for bear encounters. Rather, they were reserved for the psychopath roaming the Appalachian Trail. As the Boy Scouts say, Be prepared! For the bear, I figured I’d use my blow horn to scare it away or pepper spray if it got too close.

Snow fell with darkness as we read about prospective trails by firelight to explore at daybreak.

After we left Rainbow Falls and the tourists, we only saw one other person on the ascent to summit Mount LeConte. A ranger suggested we backtrack a bit to see a spectacular overlook. Our legs and feet were yearning for the summit and rest. But a view as he described prevailed. Although the detour wasn’t that far, all said, it was far enough to hear my feet bark at me, “Why-whyy-whyyy…”

The swaths of greenery to our sides, stepping stones at our feet, and canopy above all rose together to a blue sky at the end of nature’s tunnel. It was a remarkable visual. Thank goodness film is obsolete because we would have used all we had here. Afterward, we walked and talked, “This one or that one?” Delete. “This one or that one?” Delete. “This one or that one?” Decide later. “This one or that one?” Both.

Just a couple hundred feet from the summit was LeConte Lodge. This rustic batch of weathered wooden shacks, a small provisions store, and a quaint lodge served hikers energy by the pound. It was an unusual sight but welcome. The shacks provided the essentials; a roof over a bed and a tiny porch to strum an acoustic guitar. The panoramic view made us wish we had a reservation to spend the night.

Ironically, the question of the hour was, “Are you staying the night?” Most people spend the day hiking up and another day hiking down. We were the fools who thought we could do both on the same day. We contemplated the time it would take for our descent down a different path called Bull Run. The daylight hours were slipping away.

We topped off our water supply and checked out the store. I asked where I could find a restroom, and the extremely friendly lady in the store pointed the directions. I followed them until I was inside someone’s shack. It was a little embarrassing. Tripping over myself, I scrambled one more row and found the potty shack. They all looked the same, except this one had a toilet.

We chatted with other hikers when it dawned on me that I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a non-friendly person on a trail. The irony of my machete sticking me in the back didn’t strike me then.

Relatively rejuvenated, we began down Bull Head. My shin splints and footaches quickly said, remember me – still here!

It was just my wife and I, so I started complaining about my aching this and aching that. About an hour into the one-track conversation, I realized what she was thinking of me, so I spent the next hour trying to rationalize it. She had fun with me the whole time …at my expense.

She was the daughter of a podiatrist and said it’s my hiking shoes causing the problem.

Bull Head Trail was a backwoods paradise. Not a soul was on it except us. The trailside scenery and mountain ledge views made me think of becoming a mountain man – until I took my next step, muzzling my agonizing pain.

“I hurt too, but I just don’t complain about it,” she said, sarcasm dripping from the corners of her grin.

“Bear droppings.”

I moved my pepper spray and air horn to where I could easily grab them from the sides of my backpack.

My wife wasn’t convinced, but I saw more and more as we walked. We were definitely tracking a bear down this desolate path in early spring when I imagined they were especially hungry.

“What do I need to prove it – a bear?” I said in frustration.

“If you see one, just know that while you fumble with your weapons, I’ll be running the other way,” she joked …at least I thought she was joking. “Outrunning you shouldn’t be difficult, considering you’re limping on bloody stumps to hear you go on about it.”

So, this was our memorable adventure. When we hit bottom, literally and figuratively – speaking for myself of course – my mind had prepared for the car to be right there. But it was miles away, so we had to trek another trail to get where we started just as night closed in on us. Finally, she even complained of her aches and pains and said we pushed our limits too far (14 miles of mountain hiking from dawn to dusk). We were slap-happy, laughing as if delirious, going on about our sore muscles and joints.

A funny thing happens when you walk up and down a mountain, as we did for an entire day, and then suddenly stop. And by stop, I mean put our feet in the car and drive. When we put our feet back down in a restaurant parking lot, joints like knees didn’t function like the brain intended. We both waddled into the restaurant, determined to feast as a reward for our stupendous journey.

On our way out, having nothing alcoholic to drink, two people wanted to get us a ride so we wouldn’t drive. Our bodies and minds were pretty rubbery, and it was clearly no secret. We clutched each other to avoid collapsing, laughing hysterically at our failing bodies, saying, “Naw, naw, we got this.”

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Border Crossing

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Border stories are what all visiting families usually talk about upon arrival. Ours was unusual because we had taken two cars for our family to fit our kids’ friends, everyone’s belongings, food for a week, and the dog.

You need a passport or other paperwork proving citizenship to cross the U.S. and Canadian border. The border agents are usually strait-laced with little tolerance for even the slightest irritant. If you want to kill an hour or more because you tried to be cute, you can join the long line of cars learning a lesson off to the side.

I prepped the teenage girls in my car for the Q&A session about to happen with Mr. Happy—the border agent peering in our windows. I explained he’d ask, “Citizenship?” to which my daughter’s friend in the back asked, “How do I answer?”

Oh boy! My hands clenched the wheel a little tighter.

“Citizenship?” barked a deep voice in my left ear.

I actually paused to think about it. I saw the man’s impatience, so I spit it out. Then came the question about relationships, to which I had to explain why I was taking an unrelated minor across the border. After handing our passports, the dog’s paperwork, and the forms showing I had permission to bring my daughter’s friend, I did the unthinkable – and got a little chatty with Mr. Happy.

He had asked whom I was traveling with, and I explained that my wife and other kids were two cars back. I realized he was only speaking about our car, so this opened a new series of questions. As he stacked our passports to hand back with the other paperwork, I asked if I could pull a little forward to wait.

“No, but there’s a McDonald’s around the corner,” He deadpanned.

Entering Canada, we had to turn off our cell phones to avoid international charges at the time. I parked at McDonald’s and paused to put passports back in their holders before flagging down my wife’s vehicle. That’s when extreme panic ripped through me.

My daughter’s passport was not there!

“SHIIIIIIIIII……..!”

I turned on my phone and called my wife – son – my son’s friend. Nobody answered.

I jumped from the vehicle and headed back to the border on foot. I wondered how much attention I’d draw by running up to the booth I was processed through. My mind didn’t care. I needed to get that passport back. The shortest distance from point A to point B was a straight line. The quickest solution was to get what I needed where I knew it was left. I had a one-track mind.

Then I saw my wife coming down the four-lane road. I jumped out like a raving lunatic to flag her down.

She finally calmed me down by waving my daughter’s passport in my face. Here, my phone calls were heard, but the border guy told my wife not to answer.

He said, “That’s your husband calling for this.”

And he handed over my daughter’s passport.

Later, deep in Ontario, phones were all off. I needed gas, so I signaled to the other car, old-school style. We pulled into a very busy gas station. My daughter’s friend asked if it would be okay to get a candy bar quickly.

“Sure,” I said.

The card reader wasn’t working, so I went inside to pay. I remember thinking it was odd that I did not cross paths with my daughter and her friend. I returned, and two cars were jammed bumper-to-bumper on an angle to get my pump. I tested their patience and found my wife’s car to see if the girls were there.

They weren’t.

We pulled into a larger parking lot where a strip mall spread across the far side. I went into store after store, searching. Finally, I entered the grocery. I looked through another set of doors and saw the two 15-year-olds in line, arms full of crap. With a head of steam (and relief they weren’t abducted), I burst through the exit door when someone left – otherwise, I’d have to sprint across the store and might miss them had I gone through the intended entrance.

I had a loud voice, and my anxiety had peaked.

Not only did I get their attention, but every judging eye in the place was fixated on my seething face. The girls left their armloads of junk where they stood, and together, we made a march of humiliation to the car.

I was never happier.

The last border story was crossing into Canada from the U.S. by ferry. We hopped in our car once they rolled it off the ferry and headed for the customs checkpoint. Anyway, I was in an honest mood, so when the customs officer asked if there was any pepper spray in the vehicle, I said yes. Now, I did pause to consider how to answer. I quickly wondered if they already knew because we were separated from our vehicle on the ferry where it was parked below and out of sight. When I said yes and had my wife hand me the tiny bottle from the glove compartment, my 17-year-old daughter said, “I have Mace in my purse. Is that illegal?”

So, I was escorted to a little building to find out.

I could tell that these two men were not in a good mood, and I was trigger enough for them to blow off some steam.

Inside, it was explained to me in a harsh tone and threatening words that if I did not voluntarily give them the spray, I would have been in serious doo-doo if they had found it on their own. According to the irritable agents, pepper spray is considered a weapon, and if they had found it, the situation would have been treated the same as if I were trying to smuggle in any other type of weapon. I just nodded at their raised voices and threats of jail. I sensed the theater-level drama was not going to escalate beyond idle threats, so I calmly filled out some paperwork and left the spray bottles with them. When I rejoined the rest of the family, it was quite a reunion. I was anxious to get to the beach house, especially since we were now smuggling pepper spray my wife had discovered while I was inside being interrogated.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

A Tale of Two Spring Breaks

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Spring break can look wildly different through the lens of a 21-year-old versus a 40-some-year-old.

Let’s call the 21-year-old’s adventure Down the Road. 

“Pull off here; I have to take care of something,” Jimmy said.

“Already? We just left!” I complained.

Having officially started our road trip, I just found out my driving partner had to test to get his driver’s license back. I had just moved back to the U.S. from Europe, so I didn’t know. But I did start to see lives heading in different directions.

Between the written exam and the driving exam, I asked how he did.

“I think I got a hundred percent this time,” he smiled as an officer came out to meet him. “Let me have your keys.”

I had a small sports car, Mazda RX 7, packed to the gills.

“What’s all this?” the officer asked, somewhat surprised as she opened the passenger door.

“When I blow this popsicle stand, we’re Florida-bound!” Jimmy said with his signature grin and enthusiasm.

She shook her head as if to say, NOW, I’ve seen it all!

Winding through the mountains of West Virginia on the Interstate proved difficult. It was dark, the fog was especially thick, and Jimmy was sleeping. I almost turned into the dividing wall numerous times as my mind played tricks on me. My eyes followed the reflecting strips with such monotony that they danced in my head. After a close call, I woke Jimmy to have a co-pilot.

We switched driving duties at every fill-up. The gas tank was nearly empty, and we hadn’t seen signs of a gas station in a quarter tank or so. We were desperate, so we decided that the next time we saw a sign, we’d follow it no matter where it took us, as long as it eventually led us to gasoline.

This was the late 1980s, so GPS, the Internet, and cell phones did not exist in our lives yet. We only had a road atlas and roadside signs to guide us.

We ended up miles from the highway, navigating the hilly terrain deep into no man’s land until we finally spotted a glow on the edge of the rural road. It was a run-down place with nothing—and I mean nothing—else around. We pulled in, pumped the gas, and went inside together to add munchies to our purchase. It was very late at night, so we were surprised to see several guys hanging out.

As we walked past two of them sitting on top of a floor cooler, I noticed their filthy bare feet. Nobody said anything to us except the guy behind the counter, and even that exchange was minimal. His West Virginian backcountry accent was so thick when he spoke that I couldn’t understand him. We could feel the heavy eyes examining us and even heard whispers. It was uncomfortable, to say the least. And it became obvious how easily we, including our car, could disappear. Nobody would ever know what became of us.

When we plopped back into our car seats, we looked at the dimly lit place and then at each other, relieved we were where we were.

“Get the hell out of here!” Jimmy said.

I didn’t notice until later that I drove two consecutive shifts. It may have been an honest mistake, but my co-pilot’s nickname was “The Shyster!”

Somewhere in Florida, Jimmy woke me up. I squinted; the sun was so bright. He pointed my attention to the car, keeping pace next to us on the highway. I quickly ran my fingers through my hair, trying to get rid of my “window head.” When we looked right, we got an eye-full from the car full of girls pacing us.

About an hour later, we were still full of energy, traveling at our cruising speed, well over the speed limit. A police car flew up on us like we were in a school zone. Jimmy pulled to the slow lane, thinking we were busted, but the cop car blasted past us, trailed by several other cop cars.

“What the hell, Jim!” I yelled in dismay.

Jimmy was in hot pursuit of the police convoy, traveling in the three-digit range.

“Oh, they’ve got bigger fish to fry, so I’m taking advantage of our police escort,” Jimmy said with a grin.

Soon, we found out why. It was a horrific sight. A van of springbreakers must have lost control and rolled for nearly a quarter mile, based on the carnage strewn alongside the highway. Jimmy slowed down considerably after that.

We stayed with one of my old Army buddies on the Atlantic coast and hit the beach. We drove to Ft. Lauderdale one day but spent most of the day at an outdoor bar with a roof. It was raining steadily. That didn’t dampen our time. At least that’s what I gathered from the other partiers pointing video cameras our way – until “Naked Man” on a balcony across the street stole the show.

Before scooting up the coast to Daytona, Jimmy spent an evening “working” for a friend of my Army buddy. The friend repossessed cars, and Jimmy was invited to help him. Jimmy had the time of his life.

We rolled into Daytona wondering if we had enough money left for a room and if any rooms were still available. If not, we decided to live out of the car for a few days. A hotel on the beach advertised Playboy Bunnies and MTV as their guests. We were amazed that a room had recently become available. We snatched it, no questions asked.

We ran into friends from home, so I’ll skip some of the other shenanigans we got into, but worth a mention was the start of our last night, once our friends from home were gone. We left the outside concert at our hotel and retreated to an indoor club. Sitting at a long bar, we were an island unto ourselves. Partying was going on all around, but not where we perched. Our little pocket of paradise disappeared quickly when a bunch of guys surrounded us. They seemed intent on squeezing us out to claim the bar as their own.

Jimmy nodded my attention toward one of the guys and said in a star-struck voice, “I think that’s Tone Loc!”

“Who?”

“You know, the guy that sings Wild Thing,” Jimmy explained. “This must be his entourage.”

Tone Loc may have been a one-hit wonder, but he was now riding a full wave of fame.

I clanked my beer glass against Jim’s and loudly broke into song, “WILD THING! YOU MAKE MY HEART SING. YOU MAKE EVERYTHING …”

Jimmy tried to shut me up, insisting I was singing the wrong “Wild Thing,” but the entourage finished “…GROOVY.”

Fast forward over 20 years. We’ll call this tale Spring Break for Old Dudes.

Spring break means different things to different people in different stages of life. For me, as a middle-aged man, married with two young children, it meant a long weekend getaway for Easter break with family and friends.

Every January, my friend Matt and I get our families together for a three-night stay in a nice large cabin with a hot tub somewhere in Ohio. But for whatever reasons, January drifted into February and then March. So, we decided that since both of our wives were teachers, we’d book a place over their spring break. That way, the wives and kids all had time off. Perfect, right?

When we arrived, it was not what we had expected. First lesson: don’t trust what you see online. It was a mini cabin in the woods, located on a cul-de-sac road and near a lake. The surrounding cabins were bursting at the seams with college kids on SPRING BREAK! That is every cabin but ours and, as I would later learn, one somewhere across the street.

Matt was unusually quiet as we drank beer and fired up the grill. Bon Jovi music was bouncing off the trees all around us. I guess that’s what the “kids” considered classic rock these days. The only good thing was that these small cabins had thick enough walls, soundproof enough, to block out the noise from all-night partying next door. Fortunately, there was a vacant, tree-filled lot separating us. We decided to brave the night and express our disappointment to management at the main lodge in the morning since it was already getting late and the kids were ready for sleep. Our kids, that is!

Stepping out back, Matt and I drank beer a little faster than we had in a long time. That’s when “Mr. Buff” appeared. Buff had a chiseled …everything.  I tried to stick out my chest but realized it was left behind in Germany when I was in the Army years ago. Either that or the good life had softened me.

Anyway, Mr. Buff said, “We were talking over there and decided, ya know what? Let’s give these old dudes our cell phone number so we’ll know if they need us to pump down the volume.”

I was puzzled and looked around for these old dudes. It was like a truck hit me when I realized Buff was referring to us! He was so nice, though, in that fake, but believing he was sincere, kind of way.

I kept having visions of us in the middle of one of those insurance commercials—“LIFE! It Comes At You Fast!”

All things inside the cabin were quiet – proof that miracles do exist.

The next day, we did some sightseeing, ate lunch at a nice place, and then someone suggested we go antiquing.

Although I wanted to, something inside me screamed, “Nooo!”

So after we spent two hours in the antique mall, we went to the lodge, swam, played games, and had a fine time. On the way out, we stopped at the front desk and said we hoped there would be patrols to keep the college kids at bay but that there were no complaints at this time.

We drove back to “cul-de-sac Ft. Lauderdale” to see nearly every rooftop shingled with girls in bikinis and guys with no shirts. Below, there was a wiffleball game going on at the end of the cul-de-sac. Our kids asked if they could play, too. Yeah right.

At dusk, I had to take some trash to a nearby dumpster. There were raccoons. Yippee! So, I got the kids, walked back, and showed them “wildlife.” After the little scavengers entertained us, it grew darker, so we headed back to the cabin.

Fortunately, only I saw the streaking from afar. At least this night, the party was at the cabin across the street instead of next door. Things were definitely getting wilder.

In the morning, after packing the van, I had to make another walk to the dumpster. On my way back, I was startled to see a family of four emerge from a cabin kitty-corner from ours and next door to last night’s party.

Here’s their story:

“In the middle of the night, my worst fear came true,” said kitty-corner dad. “Someone was banging on the back door yelling, let me in. I yelled back, ‘You better get out of here; this isn’t your cabin, now go away.’ To which the drunk on the other side pleaded, ‘Come on dude, stop mess’n with my head and just let me in.’ This repeated a few times before the stranger at the door fell silent.”

And he remained snuggled up to the door until Kitty Corner Dad rousted him this morning.

And so, it goes.

I could tell us “Old Dudes” had a new story to tell.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Little House on the Prairie

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Rather than power drive 12 hours from point A to point B, my wife planned an overnight stay to break it up. It was against my objection, but that stay would be to see The Little House on the Prairie in De Smet, a.k.a. nowheresville South Dakota.

“Now I don’t know if this is the best little house site because there’re five or six across the Midwest,” my wife revealed casually.

My translation was – Great. Torture for the day.

Unlike the television show in real life, the Ingalls family didn’t live all that time in Walnut Grove, Minnesota. They were there just a few years. They actually lived in many places, including De Smet, South Dakota. And it was here that many of the books in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House book series were based. Much of the family is buried in the De Smet Cemetery.

WE’RE HERE!

We tumbled out of the vehicle, stretched, and wandered into a building adjacent to the parking lot. Inside it was a store. A nice lady took our money, explained a few things, and handed us a map.

WOW! From our vantage point on a hill, a beautiful panoramic view of deep green grass met the blue and white sky. It was as flat out there as flat could be. The wind breezed through our hair as if it were right on queue, and the sun shone, and the birds sang. Welcome to another world.

A teenage boy appeared by our side and said a group was about to head off to the schoolhouse by horse and covered wagon. We walked with him. The kid was as nice as nice can be and very informative.

Once we joined the other families on vacation in the covered wagon, we were off. One by one, each and every kid had a turn to take the reins and drive the horses. The trip to the schoolhouse wasn’t short, so it allowed us to marvel more at the lush green grasses that swayed back and forth in the gentle breeze against a contrasting blue-white sky. The colors were saturated to the point of seeming somewhat cartoonish.

There went the outhouse. Way up yonder, we saw the schoolhouse. A day later, we arrived. Not really. The whole ride probably only took 10 minutes at best.

As we rolled up in our horse-drawn wagon, the bell atop the school roof rang loudly. The schoolteacher invited us in, and instead of giving a boring description of this and that, she had the kids dress like prairie school children. Once they donned their new duds, they took their seats at desks in the one-room schoolhouse. Parents gathered along the walls and some desks in the back and watched the school take session. Each kid was asked to stand at the front to participate in hands-on learning demonstrations.

They LOVED it!

The session ran long, so a couple of fathers and I headed back outside. After some small talk, we haphazardly did a series of solo circles kicking rocks, gazing around, breathing the prairie air deeply, and listening to the kids enjoy themselves inside, ringing the school bell. We reconvened with a mystery that seemed to dawn on us simultaneously.

What happened to our guide?

Considering the flat fields of tall grass allowed us visibility to see forever and a day, the mystery began to unfold. Where did the kid go? We all seemed to receive non-verbal orders and went searching. One gent walked around the schoolhouse, another checked around the horses and wagon, I meandered back into the schoolhouse, scanning every nook and cranny.

When we reconvened at the schoolhouse steps, we laughed aloud, “WHERE DID HE GO?”

We squinted, looked as far as the eye could see, and determined the boy couldn’t have walked back to the house and barn. It was simply too far to cover that kind of ground in that short a time.

By now, the kids and wives had had their fill and filed out of the schoolhouse. Instinct kicked into the women, and they noticed, too, something was awry. In fact, it took them much less time to question the whereabouts of our guide.

Once we all did another round of rounds, we reconvened in a large group in front of the schoolhouse. Only this time, laughter at the situation faded, giving way to thoughts such as, “That’s a far walk back” and “Will this throw the day’s schedule out of whack?”

Interestingly, the kids didn’t give the fact we were all standing around stranded a thought or care in the world. They picked up sticks, rocks, and tall grass, made things, played with things, and then disappeared deep into the rhythmic blowing fields to where you could only see little heads bobbing up and down.

A light went off in several mothers’ heads. They whipped out cameras quicker than a gunslinger could draw his six-shooter. My wife captured our kids running through the golden glow of majestic grassland right at us with ear-to-ear grins. It was just like the opening scene of the TV show Little House On The Prairie. You could even hear the music!

Once the diversion ended, we summoned the schoolteacher. She picked up an amazing piece of technology called a telephone (go figure) and called the main complex. A handful of minutes later, a much-anticipated call came back. No sign of the kid anywhere.

Now, there was restlessness and murmurs of disapproval.

Just then, as if someone said “POOF,” the boy was among us. Our minds were as one when our puzzled looks revealed the same thought – “How did he do that?” This was followed by, “Where did he come from?”

Upon closer examination, we noticed his hair was awfully messy – a kind of matted mess as opposed to wind-blown. His eyes were unfocused, and one side of his face was beat red with some long stringy impressions in the skin. I think there may have even been a trace of drool that wasn’t entirely wiped away by his flannel sleeve.

He kind of looked puzzled as he looked back at us, going about his routine of getting the horses set for the ride back. After the schoolteacher said something to him that none of us could hear, his entire face turned beet red. He could barely make eye contact with anyone. His voice even cracked with humility.

So it goes.

On the return trip, everyone began chatting about the other things to see and do back at the Ingalls homestead. Our guide pointed out how crops were planted and explained how you can see clearly between each row straight on and diagonally. It was pretty cool to see.

It was because we were transfixed by the planting precision as we slowly rolled by that we noticed a section that was completely off. It zagged and zigged in no coherent pattern at all.

Our teen guide had a self-effacing chuckle in his voice when he saw how intently we all silently gazed at this section of mess.

“This section here is the section I planted.”

Everyone rolled in their seats with pure belly laughter. And so did he.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Little Miss Tour Guide

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We took a cab to New Orlean’s Garden District for a tour of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1.  We had been warned not to explore cemeteries – even by day – unless you were with a group. Some are unbelievably huge, and every burial site is above ground because you can’t dig down and not hit water. This created a paradise for muggers.

We watched tour group after tour group gather and depart. Finally, a little old lady asked gravelly, “Are you my tour?”

Apparently so.

At first, I didn’t know what to make of our 81-year-old, four-foot-eleven guide. She was very kind and thanked us about 16 times for coming despite the rainy weather.

She stumbled and said, “That’ll happen when you have too much to drink in the morning.”

I hoped that she was kidding.

“Can I persuade someone to carry my bag for me?” she asked, giving puppy dog eyes to my teenage daughter. She looked around for help before reluctantly accepting and holding the lady’s purse.

This guide was good. She was really good. I could overhear some younger guides in nearby groups, and they had a command about them, but the information didn’t match the level of knowledge and style of delivery we were getting. She even wobbled over and corrected another tour guide from another company in front of his group. It was hilarious.

“Watch your step. Don’t trip,” she often cautioned like a grandma might.

“Did I say I’m really glad you all came even with the threat of rain?”

“I’m glad this is such a small group, so I can take my sweet time and just talk.”

Those were just a few quips of the many she dropped along the way. Her storytelling was much slower-paced and personable than the other guides buzzing about. Her tales were very interesting. We learned why burial sites were above ground and had multiple people laid to rest in each. She told us of movies like Interview with a Vampire that were filmed there.

“You can check these motion pictures out at your local library.”

We also learned the ins and outs of a jazz funeral. At times, people hung on the edge of our group, consisting of our family of four and one other lady. They were also hanging on our guide’s every word.

“You can join our group for just the cemetery portion of the tour for five dollars,” she’d bargain.

Every time, the freeloaders quickly disappeared.

We learned she was of Sicilian descent with some Irish, too. And we learned she could be feisty in an enduring way when she told us of a dashing young Spanish guide who once stole her tour.

“I wanted to wring his neck!”

As we walked the sidewalks of impressive mansions in the surrounding neighborhood, she told us about her chance meeting with actor John Goodman and other famous people who stayed at or owned this house or that.

During our leisurely walk with this wonder woman, she even described her personal experience living through Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath and recovery.

“We have a very nice young Spanish man in our neighborhood who is a contractor, and the other girls and I decided to go with him to rebuild our homes. All of us but Doris. Doris did her research and went with the best outfit. Our homes were done better than ever soon after, but poor Doris. Her people took her money and blew out of town with a job half done.”

When our 10-minute goodbye finally parted us, she pointed to where we could catch the St. Charles Streetcar to return to Canal Street. Halfway back, the streetcar stopped, and the operator explained that she couldn’t continue because it had lost its brakes. We waited a bit, and eventually, another streetcar came to rescue us.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Only in San Francisco!

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It was early morning in Fisherman’s Wharf.  While waiting at a street corner, a strange sight grabbed our attention. A lady was walking backward, ever so casually, at a pace somewhere between not too fast and not too slow.

I quickly reminded the kids and myself not to snicker when she neared. We missed the “walk” sign because although we faced it, we concentrated on our peripheral vision. She passed us, backside first. Our eyes shifted to the other peripheral. Now, we could see this lady’s front side as she faced us walking away. She kept a steady pace, looking in our direction, totally without expression. And we looked in her direction, no longer coy, with wonderment written all over our faces. Straight-faced, she crossed a street as if she had eyes in the back of her head. We were mesmerized. How could she see where she was going? Why was she doing this? She seemed so at ease, as if this was her daily routine. It probably was. We held a downright stare until she finally turned a corner. We looked away, scratched our heads, and wondered out loud what the heck just happened.

Mixed in our visits to the usual tourist attractions – Alcatraz, Chinatown, wild sea lions at Pier 39, Little Italy, and Lombard Street – we got in line to do that thing you feel you must do because you’re in San Francisco: ride a trolley. We waited in the trolley line for a very long time. It was near the bay and chilly. The park next door had a lot of people chilling out. Then, I noticed a smell wafting in the air. It made me think back to my college days. So, we passed the time talking about hippies while we watched them dancing and singing around a man strumming an acoustic guitar.

Later in the afternoon, while resting in a park, I remembered a documentary – The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. I convinced my family to walk up to COIT Tower on Telegraph Hill to find this fascinating flock of wild parrots living there. It was a steep, long walk, but we got there! By the way, the views of the street-laced hills were incredible. So, apparently was my lung capacity.

A group of college students were lying in the grass by COIT Tower. I approached them, thinking they were locals and could direct me. As I stood over them, they casually looked up at me as if to say, what’s up with this dude? That’s when I asked where I could find the parrots flying around.

Our awkward exchange made me think they might have had a hippie discussion of their own after I left, especially as I backpedaled away, not unlike the lady at the crosswalk.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

The Sand Man

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We checked in at the Petroglyphs National Monument visitors’ center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to figure out where to go. Down the road, we found ourselves parking and taking in a panoramic view of dusty, sparse, flat, arid surroundings interrupted only by a huge ridge jutting out of nowhere. So we climbed it.

If ever there was a place where we would have a rattlesnake casualty, this was it. The ridge was made of rocks and boulders piled and strewn all about, together forming a hill. It was like a mini mountain range. But there was a pathway zigzagging up, around, to the front – side – back and around to the front again of this earthen formation accumulated by the remnants of volcanic activity, the byproduct – basalt. To the Native Americans, it was their canvas, and they used it for thousands of years, carving approximately 24,000 images into the rocks found everywhere.

At the summit of the volcanic core, we heard thunder and froze! Standing atop the highest elevation anywhere around, we listened for more thunder, nearly jumping off the steep ridge when lightning lit up the sky.

The race down was awkward. We were tripping on each other, wary of a misstep that could send us tumbling head over heels to the nearest hospital. The wind kicked up with a fierce vengeance as if we had just pissed off the spirits of the land. It was a mad dash for the vehicle when we finally hit bottom. Once safely inside, we marveled at the driving rains and high winds blowing viciously against the windows, determined to get us.

Then, nothing. The wind was whipping on and off in the distance.

“What’s that?” I asked.

Sandstorm!

To locals, it was probably not that big a deal, but to us, we had never seen one, not even a small or moderate one.

So, like any tourist, I rolled down my window to get a better look …and picture.

BAM!

Just like that, it went from what appeared to be a safe distance away to me spending the next day grinding sand between my teeth and forever finding granules in every crevice of the vehicle we bought brand new only four months earlier.

“What were you thinking?” my wife asked – over and over, shaking sand from her hair.

The kids thought it was awesome. So I had that.

Once we recovered and swept as much sand as possible from the vehicle, we returned to continue exploring the petroglyphs.

The images were mostly rudimentary. They looked like something a first-grader might bring home to hang on the fridge. “Look at my picture of the dog,” and by dog, they mean alien. Some of the rock etchings indeed looked like aliens – no imagination necessary. Others were unmistakably snakes, birds, and other animals. Some were just designs.

When we drove back out to the main road and passed the visitors’ center, fire trucks had just finished extinguishing a blaze caused by a lightning strike.

We all just sort of looked at each other, dumbfounded.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Swamp Rats

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Umbrellas in hand, we ventured into the elements. From the smell up and down Canal Street, there was a lot of waking and baking going on. We had another great meal to kick start a waterlogged day that began with all things – a swamp tour!

We wondered if it was worth it. After all, it was chilly, and seeing a gator was highly unlikely. Still, truth be told, I was in it for the airboat ride. I had never been, and it was on my bucket list of things I wanted to do. I had to seize the moment.

Once wrapped in rain gear, we boarded an airboat. Our Cajun guide grumbled aloud about the lousy weather and the pressure to find us an alligator.

“No worries, man, we’re here more for the boat ride than wildlife.”

His cold face warmed with relief.

This guy seemed to have a screw loose, and before we knew it, we were stuck in the swamp!

He was trying to navigate places we probably shouldn’t be. You could tell by how long it took for him to resign himself to radio for help. I’m sure a bit of pride was at play. And jokes he’d later have to hear from his Cajun buddy.

Back in action, damn, that airboat could fly!

The tiny raindrops felt like hail pelting my face as we zoomed up and down swamp channels, sometimes creating paths where there weren’t any before.

I winked at my wife when we zipped past signs that read, “No Airboats” and “No Trespassing.”

When we stopped for stories, it was like this dude was an old drinking buddy with no filter. He told stories that were probably inappropriate for our PG-13 tagalongs but hey, this is New Orleans, right?

Whatever the case, he was a hoot, and we enjoyed the ride …every bit of it (minus the wet and cold and not seeing an alligator).

On our way back to the airboat shack we started from, our Cajun guide looked at me, smiled slightly and…

We left the waterway altogether!

Our airboat climbed onto dry land up a ridge and continued as if we were in a Star Wars land speeder. For the girls on the edge overlooking the ridge, you could see panic drowning their faces. Concern for the children rushed through their veins.

I just laughed the whole way. In part out of the adrenaline jolt out of the calm cold, and in part because I recognized one tip and I don’t even want to think about what could happen.

I’ll admit, I looked back once to make sure my light-as-a-feather son didn’t blow out. It’s not like we had seatbelts or anything to secure us.

We slowed to a stop and turned, and the front of the airboat dangled over the edge of the ridge for a moment. Then, we plunged,  submerging the floor, which quickly popped above water again. We had to quickly lift our feet to avoid the brief rush of water.

The guide looked at me on the sly and asked, “That is what you wanted, right?”

I laughed a reassuring “Yes.”

As we pulled in, our guide spoke loudly for the onlookers to hear as if this ride had been completely routine, “For your safety, please keep your hands and feet in the boat until it comes to a complete stop.”

I’m not sure if people around the dock realized why our guide’s professional-sounding safety advice produced so much laughter from our group. But we rolled out of there as if this was the ride of our lives, which was perplexing according to the expressions of those about to board.

I made sure to tip him generously for the memorable experience …and getting us back alive.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

The Three Bears

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I have three bear stories to tell. Here they are.

Pool Bear

We were already running late. We attempted what should have been a two-day drive to Vermont in one herculean effort.

The motel we booked said we had to be there by a certain time to check in. Otherwise, we could camp out until they opened the office again in the morning. I looked at the clock and knew any setback would be nerve-racking. I was following GPS-guided directions, so I knew, by the minute, what little cushion remained.

That’s when we slowed to a turn and stopped at a little building with a big breezeway and a lake on the other side.

“Now, the ferry board, you must,” the GPS said in the Yoda voice she programmed for the trip to liven up the drive.

We all looked around. A storm was brewing. There were no signs of life. And a little sign out front said, “The Ferry is Closed.”

“Why in the world would the GPS route us on a ferry to cross the lake ^#%%$#!!!,” I added some color commentary at the end of that.

Clearly, there’s a command in the system I should have unchecked saying no ferry routes.

Bam! The skies opened, and it was a POURING of rain.

Every water-drenched turn and the GPS wanted to reroute us back to the ferry. I figured to hell with the GPS, hug the roads around the lake to the other side, and our road must pick back up there.

I was right, but we lost precious time.

We had ten minutes to spare when we finally rolled into the tucked-away place.

The lady at the desk was already looking like she was packed and ready to cut out five minutes early.

When I turned to head back out, key in hand, she warned, “It’s been slow lately, so the bears have moved in. I’d look around before walking out your door and if you take any walks on the property.”

I relayed the news to my family. They deadpanned, “Okay, so there’s that!”

And that there was!

Our unit was nice and spacious. It would be the perfect retreat from the hiking we had planned over the next few days. There was even a typical motel-sized pool with a little fence around it on top of a hill off to the side of our corner room of the one-story row of rooms.

Everyone in my family likes to sleep in. So, I’m up early with a couple of hours to kill before I get any company. I figured nothing like a morning swim.

I walked up the grassy lawn in my bathing trunks, key and towel in hand. I unlocked the waist-high gate, tossed my towel on a chair, and jumped in. When the water settled, the silence of nature at that hour was just what the doctor ordered. I was at peace. I found myself in a lazy back float, lapping the pool enough times that I learned when to flip around to go the other way without looking. The clouds in the sky drifting my speed hypnotized me. The relaxation was so deep I fantasized about adding a pool to our backyard at home.

Snap, crack.

I stood up in the shallow water to look around. I figured another guest discovered my secret spot and opened the gate. But there was nobody there. I shook the water from my ear and went back to my dreamlike existence.

I stood again, instinctively, as soon as I heard the crackling sound. That’s when my gaze scanned the wood line, studying it with vivid senses.

“Do I have company?” I asked out loud.

There was no sound. After a while, I laughed to myself. I must have been imagining things.

When I stood up the next time, I jumped out of the pool, leaned against the back fence, and looked into the woods intently. That’s when I saw about a seven- or eight-foot cluster of branches being disturbed.

“Hey there, big fella, am I in your pool?”

Silence.

“Are you just curious? You want to just watch from a distance?”

I looked at the long stretch of grass from the gate to the corner of the building I’d have to turn to get to the room.

I shouted for it to “Go! Git! Leave me be!”

For the moment, I reasoned, my safest place was the middle of the rectangular pool. I stayed there long enough. I looked around. I no longer wanted the rare solitude I discovered out there. Where are the damn people! I want people!

I hadn’t heard anything long enough to consider how fast I could run downhill if I got a good jump on the bear. I imagined this enormous, muscular, hairy beast thrusting from the brush with a roar as he barreled at his bear speed to catch up with me just as I got to the corner, front, and center for my family to awake to the noise to see me being mauled next to the car.

No sight, noise, or movement for a while now.

I readied my key card for a quick swipe, leaped the fence like an Olympic hurdler, and flew downhill. I thought I heard him behind me, but I’m sure now it was just the adrenaline unfurling. I slid on my feet in the dew-covered grass to slow without faceplanting to pivot the corner of the parking lot pavement. As my skin glided from a harmless slip-and-slide surface to asphalt with pebbles, I surely woke the whole damn place up. I flung open the door and jumped inside.

My wife opened her eyes to my commotion.

“Oh, hey there, Hun. Did ya go for a morning swim?”

When I Wrestled a Bear 

There was a time when I actually wrestled a bear!

We were minding our own business in a back room of a bar, shooting pool. We were celebrating Scott’s 21st birthday. We were fresh out of the Army, and our other best friend, Matt, was home from college.

A stranger walked in and casually asked if we wanted to wrestle a bear. No’s quickly turned to contemplation quickly turned to hell yeah, as long as we’re all in.

We were led to the parking lot to sign our “rights” away on some forms. Years later, the same owner of Caesar the Wrestling Bear would be in the news for one of his bears mauling a trainer to death. There were multiple bears that the outfit labeled as Caesar.  It doesn’t take much imagination to understand how a captive bear trained to bar fight week after week would turn. We were wrapped in a cocktail of invincibility that combined bravado with ignorance on this night.

We needed to capture this life experience, or death, for the record, so we called – of all people – my mom. There were no cell phones yet, and she was the only person nearby who would have a camera ready with film and all that. She agreed to drive across town, bringing her camera. Unfortunately, her camera had died. Later, we’d get very grainy copies of a videotape shot by a neighbor’s friend who was there that night. The neighbor thought he was just watching a bunch of crazies on film until he recognized me, so he dubbed a copy of a copy of the VHS tape to give to us. It was hardly watchable; the quality was so degraded.

Caesar was a full-grown black bear. He looked enormous, especially when he stood. Plus, he had his teeth, and his mouth was not taped closed as some anticipated. He also had massive bear paws and claws that were not restricted at all. The smell of real danger began to seep in as we were introduced to Caesar and given some pointers. Sudden movements, loud noise (remember, we were in a raucous bar atmosphere), and over-aggressiveness by any of us could make the bear “defensive” and not “playful.”

Oh, and one particular pointer stuck with me, “Just make sure he doesn’t accidentally hook you in the corner of the mouth with a claw because he’ll rip your cheek straight up without knowing it.”

The handler sized us up and looked at Matt, Scott, and me, saying, “Usually, smaller people have a better chance of pinning him down because he is more playful with them.” I was the smaller people.

The reward for doing so was something like a cool grand – certainly an incentive to give it our best shot. The pecking order went to Matt, Scott, and then me.

Matt was a tall guy with a solid build. He entered the closed-off mat (a.k.a. dance floor) and definitely had a serious look on his face. The bear must have gotten a bad vibe from Matt because he got rather aggressive. The trainer separated the bear from Matt and gave Caesar a firm reprimand, and took him outside to calm down. Meanwhile, Matt looked at us as if to say; I want out. But he was in – up to his neck in. The match continued. Matt tried hard, maybe too hard, and the bear got all crazy again – even rearing up on his hind legs. They ended the match and took the bear out to the parking lot to calm him down.

I was so happy Scott was next and not me. When that thing came rumbling back in, it was ready for business. Scott’s a scrappy fighter and wasn’t fazed by much in those days, but he quickly hit the mat hard and looked up …fazed and then some. You could tell there was nothing to be done once that bear had you. Its weight and strength determine your range of movement. What happened in there wasn’t up to you; it was entirely up to Caesar. Moving Caesar would be like trying to move a brick house. It wasn’t going to happen unless he allowed it to happen. He wasn’t allowing Scott to do much. When Scott came off the floor, he was dripping in sweat, exhausted from the energy he expended to move parts of his body mere inches.

My turn came. I had tried to learn from observing Matt and Scott, plus remembering the pointers the trainer gave us.

Once in the ring with this beast, a voice popped into my head screaming, “What the hell are you doing here?”

I wasn’t fairing much better than Scott and Matt. The bear used one paw and swatted me down like a rag doll. Before I knew it, he was on top of me, and I couldn’t budge. It took every bit of strength I could muster just to move my hand an inch; even then, I could only manage to do so because Caesar allowed it to happen. I talked with a friendly, playful, and calming voice. I moved slowly and didn’t look him in the eyes.

That’s when the unthinkable happened. We were both on our feet. I moved in, and he went down – because he was playing and took himself down. In an instant, I was on top of this massive creature.

Now, let me slow this description down and zoom in. I went from not knowing what happened to staring at powerful jaws inches from my face, breathing in the animal’s hot, stale breath. I slid one hand over, and Caesar let me press his paw to the mat. To get the other paw stretched out and down meant I’d basically have to get close enough to kiss Caesar on the mouth, my neck fully exposed.

“A-A-A-A-And we have a …” Before the DJ could say “winner,” Caesar was up, and I was down.

And that’s where I stayed for the rest of my time.

When I regrouped with my friends, none of us felt well. The acid in our stomachs, the exertion out on the floor, and the rancid bear smell all over us were all we could stand. We went behind the building, saturated in sweat, and heaved everything from our stomachs and then some.

When I looked up, one of my friends said, “Dude, your neck is bleeding.” 

My only other bear story also came about unexpectedly.

It was about 20 years later, and we were vacationing at Yellowstone National Park. Our first full day in Yellowstone started with sleeping in …late!

Once we were up and at ’em, we decided to do laundry before some afternoon sightseeing. There was a smaller rustic lodge nearby that had a Laundromat and restaurant. We drove over there and started our loads of laundry. Then we sat, sipped coffee, and played games in the oversized lobby filled with chairs and fireplaces.

“BEAR! BEAR! BEAR!” Came screams from all around.

Just like that, every guest and employee was in front of the lodge, staring at a very rare sight indeed. Not only was it a bear, but it was a grizzly. Not only was it a grizzly, but it was a mamma with two cubs out for a morning stroll.

Traffic on the road in front of the lodge stopped, and people flew from their cars in reckless abandon, cameras waving. I grabbed my wife’s camera and tried to get closer, then closer, then even closer still. Still, I was further back than many people. Before I knew it, I was in the grassy area and ….NOTHING! The camera froze.

“GET BACK RIGHT NOW OR GO TO JAIL,” a ranger yelled directly at me.

When I turned, there was my 8-year-old son at my side.

I quickly retreated to where my wife and daughter were watching from the crowd, a safe distance away.

“Fix the camera, hurry, hurry,” I said in a panic, watching the bears get further and further away.

Before the handoff was complete, I withdrew my hand prematurely, and the camera, which my wife so enjoyed, fell to the ground.

She had words for me that others had no trouble making them out. It wasn’t just the chipped camera she was upset about but putting myself and our son in harm’s way. I was going to argue that we were a safe distance. Instead, I faded away from her gaze. Her damaged camera had its scars, but she got a few pictures to prove we saw the grizzlies.

My wife cooled off around the time our laundry did, and then we were off to see an eruption of a different sort – geysers.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Penguiny

 

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Most kids have a favorite stuffed animal or some sort of sidekick to share conversations and adventures in their early years and sometimes beyond.

Our daughter Cara had a soft blue stuffed Stitch from the animated film Lilo and Stitch. She wasn’t really into the princess scene when we went to Disney World. When we said she could get a souvenir in a gift shop, she chose Stitch. She loved Stitch, and he accompanied her to sleepovers and on trips.

Several years earlier, she had a new stuffed animal to give to her new brother, whom she was about to meet for the first time. It was a cute, soft, yellow stuffed chick about the size of my hand.

Our son Dominic later named the little yellow chick Penguiny. He loved penguins. We were going to get him a stuffed one, but he revealed he already had one. For Halloween, he put a white sock around that yellow chick up to its neck like a protective egg and named the concoction Penguiny.

Penguiny, like Stitch, was a part of the family, so when we took a long driving vacation out west to see The Badlands, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, etc., the two stuffed animals joined us. Cara usually left Stitch in the car when we’d make tourist stops during the day because he was a little bigger to lug around. Not Penguiny. Dominic could clutch him in one hand, stuff him under an arm, or even put him in his hoodie pocket and go. The little fella in the white sock had the wear and tear to show for these adventures, from trails to whatever was worthy of a family photo, which could have been anywhere.

We never had a screen in our SUV for the kids to watch videos, and they were only allowed to play video games for thirty minutes after every hour of non-video drive time. So, during that hour, their imaginations would sprout out of boredom. And that’s how they invented a new language together. This foreign language was called Penguiny.

Think about how parents may try to figure out what a baby is saying when he or she is learning to talk and would ask an older sibling what the baby said because they seemed to understand better than anyone. Well, on this wavelength, a baby-type language—Penguiny—was forged.

Penguiny language simply dropped the consonants in words, so only the vowels were uttered.

“Hi, how are you?” would phonetically become, “I ow ah oo?”

The two of them became so fluent in this bizarre-sounding new language as the trip went on that my wife wanted to know what they were saying because they’d carry on conversations, laughing up a storm. So, she learned Penguiny and could understand it, but not at the level that these two would carry on.

When we returned home from our great adventure trip, I noticed how filthy Penguiny the stuffed animal was, especially his white sock err egg! There was the scuffed spot from a spill at Mt. Rushmore, another dirt mark from Capitol Reef, and so many more that he was dingy all over. I thought of the germs that thing was carrying and tossed him in with the laundry.

When little quiet Dominic saw the bright white and yellow friend come out of the dryer, he blew up!

Tears in his eyes, he yelled, “All of my souvenirs got washed away!”

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

The Walk of Shame

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Long before 9-11, terrorism was in my consciousness. When I was overseas, posters of the most wanted terrorists were prominently hung in our barracks. Those who drove were taught to examine the underside of vehicles for bombs.

During the last years of the Cold War, I had to fly out of West Germany from Frankfurt to New York on the Fourth of July. Just before my trip, a broadcast warned of a terrorist threat planned for July on just such a flight. I remember expecting things to go boom hours into the trip over the Atlantic Ocean.

With that backdrop and the world we live in today, I can understand the necessary precautions when we use airports, government buildings, and other public places. Sometimes, I complain about the loss of freedom, but I’m really complaining about my personal inconvenience.

About a decade after 9-11, my wife and I took the kids to Washington, D.C. We stayed at the same hotel where, just outside, a sniper’s bullet almost killed President Reagan and did kill his press secretary. We woke early to get a head start on a busy day. We had a pre-scheduled tour of the Capitol Building, located at the far end of The National Mall. This would kick off a full day of walking through the Mall and visiting many museums and monuments. The heat was definitely going to be a problem. In recent days, the temperature had been in triple digits, and more of the same was expected. So, like a good Boy Scout, I would be prepared and fill my camel pack (a small backpack that only holds water). Then I filled plastic bottles inside my wife’s and kids’ backpacks. Since we’d be on the go all day and into the evening, I also threw in a fistful of snacks consisting of granola, crackers, and trail mix.

I thought I was smart. But my wife said otherwise.

She mentioned something about restrictions and security checkpoints at the Capitol Building. I blew it off. I mean, c’mon – it was going to be a hundred degrees! We only had water and snacks. Open the packs, take a look, and let us through. There was no doubt in my mind that that would be the extent of it. It’s not like we live in Russia (my mind sometimes sticks to the 1980s).

“Subway?” My wife suggested.

“Let’s hoof it. It doesn’t look so bad,” I said, glancing at a map. –Another mistake!

I definitely underestimated the time it would take, something I am not known to do.

“Look, kids, White House,” snap-snap, and we had our pic to show we were there. Then we were gone.

Once at The Mall, we ran in spurts to meet our time slot for our scheduled tour. The length of the Mall was grossly underestimated.

“Damn map maker,” I muddled.

My wife didn’t let it slide. I was to blame.

Little did she know, I was just warming up.

We joined the line, which was snaking outside far outside the doors, and waited. It was early, and it was already getting hot.

The kids asked for water, and I said, “No, we need to conserve it.”

You know, kids, no foresight. They would deplete our water supply by the time we got inside and then complain that they needed a bathroom. That was my thinking, anyway.

Now and then, as tourists entered the building, we noticed they were sent back outside to dispose of things not approved for entry.

“We should dump out our water,” my wife said.

I looked at her like she was crazy, “Are you kidding me – it’s going to be a hundred today. It’s water!”

When we finally entered the building, there were scanners and commotion everywhere. People were funneled into many different aisles for inspection. We had to remove bags, belts, shoes, and you-name-it for inspection.

“This can’t go in,” said security.

I was directed to take my camel pack outside to pour it out and return. A guard at the door would let me out and back in. But I wasn’t permitted to dump water just outside the door. I had to go into the grass to the side of the long line of people waiting to get inside. They looked at me like I looked at others coming back out earlier. As I poured, I saw some couples exchange words, resulting in either water being dumped or a shake of a head no.

When I got back inside, my wife was smiling, and security was frowning.

“This has to go, too,” security said, handing me a baggie of snacks.

I made a basket out of the front of my shirt, dumped in what I considered lunch to save a few bucks, and headed back outside. This time, I was directed to the other side of the line where dumpsters were. I felt self-conscious on this walk of shame.

Back inside, my wife and security guard were both frowning. Now I had to dump the water bottles. I could have kicked myself for not thinking to dump them when I dumped the camel pack. As I poured away hydration in the greenest grass I had ever seen in July, I couldn’t even bear to look at the crowd of people who certainly recognized me by now.

A guard at the door smiled out of familiarity when I re-entered.

My wife and son were standing in the clear on the other side of the metal detectors. It struck me a little off that my daughter was still on my side, so I nudged her forward, anxious to put this freak show behind us.

“Hold up!” came a voice I was growing to despise.

“Gotta take it out,” I was told.

“Really?” I gave a look of c’mon!

I didn’t mind the three shame walks because it was my fault for trying to get over on them. They got me on all my goods. Yes, I was an idiot for thinking I was sensible. What could possibly be the hold-up this time, I wondered. Security pulled out sunscreen from the bottom of my daughter’s backpack.

“The dumpster is just over there, outside the doors,” I directed my teenage daughter.

She looked startled. I had rattled her from her comfort zone. I was sacrificing my flesh and blood to avoid a fourth strut down shame alley. Reluctantly, she complied. The doors and wall were glass, so I could watch her the entire way.

Meanwhile, my wife and son were shooed off to keep the throngs of people flowing.

Commands echoed, directing us and others, “Clear the area, keep it moving.”

“We’ll catch up inside,” I called out to my wife as she and our son disappeared.

“You too, sir,” said security, putting a hand on me, pushing but not shoving.

I stood pat and explained, “I have to wait for my daughter; she’ll be right back. She had to dump something outside.”

“Doesn’t matter; you have to move on,” he said, pushing against me again.

I understood the rules and why water and crackers had to be thrown out to keep large crowds from being bogged down by deeper inspection of such items. This way was easier and more efficient, especially considering it was the Capitol Building. But there was no way I was leaving my daughter to fend for herself in that crowd.

“She’ll be here in a second, sir,” I said with a pleading smile.

As he started to repeat himself, my look changed. Something about it made the guard step to the side as if I had complied and wasn’t there anymore.

I felt terrible for wimping out on a fourth trip outside, but I was so familiar with the surroundings by then that I had convinced myself that my daughter would be fine. Standing there was the most shame I felt. Although each second seemed like a minute, my daughter was by my side again, and we entered the U.S. Capitol Building, safe and sound.

The Supreme Court may ponder whether they are an equal branch of government because, by the time we entered that building, we had replenished our water supply, compliments of a drinking fountain. Security looked at everything we had and let us through without having to dump anything.

By the end of the scorching hot day, having walked who knows how many miles, we took a break on a curb before walking back to the hotel. Our last water fill-up was at the FDR Memorial hours ago. We were parched and exhausted. Then there it was, a frozen lemonade food truck. It was cash only, so we scraped what little change we could muster from everyone’s pockets. Added together, it bought ONE serving. We sat right there on the curb and took turns enjoying the cold, sliding down our raw throats with tasty pleasure. It ranks up there as one of the most satisfying things we ever tasted. Everyone agreed. And nobody was taking this from us!

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Connecting Flights – What’s on the Wing!

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Do you remember the first time you took notice of the white lines being drawn against the blue sky?

“Look mummy; there’s an aeroplane up in the sky” —Harry Waters (son of Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters), at the start of the song “Goodbye Blue Sky,” recorded for The Wall album (released in 1979), when he was two years old.

I was a kid on a car hood with my grandfather parked under the inbound flights at Cleveland Hopkins Airport when I first took note of the ‘metal birds.’ Although their wings eclipsed the sky, they were so low that the overpowering sound stuck with me.

My grandpa told me stories about when his father took him to see The National Air Races, which were held in Cleveland from 1929 to 1949. He saw Aviators Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart fly there.

Human flight is ingrained in Ohio schoolchildren, considering the state’s long list of history-changing pioneers of the Heavens above. And it’s not just names like Armstrong, Glenn, and the Wrights, but Eddie Rickenbacker, Zachariah Lansdowne, Jerrie Mock, Jean Hixson, Judy Resnik, and Sunita Williams.

Imagine my excitement on a field trip to the airport to board a flying machine. It was the most luxurious plane I had ever seen. There were tables with lounge chairs and so much space to walk about. I couldn’t wait until the day I flew in such a fantasy.

But it would forever remain a pipedream.

Soon after that, I boarded a plane bound for Disney World with my parents and sister. I remember thinking, this doesn’t seem right. I craned my neck past the slow-stepping torsos of the undead to see down the single-file aisle, hoping for the lavish opening to come into view. Instead, we wedged into our bus seats, fighting for the window.

“Take some gum,” Dad said, handing each of us a piece.

It was his trick to help swallow and “pop your ears” when the cabin pressure became too much during take-off.

“I’ll be right back,” Mom said as she disappeared to an empty seat behind ours. It was the dividing line between the smoking and non-smoking sections of the plane. But the smoke did not honor it.

When it came time for me to fly as a newly minted adult, I was joined by a bunch of northeast Ohio Army recruits at the Cleveland airport headed for Fort Jackson, South Carolina. In those days, anyone could come to the gate with you to see you board—the setting for so many saved relationships in romantic movies. Our gate was packed with crying mothers and shirtless teenage boys. The only security was a quick walk through a metal detector. I made my mom promise not to embarrass me by crying. She kept it … in vocals, at least.

On the flip side, I had a chance to come home on leave before jetting to Europe to finish my enlistment there. Our standard-issue duffle bags didn’t seem big enough for what I was packing. I bought a super-sized duffle bag at the post exchange (PX). At 5’6”, I looked like a caricature hoisting that like-sized thing on one shoulder. That’s when I learned about size limits for luggage at the airport. I had no choice but to leave a good portion of my belongings in a trash can.

On the flight, I saw an old friend. It was quite a reunion. We managed to sit next to each other, order drinks like we wanted to fly forever, and talk about old times (just a couple of years in the rearview mirror). The drinking age was younger back then. When we deplaned, we were holding each other up drunk. Our slack-jawed moms were at the end of the ramp to greet us. It was still the old days when you could hug someone coming straight off the plane.

When I departed West Germany a few years later (and just shy of the fall of the Iron Curtain), I was on edge. Weeks before take-off, our base was alerted to a terrorist threat to bomb an American flight out of Frankfort within the next month. I signed the cross after taking my seat on The Fourth of July! It was probably halfway across the Atlantic before I relaxed my sphincter.

After college and after planning a national sales conference, I got in a Chicago cab, exhausted. There were several of us sharing it, so I sat next to the cabbie.

“Have a mint; they’re ‘curiously strong,” he winked at his clever reference to the tagline for Altoids.

My mom should have been in the back of my head saying don’t take candy from strangers, but it sounded like it would be refreshing. So, I snuck an extra when I dug into the tin between us. I’ll never know if I was slap-happy-to-the-max or if this dude had laced mints, but my co-workers were convinced of the latter. I boarded that plane as such a chatty Kathy I was told—between laughter—to cool it, or they would throw me off the plane. Fortunately, we were in the sky when the flight attendant tried out her singing voice over the microphone to her captive audience (captive as in trapped, not captivating, to be clear). The Altoids finally wore off when the seatbelt sign came on before being tossed around like we were tied to a mechanical bull. All the clasped hands in prayer must have saved us.

Like father like son, but his poison was sugar. It was our first big family vacation to … wait for it … Disney World.

Our last leg of the flight was on a puddle hopper with a column of single seats. Behind me was my rambunctious six-year-old boy, and behind him was his new friend, and behind him was that boy’s father.

The seatbelt sign was on. We descended before our stomachs. That’s when I heard two remarkable imaginations echo through the hollow tube with a play-by-play for everyone to hear.

“Oh my god, we’re gonna crash!” One boy yelled at the other.

“Pull up—pull up!”

“Whew, that was close.”

“Holy moly, there’s an alligator on the wing.”

The plane bucked in the air and then tilted to turn.

“The alligator is gone, but seaweed clogged the engine, and now it’s smoking.”

From the other side of the plane came an elderly voice, “Is there really smoke?”

I tried to squeeze my face between the back of my seat and the metal wall with desperate “SHHH” noises, but these two were on cloud nine all the way down.

In a post-Nine-Eleven world, airports have changed. My wife and I knew to get to the airport early. But now, living in Cincinnati, the Cincy Airport was a good trek into Kentucky. Go figure. This meant crossing a bridge dubbed the second-worst bottleneck in the country. So, we left super early to beat the morning rush hour. When we arrived, it seemed like a comedy sketch. None of the gate checks were open. No human being was there. Indeed, we were the only souls. Us and the old man on a riding carpet sweeper. He went in mesmerizing circles as if he were riding a Zamboni. I believe he slowed down time itself.

We watched the luggage turnstile circle endlessly when we arrived at our destination. Our bags were nowhere in sight. Many bags turned to none, and none turned to many again but from a different flight. We had nothing except boarding passes for a weeklong cruise and a couple of small carry-ons. I waved my credit card. We had better get to a store for some clothes and luggage quickly! But my wife asked for directions, and we were pointed to a door and a small room on the far wall nearly out of sight. Our suitcases were on the wall outside of it in a well-trafficked corridor for anyone to snatch.

Soon after this trip, we were on another when I became aware of the swell change exiting an airport. A sea of Uber or Lyft drivers pulled up and away with riders in a frantic efficiency. Three cabbies waited patiently at the end of the line before cussing something, getting in their empty company cars, and speeding off to join the 21st Century.

Like father-like daughter, our college girl was headed to Chicago to see a roommate she had at The Ohio State University. It was her first time flying solo. Silly me thought we could walk her through everything to teach the ropes right up to the boarding gate.

“No ticket, no entry!”

“But…”

It wasn’t happening. So, I sounded like I was calling a play in a hurry-up offense with time about to expire, explaining to my daughter what to do from there on out.

“Sir, keep it moving.”

“Ya-ya!”

And off she went.

A news crew grabbed us and asked about our experience on what they claimed was the busiest flying day ever because of the way the Fourth of July fell, with just a day between it and the weekend, allowing many to take a four-day trip. Well, it was only half of the story. Our girl’s return flight was canceled, and she was stuck in the Chicago airport. Another was delayed, then canceled, and again. She reticketed for the morning. I told her I was willing to drive there by phone, but it would be several hours, or she could find some chairs or floor to sleep on.

Our spring break flight from a Death Valley trip was for the birds in a mostly post-mask but germaphobe world! It started okay even though our departure was set further and further back. It didn’t matter, six of one or a half dozen of another, because we had a very long layover at the next airport, so it just made it that much shorter. We grabbed food and chairs and nibbled our way through the hours, waiting. I chuckled at some wall art, appreciating the sly humor. Two headshots were framed next to each other. One was Marilyn Monroe and the other was Jacqueline Kennedy.

Before boarding the first leg of the flight, I had to go for a walk because my stomach did not agree with my spicy airport food. It was announced that the plane’s carry-on luggage capacity had been exceeded, so they tagged luggage to be checked upon boarding. My wife and I couldn’t sit next to each other, to boot. And to add insult to injury, I had a middle seat between a younger and older lady. We were in the air when pressure began to build …within.

At first, I thought I might be alright. Then, the pressure looked for alternative escapes. I wondered if the ladies touching my elbows could hear the noise of essentially farting inward rather than outward; we were so close. The pressure upped its game. I knew I was in trouble. I imagined what a sneak release might be like. I knew it would be anything but stealth. The older lady in the aisle seat was asleep. I nervously looked around. It was go-time.

“I’m so sorry, but I need to get up.”

I hurried to the plane’s rear and hung out for a while. Then I returned to my seat. About three nerve-racking minutes later, I had no choice but to roust my sleeping aisle lady again. This trip to the back saved me. When I returned to my seat, both seatmates went from strangers to chatting companions. I wondered what they knew. I wondered what was said between them in my absence. In any case, they seemed friendly. I was relieved.

Now for the rest of the story …or connecting flight.

I was reunited with my wife. She won the window seat. I was directly across from a rather unhealthy-looking woman. She even had a hospital bracelet wrapped around her wrist. Once we were in the air, it began. A cavernous cough from deep within whooped with no discretion, visibly shaking her from head to toe. And she kept whooping …and whooping …and whooping. I figured whatever she had; we’re all getting. Thirty minutes later—no exaggeration—she stopped to eat and drink. Then, it kicked in again for another 30 minutes without a full minute at any time to catch her breath. I thought for sure I would be on my deathbed within the week.

My mind drifted to that old pipedream. If only this airplane had the space to walk about like the luxurious plane I boarded for that childhood field trip.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

A Jessica

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Breakfast for dinner was on the menu. We were seated in a peculiarly empty restaurant at dinnertime on a weekend. Hmm.

Still, it took a while for a server to seat us at this “popular” chain. One family of four was in a booth near us. Another across the dining room.

We were eager for a sugar frenzy of pancakes, French toast, and all the staples that come with it.

Our waitress moseyed up to us to take our order. To this day, we can’t be sure what I said about needing her to come back, but she deftly replied in a way I later jested, did anyone get the number on that truck that just ran me over?

I usually look to be the fun table for servers because everyone at the table and I had several jobs in the service economy here and there. And Lord knows, when I worked with bigshots in the financial services industry, I witnessed some reprehensible superiority complexes.

As the saying goes, “I don’t trust anyone who’s nice to me but rude to the waiter.”

One waitress was so humiliated by the COO of my company that when we left, I slipped a sizeable tip onto the table without anyone seeing. But the gig was up when she raced to us at the door, tears of joy in her eyes, saying thank you—thank you—thank you. Suddenly, I felt like my job was in jeopardy: No good deed goes unpunished.

Anyway, everyone at the table had their foodie war stories. So, we try to be the bright spot in a person’s day.

Back to Jessica, our waitress.

I figured she must have mistaken my words or intent, so I set out to win her over. After all, you never know what someone is bringing to the table that has nothing to do with you but soon may be.

It was quite a pause before she came back. But when she did, there it was! I found her funny bone. We all agreed she even seemed stunned by her laugh. So, with our order in and stomachs twisted with anticipation of the sugar injection coming, we were here to stay.

And stay we did. And stayed, and stayed, and stayed. It didn’t matter; we had a great conversation until it faded.

“Shh-shhh, listen,” my wife nodded to the door to the kitchen. We were seated along that wall.

Loud voices escalated.

“You can’t tell me what to do!” Jessica shouted.

“You are on your damn phone all the time. There are people out there. Do your job!”

The back and forth overheard without anyone having to shhh to do so took us aback.

I leaned out of the booth to take a better look around. The father, a few booths down, did the same. Our uncomfortable eyes met. We did the bro nod, then shrugged and tucked back into our respective booths with a false sense of reassurance.

“Look, if you hear gunshots, run for the door, got it.”

Maybe that was an overreaction, but hey, in today’s age, it crossed our minds.

But our order was in.

I can see the headlines later, “Flap Jacks so good, they were to die for!”

Things simmered. But you could tell the tail was wagging the dog back there. Jessica had the control the manager wished he had.

A new character appeared from the kitchen when our hungry bellies had had enough, and we were about to shimmy our butts across the sunken plush booth seats to get the hell out of there.

The young man was obviously the cook without him having to say so, but he did anyway.

He was doing Jessica’s job AND cooking the food! He spoke softly and politely and wore a look that was both apologetic and embarrassed.

If I had not met the cook, I would have paid for the meals without eating and left. But something about this young man’s soul made me know we’d be alright.

And we were. The sugary fix really hit the spot.

Hell, even Jessica reappeared for an encore … AFTER the cook switched hats yet again and greeted a couple at the door to seat them.

We laughed hard at the whole ordeal when we piled back into the car. None of us had ever left a review for anything online, but we were tempted. My daughter pulled up previous reviews. We sat in the parked car, thoroughly entertained by what we were reading. Jessica definitely had her pack of mean girls praising her waitressing and punking the manager.

We asked ourselves, “Is there a name for a Karen on the other side of the equation?”

You know, a pushy and insensitive “me-first” complainer, usually from the suburbs – but server, not customer.

And to all of the poor Karens out there. I mean, one day, you have a regular name, and the next, your name is associated with public enemy number one, like the Beckys before and the Felicias before that.

We couldn’t find any reference for a server-type Karen, so we took it upon ourselves to dub them Jessicas!

What a shame; I love that name.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Motel California

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Welcome to the Motel California

We left Redwood National Park for a lesser-traveled wonder called Lava Beds National Monument. It was one of those Herculean driving days.

For a bit, we left California and were in Oregon. I stopped to gas up. When I popped out and pumped my gas, an attendant rushed over to me in a fuss and exclaimed, “You can’t do that!”

“Really?”

“$15,000 fine for pumping your own gas in Oregon!” he said seriously.

“Really!”

It didn’t seem like he was pulling my leg, so I could only take him at his word. It turns out it’s true not only there but also in New Jersey.

Once we were back in the land of self-serve, I noticed a peculiar topography. It looked like the hillside all along the roadway was lava rock.

Eventually, we were in no man’s land. And when I say no man’s land, that means only one place to stay (that we could find), and it wasn’t in any brochure, on GPS, on any travel website, or in the Triple-A database. The Triple-A advisor even advised against it. But I wanted to be close to the gate by opening because our itinerary had a full day drive to and from this geological wonder. There was only one such place. Their basic website described it as an old hunting lodge dating back to the Great Depression. I booked it. It was the closest (and by closest, I mean only) place I could find near the entrance to Lava Beds National Monument.

On a desolate road, the sun finally handing the sky over to the moon, we closed in on our destination.

I saw the lodge on a hill as we passed a strip of about six rooms encased in cinder block walls just off the roadway.

I joked to the kids, “Hey, wanna stay there?”

They laughed uncomfortably, looking at the site, creepy-perfect for a horror movie.

I went to check in while the family stayed in the vehicle. Up at the house, a.k.a. lodge, hanging on from the 1930s, I entered a long and dimly lit hallway.

I found the “office” inside an old bedroom. I was relieved that the manager’s name wasn’t Norman Bates. The live-in lady manager said she didn’t think we’d make it. I thought to myself, the night is still young.

“Follow me to your room.”

And by room, I mean out of the lodge house and down the hill to the strip of about six rooms encased in drab cinder block walls on the side of the road.

She carried an old, metal, square floor fan. That was our “air conditioning.”

Had I known of any other accommodations or thought we could get away with sleeping under the stars without fear of ever being seen again, I would have run back to the car and high-tailed it out of there.

Inside were two beds (single and double), old carpet, and drab cinder block walls on the inside as well. The bathroom came with a huge wolf spider. The back window was unlocked. I promptly locked it and set a booby trap consisting of things that would fall over and make lots of noise if anyone came through it that night.

“Can you help me with your son’s cot?” the manager asked.

I followed her to a nearby shed to retrieve the cot. This was after she offered the alternative: a mattress on the floor.

We were so doggone tired; I asked my wife if we should sleep in the car.

“For all this place has going against it, I will say it’s clean,” my wife whispered as we set up the cot.

The manager exited the front slab of cement when I called from behind, “We still need a room key.”

She laughed over her shoulder as her gait quickened.

“A room key? I mean, where ya gonna go!”

I stood dumbfounded.

A vision of Norman Bates to the sound of Hotel California danced in my head.

“Maybe we should sleep in the car,” I said.

“Oh my, this bed is so comfortable,” were my wife’s last words just before snoring in chorus with the kids.

I decided to take the first watch in my mind, thinking back to my Army days. I sat on a plastic chair on the concrete slab outside our door. Leaning back, I took note of the seven holes that had been filled in the door. What were they if they weren’t bullet holes?

Dead silence.

That night was the soundest sleep I had had in years.

With the cinder block in the rear-view mirror, we entered Lava Beds National Monument and enjoyed the time of our lives spelunking on our own.

The park was like nothing we’d ever seen. On the surface, it was nothing more than endless high desert nothingness all the way to the base of the mountains, which were way in the distance. But beneath the desert floor were over 700 caves, and dozens waited for explorers like us – completely unprepared and raring to get lost. Well, we had a map, flashlights, extra batteries, as suggested by a ranger, and water.

We could drive up to and enter a wide array of lava-carved caves. They had names like Blue Grotto, Golden Dome, Catacombs, Labyrinth, and Skull Cave. No guides, no lights, no nothing, just you and a pitch-black subterranean adventure. We hadn’t seen another soul anywhere for a long time.

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I became brazen in my quest for excitement and pried my body through tight crevices or slid down lava tubes that were sure to lead to the bowels of a monster’s lair. The caves began to echo with, “Don’t go in there, Dad!”, “You’re on your own!”, “Let’s get out of this one!”, “What’s that sound?”, “BATS!”, “I’m scared!” and “Wow! Check that out!”

When we left, I felt like a kid protesting, “Do we have to go?” I wanted to keep exploring. It was the most fun I’d had in a long time.

This wasn’t your ordinary national park or monument. It had hardly any visitors and was in the middle of nowhere. The southbound road we took, leaving the park, was listed as unpaved. But its surface was ancient, crumbly blacktop. It looked like a thin airstrip that had been bombed. And I mean carpet bombed! We went under 10 miles per hour, snaking around depressions and mounds of loose, pulverized blacktop chunks.

There had to be a better way to go! I kept thinking about the time this was costing us and the power drive ahead of us to get to Yosemite. We had stayed well beyond our plans, exploring the lava tubes. Briefly, I thought of turning back to stay another night at the Motel California. Instead, I sped up to 15 miles per hour to hightail it out of there.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Drive-Thru Dad

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Am I known to exhibit some anxiety or impatience from time to time? Perhaps.

Certainly, my flare-ups happen when I’m at a fast-food drive-thru. Not when I’m alone and not when I only have one passenger. But put my whole family in a vehicle where I’m Johnny-on-the-spot having to relay their indecisiveness to the poor soul behind the drive-thru speaker, I may need to medicate!

I try to prep the fam ahead of time. We’re pulling into McDonald’s, so know what you want!

As I look at the “split screen” in front of me and the rear-view mirror, too, deciding which of the two drive-thru lanes will beat out the next guy, I hear, “I can’t see the menu, Dad.”

This one is probably fair most of the time. You’d think places could angle that thing for the approaching cars to decide before pulling in front of the speaker to order. And what is it with Chick-fil-A? They always have people walking the drive-thru lane taking your order well before you can see the menu, expecting me to have memorized it or something.

“It’s okay, Mr., I have it here,” and then they proceed to rattle off combo 1 through XYZ, verbally, as if they’re helping me!

My self-awareness has me reading what I wrote so far and asking my wife, “Whattaya call a male Karen?”

“I think it’s a Ken.”

Okay, let’s get back to the drive-thru lane with my whole family in tow.

“We’re next. Be prepared,” I say.

“I may need a minute, Dad. I need to read the menu on my phone. Unlike you, I would normally not stop at McDonald’s.”

I defend the greasy spoon by saying something like, “They have salads,” even though it won’t get ordered.”

“I’ll need a minute. You guys go first.”

The other kid is a lock: Burger, fries, and a coke. You’d think that’s a good thing, but it just means we’ll get to the rest of the passengers faster.

By the way, this is just about the only place where I can order a Coke, and the reply isn’t, “Pepsi, Okay?”

I don’t know what happened in the cola wars, but Pepsi is king in the restaurant world, it seems. And I actually do prefer Coca-Cola.

Sidebar. Years ago, when I lived in Europe, if you ordered Coke, the server would ask, “What kind?”

“What?”

“What kind of Coke would you like: Sprite, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Root beer…”

So, Coke there is the same as saying pop here. Well, that’s another thing: when we moved from Northern Ohio to Southern Ohio, pop became a foreign word. Pop is soda in these parts.

After years of growing up as southern Ohioans, I asked my teen kids at one point, “Do you say pop or soda?”

I felt like a failed dad when they said, “Soda.”

And to add insult to injury, they made fun of me for saying POP!

Oh, the divide. After all, it started with unified soda pop.

Anyway, after the first kid relayed what I already knew, I blurted out my order, knowing my wife was having trouble deciding between two things and really wanted to ask the drive-thru worker which one they would prefer. My order is something spicy. It’s why I always have Tums in the glove box.

Meanwhile, cars are ten deep behind me, putting some pressure and urgency on the situation.

I try to move the situation along with a couple of finger snaps and a “C’mon, hurry up,” to no avail.

My wife orders in piecemeal. By piecemeal, I mean she pauses mid-sentence, so I look at the drive-thru speaker, say part of an order, and then pause to hear the “Have it your way” details, which usually have a question or two. It’s like pulling teeth. I feel like I sound like someone who has an attention deficit disorder, and I want to explain it’s not me, dude.

I tell the drive-thru person I have one more order to relay. I usually try to say something humorous if the process is somewhat of a doozy.

“Dad, move your head. I need to see the menu.”

“I thought you had it on your phone.”

“They’re different.”

I feel like Chevy Chase losing his shit in one of the National Lampoon Vacation movies.

“I. NEED. YOU. TO. DECIDE. RIGHT….NOW.”

“Forget it. I’m not hungry.”

I’m finally done.

Or am I?

As I go to pull forward…

“Wait! Can I just get some water?”

Grrr.

Then, the pleading with the universe began. Two cars in front of us were inevitably told, “Please pull up, we’ll bring your food out shortly.”

Sidebar: I mentioned at the outset that my flare-ups happen when I’m at a fast-food drive-thru. Not when I’m alone and not when I only have one passenger. But that’s not entirely true. When it’s just me and my wife, and I get to the Starbucks pay window, she suddenly remembers something and scrambles to open her phone to the app so she can get points or something. As I wait, my card in one hand and her phone in the other, the drive-thru worker appears just in time for my wife’s phone to go to sleep. So, I’m like, wait a minute, as I hand the phone back to my wife, she wakes it up, hands it to me, and I hand it to the worker, smiling uncomfortably.

I digress.

Anyway, they had our entire order ready! Oh, the little victories.

I pulled into a spot so my wife could dole out the grub.

“Oh, honey, they forgot…”

And, of course, even though I’m the driver, I don’t even bother asking anyone else to get out anymore because the answer will be, “I’m cocooned in … I’m buried here … It would be easier for you,” or something along those lines. Besides, I’m probably going inside to use the restroom anyway.

I open the door. As soon as one foot hits the ground, six hands appear in the window holding trash from the last stop, “While you’re out, can you throw this away.”

My short wick in a drive-thru has earned me the nickname “Drive-thru Dad.”

And they all think that’s funny!

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

Click here to read more
“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Ski Trip Gone Wrong

Enjoy the latest story from the blog,
“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Matt was “Mr. Ski Club.” We stood atop a hill at Brandywine, ready for the day’s first run for him and my first run ever.

He was checking down with everything I needed to know, and I just ya-ya’d him, impatient and ready to go.

Finally, I said, “Got it!” And shot downhill like a bullet.

I heard, “But …” and nothing else as my friend’s voice faded.

I sailed so fast over the snow, straight down the hill, that I freaked out. I could not turn, stop, or even slow down!

As I bore down on a man skiing up ahead, I cringed. He crisscrossed effortlessly, kicking up powdery white stuff. I was sure he would be knocked from here to eternity when I collided with him in about two seconds flat.

Why didn’t I stick around to listen to Matt explain how to turn, or better yet, how to stop?

As others described later, it looked like I was shot out of canon and about to kill somebody. They watched from above in horror, waiting for my impact with this unsuspecting stranger. Precisely at the very last moment, everyone closed their eyes or took a deep breath, and I woosh-wooshed around the man. In two quick movements with my feet, I skirted disaster – barely. My friends said the guy stood straight up, shocked by the brush back, but was otherwise uninterrupted.

When I got near the bottom, I managed to wipe myself out to stop along a flat straightaway.

Matt came down the hill like a pro. This was baby stuff to him. He hit a raised area near the bottom to get fancy in the air. When he came down, he injured his ankle. Go figure.

Later in the day, the guys thought I was ready for the meanest slope at the resort or were willing to see me die for laughs. As the saying goes, with friends like these, who needs enemies?

The ski lift reached the top, but I was snagged and couldn’t shift to get off. The chair turned and rose higher off the ground, circling the control shack at the top. I mentally foreshadowed the humiliation of returning to the bottom of the slope, alone on a chair lift.

NO WAY!

I flung my body in a pathetic but successful last attempt to free myself. The problem was that I was not as close to the ground anymore, but I landed on my feet and then fell to my butt with quite a thud.

The lift stopped, and a guy popped his operating shack door open, yelling, “You alright?”

Laughing uncomfortably, I said, “Ya.”

He laughed, said, “Crazy,” shook his head, shut the door, and started the lift again.

Looking downhill, it was clear that this course was not for beginners. In fact, it looked wickedly dangerous for someone like me. My depth perception was off. The slope was laden with terrain characterized by a large number of different bumps or, as I heard others say, “Moguls.” Not only that, but this slope was the steepest by far.   

Much like the beginning of the day, I became a human, heat-seeking missile.

Unlike earlier in the day, these moguls posed a different experience altogether. Quickly, my knees vibrated violently up and down at high speed. I should have wiped out, but instead, I found myself lying straight on my back but upright on the skis. I could see the lift chairs overhead, off to the side, even though my head bounced violently off the never-ending moguls.

From my friends’ perspective, when my skis finally turned in on each other, and I wiped out, it was like a scene from the 1970s Wide World of Sports promo highlighting what was dubbed “The Agony of Defeat,” which was an infamous ski jumping clip gone oh-so-wrong. When I tumbled, it was bad. My body looked like a rag doll plummeting down the slope amidst an avalanche of snow and debris. By everyone’s account, they thought I broke every bone in my body. I lost both skis and poles; one boot and the other had every buckle burst open.

Matt was the first to get to me. “He’s conscious!”

The others gathered my stuff strewn all over the slope.

It was all we could talk about for the rest of the evening as everyone recalled, in vivid detail, my spectacular flight down the slope. The laughter roared like the fire we perched in front of with hot cocoa.

I never skied again.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Home for the Holidays

Enjoy the latest story from the blog,
“Wrong Turns Write Life”

This is for anyone trying to make it home for the holidays.

It was just several weeks past basic training and my 18th birthday. I walked to the travel office at Fort Gordon, Georgia, to book a bus to Cleveland, Ohio, for Christmas. It would be my last chance to go home before shipping to Europe.

I congratulated myself for thinking months in advance to secure my passage home so that everything was set well ahead of time. No worries. But when the lady behind the window handed me my ticket, she had a peculiar smile. Something was off, but by the time I walked back to the barracks and stuffed my ticket away, I had other things on my mind.

One of my best friends from home joined the Army with me. We were stationed at the same place for basic training – Tank Hill, Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Now, we were both in advanced skills training to learn our Army jobs at Fort Gordon. Even though we were on the same base, we only saw each other twice in three months. Back then, to communicate, we had to mail letters to each other at the post office even though we were just a couple of miles apart. He had procrastinated getting his bus ticket, but sometime after Thanksgiving, he assured me it was in his hand.

When I showed up in a vast parking lot jammed with damn near the whole base, leaving, I scrambled to find my bus. I had an overstuffed duffle bag hoisted on one shoulder, weaving around buses with signs to Memphis, Denver, Boston, you name it. Then I saw Scott. He was hanging out the window of the bus marked for Cleveland.

I flashed a big smile of relief and pointed to him as if to say, “Save me a spot; I’ll be right there.”

Then, the unimaginable happened. The bus driver said the bus was full. I shoved my ticket into his chest with pleading eyes, unwilling to take no for an answer.

He looked at the ticket and said, “Nope! No good. We’re full.”

He boarded, the doors closed, and my buddy cruised by me, making hand motions and expressions, saying, “WHAT THE….”

One by one, buses kicked into drive and pulled out.

I desperately grabbed a sergeant and rattled off the horror of my predicament.

“Private, you’ll be the only person in a ghost town in about three minutes! I suggest you land yourself on any bus with room headed north.

I turned and saw “Pittsburgh” in the bus window right in front of me. I stepped on and saw plenty of vacant seats. As a Browns fan in the 1980s, the humor didn’t escape me. I told the driver my story as he glanced at my ticket and waved me on.

Somewhere in the mountains of West Virginia, we pulled off for a 15-minute break to get gas and food. I used this opportunity to make a collect-call home. Fortunately, my mom picked up the phone and accepted the charges.

“Mom, listen carefully. There was a mistake with my bus ticket, and now I’m headed for Pittsburgh. You will have to pick me up there,” I spoke clearly but concisely.

“What…” she responded and began to babble.

“Mom, I have to go now. I can’t explain. Just pick me up at the Pittsburgh bus station at about Midnight. I will not have another chance to talk. I’ll see you there.”

She had no choice but to say okay.

And just like that, I was off the phone and just made it back on the bus before it pulled out of the stop.

My parents got in the car and headed for Pittsburgh. There was no GPS or even an Internet to get directions. Time was of the essence, so they just got in the car and drove, looking at a roadmap stuffed in the glove compartment. As luck would have it, they saw a Greyhound bus on the road when they neared the city.

“Follow that bus!” Mom yelled at Dad.

And that’s what he did. They figured if a Greyhound was headed for the city, it must be headed for the station. Quickly, they realized that the bus station was in what seemed to be a rundown part of town.

When I got off the bus and waited at the Pittsburgh station, I wandered. I saw all walks of life up close. Most of the people wandering at this desolate hour were the kind that triggered a little voice in my head that said, “You need to get the hell out of here or at least keep moving.”

So much time passed that I wondered if my parents would make it. And if not, what would I do next?

“ROCKY!” cried out my mom.

I wrapped my arms around her and my dad. It had been months since I had seen anyone I loved. And in this lonely, dark, cold terminal, they were a sight for sore eyes.

There I was, a grown man (barely) enlisted in the Army, about to depart America for nearly three years before I’d see family again.  A huge smile spread across my face in my embrace at the thought of my mom and dad traveling through the night to rescue me. It made this the most memorable trip home for the holidays I had ever had. And although I would never have wanted this to happen the way it did, I wouldn’t change the fact it had. Still, I would never want it to happen again.

My dad picked up my duffle bag and said, as any 1980s Browns fan would, “Pittsburgh sucks. Let’s go home.”

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

Click here to read more
“Wrong Turns Write Life”

It’s Thanksgiving! What Could Go Wrong?

BBQ-Turkey-Thanksgiving

This is the latest story from the blog,
“Wrong Turns Write Life”

We were hosting Thanksgiving for the first time! How exciting.

Our first arrivals were my mom, sister, niece, and nephew. They came a day early. The men would arrive on Thanksgiving Day.

Based on previous visits, my mom’s rescue dog earned a reputation as “a runner,” among other things. So, we learned to leave an opening in the garage for the crew to pull inside. Then we shut the garage door and let everyone inside the house through the connecting side door.

What was easily forgotten was that the poor dog had been traveling for hours. Coming straight into the house among the happy greetings and hugs between family members who had not seen each other in months, he instinctively headed for the back door. But nobody noticed. Then, he decided that the oversized cloth chair would suffice to do his business.

He’s a big dog, and he took a big leak down the side of the chair and then shifted to saturate the carpet thoroughly – of course, missing the adjacent tile floor by mere inches.

After supper, my sister had pies to cook. Don’t ask me why, but something went terribly wrong!

After my little sis bellowed – “Oh no!” – we all came running to find the oven was caked in hardened pie remains.

Good grief, what a mess it was! So we figured we’d just set the oven to self-clean and let it do its thing overnight.

The oven was long cooled down in the morning, but the doggone door wouldn’t open. There was a 20+ pound turkey to cook! We burned up Google for a solution, but no matter what we tried, it didn’t work.

I looked at the time. I glanced out the window at the patio. I looked at the time again.

“Let’s just grill this bird!” I yelled.

People looked at me like I was crazy – as they often do.

I sprang into action and grabbed the propane tank to get it filled. I just knew that if I didn’t, it would probably run out halfway through cooking. Besides, my Google solution for grilling a turkey said I needed indirect heat, so I searched for a suitable cooking sheet. I found an aluminum solution at the hardware store while I waited for the propane tank to be filled.

When I returned home, I fired up my modest grill. Within a minute, my aluminum solution caught fire. I cleaned that mess and zipped to the grocery store and back with a commercial-grade baking pan. I slipped it under the grate. Perfect fit.

My dad and brother-in-law arrived about an hour and some beers into my roast.

“What are you doing?” they both asked simultaneously.

“Barbecuing turkey,” I smiled casually with a slight buzz.

Their jaws dropped, and eyes grew wide in disbelief.

“This is going to be a bust of a meal,” I could read them saying in their minds.

I weathered the cold, tending to the manual temperature controls, toggling around 325 degrees for hours. Sometimes, the temperature reached about 350 degrees; at others, it went down to 300, but I managed to keep it as steady as the pouring beer.

I couldn’t jeopardize the temperature by opening the lid. I had to wait for the halfway point to glimpse what was happening inside.

That’s when I flipped the bird.

It looked pretty darn good, but my dad and I suspected looks could be deceiving. It might be one raw mess deep inside that meat.

I kept at the controls, catching parts of the football game while fetching sanity refills.

On one trip to the kitchen, tensions grew, and some stereotypical sibling squabbling was exchanged between my sister and me. Others joined in. Oh, this was going to be a Thanksgiving to remember.

I huffed off to my patio retreat. My sister simmered over the top of the stove. Inside the stove, her pie disaster from the night before remained trapped. Its warming aroma wafted in the air as the burners on the stovetop heated the side dishes.

Then came the moment of truth. I shoved a thermometer inside a breast. Then, I took the turkey into the house for my brother-in-law to carve it. At this point, nobody trusted me with sharp objects.

My brother-in-law’s heart sank because he couldn’t get the carving knife through the bird. He was afraid to say anything. He just stared and wondered how he’d break the bad news. When he looked down again, he realized the thing was upside down.

We sat around the table – everyone silently praying for a meal that wouldn’t send us to the Emergency Room.

One by one, noises of pleasure passed around the table. Some declared that it was the best turkey that they ever had.

And when nobody got sick, I gave thanks.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

Click here to read more
“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Gore Orphanage

This is the latest story from the blog,
“Wrong Turns Write Life”

We moved a temporary “bridge out” sign so we could drive our car across. Clearly, the bridge was not out, but we were—for a good time.

We had driven well across rural Lorain County in pursuit of a late October fright night like generations of Northern Ohio teens before us. It was a rite of passage to try and brave the dark valley and legend of Gore Orphanage.

Matt and Dusty wanted candy. We pulled off at a rickety old roadside store, and they went inside.

“Look, is that someone leaning out of the window above the store?” asked one of the girls in the backseat.

I rolled the window down.

“Do-o-o-on’t go-o,” the stranger lobbed down to us, face flickering in neon against the dark.

We looked at each other inside the car, silently mouthing, “What the …!”

When we looked back up, the stranger in the window was gone.

“What the heck was that?” asked one of the girls aloud.

Surely, it was just some guy having fun with us.

Matt and Dusty jumped back in the car. They didn’t believe a word out of our mouths about the stranger in the window.

Eventually, we arrived at a desolate country road that led down a steep, narrow hill. We noticed but ignored the “no trespassing” signs riddled with bullet holes. Near the bottom of the hill, a turn-off to the left veered so sharply it was difficult to see. This offshoot was even steeper and narrower and led to blackness. Our other option was to continue the main route and ascend the other side of the valley.

We chose blackness.

With windows rolled down on a crisp fall night, we listened as we puttered to “Crybaby Bridge.”

“Kill the engine!”

We listened. Then, we got out and leaned against the metal bridge.

“I heard it.”

“Me too.”

“I don’t hear a thing!”

The legend was that long ago, there was an orphanage that burned to the ground, taking with it dozens of kids. If you listened closely, you could hear their faint cries echoing through the valley. Oh, and if you turned your car off on Crybaby Bridge, it wouldn’t restart until you pushed it across to the other side. So, we intentionally left it out of gear to spook the girls. They even gave it a try before we pushed it to the other side. Wouldn’t you know it, it started right up. You could probably catch us winking and smirking at each other on the sly if you were looking in the rear-view mirror.

We continued down the all-but-forgotten road, winding around a bend one way and then back another before pulling over to park along the edge of the road.

“They say the foundation of the orphanage is that way,” Matt said, pointing a flashlight toward the trailhead, where woods met an open field.

Before going there, we ventured up the road ahead on foot. A lonely house was at the end of a long, wooded driveway.

“No way! Someone lives down here!” Dusty whisper-yelled.

Pushing uphill, around a bend, the road was barricaded. We went back to the car.

“Oh no, cops!” I said.

“Those aren’t cops,” Matt noticed as they neared.

They were a friendly group and led us straight to the foundation. But not before passing a lone pillar with graffiti warning, “You are now entering Hell.”

We sat on the remaining foundation blocks and befriended the new carload of strangers. They decided to leave before us, but we weren’t far behind.

As they drove away, I went for some kicks. I threw my flashlight as hard as possible, end over end, high over their windshield, freaking them out. They sped off. Pleased with my shenanigans, I ran, laughing, to pick up my flashlight. Within minutes, it died. Worse, unbeknownst to me, my car keys bounced out of my unzipped jacket pocket.

We knew we were up a creek without a paddle after our failed attempts to search for the lost keys. The other flashlight went dead. So, Matt and I left Dusty with the girls and went to the old house to ask for batteries or a flashlight. It was pretty late at night.

A freak rain shower drove down, forcing us to return to the car. Anxiety and tempers flared.

“Shut up!” Matt yelled.

“What the …”

We were all staring out the back window at a clunker of a pickup truck pulling off the road near our car.

“Get down.”

Our car was a clunker, so it probably looked abandoned.

Peeking over the back seat, we all witnessed a man jump from the truck. He was carrying something long. He let three dogs out the passenger door, and they all ran into the field together and out of sight.

“What do we do?”

POP!

“What the hell was that?” the girls cried.

“Was that a gunshot?” I asked aloud.

“Here he comes!” Dusty warned.

The man emerged with two dogs, hopped in his truck, and slowly motored away.

When we finally peeled ourselves from the floor mats, the rain had stopped. It was past midnight. We were stranded …far from home…in an era before the public was armed with cell phones and GPS.

Amazingly, another vehicle eventually appeared. No, it was two cars carrying more teenagers. They were locals. One agreed to drive me back to his parent’s house so I could call my mom. She would have to come out with a spare key.

“Now, listen carefully, Mom. At that point, you’ll have to get out and move a sign that says bridge out, but don’t worry; you can cross. Ignore the no-trespassing signs. Go down the road that looks like a car should not go down. It gets steep and narrow…” continued my directions to my mom. As I heard myself explain, I knew I wouldn’t see the light of day for quite some time.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

Click here to read more
“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Camping Out for Concert Tickets

Remember, Camping Out for Concert Tickets?

This generation will never experience what it took to get concert tickets back in the day!

My friend Matt was an 80s teen who defined the Generation X reputation for growing up unsupervised. His parents were avid RVers. Matt was allowed to stay home while they went on weekend road trips when he was in high school.

On Friday, I was called out of class because of an emergency in my family, and my dad was coming to pick me up in front of the school. I waited, very concerned, wondering if a grandparent had passed. A huge RV rolled up in front of me in the bus lane. The door swung open. It was Matt!

“Get in!”

“What the heck, man?” I couldn’t believe my eyes. “What are you doing?”

“Picking you up!”

“Dude (we used to say ‘dude’ a lot), my dad is …”

“I know; hop in, sonny,” he interrupted.

Here, he skipped school (and HE was the honor student) because his parents went on a trip without the RV. He grew bored, so he pretended to be my dad and called the school, staging the whole family emergency hoax. I laughed, somewhat shocked at the magnitude of this. Then I jumped in and didn’t look back.

That day, we learned Springsteen had announced a summer concert tour, and Cleveland was one of the stops. We circled the date that tickets would go on sale and made a pact that no matter what, we’d do whatever it took to go.

It was late at night when we opened our house after a long family vacation.

I had plans to meet Matt in the morning to go downtown and buy tickets for the concert. It would be the first day for tickets to go on sale. This was back when The Boss was selling out stadiums in just hours.

A local television news station reported a line forming around Cleveland Municipal Stadium hours before the box office opened; some were already camped out for one or two days.

It was the middle of the night, and I was wide awake. I couldn’t wait. So I grabbed my car keys, and before I knew it, I was on my way to get Matt – but he didn’t know.

I didn’t want to wake up his parents, so I climbed on top of their motor home to get on the roof of their house. Matt slept on the second floor. His window overlooked the garage roof, so I navigated my way there.

He didn’t share his room with anyone but slept on the top bunk of a bunk bed. His head was right by the open window. The only thing between us was a screen. His dog Bandit started to growl – low and then louder. I tried calming the dog, letting him know he knew this cat burglar. I feared he’d wake the whole house if his growling became full-fledged barking.

It was dark inside, so I didn’t see Matt rolling to see what his dog was snarling at. When his eyes met mine only inches away… Well, talk about a wake-up call. Imagine opening your eyes from a dead sleep to see a face peering in your window inches from yours. Matt sprang from the mattress, slammed his head on the ceiling, and fell off the upper bunk onto the floor.

I almost rolled off the roof in terror myself. Then, I just tried to contain my laughter, which came in snorts as I tried to hold it in. Matt gathered his senses, climbed back to the window, and gave me an obscenity-laced greeting, albeit in a whisper-yell.

It was a small miracle that nobody else in the house woke up.

Down at the stadium, we circled the parking lot and found the end of the line where others were camping out. We parked nearby and joined the growing throng of people. Some were better prepared than we were. Leaning up against the concrete wall, sitting on the asphalt, we soon realized it would be a long night.

“Ya know, the backseat ‘ell pop right out in your kind of car,” Matt surmised.

Within minutes we were sitting in hillbilly comfort. Then a guy returned to his group behind us with so many doughnuts they shared with us. They were the best doughnuts I ever had in my life.

Hours later – most people around us sleeping – I opened my eyes and noticed it was dawn. I got up and stretched. When I did, I drifted away from the side of the building and peered around the corner – nobody was in front of us. I casually walked up to Matt, kicked his foot several times, and motioned for him to quietly check it out.

Without words being spoken, we both walked. Our pace quickened. We thought we were sly, but our movement didn’t go unnoticed. There was a chain reaction. We peeked over our shoulders. A mob was thickening and gaining. We flat-out sprinted from there. It probably looked like we were rock stars trying to outrun hundreds of rabid fans when in reality, they just wanted tickets as badly as we did. We turned another corner of the stadium and plunged into a sea of people. Police were holding everyone back.

“If you’re on this side of the barricade, I’m sorry, you’re not getting tickets,” said one cop after another into megaphones. “Please turn around and go home.”

People were disgruntled but reluctantly complying, for the most part. Some tested the officers and were met with more forceful directives. We quickly assessed the scene and bolted over a concrete barricade into some sort of cement trench. We were able to run, hunched over, avoiding being seen. I don’t know how we found this and why nobody else did, but once we were past the police barrier, we sprang from our trench and joined the mob on the other side.

There was only one gate, one turnstile, one ticket window, and thousands of people fighting to get to it.

The head of the production company pleaded over loudspeakers, “We don’t want another Cincinnati.”

He referred to The Who concert several years earlier, where people stampeded eleven fans to death as they stormed the entry doors.

“If this doesn’t get orderly RIGHT NOW, we’ll close her down, and NOBODY will get tickets,” the man shrieked at the top of his lungs.

The unruly crowd somehow demonstrated just enough civility for the mayhem to continue.

More than an hour later, Matt and I were in the final stretch. We were jammed in like sardines between two metal railings leading up to the ticket window.

“Give me your money so we can make sure we get tickets together,” Matt said.

I didn’t want to abandon him, but I had an idea. Believe it or not, the other side of the railing was relatively calm. I slipped through and then turned to help Matt. The space between the railings was wide enough for one and a half bodies. However, there were three and a half in that space, at times with nothing but Matt’s arse on the inside. He was getting crushed. Whenever that happened, he fought with flailing elbows and fists, cursing, to regain space so he could breathe. I helped by pushing and shoving people so they’d give him room. It didn’t matter that most were just as innocent as he was – just victims of circumstance. But this was survival of the fittest. Matt’s reprieve would last about 90 seconds before the shoving from others forced a repeat scenario. It was grueling for Matt on the inside. I had the easy task – shove without getting hit, mostly. Others saw the brilliance of our teamwork, and before I knew it, I had company on my side of the rail.

Eventually, Matt scored tickets. Battle-scarred, Matt more than I, we walked away from the mayhem to the other side of the stadium, which was mostly vacant now. We popped my backseat into the car and drove home, elated.

The concert rocked for over three hours, while a typical concert lasted 90 minutes. Later, a Springsteen gig made the record book for one of the longest concerts ever by a musician.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun

Click here to read more
“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Real-Life Caddyshack Stories

This is the latest story from the blog,
“Wrong Turns Write Life”

I was called into the principal’s office at my middle school along with a close friend. He told us that we were too young to work, according to child labor laws. So, that spring, we had to quit our jobs as caddies at the nearby country club. Instead of caddying there, we rode our bikes twice the distance to another country club. It was across the county line, so we figured the law wouldn’t catch up to us. After school let out for the summer, we returned to the crime scene. Anyway, you sliced it; these were long bike rides.

It amazed me how cold it could be early morning and how hot it got later in the day. And when you rode a bike, it was colder still. An adrenaline rush got my blood flowing like clockwork every morning when I neared the country house on the other side of the railroad tracks before meeting up with my friend. I pedaled as fast as I could down the slope on the other side. I had to gain enough speed to coast by the farmhouse and put my feet up by my handlebars. There he was, barking and running into the road, nipping at my empty metal pedals. No sooner than he gave up the chase did my momentum slow enough to force my feet back to the pedals. It was always a close call. If that dog stuck with it for 15 more feet, I’d be breakfast.

At the caddy shack, the caddy master called me over to a foursome ready for a loop. There was snickering behind the first tee. Later, someone intentionally matched a preacher with a repeatedly loud foul mouth. His running with the potty mouth was as sure a bet each time out as the dog who gave chase to me every morning. Not until the third hole did the foul mouth know he was in the company of a man of the cloth. That’s when everyone except the foul mouth burst into laughter. Soon, more cursing drowned out the laughter. Later, I heard people say they could hear the laughter and cursing back at the clubhouse.

My golfer was on the quiet side compared to the others. I didn’t know if he was new, subordinate, or just quiet by nature. He was a stroke or two in last place. I handed him a wedge for a chip shot out of the sand trap. He got a hold of that thing, and it screamed out of there so fast and hard that I thought I might have to yell, “Fore!”

It ricocheted off an oak branch overhead, abruptly sending it into the pin’s flag, falling straight down into the cup. It happened in the blink of an eye. I had never seen anything like it, so I broke character and roared in delight. It was a fantastic shot in my mind. When I caught the facial expression of my golfer, I was puzzled because he looked downright embarrassed.

I asked him, off to the side, “Wasn’t that incredible?”

He gave me half a smile on the sly, tasseled my hair, and walked to the next tee. Later, he tipped me the most I ever got that summer.

After my morning round, I decided to hang out for some caddy baseball and try to get a second loop after lunch. One of the caddies in this group was just plain tough as nails. He was older than me and from a much tougher neighborhood. I wondered how he got to the country club every day. His golfer was one of those who had to insult people to act like a big shot, and he demeaned his caddies.

Nobody wanted to caddy for him, but this city kid said, “I don’t care; a loop’s a loop.”

It was a scorcher of an afternoon, so we rolled up our short sleeves to try and fade out the infamous caddy-tan lines on our arms. Some called them farmers’ tans. We called them caddy tans. When the city kid rolled up his sleeves, his homemade tattoos showed.

His golfer insisted that he keep his sleeves down, “A little more class here….”

When nobody else looked, I saw the tatted caddy drop a mouthful of spit into the guy’s golf bag. He took more verbal abuse than I figured even he could stand. I began to think he must really need to make a buck. He sucked it up, rebelled behind the scenes, and marched like a real trooper.

It was somewhere along the back nine that fate and justice crossed paths.

The big-shot golfer sliced a shot off the fairway into a tree. You could see the ball fall down but not out. It rested on a branch about 15 feet high. The golfer out cursed the morning foul mouth. During his tirade, he spun around and released his iron. The golf club flung round and round, landing in a pond.

“Get my club! Then, get my ball!” he said to the tough kid.

To his credit, the kid casually walked to the pond, never uttering a word.

But then, he turned and waited for the golfer to look.

“Come on, come on, we don’t have all day,” the golfer said for the kid to hear.

When he turned toward his friends, he uttered some more insults under his breath. His friends didn’t look at him. They looked past him and nodded that he better look for himself, too.

The kid was standing with the entire golf bag and its very expensive contents over his head.

“What the …”

Before the big shot could finish his sentence, the kid spun around as the golfer did before launching his club. Only this time was the kid launching the entire bag …deep into the pond. Then, he turned, flashed two flagrant middle fingers, and walked off into the sun, a renegade and Caddyshack legend, never to be seen again.

You never knew what you’d get from one day to the next at these country clubs.

When I first started caddying, we started our training as cart runners. Like in the movies, our caddy master sometimes threatened that golf carts at the club would replace us if we didn’t do well. I didn’t understand why some people would take a golf cart and ask for a caddy. But, on my only cart running day, it became clear that it was either to make sure a ball never got lost or for unhappy people to take out their frustrations on us kids. An older kid and I were assigned to one couple and a cart each. It was two husband and wife teams.

My couple had me stand down the fairway a bit from the tee to better keep my eye on the ball. There was a creek that split the fairway on this hole. When the guy hit his shot, I thought I saw it thud into the mud with no splash into the far bank, so that I couldn’t be sure, yet I was.

He was not a bad guy, but his wife was plain mean to me all afternoon.

“Didn’t you see it! Where did it land?” She barked at me, sure that I lost it because they could not find it.

“It landed right there,” I insisted.

But the ball had completely disappeared. To my surprise, the husband shuffled down to the water’s edge and had me guide him. I knew he was over the spot, so I said it should be there.

“If you are wrong, this will be your last day here!” the wife deadpanned, glaring through me.

In my mind, I was praying. Unlike the tough kid, I was pretty shy at this time.

The husband rose a muddy forearm with a smile and the ball.

“Check it. Make sure it’s a Titleist 4,” she said with anger in her voice.

She sped off with the cart without him to find her second shot when he confirmed.

“Damn good eye, kid,” he winked at me.

Once we seemed to be caddies that’ll last the summer, we were rewarded with caddy golf day. Caddies were allowed to golf on the members’ course Monday evening. It was a big deal for us. But none of us had ever really golfed before, except maybe Jimmy. Jimmy was swinging and missing. It was with a fresh divot and not the ball when he connected. The golf pro for the country club rolled up on a cart and watched the circus for about three minutes before jumping to his feet and walking over to us.

“Look, I can’t let you tear up the course,” he said. “Somebody better show me I can trust you out there.”

I never held a club other than a putt-putt putter, but my friends gave me up to sink or swim for us all. Now, I had plenty of hours watching people golf, and I had taken some practice swings earlier. I stepped up, put a ball on a tee, and positioned myself. Silence fell across everyone’s lips.

SMMMMACK

That ball went a decent distance and bounced some more straight down the fairway. It was pure beginner’s luck, but we all contained our giddiness and looked to the pro for approval.

“That was a nice shot,” he said with surprise.

He got on his cart and moved on.

On a slow afternoon, the caddy master came to me and my friend Scott.

He wanted us to drive a rigged-up cart out onto the driving range to shag balls. It was a treat, and he promised some favors in return. Well, Scott and I together doing something like this needed very little to get a serious case of the giggles.

Scott was behind the steering wheel, and I was in the passenger seat—the only part of the cart unprotected by a cage-type enclosure to keep balls from hitting the driver. Whenever he turned and exposed my bare side to the golfers teeing off, our narrative grew louder and louder.

We were dramatizing being under attack, but I was under attack, not him.

Some balls hit the cart, and we reacted without a filter. Then one rattled into the cart and bounced into Scott. That got us to peak form.

The golfers were clearly delighted in aiming at this raucous duo for entertainment. Meanwhile, we were out there exploring George Carlin’s list of words you could never say on television …with gusto… laughing at the top of our lungs.

But we didn’t think we were loud enough to be heard by the people at the range.

Then, our caddy master raced out to us on a golf cart.

He tried to yell through his gut-busting laughter,

“You clowns are done! Head back to the Caddyshack!”

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

My Tribe: A Cleveland Baseball Story

This is the latest story from the blog,
“Wrong Turns Write Life”

When I was seven, Dad took Grandpa and me to a ballgame. It was my first.

Grandpa told me how he fell in love with the sport when he was around my age, several years after emigrating from Sicily. Dad went to get some foot longs, and I sat beside my grandpa, holding onto my little league glove. I heard the crack of the bat and saw the ball coming closer – Closer – CLOSER. We were in the upper deck down the third baseline. When that ball whizzed in slow motion directly over my head, it looked as big as a basketball. I yanked back my outstretched glove because I wanted no part of it.

I shook Grandpa afterward and screamed, “Did you see that!”

He grunted while he looked through his binoculars at home plate, “See what, see what?”

He had no clue what just happened. Little did he know that was the moment I became a fan of the game and his team, the Cleveland Indians, just like my father before me. 

It’s funny, but I don’t remember my childhood friends or classmates being Cleveland Indians baseball fans in the 1970s and 1980s. Maybe it was too painful to admit openly.

When I was in high school, the manager was probably best remembered for charging the mound at an opposing pitcher, pathetically failing to land a karate kick. To add insult to injury, the pitcher dropped our manager with one punch. But this was my team, my lovable losers. I played in a world of possibility, whereas nearly everyone else I knew played in a world of probability. Life is safer their way. But perhaps it’s with my mindset that I entered an essay contest by a Cleveland newspaper – “Why Do You Like The Indians?” Now a teenager, I read the newspaper’s sports section daily, so I wrote and sent in my essay.

I won!

Thinking back, I wonder if I was the only one who bothered with the contest.

Nonetheless, the prize was “dinner” with the Indians and a free ballgame. Dinner with the Indians meant I got to invite a friend to accompany me to the old Municipal Stadium for a luncheon that launched the team’s winter press tour. Only the manager and a couple of players showed up to talk to the room full of reporters, and afterward, I got to wait in line to shake the hand of a forgettable rookie infielder.

When Mom dropped me and my friend Scott at the stadium, we immediately seized a plush booth. It was long – very long – and center stage. It was in the back of the room next to huge windows high above the ground outside. It had our names all over it, so to speak. It was ours! Until some lackey in a suit scrambled across the room to us as some old guy, and his entourage entered.

“Hey kids, you can’t sit there!” he said alarmingly.

“Sure we can,” I said.

“We are,” said Scott, shooting a smile my way, knowing he had just slipped a cocky remark under the radar.

The man demanded we move.

“But I won the contest,” I said, as a matter of fact.

He looked dumbfounded. Then, he saw the entourage nearing and looked back at us in desperation.

“You gotta go now,” he pleaded, reaching for my arm.

I pulled away and scooted farther into the long and deep wrap-around booth out of reach.

“What seems to be the problem?” asked the old man arriving next to the table. His entourage fanned out around it.

The scared-looking man (lackey) sounded like he had diarrhea of the mouth, so I explained.

Laughing, the old man said, “You boys have a good time,” and left us to the enormous booth.

Then, he and his entourage pulled tables and chairs together in the center of the room, displacing some adults.

As they crowded around a hastily made large table by clustering together smaller tables right in front of us, we sat back and ordered meals fit for kings. I sat at one end of the long booth, and Scott sat on the far end. You could have sat half a dozen adults on one side between us.

This was our day, and nobody was going to take it away.

Later, the old man was introduced as the general manager of the Cleveland Indians. My instinct was to boo, but I bit my tongue. We all knew how the Indians were mishandled, but I couldn’t help but appreciate his kindness toward us.

On the way out, Scott and I shared an elevator with a rising star named Pat Tabler. He had a giggling girl under each arm, making him a bigger hero than just a moment earlier, even though he didn’t notice us in the tight space we shared going down. 

Many years later, it was time to pass down the family tradition.

My daughter, Cara, was only four years old, and we were going to move from Cleveland to Cincinnati because of a job offer. Before we left, I wanted to take my little girl to experience the magic of Jacob’s Field.

We got on what Cara called “the train ride,” or the Rapid Transit, and settled into a seat facing backward. She liked that. I didn’t.

The man sitting in front of us had really big hair.

“Dad – look, that man has a comb stuck in his head.”

I saw the big hair shift, but it did not make a complete turn.

After that, we arrived, stood at the end of the line, and walked into the ballpark.

I didn’t give my kids a lot by modern standards, but I flat-out spoiled my daughter on that day. Program – yes. Hot dog – yes. Peanuts – yes. Cracker Jack – yes. After all this and three innings, Cara saw a man with a big tray of clouds on sticks, colors dancing in the light one section over. She followed him with her eyes. Finally, she asked about this strange sight. Now, her only mission in life was to try this thing called cotton candy.

Half an inning later, she was twisted backward, thumping my shoulder without looking, as she panted, “He’s coming, Dad. Dad, here he comes.”

I decided to make her earn this treat and said that she had to get his attention to come down to us, or she would be out of luck.

She asked how to do it, so I told her to yell, “Cotton Candy here!”

So she did! LOUDLY and REPEATEDLY.

Seeing how she handled the entire transaction herself, many in our section gave her a standing ovation.

Her head swelled.

I had to tilt my head back to contain the pooling water building up in my eyes.

When the game was over, we soaked in the experience for a while longer until we were among the last people in the stands.

“Dad, I love our team. Did they win?”

“I’ll always remember this day too, honey.”

And whether their name is Indians or Guardians, Cleveland will always be my tribe. 

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Our “All Ohio” Playground

This is the latest story from the blog,
“Wrong Turns Write Life”

The creek was long, and on one side, it had rolling hills. Shaped like three sides of a square, we’d pick it up at a corner where our trail led. There was nothing but a mile or so of woods between our backyards and this “playground.”

One day, we followed the creek up around another of its bends. Next to the grocery store was the American Legion. This was the time of year they would have live fire shooting ranges – turkey shoots, I think they used to call them. I imagine if you missed the target, the round ended up in the woods. They weren’t shooting, so we didn’t have to get our feet muddy in the creek. The creek on this stretch had no hills, but its earthen walls were steep, camouflaged by bushes and saplings.

We decided to venture up to the grocery store. Men were at the dock unloading huge sides of beef. Out of the truck, they would slide one slab at a time down a cable attached to a hook. It would slam into the other slabs at the end of the tilted line. We sat on the concrete ledge and whooped it up when a good slam could be heard. We went nuts when meat parts flung off. The workers were grinning as they worked, letting us carry on.

When they were done, they took a break, so we slipped inside to see what happened next. The saw noise was deafening, so when a guy yelled at us, we only saw lips moving. We exited at the nearest door and were now inside the store by the meat department and a water fountain. We strategically hit an assortment of free sample tables and actually satisfied our hunger.

Eric suggested we play hide-and-seek. The game had never been this much fun. After a while, we decided on one more round. Then, we’d go back to our playground.

I found the perfect spot. It was the cereal section. I moved enough boxes to slide my little body behind an outer wall of cereal. Then, I pulled one box over to hide my face. I was so proud of my creativity. I knew I’d never be found.

About the time I was cramping and dozing off, I thought about ditching my spot to see what everyone else was up to. That’s when I heard someone closing in. They were onto me. They must have been. Box after box was being moved to see what was behind it, I presumed. My anxiety from the anticipation of being found was off the charts high.

That last box I placed in front of my face was moved. I looked out and saw the slacks of a lady. She was holding the box between us. It looked like she was reading the back of it because staring at me was Count Chocola. I held my breath and remained motionless. I don’t know when she sensed me, but when she did, she dropped the Count and screamed so damn loud I felt like bursting from my hideout and sprinting for the exit. But my body would not move.

I got a good scolding in the manager’s office, but before he was finished, someone came in and alerted him of more boys creating mischief.

He pointed at me and said, “Don’t you move!”

He disappeared, and so did I.

Cautiously, I walked out of the office, looked around, turned the corner, and strolled right out the front doors. Once I was in the parking lot, I sprinted around the far corner of the building into an open field, heading for the woods. I kicked into overdrive when my friends flew around the opposite corner of the building and into the field. Three men were in hot pursuit. We made a “V” toward each other and the creek.

We ran right up to the edge of the creek and jumped. We knew we couldn’t clear it, and that wasn’t what we had in mind. We splat into the far bank, righted ourselves, and splashed down the middle of the creek in the direction of the American Legion. The men weren’t far behind.  They drew closer quickly, running along the upper edge of the creek, peering down when their view wasn’t obstructed.

We stopped when they stopped.

Everyone took notice of the gunfire.

One of the men made a motion with his finger for us to come his way, thinking we were at a dead end, so to speak.

My friends and I looked at each other, smiled, and then bolted toward the gunfire …and to “safety.”

Later, we took to our playground again, this time emulating the veterans at the American Legion, BB guns in hand.

We had been in position for 30 minutes, firing BBs into a hornet nest.

It wasn’t just any hornets’ nest – it was the mother of all hornets’ nests! Our BBs seemed to have no effect. We shifted our strategy to the base, where it hung in the tree, but we were just too far. Granted, it was a safe position when calculating how far the hornets were seen buzzing around the nest. However, we needed to get closer since our target went from a huge gray mass to the base, where it clung to the tree branch.

Some of us dressed in green camouflage, others in white tee shirts, blue jeans, and ball caps. We low-crawled through the waist-high, light brown brush of the open field and found a new position much closer.

It was close enough to put the slingshot into action with more accuracy.

“Wow! Nice shot!” was the consensus as the hole was visible and the flurry of hornets thickened.

Twenty minutes later, several holes torn into the nest, we realized this could take all day to bring it down. We needed a bolder plan.

“Danny, run up closer and throw this at it.”

“Screw you!” was the reply.

“C’mon, man,” the peer pressure poured on until Danny, the youngest of our group, went home.

Down a man, we re-examined the pecking order.

“Don’t look at me; you go,” Joey said to Kevin.

“Heck no,” said Kevin.

“Wimps!” I yelled as I sprinted in an arch pattern at the nest with a chunk of shale and whipped it like skipping a rock. It missed.

“Crap, I think I got stung,” I said when my adrenaline level came back down as I returned to our position.

Like a dam giving way, the throbbing-stinging pain spread across my left hand. I tucked it into my gut, bending over.

“Who’s the wimp now,” said Eric.

Joey and Kevin laughed.

Meanwhile, I spotted what looked to be a section of a telephone pole on my loop back. We low crawled to it. Weird as it was; indeed, a small cut section of a telephone pole lay in the brush. It was the perfect size to get two of us on each side and have room to spare. Plus, it was light enough to …

“Ahh, that’ll be awesome!”

“Did you fall and crack your head or something,” they replied.

But when I really wanted to be persuasive, I could usually bring my friends around to do the most stupid of stunts.

So there we were, rushing at a mega hornets’ nest with what can only be described as a battering ram. We hit it solid, launching it straight into the ground, where all hell broke loose.

We scattered, running for our lives, running for our homes – more to the point, our moms – screaming bloody murder the entire way.

At first, I was okay, running through the field. I laughed heartily, seeing Joey fall, get up and cry his eyes out; he was getting stung so badly. Just when I thought I might have escaped unscathed, it felt like I was sprayed by tiny, potent bullets from a machine gun. From my fingers waving frantically in the air, across my outstretched arms to my head, neck, and shoulders, even down my back, butt, and legs, I went from thinking this prank was hysterical to being hysterical.

I stumbled through my back gate and fell to my knees, head cocked back, arms wide in the air like a scene from Platoon, except I was crying like there was no tomorrow, as my mom ran to me.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Cookies, Brownies, And A Runaway

Ah, the early trips! Those first couple of times, I could feel freedom and adventure leaving home without Mom and Dad.

On my first trip, I was sandbox-age. My buddy Eric joined me. It would be a sign of the times ahead of us as we explored the boundaries of independence and our knack for mischief.

It was an early summer morning, and we wanted cookies, but my mom said, “No.”

I knew of another friend, Kyle, down the street, and his mom always had a full cookie jar in her kitchen. So, Eric and I were off to get our fix even though I knew Kyle was at his dad’s for the weekend.

I guess you could say it was our first foodie outing.

The house was locked, and nobody was awake, so we did the natural thing … and slid through the doggy door. We were little tykes, so we staggered the kitchen counter drawers to use as climbing steps.

I was on the counter, hand in the cookie jar, when Ms. E. appeared as a silhouette down the hall leading to the kitchen, “Rocky, is that you?”

My middle name is Rocco. I was named after a saint.

Ms. E. rubbed her eyes in utter disbelief as if she were still dreaming.

The next thing she saw was two tiny butts simultaneously squeezing through that doggy door.

Minutes later, my mom stepped outside to see us in my sandbox and asked, dumbfounded, “Were you in Ms. E’s house just now?”

Tasting chocolate chip on the corner of my mouth, I licked it and said, “No.”

There would be some time I had to chore off before I would get a taste of freedom again.

Three houses down, that was the length of my leash – on a bicycle. Coincidentally, my turnaround spot was in front of Ms. E’s house.

I was a beginner and loved the freedom my new wheels gave me. Our street didn’t have sidewalks, at least not down by my house. Still, it was safe. Sort of. I guess.

The third house was approaching. I was on the edge of the road traveling opposite traffic, just like I was not supposed to do. A car came behind me as I turned into the middle of the road. I was startled when the driver beeped at me. Not a hello beep but an angry one.

Back home, I came to a stop against the side steps. This was the only way I could end a bike ride without crashing. We had a long blacktop driveway. Mom was outside, and I was about to go in for a glass of water when a police car pulled all the way up to the house. This was an incredible sight for me. The officer spoke with my mom, and I didn’t quite understand what it was all about. Finally, he approached me. Mom just stood off to the side.

Mesmerized by the uniform, holster, and all, I didn’t pay one bit of attention to a word he said. But I caught the gist. It was a lecture about bicycling safety. I was intimidated, to say the least. In my mind, when you do something wrong, and the police come, there’s but one conclusion – jail!

“I have to go to the bathroom,” I squeaked out.

The officer paused, looked at my mom, and she said to be quick.

I was quick, all right. I sprinted to my bedroom, grabbed underwear, a shirt, and my favorite stuffed animal (a monkey holding a banana), and then found a towel in the bathroom to wrap it all up. I only had cartoons and kids’ shows as a guide, so in lieu of a stick to tie it to, I improvised and used a yardstick. I slipped out another door and headed for the woods.

My mom saw me.

“What are you doing? Where are you going?”

When I stopped and turned, the yardstick snapped, and my sack flung to the ground.

At this sight, my mom and the officer seemed to burst out something but quickly contained it.

Now I really did have to use the bathroom.

Instead, I had to listen to the rest of the safety lecture and then got the bonus lecture on running away. It all seemed so threatening to me.

As the black and white pulled out of the driveway, I remember being very surprised that I wasn’t in cuffs in the backseat.

After my bust, I felt on the lam, always looking over my shoulder.

Okay, one more for the foodie crowd.

I looked up from my chair, which was attached to my desk, and wondered if I had heard my teacher correctly.

Yep! She said it again – “…brownies!”

I put my pencil down from doodling on the desktop and refocused on the classroom.

“…So if you want to stay after school tomorrow for brownies, you’ll need a note from your parents,” she concluded at the bell.

When I got home, I promptly remembered to relay the information to my mom. She didn’t bat an eye, wrote a quick note, and tucked it inside my folder for tomorrow.

At the end of the next day, my mouth was watering. I gazed at the clock three times, and all three times, the long minute hand didn’t budge. One minute to go, and it seemed to take an hour.

Then, finally, brownie time!

“If you’re staying after for brownies, line up here,” my teacher directed.

Bam! I was second in line, eagerly waiting to satisfy my sweet tooth. My focus slowly turned foggy as background noise penetrated my one-track mind. It was laughter.

“Rocky wants to join the Brownies, Rocky wants to join the Brownies …” was the chant gaining volume around me.

I looked around. I was the only boy in line. My teacher looked at me with an expression of …unease.

“Rocky, boys can’t join the Brownies. Brownies are Girl Scouts.”

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Chasing Pavements

Enjoy the latest story from the blog,
“Wrong Turns Write Life”

The evening was ripe with life and laughter strolling the pavements of an outdoor marketplace. Evening diners with spirits and appetizers chattered. Beyond their reach, a twenty-dollar bill appeared. A college-age kid with his girl was stunned by the sight. He pointed for her attention before swooping down to seize the unexpected bounty. Just as he did so, the wind moved it just beyond his grasp. He quickly adjusted and went for it again.

Damn, wind. It skirted the cement top just out of reach again.

By now, every patio patron and passerby had taken intermission to their life course to watch this peculiarity unfolding. The young man, who may have been used to being a spectacle in a positive sense, drew unwanted attention. He went into athlete mode so as not to be defeated. Coming up empty-handed was no longer an option. This trophy would be his for all to see. And just as he attacked the bill, his girl tugged at his shirt a bit too late as she caught on.

The bill moved, and the young man moved with it. Both scampered the pavement to the howling laughter of, well, everyone but him. His girl giggled, too. The bill kept moving until it climbed into the lap of an old-timer reeling it in on an invisible string.

The young man met eyes with the old man and realized he was had. They both shared in the laughter that infected the scene. The younger guy shook a naughty finger at the old guy. The old guy returned with a wink.

As the young couple walked off, the crowd applauded, and his girl kissed his cheek and nestled her head into the crook of his neck.

Life was good.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

Click here to read more
“Wrong Turns Write Life”