Friday, August 15, 2008

From a Hotel Room in Springfield, VA

Pittsburgh. Washington D.C. Richmond.

Pgh. DC. RVA.

The Interstates with odd numbers go North-South. The Interstates with even numbers go East-West.

279, 79, 70, 70/76, 70, 270, 495, 95.

327 cigarettes for the year, none on this trip, none in a long time.

On the third trip to Bloomington (East) we left early. It was the Friday after the breakup, the first Friday of that September, it was cold out, American Idiot thumped thru the speakers and the sun was yet to rise. It snuck up sometime before Exit 31 on I-70 West where we got off and found a Sheetz. The sweatpants were blue and the hoodie was Ferret. A pack of Camel Silvers, Please.

This is so disgusting. I know. Why do we do it? I don't know. Me either.

Near 312, on College Ave, at the corner of 15th there's a place called Big Red. The brews are from all over. How about Red Stripe? Sounds good. How many can we put down before the game? Who cares; Let's go.

It's 5am on Saturday morning, the 10th. Up already? Yeah, if we leave now, we can make it to Sarah's game in Pittsburgh.

There's the sun, slow down a bit, I'm gonna pop outta the sunroof and take a shot of it. Look at it, it's a pink disc, just floating... Crap, there's a cop; We were flying.... We'll never make it to Pittsburgh on time now.

Salinger kept us company on the final leg as we wound thru the soon-to-be-orange-yellow-and-red-tipped mountains of Western Pennsylvania. It was hot but as the Pink Disc continued it's west-ward nose-dive the temperature fell with it and the heater was on before dark.

Tim called. Call him back; you should go over to his house to-night....

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Iowa 08 (The Long Road Home {Minonk, IL and Dunkin' Donuts})

Every town should have a Dunkin' Donuts (Pittsburgh closed their downtown location and Richmond doesn't even have one -- WHAT?!). If you don't have the luxury of a Prince Street Cafe (and there is only one), Dunkin' Donuts (hereafter DD), is your next best option (sorry Southern friends, Krispy Kreme doesn't quite cut it and is one K short of offensive).

From Bloomington-Normal (once you've gathered your morning coffee) the Veterans Parkway, I-55 South and, I-39 North take you to Minonk, home of the Patriot Diner and all-things small-town-middle-America. Jeri-Lynn keeps the history books (at least in her own mind) and Mr. Jacick keeps you company. One is amenable to being photographed and the other, not-so-much.

The Land of Lincoln is an interesting (poor word choice) place and even two days from May, sleet and snow might fall. The old men grow restless as premium-planting season is seemingly passed by a second year in a row. No one will be taking 66-west though; this is not the dust bowl, it is quite the opposite: precipitation prevails.

The Regulars sit around the Round-Table in the Patriot and Russ prepares meals in mere minutes, keeping his customers happy (all but Jerri-Lynn, of course) and in-and-out in under thirty. There's a new place opening down the street and Russ is a little more than peeved; "It won't last a week", he says. No one really knows quite yet, let's hope for his sake he's right.

The sun is out and up and down again, bringing more sleet, rain and snow which finally give way to cottony-blue clouds and whipping winds along the now sun-splashed plains of central-Illinois. The green is out and as we all know, green is the colour of life, and no matter what these blustery late-April temperatures tell us, spring is here.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Iowa 08 (Day 5 {The Mother Road})

McLean. Atlanta. Lawndale. Lincoln.

These are the dots that are connected by the line that is Route 66; just south of Bloomington-Normal, home of State Farm Insurance, and a Dunkin Donuts, complete with a man named Gene, right around the corner.
In Thirty-Eight, it was the very first completely-paved US Highway while it stretched (and still does) from Chicago to Los Angeles. To-day, it is overcast, mostly barren and still paved, but replaced by the Eisenhower Interstate System of '56 which I-55 bears witness to as it runs parallel to much of the Mother Road through Central-Illinois.

Bloomington-Normal is a funny place, there is so much history here (and nearby) but much of it is by-passed for manufactured strip after strip of stores and identical house after identical house, plopped right down in the heart of the Illinois farm-country; a city raised out of nothing. There is no surrounding body of water that would facilitate life in days gone by, yet the need to settle here was clearly of utmost importance.

"Subdue the Earth", God said. Even the American Midwest and a town called Perfect Normal.

Hope is a beautiful thing. So beautiful that just a few chapters of it read out loud can bring (mostly) grown men to tears. On that day, when all is made new, when we really do finally get that everything was made for our losing, and for no reason other than that, on that day there will be the justice that we all scream at different volumes for, on that day, on that very day the sharp focus that is reality will veil Itself no more. It is on that day that we bank.

Literally and figuratively. Let us smile in that.

Coffee Count: Week: 112 + To-day (40) = 152oz.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Iowa 08 (Days 3 + 4 {Tom Raper, I miss you}).

There's something bizarrely therapeutic about waking up on spring and summer mornings in a big city - that blue morning light pouring itself all over the cool concrete masses is a wonder to wake up to. Waking up in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia is a distinctly different experience than waking up Richmond; size matters.

A major critique of Richmond (thus far) is the lack of quality coffeeshops and diners. Captain Buzzy's pours the best cup in the River City but anything else is a distant second, and all over the city, coffeeshop atmosphere is severely lacking. On the corner of Buena Vista and Jacksonia, in the beautiful War Streets (on Pittsburgh's North Side) sits Beleza. Most of my free time in Pittsburgh is spent there - pouring over photographs or the deep nuances of Christian doctrine. The coffee has slowly grown on me and ever since Wednesday, October Tenth of last year, I cannot help but buy one of the stunning cinnamon rolls for a scant two dollars; it's pastry perfection.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have not won more than 79 games since the 1992 season and we (foolishly) thought that perhaps this was the year that they'd arise victorious in just 82 of the 162 total contests, but, even though the season is young, this trend does not appear to be in any danger and soon the Pittsburgh base-ball club will have set a record for seasonal futility (16 losing seasons and counting). Instead of handing over hard-earned currency to see the beloved Buccos finally win for the first time in a week, we opted to stay in, eat vegetarian and sip some of the best Pennsylvania micro-brew. A better decision could not have been made.

There is Bloomington (east) and Bloomington-Normal. One lies at the heart of Hoosier-land and the other just south of Chicago-land. The latter lies 546.8 miles from Pittsburgh and despite stops in Farmer City to re-photograph old landmarks of past trips through the land of the Illini, one can reach the first home of Photography Legend Ralph Meatyard at an average speed of sixty-two-point-five miles-per-hour.

That's 7.50pm central time.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Iowa 08 (Day 2, Monday)

Spring mornings in Pittsburgh are new-earthly (when the new Jerusalem comes, I swear it will be a mix of {mostly}-Lancaster and Pittsburgh). As the golden sunlight crisply streaks through the morning fog and lands on the Allegheny, then the Ohio, then the Mon, the city hums to life. It's not too cold, not too hot and the green is beginning to show its shy face on the newly budded trees. Spirits are high and not because the Pirates' season has just gotten underway - the city has awoken from its grey slumber.

There is even more excitement in the city this spring, for this is the first time in anyone's memory that a Presidential Primary has actually meant something in the state of Pennsylvania. Bill and Hilary were in Market Square at lunch-time; Obama held a rally here. Obama seems to be everywhere, even on Sara Buss' bumper-sticker.

Sara Buss is a lawyer from downtown who spent a month in Latvia earlier this year teaching Latvian students the basics of the American Law System. During her month there, she kept a journal which is being published in Pittsburgh Professional Magazine (accompanied by my photographs of her). The weather was typical Pittsburgh-April: beautiful, streaky sun in the morning followed by a mostly cloudy afternoon; a little chilly. All things were go until we were reprimanded for attempting to make her Portrait in the Rotunda of the Amtrak station (that wouldn't have happened in Lancaster). Fortunately, the garden on the corner of 11th and Liberty and the thick layer of clouds provided us with their own photographic-covenant of blessing.

Coffee Count: 32oz/64 cumulative/12 on the floor of my car.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Iowa 08 (1)

4.37 pm, Richmond, Virginia.
Trip: 0.0 Miles.

It had been raining off and on all day, so hard, in fact, that it woke me up at 7.26 - thirty-four minutes before my alarm was set to go off. From under my pillow the text message alert goes off. "Robert Greene", I thought to myself. I pull the phone out from under the pillow, check the time (7.41) and click the SHOW button: " soon as you can would be great". That means most of our core members are already (or will be soon) at Holton, setting up, even though the service doesn't start til ten.

"Why'd I go to Third Street last night? I'd be less tired if I didn't go. Stupid Third Street. I don't even like that place and I always get talked into going....".

Thirty-Eight minutes later, I was out the door and into the driving April rain.

Gas seems to go up about a nickel every other day or so. Remember back in the 90s when a penny every two weeks was a big deal? Remember when gas was eighty-eight cents? Remember when you could fill up for under ten dollars? In college we complained because a dollar-forty-nine was pricey and seventeen dollars was way too much to pay for gas. Three-thirty-nine-and-nine-tenths. That's what gas was on the corner of 17th and East Broad yesterday. That's $33.75 for just about 9.9 gallons. Nine-point-nine gallons won't even get you to Pittsburgh, a scant 352.0 miles away. Good thing I got a fourteen gallon tank.

At 7.45 pm I-270 merges into I-70 West to the tune of Mr. Brightside. On August 24, 2007 I made the opposite merge (and for the very first time) to something Smashing Pumpkins. This was new territory: I-270, I-495. I felt like Magellan.

Interstate 70 is my home. It merges with the Pennsylvania Turn Pike at exit 162 and from there you can go all the way to Cove Fort, Utah. It's 220 miles through Ohio and 156 through Indiana. At exit 90 in Indiana you can catch the Indianapolis Beltway (465) and connect to Indiana Route 37 at Harding Street. Follow 37-South for about forty-five miles and you've just landed in Bloomington - the home of Big Red and John Cougar. On 15th street there is a little white house with the number 312 on it. All Midwestern adventures are locus here.

Seven dollars and just about two hours gets you from Breezewood to Allegheny Valley. The Pittsburgh skyline never ceases to be so stunning, just as I wrote several years ago. Take 28-South along the Allegheny and you'll nestle through the hills of Blawnox, Fox Chapel, Sharpsburg (home of Pittsburgh's Top Chef) and Millvale. To the left, across the 40th Street Bridge, is Lawrenceville and just beyond that, Bloomfield, hipster-haven. Twenty-Eight winds its way into the North Shore; Beautiful PNC Park and Heinz Field (home of everyone's favorite football team) lie to the left. Look for 19/65-North and take the Marshall Street Exit. Here you'll find Marshall-Shadeland: three-hundred-fifty-two miles and thirty-two ounces of coffee from Church Hill.

11.09 pm, Pittsburgh, Pennsyvlvania.
Trip: 352.o Miles.
Tolls: $7.
Coffee: 32oz.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

pittsburgh, then lancaster (my reprieve)

life is so strange. i'm here. i'm there. i'm not quite everywhere. 

richmond. pittsburgh. lancaster. richmond.
there are those places in life that you go and you always feel like you've never quite left and the coffeeshop on the corner of buena vista and jacksonia in the war streets is one of them. everything rushes into your head and it wasn't so long ago that i prepared for richmond trip number three by coming in here on a wednesday night in october and ordered my very first cinnamon roll. it's rare to come in here now and not order one. my sticky, empty plate would concur. 

the bloomington bagel company is one of those other places and, quite sadly, i do not know if that is a place we'll ever return to...

Friday, March 7, 2008

your face is looking long (9.7.2007)

These shadows from Sarah are taking a toll on me.

These shadows from Sarah are getting a hold of me.
When I look into ya' you're just like another human being -
without paint or walls - let's just forget about it -
yeah, baby - let's just forget about it

two weeks ago it was so damn hot; ninety-plus while we built the bleachers and one-hundred-and-four in richmond. but it's september now, you can feel the chill in the air and the sickness in your bones (here comes a cold). it's still summer but it feels like fall and the days are getting noticeably shorter. snow will be arriving here in pittsburgh before you can...

"there's a house party to-night in mars, are you coming?"

Sarah - what's taking you so long?
Oh Sarah - did we go somewhere wrong?
Oh Sarah - the years drag on and on -
without paint or walls - let's just forget about it -
yeah, baby - let's just forget about it

Let's forget about it all

"yeah, i'll be there, do you wanna go to-gether?"

"sure. i'll pick you up at your place, what's your address again?"

"one-oh-one forty-fourth street. i'm not feeling well though, i'm pretty medicated but i may wanna dip out early, is that okay?"

"yeah, i'm a little tired myself."

These shadows from Sarah are taking a toll on me.
These shadows from Sarah are starting to roll all over me
When I look into ya' - it's like you're drowning in a sea -
full of paint and walls - let's just forget about it -
yeah, baby - let's just forget about it

"i can't believe you know my grandmother. my great-grandmother. this is insane. and she babysat you!"

"small world isn't it?"

"sure is. this just blows me away. we had to have hung out when we were kids. i'm sure of it."

"i wouldn't be surprised..."

Sarah - what's taking you so long?
Oh Sarah - we can't tell right from wrong
Oh Sarah - these nights are getting long
without paint or walls - let's just forget about it -
yeah, baby - let's just forget about it

you know, a couple a weeks ago, i wasn't so sure about her. it was hot out and she was kinda sweaty, i didn't figure i'd see her much after that day but after fourteen and a half hours something kinda changed, you know? you don't spend that much time with someone you're completely indifferent about, but even now it's a few weeks later and my summer crush on jessica is still lingering and it seems like her little crush on gabe is a little more than she once claimed it was. but this one, she's something else. i think i could really really like her. how often do you have conversation that is that electric...?

i wonder what she's doing right now? i bet she'd like this basement show....

Sarah - did we go somewhere wrong?
Oh Sarah - your face is looking long
Oh Sarah - these years drag on and on-
without paint or walls - let's just forget about it -
yeah, baby - let's just forget about it all

why do i feel so awful? i can't be getting sick now, the first steelers game is on sunday. and and and and and. ugh. stacy, let's go home. i'm sorry to ask you so early but i feel like total crap. i thought i could stick it out a little longer but it doesn't look that way now...

yeah, baby - let's just forget about it all...

the natural is on demand to-night. i've not seen that movie since i was ten or eleven. it'd be a good one to fall asleep to.

where's my nyquill?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Chapter One: Made in the 80s (part a)

I wear this shirt that I bought in Bloomington (I told you, the world revolves around this place!) in October of 2005 (the 9th to be precise) that says “MADE IN THE 80S”; [To be fair, I should note that there are two Bloomingtons that I am familiar with – one in Indiana, home of the Hoosiers and John Mellencamp, and the other in central-Illinois, hereafter referred to as Bloomington-West, B-town-West, Bloomington-Normal, or simply B-N; birthplace of legendary Zen-Photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard. Any other mention of Bloomington will always refer to the former home of Bobby Knight and Big Red]. Tim Hoiland (hereafter referred to as Mr. H, TJH, or Timmy J) calls me a liar when I wear this shirt. He is right. I was born in 1980 (June) thereby placing my conception at sometime around late August or early September of 1979, clearly the 70s, but this reasoning can be taken much, much further.

1980 is technically the last year of the Seventies. Before you fight me on this let me explain. Remember in 1999 when everyone (it seemed) was questioning whether it was 2000 or 2001 that began the new Millennium? Well, most decided that since counting numbers begin with one and end with zero that it was 2001 that was the official beginning of the 21st Century. So, if we are to follow this logic then we must accept 1980 as the last year of the 70s, 70 of the 60s, 60 of the 50s and by now you clearly get the point: I should probably stop wearing that shirt.

1979 was a great year for Pittsburgh sports and as western Pennsylvanians we take great pride in our Steelers and (sometimes) our Pirates - but not since at least 1992 (and yes, Steroid-Freak Barry Bonds is to blame for not throwing out Sid Bream at home). To know that I was floating around in my mother’s womb while the “We Are A Fam-I-Leee” Pirates were popping the champagne on their second World Series of the decade and the Steelers were pummeling the American Football Conference on their way to a 14-2 mark and a then-record fourth Super Bowl victory makes me giggle with glee. Honestly, who could ask for more? Well, other than to actually witness these events, I can’t think of anyone born into a more royal heritage, unless you could perhaps claim to be a direct descendant of William the Conqueror, something else I can lay claim to (at least according to the sketchy research of a White-Supremacist-Now-Deceased-Uncle).

Schrott, as I found out during my Senior year in high school, is German meaning ‘scrap metal’. Do a google image search and you’ll find countless images of all sorts of different metal items from various junkyards and a few images of the most famous Schrott, Erwin. I really have not been able to pin-point the exact origin of our last name (though I’ve never really looked) but a friend of mine in college told me that it probably meant we were blacksmiths that made armor and swords (furthering the William the Conqueror legend, at least in my own mind) and so for now, we’ll leave it at that. There’s also a bit of legend floating around (that I am guilty of starting) that we are of some Jewish descent (I really want to tap into this idea of Royal Lineage).

I’ve lost the emails by now, but sometime in late 2006 or early 2007 I received an email from a man by the name of Ivan Roth. Ivan lives in Los Angeles, but grew up in Philadelphia and his grandfather emigrated through Ellis Island and to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Well so what?, You might be asking. Well, Ivan’s grandfather’s original last name was Schrott and for some reason was changed when he emigrated into the States. They were of eastern European descent (I want to say Russia, but I don’t have the email to verify) and were Jewish potato farmers. I/we think there’s a loose connection to his family and mine, and though I/we cannot verify it, I still tell people we have some blood of Father Abraham in us.

On Good Friday of 2007, two of my sisters and I paid a visit to our grandfather-Schrott and for the first time in my almost twenty-seven years I got a bit of a family history lesson. Sometime around 1890 Frank Schrott came to the United States from Austria and settled in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He married Bertha Heinrich (also of Austrian descent) and in 1906, they had a son named Francis Ernest Schrott who married the German-American Catherine Almelda Bettes (b. 1909) who to-gether produced my grandfather, Francis Karl Schrott, on December 1, 1928. My grandfather married Anna Ramach, a Czechoslovakian through and through (she literally came over on a boat as a child), thereby making my four siblings and me twenty-five-percent Czech. We talk this up like it’s a big deal (at least I do). We’re/I’m not sure why – perhaps I am prone to making bold statements about nothing.

My parents have quite interesting stories themselves (probably much more so than the two paragraphs you just read) and I wonder about the worth of even including stories of car-chases, gun-fights, and six-foot marijuana plants that grew in our backyard. For now I’ll leave those very stories to rest, you wouldn’t believe them anyways. And if you are really that curious and want further details I’ll leave you to contacting my father (and you’re very much on your own in finding his contact info).

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

who will deliver me from this body of death?

"hi dave. john esh. meadowbrook builders..."

11.53am | 1.1.08 | strasburg, pennsylvania

"is dad here yet? no. call him. i don't know what to do at an amish funeral. we should wait til he gets here and all go in to-gether."

"he's just over the hill. he'll be here in a minute or two."

"...i've got a house that needs drywalled..."

we were greeted at the back door by levi -- dressed to the nines. he looked good, especially for an amish-man. they sure can do it up when they wanna. he shook dad's hand first, then me, then seth. i've never seen him so serious.

they exchanged a few words about john. dad said something about john and about this being the third friend he's had die since the twenty-third. the conversation felt hollow. what can you say to those currently walking in a shadow that that sweeps out the sun?

death sure can render words damn near useless.

" you think you can start that job next week...?"

the amish do everything differently. we already knew that, but this was so out of the ordinary (though what do i know of ordinary? the last funeral i'd been to was in nineteen-ninety). the door was shut and we were taken in by a fellow contractor. he did flooring. he said we looked familiar.

the room was cold and the sky blue walls offered color better suited for a baby boy's new bedroom rather than a viewing parlor. the casket was beautifully hand-crafted pine, stained a dark brown and a white cloth covered up the far end. the cloth was pulled back and tears began to well as we all bowed our heads. death does strange things to a body. the builder i ran into from time to time growing up and who put more money in my bank account than i can count lie there looking like an exhibit from a wax museum. there was no color in his face, only a waxy yellow complexion remained. his hair looked like wire and i wondered how this used to be alive.

the rest of the room was mostly empty. there was some dried up mud on the floor and a small end table in the corner with a hair comb and a box of matches sitting on it. the blinds weren't pulled and sunlight streamed in, lighting up the lamp-less room. some birds chirped in the warmish january air just outside while an older amish fellow walked by the window.

"'s down route thirty, towards downingtown..."

john's eldest son benuel took us into the kitchen and jonas (his younger brother) was there sitting next to susie, now john's widow. i can't remember meeting her before, though i'm sure i had. every fall we attended john's big end of the summer party where we had fried chicken and played volleyball and quaits. the rest of the kitchen and living area was full of friends and family, by this time entirely amish. i'd never seen such a happy people so solemn in all my life. they are typically such a jovial and easy-going people and to see them in a state of mourning felt like a living, breathing oxy-moron.

"'s a basement with nine-foot ceilings."

susie, benuel and jonas bid us farewell and thanked us for stopping by. only sixteen minutes had passed since we first got out of the car. there is something oddly peculiar about life that i can't quite make sense of; there is something equally peculiar about the finality of death....

my mind wanders and i think back to the middle of the summer. in consecutive weeks i read books both dealing with death (from entirely different perspectives) and now, as i/we inch/race towards it ourselves, i realize that there are five of us -- and two parents. someday not so far in the future, only one will remain, having buried the other six.

i pray hard for the one who will have to bear such a burden alone.