the kids are alright

“A wise person cares not for what he cannot have but for what he can achieve.” ~today’s fortune cookie

9.1.03                                                                                            winnetka, il

TODAY’S PIC WAS ANOTHER ONE OF THOSE PHOTOS THAT WAS TOO COLORFUL TO POST IN BLACK AND WHITE. That’s Carrie, 9, and her brother Patrick, 10, the 2 youngest siblings among the 6 Atkinson kids, who’ve kept me highly occupied and completely entertained during my 3 nights here.

For those of you who haven’t seen the Atkinsons in the feedback section of my web site, they’re the generous, funny family I met at my friend Edmund’s wedding on July 12th in Grafton, VT. After hanging out with them at the wedding, the Atkinsons kids — and their cool mom, MaryAnn — sent me a couple e-mails letting me know I was welcome at their big house in the posh suburb just north of Chicago. Even if my VW bus did threaten to drive down property values in their swanky neighborhood.

Team Atkinson has a sweet WiFi setup in their endearingly chaotic 3-story house, where they’re surrounded by neighbors like the owner of the Chicago Blackhawks, the anchorwoman on the local ABC news and various doctors, lawyers and CEOs. But this is the first time I’ve had a chance to do any work on my site since I got here Thursday evening in time for a delicious steak dinner. (It’s late Monday night — nearly 2 AM — right now.)

I’ve been THAT busy.

To say that I’ve had one of the most memorable Labor Day weekends of my life would be putting it mildly. And I want to write extensively about it. I’ve met and hung out with so many great people since my last posting that I am craving more time to write the stories.

But I’m heading out tomorrow. Destination: Omaha. And Patrick wants me to take him to school in the morning. Which means I can’t be staying up until 4 AM tonight.

So the details will have to wait.

* * *

I’m amazed at how the days can get crammed sometimes with so many meaningful, memorable experiences. Back in LA, when I was holed up in my home office with Ringo the Cat, I could go days without seeing a new face or having a moment that resonated in my soul. The minutes, the hours, the days often became a forgettable timeless blur of monotony.

And now there is this. Snippets of time when change is constant. New faces are everywhere. Inspiration abounds.

Again, I don’t have time right now to get too deeply into the details. But since my last posting from Pittsburgh last Wednesday night, I’ve chugged from a deep well of life experience and chance encounters. In a mere 5 days here’s a brief, incomplete, rundown of what and who I’ve encountered:

…on the road to Columbus, Ohio last Wednesday night I got pulled over by a Wheeling, West Virginia cop who looked suspiciously like Sgt. Stepdad, the man responsible for much of my adolescent fear and despair. Unlike the Sarge, though, the Wheeling cop felt a little compassion for me and not only didn’t write me up for going 57 in a 45 zone, he also insisted I follow him through Wheeling and back onto the interstate, where I’d be heading back in the right direction.

…minutes later, I got a phone call from an angry P., who was pissed about my most recent posting from New Hope. She thought what I wrote made her sound self-absorbed and unsupportive, which she most assuredly is NOT. I told her I’d be more than happy to post her perspective on this matter. (She said she’d think about it once she got a good night’s sleep.)

…on Thursday I arrived in Winnetka and was greeted by a pack of eager Atkinson kids, who enthusiastically showed me around the house before we sat down to a delicious steak dinner, followed by fun, fun, fun with the kiddies in the big backyard.

…on Friday afternoon, mama MaryAnn took me for a ride in her black Porsche to the local country club, where we had lunch with 2 of her very cool sisters, Bean and Maggie, and their funny mom, who shared the perspective of a woman who raised 9 kids, all of whom are married with many children. (She’s got 34 grandchildren!)

…that night I drove up to Green Bay, where I not only witnessed an inspired performance by the Obsoletes, a young band from nearby Neenah, Wisc., brimming with talent and promise. But I also heard some incredible stories from Matt, the band’s de facto roadie and childhood friend, who told me about how he got over the death of his mother after she died from getting hit by a dump truck 3 years ago. I also got into a long discussion with Mike — father to Obsoletes’ bassist/singer/co-songwriter Justin — himself a frustrated songwriter and longtime garage band singer who told me about his own father’s deathbed confession and his frustration about having a large collection of mostly unfinished songs.

…after crashing in Neenah at the cluttered apartment of Justin and Tim, the other songwriter/singer/guitarist in the Obsoletes, I had lunch with Tim and his girlfriend Rebecca at the iHop in nearby Appleton, where we shared road trip stories, discussed our favorite writers and talked about Rebecca’s 2-year-old little girl and her love of the Beatles. After lunch we went back to the apartment, where Rebecca told me about her big brother who’s been missing for 9 years and Tim filled me in about the many incarnations of the Obsoletes/Yesterday’s Kids.

…after saying goodbye to Tim, who burned me a few CDs of his acoustic tunes and some of his favorite music, and Rebecca, who gave me a collection of Douglas Copeland essays and a book called The Kindness of Strangers — former Yesterday’s Kids drummer Joe and his brother were there, too — I drove across town to hang out with Justin’s dad, Mike. I was in a hurry to get down to Milwaukee, but Mike couldn’t have been more welcoming. I had a beer, hung out on the back patio with Mike, his girlfriend Kristine, who made me a turkey sandwich for the road, plus Jamie and Doug, Mike’s former brother-in-law and current next door neighbor. The 4 of them sent me on the road with a big dose of Wisconsin hospitality and Mike handed me a CD of a bunch of songs he and Justin, along with their friends, recorded a few years ago in Mike’s basement recording studio.

…and then there was the Harley Davidson 100-year anniversary celebration in Milwaukee that night, where I hug out with Cousin Bill, who made the trip out from SoCal on his Harley, complete with a road-reddened face and a slew of hilarious stories. Not only did we see Jimmy Van Zandt perform “Freebird,” but I met Lisa Lips, the local girl who enthusiastically offered to show me her boobs. Plus Jeff, the most blissed out Vietnam vet in America, thanks to thousands of miles of Harley-fueled road tripping; and Rene, the Tennessee mom whose leg was amputated just below the knee exactly 3 months to the day before I met her. (More on my memorable Milwaukee pit stop later.)

…then there was the Cubs game the following day with papa Mike Atkinson and 2 of his boys; dinner that night at Ruth’s Chris steakhouse in Winnetka with the whole Atkinson clan, plus their friends Howard and Margaret, their 2 kids and 4 of oldest son Jimmy’s friends; lots of ping pong games with the Atkinson boys (congratulations on those 2 tainted victories Jimmy); Chinese takout Monday night; jamming on guitar with Charlie, the 2nd oldest son, who helped me get started on “Ode to the Atkinsons,” yet another odd gee-tar tune from Bad Voice Bob; watching a few of my short films on Charlie’s iMac, where I got grilled from the boys about the death of Sister Tracy…

But more on this stuff later. Right now I need my rest. Tomorrow it’s time to get back on the road. Where I’ll have lots of time to bask in the beauty of these last few days.

Onward to Omaha and beyond…


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