Travel Writing for Dummies

I’ve been thinking a lot about the election recently. I know politics isn’t really our usual topic on this blog, but I thought today I’d talk about how it all made me feel, and what I think is the best way for America to move forward from this point.

Just kidding, this post is about mobility scooters and goat urine.

I’ve been putting off writing this post for weeks. Partly because I feel a little disloyal (you’ll see why,) and partly because it’s hard to structure. No one learned a lesson, no one grew, heard an inner “click” or experienced another culture. It’s just a bunch of people I know doing dumb shit. No plot, no moral, nothing it all boils down to, just me in the middle of the woods saying “Well, we could see if it’s Brett Favre’s penis. It wouldn’t be the most disturbing thing we’ve seen today. Where is my Joose?”

So, the end of Funeral Season 2010 coincided with the beginning of my fall break from school. (PS, thanks to everyone who said “sorr about your loss.” It’s nice to know that our readers care, and to know that we’re altering the English language.) I decided to take the time to visit some old Texas friends and go to the state fair, and generally do some recentering and relaxing before going back to Philadelphia. (Texas. Imports: Water chestnuts. Exports: governors, barely believable news stories. Philadelphia. Imports: Presidential speeches. Exports: vehicle-related reality TV.)

I went directly from the bosom of my mother’s family to the bosom of my father’s family, which was a little abrupt. After a point, it’s just a lot of FAMILY, and it’s unsettling to see all the different ways your genes could have been reshuffled. The ultimate fair posse was my father, my Aunt Ellen, my Aunt Ada, my Uncle Harry, and me. Since the fair is so huge, it’s important to decide your priorities before you go:

Aunt Ada: chickens, horses, Ferris wheel

Aunt Ellen: corn dog, auto show

Me: the game where you bet on a color and they spin a wheel with all the colors on it to see who wins, fried things, beer

Dad: the game where you try to flip a rubber chicken into a stewpot by hitting a pressure plate with a mallet, fried things, beer

Uncle Harry: fried things, beer

Doesn’t that seem doable? We got to the fair, and at first, all seemed fine. The auto show was a bust. It was too crowded, and all they had were hybrid SUVs, vomit. Aren’t auto shows supposed to be about fantasies? I want to imagine stealing one of the cars and burning it to Vegas in one night and outrunning the cops, a crop-top-clad Garrett Hartley riding shotgun, Iron Maiden tearing through the desert night from our speakers. Going over a bridge while shotgunning a beer, Garr-garr leaning over to keep the steering true. You know… cool things. Badass things. Cars you could call “bitchin’.” Call me old-fashioned, but “getting good mileage while picking up the kids from band practice” has never been high on my list of fantasies. Not even “getting the kids from band practice, then burning it to Vegas, etc.”

So, you know what they don’t tell you about knee replacements? They wear out. The plastic (or something) gives way after a while, and you have to get new bionic knees put in. Since this is happening to my Aunt Ellen, we had to rent her a mobility scooter from a little tent.

“How long does the charge last?”

“Oh, ideally all day.”


“If it runs out, you can call the hotline and we’ll zip out with a replacement.”

“What if it runs out in an awkward place?”

“Eh. Enjoy the fair.”

So, of course, a half-hour later, it died in the middle of the sidewalk, and we had to call the hotline. When it’s that obvious, does it even count as foreshadowing? And off we went. We saw the horses and the fowl, played our games (I won two chicken hats!) and got beer and fried things:

“What’s that?”

“A fried margarita. They mix a margarita into funnel cake dough, put a chunk in a margarita glass, pour tequila over it, and top it with whipped cream.”

“That’s disgusting.”

“Want some?”


Finally, all that was left was the Ferris wheel. Sounds fun, right? Sounds like something that five college-educated adults could do without inciting a riot, right? The line was one of those serpentine theme-park lines that doubles back on itself several times. Toward the front, next to the entry, there was a big clot of strollers people had parked while waiting in line.

My aunt may or may not have driven her scooter right into the opening of the line and gotten stuck.

If I live a thousand years, I won’t understand what she thought was going to happen. She’s in the first “link” of the line, stuck on the strollers. She can inch forward but can’t back up, because a clot of angry would-be Ferris wheel riders immediately formed behind her. A strange man is “helping” by stacking the strollers on top of each other, precariously, my other aunt is smiling and making “come past” gestures at the angry clot, and my father and I turned and ran through the grid of chains to the end of the line. I’m not proud of this, per se, but there didn’t seem to be anything I could do short of faking a seizure to buy them time to slip away, which is hard to coordinate at such short notice. The ultimate result was, therefore, that the least sensible members of our group were doing crowd control and trying to maneuver the scooter forward (apparently with the logic that that’s what one does with kidney stones,) while the two people who are afraid of heights were almost at the front of the line to ride the tallest Ferris wheel in the Western hemisphere.

So, while Dad and I were up in the air making peace with God and looking rigidly ahead, they somehow unstuck the scooter, and we all reunited. The train home was, literally, the most uncomfortable experience of my life. It was so crowded I got to second base with about twelve people, although not the attractive, well-dressed thirtyish woman brandishing a pair of scissors and muttering, “I’m gonna cut someone. Gonna cut ‘em.” I spent the last fifteen minutes watching a man in a trenchcoat show his drawings of professional wrestlers to a small group of heavily braceleted Asian teenagers. I’m going out on a limb here and saying all human mothers and probably several among the lower animals would forbid their children to do that.

“Before you go out, what are the rules?”

“God, Mom, this is so lame…”

“I asked you the rules.”

“Sigh…God, Mom… ‘Look before crossing the street, eat the occasional vegetable, and when a fairly recent immigrant don’t find the largest, strangest man on the entire train and strike up a conversation.’”

The next day, I got a ride to the goat farm my best friend from middle school lived on, primarily because the rent was $150 dollars a month, utilities theoretically included. (He’s since moved, for reasons that will become clear.) I may have mentioned this farm earlier: the owner, Goat Man Bill, anoints the goats before slaughter “because goats are people too.” We drove up, and he said, unsurprisingly, “Want to see the goats?” Fool that I am, I said “yes,” so we went to see the goats.

This next bit is disgusting, so if the menstrual antics of Dirty Love caused you problems, skip a couple paragraphs. Literally the first thing I see when we get to the goat pasture is a male goat with its head twisted under its body, drinking its own urine “on tap.”

“He does that a lot.”

“Drinks his own urine?”

“Well, urine. Doesn’t have to be his.”

“That’s awful.

“The worst part is that when he’s done, he pops his head up and grimaces. I’m goin’ nuts here.”

He then showed me around the property. This included the house, another pasture, and a corrugated tin shack with “No girls aloud” painted on the side. “We’ve found recent newspapers in there. I don’t want to know more.” The main house is equipped with a new amenity called a pissin’ hole. You know how, when you have a roommate you hate – let’s say he’s a meth-addicted goat farmer with borderline personality disorder - you postpone cooking dinner or going to the bathroom until they’re gone or asleep? This isn’t always practical if you drink a lot of beer, so if a window pane happens to be missing, instead of fixing it you stuff a pillow into it to block the bugs, then remove the pillow to urinate into the yard out of. Pissin’ hole.

I met Mr. BoJangles, the Miracle Goat. As a newborn, it had been kicked in the head by a mule, and Goat Man Bill’s wife had tried to euthanize it, since it seemed to be paralyzed. Goat Man Bill rescued it and bottle-fed it for weeks as it lay on its side in the yard, and then one day it just got up and trotted off. There was also a Great Pyrenees puppy named Lisa, whom I was not allowed to call by name:

“Goat Man Bill says it’s harder to steal dogs if they don’t know their names.”

“Then how do you get the dog to come if you need it?”

“I don’t think he’s thought that far ahead.”

Next door, the neighbors were making stone, outdoor “glass-melting oven”:

“Why are you making a glass-melting oven?”

“To melt glass.”


“Have you been paying attention? Did you see those goats? We need a hobby out here or we’ll go crazier.”

“Right, but melting glass…”

“Well, we’ll start with glass. We’re gonna melt what melts.”

“That’s gonna confuse some future anthropologists.”

Predictably, we started drinking. We started with Joose, the Lucy to 4 Loko’s Homo sapiens and the go-to drink of our unemployed years in Austin, and then worked on a case of Lone Star, with predictable results. This was the day the Brett Favre sex scandal broke:

“Jeff. Look up Brett Favre’s penis on your iPhone. Just to see.”

“Just to see what?”

“Brett Favre’s penis.”


“To see.”

“To see Brett Favre’s penis.”

“No, not like that. Not see Brett Favre’s penis. Just to see Brett Favre’s penis. It might be worth writing about.”

“You’re going to blog about this, aren’t you, you son of a bitch? You’re going to blog about the goat farm! The urine, the dog, the oven, the pissin’ hole, everything!”


We watched a movie called The Unknown Bowler, which is too bad to give a full review. A bit comic from “The Sonny and Cher Show” made an impulse-buy, direct-to-cassette movie about bowling. He spends the entire movie with a paper bag over his head, whence “unknown.” The case says it’s 90 minutes long, but it clocks in at 37 even. (Small favors.) One excerpt will suffice to give you an idea:

Unknown Bowler: Bowling alleys are a great place to pick up chicks.

The camera then cuts to a man buying a chick a drink, as in, a baby chicken.

Man: So… you get laid often? You’re a cute bird.

The next day, I scampered off to Austin to visit the Camel.

“How was the fair?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“How was the goat farm?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Are you okay?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Do you want to go bowling?”


Other writers get to do travel pieces about quaint Italian cities and tropical islands. I watch mobility scooter traffic jams and learn that livestock, too, can have alarming fetishes. The New Yorker it ain’t, but admit it, you learn things from us. Whether or not you’re glad to know them is another issue.


Anonymous said...

The ferris wheel IS scary tall! I went to the TX state fair last month and I was scared too. Please tell me you tried the fried cookie dough it was a-mazing.

Anonymous said...

hey now .. thats rude. as a texan i can confirm that we are all freaks, but i'm assuming you're not a texan so no judgement please.

i thought tc and camel lived together? wow i'm lost.

Mademoiselle Hautemess said...

First, deep fried margaritas sound like a brilliant reason to get fat!

Second, I love that you share your travel stories from home- it is so eerily close to what I imagine it will be like at my 10 year High School reunion, I almost peed laughing....but if I peed, that goat may have tried to drink it.

Anonymous said...

"it’s unsettling to see all the different ways your genes could have been reshuffled"
best description of family I have ever read

Brittan said...

ooooh the state fair. i scoffed at the freaks and fried things my whole life but the last two years that i've lived in new york i've secretly desperately missed it. super funny, somewhat disturbing, frighteningly relatable post. very nice.

Jill said...

The fried Frito Pie changed my life. I seriously CANNOT stop thinking about it. Let the countdown begin to next year...

And to Anonymous #1 - The TX State Ferris Wheel is absolutely TERRIFYING. I get dragged on it every year and regret it the second I get into that little wire death car.

I'm going to need some clarification on this "Imports: Water Chestnuts"


Anonymous said...

amaaazing post. does the frying of the margarita burn off the alcohol? because really thats the only downside i can see.

Anonymous said...

Haha, loved it! Although the deep fried margartia may give me nightmares tonight...yuck

Anonymous said...

I like your posts, Chris, but I gotta be honest. They confuse the crap out of me. All these names and nicknames and quotes in the middle of stories and whatnot... I just can't keep up.

Anonymous said...

thought this might help you get over the ostrich-related pains:


Anonymous said...

I think Tulane Chris is from Texas, at least he's spent a lot of his life there and his family is there. He's called Tulane Chris cause he went to school there and now he lives in Philly. People do move...

Anonymous said...

please don't tell me this is a no post friday! this has been a week from hell, i could really use a meg pick-me-up today!

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