To many of my friends, I have become known as the Road Warrior. That’s because I love nothing more than hopping in a car and driving for hours on end in search of anything strange and spooky. Between book signings, appearances, Ghosts of Ohio private investigations, and general road trips, I average well over 13,000 miles a year. And since I moved in Ohio in 1999, the vast majority of those miles have been done in Ol’ Blue, a 1997 dark blue Honda Accord that currently has over 213,000 miles on her. Hard miles. Doesn’t matter if it’s a major highway, an unpaved road, or even a small creek. Nothing stops Ol’ Blue. Even better is that Ol’ Blue can instantly transform into a lowrider. All I have to do is jam all my ghost hunting equipment, cases of my books, and presentation materials in her and she’s hugging the ground in no time. Truth be told, I’ve yet to find something that I couldn’t take on the road with me because there wasn’t room in Ol’ Blue. All that changed last month, though, with the additional of an immovable object in the back seat known as a car seat.
On June 14th, 2010, while the nation was celebrating Flag Day and those of us in Ohio were mourning the fiery death of the Big Butter Jesus, my lovely wife, Stephanie, gave birth to our first child. One month later and my eyes still tear up just typing the words Courtney Leigh, my daughter’s name. She’s changed my life that much. Hardly a day goes by where I don’t catch myself staring at Courtney in awe and thinking, often aloud, “that’s my daughter.” And forget it when I find Courtney sleeping in Steph’s arms. I tried telling Steph my eyes just get red from all the pollen in the air, but I know she doesn’t buy it.
Having a child will change your life in many ways. I knew that going in and was ready to embrace those changes. For the most part, I’ve done pretty well at improvising and stumbling through, making things up as I go along. I’ve even gotten pretty good at the fine art of swaddling, thanks to a dear friend’s gift of a swaddling blanket with instructions. The one thing I hadn’t planned on was how to account for all the accoutrements my daughter was going to come with. More precisely, how the hell I was going to fit it all into Ol’ Blue!
I started off OK with the diaper bag bit, even planning so far ahead to ask for a “cool” black bag as opposed to one with flowers or dancing pandas on it (kind of ruins the whole “dark, brooding artist look). But then the boxes started showing up in droves. So much so that our UPS guy, who already hates me because he’s continually having to deliver 40-pound cases of my hardback books, started using the boxes to build his version of Pink Floyd’s wall in my driveway. I couldn’t unpack the stuff fast enough, especially since our recycling guy is rather picky and actually gave me a written warning, in the form of a fluorescent orange sticker, for not cutting the cardboard down to the proper size specifications. On top of that, I couldn’t break down a box without first checking to make sure one of my three cats hadn’t climbed inside and declared squatter’s rights on it.
When all the cardboard was finally gone, Courtney was the proud owner of a small armada of strollers and even a Pack & Play, most of which I had to try and figure out how to fit into Ol’ Blue, along with all my ghost equipment.
Allow me to pause for a moment here and let you all know how I believe that some really sadistic people designed Pack & Plays. To those of you unfamiliar with this bizarre device, it is marketed as some sort of playpen/changing table combo that can be easily broken down and moved from place to place. So, if you were going to take your wee one to your parent’s house (or to a haunted hotel room), you would just fold up the Pack & Play, throw it in the trunk, and quickly reassemble it at your new destination. Easy, right? Wrong!
I should have known I was in trouble when I had to go online to find the instructions on how to put the Pack & Play together. Turns out some genius at the manufacturing plant thought it would be a good idea to stick the 30-page document on a hidden flap on the bottom of the mattress support.
Having the instructions helped a bit, but not much. That’s because when all the parts are unpacked, it looks like you’re about to put together a 5-man tent, complete with metal framework. The best way that I found was to get on the floor and roll around with it as if you were wrestling it. Kind of like that scene in Ed Wood where Bela Lugosi has to pretend to fight the octopus with the missing motor: “shake his legs around so it looks like he’s killing you.”
When I was done, the Pack & Play looked like something the Little Rascals had put together; it was all crooked and bent. Two beers and 90 minutes later, I finally got it to match the picture on the box. After forcing the entire family (Steph, Courtney, the three cats, and our parrot) to come and admire my handiwork, waves of terror swept over me when I suddenly realized I was going to have to break the Pack & Play down at some point and try to fit it in the car!
To be honest, I haven’t gotten to that point yet. At a recent Ghosts of Ohio meeting at my house, I had to break down the Pack & Play so we had room to set up all our equipment. Let’s just say it didn’t go too well. I couldn’t fit it through the door and I was wrestling with it, I heard something pop and the whole left side of it crumpled up like an accordion. I told myself it was supposed to do that and stuck it in the garage until the group had left. When I dragged it back inside, it once again looked like Stymie and the Gang had been at work. I got it back together again, but I’m a long way away from being able to pack it up, let alone get to the point of trying to fit it in my car.
Of course, the easiest solution would be to simply get a bigger car. New car payment aside, I can’t do that to Ol’ Blue. Not after all we’ve been through together. When a car defies all the odds and manages to climb that grassy hill to get you to a hidden cemetery or barrels over deep grooves in a dirt road so you can find the Moonville Tunnel, you don’t just trade her in.
And I’m not about to give up on Miss Courtney accompanying me on some of my road trips. Let’s face it; it’s her destiny! If nothing else, this blog will help chronicle some of Courtney’s adventures with her parents as her dad drives all over God’s creation looking for strange and spooky stuff. Sure, to some that makes for a really twisted version of family outings, but the three of us will be together. For better or worse, I would hope that Courtney would one day look back at this blog and smile. And that will make all my wrestling with Pack & Plays worthwhile.
Until next time, if you’ve got any good Pack & Play wrestling moves, feel free to leave them in the comment box below!