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Home » Baseball, Stories, True and Otherwise

Big Country Little Car Tour, Day 12

Submitted by on April 6, 2010 – 11:43 PM26 Comments

smartmoLeaving KC, I spotted another Smart. It took some maneuvering to get alongside it, not to mention steering in weekend traffic while taking Compulsive Waving Family to deranged new levels, but I managed it. The woman in the passenger seat underwent an amazing transformation: “What the hell is her probl– OH HEY COUSIN!” She jabbed the driver with her elbow, and he did the same thing: “What is it this time, I’m trying to dr– YAY!”

I had most of the day to get to Columbia, but that doesn’t take most of the day to do, so I passed part of the time fireworks-shopping. Incendertainment devices are supposedly illegal in NYC — although during the last week of June, it usually feels (and sounds) like I’m the only one who hasn’t found a way around that statute — and I don’t care enough to track down a source. I like sparklers I can purchase legally, though, and nothing says “thanks for taking care of the cats, Gen” like a 24-pack of Black Cats with your $20 purchase, amirite?

I stopped at Pyro City. Come on: Pyro City. That’s awesome. (It’s a chain, in case you want to check one out for yourself.) I found the place deserted, and admired the Godfather combo pack (a gigantic box of explosives the size of a twin mattress with a poor rendering of Michael Corleone on it: $600) until the friendly kid on duty appeared and asked if he could help me. “Yes, you can: I need sparklers, and other fireworks appropriate for a person who lives in a place where they’re illegal and is kind of a pussy about blowing things up.” He helpfully pointed me to some bombs for the indoorsy, and pretended I wasn’t an idiot for asking if they would self-detonate if the car got too hot inside.


He also told me that Tommy Lee had come in the year before and bought nearly $2000 worth of merchandise. (I’d filled my basket nearly to the top and still only spent about $23.) Shortly after that, Lee injured his hand setting them off and had to cancel a few tour dates. A brush with fame in Bates City! Then somehow we got on the topic of the tomato blight, and he mentioned that his wife loves tomatoes and hates how expensive they’ve gotten. His…wife? Ah, I see: what I took to be vestiges of lunch on his upper lip was actually a mustache.

I headed into CoMo, which I also found relatively deserted thanks to spring break, and got settled at the motel, the Regency Premier. Don’t let the name fool you; it’s only “premier” in the Brezhnev sense, but for a night or two, I find that “step sideways into 1974” atmosphere appealing, getting a glance at that era. Readers from the New York area may remember the “beautiful Mount Airy Lodge” ads, which continued to run unchanged until the late ’80s but had looked dated ten years earlier — way too much green and yellow in the color mix (the pool looked positively mossy and riddled with staph), and painful shots of local actors doing the hustle in the Lodge discotheque.

But at that time, you could look into back into the ’50s; you would still see motels calling themselves “motor courts” and advertising with photos — or whimsical line drawings in the Warhol-for-Bonwit style — of parking lots packed with finned cars and cheerily overseen by tiny-waisted moms in cat-eye sunglasses. “Drive across the country in a Merc with no seatbelts, wearing full petticoats? Gee, that sounds swell!”

The Regency has that feel to it; the desk clerk wore lime nailpolish, the room had WiFi, but the room itself put me in mind of that furniture on The Price Is Right that you don’t know how contestants bid on, because even if you own a dinette set, as I did for several years, it’s not that chrome-and-glass Dan-Fogelberg-slept-here job Holly just wheeled out.


Off to meet Ang and her friends, and deliver the twelve of Brooklyn Lager that made it safely 2400 miles without one bottle breaking. (And Arkansas tried; the parking lot of the coffee shop of the past had a…”pothole” is not the right word. Just “hole.” Giant, gravelly, lonely hole. Thought Campbell was a Skittle and tried to eat her. This is why I was thinking about where the nearest human might be; specifically, I was wondering whether said human would have a winch to lend me, and some tires.)

After Hil and I bored Ang by debating the merits of Joe Morgan at dinner (I didn’t know he had merits either, but Hil argued convincingly), we went to a scary and magical place called…the Trop? Trop’s? It smells like a urinal cake inside, and it has a whole wall of Slurpee machines, each one turning a different sugary cocktail. I couldn’t decide whether to run away, or move in.

Roomie B got a Styrofoam bin of something fuchsia with Bacardi and Everclear in it, and it had top notes of raspberry, pineapple, and the day in the summer before junior year that that creepy older guy followed you and your friends around Six Flags. Delicious; dangerous. Conversation highlights: “Your friend slept with Tom Bergeron?!” (…no; this is what happens when you try to talk over the Gin Blossoms), and a discussion of the parts of speech “fratty” could form (not a coincidence).

Roomie B, I’m sorry I ate half your Easter basket. It was research, I swear. Come visit with Ang Ham, I’ll make it up to you.




  • Margaret in CO says:

    “for asking if they would self-detonate if the car got too hot inside.” – I assume not? (I’d have asked that too…)

  • jenn says:

    Merits of Joe Morgan? Please elaborate.

  • Tisha_ says:

    I somehow read “Tommy Lee” as “Tommy Lee Jones” and couldn’t figure out when he’d starting touring. Hee! I was like, “Is he in a Broadway show or something?” Seirously, I spent 2 full minutes of my life thinking about this and then reread the sentence.

    Somehow, in my head, Tommy Lee Jones buying $2000 worth of fireworks and then blowing himself up, causing the cancellation of like RENT or something, is way more awesome than just regular Tommy Lee doing it.

    BTW, I’d be asking the same questions about the fireworks blowing up in the car. Even sparklers make me nervous. But, I grew up in Oklahoma City, where fireworks are illegal, so I have NO experience with them. My fiance, who grew up in a small town, and his whole family, make fun of my constantly from around May 1st – August 31st, every year.

  • Marie says:

    Oh Mt. Airy Lodge. And what appeared to be a giant cocktail glass tub… Now evidently it caters to the casino crowd.

    Although nothing gets in my head faster than those “Milford Plaza is the lullaby of aaaalllllll Broooooadway!” commercials. I had a friend stay there a year ago, and she…was not impressed.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @jenn: The gist is that she thinks he brings a lot to the booth in terms of experience, and explaining the thoughts and intuitions that go into certain plays without getting bogged down in stats. My feeling is that, while he COULD have value in that way, he’s unnecessarily dismissive of stats’ value at measuring “they say”-type things he’s always banging on about, and that he is, frankly, frequently a pompous maroon.

    Hil actually played a lot, and might have a different take because of that. Retired players definitely bring something to the table, I’m not saying they don’t, and it’s a matter of taste, for sure, but there is a way to make those points without letting your self-importance infect the discussion. Joe Morgan sometimes has difficulty there, let’s put it that way. (He did tell a sweet/sad story on the Opening Night broadcast about how, when he got the call from the HoF that he’d been elected, he was home alone and had nobody to tell right away; I’m sure he’s told that before, but I liked him more in that moment.)

  • GracieGirl says:

    @Tisha: I thought Tommy Lee Jones, too! And this…

    Somehow, in my head, Tommy Lee Jones buying $2000 worth of fireworks and then blowing himself up, causing the cancellation of like RENT or something, is way more awesome than just regular Tommy Lee doing it.

    …cracked me up. Is still cracking me up as a matter of fact.

  • Kim says:

    @Marie: I’m so glad I’m not the only one who remembers those Milford Plaza commercials. I walk past there a couple of times a month and every single time I get the song stuck in my head.

  • Rachel says:

    Thank goodness I root for the Mets and get to listen to Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling yammering on about… well, everything but baseball on some days. The rare ESPN games where I have to endure Joe Morgan make me all aaaaaagh. I think I like Joe Buck even less, though. Maybe I’ll have to test that theory.

  • Jaybird says:

    James Lileks has a whole site devoted to those fusty Googie-style motels and coffee shops. The man loves him some Googie. And some awkward “Do the hustle!” photo ads, too.

    I love Compulsive Waving Family so, so much.

    Where I come from, it’s Crazy Bill Fireworks. Some of them sell liquor too, which means they’re your one-stop shop for either a great weekend, or colorful stories about how you lost that arm.

  • Marie says:

    @ Kim – oh , yes, those commercials made a big impression on all of my friends, hence the reason one of them ACTUALLY stayed there on business. Sadly, there were no dancing bellhops…

  • Holly says:

    @Marie: oh man, nothing says “summer memories” to me like those Milford Plaza ads! What a blast from the past. The whole thing is suddenly very clear in my head. (I’m from Philly but spent summers on LBI, NJ, where we got NY stations. IIRC, the Milford Plaza ads were especially plentiful late at night, like when you were watching SNL reruns.)

    @Jaybird: the biggest problem with that Lileks hotel site is that whenever I peruse it, I want to stay at ALL OF THEM. Or, that is to say, whenever I take a trip, what I really want is to be able to stay at hotels/motels like those. (Naturally, were I to stay at such a hotel, I would at least like it to be clean and in good condition. Yeah, good luck.) The Gobbler! THE GOBBLER!!!!!!

  • Kim says:

    it’s only “premier” in the Brezhnev sense

    GodDAMN I wish I had penned that line, Sarah. Be assured, this will work its way into my conversation forthwith.

    As for the Showcase Showdown furniture, my sister and I shout “Broyhill!” for any such sighting.

  • Jaybird says:

    I know, Holly, I KNOW. Problem is, you’ve gotta assume that places like that are haunted by the ghosts of Herb Tarlek and Mr. Carlson. Doing the Hustle.

  • Marie says:

    @ Holly – I’m from NJ myself, and I seem to remember them on channel 11 when I was sneakily staying up late to watch original Star Trek re-runs. (On right after the “Honeymooners”! Man, what a combo…) It’s a problem to bust out in song when you’re not *supposed* to be awake.

  • Amy says:

    Add me to the Tommy Lee Jones list. I was picturing him shooting fireworks and wondering if I’d missed an article somewhere about his fondness for blowing things up.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Margaret: He didn’t want to commit to a categorical “no,” but he said it would have to be way hotter outside for that to happen. The car has thus far failed to blow up, so there you go. [knocking wood]

  • attica says:

    Hey: Don’t be dissing on poor dead Dan Fogelberg! Just because his fans are middle-aged granola eating wistful types with unfortunate taste in furniture doesn’t mean we won’t fight you. ::puts up dukes::

  • Cyntada says:

    @Jaybird: That’s my new favorite timesuck now!

    I think we stayed in some of those motels when I was younger. If it looked clean and the price was right, my folks would go for it. Memories…

  • Jaybird says:

    Dan Fogelberg is DEAD?!

    How can you tell?

  • Sherry says:

    Trop’s = Tropical Liqueurs. They have a website, if you want to check them out.

  • Jonathan says:


    In honor of your epic journey, I’m posting this link to show the world just how extreeme (intentional misspelling there) little Campbell can be.

  • joe says:

    trops sounds like a shoot off of fat tuesdays -a wall full of neon slushes with liquor- at the mall of america when the top floor used to be full of bars

  • Val says:

    Fat Tuesdays is alive and well on the main drag at the uber-fratty Arizona State University. Drunk-people watching goes to whole new levels when alcoholic slurpees are involved.

  • Becca says:

    @jaybird – Sounds like a great idea as long as you’re not looking to establish a repeat customer base.

  • Jaybird says:

    Hee. Because if there’s anything you want, it’s a bunch of sloshed regulars lookin’ to blow up stuff. I hope they sell adult novelties, too, just to hit ALL the high spots. There’s a whole season of Sheriff John Bunnell fodder, right there.

  • Margaret in CO says:

    My sister has a sort of variation of Compulsive Waving Family – as her passenger in the shotgun seat, it’s up to you to make other travellers laugh. The glovebox is full of props – glasses with slinky-eyes, vampire teeth, a half-mask with a way-larger-than-life grin, clown wig, etc. Road trips should be fun!

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