fiftyfifty tour blog - a not quite chronological compilation

everyday life changers 

We've been learning a lot about living on the road, but there are a few things that are relatively new to us that have been worth their weight in gold on this tour so far. Here are a few that come to mind first:

Planet Fitness Black Card: This one is the quad-fecta: workouts, showers, overnight parking location (sometimes), and purple frooties! My Black Card Planet Fitness membership allows me to visit any club in the U.S. (they’re expanding like crazy!) and bring a guest each time. My default guest is Derek, and we’ll often seek out a PF for a workout but also for the showers. We do have a shower in our RV but taking showers in it fills our tanks really quickly, so it’s so much easier to take hot showers at PF, especially earned after a workout. We’ve even done a couple of “clopens:” when I worked at a coffee shop, if you had to work until close one night and then open again the next morning, it was called a “clopen” shift. So even though many of the PF locations are 24 hours a day (so by definition they don't actually close), we’ll pull in late at night, work out and shower, then ask if we could sleep in the parking lot in our RV for a few hours. We’d get our 8 hours of shut-eye, then go back inside to work out in the morning before heading off for the next thing that day. Finally (and maybe best for me - I have such a sweet tooth) I can pick up a few purple frooties at most locations, too, which reminds me of my childhood. 

iPass: True, we've had this for a while, and it's great to use in and around Chicago, but on this tour, our iPass has saved us so much time (and in some places, money). We don't have to be scrounging around panicking for $2.50 worth of change on the floor as we're driving up to the gate! The iPass works not only in Illinois but is also compatible with the EZ Pass system, which is all over the northeast. We have ours on auto-replenish, so we really don’t have to think about it. We’ll check our account every once in a while to make sure it’s correct, but overall it’s been out of sight, out of mind. And we can save our quarters for laundry. Or for Derek's habit of looking at the back of every one to see what state they feature, ha.

Spotify Premium: along with our brand new unlimited data plan from Verizon (I know, welcome to the 21st century, ha), we now spring for a Spotify Premium membership, and it has been such an easy $10/month to spend. We have access to all sorts of music, and most of the time have enough cell service for streaming to be perfectly smooth. I think we were both wondering how it was going to be, and it’s been awesome. One day Oldies, one day Hamilton, one day Pitchfork's top 50 albums of 2017, etc. It's not news to anyone who knows me that I love libraries, and this feels similar, albeit not totally free (womp womp). In a library, you can check out a book just because you like the cover, because you like the pun the words make in the title, or because you want a blue book on your shelf for a few weeks. With Spotify, you can have the same fickle reasons for trying out new music. There are several articles we've read that say most people stop seeking out new music between age 30-33, and so we want to buck that trend and keep our ears out for fresh inspiration. Spotify is indispensable for that.

McDonalds: I almost cringe admitting this, but I have to be real: I honestly would rather be in a local coffee shop every time we stop for "office hours," but our pocketbooks like McDonald's more, and it has a lot to offer. We bring in our laptops and plug in (usually - there have been a couple of locations with ZERO outlets in the dining area), buy a couple of things (usually off the dollar menu, including a large $1 coffee that we both share; is that wrong?), connect to the free wifi, and get a bunch of work done. We've never been to a McDonalds yet that hasn't had room for us to park our RV out of the way, and each location has plenty of seating inside so we never feel like we're taking up space that other customers would be using. Obviously, they're everywhere, and often right on the way to our next location, so super convenient. During October, we were actually pretty lucky with their "instant win" game, too, so had several free fries, a couple of breakfast sandwiches, and even a McFlurry to redeem, but even though that's over now, we're still here probably once a week or so. In fact, that's were I'm typing this right now.

This post is not sponsored by any of these companies (although if anyone is reading this who has an in, feel free to contact us!) – they’re just things we’ve found useful and probably could do without, but wouldn't want to. I'm always curious about the everyday things that make a difference in other people's lives, too - what are those things for you?

Tenor of the Trip #2 

Periodically, Derek and I are both going to answer some prompts to get a snapshot of what we're up to and how we're feeling. Below, you'll find the latest installment, but if you have suggestions of things to add or things you're interested in learning, let me know. 

Current location – Allentown, PA 

Mileage - 4961 

State count - 19 of 50 (can you believe it?!) 

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Learning: 

  • D - Double-tonguing while circular breathing, true triple-tonguing (long story, but I’m excited) 
  • R – more about Mark Twain after visiting his home and museum in Hartford, CT 

Reading: 

  • D – This 50 States book 
  • R – Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante (currently starting #3), Short stories by George Saunders (Tenth of December) and Tom Hanks (Uncommon Type

Eating: 

  • R – purple frooties (from Planet Fitness) 
  • D – McDonald’s sausage egg and cheese biscuit sandwich 

Loving: 

  • D – McDonald’s sausage egg and cheese biscuit sandwich, ha!
  • R – the gorgeous fall leaves everywhere for the last month! 

Posting: 

Missing: 

  • D – cereal every morning 
  • R – consistent refrigeration (could be a longer story, but the gist is when we’re boondocking, it means our fridge isn’t running…) 

Feeling: 

  • D – Good. Ups and downs of constant traveling but mostly ups.
  • R – Like this whole thing is going by too quickly!

Making 

  • D – Sweet, sweet music, haha. 
  • R – felt succulents for RV-friendly decor 

Listening to: 

  • D and R – Pitchfork’s top 50 albums of 2017 

Wearing: 

  • D – hoodie – what else? 
  • R – black and white striped dress and a hat (it’s Halloween, after all!)

63rd birthday party idea 

Do you know any 63-year-olds? If so, ask them how they celebrated their birthday this year. Maybe it was dinner at a nice restaurant or a visit with the grandkids, but I can guarantee that no 63-year-old you know spent his or her birthday literally barreling over Niagara Falls, right? On our recent visit to the Falls, I became fascinated by the stories of people attempting the drop, but the most amazing one is the first to survive: on this day 117 years ago, A. Taylor was sealed by some friends into a customized pickle barrel, dropped into the river and sent over Horseshoe Falls. 

If you’ve ever been to Niagara Falls, (especially if it’s been since one of the big rock slides on the American side in 1931 and 1954) you realize that Horseshoe Falls is of course where, were you crazy enough to attempt it anyway, you’d make your bid. Taylor was originally planning to tumble over the American Falls but the current took the barrel over Horseshoe instead, which was perhaps fortuitous, and is where all subsequent attempts have taken place. 

Not only was Taylor 63 (although claimed to be mid-40s), and not only was it late October (and therefore icy cold), and not only had no one ever done it before (talk about terrifying!), but did I mention that the A. stands for Annie? That’s right – a woman was the brave soul who first tumbled over the Falls and lived to tell the tale. So I now declare Oct. 24 to be Annie Edson Taylor Day, celebrating brave women the world over!   

Evidently Taylor hoped to profit financially from the endeavor (as a schoolteacher nearing retirement she didn't have a lot in the bank), although that didn’t pan out. For a while after the feat, Taylor made some money for speaking engagements about the adventure, touring with a manager and the very barrel itself, but shortly thereafter the manager ran away with the barrel* and Taylor spent most of the earnings up to that point trying to track them down. She lived almost twenty years after her tumble, and was fittingly buried in the "Stunter's Rest" section of the Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls, NY.

I don’t have permission for any pics of the feat, but check out a few other locations – wikipedia and the history channel website - or google image search it to see her being helped out of the barrel (in her dress!), but here's a pic of us at Niagara Falls.

*Typical, amiright? That sexy barrel. Simply irresistible.

there's so much more to NY than the City (Obvious Lesson of the Day) 

We spent most of last week in NY state, and I have to say, we can’t wait to get back! Of course the weather was helpful (70s and mostly sunny), but from magnificent Niagara Falls to “Gorges” Ithaca to the entire Adirondack region in its fall splendor, we’ve been thoroughly charmed. Each spot merits its own post but the place that’s been on my mind almost nonstop these past few days is Ithaca, a city of about 30,000 in the Finger Lakes region of NY. 

Ithaca has a “Portland” vibe (am I allowed to say that if I’ve never actually been to Portland?), with Subarus and Volvos dominating the parking lots and steep hills. Therv* navigated said hills pretty well, although I'm sure he, for one, was happy to move on to more level pastures eventually, ha. Before Derek's performance at Ithaca College, we sampled the fare at Collegetown Bagels, ate ice cream made with milk from the Cornell cows (at the on-campus creamery!), and wound our way out to a secluded bench overlooking Cayuga Lake, where we read for a while and enjoyed the perfect weather while eating fruit snacks. But the food we enjoyed most was the home-cooked meal provided by our hosts after the concert that evening. In fact, in the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that part of the good vibe of the city likely stemmed from our time with those hosts inside their home, swapping travel stories and playing with their giant Old English Sheepdog.**  

The area surrounding Ithaca is enticing, too. On the way into town, we hiked the Gorge Trail out to the falls at Taughannock State Park, which was breathtaking and surprisingly impressive considering we'd just been to Niagara Falls the day before. There were three weddings at the park while we were there, and fishermen wading (and fishing, obviously) at the base of the falls. We were also hoping to stop in at a winery for a tasting, too (there are SO MANY in the region!), but the stars sadly did not align for that opportunity this time.

In fact, for fear of sounding like a brochure for the city ("it has the charm of a small town with the amenities of a big city!"), I should also acknowledge that there were a couple of disappointing moments. First, the famous Cascadilla Falls trail was closed for repairs (but I guess that’s actually just another reason to return someday), and 2) the few Ithaca postcards we could find left something to be desired. We wandered around the (admittedly cute) "Ithaca Commons" in search of something to send to our relatives in Ithaca, MI, and although we came up empty handed on the postcard front, there were plenty of beautiful things to covet within the shop windows. Welp, there I go again with the compliments...

As you may have guessed from this post, I'm realizing one of the fundamental flaws of the FiftyFifty Tour: I anticipated checking places *off* my list, and instead I just keep adding more to it, wishing we could explore our destinations more deeply or spend more time in each one, as was the case with NY state. But don't worry, I've already written down a few things from the region on my "next time" list.

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*Our reluctant nickname for our RV - we kept saying things like, "I'll meet you in the RV," and "Where should we park the RV?" so finally just decided to save ourselves a couple of syllables and shorten "The RV" to "Therv." (Therver Mingus if he's in trouble, but that's another story.)

**Derek always laughs at (or ridicules) my penchant for greeting all dogs, "Hi, Puppy!" and I must say, in this instance I can understand that...size-wise, at least.

at home in Peru, Indiana 

This blog post is only for a certain type of person. Please answer the following quiz questions to determine whether or not you should proceed:

I’m in it for the ____! 

  1. Love 
  2. Money 

I care about musical theater and its history ____. 

  1. More than you’ll ever know 
  2. Not at all 

Small towns are _____. 

  1. Quaint 
  2. Suffocating 

I am bothered by investments involving former meth labs: 

  1. False 
  2. True 

Mostly 1s – keep reading! 

Mostly 2s – check back next week for a different post. This one’s not for you. 

Now that it’s just us, I’m going to get right down to it. The house that was Cole Porter’s birthplace and childhood home (through age 10) is for sale! 

Here it is: 

Gorgeous, no? (And not just Derek – we all know that already.) 

It’s located in a little town called Peru, Indiana (some older residents still pronounce it Pee-roo, but most people these days just pronounce it like the country). It's about an hour from Indianapolis and two hours from Chicago, to kind of set the scene, and get this: It could be yours for only $130,000! Truly, these 4,000+ square feet are ready for the right person to snap them up.

Why did you ask about meth labs, you might ask? Well, supposedly part of the property's noteworthy history is that it was also used to cook meth (insert awkward collar tug). This could be a positive thing depending on your outlook, I guess, and also somewhat historical – maybe the meth cookers were channeling Cole Porter’s father who was himself a druggist (albeit a legal one), or even giving a nod to Cole Porter’s own recreational drug use. Regardless, since you've already agreed that you're okay with investments that may involve former meth labs, let's push that aside and move on to the plan.

The Plan:

  1. Purchase the house.
  2. Clean up any residual meth.
  3. Renovate just a little: create a mini Cole Porter museum on the ground floor that’s open to the public, create a medium-size performance space (ideally 25-50 seats), soundproof a couple of practice rooms 
  4. Set up an artist’s retreat! Artists (songwriters, composers, whatever) stay for 3 months, at the end of which they give one performance, which means the performance space you created in step 3 will be used at least once per month.
  5. Continue to apply for grants to support the endeavor, as it will likely not be super lucrative, but who knows, Peru could become for songwriters what Marfa is for visual artists! 

To answer all of the questions that I know are rolling around in your head right now: 

  • Yes, there is a dive bar and a coffee shop within a few blocks of the house for the artists' various (legal) vices
  • Yes, there is a beautiful public library practically across the street 
  • Yes, the International Circus Hall of Fame is located nearby (I know you were really worried about that one)
  • Yes, there is a river that may someday have engaging activities 

In the midst of this tongue-in-cheek post, I secretly think this could actually be a great opportunity for someone, and am actually sad that Derek and I can't be the on-site hosts for the retreat center. But like all ideas, I'm sending this one out into the void in hopes that someone else will realize it and I can live vicariously through them without having to actually do the work (or inhale the lingering meth chemicals, in this case). 

Just let me know when it's finished! 

growing up 

Some people say it was when they bought their first house; some say it’s when their first child was born; or when they graduated from college; but for me, the moment happened on Tuesday. I’m already in my 30s, but the first time I felt like a real, bona fide adult was when I received my first truly terrible driver’s license photo. Every one I’ve had until now has been fine: not the greatest picture I’ve ever had taken of me, but I haven’t ever been embarrassed to have to show it (admittedly less and less these days, ha). And I guess I thought the days of poor license photos were behind us as a society, what with digital images that can be retaken in milliseconds to adjust for not-quite-open eyes, blurriness, etc. 

But no. The entire square is filled by my face (with no framing qualities from my hair or clothing), which seems to emphasize the handful of pounds I’ve put on since my last license pic. My eyes are weirdly not all the way open, and I have a strange smile on my face like I’m about to say something to the 16-year-old photographer who, just at that moment, decides to snap the pic. Of course the DMV workers can never ask you to approve the photo before sending it through their system (the line is long enough without acquiescing to someone’s demand for 100 re-takes), but I still wish they would’ve taken a few and then chosen the best one, because I think almost anything would have to be better than this. 

That said, if you see me, please ask to see it, because I need to get less vain about it (it IS an actual photo of me, after all), and maybe seeing it all the time might take some of the sting out of the fact that I am not the exception to the rule and have now joined the ranks of those who have also completed this rite of passage and can justifiably complain about their driver’s license photo.

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da 

It’s amazing how quickly the time has already gone so far. And although we’re on State #8, we find ourselves only a few hours from Chicago at the moment, staying with a friend just outside Indianapolis while our RV has a couple of cosmetic fixes. 

I’ve cribbed my travel philosophy for this tour from a friend’s mother: “travel as if you’ll be coming back.” I’ve found this so helpful, because there’s so much pressure in each place to do the “quintessentially STATE” thing, and sometimes there just won’t be time. (Or energy. Or money, ha.) So yes, although we’ve bet on horses at Churchill Downs in Kentucky, caught and eaten “throwed rolls” at Lambert’s in Missouri, and visited the Field of Dreams site in Iowa, there have been countless other things I'm sure we’ve missed. 

So we’ve been keeping a “next time” list and also making the most of the chance encounters that have turned out to be unexpected highlights, too. We happened to be just a few miles from Walnut Ridge, Arkansas during their "Beatles at the Ridge" festival, so we went to check it out. This tiny town’s brush with fame is thanks to the Beatles landing there in 1964 on their way to a retreat in Missouri. The whole touchdown was supposed to be secret, but someone found out when they’d be making their departure flight a few days later, and the entire town turned up to see them off. The town is now a hub for Beatles mania and a music festival centered around the group, as well. It was a fun (albeit super hot) afternoon wandering around town, drinking coffee and smoothies at Dark Side, listening to a lecture on the White Album by a scholar from Chicago (of all places), and singing along with the Liverpool Legends, a cover band from Branson hired for the main stage on Sat. evening. (From where we were sitting, the Paul McCartney impersonator looked eerily accurate!)

So here's to enjoying unexpected opportunities and to taking advice from strangers! And here's hoping we continue to be grateful for all of the random experiences that come our way over the next 8 months, learning to be content not fitting EVERYTHING in, and traveling as if we'll be coming back.

Tenor of the Trip #1 

Yes, Derek plays the tenor sax, but I'm using the word "tenor" here in more of the sense of the "character" of the trip: the mood or gist of the moment. Periodically, Derek and I are both going to answer some prompts to get a snapshot of what we're up to and how we're feeling. Below, you'll find the first installment, but if you have suggestions of things to add or things you're interested in learning, let me know.

Current location - Carbondale, IL

Mileage - 940

State count - 4 of 50


Learning:

  • D - about living full-time on the road in an RV: where to park, ins and outs of boondocking, finding consistency (with routine, etc.) when everything changes so fast from day to day
  • R - how to find the balance between relaxation/vacation and productivity/work during the tour thus far

Reading:

  • D - short biographies of people (such as Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers who Changed History by Sam Maggs) and also Grit to Great: How Hard Work, Perseverance, and Pluck Take You from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval
  • R - An American Marriage by Tayari Jones and Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris

Eating:

  • D - oatmeal for breakfast this morning, made in our very own RV kitchen
  • R - whatever strangers (or friends!) suggest

Loving:

  • D - the novelty of the adventure, sharing/meeting other sax players who are interested in what I'm doing, playing for appreciative audiences
  • R - seeing and catching up a bit with people from different parts of our lives who've come out to see Derek perform

Smelling:

  • D - poop in one of the showers at a Planet Fitness (seriously, but it doesn't seem to be a trend at PF or anything - just this one incident)
  • R - burning leaves while driving on the road today

Listening to:

  • D - solo albums of Shaun Martin and Bill Laurence
  • R - same, and also an audio book of Curtis Sittenfeld's stories: You Think It, I'll Say It

Wearing:

  • D - jeans and a hoodie
  • R - skirt and sleeveless top

Drinking: 

  • D - lots of water, increasing amounts of black coffee (new to me this year) 
  • R - increasing amounts of black coffee (staunch advocate my entire adult life) and IPAs from local breweries when convenient

Watching:

  • D - scrolling through TV shows at Planet Fitness trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to avoid commercials and realizing I'm glad I don't have a tv currently
  • R - nothing at the moment, actually!

Posting:

  • D - new BEATBoX SAX tutorial series
  • R - this blog!

Missing:

  • D - a little bit of the ease of knowing what to expect, having some constants 
  • R - nothing yet

Hoping:

  • D - 1) that this tour will build momentum, regardless of the speed, and 2) that Rachel and I will continue to learn how to work well together despite the ups and downs that will come, and that we'll be able to grow as a couple
  • R - 1) to be able to chill out a bit more about things that don't matter in the long run, and 2) same as Derek's #2 above

Feeling:

  • D - overall, good, but a slight bit unsettled about finding a routine on the road
  • R - a little out of touch (re: current events - must figure out a sustainable routine here), but really excited and optimistic at the moment

Beginnings...and Baseball 

Eating Chinese food the other night with students and faculty from Truman State in Kirksville, MO, my fortune read, “The beginning is always the hardest part.” I don’t know that I really believe that, but because beginnings of new artistic endeavors are notoriously difficult (the anxiety-inducing blank page, yadda yadda), I’m finally just going to jump into recording some thoughts about Life On The Road during the FiftyFifty Tour. (Just tried to come up with an acronym for that but realized that LOTR is already pretty much spoken for. So back to the drawing board with that one, ha.) So here we go: 

On Wed. we drove over the mighty Mississippi into Iowa: our first official border crossing of the tour in the RV. The original plan was to pull over and take a picture of us in front of each “Welcome to ____” sign, but that option quickly flew out the window when Iowa’s sign appeared on a bridge with no real shoulder. So we continued to flow with the traffic into Dubuque, where we passed a sign for the Iowa Welcome Center, wondering aloud to each other if maybe we should stop, even though we didn’t do anything like that in our last stop, my home state of Wisconsin.

“Well, we can’t use ‘we didn’t do something somewhere’ as an excuse because before we know it, the tour will be over and we’ll have done nothing nowhere!” I said to Derek. I don’t know if I was more agitated about the possibility of doing “nothing nowhere” or by the fact that that phrase had actually come out of my mouth, but I realized in that moment that yes, I did want us to turn around. 

We parked our RV (still an adventure every time: Can we park here? Will it fit? Do we have to pay? Etc.) near the Iowa Welcome Center and went in and chatted with Becky, who was only too happy to sing Iowa’s praises, and more specifically those of her hometown of Dubuque. She also pointed out that we weren’t far from Dyersville, the home of the Field of Dreams movie site, which she claimed was especially enchanting this time of year because the corn was high like in the movie. So we headed west on 20 and took a few back roads to get to our destination. Because it was a Wednesday and because the weather was iffy, we had the place basically to ourselves, which I must admit was pretty magical. It was beautiful and bucolic, and the town itself made me think of the word “Americana.” We ended up in Des Moines that night, and now I can rest easy, knowing we’ve done “something somewhere.” 

And although we’re already in Missouri, at least I’ve started this blog at last, which, according to that fortune, is the hardest part. Hope you enjoy these verbal snapshots from life on the road, but if you want to see actual photos, check out our Instagram feeds (@beatboxsax and @wertandart).