Monday, March 7, 2011

Me and Shep: The Twisted and True Saga

The following is a three part series called Twisted and True that I posted on June 12, 2006 in a previous blog I used to manage. While it was written in three parts, I have re-aligned it so that it reads like one big story to eliminate all the unnecessary back tracking. I thought that I'd revisit it as a welcome to my pal Shep who has joined our writing staff... Enjoy!

Twisted and True

Shep and I had planned for several months to take a trip to Chicago this past Memorial Day Weekend, and like most of the trips that we have taken in the past, this one turned out to be full of spontaneous surprise and undisciplined indulgence. The original plan was to simply book a room in Chicago, see some good live music, catch a Cubs game and possibly stop and meet the Uncouth Sloth for some beer and fried chicken on our exhausted ride home.

I should have known something was going to go awry.

I didn't get up to Shep's house in Northern Iowa until 7:00 Friday night. We were to be at a Chicago bar called The Empty Bottle later in the evening for a Memorial Day Weekend punk rock bash that was called Blackout Chicago.

We weren't too concerned about the Friday night shows, as we were running quite a few hours behind schedule. We figured that at least we could catch the Oblivians with Mr. Quintron on Saturday night, after a drunk afternoon at Wrigley Field with the Cubs.

Who wouldn't base a vacation around this band?

What we didn't count on was not making it to Chicago at all.

I should have known better. After all, I was with Shep... The Iowa equivalent of what Ralph Steadman was to Hunter S. Thompson in Vegas.

Actually, in many cases in my travels with Shep, it's more equal than that... As if there were two Hunter Thompsons and no Ralph Steadmans. Neither one of us is really any good at art, but are both capable of turning on the gonzo switch when the going gets weird.

We don't concern ourselves much with safety and consequences, which was a Steadman trait... And like the Good Doctor, we tend to get easily sidetracked from the planned objective.

In the case of this last trip it didn't take us long.

Since we were running late, I thought that I'd call the hotel that we were to be staying at in Chicago and give them a cordial heads up to our late arrival. It turns out the owner got cold feet when we weren't there earlier, and rented out the room that we had reserved. There was some animated conversation with the hotel owner, as my room was supposedly guaranteed according to the hotel- finding website on which I had booked the reservation a few months earlier.

I was starting to get a little pissed off.

It was already getting late... About 8:00. I had already spent the majority of the day driving, first from my job which I worked until mid afternoon, and then on the drive from my house to Shep's which was a good two and a half hour trip in itself.

My intention of calling the hotel in Chicago was to bring some serenity to my day, which was plagued with unpredictable shenanigans, chock full of examples from the coveted Laws of Murphy.

As is often the case, Murphy wasn't done with me yet. Not having an affordable hotel can be a very bad thing in Chicago. I've spent the weekend on those cruel streets before... And trust me, I'm getting a little too old for that. Not having that guaranteed room took the air out of my tires so to speak, and I became a little bit frazzled.

"Look, Shep, " I said. "Let's get a room in Iowa City and stay there. We'll hit it hard tonight, and sort everything out tomorrow. Maybe we can get an early start and make that noon game at Wrigley, find an affordable hotel and still make it to the show tomorrow (Saturday) night."

"Sounds good to me."

Shep has never been one to argue. Bless his heart. Besides, he had already let me in on the happenings of his day... Which rivaled mine for inconsistency and inefficiency.

Iowa City was a good bet.

There was sure to be some live music, and having once lived there several years ago, I was familiar with the bar scene. We pulled into a hotel parking lot about a quarter till ten and booked a room. Immediately we called a cab, and got a ride downtown, where we began to drink heavily. Chicago cash goes a long way in Iowa City, so we weren't holding back. Shots were pounded as we made our way around the bar circuit, as were gallons of beer. We drank huge martinis at the Piano Bar, and pounded a few more shots while flooding the hapless pianist with impossible requests.

"Do you know Itchy-koo Park?" I'd shout.

"Know what?", the puzzled musician would ask.

"Never mind that," Shep intervened. "Play something by Neil Young!"

"I LOVE Neil Young!" The piano player said, looking at us with huge eyeballs, as if he and we were the only three people in the world who had ever heard of the godfather of grunge.

"Well let's hear it then!"

The piano player then played a Neil Young song (I don't remember the title) totally butchering the vocals.

Yep that's what I said. As impossible as it sounds, he did butcher the vocals of a Neil Young song. But we had a good bartender, so we stuck around.

As the pianist played people would walk up to the piano and write out a song request... And stuff a buck or two into the fish bowl that sat atop the front of the piano... Which of course is what one is supposed to do. Not Shep and I. As soon as one song ended, we were shouting out another one with machine gun rapid fire intensity. All from the comfort of our bar stools.

"Play some Eddie Cochran!... Play Great Balls of Fire!... Anything by Elvis!"

Eventually it became time to go so we each stuffed a ten spot in the fish bowl and walked out into the Iowa City night. The Yacht Club was just around the corner, and we knew that there was a band playing.

We had met the band earlier in the evening as they loaded in their equipment, and approached them as writers from a rock and roll fanzine. They didn't seem to be all that impressed with us, maybe they knew that we were lying, but we shook their hands with a wink and told them that we'd be back later to catch their set. If we liked it, we said, then we might feature them in an article, or better yet make arrangements for an interview.

I don't even remember what the name of the band was... Maybe Shep does... But once inside the Yacht Club we walked right up to the stage and made our appearance known. They were in the middle of a song, so after our initial greeting we grabbed a beer and took up residence next to a curtain that was "back stage." It was actually to the side of the stage, and there was plenty of room there for us to stand.

I stuck my face behind the curtain and caught what must have been the opening band sucking on a big tightly rolled hooter. They were passing it back and fort, oblivious to the fact that I was standing there for a few seconds watching them.

"Hey!" I said, making my way behind the curtain. "Can I hit that?"

Puzzled and obviously very high, the dude holding the joint passed it to me. I took a long drag off of it and passed it to Shep who had followed me behind the curtain. We passed it back and forth for awhile as the band slowly began to dissipate from behind the curtain. There wasn't a lot of room back there, with a 5-piece band and all of their equipment... And our imposing on their little party. There was a couch however, and as the band slowly left one by one, we soon had a seat on the sofa with the one remaining musician. We gave him the spiel about us being writers for a rock and roll fanzine, and that we were here to catch the (current playing) bands act and that we were sorry to have missed his set, but if he wanted he could give us a "sample" CD and we'd give it a listen to and whether or not if we liked it we might schedule an interview or feature his band in an article.

"What's the name of your magazine?" the guy asked.

We told him and he said "Excuse me" and left us alone on the couch behind the curtain.

Shep still had the joint in his hand, so we sat there finishing it off laughing at ourselves and this silly situation that we had just found ourself in. Somehow... Almost magically... We had imposed our presence at a back stage college rock show totally disrespecting all boundaries and had even nudged a band out of their ganja and off of their couch. We could see the live band on the stage from where we were sitting, and we took a lot of pride in the fact that we had gotten the very best seat in the house, without even trying.

Shep and I on the couch

It seemed once and for all that Murphy's Law was finally done with us... That is until I woke up Saturday morning.

Twisted and True part 2

Forget about the guy in the Piano Bar.

Forget the fact that we solicited two bands with false credentials.

Forget the fact the we invaded one of these band's private space, and essentially took it over.

Never mind the fact that we managed to get a cab in a busy college town at two thirty in the morning.

Never mind the fact that we made it back to our room, and despite our session of power drinking, still managed to get out of bed after just a few hours of sleep... Without any real hangover effects.

We were tired... But who wouldn't be?

After getting back to the hotel at 2:30 in the morning we grabbed a bite to eat at Perkins before heading into our room. 8:00 came pretty fast, but like real professionals we managed to get out of bed as the alarm went off.

But none of that mattered anymore. Upon waking up I made an inventory of all that was sacred to me, and discovered that I didn't have my debit card. Murphy's Law had struck again. Now I was completely broke as I wasn't carrying any cash.

Must have been the karma, but it's actually pretty typical. Routine isn't a word that commonly describes the events when Shep and I get together.

I went into brainstorming mode.

I called the Perkins restaurant, which didn't have my card. I called and woke up the cabbie at his house.

"Hey did you find my bank card in your cab last night?" I asked after he answered the phone on the 12th ring.

"Whaaat? No, there is no bank card in my cab..."

"Are you sure about that?" In my estimation, this dude was probably into his second or third hour of sleep.

I knew I paid him with a credit card... And left him a helluva tip too. In fact, that's why he gave us his home number... In case we might need his services again. I'm guessing that good tippers might be hard to come by in a college town, especially now that school is out of session.

He seemed confused and very tired. I pressed him a little harder.

"You're sure I didn't leave my card with you... Cause that's all I got. If you got it, please do the right thing and give it back to me!"

I did have another credit card, but I didn't think I had used it. It was reserved for emergency use only. I didn't have the receipt, so I couldn't be sure which card I had used to pay the fare.

"Look man, I do not have your card!... You callin' me a thief?" was his reply.

"Well I know I paid with a credit card, because I wrote you a helluva tip... Was it green or brown?"

"Whaaat?... What, the card?... I don't remember!" He was really tired. I could tell that he was getting angry and very anxious to end this call.

"Alright, dude. Sorry to bother you at home." I hung up.

I was satisfied that he didn't have my card. I did have a faint memory of giving my debit card to the bartender at the Yacht Club when I bought that first round of drinks. It was almost closing time when we got there, and I didn't remember picking it up on my way out.

Yeah. It had to be at the Yacht Club.

I fumbled through the phone book and got the number. I dialed it, but it just rang forever. After ringing about 50 times I was satisfied that there was nobody there, and hung up the phone.

"Well Shep," I said. "What do you want to do? I don't really want to leave Iowa City without my money... And the Yacht Club doesn't even open until 4:00." (At that point I was still only about 50% sure that my card was there. I wasn't really eager to leave my card behind in Iowa City.)

"No biggie," said Shep. "Let's just kick it downtown until 4:00."

"Alright, then... No Wrigley Field for us." I wasn't even really upset about missing the game at this point. I just wanted my card back.

"Aw, we wouldn't make it there on time anyway... We'll catch it on a big screen downtown somewhere." Hanging with Shep is very easy. Nothing seems to rattle his cage. "Alright, bro, I said, "sounds like a plan."

We checked out of the hotel and drove downtown. It was almost 10:00, and we immediately went to the Yacht Club to satisfy my concern that somebody might be there. Of course there wasn't, so we stepped into Mickey's Irish Pub for a moment.

I used to work at Mickey's 15 years ago... And was well aware that Lou, my boss at the time still did. From visiting with a waitress the night before, I knew that Lou was working this morning and wanted to stop in and say hi.

Lou rocked. Best boss ever, hands down.

Berke Breathed once lived in Iowa City and it's been said that he based all of the characters in his Bloom County comic strip off of real residents of the town.

I knew Cutter John... For real... And had a pretty good hunch that I knew Michael Binkley too. It was heavily rumored that Lou was the inspiration for Bill the Cat.

I had no reason whatsoever to doubt that notion.

We stopped at Mickey's and said hi to Lou, who seemed happy to see me. We relived some old times with him, and then said our goodbyes.

Lou still had that good vibe thing going for him. I was happy to hear that he was now married and had some kids. The world needs more Lous in it, I thought.

Shep and I had a whole afternoon to kill. We ended up at Buffalo Wild Wings in the mall for breakfast... A plate of 25 buffalo wings and a couple of pints of beer.

Noon was inching closer and closer and eventually the Cubs game would come on. We sat and watched it and continued to drink beer after beer after beer... Almost suddenly it seemed that the game was over. The Cubs lost, and I was thinking that I was glad that I missed it in person.

It was 3:00 and was amazed at how fast the day was moving.

I didn't have any money on me to speak of, so Shep picked up the tab at Wild Wings.

We walked out into the pedestrian mall in Iowa City and felt the sun as it baked our half crocked faces. Dave knew a lady from a previous trip he had taken to Iowa City who ran a record store. She used to be famous in some circles, in the New York City underground garage music scene.

As the name Wild Girl she used to DJ at some heady places in Gotham. She personally knew gods of the genre, like Joey Ramone and Handsome Dick Manitoba. Somehow through cheap circumstance and the curse of time she and her husband ended up in Iowa City, where she now runs her little shop.

Shep and I were hammered. By the time we got to her shop we were laughing hard at ourselves and the ridicularity of the whole weekend so far. She immediately recognized Shep and they broke off into conversation. I browsed around in her store, looking at old vinyl albums and cassettes, and the little novelty signs and figures that made up the rest of her merchandise. She kept a pretty killer t-shirt rack and also sold wrestling figurines and the like. It was a very cool store.

After a bit of conversation she announced that she needed some caffeine and wondered if we would mind keeping an eye on her shop. We looked at each other and shrugged. Of course we didn't mind. She was only to be gone for a few moments she said, and asked us if we wanted anything.

I didn't. Shep ordered iced coffee.

She left and Shep and I were left to mind her store. We had fun playing with the little wrestling figures and reading her signs. Then I discovered a row of vintage wrestling masks on a high shelf and put one on. Shep, following my lead put one on too. Suddenly we were transformed into the Mexican wrestling icon, El Santo.

Real life Santo with The Blue Demon

Two Santos in the same store. Side by side. A hell of a force to reckon with, you can be sure. We were eager for some customers to walk in, and we were still very drunk.

There was nobody in the store, so I tried to put Shep in a souflex. He was too quick however and countered my attack with a Boston Crab. It hurt, but I struggled and eventually broke free. Not enjoying the pain, I rushed Shep for a quick take down. The idea was that I'd get him down on the ground, work a quick reversal on him, and get him in position for the Pile driver. I wasn't really going to finish him off, but wanted to set a precedent as a means to let him know that I was the faster wrestler.

After all, we were wearing El Santo masks.

I was wrong again. He blocked my reversal and held me down on the hardwood floor wrapping me up tight in a curled ball. Then we got customers.

As the couple walked in, I was wrapped up tighter than an El Rey burrito unable to move. With his free hand Shep pounded his palm on the wooden floor to the count of three. He stood up with his hands raised high in the air celebrating his victory.

The couple looked around as if to see who was running the shop.

"Can I help you guys?" I asked, getting to my feet.

They blew me off. After browsing for a few moments they left without buying anything. I'm not sure if they even spoke at all. I went and sat behind the counter still wearing the mask.

Wild Girl soon arrived, and laughed at us in our wrestling masks.

"El Santo is one of my all time favorite heroes, she said. That's why I sell his mask here and not just anybody's."

"Yeah, we like it too man," said Shep.

"It like makes us want to wrestle and shit, " I chimed. "These masks are freakin' killer."

"Would you give us a deal on two?" asked Shep.

"Of course I will, guys..."

So the transaction was made. Dave paid her for two masks which we had not yet taken off of our heads. I could tell that there was an invisible challenge in the air... That Shep was going to leave his mask on as long as I did. Of course, I wasn't going to take mine off until he did...

"Hey," I asked Wild Girl. "Do you have a magic marker... and some cardboard or paper or something?"

"Yeah... What for?" she asked.

"I wanna make a sign."

She got me a marker and some paper, and I began to write: Will Wrestle for Food. Iowa City is a pretty freewheeling town. Street musicians and peddlers are rampant; it's not uncommon to be approached by some scrounge on the street looking for a free hand out. Frankly, I have no time for these people, so I decided to make a mockery of the whole thing.

So suddenly Shep and I are standing in the pedestrian mall wearing wrestling masks holding up a sign that said, Will Wrestle for Food. We weren't given much attention. We didn't even generate a laugh... I think people thought we were trying to be legitimate.

Man. This town has seen some weird fucking people, I thought.

It was about time to check the Yacht Club for my debit card, so we started to walk that way. Yes, we still had the masks on...

Twisted and True Part 3

It was hot. The combination of the sun beating down on us and the Iowa summer humidity made wearing the mask unbearable. I took mine off just before approaching the Yacht Club, and Dave did the same thing.

Yeah, he outlasted me with the mask. Big whoopee fucking deal. I was hot. Besides nobody was laughing at us anyway, because apparently it takes more than a couple of fellas in wrestling masks to make "freak status" in downtown Iowa City.

Had we been in my hometown, or say one of the historic Iowa river towns, we might have generated some buzz... Probably got our asses kicked... But not in Iowa City.

I entered the Yacht Club and went downstairs. It wasn't open yet, but a couple of guys were cleaning the place up. It was empty and uncrowded.... Quite a transition from the night before.

"Did I leave my debit card here?" I asked the guy cleaning behind the bar.

"Uh, yeah... I think you did." He handed a card to me without even asking for identification or what my name was. It didn't matter, because it was my card.

What a relief. It felt good to have it back in my possession.

"Let's get outta here Shep."

We were too hammered to drive anywhere safely, so we decided to spend another night in Iowa City. The plan was to get a room, and a couple of hours of sleep. Buffalo Wild Wings was showing the UFC fight on the big screen at 9:00, and we decided that after a bit of a nap that we would go there.

The combination of a day's worth of drinking and the hot Iowa sun made a nap a very appealing... We pulled into the first hotel that we passed, an old dump called The Big Ten Inn. The lobby smelled like a slaughter house, but our room was clean and it had two beds. It wasn't but a few minutes and we were both sleeping.

I woke up and looked at the clock. It was 8:00. Shep was still sleeping on his bed in a heavy snore.

Cool, I thought. I felt rested. VERY rested.

I opened up the curtains and immediately felt that something wasn't right.

The window faced west, but yet there was no sun in my face.

What the fuck... I wondered.

I turned on the television and was greeted with a church service. Then it hit me.

"Wake up Shep!" I shouted loudly. " I think it's Sunday morning!"

Sure enough, it was Sunday morning. We had slept throughout the rest of Saturday, losing about 15 hours in the process.

Shep got himself out of bed.

The room looked hardly used... Except for the beds.

Our suitcases were nowhere to be seen, as they were still in the car. Except for the pile of clothes at the floor of each of our beds, nothing else seemed out of place. The remote was still on the table next to the television, and all of the towels were still folded hanging neatly on the towel rack. The little basket next to the sink still contained a miniature bar of soap which was still wrapped up in it's little wax paper wrapper, along side a pair of shampoo bottles. There wasn't so much as a drop of water in the sink.

"Wow. We must have been tired, huh?" I laughed. I still couldn't believe that we had slept for 15 hours.

Shep took a shower, and I put on my wrestling mask, which I found stuffed into the back pocket of my shorts. When he came out and saw me he instantly began to chuckle, and I was glad that wrestling masks were indeed funny... Even to the groggy and sober.

Fuck Iowa City, I thought. A plaid suit and an ape mask wouldn't generate a smile here.

We got ourselves ready for the day, and walked back into the hotel lobby which still smelled like a slaughter house. I paid the bill and we went outside and got into the car.

"This place smells funny, Shep." I said.

"Yep. It sure does."

We got in the car and Shep started driving. Without saying a word, he got on the interstate and drove out of town.

Words weren't necessary. It was obvious that we had shot our wad in Iowa City.

We had already spent more time there that we had originally planned, 15 hours of which seemingly vanished from our lives, as if we were abducted by aliens like those campers from the Allagash Incident.

Artist's rendition of The Allagash Incident

It's funny. There is a sign on Interstate 80 about 10 miles east of Newton. It's on of those green interstate signs that let's one know how many miles there is to the next town. Usually, of course these signs list the next closest town, and then a town that may be further away but a bit bigger or have historical significance or something. Sometimes they go as far to display the mileage to a far off distance city such as Chicago.

This particular one just east of Newton says:

Grinnell 6
Iowa City 66

I've always called that stretch of the interstate the devil's highway, but it actually goes deeper than that. Grinnell and Iowa City are by far the two most liberal cities in Iowa, blowing away the competition, with virtually not a single town in third place. In other words, these two towns are in a class all by themselves - the Dennis Kuciniches if you will, of towns in Iowa.

We're all fucked, I thought, if the aliens choose Iowa City as a location for abducting citizens. These communists will break like a guilty child.

However, I thought, Iowa City would be well represented if it happened to be Shep and I who were abducted. Especially if we were still wearing our wrestling masks...

"Where do you want to go?" Asked Shep. We were well down the interstate by now heading east towards Davenport.

"Ever been to Spook Cave?" I asked.

I was looking at an Iowa map, and Spook Cave jumped out at me as a possible destination.

"Yeah, I've been there", said Shep. "Years ago..."

We'd all been there. Every person who grew up in Iowa has been there. It was one of those summer vacation spots that every Iowan has visited at least once... Probably on a summer vacation as a kid.

It's a natural cave that was discovered a zillion years ago by locals who investigated weird sounds that were coming from below the Earth's surface. (Hence the name, Spook Cave.) A couple of dynamite blasts later, a wonderful underground natural water spring was discovered that was encompassed by a very unique underground cave. It was explored and refurbished, and is now one of the vacation hot spots here in Iowa. It is only accessible by boat, as it still feeds itself from the underground spring. Guided tours are taken all summer long, with the guides being high school kids from the local schools. It's pretty cool, especially for Iowa, and as I was about to find out, not much about Spook Cave has changed since when I visited it as a kid.

We headed north on an old Iowa highway now known as the Avenue of the Saints. It is part Highway 35 and part Interstate 380 and connects St Louis with St Paul, earning it it's name.

It's a beautiful highway abundant with Norwegian architecture and festive little towns. Around noon we pulled into a place called the Stadium for some lunch. We were in Guttenberg, a town that I had visited once years ago. The town probably didn't remember me - that I could be sure of. However, I remember it as it was there that I experienced one of my all time great hangovers.

It was the final leg of RAGBRAI in 1987, a commercially sponsored bike ride that takes place every year in Iowa. Thousands of people gather to ride it each year, and it has gained quite a reputation as one of the all time great bike rides in this nation.

In 1987 I took my last ride on RAGBRAI. It was a week of debauchery that I won't soon forget. It started off on the Missouri River in Onawa, Iowa, where I befriended a motorcycle gang. While everybody else in my group was at the bars and the RAGBRAI opening ceremony, I was tucked away at some little hide-away with these heathens, drinking their whiskey and taking all the speed that these guys would give me. I had some Valiums that a friend had given me for the journey, and was soon distributing them amongst my new friends... Who payed me back with more speed.

From that night on it was full throttle, and I hit each town like it was New Year's Eve.

In Storm Lake I rode my bicycle into a roadside pie stand that some ladies from a local church had set up. I was hammered on Tortilla Tequila... The worse tequila ever... and didn't stop in time before plowing into their lovely little table. Pies went flying everywhere, as did the ladies, and I ended up head first in lilac bush. I excused myself as politely as I could, and got back on my bike and wobbled down the road.

It was either in Osage or Forest City where I challenged (and beat) a Native American to an "Indian wrestling match," on the town square, and was later assisted by a state trooper who helped me get back on my bicycle and even gave me a friendly push down the road. I thought for sure that I was going to jail when he approached me, as I was way too drunk to be walking, let alone riding a bicycle.

My neighbors in the next night's campground probably wished that I had been arrested, because I spent the entire night with my friend Jeff inside a giant cardboard box singing made up blues songs. It was thunder storming outside and though people were tired and pissed, only a few ventured out of their comfort zone to berate us, to no avail.

We literally sang our blues song until the morning light.

Here comes an old lady... (Da na na na) Who's gonna kick our ass... (Da na na na) She looks really pissed... (Da na na na) she's coming real fast... (Da na na na) She's beating on our box... (Da na na na ) Telling us to shut up... ( Da na na na ) She's really angry now... (Da na na na) She's kicking our box... (Da na na na)

... And so it went. All night long.

By the time I reached Guttenberg on that trip my body had had enough. The Karma gods (Or was it that awful tequila?) socked it to me the night before sending me on a puker that ruined my buddy's tent. I ended up forfeiting my bicycle for the more comfortable back seat of a stranger's car for that final leg of the trip, and forced that couple to deal with my uncontrollable sickness all day long. They had to pull over every 30 miles or so, to let me gag up another pint of bile onto the roadside. I was in bad shape.

I had a week's worth of hangover on that final day on Ragbrai in Guttenberg. It wasn't a town that brought back fond memories. In fact I didn't have any memories of Guttenberg at all, as I spent most of my time there asleep.

Shep pulled his car into the Stadium parking lot and we went inside for a little lunch. We were immediately greeted with bad service from the bartender.

In fact we were completely ignored for the better part of ten minutes.

"Hey Slick, Can we get some menus?" Asked Shep.

"And some beers?" I added.

The bartender was an asshole. He acted like we were putting him in a bind, and with a huff and a smirk, he threw us a couple of menus.

"Whatdya drinkin'?" he asked, still with a face full of bemusement.

We ordered a couple bottles of Old Style - which we finally got after about a three minute wait. Of course the bartender had to finish wiping down the spot on the bar that he was working on when we made our order. Then he had to flirt a bit with the young waitress, who obviously wanted nothing to do with his creepy advances.

"Busy lunch today?" I asked the grumpy fucker. We were two of probably 14 people still left in the place.

"Yeah." He answered, rolling his eyes.

He and the waitress were discussing who was responsible for cleaning the bathrooms that afternoon. It eventually came down to him agreeing to do it, after the young waitress basically flat out told him that it wasn't in her job description.

I got the feeling that bathroom duty was his job, and carrying on that awkward conversation was his way of flirting with the poor girl.

"Hey, where is the bathroom?" I asked.

"Over there," said the girl, smiling. She pointed to the corner over by the entrance.

This gave her a break to get away from the creepy bartender, and she left the area from behind the bar to finish up with her tables.

I got up and walked to the bathroom. Apparently I had a pretty big piss brewing up inside me because I pissed for what seemed like 3 minutes. Not once did I hit inside the urinal or inside the toilet. However, I did manage to hit every other part of the bathroom with my spray, leaving that grumpy fucker behind the bar with a lot to deal with. Hoping that I was the last to use the bathroom before another customer, I even soaked the toilet paper that was in the dispenser.

Back at the bar, I motioned to the bartender.

"Man, I know why you don't want to deal with that bathroom. It's a freaking mess in there... What happened?"

"It's always like that after lunch," he mumbled, not realizing the extent of damage that I had just done.

We gave him our food order and I watched with nervous amusement as a man behind us got up to use the bathroom. After about a minute in the john he was up at the bar complaining to our bartender.

"John, there's a water leak in there or something," he said pointing his thumb towards the bathroom. "...At least I hope it's water!"

"Alright", said John our grumpy bartender. He went into the back room and returned a few seconds later with a towel and something in a spray bottle.

"You're going to need a mop too," the man said. "There's water everywhere in there. Even on the mirror."

"Yeah, it looks like a water pipe burst or something." I added. "Surely it's not like that every day after lunch."

The bartender went to the bathroom to have a look. In a sluggish stride he came back to the bar to get his cleaning supplies.

"Keep an eye on the bar," he told somebody in the back room. "I'm gonna be awhile."

When we got our food, John still hadn't returned from the bathroom, except for just a brief moment when he retrieved some fresh toilet paper and some bleach. He only came out as we were finishing up our meal and were ready to pay.

"I got this one Shep." I said, remembering how my friend had basically carried me financially the day before in Iowa City. The bill came to $23.79.

"Here you go," I said to the bartender, handing him a twenty and four ones. "Keep the change."

A couple of hours later we were in McGregor Iowa, home of Spook Cave. We did the tour which, as I said earlier, hasn't changed much from when I took it as kid. We rode in a boat with 7 other people... All strangers... And they were a pretty fun group. They had all obviously taken the tour once or twice before too, as they pretty much pre-meditated each occurrence before it happened. Nobody minded though, and it was a pleasant way to end a very fucked up weekend.

Dave drove us the 2 hour trip back to his house in Waverly and back to my car. I said my goodbyes to Shep and his family, and started my own two hour trip back to my house. It was Sunday night during Memorial Weekend. I still had another day off in front of me, and looked forward to seeing my family again and visiting the cemeteries where my grandpa and uncles were buried.

As I drove I thought about Chicago, and the pattern of events that prohibited us from getting there this weekend. I thought about Rob, the Uncouth Sloth, whom I had previously arranged to meet in Ladd Illinois for chicken and beer. I wondered if he thought I was blowing him off... Which I kind of did... Or if he just chalked me up as another internet fool who can't be trusted to keep a date.

I should have known better, and probably should have warned him.

Me and Shep in younger days

When Shep and I get together for these little trips, nothing seems to go according to a plan, so what business did I have arranging that meeting in the first place?

However, In my wildest dream, not once did It occur to me that we wouldn't make it to Chicago...

(Welcome aboard Shep!)

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