Where’s the Meat?!

Travels with Smartacus: The final chapter

Question: Suppose you fell in love with an easy chair at a Comfort Inn in eastern Colorado, and in the process of shoving it out the motel window to your car, on your way to kidnapping this stupid $90 chair, you were caught?

Would you do time for that? Would it be more than a year? Because, like I said, this is a really beautiful chair. Somehow, I take to motel furniture the way Prometheus took to fire — stealing it from the gods to give to people more in need.

Me, for example.

Just to be safe, I left the chair. Colorado had so much to offer otherwise: gloppy salad dressings and  portions the size of Volkswagens. Seemed greedy to also snatch one of their finest chairs.

Something about the road leaves me larcenous. At the same time, it also cleanses me spiritually, like a dunk in the ocean. Like a good donut.

We re-enter Los Angeles with all this on our breath. We return, as with most vacations, better than when we left.

L.A. is an interesting little town with plenty to offer (plastic grass, fake boobs, false modesty), though I confess to a moment of hesitation as we ripped through the Cajon Pass, the freeway equivalent of “Top Gun” school. Honestly, I’d rather have my tongue waxed.

In L.A., every lane is a passing lane, and the fast-and-furious Cajon Pass exists just to remind folks of that. Minimum speed: 105, enforced mostly by Bubbas in ginormous pickups, the most-sophisticated type of law enforcement.

But we survived, that’s the main thing. Come by for dinner, and we’ll show you some slides. Click, there’s Mt. Rushmore, built by 400 miners. Click, there’s that motel chair I loved.

Sigh.

For 50 cents, I’ll let you gently touch the schnitzel I tore water skiing, one of the worst sports injuries of all time. Click, there’s my schnitzel. Yep, looks like someone spilled merlot down the back of my leg.

Click, there’s me crying.

I sent my physician a photo, and Dr. Steve confirmed that there’s something definitely wrong there, and that I’m definitely an idiot. I didn’t ask his opinion on the idiot part; he just threw that in there. I’m sure he’ll bill me for it.

“Only an idiot would pay this,” he’ll think, and send the invoice promptly along.

As you may know, Dr. Steve once worked out of the trunk of an aging red Eldorado with a missing driver’s door. Good doctor, trained at USC, played a lot of pool, bet the ponies.

That worked out for Dr. Steve, and now he has a thriving practice in the Glendale area, which is where big dreams really come true. But I’ll always remember Dr. Steve best in that red Eldorado, driving down Brand Boulevard, yelling: “How’s the prostate today? Need it checked? I’m having a sale.”

My late buddy Paul – one of the greatest guys ever – used to tell the story of getting his prostate checked. His doctor’s cell rang during the procedure, and the doc actually answered it, and began to discuss dinner plans while administering the prostate exam, the doctor forgetting himself as he decided between Italian and Chinese with his wife.

“There’s that new Szechwan place down on Colorado,” he said over the phone. “Or I’m always up for fondue…”

“Hard to top the ribeye at the Chophouse,” my buddy Paul suggested.

“Thanks,” the doc said.

“Welcome. Now, could you get your finger…”

Paul swore that it was true. Or maybe, in some symbolic sense, he was just trying to sum up the state of modern medicine.

Anyway, the schnitzel seems to be repairing itself, as the body often does, even mine, which mostly consists of pancake mix and gin.

Forget the Russians and Chinese, what America should really worry about are these prancing deer.

I drove 2,200 miles home with a torn schnitzel, and it hurt only when I braked for deer and stuff.

By the way, do you know how many yellow road signs there are for deer between here and the heartland? Well over 55,000.

Forget the Russians and Chinese, what America should really worry about are these prancing deer. Never much for contraception, deer have bred themselves into a very precarious situation. You know me, always preaching self-control. Well, that’s why.

So, Smartacus and I are finally back, thank gawd, with lots of photos and suitcases full of t-shirts stiff and fragrant. Like snap dragons.

Good to be back on familiar turf. One of our first homecooked meals is stuffed peppers, only I don’t realize the meal kit my daughter left us didn’t have any meat in it, till I got halfway through and screamed from the kitchen:

“JESUS H. CHRISTMAS!”

“What Dad?”

“WHERE’S THE MEAT!?” I scream.

Smartacus immediately goes into hysterics, rolling himself into a fetal ball of tearful laughter, responding the way teen-aged boys (and deer) do whenever you randomly refer to anything that might be of a sexual nature.

“Honestly,” I tell him, “there’s no meat in here.”

Which just made him laugh all the more.

Look, I’m happy he’s happy. We survived a three-week road trip together, and the only unpleasantness was at the “Field of Dreams” complex, where a gust blew away my mask and giant dust clouds swept into my eyes and mouth, jeopardizing what was to be a father-son fairy tale moment.

When you’re tired and hungry, stuff like that just escalates. One bad comment, leads to another bad comment and pretty soon you’re snapping at each other, as if the unpleasantness is the other guy’s fault.

But that was as bad as the trip got, though I did think later that Smartacus could’ve been more sympathetic when I ripped the schnitzel clear outta my leg. Lot of dudes my age would’ve guzzled a bunch of Jameson’s. I just took some Ibuprofen and a couple of Coors. Maybe three, that’s it.

Do I get any credit for gutting it out like that? No. Because I’m a dad, and dads are just expected to gut things out. Fair enough. There is also lots of good stuff about being a dad, though nothing jumps to mind.

If I think of something, I’ll text you.

Come by for dinner, and we’ll show you some slides from our trip. Click, there’s Mt. Rushmore. Click, there’s that motel chair I loved. #ChrisErskineLA #roadtrips #schnitzels

Meanwhile, props to our friends in the heartland for their amazing hospitality and to the great folks we encountered along the way, including the supermarket clerk who, while collecting carts, spotted our California plates and grumbled how “nobody works out there.”

“My wife used to run a law office in Menlo Park and…”

In cases like that, all you can do is thank the stranger for his thoughts and wish him a great day. Maybe then he’ll go a little easier on Californians like me who don’t work very hard (though probably not).

And props to the grand and glorious Susie “No Kiss” Kelly, for a wonderful date, capped by a spontaneous showing of near-affection. Surest way to get my attention is to feign disinterest.

Yeah, I’m that kind of guy — a certified idiot, as confirmed by Dr. Steve.

And, my schnitzel still hurts, did I mention that? But only when I breathe.

24 thoughts on “Where’s the Meat?!

  1. On a trip to Denver some years ago, I went into a CVS to check my blood pressure. When I couldn’t find the machine, I asked and was told they didn’t have one. I said I lived in Los Angeles and CVS stores had them there. The clerk’s face said, “Well, there you go…:”

  2. We’re glad you’re back! Sorry about your schnitzel.
    I will be going on vacation in three weeks, but mine won’t be near as interesting as yours.

  3. Oh, how I long for just one more road trip with our daughter: Best dad and daughter time ever. Denver to Westchester (LMU) in August and the reverse in May. Tolerated each other’s music choices, cheap accommodations in St. George, In-n-Out in Barstow, white knuckled on Cajon Pass. When you drop Smartacus off at CSU or DU or UCCS, give your Colorado correspondents a heads up. We can guide you to the best greasy hash browns and local delicacies (Rocky Mountain Oysters, anyone?) And thanks for the French 75 shout out.

  4. I could have done without the graphic schnitzel photo, but glad you are back in one piece and healing! So, which town had the best hash browns? Wasn’t that the whole point of the trip?

      1. That’s quite a colorful schnitzel, Chris! It looks very painful and I hope it heals soon. Have you been icing it? It works for my pain. I enjoyed reading about your trip with Smarticus. I remember when you wrote about him being born and a small child, so it’s hard to believe that he’ll be heading to college.

  5. Ouch! You weren’t kidding. “Come by for dinner…” When, where, what time? Love to see those slides. I’ll bring Aquarium pictures.

  6. Congratulations on an amazing vacation with Smartacus. That fact that you guys got along says a lot (either he is a very mature teenager, or…….) Welcome back to LaLa Land!

  7. Your travels with Smartacus was indeed an odyssey — and BTW: can anybody actually spell the word “odyssey” without consulting a dictionary? I sure as hell can’t. Anyway … I looked forward to each new chapter in the series with anticipation, then read each with pleasure, and as always happens at the end of a good book, movie, or any other work of art, was – and am – sorry that it’s over. Thanks for taking us along on the ride.

    And man, good luck with that schnitzel. I’ll bet that hurts, as my sainted mother used to say, “like the dickens.”

    I can only assume she was not referring to Charles.

  8. Welcome home! I loved traveling with you!
    Ouch!! Mend quickly!! Go directly to G and T
    For pain meds!

  9. Loved your writing and still do. Welcome home and the note about the peppers. My mom used to make them with minced meat and tomato sauce. Your trip reminded me of one with my grandson where blinded he stuck a needle in a map and off we went. Ended up in a small town of 500 people. Great trip.

  10. The problem with the schnitzel is that if it doesn’t repair tightly, then you butt is going to sag.

  11. Man, that is a bad lookin’ schnitzel!! My advice is to get over to Ercoles in Manhattan Beach and don’t stop drinking gin and tonics and eating pastrami on rye with mustard. Nothing else, till the schnitzel is A-OK. Works every time!
    joe sevilla

  12. Yikes. That schnitzel looks not only like someone spilled merlot down the back of your leg…but they smacked the whole bottle against it. Were you in tavern brawl? Looks painful. Take 2 gin & tonic and call me in the morning. Glad you both got back safely. So fun to tag along for the ride like a silent third wheel. Your stories made us laugh (out loud) in the midst of a global pandemic. Thank you!

  13. Loved your road trip reports! I sure hope your schnitzel is healing nicely. Can’t wait for your next book. Give us a teaser—-this year or next?

      1. Hi L, Chris. You sent your response to the wrong Gail. My last name is Suber and her last name is Pogue.

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