Thursday, August 28, 2014

Westward Migration, Day 0

I took a job in Beijing, China. We were living in Ohio, and wanted to see some family members before we left the country for two years. We decided to drive to Los Angeles and leave our car there with my wife's parents.

We rented a U-Haul trailer to carry the luggage we would take with us to China. I was supposed to pick up the trailer towards the end of business on Thursday, 24 July. We would pack the trailer that evening and be ready to go first thing in the morning.

When it came time to get the trailer, I took my oldest son, Articulate Joe, with me. We did all the paperwork, went out to the parking lot and hooked up the trailer, then discovered that our car did not have a lighting system compatible with the trailer.

When we bought the car, the salesman offered us a "trailer package," but all that involved was a trailer post, ball, and pin (not even a locking pin, as I remember). We turned that down at the time. It turned out that our car had to have work done to the electrical system to tow anything. Why would they sell a car with a trailer post receiver and with advertising of its towing capability without once mentioning, "This car cannot tow anything in its present state"?

I went home and called the dealership to see what had to happen. It needed a $300 part installed. The first guy said they didn't have one. He transferred me to the parts department to find out which local dealership DID have one. The parts guy said he had one. Why did the first guy say he didn't? No one knows. So the parts guy transferred me back to the service guy to create a service appointment. They were only open for 10 more minutes that day, so it couldn't be right away. I told the man I needed it done as soon as possible. He said he had openings the next morning. I said okay. He created an appointment, and then in the process of ending the call, he mentioned that the service appointment was for Monday. I said, "Do you have anything available tomorrow?" He said, "Yeah." Then nothing. I asked, "When can I come in tomorrow?" He sighed, then changed my appointment.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Am I a Terrible Jerk?

Trick question, moron. Of course I am. But what I mean is, does this make me a terrible jerk: I can't stand rich Mormons.

Some rich people--a very, very small number of them--are not insufferably pretentious. These people usually possess a great deal of self-awareness and work hard to make sure that they constantly remember that not everyone is rolling in piles of cash at night. It can be done, though. Our ward in Ohio had a woman about whom I once told my wife, "She's the nicest and most-relatable skinny attractive rich lady I've ever met." My wife said, "I'd tell her you said that, but I'm not sure how she would take it." But that lady had to really try to be relatable to people much less fortunate than she.

I had to spend an evening this week with people who are so isolated in their ultra-rich bubble that they couldn't even begin to understand what they are saying that might be grating to their listeners. And I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt and say, "Well, they just aren't aware of what life is like for others." Except these people should be aware of the concept of Zion. They should have read the teachings of King Benjamin. They should have heard Elder Joe J. Christensen quote C.S. Lewis in General Conference: "I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. ... If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, ... they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them."

"A Random Stranger, what do you want?" I don't want to see their itemized expenditures. I know I am not their judge, that they could very well be contributing unseemly wads of cash to aid those in need. But I would suggest that one helpful contribution they could make would be being more circumspect in their wealth. There is comfort, and then there is ostentation. There is tasteful appointment, and then there is a car elevator.

I live in China now. I walked down the street yesterday behind a man whose job it is to ride a three-wheeled bicycle with a bin on back. He rides up to construction workers on break and takes their empty water bottles to recycle them. And I was embarrassed of my riches to walk along next to him in my business attire with my computer bag. His is the more-prevalent human condition, the one most in-line with that of his fellow man. How I could live in this city while displaying any more wealth than the little I already do I don't know. (It's probably as easy as getting tinted windows on the limousine. They're not just for keeping the poor from looking in, you know.)

I don't know. You could say I'm just envious. Probably. Does that make my blog bad? So what? I never said this blog was good. (Oh, wait, I did. Right there in the banner. Well, I never said I wasn't a liar.) It's just those of us who are being humbled by our circumstances would love to feel a camaraderie with those richer than God, a sense that humility isn't so bad a feeling and the purpose of life isn't to accumulate enough cash that you never feel it. Then our humility could stop being the badge of shame we're made to feel it is. This is why I try to acknowledge the manual laborers around me, to treat them as peers. I make eye contact and nod. They appear confused. I'm probably just foolishly assuaging my guilt in meaningless gestures. "Thanks for the nod," they probably think, "that really will help feed my kid tonight. Ass."

Like I said, I don't know. I'm probably just jealous and envious and greedy and covetous. And so the answer is yes, this does make me a terrible jerk. But at least I'm aware of it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

"Ads Up in the Subway Are the Work of Someone Trying to Please Their Boss"

I know I've used this blog title before, but that's the line that comes to mind when I see terrible subway ads.

Leaving church yesterday, we saw this one.

That toddler is seriously licking his lips over a crab. Evidently Chinese children have more developed palates than my children.

Post title from "(Put Your Hand Inside the) Puppet Head" by They Might Be Giants.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

We Live in China Now

I had big plans to blog our trip across the U.S. before flying out, but I was too busy eating Double-Doubles from In-N-Out and cronuts from Rolling Pin Donuts (and packing some). Then on our way here we had the absolutely worst travel experience I've ever heard (aside from obviously-worse experiences like German tourists who get murdered in Miami), and it's still too recent to blog it without breaking down in hysterics. So for now let me just say that we're here and it's not so bad.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Before we left for China I was going to blog about our trip from Ohio to California, but our flight is tomorrow and we're super busy today, so it'll have to wait.

I'm not going to change the time on my blog because it changes the entire blog history, so I'll be living a half-day ahead of my blog's time stamp. I guess, contra Strange Brew, a time code is not that difficult to fake. ("Just because I don't know what it is doesn't mean I'm lying.")

We are supposed to get our apartment Internet set up on Friday, at which time my blog will adopt a distinctly-Asian theme (meaning what, that it won't suck? That's too tall an order).

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Great Lakes Vacation, County Map

I got to do a lot of GIS work to get the Canadian provincial subdivisions how I wanted them. But then when it came time to place over 40 labels, I decided not to do it. So I'll just give a general list, and if you want to know which county on the map is which, fire up Wikipedia.

Day 1: no new counties.

Day 2: no new counties.

Day 3: Armstrong PA, Clarion PA, Jefferson PA, Venango PA, Forest PA, Elk PA, Warren PA, McKean PA, Cattaraugus NY, Allegany NY, Steuben NY, Livingston NY, Ontario NY, Yates NY, Seneca NY.

Day 4: Cayuga NY, Wayne NY, Monroe NY, Genesee NY, Orleans NY, Wyoming NY, Haldimand ON, Brant ON, Brantford ON, Norfolk ON, Elgin ON, Saint Thomas ON.

Day 5: Chatham-Kent ON, Lapeer MI, Sanilac MI, Huron MI, Tuscola MI, Bay MI, Arenac MI, Gladwin MI, Iosco MI.

Day 6: Alcona MI, Oscoda MI, Ogemaw MI, Roscommon MI, Missaukee MI, Clare MI, Isabella MI, Midland MI, Gratiot MI, Saginaw MI, Shiawassee MI, Genesee MI.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Great Lakes Vacation, Day 6

We woke broke camp and started home. Getting a lot of counties along the way.

As we drove through Houghton Lake, Michigan, we saw a giant Little Caesar's statue outside a franchise location. Articulate Joe loves Little Caesar's so much that I made him a Little Caesar's shirt last Christmas, so we stopped for him to get his picture with the statue.

Later, in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, we went through an Arby's drive-through, where the worker gave me the wrong sandwich. What I got was great, but I have no idea what it's called (since I didn't order it), so I can never order it again.

Our original plan was to cross from Detroit, Michigan, into Windsor, Ontario. Windsor is a bit of an independent city (in Ontario it's called a first-tier municipality), meaning it's a county-equivalent. We were going to drive to the other side of Windsor and visit Essex County, also. However, the problems we had with border crossings earlier in the trip made us hesitant. The Canadians didn't like that we signed our children's passports for them per American policy, and the Americans didn't like that don't go straight home like good subjects should. This, coupled with the fact that a small island in Lake Erie recently received first-tier municipality status and would thus require another visit to the Essex County area to finish off the region, made us decide to forego Windsor and just stay in America.

In Detroit we stopped to see the Detroit Michigan Temple. It is next to a stake center, which is next to a Masonic temple. I said, "That's not helpful," which prompted Crazy Jane to ask why, which led to a discussion of the role of Masonry in Joseph Smith's understanding of temple ordinances. This is what Mormon-history-positive parenting looks like.

Also in Detroit, we saw the Brewster-Douglass projects being demolished. I know the whole urban ruin thing is sort of overblown with Detroit, and some people even complain that ruin porn is exploitative, but the two times I've been to Detroit were both times that major buildings were being demolished. When urban ruins actually exist in your town, you can't really complain if people mention your urban ruins.

We reentered Ohio at Toledo. The entire time we've lived in Ohio, every time we see a freeway sign directing us to Toledo I yell out, "Holy Toledo!" Our kids think it's great because they're still so young. Give it time. But this was our first time actually going to Toledo which, truth be told, didn't look all that holy. Sorry, Toledo, but sometimes the truth hurts.

My daughter loves the works of Edward Eager. She is dumbfounded that his work is not more-widely celebrated, along the lines of the work of, say, William Shakespeare. She had me call the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library to ask if there are Eager-specific exhibits in town. (I was informed that there are not.) Her ambition in life is to run an Edward Eager museum in his childhood home.

Cue the sad trumpets: all three of Edward Eager's childhood homes were demolished for the construction of I-75. So instead of stopping to take pictures of his homes, we stopped to take pictures of their former sites. Which might be sadder than not stopping at all.

My wife found census records on for Edward Eager's family in 1910, 1920, and 1930. In 1910, a year before he was born, his grandmother (with whom he lived the rest of his youth) was living at 1423 Collingwood Blvd.

In 1920, Edward and his mother lived with his grandmother at 2159 Maplewood Ave.

In 1930, Edward and his grandmother lived at 2225 Lawrence Ave.

So I can tell you one thing: Edward Eager must've done something to really piss off Robert Moses. (That's a joke. I know Robert Moses didn't need an excuse to pull down people's houses.)

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Great Lakes Vacation, Day 5

Driving in Canada had some strange parts. First of all, the gasoline was advertised as costing, say, 136.9. One-hundred thirty-six point nine whats per what? I was fairly certain the gasoline was measured in liters, but I couldn't figure out the numerator. Finally, we asked a Canadian, who had to think for a moment before answering. "Pennies," she said, which is ironic, since Canadia doesn't have pennies anymore.

This was my first time rounding to the nearest nickel. It was nice, but disappointing when I didn't get all the change I was due. I know it's supposed to even out, and that people who have tracked such things have found they don't really gain or lose that much, but I still suspect that large companies with hordes of accountants can determine the price needed to always come out ahead.

Canadian radio stations play a disproportionate share of Canadian artists. We heard a ton of Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morissette, Heart, Bryan Adams, Shania Twain, Nickelback, Michael Bublé, Rush, and Barenaked Ladies. It got to the point where we would hear a song on the radio and we'd say, "I didn't know this artist was Canadian."

Canadian money was fascinating to our children. Every time we got a new denomination of currency or coin, we had to pass it around the car for everyone to take a gander, including the Screamapilar.

I was reminded of the episode of The Simpsons where Homer's Brazilian kidnappers open a suitcase of cash and say, "Look at all that pink and purple! Our money sure is gay."

We wanted to get a Canadian souvenir, so when we got to Sarnia we stopped at the Chamber of Commerce to ask them where we could find something. The local tourism lady gave us pins commemorating Sarnia's 100th anniversary. Because that was what we wanted to remember, that time we drove through a Rust Belt city that was incorporated 100 years previously. We went to Walmart, where we found a Canadian flag magnet for $1.48 (though after 6% tax, it cost $1.57, which rounded up to $1.60 (cue the ominous music!).

We crossed back into America. You would think that would be easy, being American citizens. The last time I did it, in 1998, a California driver's license shown in Niagara Falls got me a "welcome home." This time, though, the guard wanted to know where we were going. "Uh, wherever the hell we want to go, jackass" was the appropriate response, but instead we told him, "Up into Michigan." This alarmed him because we weren't from Michigan. That was disconcerting. Evidently we now live in a country where the authorities need a good reason for you to not be where they think you belong.

We drove around a part of Michigan called "The Thumb." It got this name from the Lower Peninsula's resemblance to the palm of a mittened right hand. Lots of business names incorporated "thumb" in them, like Thumb Realty, Thumb Laundry, and Thumb Insurance. A guy in our Ohio ward had his thumb torn off in an industrial accident last year, so I told my wife, "He could have used some of that thumb insurance."

It started to rain, which was troublesome because we would be camping that night. We got a bunch of counties (I'll do a post with a map later), and then ended up at a Subway for dinner. It was a gas station Subway, but the employees were still Subway employees, wearing Subway shirts and everything. While I finished telling the one clerk what to put on my sandwich, my wife was down at the register with my Subway card and my debit card. The clerk ran the Subway card like it was a gift card and told her, "There's nothing on here." She said, "It's a points card." He said, "I don't know anything about those," and he ran the debit card. This killed all possibility of us getting credit for the points without going through a very laborious process. Subway is the least-friendly membership program ever. A missed visit requires you to print a form, fill it out, and mail it in. Contrast this to Red Robin, which lets you submit a picture of your receipt. Subway points also get you just about nothing. Being a frequent Subway customer is worthless. Had the employee waited two seconds for my wife's response, or to ask his co-worker, he could have correctly recorded our points. My father's been to Subway locations before that have told him they don't participate in the points program (good franchise control there, Subway), but this location in Michigan had a display on the cash register instructing patrons to request a Subway card, with cards that were identical to the one we tried to use.

We got to our campground and set up our tent. Our campsite host was absent the entire length of our visit. We went to buy firewood because Articulate Joe had a Cub Scout requirement to fulfill, but the local store did not shelter their firewood, so it was all soaked from the afternoon rain. I thought maybe a bundle from the bottom of the stack would be drier, but every piece of wood was dripping water on the way back to the car.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Great Lakes Vacation, Day 4

We started the day at the visitors center at Hill Cumorah. I thought about it on this trip, and I decided the name "Hill Cumorah" is a misnomer that perpetuates a false understanding of Book of Mormon geography. I think we should call the place something like Restoration Hill. If anyone cares to hear more on the subject, let me know.

Anyway, we started at a visitors center. I asked myself, "Are visitors center missionaries such inefficient time-wasters because that's how heaven operates and I need to make my peace with it, or is God on my side and He's saying, 'I know! Not everyone needs to see the 40-minute video!'?" Our kids used to watch The Restoration several times each Sunday and can quote large portions of the movie verbatim. (When my wife was younger, she was the same way, but with Rocky IV.) I appreciate the film (back to talking about The Restoration now--I don't really appreciate Rocky IV that much), but I didn't drive to New York to see a film I've seen a billionty times at home.

The first sister missionary we met told us to get to town by driving up "the 21." I said, "Are you from California?" She said hesitantly, "Yes, how did you know?" I said, "You used the definite article to refer to a highway." We assured her that we were from California, too, so we weren't making fun of her. She said, "How else are you supposed to refer to it?" I said, "Twenty-one." She said, "That just sounds weird."

We walked to the top of the hill and saw the memorial, then we went to the Smith family farm and the Sacred Grove, then E.B. Grandin's print shop. Every place we went, the missionaries said to us, "You picked a great day to visit." (Seriously, every place we went. Like, we heard that at least ten times in the print shop alone.) Evidently there were 15,000 visitors two days before.

I have a lot of pictures to include and I don't want to set each one up with its own paragraph. If this blog post was an 80s movie, this would be the video montage portion. Cue the Loverboy song.

We left Palmyra and headed to Buffalo. We saw Millard Fillmore's grave (and the Millard Fillmore history lesson tied in well with the Mormon history lessons from earlier in the day). We've now seen the graves of George Washington, James Monroe, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Harry S Truman, John F. Kennedy, Gerald R. Ford, and Ronald Reagan (19 of 39 dead presidents). On our drive to California, we'll see Dwight Eisenhower.

We skipped the Theodore Roosevelt Inauguration National Historic Site and headed to Canada. The kids were very excited to visit a new country. They immediately decided that everything in Canada was better, and they all want to move to Canada when they grow up. Which should make my job easier in two years when I try to convince them to move to Australia instead of returning to America.

Since our four children are minors, we were unsure how to handle the fact that they are required to sign their passports. The U.S. State Department website says minors who can sign their own passports should, and for minors who can't, a parent should sign and write in his relationship. So we had Crazy Jane sign her own, but for the other kids we had my wife sign and write "mother." Evidently that crap don't fly in Canadia. The Canadian border guard said he could "send us to immigration" (whatever that means) for not complying with Canadian law with our American passports. It scared the crap out of us that China might be as big of jerks about this as he was. We checked the State Department website again to make sure (actually, my wife checked because she was less confident I had correctly interpreted it).

We went to Niagara Falls. Everyone loved it. So much that we stayed forever. Well, almost forever. When we first got within sight of the falls, Jerome had to pee, so we had to rush around looking for a bathroom, ignoring the giant waterfalls. In the middle of this, Screamapilar noticed the waterfalls and flipped his lid. He was, like, "Why the crap aren't we looking at THAT?!" After the bathroom emergency, we did spend time looking at it.

I pointed out American Falls and Horseshoe Falls. Crazy Jane asked, "Where is Niagara Falls?" She was very disappointed to learn that that's just the collective name. In fact, she commandeered my wife's phone to tweet her displeasure. "I went to Niagara Falls yesterday. The only disappointment was that my whole life I had been led to believe there where [sic] three falls." (She wants her own Twitter account and so periodically tweets on my wife's phone. I guess she's trying to show us what we're missing by not following the tweets of an almost-twelve-year-old.)

A deaf guy tapped me on the shoulder and tried to sell me a card with sign language stuff on it, but I didn't have cash. Remember that deaf guy.

Articulate Joe is big into road signs, so he absolutely loved this sign.

He thought it was awesome that the fence in the sign was an actual depiction of the fence bearing the sign. It was like they were saying, "Hey idiot, we're speaking in generalities here. It's not like we don't want you to climb all fences, or some hypothetical fence. You shouldn't climb this exact fence, right here." All said with only the word "danger."

To avoid paying an international ATM fee on every transaction, we were going to get cash out of an ATM, pay one fee, not have to deal with exchangers, and be done with it. When we got to the ATM, I didn't have my wallet. I thought, "Crap, I've been robbed in a foreign country." This didn't look good for me. Here I was, about to move overseas for two years, and my first trip "overseas" in over a decade begins with being robbed. I'm responsible for my wife and children, and allowing yourself to get robbed is a crap way of meeting that responsibility. I thought back to the deaf guy and I thought, "I bet he robbed me while tapping me on the shoulder. Or else he had a compatriot." Strangely, it made me respect him more. Selling sign language cards is resourceful, but using sign language cards as a front for robbery seems infinitely more resourceful. My wife used her debit card to get our cash (she hadn't managed to be robbed within her first hour because she's an AMATEUR!) and we went back to the car to see if my wallet was there.

It was not in the first three places I looked. Which was enough to make me think, "Holy crap, it really was the deaf guy." And then it was in the fourth place I looked. So that little bit of excitement ended.

If you think the speed limits in New York are low, you should go to Canada. They trick you by using made-up measurement units of smaller size, so you go, "Wow, I'm going 100!" And then you think, "So why is that senior citizen riding a Rascal keeping pace with me?"

Everyone loved Niagara Falls so much that we were even later, then the crazy-ass speed limit slowed us down even more. The sun was setting as we reached Hamilton, still hours from our campground.

We saw Lake Ontario, our second great lake of the trip. And across the lake, very tiny, we could see the skyline of Toronto. But we kept losing time, getting closer to setting up our tent in the dark. And then I remembered the rule I created for myself when I was in that landlord-tenant dispute in 2011: if something is causing stress in your life, stop doing it. So since our commitment to camping that night was causing stress, I declared we'd be staying at a hotel, instead. My wife was disappointment because our campground reservation for that night was the most expensive of our three, and she wanted to see if it was expensive because it was just an awesome campground. Instead, we got a room at a Courtyard Inn in London, Ontario. Which was totally not where I told the Canadian border guard I'd be going. I felt like an outlaw. And then I went to sleep.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Great Lakes Vacation, Day 3

We drove to the Finger Lakes region of New York. It rained a little on the way there, but by the evening it had cleared up. The drive consisted of a lot of Mandarin instruction and looking at trees. I got 15 new counties (Armstrong PA, Clarion PA, Jefferson PA, Venango PA, Forest PA, Elk PA, Warren PA, McKean PA, Cattaraugus NY, Allegany NY, Steuben NY, Livingston NY, Ontario NY, Yates NY, and Seneca NY). Armstrong County borders the county where I was born, but I had never been there before.

We stopped at a gas station where I bought Clark Bars for my kids to try some authentic Pittsburgh cuisine. The package said it was made in Revere, Massachusetts. I was a little worried I was misremembering, but it turns out Clark has been sold several times, and in the most-recent transfer of ownership, production of the candy bar moved out of Pittsburgh.

We drove through Bradford, a one-time oil boom town that was the home of a possible relative*. Then we crossed into New York, where the speed limit is painfully low and one of the first warning signs you see is about bears. This raised my wife's curiosity, as we would be camping that night.

The rest of my family demanded I turn off the Chinese CDs, so we started cycling through the radio. One of the stations was airing a live broadcast of a NASCAR race. My son wanted to listen, and because I'm a kick-ass dad, we did, even though the rest of us wanted to scream. But I learned something valuable: there is something more boring that watching a NASCAR race.

Livingston County, New York, was my wife's 1,000th county visited. Even though we knew that before we started the trip, we didn't notice it at the time, so she didn't get a picture to commemorate the event.

We stopped at Peter Whitmer Farm in Fayette, New York. This was where, on 6 April 1830, the Church of Christ (now The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) was formally organized.

We camped at Cayuga Lake State Park, which was nicer than we expected. However the ground held our tent stakes so securely we had to abandon four of them the next morning.

My wife wanted a selfie of us. The first attempt was photobombed by Jerome, who is an expert at such things.

Jerome's first photobomb.

(We once walked past tourists having their picture taken and Jerome said, "Man, I wish I was photobombing that picture.")

* = My great-great-great-great grandfather died in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in 1848. When the newspaper printed his death notice, it notified the newspapers of Chester County. I can find many records of people with his last name in Chester County, but no connection to my ancestor. So I assume I'm related to the Chester County line, and the man from Bradford married a woman from that family.

Great Lakes Vacation, Day 2

About 30 years ago, my grandparents bought a vacation shack on an island in Allegheny River. They spend most of their summer weekends there. So when we woke up Saturday, we headed to the island.

There's not really anything to do there but sit around and watch the river. When I was a boy, you could listen to Pirates games on the radio; they have a TV there now. We visited with them for a long time. My grandmother's been sick the past few years, so I didn't want to overstay or wear her out if she needed to rest, so we went in the afternoon to ride the incline up Mount Washington.

Because it was a train, our kids loved it. I don't get why they demand exact change when the ticket window has a cashier. She makes sure you put the correct exact fare in the fare box. Couldn't she also give change?

Crazy Jane has a fancier camera than my wife and I have, so she can do cool things like panorama shots.

When we were in Pittsburgh last December, we walked around PNC Park, but it was so cold that we couldn't bring ourselves to walk all the way to the Bill Mazeroski statue. This time, like true Americans, we drove there and didn't even get out of the car.

We went back to the island and visited some more, then went to my uncle's house for supper. We had a fire in their yard and made smores. My cousins (who are much younger than I am) played soccer and football with my boys.

Great Lakes Vacation, Day 1

Two weeks ago, we went on a bit of a trip. It began on a Friday morning. We woke up and ate breakfast with my mother, who would be leaving while we were gone and not returning until after we left for California, so this would be the last time we'd see her for two years. (She might come visit us in China, but it seems like they might only come if they will be meeting us in Australia. So they're not adverse to flying halfway around the world to see us, they just really don't want to see where we live?) After breakfast, we entered our pre-packed car (word to my wife), and left.

First stop: Marion, Ohio. Our family keeps track of its visits certain places, and the graves of presidents are among those places. So we stopped at Warren G. Harding Memorial.

Several years ago, I read The Strange Deaths of President Harding by Robert J. Ferrell, which begins with a story of the author driving laps on the memorial lawn while in college. We had a bit of a history lesson regarding President Harding, and Crazy Jane was intrigued by the idea of President Harding being poisoned. Everything else I mentioned, she'd heard in her history lessons last year. (When I was in school, all I knew about President Harding was that he was the subject of this rap song.)

The last time I visited the memorial, it was an early Saturday morning in January and the gate to the graves was locked. This time, they were still locked. Perhaps they're never unlocked?

As we drove, we listened to Mandarin instruction CDs. I wanted us to listen to Chinese all day in the car on this trip, but everyone else revolted and demanded something else after a few hours.

In Canton, Ohio, we stopped at William McKinley Memorial.

It turned out to be the place to run in Canton. The place was lousy with runners. For some reason, many of the women runners finished ascending the stairs by lying on the courtyard pavers and doing abdominal exercises. Who does sit-ups on concrete?

We had another history lesson, and again Crazy Jane had heard it all in history this year. Sixth grade K-12 history is very comprehensive.

It was while inside the memorial that Jerome decided to remove his shoe because his foot hurt.

We headed north out of Canton, passing the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which was about 1/3 the size I expected it to be.

When we got to Akron, we started getting Cleveland radio stations, and all everyone was talking about was the news of the day: LeBron James was returning. It was very sad; the radio people were all, like, "I knew he loved us! He only hurt us because he loved us so much!" I wanted to call in an anonymous tip to the county.

We stopped for lunch in Fairlawn, Ohio. By the end of the detour, Fairlawn was the third city to make our list of Worst Cities in the World (previous honorees are Tonopah, Nevada, and Cynthiana, Kentucky). One street had about 100,000 cars on it. Every intersection was a traffic light that was not synchronized with its neighboring traffic lights. Every possible eating establishment had massive lines (drive-thrus backed up onto streets and sit-down restaurants with crowds outside the doors). We spent over an hour getting two smoothies from Robeks and some sandwiches from Jimmy John's. Because of this, we didn't have time to stop at Cuyahoga Valley National Park or drive through downtown Cleveland. We headed straight to Lake View Cemetery to see James A. Garfield Memorial. As we drove along Euclid Avenue, we passed Case Western Reserve University, where a friend from high school now works, and a statue of Mark Hanna, about whom we'd talked in our William McKinley history lesson.

Some of my grandmother's cousins are buried in Lake View Cemetery, but we don't think we saw any. (Crazy Jane said she saw one Swartz as we drove past, but she doesn't think it was spelled correctly.) The memorial crypt smelled, in the words of my wife, "like someone smoked a pipe down there once when you could smoke inside buildings and the smoke's been trapped there ever since."

But there were stairs to the roof, where one could see Cleveland in all its crapulence.

Our next stop was Kirtland, Ohio, scene of much early Mormon history. Because of Fairlawn, we didn't have time to really tour anything there, but that was okay. I feel I know enough about the places we go and the things we see that our kids can get a fairly robust picture of things with me as their tour guide. I'm not saying I'm better than the average tour guide, but I think I'm better than the worst. So instead of spending an hour listening to someone drone about minutiae (and invariably say something I know is wrong, which then makes me question everything else he's said), we take care of it on our own in 15 minutes.

For some reason, although City of Kirtland has one building in town that everyone comes to photograph, they maintain about fifty utility lines running down the street in front of it, so any somewhat-attractive photos have to come from an extreme side angle.

It would have been nice to see the inside, but we didn't have an hour and it couldn't be done without paying for a Community of Christ tour (the modern incarnation of The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which currently owns the temple--perhaps by refusing their tour we contributed to the future sale of their Kirtland sites to our church).

We stopped at the LDS visitors center to use the restrooms. A senior sister missionary asked if we wanted a tour. My wife stepped on her toes by motioning to me and saying, "He pretty much knows all of it already."

The story of Kirtland is the story of apostasy. Once back in the car, we got to have a family discussion about how people become disaffected and how to ensure it doesn't happen to us. (Hint: don't have false expectations of what a prophet should say and do and then you won't freak out when he doesn't meet your false expectations.) We also talked about our responsibility to help others not have false expectations, and how our kids should respond when their Primary teachers tell them Joseph Smith only had one wife.

We stopped to eat supper at a turnpike rest stop. It had a Panera Bread, where, after six months of trying at a handful of different locations, I finally got a Panera card linked to my Panera Rewards account. Just in time to move to China, where there are no Panera locations.

We came into Pittsburgh from the north, which is not as photogenic. In fact, I think if I ever move back to Pittsburgh, I'd have to refuse to live in a northern suburb. But I don't even know if the southern suburbs are crap or not. What if the only way for me to drive through Fort Pitt Tunnel every day is to live in a crack den?