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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

I had to move.

This was a moment I had been dreading.  With seventeen years living in the same house, I had accumulated a lot of stuff.

“You’re a hoarder!”

Whoa!  Let’s not go putting labels on people here.

“You have game programs from Penn State games in the 80’s.”

I’m a collector.

“You have twenty coffee cans of rusty nails, nuts, bolts, and some things that cannot be identified.”

OK.  I’m a hoarder.

But I still had to move, and with me, all my stuff.  Well, most of my stuff.  Some of my stuff?

I called a moving company and the guy went through my house.  I detailed which furniture was to go, what I was planning on packing, and what I expected the movers to pack and move.

He gave me an estimate.  $950.00.  Basically, they charged $150/hr with a $450 minimum. If you do the math, this estimate works out to be a little over 6 hours.

Now, quite frankly, I thought this was a little low for a five bedroom house with seventeen years of stuff.  But, I was only moving 5 miles away.  It’s not like I was going to another continent.  OK–it was a different zip code.

I has pressed for time as closing on the house was imminent.  I was hindered by the fact that my ex still resided there, and made it difficult to get access to my stuff.  With time running out, I accepted his estimate in good faith.

The morning came.  It rained off and on the entire day.

Two trucks showed up at 9 am.  Five men started carting out my hopes and dreams into these large trucks.  By early afternoon, one truck was full and the other was half-way filled.

I got a call from the moving company.

“Um, my guys tell me it is taking longer.  We’re going to run over the estimate.”

UnderestimateMove

He paused.  I wait apprehensively.  $200?  $500?  They were just about 4 hours from the starting point, so 10 hrs times 150/hr is $1500?

I barely had the math done in my head (actually, I just did the math but guestimated it at the time) when he added, “Way over the estimate.”

I took a deep breath and asked the question I did not want to hear the answer to.  “How much?”

“I think we’re looking at over $2000.  Maybe as high as $2400.”

W. T. F.

That was more than TWICE the estimate!  How long has this guy been in this business?  How in the wide, wide, bloody world of sports can you be that far off???!!!  I’m scrambling to do the math in my head.  $2400 divided by 150, carry the one, add a zero, curse this long division, it must be a shit ton of hours.  (16 to be exact.)

So this is going to take until one am to unload?

I questioned this.  I even reminded him that he quoted me a cost of 150/hr.

“Well, I had to send more guys.  That’s extra.  It’s more like $192/hr.”

Beep.  Beep. Beep.  Back this truck up.

Both of these trucks showed up with 5 guys (not the burger joint, in case you are as confused as I am) at nine o’clock this morning.  The estimator KNEW he had to send more guys before the job even started.  He didn’t send a second truck later on when they “realized” they had underestimated the job.

But at this point, what are my options?

If I say no.  Do they just take my stuff?  Do they unload it back into my old house?  Do I still have to pay for their time today if they don’t actually move it away?

I am screwed.

The maddening thing is, I would have gotten more estimates if he had truthfully told me it would cost $2400 to begin with.

By lowballing his estimate, he locked me in and then took advantage of the situation.

Worse yet, I paid a trash hauler an additional $750 to take what was left in the house–they didn’t even move everything!  (My ex moved out the weekend before and left me to clean out the house.)

If I ever have to move again, I am selling my stuff with the house.  I will move on without it.

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To quote Mark Twain, “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”  However, at one point, I wasn’t quite sure I was going to make it.

It all started with a vacation in Peru.  Having survived a 50 mile hike through the Andes ending with a tour of Macchu Picchu and losing my luggage on the way to Cuzco (more stories for another day,) I found myself almost home in New York at JFK airport.  All I had to do was to survive a short trip to Baltimore and a three hour drive home to Pennsylvania.

I was sooooo close!

We boarded the plane in New York.  It wasn’t made by the Wright Brothers, but they were probably still alive when it was built.  It was a small plane–two seats on one side and a single seat on the other.  Only one luggage bin on one side.

When I got to my seat and sat down I was welcomed by this:

tray1

I’m having a bad feeling about this.  If the best they can do to fix a tray table is duct tape and a warning label, I’m not sure about the level of maintenance of the more important parts of the plane, like the cockpit and engines.

Turns out, they must have used duct tape and a label on the rudder.  Halfway into our flight, the stewardess announced that when we start to land it might be noisy.  There was a problem with the rudder, but it wasn’t important.

Wait!  What?

Isn’t the rudder used to steer the plane?

Of course, it explains why the pilot kept coming on and asking everyone to lean to the left or lean to the right.

Not long after the rudder announcement, the stewardess is back on the speaker with more good news.  She told us not to be alarmed, but there will be some emergency vehicles parked along the runway.  Just.  In.  Case.

And as an exclamation point to this tidbit of news, the duct tape fails and my tray table falls in my lap.

tray2

The stewardess is now coming down the aisle collecting trash.  I point to the broken tray table and tell her, “I think I need some more duct tape.”

With a perfectly straight face, and no amusement whatsoever, she replies, “I don’t carry duct tape.”  She slams the tray back up and reattaches it with the old duct tape.

I wistfully look out the window and wonder if the rudder has fallen off yet or if the duct tape is still holding.

Sure enough, as we land, there were 7 or 8 firetrucks with lights flashing along the tarmac.  One of the other passengers noted that there were no other planes taxiing near our runway.  Someone was prepared for the worst.

But we landed in one piece, although I can’t say for certain we didn’t leave a trail of parts between New York and Baltimore.

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After watching Penn State lose to Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl, I decided to go out for a late afternoon run to burn off some frustration and holiday sweets.  I am usually a morning runner, but I slept in.  I planned on running 6-7 miles, and surely I could get it in before dark.

Please don’t call me Shirley.

I was visiting this weekend and running in unfamiliar territory.  Being not far from Valley Forge National Park, and having run part of it a few days ago, I thought this would be a good place to run.  There appeared to be a nice loop on the map which looked about 6-7 miles.  What could go wrong?

This same question was asked by James Franklin and the Redcoats.  Neither fared well, and neither did I for that matter.  The plan looked great on paper.

Everything went well for the first five miles, until I reached a point which on the map below, corresponds to a covered bridge.

The bridge was closed for repairs, and so was the nice little blue path I had been following.

I was at the red circle.  I was parked at the green square.  I was as far from my car as I could get, and I could not go any further.

Valley-Forge-1

At this point, I had three choices.  One, I could turn around and head back the way I had come.  This would have put me in the 8-10 mile range which was a little longer than I really wanted to do.  The advantage, though, was that I would be traversing known ground.

The second option was to take a trail which ran along the same river as the blue paved path.  I hadn’t bothered to bring a map, but this same map was posted alongside the road before entering the trail.

The third option was to curl up in a fetal position and suck my thumb, waiting for a park ranger to come and rescue me.

Valley-Forge-2

Alas, I opted for the dotted line trail.  It didn’t look too bad.  Besides, it was getting dark and my mind was still numb from Penn State’s loss.

I made a mistake.

The trail climbed a mountain.  I was weaving in and out of trees, roots and rocks as the sun was disappearing and the already dimly lit woods was getting darker.  Each step brought me closer to a difficult choice:  turn around and go back, an ever longer alternative as I continued forward to what I hoped was the warmth and comfort of my jeep.  But I could sense lions, tigers and bears rustling in the underbrush around me, waiting for me to collapse into an asthma attack with the elevation, or in the fetal position sucking my thumb and waiting for a park ranger to rescue me.

Either way, I was wondering if I would ever get home.  I wasn’t even sure this stupid dotted trail would cross the water or if I was even going in the right direction anymore.

Just as the westering sun was setting, the trail headed back down Mount Krumpet and eventually deposited me on Route 23.  A welcome sight came into focus.  A bridge!  And on the other side–a paved trail that headed back to Washington’s Chapel.

I was saved!  I lived to get lost another day!  I wonder if Washington ever considered collapsing into the fetal position, sucking his thumb?

Probably not.

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I was travelling to New York with my mom to see my sister.  I had been to her house once before, but I had printed MapQuest directions that took me through a roller coaster of back roads that made no sense.

This time, I was going to use my Garmin GPS.

I hardly use it.  I am a man.  I KNOW where I am going.  I also don’t travel much.  I can find my office, the surgical center, and McDonald’s without the help of 21st century technology.

righthere

Now my mom has made this trip multiple times–even having driven it herself for years before ministrokes and poor reflexes led to her losing her license.

As we passed Tyrone, she points.

“Isn’t that where you should have turned off to go to Philipsburg?”

First of all, even if it was, pointing to it after we have passed the exit isn’t helpful.  And secondly, it was not the exit we wanted.  She was off by one.  Close but no cigar.

Now because I don’t use my GPS very often, I actually had to spend a fair amount of time to find it.  The charge was dead so I recharged it.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the car charger that plugs into the lighter so I would have to depend on a fully charged unit lasting me 3 hours.  I didn’t look all that hard figuring it would last a three hour tour with Gilligan, mom and the doctor too, and I had more important things to do before I left like watching Penn State lose to Temple for the first time in 74 years.

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

The GPS died just as we entered Bradford, PA.  My sister lives across the border.  We are probably twenty minutes or less from her house.  But this is the most critical 20 minutes of the whole trip–it is the final set of turns and roads that I am not familiar with.

If I had known the battery wouldn’t last, I would have waited till I got here to turn it on.

If I knew Penn State was going to play like crap, I would have left three hours earlier.  The damned GPS would still have died, but at least it wouldn’t be dark out.

I pulled off to the side of the road.  I was going to throw a Hail Mary.  I was hoping the cord to connect it to the cigarette lighter was in the glove box.  I was pretty sure it wasn’t but I was desperate.  I didn’t even have the bad directions from MapQuest.

“I know how to get there,” my mom insists.

This from the woman who would have had me get off the wrong exit two and a half hours ago if she had pointed sooner and I was an idiot that didn’t know where I was going.

I don’t know where I am going right now, and I can’t find the car charger.  Kettle meet pot.  I am an idiot.

So at 10:30 at night, on a remote stretch of highway, I am going to let my 78 year old mom guide me.

What’s below idiot?

So I cautiously get back on the road thinking we are never going to get there.  Maybe I should just call my sister and have her give directions.  With my luck, the phone would die.  And that option would entail me having to give her meaningful landmarks of where we were (um, it’s a dark road, with some dark trees, does that help?) and hoping that she could guide us in for a safe landing.  She’s had benign brain tumors–three craniotomies, two gamma knives and a radiation treatment in a pear tree.

I should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque.

So down the road of perdition I go.  As I come up to an exit, marked with a flashing light, I stop.  I have the yellow flashes; I don’t need to stop.  Fortunately there is no traffic behind me.  I am pretty sure this was the next target destination according to the GPS before it died.  It’s final words so to speak.

Rosebud.  Or I-86/Rte. 17.  Something like that.

I look at my mom.

She looks at me.

Abbot and Costello have nothing on us.  I almost want to ask her “Who’s on first?”

Instead I ask, “Are we supposed to turn here?”

She looks around.  This is quite an ordeal, because of arthritis in her neck.

“Yes,” she finally replies.

“And when were you going to tell me that?  If I didn’t stop here, we’d be past it before you told me.”

So this is how it went.  Every intersection, I had to come to a stop and ask if we were supposed to turn here or not.

At one point, we come to an intersection with only three roads.  You can go straight or right.

“Go left,” she says.

There isn’t a road to the left.  There is someone’s house.  I’m sure they don’t want me to drive through their lawn.

“You mean right?”  I am so optimistic she will correct herself.  I also thought Penn State would win.

“No left,” she insists.  (She knows where she is going!  She has insisted this to me several times now, probably because I am questioning her choices and my sanity. I am beginning to have my doubts.)

I point out that I can’t turn left.  She looks.  Another ordeal.  It looks painful.

Then, she looks the other way and points (to the right,) “go left.”

otherleft

We did eventually make it to my sister’s house.  God only knows how this was accomplished.  But score a victory for the Geriatric Pointing System.

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To eat Grilled Rat?

A friend of mine–at least for the moment–is travelling in Southeast Asia.  He calls it a vacation.  Disney World is a vacation.  Laos–not so much.  And I’m pretty sure that while there are huge mice walking around Disney, there are none on the menus anywhere in the parks.

Here is his Facebook revelation:

FacebookRat

Eleven people LIKE that!  This scares me.  I might know these people.  I might have eaten with these people before.  Perhaps they even grilled my bacon cheeseburger on the same grill that grilled a rat.  Oh, the inhumanity!

I wrote a blog about my own Lunch Bucket List a while back in response to a list of 100 things you should eat before you die–and hopefully not RIGHT before you die.  Interestingly enough, while sea urchins, snake, and Spam™ made that list, grilled rat did not.  Neither did sautéed rat, deep-fried rat, fricasseed rat, or rat stew make the list.  Squirrel yes.  Rat–no.

Don’t rats carry the plague?  I guess you could get bird flu from chicken, but I’d face that remote possibility at KFC.  But Bubonic Plague?  I think I’ll pass.

It might taste like chicken . . .so then JUST EAT CHICKEN!  EAT MORE CHIKIN!

eatmorchikin

Seriously?  Would I even eat at a restaurant that listed RAT on the menu?  I think not.  First of all, you just couldn’t be sure that the HAMBURGER was really beef or not.

From FASAB--I don't know what Geef is, but I'm not eating that!

From FASAB–I don’t know what Geef is, but I’m not eating that!

And even if it was beef, it might have been grilling right alongside Remy the Rat.  I couldn’t take that chance!

Oh I would eat anything for lunch . . .

But I won’t eat that:

I just lost my #18 . . . Clean up in Aisle 5!

No, I won’t eat THAT!

Or that:

Does this really make you hungry?  Of course, with those spines, you could save on toothpicks!

Does this really make you hungry? Of course, with those spines, you could save on toothpicks!

And especially not THAT!

grilled rat

No–not even with a garnish or a lot of beer!

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Come On Baby, Light My Fire

We recently went camping.  By we, I mean my family.  They hate me.  By camping, I mean staying in a cabin, near the woods.  In the outdoors.  Near a lake.  Or a pond.  It has water.  The whole thing gives me Friday the 13th flashbacks.

I am not a camper.  I have nothing against camping, but my idea of roughing it is settling for a Holiday Inn without cable TV and an indoor pool.  If they don’t have an in-house restaurant—and you actually have to drive somewhere else to eat—that’s a hardship as well.  Downright barbaric, if you ask me, which of course, you did not.

And to make this blessed event even more wonderful than you might imagine (if you have a really poor imagination,) the temperature was below freezing.  In addition to having rather poor judgment in vacation choices (a warm sandy spot would have been nice) we apparently have poor timing.  We chose the coldest weekend of the fall to make our little outing.  Oh, joy.  Rapture.  I have a brain—and it has frozen solid and failed to get me out of this situation.

Okay—the cabin is heated.  But there’s like no TV.  No radio.  No whirlpool hot tub.  We are miles—well, at least a mile—from civilization.  I have a cell phone—but no service.  No one can hear me now, as I scream like a little girl.  There is a cabin next door, but I saw the campers, and they are anything but civilized.  I swear the guy looks like Jeffrey Dahmer.  It can’t be him because he’s, like, dead.  But it could be his twin.  The others, well, they kind of resemble supper I suppose.  But I digress.

The kids want to roast marshmallows and make s’mores.  What can it hurt?  We have a good dental plan.

My wife reminds me that I have no dental plan.  I don’t even have a dental plan B.  I don’t have a dental clue.  Very well, then, I’ll stop digressing now.

I brought firewood.  Kindling.  Newspaper.  Lighter fluid.  A lighter.  I’m not a Boy Scout, but boy was I prepared.  But the lighter failed—it was out of butane.  I did have matches—a back-up plan!  At this point, it beats no dental plan hands down.

Have you ever tried to start a fire miles away from civilization in freezing temperatures?  It is not as easy as it sounds.

Sure, Frosty can make a fearsome fire on a glacier to keep Karen warm.  Drop a cigarette in your local tenement, and the whole block is up in smoke before you can ask, “dude where’s my car?”  Try to burn leaves on a windy day without catching your neighbor’s house on fire.  Twice.  But I dare you to make a simple campfire with wood, paper, lighter fluid, and a match.

My daughter informed me that she learned how to make a fire in Girl Scouts—using candle wax and dryer lint.  She’s quite the little McGyver.  Unfortunately, she failed to carry some dryer lint and candles with her.  My son offered some lint from his pocket.  I had a pretty good wad of belly button lint.  But alas, without the wax, I still couldn’t get the fire going.  (I thought about picking my ear for wax . . .)  Desperate times call for desperate measures.  But I had already done that last night . . .  from the comfort of my home!

Sure, I’d wad up the paper and soak the wood in lighter fluid.  It would light like fireworks on the Fourth.  For a brief second, we had heat.  But half a minute later, all I had were some cold logs and paper ashes.  I wadded and lit.  Wadded and kindled.  I prayed.   Lighter fluid I sprayed, which was probably not the smartest thing to do, but desperate times call for desperation.   I burnt my fingers—no easy task since they were nearly frozen solid and I could barely move them.  I had gloves, but they went up in flames way faster than the stupid logs.

“Try blowing on it.  I think it needs some air”

I’m not sure who said that.  I should have killed them.  Or sent them next door to Mr. Dahmer’s cabin.

Blow on it.  My derriere.  I huffed and I puffed.  I coughed.  I couldn’t make fire but I could easily make smoke.  My lungs detest smoke.  Cavemen with barely opposable thumbs and no matches could make fire better than I.

I’m pretty sure with one match, I could have burned my house down.  In fact, I probably wouldn’t even need a match—I could just do some electrical wiring.  But with an entire pack of matches, all I could manage was some smoke.  And you would think, where there’s smoke . . .well, think again.  Where there’s smoke, there’s a guy trying to melt a marshmallow, but his tears keep putting the spark out.

I ran out of paper.  The kids started gathering dry leaves to throw on my fireless inferno.  It kept them occupied and made them forget about the frozen marshmallows.  The movement also kept them warm.

Bad camper or Super Dad . . . You decide!

It’s just not as easy as flicking the switch on the gas fireplace at home.  Which reminds me . . . why did we leave home in the first place?

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While I am not a technophobe, I am one of those seemingly rare individuals that refuses to become dependent solely on modern technology.  I do not own an iPhone, let alone a smart phone.  I have a dumb phone.  It makes phone calls.  It receives phone calls.  I can receive and send texts, if I choose to sit there for fifteen minutes trying to convert my number pad into words when a simple phone call would transmit the same information in seconds.  Number pad?  I still have the rotary version.  You have to dial.  OK, I’m kidding about that, but you know what I mean.

I do not have to have the Internet by my side 24 hours a day.  (I also don’t pay a thirty dollar fee for a “data plan” which is simply a modern-day code for highway robbery or extortion.)  So I am old school . . and cheap.

Seriously, did Lewis and Clark need Siri to get across the country?

“Um, Siri, what is the best way to the Pacific Ocean, avoiding highways?”

They did not have–or need–that technology.  They didn’t need Siri–they had Sacagawea!

So when I had to take my son to Pittsburgh this weekend for a hockey game, I passed on taking my wife’s minivan with the built-in GPS system.  Who needs GPS?  Mankind survived for thousands of years without GPS.  Did Columbus need a GPS?  Ponce de Leon?  Marco Polo?  Moses?  Okay, Moses could have used a GPS out there in the desert and it might have cut thirty years off his trip, but he still managed to get where he was going without a GPS.

I can do this.

If ancient explorers could read the night skies, use a compass, and navigate their way half way around the world, surely I can find a hockey rink in Mt. Lebanon, PA.

Our coach emailed the team and warned us that the Squirrel Hill Tunnel was closed for construction and the detour had traffic backed up significantly.

Marco Polo didn’t have to deal with road construction.

Our coach proposed a detour south off 22 to 70.

Doesn’t that look an awfully long way out-of-the-way?  Would Sacagawea send Lewis (or Clark) down through Mexico before heading up to the Pacific Northwest?  Is this the route Columbus would have taken?  Now I know that none of these explorers had a computer and MapQuest (TM), but often they did have some type of maps, unless they were the ones charting the map for the first time.  I’m not trying to discover Mt. Lebanon.  I just want to go there.  I have no qualms about using MapQuest.  My maps are on pixels rather than parchment, but the smart explorer uses what means he or she has available to them, right?

So I played around with MapQuest, and tried clicking a button that avoided highways.  This is the route I came up with.

Doesn’t that look a lot more direct?  And faster?

Looks can be deceiving.  And I am an idiot.  It is a dangerous combination.  I am Moses and Mt. Lebanon is the Promised Land.

You see, travel on roads that are not highways, is slow, frustrating, and stupid.  If there had been a highway in the desert, Moses would have taken it.  Even if it was under construction.  So while my son’s teammates were zipping down the coach’s detour in cars, we were mounting camels in Monroeville.  There was no manna from Heaven, but we had burgers from Five Guys.  That’s way better than manna, so we’ve got an edge on Moses there.

Apparently Satan was hell-bent on keeping us from the Promise Land, though, despite our itemized directions.  I forgot to take some vital details into account when planning this expedition.  For one thing, the game was at 8 PM, and we are in October.  It was getting dark.  Now while that might have been a problem for Moses, I did have an overhead light in the camel car, so I was able to read my MapQuest map.

But apparently no one in the greater Pittsburgh area needs road signs.  They all must know where they are going, because you cannot figure it out driving around in the dark.  MapQuest tells me:

Stay straight to go onto Curry Hollow Rd.

Curry Hollow Rd becomes Brownsville Rd.

Brownsville Rd becomes Broughton Rd.

Turn right onto Library Rd/PA-88.

  • Library Rd is 0.1 miles past Gerhold St
  • Walgreens is on the corner
  • If you are on Bethel Church Rd and reach Superior St you’ve gone about 0.1 miles too far

It sounds so simple.

So after hitting 17,000 traffic lights–all of them red–and going through road construction anyway–we come to a place where the road splits.  One lane continues straight, and one veers off to the right.  MapQuest tells me to stay straight onto Curry Hollow Road.  There is a sign here at this intersection that says “Curry Hollow Road.”  But there is no arrow.  ALL of the traffic travelling with us is going right.  Apparently, they aren’t going to the hockey rink we are going to, or they didn’t check their parchments properly.  We head straight . . .

Into the Twilight Zone.

After travelling on what we thought was Curry Hollow Road (and there was never a sign at any corner to verify that little bit of information) for several miles, we begin to doubt MapQuest.  My son was building idols to other Gods.  He has a smart phone with Internet but doesn’t know how to use the GPS.  It’s just a useless piece of junk if you don’t know how to use it.  Moses may as well have had it.  He could at least throw it at someone and get their attention.

Maybe all those other people knew what they were doing.  This was ultimately confirmed when we came to a T intersection that actually had street signs.  Neither of the choices was any road that we were looking for.  Did we pass Superior Street?  I don’t know.  NONE OF THE STREETS I NEED ARE MARKED!

So we turn around and head back, thinking we should have made that right turn at Albuquerque because we certainly weren’t anywhere near Pismo Beach, let alone Mt. Lebanon.

So we ended up back on Curry Hollow Road, and subsequently Brownsville Road, but with God as my witness, we never did find Broughton Road.  Ever.  We thought we had found PA-88 Library Road–I am sure we were on it–but we never saw the Walgreens.  Businesses come and go.  I blame it on the economy, rather than my navigational skills.  So we continue on with the MapQuest directions certain that we will get to Mt. Lebanon before the Mayan Calendar ends.  I honestly thought we were back on track and we had supposedly completed several more steps on the list of directions and were getting very close to the Promised Land hockey rink, when we came to an intersection with a Walgreens.  Cue the Twilight Zone theme.

Apparently we weren’t almost at the rink . . . we were still back on page one of the directions at the Walgreens we had never seen the first time.

It’s not like Columbus or Magellan never got lost.  But they accidentally discovered some cool shit when they did that.  I didn’t discover anything but some dark alleys in suburban Pittsburgh–places I don’t want to be in the dark or ever return to.  And no one’s going to name a day after me like they did for Columbus.

It took us over TWO HOURS to travel from Monroeville to Mt. Lebanon.  MapQuest tells me the route from Monroeville is 23.21 miles and takes 51 minutes.  I don’t know where we wandered around or for how long (I think maybe we were abducted by aliens and didn’t know it) but it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase that I can’t get there from here.

My son missed the first period and a few minutes of the second thanks to my shortcut.  At least his team won 7-1.

Next time, I think I’ll get a TomTom GPS.

Or just take the stupid Minivan.

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