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A Tour is Born

#Merica Tour, Stories from the Road, Segment 2
(Click here for Segment 1)

I arrive at Mall of America’s The Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and find there’s space at the bar for me and my wheeled suitcase, so I settle in as the petite, raspy-voiced bartender tells me she’ll make me an iced tea with some kind of peach vodka in it. I agree to it, and it’s one colossal peachy drink that I’d never order on my own and I love it immediately for that.A Tour is Born

I spend the afternoon eating shrimp cocktail with my peach drink and watching Forrest Gump on the bar TV. It’s amazing not to need to be anywhere and I soak in the feeling of “I’m exactly where I need to be.” I chat a little with the other bar patrons about their work and tell them I’m embarking on a road trip to see Trampled by Turtles in Colorado. They don’t know the band–which is a crime—but they tell me to go see the “giant ball of string,” which everyone adamantly says is in Kansas, Minnesota, and Iowa. Turns out, they’re all pretty much right. [Over the course of the next few days, I find out there’s the world’s largest/second largest ball of string (collected by one man), string (collected by a community), and twine, and they’re in Kansas, Iowa, and Minnesota.] Regardless, knowing my friend and travel companion, Brent, giant string is already on the itinerary along with a lot of other roadside attractions. Yes, with the uncanny and timely release of the newest Vacation movie into theaters, this is about to be a “Holiday Road” kind of trip.

Brent sends a message that he’s done with work and nearing the Mall. I pay my tab and head for the specified parking ramp. We meet up, hug, and finally say hello. It’s the first time in months that we’ve spoken out loud. Even planning this last-minute trip has all been done via message, and that has only added to the mystical nature of travel.

A Tour is BornWe head out to dinner, and he drives to the Surly Brewing Company in St. Paul, which is bustling with people between the main floor beer hall, the grassy courtyard outside, and the upstairs where a private party is going on.

We sidle up to the bar and he points out that one of the taps is labeled #Merica!

We guess that it’s a lager, and it is. We chat with the bartender about coconut porter made at the Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh and never mention our upcoming road trip. I’m wearing a Captain America t-shirt, and the bartender (and everyone else all day) calls me Captain. I feast on a fantastic smoked salmon salad and farro salad with poached egg and wash it down with the Cacao! Bender.

A Tour is BornWhen we finish dinner, Brent and I sit outside on the grassy knolls and watch people come and go with their beer. It’s a mixed crowd of after-office attire and pre-fall hipster layers mingling easily. I like this place.

We stare up at the big Surly sign and I say that we need a tour name. “We can’t just jump in the car without a name for the trip,” I say. Here we are, having cleared our work schedules for the week ahead, Brent from his code-writing job where he tells computers what to do, and me from my writing and waiting tables gigs, though truth be told, the writer brain never shuts off, and here we’ve no name for what we’re doing other than “road trip.” Writers name things. We need a name.

“What kind of name?” Brent asks.

“I don’t know,” I speculate. “The Great West Tour, or Trampled by Turtles or Bust, or…”

Brent smiles, “Or, the #Merica Tour,” he says. Brent has a way of getting right to the heart of things in very few words—he, and Hemingway. It’s too bad about Brent’s computer career thing because he’d be a great writer.

“The #Merica Tour,” I say. “That’s exactly it.”

And so it is.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.

Cheating Death

cheating death#Merica Tour, Stories from the Road, Segment 1
When a friend asks you if you want to go on a road trip, you say yes. You say yes, and then you figure out how you’ll get time off and the money for travel and to pay your bills that week. These are mere details that, for me, need to be worked out the same way a person makes a list of what to pack. Say yes, then make it happen.

I’m sitting at my computer in the dining room when my phone twinges with a message:

Road Trip?
Trampled by Turtles is playing in Red Rocks. The concert is on a Saturday. I figure we give ourselves two days’ time on either side of it to drive.

I answer back:
I’ll book a flight.

And thus, it began. I flew from Pittsburgh to Minneapolis on an August Wednesday. Days are easy to remember at the beginning of any trip. From here on out, though, they days blend until they don’t seem to have distinguishing names anymore.

I thought it funny to start out a road trip with a flight. It’s also funny to think that every time I hop on a flight, especially toward somewhere with a time change, I excitedly feel as if I’m cheating death.

light rail cheating deathI arrive in Minneapolis and collect my things from baggage claim. My friend doesn’t get out of work for a few hours, and I knew this when I booked. I’m happy to wait and I review my options. Maybe I’ll take a cab somewhere. Maybe I’ll just sit with a coffee and watch airport people. I receive a text from my friend saying that I can take the Light Rail from the airport to the Mall of America. I’ve just hurtled through the sky on a glorified rocket and a drink sounds good, so I go.

Mall of America cheating deathI find the Light Rail easily enough, and it takes me back to my D.C. days of riding the Metro to and from work. I think about how mass transportation astounds me with its convenience and my ability to get up and go pretty much anywhere for pretty much anything. I also I think about Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and I laugh.

I get to the Mall with one clear agenda on my mind: The Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. I’ve never actually been in there. Today’s the day.

Proving America is amazing, one stop at a time.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.

I’m on a road trip through mid-America, stopping often for obscure history lessons, local characters, breweries, and of course, candy cigarettes. I’m learning just how amazing America is, one stop at a time.

Stay tuned for my Stories from the Road.


Stories from the Road

The Expense of TodayMy local bank has put up signs this summer next to each teller as some kind of financial promotion. Basically, each has teller was supposed to write what she (they’re all women) is looking forward to in life. Each and every one of them, without fail, wrote “Retirement.”

So now every time I walk into the bank I’m met with these “I want to retire, I want to retire” signs. It’s odd. The boss man’s is slightly different; he wrote something about cabin trips and margaritas, which is still an escape from the daily grind.

I’m sure this is just a way to get the bank customers to think about saving more or to think about our financial future. But I think about how this promotion is backfiring for me. I think about how the “weird” way I live my life–without paid vacation or designated sick days or financial security of any kind—and all in the name of art, is exactly where I need to be.

Sure, I should save more. But it seems the moment I have some monetary substance to my life, I find that that’s the exact sum I need to go see a remote part of the world, or to take a class with a Master on a topic, or even just to buy a book and some tools so I can fix it myself. I buy experience. And it all finds its way into the writing.

It’s not an easy life, and that’s why I put heart and soul into the writing I do, because those are the things for which I’ve saved and spent: heart and soul.

Don’t get me wrong; planning for the future is important. I still plan. But not at the expense of today. At the age of 24 I declared myself semi-retired because I didn’t want to wait until I was 65 (or, these days, 70) to make time for what I love.

The last thing I ever wanted was to seek tomorrow at the expense of today.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler. To learn more about her current writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see

Learning to Bob

Learning to BobHenry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “Into each life some rain must fall.” In Western Pennsylvania, and most of the Northeast quadrant of this country, we’ve seen our fair share of rain lately. Over the weekend, a tornado was even spotted in this area. I was up in town, setting up for the dinner shift at our historic restaurant–which is the glamorous life of a writer, by the way–when I heard a dozen cell phones go off with this newest weather alert. Thinking it was another oh-so-frequent flood warning, many dismissed it. (The weather alerts have become The Boy Who Cried Wolf, even though the boy, in this case, is usually not kidding. Isn’t is strange what we get used to?) I looked at my phone anyway, and said, “It’s not a flood. It’s a tornado this time, a warning, seven miles from here.”

Now, this town has been hit by a tornado, and many remember it clearly. I didn’t live here then, but I have my own tornado experience (and hurricane, and blizzard, and even the fearsome thundersnow), so we did what we do: We listened and heard birds chirping outside. It was an odd sound because, in all this rain lately, you don’t hear the birds so much anymore. The second thing we did was to look toward the front door where we saw the awning gently blowing in a slight breeze. These were signs that the tornado was not headed our way, or at least, not yet, so we all went back to what we were doing and didn’t waste our thoughts on it.

The tornado, which was quite real, did not hit where I was. Could it have? I suppose so. But there are times when life rocks your boat so much that you learn to bob, and panic is just a thing of the past. Does that make you brave? No. Does it make you smart? Hardly. But when Fate is at the door, we’ll simply go to meet her, face-to-merry-face, because we all have a job to do and there’s no guarantee that it’s as bad as we think.

So, I sit here typing today as the basement dries and thunder rolls again on the horizon, thinking about this tremendous month of ups and downs, from weather to writing to people coming and going from the center stage back to lurking in the fringes of my life. And I think about the light and the dark, because it is also said that without the darkness, there can be no light. So let’s undizzy ourselves and look straight ahead, unwavering, and remember that it is in the darkness that experience is born.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, available on Amazon. She’s currently penning her second novel, based on the life of a WWII veteran. For more on her writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see

Technically Speaking...


Humor is everywhere.
Sometimes it lies in the technicalities.

Give Me the Grit

Give Me the Grit - aboveThe view above the clouds is marvelous and breathtaking. Air travel allows a person to see that the notion of glory is still there. Some would argue that it’s way above our heads, untouchable, out of reach.

Of course, none of that means we can’t lift our head and look up. And on cloudy days, we simply have to imagine.

The glow of those lofty pink and orange hues and golden light wrap around a person and inspire growth, strength, and other words about large concepts that get tossed around that no one really stops to explain. I won’t illustrate them, either, because they’re beside the point.

Give Me the Grit - belowFor me? There’s a beauty in the grey, the grainy, the grit, all the things that sit under the cloud cover that we wade through daily. Life’s challenges, like the writing of a book, ask that we pay attention, apply diligence to our work, and allow for, at times, constant change.

The view above the clouds reminds us that we can do it. But it’s in the misty undercloud that we get it done.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, available on Amazon. She’s currently penning her second novel, based on the life of a WWII veteran. For more on her writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see

That Ever-Singing Chord of CuriosityMy nephew has started swim lessons, which reminded me of my own swim lessons as a kid. Have I told you this before?

If so, I feel as though we all need this walk down memory lane. Imagine, if you will, a dozen little kids in the pool in their brand new swim clothes, all wearing Styrofoam “bubbles” as they called them, practicing our kicking and clinging to the side of the swimming pool because our very lives depended on it.

The bubbles were football-shaped foam secured to our backs by a blue belt that fastened around our chests with metal clips. In my vast little kid knowledge, I’d never seen any swimmer wear such a thing, so it struck that ever-singing chord of curiosity.

We were told not to let go of the side of the pool. They yelled and yelled at us not to do that because we would sink. But this was a lot of talk and no action, so I let go. Just for a moment, mind you, to test it. I didn’t sink. But I really hadn’t given it much of a chance, so I let go again, and again my hands sprung back to the side of the pool to catch me. I let go of one hand, then the other, and I quickly got up my nerve to let go for slightly longer periods of time, daring to do a twirl before putting my hands back on the poolside. I twirled to the right, and, needing balance always in my movements then, I then twirled left. And I could feel during the twirls that the blue belt of the bubble was tightening and pulling on me. I looked around, and saw that no Styrofoam bubbles were under the water. In fact, on some of the kids, the bubbles were positioned even higher than their heads. It all made sense.

The girl on my right was crying from fear. “Look,” I said, and showed her what I could do when I let go. “You won’t sink. The teachers are wrong. The bubble will hold you up. See?”

She refused to let go, but she did calm down. The girl on my left started to test the theory, letting go of one hand and then the other. Soon the others started, all the way down the row of us against the pool edge. I let go completely and paddled around until I was a few feet from the edge.

Suddenly, whistles were blown and swim coaches were jumping in and that was the end of that. I tried telling the coaches that we all knew about the bubbles now, but the adult carrying me shushed me and had me hold the side of the pool again.

Remembering this, clearly I see that the adults were trying to keep all of us safe. And I appreciate that. I never was, and I’m still not, a troublemaker. I learn the rules, obey them, and try always to think of others first. But being led by fear and simply believing what I’m told, now those are things that have never worked for me.

Sometimes, when you’re in that kind of mire up to your eyeballs, inspiration strikes. That’s not something to ignore. Stick to your gut. Great discoveries are meant to be shared.

They’re meant to make a splash.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Jody BrownKingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler. To learn more about her current writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see

IMG_0797I’ve never really had a Bucket List. But when I decided to go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, I called the trip a Bucket List adventure to anyone who raised eyebrows at me. No, I had no desire to bare all on the street for some beads. But I did have an intrigue about this tri-colored street party, enough to plan it out and go once and for all—or, as we say in the restaurant world when setting out for an after-shift drink, for “one and done.”

Mardi GrasI stayed at Le Pavillon, an historic grand hotel a few blocks from the noise of Bourbon Street. Le Pavillon is a hotel with a tradition of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches served for guests at 10 o’clock nightly. Mardi GrasWhat’s more, guests are invited to sit on the plush and ornate furniture of the beautiful lobby as if it’s our own personal living room. (I was to learn in the coming days that this is signature New Orleans style: a happy and open welcome.)

In the Battle of New Orleans in 1814, Andrew Jackson defended the city from the British—with the help of the privateer and pirate, Jean Lafitte. Lafitte and his men were instrumental in helping to defeat the British. A city defended by pirates? I was starting to like this town more and more.

Twenty minutes on Bourbon Street and I found myself with a drink in my hand, a glitter-painted mask on my head, and a feather boa around my neck. The good times were rolling.

Mardi GrasMid-street conversations with jovial strangers were the norm. Some revelers in the street asked me to trade masks with them. When asked which bar was making the giant hand grenade drinks, my friend and I comically pointed in opposite directions, but later found that we were both right: The Tropical Isle has three Bourbon Street locations. One day, I wore a Captain America t-shirt, and everyone referred to me as “Captain” everywhere I went. And later in the week, when asked directions to different points of interest, I’d spent so much time on foot in the French Quarter that I knew the right directions to give.

Mardi GrasBy day, you could traverse the Bourbon Street crowds easily, and there was music everywhere—especially live music on the side streets. At night, the movement was much slower, and thus, more chatty, especially in areas with balconies above Bourbon because partiers tossed (on Sunday) and threw (Monday’s Lundi Gras) and outright rained down cases (Tuesday’s Mardi Gras) of beads onto all of us in the street below. (There’s a misconception that the only way you get beads is to flash someone. Not true: Beads are freely given, thrown, and traded.) Each day and night, you literally skated on the beads that had fallen on Bourbon Street. (And Bourbon Street was cleaned every night.) Then on Tuesday, you waded around heaps of them so tall that you pushed the mounds to see make sure there weren’t people underneath them.

Mardi GrasThe things I saw: I saw a man in nothing but a thong who’d taken a black wig and stuffed it into the front of the thong. I saw women in nothing but body paint—beautifully ornate body paint. I saw a terrible cabaret show. I saw some definite (enhanced and real) body parts, but as my friend put it so perfectly: “The ones you see are not so much the ones you want to see.”

I saw the Bacchus parade on Sunday night, gorgeously lighted. I saw the Rex and the Zulu parades on Tuesday afternoon and I tried to catch an ellusive coconut as they were tossed from the floats. (In New Orleans, an organization that puts on a ball or parade for Carnival season is known as a Krewe, pronounced “crew.” Officially, the parades were called the Krewe of Bacchus, Krewe of Rex, etc.) I saw parade watchers on balconies attempt to throw beads across the four-lane street to the opposite balconies. I saw them succeed in the endeavor, too. I saw people on top of the parade floats, dressed in feathers that extended an easy six feet over their heads. I saw a parade marcher give a news interview as he drank a Bud Light. I saw float riders toss beads to the crowd with one hand while drinking from a jug in the other. I saw the absolute mess on Canal Street at noon on Tuesday as the parade passed through. I saw the city of New Orleans take to the cleanup effort as if it were no big deal at all.Mardi Gras

I saw the police march down Bourbon Street at 12:05 a.m. Wednesday morning, a happy phalanx clearing the street for a water truck to make its way through. The truck driver then bellowed, “Here comes the hose!” and I watched as an all-out surge of soapy water was pumped onto Bourbon. (You can’t be on the street after midnight. But you can be in the bars if you want, no problem.)

Mardi GrasQuietly walking the French Quarter daily, I learned of the history of French and then Spanish rule, the architecture that is mostly Spanish as two fires during Spanish occupation destroyed all but three buildings of the original French Quarter. I learned that the bend of the Mississippi River built up the French Quarter to now 11 feet above sea level, while the rest of New Orleans remains below sea level. I learned that that bend in the River created a crescent-shaped coastline along New Orleans, dubbing it the Crescent City. I learned that my hotel, Le Pavillon, sits in what was the American Quarter, which is separated from the French Quarter by Canal Street—known as neutral ground where different people and different ideas could come together safely. (Eventually, any central traffic median in New Orleans became known as “neutral ground.”) I learned that New Orleans has a history filled with the intermingling of different peoples and cultures, who, like their brilliant cuisine, find ways in common to celebrate life. I learned to slow down, raise a glass, and enjoy.

Mardi GrasI traveled to New Orleans for Mardi Gras as a way to put a check onto a Bucket List that I hadn’t actually made. And I still haven’t made one.

What I found is that Mardi Gras, the French Quarter, and New Orleans itself are not Bucket List adventures. The celebration, sharing, the community of strangers, and the downright enjoyment of life are like feeling the sun on your face after a long, cold winter. That’s not something suited for one and done. It warrants no check mark. It’s something to be lived–again and again.


“The value in living out your Bucket List is in changing your entire perspective on life, one brave step at a time.”
Jody Brown, blogger, poet, traveler, and author
                of Upside Down Kingdom

On the Other Hand…

Sitting in a dark movie theater, watching all the previews of the upcoming movies–many of which involve fighting or strife because those things make great stories–and I think about how the dramas unfold. I think about the ways in which the hero is put down, the ways he’s knocked around, pushed aside, and cast out. As I think of these things, I picture a hand with fingers slowly closing into a fist.

Then comes that line-in-the-sand drumbeat followed by violins (or guitar, depending on the movie) and the moment arises when the hero has taken all he will take and he comes out swinging that fist, because that makes great movies.

In real life, we deal with all sorts of things on a daily basis but it’s not the heightened drama of the movies. There are times, certainly. Times in war, times in protecting our families, times in standing up for what’s right. But most times, they’re just times. And most enemies are just people.

In real life, it’s hard to do nothing. We think it’s cowardice but it truly is difficult to do nothing. And yet, it’s even harder to come out swinging. But what if there’s a third option?

What if we don’t shrug and do nothing, nor come out swinging that fist of fury? What if we look to the other hand, the one with fingers outstretched, and offer it? What if we make understanding and bridging the gaps a priority over drama?

On the Other Hand...What happens then?

I sat in the dark thinking about this. And when the movie was over, I walked out into the light and looked at my hands, still thinking about this.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.


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