On The Road

A few days ago, I drove up to Minneapolis for a work project, up and back in a day with an overnight stay.

As I advanced northwest through the green hills on I-94, I had almost five hours to think too much. (For my California friends, we say I-for Interstate-followed by the number of the highway, hence, I-94. As opposed to you left coasters, who would call it, “THE 94.”  Yeah, that’s true my Wisconsin friends. Don’t ask. Just accept and move on.)

The last time I’d made this very same I-94 trek was nearly eight years ago in mid-November. Then, all the green hills were covered in white, with leaf-less trees and nubs of corn stalks barely peeking above the snow.

I was heading to a book signing at a Badgers’ bar-Rosen’s-near the Metrodome stadium where the Badgers would play the Gophers the next evening. Wisconsin won. Sorry Minnesota friends, facts is facts…though you probably assumed it anyway 😉

As I drove now, I recalled the unsettling place I was at in my life when I’d taken this same route from Madison through Tomah, Eau Claire, and Hudson to the Twin Cities years ago.

The initial excitement of my book publishing had waned and slid into a stressful venture to get books sold and get paid. The harsh realization I wouldn’t receive any book monies until the following June-per industry standard.

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My book advance-less than $1000-covered rent for one month so my book tour travels were paid for on my credit cards. Such is the standard way of life for a non-famous author.

I was never under the delusion I would get life-changing money but it was more distressing because I’d taken a hiatus from teaching work in Los Angeles to make space for this adventure of a fall book tour. No regrets but no money either.

Once this signing was over, I’d return to LA and attempting to get my life back on track. The thin of ice of my relationship had broken and sunk. Feeling soaked, I had an ominous sense of too much freedom.

Nobody was waiting for me at my one bedroom apartment in California…wondering where I was, when I’d arrive, how the trip went, how many books I’d sold or interesting people I’d met or lessons I’d learned. Lots of question marks at the end of my thoughts and plans.

I was stayed with friends and family and friends of family at these signing stops in different cities to preserve my cash reserves.

In the backseat was a box holding 50 copies of my book, I was really hoping that box would be broken down and thrown out in some dumpster in the back alley of the bar. I returned with it intact, holding a dozen or so unsold, unsigned tomes.

For you Midwesterners out there, you know mid-November is the heart of hunting season. A good number of cars had dead deer strapped on them.  One particular cadaver tied to the back of a wagon stared right at me.  Even with the slight bounce of this head, his quizzical expression locked in on me…looking for answers I didn’t have. (Deep, eh?)

The white Wisconsin landscape spontaneously sent snow swirls along the sides of the Interstate. My thoughts bounced like the tumbleweed flurries and dissipated into the ghostly gray sky.

(Really deep, eh? Kerouac, eat your heart out.)

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Speaking of-Jack Kerouac and I are both former college football players, travel writers and authors. He went on to become a cultural icon…and…I con spell “cultural.”

Nonetheless, his books On The Road and Lonesome Traveler appropriately apply–I was a lonesome traveler on the road.

Not this time.  Now, I have a wife who sent me off with well wishes and kisses, a smiley son whose sweet smelling head I could kiss before I backed my car out of the garage of my nice, comfortable home.

A wife who told me to get a steak and a beer and relax once I’d arrived at my destination. While I loved her thought and sentiment, I opted for the convenience of a sandwich and water from a Panera near the hotel before I crawled into bed and flipped through channels on the mounted, swiveled TV.

Boring but content, I’ve become.

The next morning, I woke up, ate breakfast, did my work and drove the reverse route home.

Thankful, that now, when I looked in the rearview mirror, the only thing lonesome was the road behind me.

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“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”— Jack Kerouac

A Wise Guy

I have a habit of downplaying things.

Upon eating a delicious food object, it’s highly unlikely I’ll say something like “Oh my God, that’s amazing! This is the best!” but rather, “Mmm. That’s good.”

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Perhaps it’s due to my Midwestern, even-keeled, pragmatic roots, observed my California-born and bred wife, that I tend to temper my reactions.  That doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings or passions or enjoy food any less, it’s just that I often reserve large demonstrations advertising them.

She will sometimes become perplexed at my, and many fellow Wisconsinites, subdued reactions; misunderstanding our less than enthusiastic responses as disinterest. Not the case.

This would explain my (under)reaction to when Meghan first told me we were pregnant.  As she came hopping down the sidewalk with a huge grin and bounced into my surprised arms and shrieked, “We’re pregnant” and I replied, “Unh, Unh.”

Not exactly a big Youtube shareable, 1 million hits video reaction. Make no mistake, I was hoping for this good news, of course, from the moment I thought of proposing marriage or even years before this moment, to be a dad. Couldn’t wait. Got good training as an uncle and youth sports coach and teacher.

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To be fair, we got pregnant on our honeymoon, so it felt a bit abrupt, that’s all. My “unh, unh” was not believing how lucky we are.

“We’ll see” has been my steady mantra. Trying my best without requiring success as the outcome to define worthiness of any particular venture.

When the publishing of my book was in the editing and verification phase, others would be very excited for me.  They would observe my stoic nodding and say “Come on, you are going to be a published author! Aren’t you excited?!” Sure but to focus on the excitement was to potentially lose focus on more important things like being responsive to the publisher requests and lining up fall book tour dates and interviews and travel plans.
Those who were worried I wasn’t enjoying the bucket list dream experience of publishing my “Great American Novel,” and surmised I’d really “feel it” when I finally held that printed book in my hands for the first time. Then I’d be hit with a wave of ecstasy and accomplishment, jump in the air and triumphantly ‘spike’ the book like I was in an end zone celebration.
When that moment did come, in the offices of my publisher, after I’d been handed a box cutter to ceremoniously cut open the dense, brown cardboard box that contained some first-print fifty copies of the book I’d spent a year and a half writing and another six months to get published, I reached down and grabbed it, smelled it, held it up, looked back down at the opened box containing a lot unsold books…I thought about all the other boxes of books at the warehouse, “Wow, there are a lot of copies that have to be sold now…I better line up more interviews and book signings…”
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I never got that “Oh, what a feeling, Toyota” jump in the air feeling. But, that’s ok. I feel a steady, baseline, sense of accomplishment virtually every day since. I’ve gotten some financial and all of my emotional monies worth, so don’t cry for me…you know I won’t cry for myself.
So, as it goes with my drastically discovered daddyhood, meanings tend to seep in more than drown me in the moment. When life floats moments at me, I tread to get my bearings and take in everything.
I like to think my poise is mistaken for fear or trepidation.   I feel I’m good under pressure because of my even-keeled attitude.
With the pregnancy, I didn’t want to envision that healthy baby boy with a pleasant, fun-loving demeanor, sharp wit and athletic build for fear if there were any complications, I’d be setting myself up for unnecessary disappointment.
The deal is, our baby boy, Cash, was going to be what he was going to be and the least amount of pre-conceived notions I put on him, the better off he’ll be and the more open-minded parent, I’ll be.  And while I enjoy and appreciate and thank God for him, I also need to raise him, change his diaper, teach him right from wrong and how to throw and catch a ball, study for his tests, and put money away for his education.
What is exciting is I have a more amazing kid than I ever could have imagined in my limited brain.  I couldn’t have foreseen the feeling I’d have when his eyes find me in the room and upon recognizing me, breaks into a grin that takes up his whole face.  No “pre-kid” projections could possibly understand that feeling.
Ultimately, what I downplay is my expectations, not my excitement.
David Mamet, one of my favorite writers wrote, “Wisdom lies in wishing for things to happen as they do.”
Whether I demonstrate or downplay it, I’m living the life I wished for.
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