So what I’m saying is that as a mathematician, she has an Order of Operations for everything in life, even traveling. And this makes her bossy.

When traveling with my wife, it is important to realize that she is the boss. If you forget this, you will die.

When I say “you will die,” I don’t mean that men wearing black hoods will publicly execute you, necessarily, my wife might do the honors herself. What I mean is that she has planned our trips to a T and there is no wiggle room for doing fun or touristy things like, for instance, stopping to go pee.

My wife’s talent for being the boss stems from the fact that she is a former math teacher. I remember when she took her exam for her math teaching certification, long ago. She had to study like crazy. I helped by quizzing her with flashcards.

“Uh...” I would begin reading. “The inverse decibel is an absolute, or sublingual when found within the parenthetical equation of a biconditional Centroid Formula, and is thereby a null integer from which popular Pink Floyd album?”

Her answer would be so complex that I had no idea whether it was right or wrong.

So after her response, I would sort of nod and say, “Okay.”

Then she’d say, “Okay? Was my answer right or wrong?”

“Sweetie,” I’d say in a reassuring voice. “There are no right or wrong answers in life, only happy accidents.”

Which doesn’t work for a mathematical person. To a math-wiz, there are no such things as happy accidents, numerically speaking, only the quantified deconstruction of bivalve ellipses as expressed in the linear equation found in EXAMPLE 1:

S=15.9√ (2AB)df>L

So what I’m saying is that as a mathematician, she has an Order of Operations for everything in life, even traveling. And this makes her bossy.

She packs our car a certain way and becomes very annoyed if I so much as scratch my nose using the wrong tone. She plans our itinerary, accommodations, bathroom breaks, books our flights, makes reservations, drives…

PENNSYLVANIA—There are three men sitting on a bench outside my hotel. They are wearing crimson jackets with giant University of Alabama logos on the backs.

I am in a remote community in Pennsylvania, not far from the New York line. A rural hamlet with sprawling fields, rolling hillsides, and breathtaking single-wide trailers with Chevy Camaros on blocks in the driveways.

In these parts, you do not see many Alabama Crimson Tide sympathizers.

I approach the men. They notice the University of Alabama ball cap I am wearing. When we see each other we are all smiles. We are complete strangers but it doesn’t feel like it.

“Roll Tide,” they say.

“Roll Tide,” I say.

“Roll Tide,” my wife says.

“Roll Tide,” their wives say.

“Roll Tide,” says their teenage son.

I know it seems odd that complete strangers would shake hands and chant a football related battle cry for a greeting. But you’re missing the point. What we’re really saying is “I love you.”

“Our dad lives up here,” says one man. “We always come up to

see him because this is the best time of year to see Pennsylvania. The fall colors are awesome.”

The fall colors in this place are no joke. Where I live in the Florida Panhandle, we have two colors. Green and greenish-green. Unless there is a forest fire.

But Pennsylvania has a wide scope of color. The rolling golden farmland is cut with the distant flame-red leaves of an autumn-colored Appalachia. There are old barns, grain silos, and withered cornfields. To say it’s beautiful would be selling it short. This is pure America.

Earlier today we got stuck behind an Amish buggy on the highway. That was a real treat. A young man and young woman were in the carriage together. She was bird-skinny. He had the faintest hint of an Abraham-Lincoln beard. I waved at them. They scowled at me.

Next, I saw…

We get to the subject of Coca-Cola, which is pronounced “Ko-KOLA” by anyone who loves the Lord.

BUFFALO—A grocery store. I am at the deli counter looking for something to eat. We have been driving through Upstate New York countryside since this morning and I am hungry. If I could just secure a ham sandwich, I’d be in business.

The deli has fresh baked ham. Still hot. They offer samples.

“May I have a sample of that ham?” I ask the woman at the counter.

“Huh?” she says.

So I repeat myself.

She smiles. “Say it one more time.”

So I do.

Then she calls her coworker over. “Eugene,” she says. “You gotta hear how this guy talks.” Then she tells me, “Say ‘ham’ one more time.”

I’m waiting for a please in there somewhere.

“Go ahead,” she insists.

I clear my throat.


Eugene enjoys this very much. Apparently, I am a real knee-slapper.

“Teach me how to say it with two syllables like that,” says Eugene.

“Well, it’s very simple,” I say. “And I don’t mind teaching you, but first I’m gonna need a free sample of that hay-um.”

We get along famously. It’s great. They give me all the free

ham I can stand. Then they point to objects in the store and ask me to name them. Among the words they ask me to say are: shopping cart (pronounced “buggy”), pen (“pee-yin”), chair (“chay-er”), fire (“fie-yer”), and chest of drawers (“that thar chifferobe”).

We get to the subject of Coca-Cola, which is pronounced “Ko-KOLA” by anyone who loves the Lord.

“I’ve never heard it said that way,” says Eugene. “We just say ‘pop.’ What would you say when you order pop at a restaurant?”

We wouldn’t. We would order sweet tea.

“But what if they don’t have tea?” he says. “Then what would you order?”

If a restaurant does not have sweet tea, we would ask to speak to the manager, reason with him or her, then set fire to the establishment. After…

BRADFORD—I am doing a show in a small Pennsylvania town in an old theater. We are recording our 100th podcast. I have never been this far north in my life. It was so cold when we flew into New York that I saw Lady Liberty place her torch inside her dress.

There is a band playing. And I am playing music, too. And this is ironic because—not that you care about this—I was once rejected from a major university where I once hoped to study music.

It’s sort of a long story, but I feel like telling it.

It all starts with a guitar. A cheap guitar. Much like the kind I am playing tonight. I began playing when I was a child. I was god-awful. But I practiced a lot.

I tried to teach myself, though I had no idea what I was doing. I tried strumming, plucking, picking, patting, flicking, smacking, etc. Anything to get a sound out of the thing. Finally, my uncle was kind enough to put strings

on the guitar. That made all the difference in the world.

So music was important to me. I started playing piano at age nine. And I loved all music. I enjoyed the country music that my grandfather’s generation two-stepped to. Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, and Lefty Frizzell.

I like other music, too. Namely, old-time jazz. When I was a young man, I was obsessed with jazz. I taught myself to play “Laura” on the piano, and “Satin Doll,” and “Georgia On My Mind.” These songs were important to me.

I also liked classical music to some degree. I’ll never forget when I was in community college. I was a grown man who felt out of place being surrounded by so many teenagers. I felt sort of stupid, actually.

I was on my way to an ethics class when I heard singing from a nearby classroom. I…

I am sitting with hundreds of people whose mothers never taught them to talk with inside voices. Like the two women behind me.

NEW YORK—LaGuardia Airport is located in the Queens borough of New York, smack dab in the Fifth Circle of Hell.

The airport is big, rundown, covered in bubblegum wads, and full of angry people who are waiting for delayed flights. I am told that LaGuardia always has thousands of delayed flights.

In fact, three quarters of New York’s population is comprised of airline passengers, most from the Midwest, who have been waiting for a flight home since 1940. They are sleeping atop their luggage, huddled in various corners, living on breath mints.

I am sitting with hundreds of them. Most of these are people whose mothers never taught them to speak with inside voices. Like the two women behind me.

One woman says loudly, “Have you ever seen that one movie with, oh… What’s his name?”

“What movie?” says the other.

“It has that movie star… Oh, what’s that movie? He was real funny.”

“Chevy Chase?”

“No, not Chevy Chase.”

“I love Chevy Chase.”

“I don’t remember the name of the movie.”

“Look it up on your phone.”

“My phone’s dead.”

“Why don’t you charge it?”

“I forgot my charger.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t Chevy Chase?”

“No. It wasn’t Chevy Chase.”

“Chevy Chase was in a lot of movies.”

“I’d remember if it was Chevy Chase.”

“I like Chevy Chase.”

“I wonder what ever happened to him?”

“Who? Chevy Chase? He’s still going at it.”

“Chevy Chase is?”

“Chevy Chase won’t quit.”


“Did I ever tell you about my hysterectomy?”

Sweet Jesus.

Beside me are boys playing games on smartphones. They barely speak. They are not even in this world. Their heads are craned forward. They are staring at bright screens.

Every few minutes one shouts something like, “HAHA! I JUST DECAPITATED YOU!”







Maybe I should be concerned about America’s youth. But of course these…

When my speech was done, the last thing I wanted was to eat lobster with the Royal Family...

I am at a bar. It’s loud. There is live music. And cheeseburgers. I missed dinner tonight because I was making a speech at a dinner banquet. Which is ironic when you think about it.

Everyone at this big banquet was eating hors d’oeuvres, sipping expensive chardonnay, and chowing down on Maine lobsters the size of baby grand pianos.

I could hardly keep my mind on my speech because the ballroom was full of people in tuxedos, all wearing little plastic bibs, making a chorus of slurping, sucking, licking sounds.

A woman at the head table who looked like Queen Elizabeth II was wearing a bib. She kept asking me, “Now, how exactly were you invited to this dinner again?”

Each time I answered, she would get this far-away look in her eyes and start sucking meat from a lobster leg like a baby Wolverine.

So I felt out of place. I felt even worse when the waiter informed me that the bar didn’t stock Natural Light.

Pretty soon, Queen Elizabeth forgot all about me. Butter sauce

dripped down her chin, all over her bib. She would lick her hands violently when she didn’t think anyone was watching. And I don’t mean just her fingers. This woman was actually licking her forearms and her tennis bracelet.

When my speech was done, the last thing I wanted was to stick around and eat lobster with the Royal Family, so I found a beer joint that was open late. Which is where I am now.

It’s a dump, and there are lots of people here. There’s a guy playing guitar. He plays a rendition of “Brown Eyed Girl” and sings in a voice that is faintly reminiscent of the late Daffy Duck.

The lady bartender gives me a menu and asks, “What’re you so dressed up for?”

“I was just at a banquet.”

“Wow. Fancy pants.”

“You shoulda seen them eat lobster.”

After I gave a short speech, I took questions. I was met with more unmoving faces.

Today I was invited to Auburn University Montgomery. Professor Juanita Barrett asked me to speak to her English composition classes.

When the morning bell rang, I was ready. I even dressed like a legitimate adjunct college professor. By which I mean that I wore a T-shirt, jeans, I removed all money from my wallet, and applied for food stamps.

Before I got to class, something happened. A kid saw me standing outside the English building and said, “HEY! I RECOGNIZE YOU! YOU’RE FAMOUS! CAN I GET MY PICTURE WITH YOU?!”

So we posed for a selfie. Then three more kids wanted pictures, too. It was great. And I started to feel warm all over. It’s not every day teenagers give you this kind of compliment.

Then the kids shouted to their buddies, “COME QUICK! IT’S THE GUY FROM THE MOVIE ‘THE HANGOVER!’”

Well, I get this sometimes. People occasionally mistake me for a famous actor from “The Hangover.” A movie star who has the misfortune of looking like me. His last name is

hard to pronounce. I just looked it up on Wikipedia. His name is Zack Galifasgoswsssswer333oiaks.

So giving lectures was fun. The first thing I discovered about college kids is that they do not move their faces. Not even a little.

I don’t like to make generalizations, but this one is true of every teenager ever born in America since the dawn of civilization. They suffer from a condition called Chronic Facial Paralysis.

This is your college kid’s typical demeanor. They practice this stiff-faced glare in the mirror before each class by not moving a single cheek muscle for hours on end. It’s an expression which lies somewhere between moderately annoyed, and severely constipated.

After I gave a short speech, I took questions. I was met with more unmoving faces. The kids had a difficult time coming up with actual questions. So what ended up happening was, one…

These are just a few things our mothers taught us...

Be nice. Eat your vegetables. Arrive early for appointments. Use the word ma’am often. And never, EVER, unless you want to wake up strapped to the roof of your family’s Ford station wagon, leave the toilet seat up.

These are just a few things our mothers taught us, along with many others. But I am starting to think these outdated ideas don’t matter to younger generations.

One of the cardinal rules of my boyhood was to open doors for females. This was such a big deal that whenever my buddy Gary and I were in public and noticed a female approaching a door, we would race to see who could open the door first. Gary had longer legs, so he definitely had the advantage speed-wise.

I remember one time when he raced to hold the door for a beautiful young woman. She batted her eyelashes at Gary while he was trying to catch his breath.

That’s when I appeared out of the blue and said, “Gary! The doctor said you shouldn't be running

after your colonoscopy! Just look at what you’ve done to your pants!”

Whereupon Gary chased me for six miles.

Our mothers taught us to be polite. To listen more than we talk. To say please and thank you. To never take the last serving of ANYTHING.

Anyone who had a mother like mine doesn’t need clarification on that last sentence. Still, I’m going to explain it just in case a young person is still busy trying to Google colonoscopy.

Food. I am talking about food. Biscuits, deviled eggs, Swedish meatballs, muffins, or the last piece of casserole. If you take the last serving of any sort of food you will go straight to hell. Do not make any mistake about this.

I once knew a kid who took the last piece of cornbread at a family reunion. He was dragged into the backyard and beheaded with a…

Years later, I would learn that the primary reason for my weight gain was: Chili Cheese Fritos.


Me and my brother are not skinny, but he was telling me how he feels okay about being this way when he reads about how you were chubby too. I am reading your writing now because of him, so thanks. I’m in tenth grade and he’s in seventh and he really likes you and now so do I. Chubby kids unite! LOL!



I am glad you wrote me. I was having a rough day when I got your letter. And you made me feel pretty good.

I am embarrassed to admit this, but when I was around your brother’s age, I hated my mirror. It all started in fifth grade. Something happened to my body. I ballooned up. My cheeks got puffy, and my mama often referred to me as her “precious little butter ball.”

Years later, I would learn that the primary reason for my weight gain was: Chili Cheese Fritos.

I’ve said it before, but Chili Cheese Fritos are one of my all-time favorite foods. All my friends know this. I once had a birthday party wherein a good friend filled a plastic kiddie pool full of these little babies. I literally went swimming in Fritos, and it brought me more internal happiness than a major religion.

But in fifth grade, I went a little overboard with Fritos. Or, it could have been my hormones. I don’t know. Either way, I became a chubby kid.

Here’s the really weird thing, Danica. I was only hefty for maybe four or five years max. But—and this is what I’m getting at—these were IMPRESSIONABLE YEARS. Years that stuck with me forever.

I tried losing weight when I was twelve. For exercise, I came up with the idea of mowing lawns. Things went pretty well. I push-mowed like crazy. Five bucks per yard. Whenever I took breaks, I would sit beneath a shade tree, listening to Arethra…

Her smile makes me smile. Which makes my wife smile. Which makes Tamba smile. Which makes me grin so hard my cheeks are sore.

CALERA, ALABAMA—the Cracker Barrel off I-65 is busy this morning. There are people in the dining room from every walk of life. Lots of noise.

An elderly man with military patches on his ball cap. A young couple with loud children who test the limits of the known sound barrier. An old man in a cowboy hat, sitting with his grandkids.

My waitress is Tamba. She is pretty, middle-aged, with cropped black hair, and a smile that sets the room on fire.

“How y’all today?” she says.

Her smile makes me smile. Which makes my wife smile. Which makes Tamba smile. Which makes me grin so hard my cheeks are sore.

She fills my coffee mug. She takes my order. And there’s that smile again.

My cheek muscles will never recover.

I watch her weave through the chaotic dining room like a ballerina. She takes orders from grumpy parents, over-caffeinated children, and flat-faced out-of-towners who woke up on the wrong side of the hotel bed.

She greets each customer with sugary words and that patented cheek-crippling grin.

She takes orders by memory. She listens

when picky eaters specify exactly how they want their eggs. Before she leaves tables, she recites orders to her customers without flaw.

And I sincerely hope that John Q. Customer notices how remarkable she is. Her personality is brilliant, her sense of humor is refreshing, and her memory is the Eighth Wonder of the World.

If I were a betting man, I’d bet she could memorize the Jefferson County phonebook in one sitting and recite it with her eyes closed.

On her way to the kitchen, people flag her down.

“I need mayo!” hollers a man.

She’s got it covered.

“Ma’am!” says an impatient woman from the back. “I NEED some pepper sauce.”

Pepper sauce. Check.

“Ma’am, can I get some more biscuits?” says a little boy.

On it.

“‘Scuse me, Miss?” says a woman. “We’re…