Traveling is hard work. You basically wear the same outfit for days, live out of a suitcase, and sleep on crummy hotel pillows

Before setting out for our six-week Great American Road Trip we did what all responsible travelers must do to prepare for the unforeseen dangers and dire emergencies of the highway and we packed our fifty-dollar essential oil diffuser.

I know that some young men out there might be wondering what a diffuser is. But if you are a married man you are probably nodding and saying, “Yes, my wife also spends our hard earned mortgage money on essential oils, too, then pours these oils into a diffuser.”

A diffuser is basically a smell-good machine that sprays out scented fog laced with essential oils that make the air smell like cinnamon and cause you to feel drowsy.

There are supposed health benefits from diffusers. But I can only speak from experience when I say that I have been breathing diffused air for years and I, personally, have received more health benefits from Anheuser-Busch products.

Either way, we do not leave home without our fifty-dollar diffuser.

We do not travel light. My wife could

take a one-night trip to her mother’s house and still bring a Coleman cooler, a king-sized comforter, half her hanging clothes, an electric fan, a harpsichord, and of course the diffuser.

The diffuser isn’t usually a problem unless you travel by airline. In which case we put the diffuser in my carry-on bag and it becomes national news.

Whenever I go through airport security, the TSA employees always zero in on this device and squint at it doubtfully, at times even smelling it. Then they glare at me and call in the German shepherds.

But getting back to our road trip. We have been all over the place this last month, doing my one-man show. Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Lousianna, Mississippi, Tennessee, New York, Pennsylvania.

Traveling is hard work. You basically wear the same outfit for days, live out of a suitcase, and sleep on crummy hotel pillows.

Each…

The elderly couple next to me is shouting with such strong voices that I can hardly keep my mind on my own thoughts.

A crowded seafood joint. Everyone is eating. The sound of George Jones is blasting over the speakers. There are a lot of people here who eat with their hands.

The elderly couple next to me is shouting with such strong voices that I can hardly keep my mind on my own thoughts. Both of these people are wearing hearing aids and using voices loud enough to register on the Richter Scale.

The waitress brings their food then leaves. The old man looks at his food and hollers to his wife. The conversation goes like this:

OLD MAN: Honey, I asked for this burger to be cooked WELL DONE, this is rare.

OLD WOMAN: Just eat it, Jerry. It won’t kill you. Besides, you used to like it rare.

HIM: Yeah, well I also used to like spicy food and raw oysters, but you don’t see me eating them anymore.

HER: When did you quit eating oysters?

HIM: Ever since Roger ate them and came down with the gingivitis.

HER: That’s not how you say it. It’s not gingivitis.

HIM: Whatever, I don’t eat raw oysters. They’re gross. Gingivitis kills

people.

HER: It’s not gingivitis.

HIM: Well, that’s what Roger called it. His doctor said he and Shirley can’t have kids anymore.

HER: Shirley is almost eighty.

HIM: Still.

HER: It’s not gingivitis you get from oysters, you dummy. It’s MENINGITIS. Don’t you know anything? Now eat your hamburger.

HIM: It’s been thirty years since I had an oyster. My dad always said never to eat them in months that begin with “R.”

—LONG PAUSE—

HER: There are no months that begin with “R,” Jerry.

HIM: Daddy never could spell.

HER: I think you’ve got it backwards, I don’t think the expression is about months that BEGIN with “R,” I think it says not to eat them in months that END in “R.”

HIM: So people shouldn’t eat oysters in months…

The old man sips his drink and watches the game on the TV over the bar. Whenever LSU scores, he and the bartender head-butt me.

The Alabama-LSU game is on. Half the jerseys in this sports bar are Alabama-crimson. The other half are purple, worn by people who shout “GO TIGERS!”

I am wearing a crimson T-shirt, sitting at the bar, meeting my wife here for dinner tonight. She is running a little late.

There is some trash talk going on between opposing teams. Nothing too off-color. This is a game day tradition between LSU and Alabama fans. These two sets of fans are vicious enemies.

Today, it’s mostly just middle-aged guys doing the tough talking. There are no cuss words being used because most middle-aged guys are dads and have already started speaking fluent Four-Year-Old. Take my friend, John. He often uses the word “potty” in daily conversation. He will use even use this word if he is, for instance, at a monster truck rally.

There is an old man at the bar beside me, an LSU fan. He is old. Reserved. Wearing purple. He drinks gin and tonic. He and the bartender start talking about LSU.

She’s in a purple jersey, too. She is from Louisiana and she even sings a little of the LSU fight song, “Hey Fightin’ Tigers.”

“Hey fightin’ Tigers,
“Fight all the way,
“Hey fightin’ Tigers,
“Win the game today…”

I have known all kinds of fans in my time. LSU fans are a different breed. I once dated a girl from Baton Rouge. She was so passionate about her school that it’s a wonder she’s not in jail on assault charges.

She and her mother and her sisters would often burst into singing the LSU fight song at the most bizarre moments. It didn’t matter if they were cooking spaghetti, or at a Junior League meeting. When the mood hit, they would sing “Hey Fightin’ Tigers” and then headbutt whoever dared oppose them.

Ask me how I know this.

Alabama fans aren’t that way. We…

TALLAHASSEE—he was homeless. Long beard, weathered skin. I was sitting in traffic. He walked between lines of vehicles at the stoplight. He carried a cardboard sign. I rolled down my window and handed him all the cash I had—which wasn’t much.

Maybe fifteen bucks.

He smelled like an open bottle. He stood at my window and said, “I don’t know you, but I love you.”

Those words. I’ve thought about them for days. I thought about them when I drove past an ambulance this morning.

Two cars looked like crushed Budweiser cans. Traffic backed up for a mile. EMTs loaded a stretcher.

One paramedic was hugging a child in the median. The kid squeezed him and cried his eyes out. The EMT squeezed back. I’ll bet they don’t teach that in EMT training.

Here’s another:

After my friend’s wife died, he adopted a cat. It didn’t take long before he’d spoiled the animal rotten. He bought toys, an outdoor pet bed, a food bowl, a collar.

The next morning, he woke to see three feral cats on his porch. So, he

did what any self-respecting man would. He named them.

The following day, two more feral cats.
“I went from being lonely,” he said, “to being Doctor Freaking Doolittle. Cats just trust me.”

Last week, I met an old man who sat at the bar of a rundown beer joint. He was watching the band play. He was deaf. In a loud voice, he asked if he could buy me a beer. I accepted.

He told me he’d totally lost his hearing a few years ago. He woke up one morning and he was fully deaf. His life changed. It forced him to retire early. It’s been hard.

Last year, his nine-year-old granddaughter begged him to attend her school concert. He showed up with a sour attitude.

For the school’s final musical number, one hundred and twenty elementary students…

So you can’t tell me that a guy spends that kind of money on a boat because he’s serious about fishing. No. It’s about more than that.

Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he will come home late, severely dehydrated and malnourished, because the only thing he had in his cooler was Natural Light beer and a package of expired Oscar Mayer bologna.

I hate Natural Light beer. It tastes like something that has been passed through the system of a diabetic house cat. But long ago this was the beer we young fishermen bought because it was super cheap. We would stock our coolers with Natural Light, and whoever gagged first lost a substantial bet.

Today, I went fishing with my buddy because I haven’t fished with him in years. We didn’t bring any Natural Light. My friend had some medical troubles a few years back and decided to quit drinking.

I have to admit, it was a little weird, fishing with a cooler full of nothing but raspberry-flavored La Croix, but whatever.

Because fishing is not truly about fishing. It never has been. If

a man ever looks you dead in the eye and tells you that fishing is actually about fishing, this man is the kind of man who will lie to his own mother.

Every fisherman knows that fishing is not really about fishing. It is about the outdoors, the sound of an outboard motor, the clicking of a baitcast reel, and most importantly, about raspberry-flavored La Croix.

Case in point: I have a friend who bought a very fancy boat. I’m talking a ridiculous superboat. It came with GPS, depth-finder, two trolling motors, and ten outboards that were powerful enough to blow the water out of the Baltic Sea.

When we asked how much he paid for the boat, he told us a price and I almost choked on my Oscar Mayer bologna.

That next weekend, he took several of us fishing. It was swanky. He had a cooler full…

And I learned right away that when you read audio books you have to do character voices. Which was something I’d never thought about.

It’s morning in Nashville. I am on my way to a recording studio. The traffic is awful. Locals call this the morning rush.

The locals also tell me that this frantic rush will immediately be followed by: mid-morning rush, pre-noon rush, noon rush, afternoon rush, and the halftime show.

And don’t even get the locals started on what traffic is like after everyone gets off work. In Nashville they don’t even call it “rush hour” because that would imply that it only lasts an hour.

There are cars gridlocked on the interstate that have been stuck in the same place ever since Gerald Ford was president.

I am recording my second audio book today. The first time I recorded a book, I had no idea what I was getting into. I learned a lot. Namely, I learned that when you read audio books you have to do character voices. Which was something I’d never thought about.

To give you an idea of what I mean: Let’s say that you’re reading a book about

pirates to kindergarteners. If you don’t say “Arrrgh matey!” in a graveled sailor voice before every sentence, the kids will have no idea you’re reading about pirates and might think you are reading about, say, the rise and fall of the Roman empire. It’s the same way with audio books.

The studio I’m recording in is not far from the famed Music Row, where all the famous studios are. Just down the street are world famous places that once cranked out groundbreaking albums from legendary artists such as Elvis, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, George Jones, and of course, the Backstreet Boys.

I remember how nervous I was the first time I visited this place. I was trying not to stammer into the microphone while reading. And when I got to the a dialogue section in the book, the audio engineer spoke over the intercom and said, “Hey,…

She is a waitress here. She has white hair, and a habit of winking when she smiles. Her name is Mary. I know this because it’s on her nametag.

I don’t know Mary—today’s the first time we’ve met—but I want to be her forever-grandson.

I just watched Mary get dog-cussed.

It happened when she swiped a young man’s credit card at the register. It was denied. She was quiet and discreet with him.

He shouted at her, “Run it again, lady!”

This made everyone’s ears perk up. It’s not every day you see some punk yelling at Barbara Bush.

She swiped the card. Denied.

“Do you have another card?” she asked in a soft voice.

The man shouted, “Another card? Don’t treat me like I’m @#$ing stupid, lady!”

Her mouth fell open. So did everyone’s.

The young man didn’t stop. He went on to say things which I can’t repeat—my mother reads these things.

The air in the restaurant went stale, like in old Westerns, just before John Wayne pumps some desperate bandito into the everlasting abyss.

The customers in the restaurant looked around at each other. The man in

the booth beside me stood. So did I. We walked toward the register.

But another man beat us to it.

He was tall, white-haired. He wore a tattered cap. He was older, mid-seventies, with shoulders broader than an intercostal barge.

The old man said, “What seems to be the problem over here?”

The angry kid spat, “My card won’t work.”

The old man let his eyes do his talking. Hard eyes. The same eyes I’ve seen in a hundred Westerns, just before the hero draws a greased Colt Single Action Peacemaker and opens the gates of Armageddon.

The old man was calm. He reached for his wallet. He said to Mary, in a syrupy voice, “I’d like to pay for this gentleman’s meal, ma’am.”

Then, he placed a large hand…

I can’t seem to find anything to write about because I am too distracted.

I love the way the sun hits the earth during this season. It’s hypnotic. I am listening to Johnny Cash and June Carter sing “I’ll Fly Away.” And I can’t seem to find anything to write about because I am too distracted.

I’m looking out my office-trailer window at the sun hitting my ugly dirt lot, and singing along with music about flying away.

This plot of land wasn’t always bare dirt. It used to be forest. But the man who owned it before me cut down all the pine trees because he was as crazy as an outhouse fly.

When I asked the man why he did this, he told me, “I just really hate trees.”

What kind of a depraved human—not counting real estate developers and New York Yankees fans—hates trees?

So mainly I just park all my junk on this ugly lot. Old boats, my truck, and I have a few dilapidated recreational vehicles. An old Airstream trailer (1969). And one Yellowstone camper (1956) which I gutted, renovated, and made into my office.

That’s where I am right now.

This morning I’ve tried to write but I keep losing focus because of the way the sun is shining. And this music. I’m a sucker for old-time hymns.

It’s also brisk outside and I have the doors to my office slung open. Something I rarely do because it’s usually hotter than twelve hells where we live.

This summer we had temperatures upwards of 127 degrees. That is not an exaggeration. I would check the weather on the internet, and the “feels like” temperature would read 127 degrees.

When I was a kid, we didn’t have feels-like temperatures. We only had thermometers and old men who talked about the weather by cracking jokes. I love it when old men cuss the weather.

“It’s so hot,” one man might say, “I saw a funeral procession pull over at Dairy Queen.”

JACKSON—I am at a breakfast joint, sipping lukewarm coffee, eating scrambled eggs. Seated at the counter beside me is an old man. He asks what I do for a living.

“I’m a writer,” I say.

“Oh yeah? What’s your name?”

I tell him.

He frowns. “Never heard of you.” He scoots closer. “But I’ll buy your breakfast if you listen to my story.”

I’m looking for the exit.

“It won’t take long,” he says. “All you gotta do is listen.”

“Fine,” I say. “But you’d better keep your hands to yourself.”

He tells me that Jackson is famous. For starters, Johnny Cash and June Carter sang about it. Though, nobody seems to agree on which Jackson they were singing about. Some think they were singing about Mississippi. Or it could have been Jackson, Maine. But the old man doubts it.

“It was right here,” says the man. “Johnny Cash sang about our town because Carl Perkins lived here, and Carl invented rock and roll.”

“Invented rock and roll?” I say.

“You dang right.”

Carl Perkins is not a name that today’s generation knows about. He

didn’t have his own hashtag, YouTube channel, Twitter account, or any of that “fandangled crap,” as the old man calls it.

“But,” says my new friend, “Carl could sure nuff play a guitar.”

“And he invented rock and roll?” I clarify.

Sort of.

Carl Perkins is the king of rockabilly music, which is rock and roll’s older brother. Or rock and roll’s mother, depending on how far you want to carry this metaphor. Or maybe it was rock and roll’s step cousin.

“It was just country music,” the old man explains. “Country music that you could move your feet to.”

But rockabilly was like nothing anyone had ever heard. It was a mix between blues and country, with a touch of boogie woogie, electric amplifiers, drums, lots of moonshine, and enough Brylcreem to wax the…

BATON ROUGE—I am at the Louisiana Book Festival. The downtown is overrun with tents, vendors, and lots of book-people.

Book-people look just like real people, only they aren’t. They have much bigger vocabularies. Many of them have earned doctorates in fields of study like post-Romantic Russian interior plumbing.

These are the kinds of brilliant people who spend two years writing a four-hundred-page dissertation about precolonial usage of the semicolon.

People who use words like “prosaic” in daily conversation.

Prosaic, I just discovered, means plain. Ordinary. Sort of run-of-the-mill. One book festival volunteer (a grad student) used this word—this is the truth—when he was giving me directions to the bathroom.

“It’s just down that hallway,” he said, “to the right, over by that rather prosaic-looking plant.”

He even used the hyphen.

So believe me, these book-people are all very nice, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that some of these well-dressed folks are the kind who—how do I put this?—have never heard of Rusty Wallace.

But it’s a great festival. Baton Rouge really comes alive. It’s not a stuffy literary gig at all. It’s fun. There

are live bands playing jazz and Cajun music. The smell of jambalaya is in the air. Many vendors are serving boudin, which is basically Cajun sausage on crack.

I am standing on the sidewalk, waiting for a ride to my presentation downtown. A black SUV pulls to the curb. A chauffeur wearing a suit opens the door and asks me to get in.

“No thanks,” I say. “I’m waiting for my ride.”

“I am your ride, sir.”

“What?”

“That’s right.”

“You mean this stud mobile is for me?”

He makes no facial expression. “Please, sir.”

I have never had a chauffeur before. On the ride over I am cracking all sorts of jokes to lighten the mood, asking where my mimosa is. Come to find out, chauffeurs don’t find mimosa jokes funny.

He drops me…