Wednesday, February 20, 2019

I can't even give this one away...

Imagine if you will, that after years of reading paranormal stories, you sit down and write out all the possible experiences you've had, then publish them.

Imagine you have this digital collection set for free, so people can read the stories for free.

Finally, imagine you go to two different paranormal sites and announce the book is free. You do this not to make any money, but to share the stories.

You know what happens? You get banned on one site, and warned on another.

I find this ironic, as my books I write and try to sell for profit are always pirated. The one book I do just to share some interesting stories, I can't even give away.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Stranger than Fiction: This Book is Cursed!



In November 2018, I released my first non-fiction book on Kindle: a collection of ghost stories and other strange tales I had heard and experienced over the past 50 years of my life-- Stranger than Fiction: A Skeptic's Journey. This very short book (100 print pages) took me about two years to put together, and, looking back over those two years, I have begun to wonder if the book doesn't just talk about the supernatural, but that maybe it is, itself, supernatural--cursed. 

Before I go any further, let me preface this by stating that I am not a true believer in the supernatural. Rather, I am a skeptical believer. I believe, as a Christian, that the supernatural exists--it's in my Bible, after all. What I don't believe is that it is as common as so many television shows, documentaries, blogs, books, and websites portray it to be. I'm not just skeptical of these programs and so many dubious accounts of the paranormal--I'm skeptical of my own fantastical stories, have come up with much more rationale explanations for most of them, instead of just declaring them supernatural. That being said, however, I think this book really is cursed. 

I got the idea for A Skeptic's Journey back in early 2017. I've been a fan of the Fortean for many years. From about 2000 on, I read about it on the internet on lunch breaks to take my mind off the real horrors of my job as an Investigator for the local Prosecuting Attorney. In 2012, I set out to combine my fascination with the fantastic with my desire to write, and began putting out supernatural thrillers on Kindle. I also redoubled my efforts to study and read this modern folklore, seeking out stories I could build upon or borrow from for my fiction. In 2014, I retired from the criminal justice career field, hoping to turn writing into a full time job while I switched to a less intense day job. That's when I began to listen to paranormal podcasts.

Over the past few years of listening, I have been struck by the number of people active in the paranormal community who express a desire to see a ghost, or experience something paranormal themselves. I reflected on this in early 2017, realizing that I have had a great many experiences myself that might fulfill the wishes of so many paranormal hopefuls. I sat down and made a list of these possible encounters and was surprised at the number--having always previously mentally filed them away as "maybes" that made for good story telling, but which I hadn't put much faith in. I then made a list of stories related to me by people I personally know, who themselves claimed to have experienced, first-hand, something strange and "unexplainable". There was enough material, from both lists, for a short book. 

The road from concept to publication has been a long one, but not because of the mundane, every-day problems you might think. I didn't need to find a publisher--I self-publish on Amazon, Nook, Kobo, iTunes, etc. and have for several years now. Writing wasn't a problem either--I've done fifteen novels since 2012. Putting stories into written word isn't hard. Even finding the time wasn't that bad for this project--until a series of unfortunate events began cropping up in my life...

Bad luck is no stranger to me. I've had a number of dilemmas arise over the years with irritating frequency. But they're generally spread out over time, and vary in severity and ease of solving. But not this time...

In Early 2017, right after I decided to write A Sketic's Journey, my daughter was diagnosed with scoliosis at an annual physical check up. This sudden spine curvature was attributed to a phenomenal growth spurt over a one year period, but it definitely derailed my creative process and filled my thoughts with worry. 

Soon after this diagnosis, my wife was in a car wreck. Again, it was a moderate problem--she wasn't severely injured, and our new car (that we'd bought only five months earlier) was quickly repaired. But getting our money from the insurance company (the other driver was at fault) made for a stressful few months. 

During this time, my daughter had to start wearing a back brace. Then she had to start doing regular physical therapy with the hope that strengthening exercises might alleviate some of her spine curvature. Now, in addition to the stress of her diagnosis and my wife's accident blocking my creative process, I had very little time left to actually write.

By Fall 2017, I was finally getting back on track, once more taking notes and wracking my brain to remember all my best paranormal stories. Then it was time for our annual automobile problems. This time, it was our minivan, with a water leak that wasn't hoses, wasn't the water pump, but finally ended up being a cracked radiator--something that took me several weekends, many trips to the auto parts store, and a lot of money trying to figure out. Again, I didn't have time to write--I was too busy being a shade-tree mechanic to keep our minivan running. 

Meanwhile, my bi-annual bronchitis and sinusitis episodes flared up. I attribute these to a scar in my lung I got back on active duty in the USAF many years ago--a result of a rough round of pneumonia. They're regular in my life, and nowhere remotely as serious as men and women who've lost limbs in service to our country. Still, they knock me down for a few days twice every year, and cost me money in co-pays and prescriptions. I decided to once again try and file a claim for Veteran's Affairs disability for my affliction. If you've ever dealt with the VA, you know that even if things go right, they're not an easy organization to deal with.

Claim #1 was closed overnight, while I slept. I had indicated I wasn't done with the online claim and needed to upload more documents. The VA decided that they didn't need to see these documents, and closed the claim while I slept. It was infuriating, particularly given the VA had, in past years told me I hadn't presented evidence of an ongoing problem. With everything else going on, I decided to put this on the backburner for a while. I focused on my daughter, my day job, and every day life. My writing languished for several months.

By March 2018, in between a day job, taking my daughter to physical therapy, and trying to write, I again set out to try and file for disability. Needless to say, four months later, I was still butting my head against the government wall and getting nowhere. 

Then we got really bad news: my daughter's spine had progressed, and she was going to have surgery. 

All creative process was gone at this point, and all my writing projects stalled out. I was sick to my stomach most days, worrying about 12 year old daughter and this major surgery she'd be having soon (a spinal fusion). 

June eventually rolled around, the VA was still throwing up walls of red tape in front of me, and my kid had her surgery. Now began six months of helping her recuperate. Again, I had no time, or interest, in writing. But I pressed on anyway, using my lunch hours at work to hammer out short snippets of my paranormal tales. 

July rolled around, and with it, my daughter's 13th birthday. While the surgery had been successful, it was a somber occasion, as our little girl was still recuperating and needed a lot of help at home. The special day came and went, not much different from most other days since the surgery, save for a cake and presents. But to top  off the lackluster milestone, three days later, our dog died. 

Our dog, Sunnie, was like our third child. We'd gotten her at about 10 weeks old, and showered her with affection for all of her 9 years with us. She too, had a rough life, going blind in 2015 from a mis-diagnosed thryoid condition, and then developing anxiety that meant we had to treat her daily with doggy prozac. Her death couldn't have come at a worse time as we were already on eggshells, hovering over our daughter as she recuperated. 

Things eventually began settling down. My daughter was able to go to school, we adopted a new dog, and I turned once more to writing, intent on an October 2018 release for A Skeptic's Journey, to monopolize on the Halloween hype. But, life got in the way again, a great many little things popping up here and there, and I missed my self-imposed deadline.

Eventually, the book finally was done and I dropped it on Kindle on November 23, 2018, Black Friday, the day before my 51st birthday. I sent out a round of emails to paranormal podcasts, hoping to spread the word about my collection of stories as I'd heard so many authors do on so many podcasts. 

I was fortunate enough to get mentioned on one podcast, then landed an interview on the December 30th, 2018 episode of Beyond the Darkness with Dave Schrader and Tim Dennis. 

While I hadn't priced A Skeptic's Journey to make me any real money, I had hoped to at least share this collection with many people. As of this writing, that plan has failed. In limited Kindle release (free for Kindle Select readers), and priced at $.99, A Skeptic's Journey appears to have been read by less than 100 people. By far, it is the least successful of any book or short story I've previously released. 

Is the book cursed? Was fate/destiny/the darkness trying to keep me from writing it? Or did I just have two exceptionally unlucky years completely unrelated to my writing? Or maybe nonfiction is considerably less popular (on Kindle) than fiction? I don't know, but I'm glad this project is over. I'm ready for my luck to change. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Stranger than Fiction: The Phantom Aviator

Stranger than Fiction is a series of excerpts from an upcoming non-fiction collection of the strange and unusual encounters I, or people I know, have had, gathered into one collection. Look for Stranger than Fiction: A Skeptic's Journey, Black Friday, 2018...




PHANTOM AVIATOR

After Germany, I was assigned to McClellan Air Force Base, in Sacramento, California. A repair depot for A-10s, F-117s, and occasionally other aircraft, McClellan was home to a Coast Guard Squadron of C-130 weather planes, and an Air Force Reserve Squadron of KC-135 refueling planes. The base was primarily manned by civilians, who all went home at night. As such, when the sun went down, McClellan just about shut down itself, with no traffic on the runways and little life on the base. It made for really long, quiet shifts—perfect for ghost stories. 

Of all the spooky tales I did hear at McClellan, my favorite was told to me by another SP who had formerly been stationed in England. As the story went, an Airman who’d crashed and died on the base in World War II hadn’t moved on, but would regularly return to the base and try to get back on the runway. 

This spectral pilot, reportedly burned alive when he crashed, would return periodically, at night, approaching a gate shack, in outdated, period-correct uniform, and present his ID card. The ghostly airman didn’t appear ghostly, though—he looked as solid as anyone, and his ID, while not current, was tangible as any ID card. Of course, when a confused airman would take the card, then turn to his radio or gateshack’s phone to call in the strange visitor, when thy would turn back, the visitor would be gone, without a trace—save for the ID card left behind. 

I scoffed at this story when I first heard it, angering the Sergeant who was telling it. My pal, Cooper, or “Coop”, as we called him, insisted it was a true story. He insisted this not because he’d seen the spirit, but because he’d personally seen the ID.

According to Coop, one night, while he worked as the Security Controller for the base, one of the gate shacks called in they had a suspicious person stopped. A patrol was sent out, but the Airman on duty reported that when he looked away to call it in, his visitor vanished without a trace. Coop didn’t believe it until the ID card was brought to him and he had to start making calls to report the unusual occurrence.

More intriguing was the fact that when Coop called the local on-duty Agent for the OSI (Office of Special Investigations, the Air Force’s version of the FBI) to report the incident, they weren’t skeptical or surprised in the least. They came out, got the ID, and reported they’d “put it back in the safe”.

Perplexed, Coop had asked what this meant. The Agent taking receipt of the I.D. nonchalantly reported that this was a regular occurrence at the base—the spirit would appear, hand over an ID, then vanish. The ID would be locked up at the OSI office, but would vanish overnight, only to once again be presented to another gate guard a few days later. 

Coop was more than convinced this was a real event—like most SPs, he’d heard a great many ghost stories at his various duty stations. I was more than a little skeptical.
Night time training exercises were a big part of the Security Police. We regularly staged them, notifying everyone ahead of time we were going to do a scenario. These ranged from fake bombs on cars to see if the gate guards could find them during vehicle inspections, to people climbing fences or entering secure areas without permission. It was all a way to test and train us on how to respond to these threats. 

For any exercise, the Desk Sergeant or Security Controller were well aware of what was going on—they made the alerts over the radio, and they logged the training events in the nightly log. In Coop’s case, he’d had no such warning. I suggested this had been to test him--that OSI was in on it and had dressed up like a WWII Airman and presented the replica ID. 

Coop did not share my skepticism. 





Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Stranger Than Fiction: Circle in the Woods

Stranger than Fiction is a series of excerpts from an upcoming non-fiction collection of the strange and unusual encounters I, or people I know, have had, gathered into one collection. Look for Stranger than Fiction: A Skeptic's Journey, Black Friday, 2018...



The Circle in the Woods

A lot of people into that sort of thing like to accuse the Air Force of hiding alien bodies and spacecraft. But in the four years I served in the USAF, I met precisely two SPs with stories involving unidentified flying objects.

One evening, while relaxing in the dorms, several of us were sharing stories of how new guys got hazed in the Security Police—a tradition of pranks that included things as simple as sending someone to supply to collect a thousand yards of “flight line”, to elaborate pranks like stuffing the vents of a patrol car with confetti and leaving the vents on full, so that when started, the driver got a big surprise. 

For my pal Dean, the prank was a little more sinister. Before Germany, Dean had been assigned to Woodbridge Royal Air Force Base in England. There, one of the SP rites of passage for security there was to go out on one of the patrol roads surrounding the base, but outside the perimeter fence. In one secluded spot of the woods, well off the patrol path, any vehicle you drove would suddenly die, the engine stalling out and all electronics ceasing to work. This was typically done well after midnight, to spook new guys.

Dean had been pranked and it confused the hell out of him. He swore his radio wouldn’t work and the car did nothing when you turned the key. Anything within this circle that was electronic became completely inoperable: flashlights, radios, etc. The only way to get your vehicle running again was to physically push it out of an unmarked area. It would then start up again, with no problem.

The prank was finally put to end when the base fire department tried it themselves—with a truck that was a little too big to be pushed by hand out of the strange circle. It had to be towed out of the "circle". Base command was not pleased. 

I was amazed by this story, and asked my friend if it had anything to do with the Rendlesham UFO sighting in the 1980s. He just looked at me blankly, with absolutely no idea what I was talking about. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the story of Rendlesham, it goes something like this: In late December 1980, there were a number of UFO sightings near Rendlesham Forest, near Suffolk, England—the first just outside of RAF Woodbridge. Witnesses, including Deputy Base Commander Lieutenant Colonel Charles I. Halt, claim to have seen bright lights moving in the forest, and possibly landing.

I was shocked that Dean hadn’t heard about Rendlesham—I’d been watching UFO and Paranormal TV shows for years and was familiar with the story, even if I couldn’t recall which base it had taken place at. 

Dean just shrugged this off. He didn’t really care what the origin of the mysterious circle was, he just thought it was a cool effect. 



Monday, November 05, 2018

Stranger than Fiction: The Black Boar


Stranger than Fiction is a series of excerpts from an upcoming non-fiction collection of the strange and unusual encounters I, or people I know, have had, gathered into one collection. Look for Stranger than Fiction: A Skeptic's Journey, Black Friday, 2018...


THE BLACK BOAR

The summer of 1990, I shipped out for Basic Training in the USAF, eager to begin a career in law enforcement as a Law Enforcement Specialist in the Security Police—the Air Force’s equivalent of the military police.

Today, they’re called Security Forces, but I don’t imagine the mission has changed that much from what it was in 1990: to provide security to airbases, controlling who comes in, guarding aircraft and priority resources on the base, and patrolling the base, providing basic law enforcement services. In television and movies, SPs (as we were called then) are often in the background, with little real dialogue or explanation—just blue beret-wearing, armed Airmen that come running when there’s a problem, or checking IDs at gates.

After technical school, my first duty assignment was with the 435th Security Police Squadron, at Rhein Main Air Base, in Frankfurt, Germany—a base that has since been turned back over to the Germans. The air base shared, and was to the south of, the runways of the Frankfurt International Airport. Frankfurt lies to the south of the Main River. To the north side of the river is the bulk of Frankfurt. The city is a great central location in Europe, with Paris several hours to the West, Berlin several hours to the East, and Switzerland several hours to the South. The A5 Autobahn runs north and south, right beside the Eastern end of the airport. East and South of the Air Base was a lot of rural area.

Being an SP at Rhein Main wasn’t all about driving around in a patrol car, responding to disturbances or writing tickets on base. There was also the mundane, boring jobs of Installation Entry Control and even security foot patrols. During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, we worked twelve to fourteen-hour days, providing increased security for what was the main air hub in Europe for U.S. forces going to and from the Persian Gulf to fight Saddam Hussein and liberate Kuwait.

Night shift was often long and quiet, with little activity once you got away from the runways. As such, a lot of us told stories to stay awake or pass the time. A lot of the guy I served with had been to many bases around the world: missile bases, bomber bases, even bases at or near former World War II sites. As such, there were a lot of good stories to share.  



A grand tradition in the SPs was to haze the new guys. My personal favorite was the fenceline sensor test—where you’d send a gullible young airman out to a remote corner of the base to test the fence sensors. This meant having him pull on the fence, radioing in his position. Back at either the Law Enforcement Desk or Security Control, a dispatcher would advise him if the sensors were working. Of course, there weren’t any sensors, and the joke was seeing how long, and how hard, you could get an Airman to pull and push on a chain link fence to “trip the sensor”.

At Rhein Main, they a slightly more sophisticated prank that involved the red-eyed monster. Young Airmen were warned about the red-eyed monster early after arrival. This warning included a dissertation about ho there were a number of wild boar that lived in the woods around the base and airport, and that maybe, that’s what people were seeing. But, sure enough, once the Airman got his first posting alone on night shift, a pair glasses, fitted with red plastic lenses were used to scare him from the darkness.

I can personally attest to the existence of the wild boars—they did indeed come out at dusk, and could be seen outside the base fence. At an off-base storage area we patrolled, I even managed to catch a pair in daylight, and my partner for the shift and I enjoyed feeding them and video taping them at length. My partner, Travis, was from Texas and was an avid hunter, who warned me that despite these pigs barely being knee-high, they were fairly dangerous and could hurt you.

Some months later, I found myself assigned to a seldom-used vehicle gate in the southwest corner of the base—a gate that blocked an access road that led to the new control tower for the International Airport. The forest south of the Air Base just reached this area, and a lone gateshack was set up to monitor traffic going back and forth from the Airport to the base. During daylight hours, the gate was kept open, but at dusk, it was closed and locked, as virtually no one used the road.

As the sun was about to set and I was growing tired of listening to Armed Forces radio after having secured the gate, I looked up from my gateshack and saw a couple of small boars run out of the woods from the south. They were just outside the perimeter fence and followed it to the gate before turning and going back. They were the typical, skittish boars I had seen countless times before, and even smaller than the ones I had videotaped off base.

A very short time later, another boar emerged from the woods. This boar was like none I had ever seen in Germany. For one, it was easily three times the size of the other boars I’d seen. It’s back was at least as high as my waist and it surely weighed several hundred pounds. Unlike the mixed brown, grays, and blacks of the smaller boars, this huge specimen was all black, save for a single tuft of white hair sticking up from between its shoulder blades. It was enormous—bigger than any of the hogs I’d seen during summers in my Uncle’s farm as a kid.

The big boar wasn’t running about like the smaller boars had. It trotted along slowly, clearly unafraid of anything. It too followed the fenceline, but instead of turning back at the gate, it just snorted and crossed the road, eyeing me as I stepped out of the gateshack to watch it.

In the dimming light, I could see the individual hairs on the pig’s hide. I could see big tusks and little, dark eyes glaring at me. I have to admit, it’s the only time in my life I’ve been afraid of bacon.

Once across the road, but still outside the perimeter fence, the boar continued to watch me as it leisurely made its way North, passing within thirty feet of me. On this particular day, I was armed with a Beretta M9 pistol. Law enforcement duty often meant just a sidearm. Unlike the Army’s MPs, Security Police actually carried live rounds in Germany. But that was little consolation to me at the time. The big, black beast was considerably larger than me, and I doubted that my handgun would be able to stop it if it decided to charge. I was particularly glad for the heavy steel gate that had blocked the boar’s path onto the base.

When the boar had reached a point fifty or so feet up the fenceline from the gate, I breathed easier and reflected on the closed gate and the probable inadequacies of my sidearm. On my side of the fence, bushes and brush almost obscured the fence from view. There were a few trees, but they thinned out and faded away another fifty or so feet on. I was about to lose sight of this incredible creature, but was very thankful it was outside the fenceline, and that my gate had been closed.

Immediately after I thought this, the boar stopped. He was barely visible now, the brush growing on the inside of the fenceline casting long shadows in the fading light. But I could still see the boar, and watched, stunned, as it turned to its right, and began walking toward the base—passing through the fence with ease.

My hand went to the pistol on my belt as the boar vanished from sight, swallowed by foliage and shadow inside the fenceline. I couldn’t believe what I had just seen. No brush grew outside the fence—if it had continued to follow the fence, I could have seen it. But it had turned and walked right at the fence then passing through it.

I stood there for several moments, trying to make sense of what had just happened. At last, I came to the conclusion that there must be a break in the fence—and that the enormous boar had slipped through and was now on the base, nor far from me.

I went back into my gateshack and called for a patrol for a restroom break. I nervously watched the woods north of my gateshack, waiting for the big boar to come rotting out and over to me. When the patrol finally arrived, I related what had happened, and asked for them to spot me for a few minutes: I wanted to go find that gap in the fence.

As foolish as it sounded, I was actually concerned about a hole in the fence big enough for a boar to pass through without ducking, rattling the fence, or digging. And even though I was probably under-armed, I wanted to find that hole. I needed to find that hole.

My relief would have none of it. If I wanted to go to the bathroom, that was fine. But they weren’t hanging around while I looked for a hole in the perimeter fence, that was Civil Engineering’s job—I could log it in the book back at our dispatch when I got off duty.

For many years, I would look back on this event and wonder about the strange boar I’d seen, never thinking it was anything other than some really big, wild bacon that crawled through a hole in the fence and vanished into the underbrush. It wasn’t until recently that I came across the stories of black animals—mostly dogs—sighted around the world and have begun to wonder… was there really a hole in the fence back in 1992, or did I see something more than just a wild beast?

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Stranger than Fiction: That Time I Saw A Ghost

After a little over five years writing supernatural thrillers, it occurred to me the other day that some folks might be wondering what my fascination is with the genre. To that end, I set out to catalog the many experiences I've had, and the stories I've been told by people I personally know.

Coming November 24th, I'm releasing these tales as a non-fiction book, Stranger than Fiction: A Skeptic's Journey. Leading up to that release, I'll be posting some of my stories here, twice a week. 

To kick things off, here's a story of spookiness that might have you wondering, why is he still a skeptic...?



It was 1988, and I was in a dysfunctional relationship with a young lady I'll call "Rhoda". Rhoda lived with her grandparents, who had adopted her when she was very young. The trio lived in a large house with two upper floors, a walkout basement, and a sub-basement, and which, according to Rhoda, was haunted. 

While I didn't believe the house was haunted, I did believe that Rhoda and her grandmother were scared to be alone when the grandfather went out of town on business, so I often agreed to spend the night on the weekends, sleeping in a guest room. On one of these nights, I got a little more than I bargained for, in the form of a spectral visitor.

On this particular night, Rhoda's grandmother had already gone to bed, leaving us alone to watch late night TV. Rhoda had acquired several puppies that summer, and they slept outside in a miniature barn of sorts near the house. This night, the puppies were being very noisy, barking and yapping without end. I assumed they had seen a deer in the large field behind the house, but Rhoda insisted I go check on them. I grudgingly went outside with a flashlight to see what was wrong.

The mini barn was a fair distance from the house, and the back side—the side with the stalls—was unlit. It also faced out to a large field, nearly football field-sized, that had a forest on the other side. 

As I stood at the stall door, looking down at the dogs and checking each one to make sure they weren’t injured, I felt a cool chill on my right side, facing in the same direction as the house. The chill rapidly moved across my back, then all up and down the lefthand side of my body, then vanished. It was as though a wind had whipped up, but without the movement of any air. I had never experienced anything like it.
As I stood there, confused, noticing there was no wind, something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention, and I turned to the left. Behind the house and stalls, right in the middle of that large field, there was a single tree. Behind this tree, someone was watching me—someone dressed all in white, from head to toe.

As a very young child, I remember making “ghosts” in school. We took little balls of tissue, then draped another tissue over them, putting a rubberband around the neck, to create a little ghost. This is actually what the figure I was seeing looked like: a person, draped in a white cloth, tight around their neck and hands. And, I could see through the shrouded figure—they were translucent.

As soon as I saw them, my observer reacted. They seemed startled, then dove forward, as if to go prone on the ground. Only the translucent figure didn’t just land on the ground, they passed into it, vanishing from sight.

I stood there for a moment, shocked. Had I just seen what I thought I’d seen? I struggled to play the memory back in my head. Surely, I was seeing things.

For one, I was having a problem believing it was a spirit I’d just seen. But I was also having a problem with where who, or what, had gone. I mowed that field regularly, and there was no depression or hole next to that lone tree—nowhere for anyone to go unless they actually passed into the ground.

I turned my head slowly from side to side, thinking that just maybe some light had played across my glasses, creating the illusion. Try as I might, several times, I couldn’t replicate what I had just seen.

I bid the dogs a good night and hurried back into the house. 


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

TOUR GUIDING 101

Recently, some folks I know from out-of-town came to the Louisville area, and I had the good fortune to be able to take them around town for an afternoon of paranormal and historical sightseeing. In my hasty preparations for this 4-hour tour, I learned a lot about the area, and about what you actually need to do to get ready for such a mini-trip. 

Staycations are nothing new for me. My small family has done them for years, normally on spring break, taking our two daughters to different area attractions every day, always returning home by night. As over-prepared as I've always been for those wife-and-kids trips, I found myself woefully unprepared for my friends' trip. 


Lesson #1, clean your vehicle. 

Prior to my visitors' arrival, I had told my eldest (18) to go and get her junk out of the minivan. If you have kids, you know they always leave things like straw wrappers, empty water bottles, and, in the case of girls, hair brushes and other beautification products in your backseats. My kids also have a penchant for leaving empty cups from drivethroughs in the van, as well as pencils, paper, school stuff, and even articles of clothing in the back of the van. 

When it came time to drive my visitors around, I was embarrassed to see that my teen did not do as she was asked--her back seat collection of what is basically trash was still there. Argh. Lesson learned: clean your vehicle yourself, or at least supervise your kids when you make them do it. 


Lesson #2, stock up on travel supplies. 

I have carried a case of bottled water in my van at all times, for about seven years. I started doing so back when my eldest played Tennis in middle school, and I would see so many of the girls show up for matches with no water. A case of Deerpark (my personal favorite) is something like $5. Always having water in the van has come in handy so many times, and has added to what I like to call my van's state of always being drive-in ready (folding seats, blankets, tarp, plastic ware, cups, etc. etc). But wouldn't you know it, the one time I drive a couple of folks around town, showing them the sights, and the van's supply of water was exhausted. I might have noticed this if I sat in the back, where the water is kept, but I never do. 


Lesson #3, Plan your route

Having lived in this area nearly my entire life (I was away for only 4 years when I was in the USAF), I know where most things are. When it comes to taking my kids around, we just go where they want, or where we think they'd like, and spend hours at each location. Touring the area, jumping from place to place to place, with a few moments here and there... a planned route would definitely have maximized the number of places I could have taken my guests. 

And, planning a route isn't just to save time and get the most sight-seeing spots in that you can. It's also time to figure in bathroom breaks and snack stops. My tour followed a big lunch, so my guests nor I were particularly hungry or thirsty in the four hours that followed, but as I headed home from a day of touring, my blood pressure medicine was kicking in and I began to hear the siren song of the water closet. 


Lesson #4, It's All about the story

The Louisville, or Kentuckiana, area is chock full of 150+ year old homes and lots of history. But telling someone "they say this house is haunted" isn't enough. You need the story to go with it. I'm fortunate that after two decades in local law enforcement, I knew quite a bit of stories, paranormal and otherwise, for the many locations around the area. The boring anecdotes I usually tell my kids, and which I've told dozens of people before this impromptu tour, captured the attention of my guests far more than I would have guessed. If you're taking people around your town, do some research, learn some local history. 


Lesson #5, Sharing the Experience

The most amazing thing about taking folks around town though, was the learning experience. I had only a few days to come up with a list of places to go and turned to Google to refresh my memory of locations I drive by on a regular basis without a second thought. In the process, I learned, and re-learned, a lot of local history myself. And my guests, also keen to find cool places to stop, had found stories I wasn't even aware of. All in all, this was a learning event for all of us--not just my visitors. 

No matter how long you've lived somewhere, odds are, there's some cool trivia or stories you've never heard of, because you've never looked for them. Get out and see some local history, you'll enjoy yourself and be pleasantly surprised what's been there all along.