Not One but Two Prairie Lands Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute 2014 Marathons


Our Prairie Lands Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute kicked off in June 2014 with a writing marathon, but it also ended with one.  The teacher-writers who gathered at Missouri Western State University with us for four weeks of their precious summer truly embraced their identities as writers, and they boldly went wherever their writer whims took them. 20140630_102209 I was fortunate to be in a group on June 24 with my Institute Co-Facilitators who wrote at Cafe Pony Espresso, the downtown branch of the Saint Joseph Public Library, and then a Neapolitan pizza shop called Il Lazzarone.   On the last marathon, July 24, I crashed another group who was heading to the local DMV– a marathon stop I’d never tried before, and who also sought out the writerly haven of Pony Espresso as well as some stops along the downtown sculpture walk.  Here are two pieces of writing from those two marathons.  You can read more marathons stories from other PLWP Invitational Summer Institute Participants here


Il Lazzarone 12:30 p.m.

Pizza Superhero Eric
stands proudly beside his imported Italian pizza oven,
invites me back into the prep area to get a picture, and–
I’m sure I’m violating some kind of health code—but I can’t help it.
He’s humble and proud all at once, basking in the lunchtime rush love and
in the heat of flames licking dough into Neapolitan magic.
According to the News-Press, it cost $30,000 just to get the oven from Italy to St. Joseph
Totally worth it from a foodie standpoint, but my writing group worries for him;
restaurants struggle in this scrappy little town.
We resolve to keep bringing Eric and his oven our money and our love,
Hometown pizza superhero,
Eric the Good,
Eric the Brave


Saint Joseph “License Office” (a.k.a. DMV) 10:05 a.m.

We pull up to the scene of the first marathon’s crime, and I can feel some healthy anxiety in the car. I’m a guest in this group, lured by their stories from the first writing marathon and by the faint hint of danger. I turn to Terrance and say, “This is going to be ok, right?”

He smiles and says, “Well, the worst thing that will happen is that we will be arrested. Or maced.”

20140724_123254With this reassurance, we enter. We sit in the long rows of backless brown chairs and get out our notebooks. The place is mostly empty. A woman that Terrance will eventually name She-Ra calls to us in a practiced voice. “Are you here for driver’s license or motor vehicle?”

Deb says, “Neither.”

Terrance says, “We’re writers.”

20140630_110535I explain that we’re teachers who are also writers, working together this summer, and that we’re looking for inspiration.

She-Ra says, “I used to write.” She looks away, a little sad. “I used to write poems. It always took me to another place, you know?”

I tell her yes. I do know.

She-Ra slowly realizes that Deb was her science teacher back in middle school, and they start reconnecting.

About that time, another woman walks by behind the counter and notices us writers. Terrance and Deb recognize her as The Other Deb who questions them during their first marathon visit. She says, “You’re back!”

We all smile. Terrance explains about the quest for inspiration and the reason for our return to the License Office. “We like the feeling,” he says.

She-Ra stares.  “In the DMV?!”

We all laugh. The Other Deb says, “Good to see you again.”

We return to our notebooks, scraping away under the watchful but benevolent eyes of the DMV ladies, their patient, daily chant washing over our pens.

“Ninety-four? Ninety-five? Ninety-six?”


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My First Writing Marathon in Saint Joseph, MO


Ok, so I’ve fallen away from my blog practice for… ugh… more than a year.  In that time, I’ve been on several great writing marathons, so I am going to try to catch up and use this opportunity to reflect on what I’ve been learning. With new fellow blogger-friends in the graduate class I’m teaching now, I feel reinvigorated with new blogging fire.  

My first writing marathon in my new home of Saint Joseph, Missouri, happened in April 2014.  It began with a launch in the “Story House” at one of Saint Joseph’s great public libraries, then spilled out into two cemeteries and one awesome little local deli/bar/music venue/institution.  This was the first of what I hope will be many Open Writing Marathons hosted by the Prairie Lands Writing Project.  I loved my writing group and the adventures we had together.  Here are two pieces that emerged:


11:50 a.m. Mount Olivet Cemetery

“Writers in the Cemetery”

Writers sit
with their backs against
graves warmed in the sun,
journal pages flicking in the breeze.
Squirrels watch behind stones
while plastic flowers nod,
waving frayed ribbons
across the hills.

There should always be
writers in the cemetery.
Just in case.20140405_145159

Like battlefield priests,
writers could be on hand to
comfort the wounded,
hold hands,
call for medics,
hear confessions.

Like Old West telegraph agents,
waiting with their headphones
in the lantern light,
there should always be
writers in the cemetery.
Just in case
the dead decide to speak.

1:20 Ben Magoon’s Delicatessen

20140405_132054Our table of writers sits below an array of dusty hot sauce bottles nearly toppled from overhead by a giant blue Marlin, a framed photo of morel mushrooms, and a Boulevard beer pub sign with a familiar Lewis and Clark silhouette that says, “To those who make maps. Not follow them.” Next to it is a neon-rimmed Gibson guitar with the Jim Bean logo across its body.

Below it a trombone props up the corner of the storefront window with a plastic golden sun resting in its bowl. Next to that is an old-fashioned music stand, a four-foot tall glass bottle filled with green liquid, and a large golden lamp in the shape of a Greek goddess. She’s lifting up the lamp shade and standing on a Schlitz sign, and she is adorned by a single strand of green beads.

20140405_132606Over my shoulder, I can hear the easy laughter and storytelling rhythms of the usuals at the bar, punctuated by the sound of pool balls thunking each other and rolling into their pockets. The bell on the door clatters, and then there is a small chorus of greetings for someone named “Tom.”
Above it all, the waitress is cheerily explaining the specials for the 40th time today: hot ham and cheese, your choice of bread, with chips and a pickle. Chicken poblano pepper is the soup of the day

20140405_143112At the three small tables we’ve pushed together for lunch, seven writer heads now bow silent amid the bottles and cups, pens moving, my keyboard clicking. Ashleigh is crossing something out and then pondering, the pen moving in her hand like a priest working a rosary. Her brows furrow. Mary is grimacing, then writing, then grimacing, then writing. I can feel her brain trying to separate out the bar conversations behind us, pulling them into poetry.

To my left, the “Regular Weekly Music Schedule” taped to an antique icebox announces that on Monday, Colby the Human Jukebox is playing from 6-9, with Double Happy Hour and a Discount for Service Industry with Server’s License. Behind me is a giant green banner proclaiming that the Ancient Order of the Hibernians has declared Magoon’s the BEST BAR ENTRY in the St. Joseph Saint Patrick’s Day Parade.

I want to sit at this award-winning bar for the rest of the afternoon and listen to the music of this cool, weird town, my new home. Last night, Mary challenged the First Thursdays crowd at Norty’s to write Odes to St. Jo for the next Open Mic. I might start with this place, humming right along in the clatter and warm dust.


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Boston Writing Marathon

This marathon took place at the Annual Meeting of the National Writing Project in Boston on Nov. 22, 2013.  Our big group of eight turned out to be perfect for wandering and writing in the two large, gorgeous spaces we visited: Central Library and Trinity Church.  It was a special marathon for me, since I got to write in a group with 1) my Marathon Guru, Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project Director Richard Louth, who invented the writing marathon, 2) my Marathon Mamma, Dakota Writing Project Director Michelle Rogge-Gannon, who took me on my first writing marathon ever back in 2006,  and  3) Tom Pankiewicz, a long-time writing marathon fan and the former Director and founding Co-Director of the Prairie Lands Writing Project, my new NWP home.  We were joined by several new writer friends who helped us find our way, both geographically and metaphorically.


Bates Hall Reading Room, Central Library, Copley Square, 10:47 a.m.

This is a Library from Story and Legend. Amazing contrast between where we were—the Boston Convention Center—and where we are now.  The physical and mental shifts disrupts my usual presentation-day conference panic, bringing blessed refuge on a rainy day in Boston.

We’ve wandered into the Bates Hall Reading Room where the classic green lamps line up in comforting rows.  Long wooden tables stretch out like pews underneath a soaring, vaulted ceiling.  This stunning, hushed space is ruled by an unspoken covenant, pulling on the medieval authority of wood, stone, and brass.

Everyone here within my view has a laptop except for Richard and me, plus one lone woman three tables down, reading and writing notes and catching my weird marathon glance over her spectacles.

A security guard walks through, slowly, like a Zen meditation master.


I cannot ignore the signs before me, propped up in little plastic stands between the green lamps.  “Be alert ,” they read in large, worried letters.  “Please do not leave personal items unattended, even when photocopying, requesting materials, or making a phone call.”

Be alert, indeed.

Un-alert, we nearly left my writing marathon guru behind in the awful Sheraton lobby.  We left a phone message with a rendezvous point and hoped for the best.

Nothing like a little snag to get the writing blood flowing, to make the unfolding of new space all the more magical when we emerged, all eight, together, into this Temple of Words, newly alert.

Alert and grateful.  We would not be here without each other, in good and ambling company.

We would not be here now, glancing at our watches, alert to the deadline driving our writing toward our regroup-and-share time.

Oh, my dear group of writers, thank you for your  patience and for your warm writer smiles, traded ever more silently as we moved deeper and deeper into the library’s heart.

Other groups had passed us earlier on the sidewalk, clogged briefly with writers emerging onto Boylston Street and heading to Copley Square. Before that, NWP friend Troy Hicks, had passed us in the corridor of the convention center, grinning and smiling. “Looks like a writing marathon,” he said.  I could tell that he wanted to come, too, but was clearly off to some conference obligation.

“It’s ok, brother,” I thought.  “We’ll write for you, too.”

Trinity Church, 11:15 a.m.

We’ve traded our tables for real pews now, having made our way to Trinity Church,  an important stop we nearly missed.  It had been so chilly in the damp but beautiful library courtyard that we’d been sorely tempted to take up Richard’s suggestion to sit by a warm fire and have a Guinness at the Irish pub just up the street.  But Micha reminded us that we were a mere block away from the church, a historic landmark, and so we moved on toward it in the drizzle.


Another great reason why it’s good to be writing in a group.  Yesterday at the plenary session, the new acting president of the National Writing Project said, “We know more collectively because we learn together.”  She was talking about NWP, but it’s also true of writing marathons.  We know more collectively because we write together.  .

As we sit, more writers from other groups come into the church. They take their  places a few pews ahead of us and begin to write.  Writers at the back of the church.


There should always be writers at the back of a church. Just in case.

Alert. Waiting. Listening. Recording.

Pens poised like antennae to receive the signal,

transmute it through ink–

the Word of the World,

transcribed unto itself.

Note: After I wrote this, a concert started in the church.  An all-female vocal ensemble called Lorelei performed, starting with a stunning piece that sounded like Gregorian Chant.  Their voices filled the space in a way that left me so awe-struck and moved to tears that I could no longer write.  It was a great gift, another testament to the magic of the writing marathon and the way it opens people to experience the world more fully and deeply so that they can share it through writing. 

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The Ultimate Word Nerd Road Trip: Advanced Writing Marathon in New Orleans

Last week I was blessed to finally be able to participate in the mother of all writing marathons, the Advanced Writing Marathon hosted by the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project every summer in New Orleans.  I was blown away by the writing, the city, and the hospitality of my fellow teacher-writers.  Here’s what I read at two successive read-alouds on July 12th and 13th in the gorgeous VIP suite of Le Richelieu, our home base and hotel in the French Quarter.

11:16 a.m.  Dry Dock Café in Algiers

On the Canal St.-Algiers ferry, crossing the Mississippi.

We’ve just crossed the Mississippi River on the Canal Street-Algiers ferry, a trip I’ve been wanting to take for years.  So glad to finally be doing it and to have such a great local guide in the wonderful Jeanne.  I’m thinking of the Travelling Willburys’ song that George played on the jukebox yesterday at Harry’s Bar, especially the Tom Petty line, “I’m just happy to be here/Happy to be alive.”

But during the river crossing, all I could think about was the scene in Tremé where the John Goodman character takes his own life by purposefully falling off this very same ferry.  More than the death of a favorite character, it became a symbolic act within the story which represented the overwhelming despair faced by so many after Katrina.

One of the most chilling alerts ever issued by the National Weather Service

I can’t imagine loss like that, loss and endless grief and anger.  I am a guest in this city, and it has a hold on even me, in a way I can barely explain (though as a writer, it’s my job to try).  I’m overwhelmed by this place and its forgiving spirit in the wake of enduring so much.  New Orleans has every reason to be angry.  To be enraged.  And not just by Katrina, but by all the Katrinas that have come before, the historical and the political, the meteorological and the bureaucratic.

New Orleans has every right to be mad as hell.  But instead it endures.  It thrives and it forgives.  And it smiles.

I can’t begin to unravel how the city does what it does.  So instead I will write about my barbecue shrimp.

Barbecue shrimp at the Dry Dock Cafe in Algiers

I have no idea how it does what it does, either.  I was encouraged but also warned by my benevolent writing group.  And I was given a big pile of napkins.  All my senses have been engulfed by its crunchy, gooey, spicy, buttery awesomeness…



1:26 p.m.  A small park near the Old Point Bar on Delaronde St.

The wind ruffles the pages of my notebook.  Behind us, the levee rises fifteen feet or so above the street, blocking our view of the river but shielding this old neighborhood from floods.

On a writing marathon, our own levees are breached sometimes, the river of words seeping over our defenses and swirling into our ready-or-not pens.  The words flow and the river flows and the tears flow, and they all wash over us.  They wash us.  Maybe not clean, exactly, but cleaner than we were.

Mural on the levee wall in Algiers

4:10 p.m.  Molly’s on the Market

On the ferry ride back from Algiers, there was a woman standing along the railing near me.  Her pink mohawk-ish hair was tied down with clips and beads and flowers, her skirt slung low on her hips and adorned with a garland of feathers.  Her bare skin was peeking out all over her strappy black t-shirt and cami combo.  She was all by herself, but she was leaning a bit over the side of the ferry, smiling into the wind.  Smiling out at the afternoon rain clouds.  Staring down into the churning, green-brown water and smiling, smiling, smiling.


10:30 a.m.  Suite 217 at Le Richelieu

Dear New Orleans,

I can’t thank you enough for your warm hospitality this week, especially for such a motley crew as a bunch of writers.  But, then again, you’ve always been kind to writers.

Yesterday I had my beautiful writing marathon moment with Jeanne and Stephanie and Dee and Pacian and Pete in Algiers.   But I forgot to thank you properly for my perfect New Orleans moment, which came to me as I sat with George and company at Harry’s Bar on Wednesday.  George had expertly steered us into the shelter of Harry’s in perfect time to enjoy the afternoon downpour while we wrote and listened to his $5 worth of jukebox selections.

Writing at Harry’s Corner with Diana, George, and Karen

I have to tell you, after reading The Writing Marathon: In Good Company Revealed, writing at Harry’s Corner Bar with George was like stepping into a famous painting.  Like walking into one of those gorgeous, hazy Monets with the footbridges and the water lilies.

The bar crowd was intensely interested in us writers, especially since another group had stopped there not long before.  They wanted to know what the heck was going on.  Thinking myself clever, I suggested that we were a conspiracy of writers.  The entire row erupted at my mention of “the ‘C’ word.”  One patron grumbled, “We already have too many conspiracies in this town,” and left.

A little later, the video poker player standing near us told his female companion that he was “watching the kids do their homework,” and we were again pulled into a bar-wide conversation about what we were doing.  One red-faced man seemed unable to rest until we fully explained ourselves.  So we gushed for a while about New Orleans as a Mecca for writers, about how people come from all over the country just to write here.  As we spoke, his expression slowly softened and his eyes grew misty and bright.  He told us, “Well, I’m glad y’all are here.  I hope you enjoy yourselves.”   He talked a bit about how friendly people in New Orleans are, how they actually talk to each other and about how they all, mostly, get along.

“I’m just a drunk,” he said, gently taking his leave of us, “but I know a few things.  Good luck with the writing!”  With that, he disappeared out into the wet sunlight.

So much more was happening in that little bar than I could ever possibly write down.  But in that moment, I finally understood what Hemingway meant by those lines we quote at every writing marathon launch: “The story was writing itself, and I was having a hard time keeping up with it.”

New Orleans, I can’t keep up with you in the least.  And I love that you don’t mind that at all.   I love that you are what you are.  And that you are here for me and for us all.  You’re patient and funny and kind in ways that not everyone understands.  But we writers are working on that.  It’s the least we can do.

If you’re ever up in Nebraska, be sure to give me a call.  I’d love to get together and show you around Omaha.  She’s definitely not you, but she has her moments.

Thanks again, so much, for everything!  I’ll see you soon, I’m sure.


Susan Martens

SLWP Director and New Orleans Writing Marathon inventor, Richard Louth, with visiting Nebraska Writing Project gals in the VIP Suite of Le Richelieu.




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UNL Student-Athletes’ Writing Marathon Tour of the Student Life Complex

We didn’t get as much writing done as we would have liked, partly because the 100 degree heat drove us back to the classroom.  But we did some grand exploring.  I got to see the places where my students work with their tutors, the various training facilities, and the amazing Heisman Trophy Room (a.k.a the Nebraska Experience Room).  The students even led me on a mock tunnel walk onto the football field of Memorial Stadium.  It’s always fascinating to me what happens when people get to show their places to others on a writing marathon.  It usually helps the “tour guides” re-see the place through newcomers’ eyes and even discover things they had never noticed.  Many thanks to my student guides on this sizzling summer session writing marathon!

Students posing in a lounge-like study room in the “eagle’s nest” area.

11:30 a.m.  Student Life Complex

Beautiful and gleaming, it’s an amazing place, just as tour guide Graham described it in his last essay.  I’m so glad that our athletes are so well looked-after and so-well supported.  After hearing about their tightly-scheduled lives and long hours of training, I understand why they benefit from such structured places to help them achieve academically.  There is an aura of decorum and hard work carefully maintained throughout the complex.  Though the students joked, on entering, about the “no smile” rule, everyone we met seemed cordial (if businesslike).

Stopping for group photo outside the Heisman Room/Experience. Note the Star Trek doors behind us.

12:10 Heisman Trophy Room

When students told me, after the previous writing marathon, that they stopped in the Heisman Trophy room, I had pictured a room with trophies.  Not the multi-media experience it actually is.  Star Trek doors, huge speakers, spotlights, and multiple projectors all work together to showcase three secret panels which swing out, Indiana Jones-style, to reveal the three Heisman Trophies at various points in the video.  It feels like something you might see in Las Vegas or Disneyworld, all dazzling and sleek.

I’m so grateful for this tour and the chance to write about these amazing places.  I come away from this writing marathon with a much more visceral sense of the lives of the student athletes who’ve been in my classes here at UNL.

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Dual writing marathons on UNL City Campus

This is a first for me: two writing marathons happening at the same time!  On this day, I  helped to launch the writing marathon for the Nebraska Writing Project’s Summer Institute at 10:30, then  went on to join the one for my ENGL 150, Rhetoric as Inquiry class at 11:00, then met back up with the Nebraska Writing Project folks at 2:00.  And of course, as always happens on writing marathons, these groups of writers ran across each other at a key moment.

Manter Hall no-koi pond.

11:35 a.m.  Manter Hall

I’m going to stop telling people about the koi pond.  I haven’t seen koi here for a while.  But someone has added a few things since that last time I was here.  A plastic duckie and a few abalone shells.  The duckie looks strangely at home, gently bobbing against the concrete sides of the pond.  The shells are glittering beautifully at the bottom, their mother-of-pearl reflecting back the overhead lighting.

I see a plaque on the wall of Harold Winfred Manter, a famous parasitologist and former teacher at UNL.  The building is named in his honor, but I wonder if he also donated some money.  If I ever have money to donate to UNL, I will give some to Manter Hall to fix these lights above the non-koi pond.  These are the worst-sounding lights I have ever heard– a horrible buzzing completely at odds with the peaceful garden below.

12:10 Architecture Hall

I’m thrilled to be exploring a new floor of Arch Hall.  Sam said, “It’s like every floor has its own thing going on.”  And he’s right.  This floor has groovy 60s chairs and a great view of the owl of the old law school facade.  I’m blessed yet again to be in a group of writer-explorers.  Earlier, we found the bridge that connects Manter and Hamilton Halls, then explored the weird signage in the basement chemistry labs.  In Arch Hall, Jessy showed us the awesome third floor grad student lab with its strangely angled beams and piles of architecture projects.

Fourth floor bridge between Manter and Hamilton Halls

12:45 Back at the office in Andrews

I’m thrilled to hear the question from Robert Brooke, Director of the Nebraska Writing Project, echoing across Architecture Hall’s light-filled atrium: “Hey!  Are you guys writers?”

I’m  even more thrilled to hear Sam’s quick reply: “Yup.  We’re writers!”  Robert gives us a thumbs up sign, then he, his group, and his iconic hat disappear around the stairwell.  It’s a good day to be a writer among writers!

My own group joins the flow of marathon groups coursing back into Andrews Hall.  Today, we are rivers of writers flowing from a common source, gathering up and laying down the rich river-writer silt in the landscapes as we go.

The facade of the old law school, preserved inside the atrium of Architecture Hall

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The Grey Dog Adventure Team Status Updates (To Philly and Back Again on the Bus)

Over Memorial Day weekend, I traveled with a ‎fellow intrepid (and funds-challenged) doctoral student to a conference in Philadelphia.  On the bus.  The Big Grey Dog, Bernice called it, though we found out that Greyhound actually contracts out several of their schedules to other carriers, like Trailways  It was one of those times when we both had more time than money, and bus fare was about $300 less than the plane,  so we bought the tickets and christened ourselves the Grey Dog Adventure Team (GDAT).  

When our friends and family found out about our plan, they demanded regular updates to track our whereabouts and our safety (since our sanity was clearly already a lost cause).  I’m not a terribly avid Facebook poster, but this time I saw Facebook status updates as the perfect genre for our purpose, context and audience.  We were headed to a giant nerdfest anyway– the Rhetoric Society of America’s Biennial Conference– so it seemed an appropriate rhetorical strategy.  

I’ve compiled the updates here, interspersed with a few choice photos, and I will let them tell the story.  Mostly, it was awful: cramped, exhausting, chaotic, confusing, and malodorous.  I can’t say that I recommend it, especially not for the 65 hours we were either en route or stuck at a station.    But I have to say, there were also moments of real charm and joy.  Friends, if you ever find yourself on a long and sort of scary bus trip, I urge you to take a small pillow, a fleece blanket, a stout heart, and an open mind.

Cheers to all fellow Grey Dog Initiates! And to everyone heading out soon or out there on the road already, safe travels and happy trails!  

The Grey Dog Adventure Team Status Updates

Part 1: Omaha to Philadelphia (39 hours total)

9:10 a.m. Grey Dog Adventure Team with Bernice. Our last driver sang “kiss my ass” during “Jumping Jack Flash.” Now leaving Des Moines…

12:42 p.m. The next driver said, “That guy’s an idiot.” We are now on the local local local getting to Chicago four hours late.  But this driver looks like General Hammond from Stargate SG1, which is reassuring.

“Bus interdiction” in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

2:20 p.m.”Bus interdiction” with drug-sniffing dogs. The patrolman said “Welcome to Cedar Rapids. Don’t touch the luggage.”

3:43 p.m. Dubuque and we lost Turtle Man, who slept a seat behind the Grey Dog Adventure Team by pulling his hands and his head into shirt. Onward!

7:33 p.m.  A great-grandma from Freeport IL told me about the summer of 1956 in Chicago when it was so hot everyone went out and slept in the park. Now Chicago traffic is slowing the GDAT’s progress…

9:56 p.m. I sat with a young man turning 22 tomorrow who was bringing his boyfriend back from Chicago to live in his small hometown. He told me, “You meet a lot of nice people on the bus.” Amen, brother.

6:13 a.m. GDAT wearily approaches Cleveland. Three hour layover in Chicago sapped Grey Dog Adventure Team’s  strength. Can’t quite comprehend 14 more hours of this.

11:09 a.m. The much-touted greyhound wi-fi is not very hi fi. Photos soon. For now, GDAT looking good in Penn, though this driver schooled me on improper ticket detachment and read one dude the riot act when said dude was on his cell phone during announcements. Ouch. We miss cool blues-listening driver from yesterday.

8:46 p.m. And so the Grey Dog Adventure Team found redemption this morning in egg and cheese sandwiches and nerdy coffee talk in beautiful Cleveland!

11:56 p.m. Final leg of the trip was grim, but I had a great chat with a Pitt med student. We talked Grey’s Anatomy and student loans.

Our room on the 29th floor of the conference hotel, a mere three blocks from the Greyhound Station.

12:01 p.m. (arrival in Philadelphia)  Grey Dog Adventure Team having trouble adjusting to the conference hotel swank after 36 hours of bus stank.

Part II: Philadelphia to Omaha (26 hours total)


Like a reverse kind of superman, I changed clothes and repacked for the bus in the ladies’ room of the third floor of the hotel conference center. It was hours after checkout, and we were gearing up for the trip home. I kept staring at these spring green chrysanthymums in their pretty square vases filled with black spa stones. In minutes, I would be back in belly of the Big Grey Dog.

6:15 p.m. (departing from the Philadelphia station heading to Pittsburgh) Our driver, Daryl, gave the best pre-trip speech yet, letting us all know what was what in no uncertain terms. An accomplished rhetor at the helm of this sleek grey dog! The Philly bus station staff are all pros, too. Great start!

10:42 p.m. Driver Daryl makes a stop for a safety check after expertly piloting grey dog through the storms. He tells us we have ten minutes and can either smoke or run to the bathroom. “Choose wisely,” he says, “and don’t wander off. Because I ain’t gonna come looking for you!” :)

4:59 a.m. Our next driver said, “My name IS Earl.” He warned us about taking off our shoes and seemed to enjoy saying “Hotlanta” during his endless repeat of the connecting bus info. Fellow passengers have been doing Earl impressions during the layover in Columbus OH. On to Dayton!

8:51 a.m. (posted by Bernice due to my dying cell phone): Grey dog adventure team survived driver-in-training Cecil but nearly missed the last leg bus.  That would have ended badly for Cecil!

3:00 p.m. Grey Dog Adventure Team befriends a Muslim woman in a hijab travelling alone but also headed to Omaha. She shares her delicious homemade bread with us. We try to give her some chocolate in return. She passes but takes some raisins. For the most part, bus people look out for each other. Grateful GDAT working up some good bus karma

6:15 p.m. GDAT finds itself once again in the hands of Jumpin’ Jack Flash in Burlington, Iowa, and fears for the worst. But this time he is on time and brought along Galaxy Quest for us to watch on the bus DVD player.  Redemption in Des Moines! And almost home…

11:00 p.m. Grey Dog Adventure Team returns safely home! What a wild ride!

11:00 a.m.  (the next morning)  Many thanks to everyone for reading and supporting Grey Dog Adventure Team updates! It helped to know that Bernice and I had readers out there wishing us well and watching our progress. We now have a new appreciation for bus travel and a renewed faith in the human spirit, not to mention the kinds of stories that no amount of money can buy. From here on out, when I see clumps of intrepid bus travelers waiting at rest areas, I will smile and tell them the same thing that others in-the-know told us: “Happy trails and safe travels.”

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