top of page
The family at the South Haven pier.

Travels..... With Charlie.


In the fall of 2014, Paul and I embarked on a cross-country road-trip to visit my mother in Michigan. Along the way, Paul wanted to stop in Salt Lake City, where he had been stationed in the army nearly 50 years ago. He also wanted to drop by certain areas in Illinois where his ancestors had been.


Because at this time gas prices were fairly high, we decided to take my little manual Scion xD...with Preston and Ursus. We packed as lightly as possible and stuffed it into the car…I’m still taking about 45 minutes to pack it all in. Then we loaded up the boys. They had just enough room to lie down and that was if they laid down on the luggage. As soon as we got to the end of our street, I noticed the “low tire” light on. Shit, I thought, I wonder if I have a flat.


After a very few moments of argument, I drove directly to our Les Schwab to have them look at the tires. Fortunately, it was early enough on a Friday that no one was there yet and we got right into the bay.


“No,” the employee said, “it isn’t a flat. It’s just more weight than that little tire is used to carrying.” Fine. He pumped it full of air. We also decided that the spare tire needed to be checked. SOOO…out came all of the luggage, and the dogs, so that they could get to the spare underneath them all. Then we had to try to pack it all back in again in five minutes.


It wasn’t too bad, but it was an indication of the trip we were about to embark on.


We finally got onto the open road. The first day went well. The dogs were okay. We drove to Salt Lake City and got a very nice room in a Fairmont Hotel (what better than to stay in a Mormon hotel in a Mormon city?). We hung out there for the night. The boys were fine. The next day was spent with Paul trying to find his way around a city that bore little resemblance to what he remembered from so long ago. Still, he found a museum for the base that he had been stationed at that had since been completely swallowed up by the University of Utah. He talked a long, long time with the curator and employees. Meanwhile, I just ran the dogs around an open field in front of the museum and in the middle of the U of U campus.


I kept letting the dogs off-leash and then putting them back on-leash when Preston started wandering off a little too far…that was his modus operandi, of course. He was never afraid. He just followed his nose. He was always looking for something a little bit more exciting than my boring self.


Finally, Paul emerged from the museum with a big smile and promises of sending pictures and records of days gone by. Of course, he never did.


Finally, we got in the car and drove out of Salt Lake City. We drove east as the sun set in the west. We took Interstate 80 through Wyoming and kept driving as night fell upon us and finally we were cast into complete darkness. Still, Paul wanted to keep driving. At one point, I suggested that we should find a place for the night. I looked up local motels on Yelp!  and told Paul the nightly rates. He kept shaking his head. “No, no. I’m not going to spend that kind of money just to have a place to sleep for a few hours. “


But, that was all that was available in these parts.


So Paul kept driving. I went into a drowse-sleep for a while. At one point, I finally fell into a fairly comfortable sleep. Sometime within that, I realized that we were slowing down. Paul had pulled off into a rest stop because he finally admitted to himself that he was tired...AND he had to take a pee. So did I. So did Preston. So did Ursus.


So, Paul went off to the bathroom while I walked the dogs around on their leashes. They peed. I tried to run with them a little bit (but I was still pretty drowsy). When Paul came out it was my turn to use the bathroom while he walked the dogs around.


I went into the usual brown-tiled rest stop bathroom, peed, brushed my teeth, and threw some water on my face.  This is what the nightly ritual becomes on the road.


So, we finally all crawled back into the car for a little sleep.


I actually curled up into a position that most people would find impossibly uncomfortable and fell into a deep sleep.


Suddenly, I heard a noise and was jolted awake. The dogs were making a huge commotion in the back. My first instinct, being the cynical being that I am, was that someone was attempting to break into my little car. Then, as my senses started coming back, I realized that there was no one outside. Then, as my eyesight focused into the strawberry light of the parking lot security light, I realized that no one was there.


Oh! Some sort of animal must have walked by! I thought.


And, I looked. Within a minute, I realized what was really going on.


Preston had his face smashed up against the window and he was making horrible little “saying uncle” sounds. Ursus was doing his usual attack and had his own face right next to Preston’s. By this time, I was truly and really sick of Ursus doing these things to Preston, especially here where Preston could not get away. Now fully awake and in a complete rage, I grabbed Ursus by the collar and pulled him toward me. I then commenced to take both hands and strangle him.


But, that wasn’t enough. I looked at my poor dog shaking his head and pulling himself away from the confines of the window and the arm rest. So, after a few strangle-holds, I started punching Ursus on the side of the head.


Boom, boom, strangle, strangle.


At some point, what seemed like hours to me but was probably moments, Paul stepped in, pulled my choke hold on Ursus away. We were all awake and still alive.

There was only silence for a bit after the madness. Then Paul broke the silence.


“Alright,” he said, “let’s keep moving.”


So Paul backed up and headed down the highway again.


Both Paul and I were quiet for a very long time as we pondered what had just happened: what did it mean?


Eventually, Paul came to the conclusion that, at an earlier stop in the trip, he had noticed that the luggage in the back of the tiny car had shifted and Preston had been driven away from Ursus as much as he possibly could, but the luggage was still a problem no matter what.


“Okay,” I said after much back-and-forth arguing. “What can we do about it?”




Then, half an hour later: grumbling.


“Yes?” I said, “what is it?”


“I think I have figured out what we need to do.”




“We need to keep the luggage and the dogs completely separate.”


“And how should we do that?” I asked, looking back into the cramped car.


So, the next thing I knew, we were searching for a Target store. We wandered in. Looked around. Finally, Paul settled on a child safety barrier. I didn’t quite get how he intended to set this up, but he was sure he could figure it out.


So, I took the dogs out from the car and walked around the parking lot and various, small grassy areas (Ursus prefers to pee in luxurious grass).


Meanwhile, Paul was wrestling with his child-gate. I actually don’t know what he went through to figure it out or what he may have gone back into the store for. When I finally wandered back about 45 minutes later, he had actually rigged up a system that really did keep the luggage from falling into the dogs’ area.


Ah. I thought. All is well.


So, we took off again from the parking lot of the Target somewhere in mid-America Wyoming and drove on.


We kept driving. Ursus began getting restless again. Preston tried very hard to keep away from him. It wasn’t enough. Ursus went after Preston again somewhere in Iowa.

That is IT!! I thought. Short of killing Ursus outright, I decided that what he needed was a muzzle. He could go crazy to his little black-heart’s content but be incapable of doing any damage.


So, we went to a PetSmart in Underwood, Nebraska. It was very large and had many things – except for a muzzle that would fit a sixty-pound dog that wasn’t usually known for needing a muzzle. Mostly, his nose was too short.


Again, we drove on. But, by this point, I was driven. That goddamned dog was NOT going to hurt my Preston again. So, as Paul kept driving, I used my iPhone to look up pet shops. The nearest one turned out not to be open for some reason. So, I kept looking. The one that seemed most likely was a pet store in Joliet, Illinois. So we went there. It was only possible to find the place because of the TomTom we both had on our iPhones.


It was a rather roundabout way to get there, but we finally reached the pet store. I think I was really tired and just did not want to be in there as Ursus was fitted. I walked Preston around.  Eventually, Paul came out with Ursus in a cloth muzzle – much different than what one sees on pitbulls or Hannibal Lecter.


I decided that I knew this area much better than Paul could, so I took over driving.


Uh-huh. Soon after we left, I realized that we were leaving at about 4:30 pm – basically the rush hour anywhere in 2014. It was crazy for a girl who hadn’t driven in ‘big city’ rush hour for a long, long time. At one point when I was young, I used to love weaving in and out. And the speed! Oh, I could go so fast back then when I was young and immortal.


No. No longer. I just wanted to survive. So I pulled out all of my defensive driving skills and drove until I found our exit through TomTom. There it was. A simple on-ramp that one could find anywhere.


NOOOOOO…at the precise moment that I approached the on ramp, a large semi-truck entered from the off-ramp. Of course, this was one of those off-and-on ramps that overlapped. And there I was. I slowed down as much as I could as the large truck entered the roadway, but there were angry people behind me, beside me, in front of me. I could not figure it out. Finally, the truck passed by and I attempted to merge into the lane to my right. Allowing a person to merge is one of those laws that only very ethical people follow. I finally ended up in the meridian between my on-ramp and the highway behind me. Paul was absolutely terrified. If I had been smarter, I would have been terrified, too. As we were sitting there with a third of the ass of my tiny little Scion in the highway, a dump truck came tooling by and narrowly missed us, honking all the way. Someone in the lane beside him must have seen the potential danger (me) ahead and moved over. We would have been reeled into a bunch of spinning spirals if it had been a Hollywood movie.


It wasn’t a movie. It was real-life and we were caught between a difficult place and a nowhere place. Finally, a very nice man in a sedan let us merge into the traffic for the on-ramp.


Thank you so much! Whoever you were!


Finally, after a close call with death, we were back on the road with Ursus now in his cloth muzzle. He was mostly okay with it after the initial one or two hours of trying to figure out that he couldn’t ditch it.


I was driving within my own past. We drove through Chicago. We drove through Gary, Indiana and Calumet, Illinois?…Indiana?….. WHO CARES! Anyway?


Both of the canine boys behind us actually calmed down and went to sleep. Ursus did not seem to mind the muzzle at all, except for the initial itch.

The nice thing about Chicago is that it always signaled the end of real traffic and big cities, as far as driving along Interstate 80 is concerned. I had done it many times in my previous life.


So, eventually, we got through all of that horrible, magnificent rust belt decay and there we were on the wide-open road of the highway that leads to my hometown. It was very dark. Occasionally, there was a bright light announcing, something:  Hometown cooking or breakfast, cigarettes for a real discount, liquor for the same and often in the same place. However, as a person drives further north, everything seems to get a little more ‘family oriented.’ Billboards announced various emergency clinics and help groups.


Eventually, we reached the turnoff to my small hometown. The road leading there was very rustic. Every fifth of a mile there was a bounce as the tires hit the tarred connection between concrete sections: Thu-dup… Thu-dup… Thu-dup.


Preston would occasionally arouse himself from his rather uncomfortable seat in the driver’s side back of the car. He was always waiting for a new treat or another stop on the way. Just before reaching my small hometown, we stopped at a rest stop to let the dogs do what they needed to do so that there wouldn’t be any accidents on our arrival. Finally, after what seemed like ten hours between Joliet and South Haven, we pulled up into my mother’s drive-way in Michigan. 


We were nearly ready to collapse. Mom was ready for us and gave us both a huge hug. She gave the dogs a nod of attention. Mom was never really big on animals, but she always put up with my myriad pets as long as I took care of them and she didn’t have to. She once had let me live in this same tiny house with two house rabbits for three months while I got my feet back on the ground. She even put up with the final fight between these two male rabbits that had not been housed together for years because they didn’t get along. Those rabbits became brothers-in-arms after that fight.


Anyway, Paul and I immediately poured ourselves a whiskey. There was a Bailey’s Irish Cream for my mother. Aside from not being an animal lover, she also wasn’t much of a drinker. I think I got both of those things from my father. It was lovely not to be in a cramped car or even in some stinky hotel room somewhere. We had reached our destination – at least the one we were going to be at for the next week.


The week in South Haven was nice. There is a nice, if hard-packed, trail that had been converted from a railroad that runs a little bit along the river. It gets really boring after a while, but we only ran about 2 to 4 miles anyway. So, we took the dogs here for a run every morning. There was a walk from downtown to the lighthouse that we could take the boys on. We couldn’t take them on the beach, however. This is one of the big differences between the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest. Partly because of mindset and, I suppose, partly because of temperature. There really aren’t that many people that settle down into a spot in the sand in their swimsuits in the Pacific Northwest. Usually you’re in a parka. So, there isn’t quite as much complaining about dog poop.


So, the dogs were just fine while we were at this stopping point. Ursus was able to get some of his anxiety out in exercise and Preston…well, Preston was adaptable anyway.


But soon, the week came to a close and we had to be back on the road again.


Our next planned stop was to Paul’s cousin’s house in Crookston, Minnesota. To get there, we had to drive north to the Upper Peninsula (eh?). So we were off. But first, because I was afraid of more retaliation by Ursus, I stopped at a Petco in Holland, Michigan to buy some calming drugs for Ursus. We picked up an herbal “natural” calming drug and I immediately fed them to Ursus. Fortunately, they seemed to work. Ursus, with muzzle in place, just laid down and fell asleep.


We stopped for the night in Macinaw City, a town right at the lower base of the Mackinaw Bridge. The first place that we stopped did not allow dogs. This was a real culture shock from the West where there were nearly always pet rooms if you are willing to pay extra. They directed us to a little place down the street which turned out to be much quainter and ‘midwesty.’ We had our own little log cabin. It was relatively clean. It had absolutely nothing fancy. We didn’t care. We were just there to sleep.


We headed over Mackinaw Bridge to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We had hoped for fall colors. What we got were grey skies and green leaves, just like home. Oh, well. We stopped a few places that my brother had told me to go. He spent a lot of time riding his bicycle around the UP.


We took his advice and visited a place called “Big Spring” in the Upper Peninsula. It was really beautiful and amazing if you are a geologist of any sort, like my brother, which I am not. Therefore, it was just beautiful. It was worth the stop.


It took us two days to reach Paul’s cousins in Crookston, Minnesota.


The visit immediately started bad. Their dog, Charlie, was tied up outside. He was a small, scruffy mutt, very cute. He barked and went crazy as dogs do when strangers approach their home.


I hung back when Scott and Jerri came to the door, but Preston immediately pushed right on through. I followed him, saying sorry but I needed to make sure he wasn’t getting into anything. The second I walked in the door, I heard a thump, thump, thud. I was horrified as I crossed through the kitchen and saw the open steps to the basement. At the bottom of the stairs was Preston just sniffing around as if nothing had happened. I pretty easily figured out what had happened. The kitchen and hall floors were a Pergo-type material. Preston had slipped and lost his balance while turning the corner and fell right down the stairs.


Like any dog, he bounced up. At this moment I still felt extremely guilty. I should have had him on a leash and held him back. But there he was at the bottom of the stairs looking as happy as could be. Anyway, we were accepted into the house. Preston wandered up to the first floor as if nothing unusual had happened. He seemed to be okay.


We settled into an extremely tiny bedroom and nothing more happened that day.


The next morning, we all were having breakfast around the kitchen table when there was growling at our feet that immediately turned into a skirmish. Moments later, Charlie ran from beneath the table, emitting a piercing high scream that only small dogs and rabbits can make. Scott, Jerri, and their son all ran to Charlie’s aid at the other end of the kitchen.


“Poor, poor Charlie!! Are you alright??” They all were exclaiming and petting the dog and looking back at us and Ursus as if we were murderers. Paul got up and grabbed Ursus.


“We’ll take the dogs for a walk,” Paul said. I quickly got Preston, who was fortunately well outside the fray. We leashed them up and left while everything calmed down.


What’s all the commotion?” I could imagine Preston asking. But he was always ready to go for a walk.


“That was pretty awful,” I said.


“Yes, I know,” Paul said in that way that tells me not to say another word.


We went for our walk, but eventually had to return. Everything was back to normal at the house by the time we returned. Paul apologized profusely.


“It’s okay,” Scott said, “Dogs will be dogs.” Even Jerri, to my surprise, seemed to accept it. Since Charlie had not really been hurt, it seemed to be alright.


That evening, the four of us were sitting and talking in their small living room. They were on one couch holding Charlie and Ursus was asleep at Scott’s foot. Paul and I were on the facing couch. Preston was sprawled in the middle of the rug.


Suddenly, Ursus lifted his head from a sound sleep and immediately had the dark, black look in his eyes that I had learned is the precursor to an attack. There was poor Preston right next to him. Paul immediately called Ursus and I got Preston to come to me. Even Scott and Jerri had seen that look. It was obvious what was about to happen if we let it.


Again we took the dogs for a walk.


“We have got to leave,” I said to Paul as soon as we were out of the house.


“Yes, I know,” Paul said. This time I knew he meant it.


We got back and Paul immediately announced to his cousins that we would be leaving the next morning (two days earlier than planned). They agreed.


So, we packed up and left the next morning. I was rather glad, really, because I had found the entire visit quite uncomfortable.


On the way out of town, we stopped at a pet store once again and bought some “calming” supplements for Ursus. So, there he was with his muzzle and doggie downers. He actually just fell asleep in the back eventually. Preston seemed happier than he had before. I think he knew we were heading home.


Thanks for cutting that short, Ursus!

bottom of page