Now, on to the humans. Yes, I realize many of you will react to the discussion of the human travelers the same way we all react at a concert when the band says it wants to play something from its new album. But, humor us, and act like you care about us as well.
Anyway, for those who have not already, meet Joan.
Yes, she now has an official glam photo. Let's just say that Joan's approach to the 2009 trip is a bit different than 2003. Back then, we threw a handful of t-shirts, jeans, shorts and cropped pants into a suitcase and took off. Joan didn't care what kind of clothing she was photographed in or how her hair looked. That's because she thought my idea of writing a travelogue was stupid, and no one would read it, and hence, no one would see the pictures. Alas, by the time we ended the trip, the e-mail was going to more than a thousand people, and Joan's casual -- and I'm being nice here -- approach to trip fashion was known to the world. In fact, she was receiving fashion tips from friends, family and complete strangers. When you spend all your time with me, and you're getting chastised for your fashion, you have truly hit rock bottom.
Fast forward to 2009: Joan is packing differently, to put it mildly. I'm still not sure when she'll need an evening gown, but I suspect we'll be bringing one. The hair equipment alone will probably take up more room than either dog.
A lot has changed in Joan's life and career since the 2003 trip. At that time, she'd done two years of post-AOL life, and was looking for the next career challenge. Soon after leaving AOL, she'd started tutoring kids in foster care in DC, and discovered that the kids really lit up when their pictures were taken, mostly because -- unlike kids whose every move is chronicled by family -- these kids don't have families who make that same commitment. So Joan started doing more and more photography, and started taking pictures of friends' children as well. When we went on our 2003 trip, photography seemed to take an even greater hold on her. Here are a few of her pictures from the trip:
It was on the trip that Joan decided that if her friends wanted her to take pictures of their kids, maybe complete strangers would pay her for the privilege. And she was right. She started Joan Brady Photography in April 2004, and has built it into a profitable business.
On top of the business, Joan still does a ton of work with kids in foster care, most notably with Fairfax Families4Kids. And she's now in her seventh year of mentoring a young man in DC. Her efforts with Fairfax Families4Kids -- specifically her touring photo show -- netted her articles in The Washington Post (I hear that's a good paper) and the local Sun-Gazette weekly. She was also featured on WAMU locally, and you can find those clips here. She's done a terrific job building awareness for this program, run by the wonderful Beverly Howard, and Joan has an amazing ability to connect with the children she works with.
For those who read these missives in 2003, this new portrait may be hard to reconcile with the McGriddle-obsessed Joan who shed her sweetness when it came time to negotiate any hotel rate with whatever poor sonofabitch was on the other end of the phone. The series of questions would go something like this:
- Do you have a AAA rate?
- Do you have an American Express rate?
- Do you have any other specials that I don't know about but should be asking about?
Amazingly, the answer to this last question was usually "yes," and the conversation would go something like this.
- Poor sucker on other end: "Well... There's a manager's special."
- Joan: "Great, how do we get that rate?"
- Poor sucker: "You have to get the manager's approval."
- Joan: "Can I speak to the manager?"
- Poor sucker: "I am the manager."
- Joan: "Can we get the manager's rate?"
- Poor sucker: "Uh, yes."
And just when you thought it was over, the tigress Joan was right back at it. "Is there any other way to bring the room rate down?" The rash of resignations of small U.S. hotel managers in 2003 was directly related to Joan.
The McGriddle was another Joan obsession for the first half of the trip. The daily race to make it to McDonald's in time for breakfast became a trip theme. Personally -- and this will shock anyone who knows me -- I found the McGriddle repulsive, but petite Joan devoured them like a lion on a gazelle. This unhealthy -- and I mean that in every possible way -- obsession finally wound down, and I don't believe Joan has eaten a McGriddle in six years.
Joan also provided some of the funniest moments of the trip. Here are two, pulled from the original 2003 posts:
The "Ball Balm" Incident, Estes Park, Colo.
"As we're leaving [a Fred vet appointment], the vet recommends we stop at a pharmacy to buy some balm for Fred's paw. By the time we arrive at the store, we have forgotten the name, but remember it started with a "B." We brainstorm, and think we remember, so Joan walks into a store and asks for some "ball balm." After seeing the pharmacist's stunned look, Joan realized what she's just asked for is probably only sold in "special" parts of town. "You mean 'Bag Balm?" the woman asks. "Uh, yes, " says Joan, who takes the balm and leaves as quickly as possible."
The Pants Incident, somewhere on the Kansas Turnpike
"So we're cruising down I-70 and approaching Topeka when Joan notices a problem. Turns out that Fred, who has been sitting on her lap for a while, has indicated his need to go to the bathroom by leaving a small sample of doo-doo on Joan's jeans. Now, sadly, this is not the first time this has happened on the trip -- meaning both birds and dogs have pooped on Joan -- so Joan decides the answer is to spray a little of the citrus air freshener on the stain to kill the smell until we can stop and she can change. However, things go from bad to worse as this acidic citrus spray goes right through Joan's jeans and creates a burning allergic reaction. Now in pain, Joan decides the only answer is to remove her jeans as we're cruising down the highway to tend to her injury. Just as she gets the jeans down around her ankles, a problem: we're approaching a tollbooth for the Kansas Turnpike and we are carrying a passenger with no pants. Fearing Joan is taking our approach toward "The Show-Me State" of Missouri a tad too literally, I toss a blanket to her to cover up. This process continues right through Topeka, as we continue to pass tollbooths and a ton of truckers with excellent vantage points. Finally, after 30 minutes of pain (if you were Joan) and hilarity (if you were me), we finally get someplace where it is convenient for Joan to change. By the way, she said it was OK to write this. :-)"
One other note about Joan: She never wanted dogs. But I did, and she finally caved in 2002 when we got Fred. She did, however, make the unfortunate mistake of assuming that, while I was at work, Fred would patiently wait in the corner to be trained. (Let me use this as a cheap way to insert a picture of Fred at eight weeks).
Anyway, Fred didn't wait for me to get home to start doing things that required training. So Joan took on training. And feeding. And walking. And everything. Despite it all, she became a dog person in about 10 minutes. Of the two of us, she was more of the driving force behind getting Hank.
She also hates it when I publish photos of her sleeping.