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Dear Friends and Family,

(You know the drill: Part 1, 2, 3 and 4.)

During my conversation with my father, he told me that he didn’t actually live at the address where I sent the letter. His ex-wife, Jan, still lives there with her son, my half-brother Brad. (They also have a daughter, Erin, my half sister.) Jan opened the letter, shared it with Brad, and he shared with David.

(After I asked Jan* about this part of the story, she said that when Brad called David, David talked about his crazy day. Brad said, “Dad, it’s about to get a whole lot crazier.”)

David now lives in Long Island in an apartment off my uncle’s house. (The apartment used to be my uncle’s dental office.)

Y’all. I mean. Can you IMAGINE Jan’s reaction? Brad’s? David’s?

I might have had to take some time to process, but David called me within 24 hours.

The call consisted of high-level catch-up, as you might expect. He seemed happy to know about me.

And Jan reached out to me on Facebook to welcome me to the family.

And Brad texted me to start a conversation.

How lovely is that?

David and I started talking regularly, and we decided we would meet when I visited New York for my annual birthday trip in December.

I flew into La Guardia and rented a car as the LIRR train schedule did not cooperate.

Brad: Have a good time! 
Me: Thanks. I'm on my way. Nervous.
Brad: So is he!

David was waiting on his porch when I pulled up. He said he felt like a kid at Christmas. I did too. (Add some flop sweat that Santa doesn’t usually get.)

He had a present for me:

I suddenly became very aware of my nasolacrimal ducts. Why? When I met Kathy, she gave me a present.

It was a gift David had given to her for her birthday when they were dating. She kept it all these years because it was the one thing that connected the three of us. And I had told him about it.

Oh Lord: There’s something in my eye. Hang on.

OK. Proceeding.

He took me to the main house to meet my Uncle Terry and Aunt Rosemary.

As it turns out, they and their family and David spent plenty of time in Savannah because they have a place in Hilton Head. Again, I could have run into them AT ANY POINT and not known about our connection.

Also, I would be staying the night in Uncle Terry and Aunt Rosemary’s house.

Y’ALL. These people JUST met me. I am a stranger. So this tells you a little something about how my existence was received.

The four of us went out to dinner and had a wonderful time. When we got back, David brought out a cake for my birthday.

I lost it (but tried not to).

He got me an ice cream cake (Carvel FTW!) without even KNOWING I am not a fan of regular cake.

It was … a lot. (I know I keep saying it, but cut me some slack. It IS a lot!)

The next day, we went on a drive to key places of interest for him and the family.

We laughed. We argued good naturedly. We got to know each other.

We went to the Long Island Aquarium.

As we were watching the sea lion show, I thought about how completely bizarre it was to be there with him. This is the kind of things dads do with their daughters when daughters are children. But here we were, making up for lost time.

Oh look: My lacrimal sac is acting up again. One moment.

I’m back.

It was bone-chillingly cold. My father doesn’t have any body fat (one area where I did NOT get his genes), so we didn’t linger at the lions.

We went back to his place to continue chatting. Before long, it was time for me to head into the city for the rest of the birthday trip.

I had plenty of thoughts to keep me occupied on the drive, along with a debrief phone call from a blogger friend.

I TOLD YOU it was a wild ride.

Just a little bit more to go if you want to join me. The final part is coming soon.

XO,
Beth

* Yes, I talk to Jan. Another weird and wonderful part of the story.

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Dear Friends and Family,

The story continues, as promised. (If you are new here and need a recap, read Part 1 and Part 2.)

My birth mother Kathy and I started chatting weekly on the phone. And as you know, that’s a big deal for me. (Why do I hate talking on the phone so much?)

Topics? Large: I learned my birth father’s full name. Small: I learned we like our eggs the same way. (So that’s where I got it!)

She told me about all the family I had in the St. Louis area. You’ll remember I mentioned my mom Jeanne was from Missouri. Well, I spent my childhood visiting relatives all over the state: Kansas City, Jefferson City and also St. Louis. My favorite aunt and uncle lived in Hazelwood, Missouri — 25 minutes from my current home and 15 minutes from where Kathy lives.

It’s bizarre to think that I could have passed a member of my birth family in the grocery store.

Weird and wonderful, to say the least.

On one of our calls, I mentioned I had a dream that I had driven to St. Louis to see her. She said she did want to meet me. We started planning for Memorial Day weekend.

Y’all, this was … something. Talking on the phone was one thing. Actually meeting her was another.

She picked me up at the St. Louis airport. Her first words to me were these:

I haven't seen you in ___** years!

So yes, we have a similar sense of humor.

I’ve written about this part of the story before.

This is the day I met Kara and Lodell.

But here’s the important thing:

It was so easy. It felt right. I fit in. No awkwardness.

As George Bailey said, “What do you know about that?!

We all set about building relationships — relationships helped by my move to St. Louis.

It’s gone better than I had any right to want.

The next step? Contacting my birth father. You know: One step at time.

That’s the fourth and final part. Also the most recent. As in past six months.

Don’t touch that dial!

XO,
Beth

*Yes, I know I’m being silly. But I’ll do it again for Part 4.

**Listen, a lady doesn’t share her age — even for the sake of a story. 😉

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Dear Fellow Travelers:

Some of y’all need a refresher in how to behave in airports and on planes.

Auntie Beth is here to help.

DO move to the side of the terminal walkway if you want to text, eat your food or walk slowly.
DON’T eat your chicken wings in the middle of the walkway between gates with your suitcase two feet away from you (and also in the middle of the walkway).

DO give up the armrest to the person in the middle.
DON’T be the person in the middle who also manspreads and elbows the people on the aisle and window.

DO remember that people around you have ears.
DON’T talk to your seatmate at the top of your voice, take phone calls, FaceTime or watch videos without headphones. (I can’t believe I have to remind you.)

DO be aware of personal space.
DON’T run over people with your suitcase, whack someone with your backpack or sling your Doritos bag around with crumbs flying everywhere.

DO follow instructions.
DON’T be a complete idiot.

Folks, there’s an image. How hard is it to follow directions?

DO have manners in general.
DON’T act like the plane is your personal living room.

This man was a complete boor. So loud. Stopped in the doorway to keep talking to his seatmate. I mean, just look at his foot on the seat. That tells you everything you need to know.

It’s very simple: BE CONSIDERATE. We will all thank you.

Let’s make traveling as irritant-free as possible.

With love,
Auntie Beth

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Dear Jennifer,

Thanks for visiting! You gave me an excuse to go to Grant’s Farm. I had heard about it, but never gone.

The main reason to go? CLYDESDALES.

There also are elk, deer, giant rabbits, goats, zebras, donkeys, peacocks, llamas, water buffalo and camels (seriously) to admire.

And as it is the Busch Family estate, two free samples of beer.

What’s not great is the tram system. I did not realize you had to take a tram from the parking lot to the main attraction area, then wait for a tram to take you back.

This would be a fine plan if the retirees in charge filled the trams each. They did not. You and I were both annoyed by the lengthy wait times in the broiling sun.

Anyway, I’m glad we went. I’m also glad we enjoyed the many other lovely things this city has to offer:

  • And, of course, the pizza at IMO’s Pizza

We hit some major St. Louis highlights.

And we even saw a rainbow.

It was such a fun weekend, but now I’m exhausted!

Next time, I promise we will squeeze in Broadway Oyster Bar.

Safe travels, and come back soon!

Love,
Beth

*Thanks, Randy.

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Dear Detroit Marriott at The Renaissance Center,

I attended my annual research conference in you this week. I am NOT a fan, and I will not be back (unless I have absolutely no choice).

How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways:

  1. Your staff is not prepared for guests. The line was 10 deep for check-in, and you had one person actually working. Three other employees — one of whom looked like a manager — were at the other end of the counter chatting. Do their eyes work? Couldn’t they see the line?
  2. Your building is not prepared for guests. There are six elevators “servicing” floors 40-70. Only two appeared to be working. A gang of fellow conferencers and I waited 10 minutes Thursday night for an elevator to take us down.
  3. Your events staff is not prepared for guests. Two thousand people attended the last in-person AEJMC conference (Toronto, 2019). That is standard for this conference. Yet nothing was set up to handle this influx of people. Your staff selected large rooms for small events (e.g., the University of South Carolina alumni breakfast featured three tables for eight in a cavernous room) and wee rooms for major events. For example, the Broadcast and Mobile Journalism group awards ceremony and reception was in the tiniest conference room I’ve ever seen. No tables. For an event that featured food and drinks. Group leaders who got to the event early drug in tables and chairs for the 50 or so attendees. Way to go, Marriott!
  4. Your technology support is not prepared for guests. This conference is primarily for journalism/mass communications professors. You know: People who communicate. They have devices that need to be charged. Outlets were few and far between.
This is the ONLY OUTLET in the room!

The various other problems fellow attendees and I experienced had to do with The Renaissance Center in general. It is, generously, an atrium-focused maze of wasted space.

Circulation Ring = CIRCLES OF HELL
Trust me: You can’t get there from here
No, you don’t really want to sit and meet/eat/work do you?

There is a shocking lack of open restaurants. Again, conference of 2,000+ people (and AEJMC was one of at least three going on at once). Hotel with 70 floors of rooms. Yet, it was hard to find a place to eat. Literally (see maze above) and because so many were closed. Note: There was a VERY bougie seafood restaurant open, but who wants to pay $75 for shrimp?

Desperation signage
Starbucks: closed
Another Starbucks: closed
Food court: mostly closed
Oh look! The open Burger King that I thought was only the stuff of legend.

Then there is the location. You are on the Detroit River. So a riverwalk with shops and restaurants would make sense. Apparently, it only makes sense to me. I would not say the United States side has ample commerce. The Canada side (Windsor) looks promising.

The Renaissance Center provides a great view of our northern neighbor.

But once again, you can’t get there from here if you don’t have a car.

I realize that the pandemic took a toll on the hospitality industry. That said, people are traveling again. Conferences are back in person. Do better, or you won’t have guests to piss off anymore.

Sincerely,
Bonvoy Member on Floor 47

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When Vladimir Putin isn’t being an international jerk, he’s at Market Tavern singing “Sweet Caroline.”

Dear Hanley Market Tavern Regulars:

You sure know how to make a girl feel special. A little bit too special in a zoo exhibit kind of way.

When my friend Nick told me there was a “rough” pub in town that featured karaoke on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, I was agog.

Afternoon karaoke at a “rough” pub?

Yes, please.

Jesse’s Divide was opening for Nashville Pussy in Hanley, so I decided to go.

As they were playing on a Wednesday, I made a little trip to Market Tavern before I met my friend Hannah at the show.

I walked in to someone warbling a song I didn’t recognize. Then I realized it was supposed to be “Let It Go” from “Frozen.” That’s a bad AND good sign. It’s a good sign of bad karaoke.

Perfect.

I got a drink and chose a seat at the back of the bar where I could sit alone and not draw attention. Smart move.

It was in front of the men’s room. Not a smart move.

My first gentleman caller was a man with a fully tattooed face. Think knockoff version of The Enigma.

He asked me if was going to sing.

At least, I think that’s what he asked me.

He could have asked me if he could dismember me in the Gents, and I wouldn’t have known.

He was 102 and drunk with a very thick Stokie accent that was hard for these American ears to understand.

My view from the hostess stand for the men’s room.

My next new friend was a man with four teeth and four iron cross tattoos. Delightful! He also sported a Confederate flag wristband.

He wanted to know if I had a boyfriend.

I toyed with the idea of saying, “Yes. He’s a Jewish man of color from Poland.” I think I could have made him explode “Raiders of the Lost Ark” style.

An older woman at the next table came over.

Her: Are you alright on your own there?

Me: Oh, yes. I’m fine, thank you.

Her: You’re American!

Me: Yes. What am I doing in the middle of Hanley, right?

Her: Well, yes.

She went to the loo, and I checked my phone for word from Hannah. I suddenly felt hands touching my shoulders. I yelped and turned around.

Creepy George: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.

Me: Well, you did. Please do not touch me.

Didn’t mean to startle me? Someone who doesn’t know you and has her back to you? What did he expect? “Hi handsome! Please come back to my temporary accommodation for stranger boning.”

When I went to the bathroom, I took my drink. Women know why.

Meanwhile, the show went on. It was definitely a crying-in-your-beer kind of vibe.

I Recall a Gypsy Woman” by Don Williams (!) was about the peppiest thing.

I knew it was time for me to leave when I heard what sounded like Fozzy Bear singing “Love on the Rocks.”

Leaving was cemented as a plan when my last gentleman caller insisted on a conversation:

Him: You’re an American.

Me: Yes.

Him: You’re drinking Guinness.

Me: Yes.

Him: I’m going to get you one, and I’m going to talk to you.

Me: (checks watch) I’m leaving in three minutes.

Him: Then I’ll take three minutes of your time.

My lady friend heard this exchange. “It’s because you’re new in here,” she said.

Yes. It was like Fisher Price: My First American.

I waved goodbye to her and the insistent fellow getting our drinks and headed out the side door.

Thank you all for giving me fodder for this blog.

I’ll be back.

Your new American friend,
Beth

* No one sang anything by The Carpenters, sadly.

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Dear Dominic,

Thanks for going on a road trip with me to bring Eddie some stuff that ended up with me in St. Louis.

It was a great bonding experience for you and your new brother.

It took nearly 16 hours of driving (should have been 12), but we made it manageable with stops in Chattanooga (no time for towing, sadly) and Atlanta (so you could harass all your school friends).

Barb the Minivan (rental) served us well. She was spacious enough to allow for a litter box for Leo’s bathroom breaks.

It turns out that he’s good on car trips.

Just so everyone knows, I don’t usually put clothes on pets. But Leo is naked, and it was cold when we left St. Louis.

So thank you for making the trip with Leo and me. Next time, I promise we will stop in at a ridiculous museum that will amuse us both.

Love,
Mama

*Thanks, Willie.

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Dear Kathy Lou Who, aka Spot, aka Mother Dearest, aka Mom:

Thanks so much for inviting me on your trip to Costa Rica with Sister Kara, and your friends Sharon and Brad (aka Bardo). Though you, Kara and Aunt Beth visited me in Atlanta for Mother’s Day last year, this is our first trip together.

I admit that I was a little sad to miss the huge winter storm in St. Louis (it would have been my first). Then I saw these stats: Missouri State Highway Patrol responded to 1,578 stranded drivers and 556 crashes.

Now, my Southern ass wouldn’t have been driving around in that. But Brother Lodell sent video of his freshly shoveled driveway re-covered with another five or six inches of snow.

I don’t have a snow shovel.

So.

It’s best we are here.

No snow. Ever.

And Juancho’s Rancho via Airbnb doesn’t suck either.

Except for the couch. The couch sucks. The couch sucks HARD because it IS hard.

WTF, Juancho?! This is like a park bench!

We had to get a cushion for this monstrosity.

It was nice to meet Juancho. He’s MUCH YOUNGER than any of us expected. A bit of a hottie too. He suggested we go into Jaco for dinner, but you weren’t having it.

You: Not tonight, Juancho.
Me (suggestively): Not tonight, Juancho.
Kara: Said no one ever.

Kara and I went to bed laughing most nights. Why? Because of stuff like this (so stupid):

The way of life here is much slower than anything American. While waiting for breakfast to be served, Brad and I had plenty of time to notice our surroundings.

Braclets AND necklesses? Wow.

And debate the differences among words.

Por ejemplo:
Homeless=circumstantial, not a choice
Hobo=homeless with a goal
Bum=homeless without a goal

Thank you for letting Kara and me retire to the AC and the dark like mole creatures when we were done peopling for a while.

And there was much rejoicing on the last day when I finally saw a monkey.

Infinite sadness in those eyes. Probably because there’s no monkey dental plan.

Anyway, it was great. Thanks again for the invitation. Let’s do it again next year!

Love,
Beth

*The Costa Rican phrase and way of life

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Dear Missouri Drivers,

I’m so glad I learned to drive in Atlanta where Nascar has nothing on I-285. If I hadn’t, there’s no way I would have been prepared for you.

Perhaps you didn’t get any drivers education. Let me help.

Pro Tip 1
People getting onto the highway need to be able to merge. Let them in, for crying out loud!

Pro Tip 2
When someone has his/her/their turn signal on, that means the person wants to get over. Oh but wait, none of you seems to know what that is.

Pro Tip 3
The turn signal is a lever on your steering wheel that, when activated, lets other drivers know you want to make a turn or get into a different lane. You are in the Show Me state, so show me your freakin’ turn signal.

Pro Tip 4
It’s helpful to other drivers for you to pick a lane and STAY IN IT. Weaving in and out is annoying and dangerous.

Pro Tip 5
The posted speed limit is not a suggestion. It’s the max. It’s right there on the sign!

Maybe y’all drive this way to avoid all the potholes and road damage.

Seriously, these roads are about as bad as the ones I had the misfortune of driving in Antigua. That’s saying something.

Please, for the love of God, think of your fellow drivers.

I thank you from the bottom of my wheel wells.

Beth

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Y’all.

My 2021 was A YEAR. You know: You read about it.

As my new/old mom said, “It has not gone smoothly for you.”

No.

It went out with a bang, too.

Remember I had to have my car towed?

Well. Jeff, my service advisor, shared bad news with me the Monday after Christmas.

It’s dead. As in “needs a new motor” dead. “More than $6,000 to get it going” dead.

And the “new” engine has 123K miles on it.

My car is a 2008 VW Eos with 185K miles on it. It’s worth a third of the repair cost.

So. The new year will feature a new car.

But I’ve spent all my money on moving and a house. As you all know.

I don’t want a car payment and higher insurance.

My university is closed between Christmas and New Year’s Day, so I had time to investigate.

I found a newer version of my car for a very reasonable price.

Hello there!

The only hitch? It’s in Ohio. Sasha at the dealership said it would take four weeks to ship it.

No, no, no.

I’m writing this on a plane to Columbus. I’ll meet my car by noon, and we will bond on the nearly seven-hour drive back to St. Louis.

Wish me luck!
Beth

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