robyn furman

Flagstaff meets Mary Ann Mobley

Good times for Mobley and, in a sense, Furman.

Good times for Mobley and, in a sense, Furman.

Am sitting in a $72 Quality Inn room in Flagstaff, Arizona, alongside the quirky and admirable Robyn Furman. Who, for the record, just asked, “Do you miss the Wyndham?”

It’s been a remarkable four days, filled with long drives and weird stops and banter, banter, banter. We woke up this morning in Amarillo, Texas, stopped at a Starbucks, started driving toward Santa Fe, stopped again at Mesalands Community College (truly, home of absolutely, positively nothing—but still bought some T-shirts!), reached Santa Fe, ate lunch, walked around, hit up a Jiffy Lube for an oil change ($53? WTF?), headed down to Albuquerque, had dinner with Jay and Barbara, debated what to do next, debated more what to do next, debated more what to do next—then sorta said, “Eh, fuck it” and drove FIVE hours here, to Flagstaff. Through a major lightning storm. With crazy rains. And a rest station that doubled as a murder scene.

So why are we here? Well … um … eh … I’m not 100 percent sure. But we plan on hitting the Grand Canyon tomorrow, then Las Vegas tomorrow night, then Los Angeles and the land of dreams. Or something like that.

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By this point, Furman and I have discussed a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y everything. Proof? A few minutes ago, we were going hard core on Diff’rent Strokes trivia. I struck first by asking Furman to name Arnold Jackson’s girlfriend on the show. Pathetically, she didn’t know the answer—Lisa. She countered by breaking out a staggering Mary Ann Mobley reference, and I …

Wait.

Wait.

This needs to be repeated: Robyn Furman, who doesn’t always recall where she left her keys, was able to name the actress who played Phil Drummond’s wife. Which would be crazy in and of itself, but Mobley played his wife after the first (and significantly more famous actress), Dixie Carter, left following a mere 27 episodes between 1984 and 1985. Hell, I’d plunk down a $100 bet that Mobley—now 75 and out of the business for two decades—doesn’t even remember she was Phil Drummond’s second wife. Let’s make it $200.

What’s my point here? I don’t know. I’m high on life. Otherwise known as four or five sodas, a box of Good & Plenty, a lengthy debate with Furman over wedding gifts and the stale Room 234 scent of mildewed cardboard.

Oy.

God Knows What Sex Feels Like. And New York in Alma, Arkansas

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Long, exhausting, amazing, tough day of travels as the terrific Robyn Furman and I continue our trek from New York to California.

We woke up in Little Rock, Arkansas and headed west. And west and west and west. I’m a huge fan of purchasing T-shirts from obscure colleges 98 percent of Americans (myself included) have never heard of. So when we saw the roadside sign—UNIVERSITY OF THE OZARKS—I turned to Robyn and said, “How about it?”

She was game.

The Presbyterian-based school is located in Clarksville, Arkansas, a middle-of-nowhere outpost with a downtown that makes Newark, Delaware seem downright Vegas-ish. There were myriad closed storefronts, alongside—among other things—a shoe shop, a small restaurant, a barbershop. But, sort of to our surprise, the Ozarks campus was sprawling and lovely. We entered the student center, followed some steps down into the book shop and—BAM!—shirts aplenty! And hats! And mugs! Best of all, we met Rebecca Autumn Phillips, a book store clerk and author of her own self-published book, “God Knows What Sex Feels Like.” In the name of supporting fellow writers, I bought a copy for 10 bucks.

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Becca told us she’s an aspiring clergy member as well as an aspiring scribe. The introduction to her book begins with: Welcome to life. Things have been hard for you. Your everyday projects are getting harder and harder to accomplish. You try to set high goals for yourself, but you ‘fail’ daily. ‘Am I really a Christian?’ It’s a question that you ask yourself day in and out. You know some scripture, go to church, pray once or twice a day, donate to a charity and maybe teach a Bible study, but you still don’t feel good enough. Your friends tell you that you can never be too messed up for God and you know they are right, but you still don’t want to believe it. How can you call yourself a Christian when you don’t believe the one thing that glues your faith together?

I’m an agnostic 42-year-old Jew who has never asked, “Am I a real Christian?” But you know what Becca’s intro is? Damn friggin’ good. Direct, concise, clear. It’d be excellent for any writer—but brilliant for a 21-year old. Love discovering stuff like that.

I digress. We left the Ozarks—T-shirts in hand—and checked RoadsideAmerica (the best app ever) for interesting stops between Clarksville and Oklahoma City. In a weird development, the town of Alma, Arkansas popped up. Why? Because it’s home to both a Popeye statue and the grave of a police officer murdered by Bonnie and Clyde. So we went there. And, indeed, there was a Popeye statue. And a plaque dedicated to the cop murdered by, ahem, Clyde’s brother. But as we walked around, we discovered something amazing … dazzling … too good to be true.

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There was a mini-mart in the center of town. We needed to pee. Inside the mini-mart were T-shirts. We wanted items that read ALMA. Every T-shirt in the store said either BROOKLYN or NEW YORK. Um … what? Turns out the two guys who own the place recently relocated to Alma from New Jersey. They thought it’d be cool to sell New York T-shirts—an awful idea, judging by a rack overflowing with items. Yet Furman, funny in the way I like, bought a $10 NEW YORK CITY cap that would have cost, oh, $4 in Times Square (the owners, hearing our story, kindly charged her $8). The men were funny—from India, told us they were the only two folks of color anywhere around; said there were, oh, zero Jews in Alma.

Save for those visiting.

Now it’s 12:44 in the morning, and we’ve plopped down in a La Quinta Inn in Amarillo, Texas. There are far too many hairs on the dark carpet, the wall is the color of blood and Furman is pissed because I took my picture on her iPad, saved it as the wallpaper—and now she can’t switch it back.

Time for bed …

Wytheville

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So this week I’m driving my red Prius out to California—something I’ve wanted to try for a long time.

Some have said I’m crazy. “That’s an insanely long journey” and “Why don’t you just have it taken out?” Good points. But I love driving, and I love sights. And I love adventures. Hence, I’m sitting here in Wytheville, Virginia, room 316 of the Quality Inn, $70 for the night, exhausted after 530 miles on the road, charged by a day of shit coffee drinks and McDonalds $1 sodas and the occasional Hostess-esque snack.

The weirdest thing about this journey (some would suggest): My co-pilot isn’t my wife, who’s in Florida with the kids. My co-pilot isn’t one of my guy friends. No, my co-pilot is Robyn Furman, my longtime University of Delaware chum and (gasp!) a woman! Who’s not my wife! And we’re even sharing … a hotel room!

Double gasp!

The gasps are sarcastic. However, I’ve met several people who would never, ever “let” (I hate the way that word is used) a spouse do a five-day trip like this with someone of the opposite sex. Which leads me to offer these points:

1. If you don’t trust your husband or wife, why are you married to that person?

2. My wife happens to be cool as shit. As is Robyn’s husband.

3. Good friends are good friends. Shared histories are shared histories. Gender doesn’t matter.

4. I’m exhausted.

Seriously, I’m e-x-h-a-u-s-t-e-d. We left at 11 this morning, got here about 10. I drove the entire time, which is physically draining. My eyes are jumping left and right. My fingers are twitchy. My head is spinning. I have no idea where we’ll wind up tomorrow, which is half the fun. But, right now, I need sleep.

Zzzzz …