Sunday, June 12, 2005

Blogging for Books #12: On The Road

*** This blog entry is written for this month's Blogging for Books. What?? You don't know about this marvelous contest? Check it out at The Zero Boss***

Blogging for Books #12: Hit the Road, Jack (Guest Judge: Jennifer Leo)
For this month's contest celebrating a full year of Blogging for Books, we're looking to guest judge
Jennifer Leo for inspiration.
For this month's Blogging for Books, write a blog entry about one of three things:
1. A memorable trip or "mini-vacation" (with "memorable" covering everything from "best time of my life" to "unmitigated disaster");
2. A time you did something spontaneously, in order to shake up your life;
3. A time you metaphorically took "the road less traveled", and made an unpopular or uncommon decision.


(In truth, this entry is all three: A memorable cross-country trip, a move to a new city just to shake up my life, and the decision to leave New York for Seattle which was regarded by fellow New Yorkers as akin to dropping off the end of the Earth.)
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When I was born, in the late 60's in the Berkeley, California area, a "trip" meant something considerably more surreal than it does these days. Even the more descriptive, "taking a road trip" no longer evokes images of Jack Kerouac thumbing a ride at the side of a lonely highway. That said, reality can get a little... shall we say, flexible, on the road.

In October, 1992, my boyfriend, Stephan, and I drove across the country from New York to Seattle. We were well provisioned in my little Honda, with suitcases, maps, snacks, tapes, and one guinea pig whose cage was seatbelted securely across the backseats. We started out at a good pace, just shy of speed trap velocity as we zoomed through New Jersey. At some point after dark, the radio ate our cassette. You really got me going... You really got me... You reawww...rrr....kshhhhh.... With the tape stuck inside, there was no way to listen to the radio. When we stopped to fill the gas tank, we tried to buy needle nose pliers to pull the tape out, which is not a simple project in the middle of the night. We also discovered that Bailey, the guinea pig, did not like riding in the car. She expressed this by draining her entire water bottle onto the floor of her cage and calling out to us - more loudly than a creature of that size has any right to yell. We had to calm her down in the motel parking lot so no one would witness us smuggling a damp, angry pet into the room.

On day two, we crossed Pennsylvania to the sounds of random FM radio. We learned that much of Western Pennsylvania has that rural phenomenon of the same radio stations repeating in several locations down the dial, to say nothing of what odd mix of radio exists in Pennsylvania Dutch country. Bailey again drained her water bottle into a small flood and randomly called out to us in what could only be interpreted as, "Stop this thing right this minute!" By day three, the radio had completely died.

Silence. And over 2700 miles to go.

On day four, we tried singing. After all, we both listen to music all the time. It turns out that singing along with the radio and singing in a mobile cone of silence are two very different things. We both knew a lot of pieces of songs, a lot of choruses, but very few songs all the way through. By day's end, we had degenerated into Christmas carols. Bailey hated the Christmas carols so much that side orders of lettuce at roadside burger stands failed to soothe her. She had taken to muttering to herself and I feared the humans were soon to follow.

On day five, we found ourselves in Salina, Kansas. I had been there once before and had been surprised by how much I loved it. Normally, I am the sort who feels landlocked if the ocean is more than a couple of hours away. But Salina, Kansas had something, a sort of easy friendliness and quiet pace that had charmed me three years earlier. The years that had passed had not been kind to Salina. My town of charming smiles had been replaced by an edge of wariness. The buildings looked run down, the people, weary. We decided to wait to take a day's break from the road, but determined not to leave town without buying a radio, we found ourselves at the biggest K-Mart I have ever seen. Rather than a radio, we left with a book, "Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers" by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor. We sped out of town with the windows rolled down, the scent of fresh cut fields of hay mesmerizing the guinea pig.

Over the next two days as Stephan drove, I read the entire book aloud, which if you are familiar with Red Dwarf, was not easy due to laughing too hard to get the words out. We took our day off in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Stephan wanted to buy a pair of western boots, and it was hard not to find shops filled with cowboy gear every way you turned. In fact, every person seemed to be decked out in full cowboy outfits, from their ten gallon hats to their roper boots. We gave each other looks - is this the real Wild West or are we hallucinating? Something about it was just too over the top, too Little House on the Prairie meets The Magnificent Seven, but it was hard to pin down. Shrugging it off, we set out for the local mall where there were several boot and western wear stores. Malls often have a "could be anywhere in America" sensibility, but not this mall. The Wild West theme reached new heights here, with adults sometimes wearing bandanas around their necks, ropes coiled at their belts, and plastic cowboy hats, but it was the children that stopped us cold in our tracks. The people of Cheyenne had dressed their children as cows. Children in full body cow outfits wandered the mall at their parents' sides and in their arms. Little cows raced up and down the length of the mall. Sure, we doubted ourselves and what we were seeing. Sure, we questioned the mushrooms that had decorated our burgers at lunch. Why would a city full of cowboys and cowgirls dress their offspring as cows? Then we saw the familiar plastic pumpkin buckets on several little cow arms. Ah hah! Halloween! We ran back to our hotel and ransacked our bags for something - anything - that might pass for a costume. All I could come up with was an all black outfit and silver cat necklace, to try and pass for an appropriately festive witch. Stephan managed to pull together an outfit we called "Samurai Bob," which included his white Aikido gi, cowboy hat, red bandana, and brand new wildebeest boots. We were laughing too hard to leave the room to go to dinner.

In an Elko, Nevada supermarket, I won $8 by playing my change in the handy one-armed bandit placed at the end of the checkout line. I figure that if I never gamble again, I will die ahead of the game. In Reno, we visited my Aunt, Uncle, and cousin who was four years old and fascinated with the guinea pig.

By the time we pulled into San Francisco, I could see the road every time I closed my eyes. We spent a week there with Stephan's family and my roommate from California. Eight years later at Stephan's sister's wedding, I would shock one of the cousins by telling her I was the same girl whose hair she braided over and over in her Aunt's living room. She would shock me that same day by telling me that Stephan and I would be engaged soon. She was right.

As we drove north on I-5, Seattle revealed itself through the gray November drizzle in a sudden burst of tall buildings and light. "Look, Dorothy, the Emerald City!" I said laughing. All the excitement, the fear, and the hope of starting out in a new city washed over me. We had made it to the end of the road at last.

2 Comments:

At October 21, 2005 at 3:20 PM, Blogger answer-man said...

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At November 27, 2005 at 6:35 PM, Blogger job opportunitya said...

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