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Archive for the ‘Road Trip Tales’ Category

Hey Flyover friends!

Yeah, Jenna and I are still out there exploring and loving the US of A. In fact, you can and should check in with Jenna’s epic cross-country adventure at Round-Trip America. I was able to join her for a few days in South Dakota and we had a grand time, simply grand. She’s doing tons of cool things, writing and posting gorgeous photos. Go see for yourself.

I also recently took a trip to Oregon, where I spent some time on the Oregon coast looking for storms. Big, exciting storms. Click here for a story about that trip. And Sophia in an Oregon Storm is a short video companion to the story, in which I am delightfully buffeted by the wind and rain. I love that kind of thing.

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road trip lady

Road tripping made this woman very happy. Photo courtesy of R.P. Piper via Flickr (Creative Commons license).

Nearly 4 million miles of roads. That’s what we’ve got here in the U.S. Those of you who have been reading Flyover America for a while (or, even, for just a post) probably realize that a number like 4 million presents a problem if you’re a Flyover America type in the midst of conjuring up a cross-country road trip. Because, of course, an FAer thinks there’s a story down every road. Well, almost every road. A few are dead ends.

As I mentioned last week, I just gave up my NYC digs. At the moment, I’m happily writing from the family not-an-estate in the highly misunderstood state of New Jersey. OK, some of the criticism is justified. (More on all of that in the coming months.) But, though I have yet to buy a car, I’ve already started dreaming up my first cross-country road trip. I’m 39. It’s about damned time I took that drive. (Sophie took her first at 19. I feel so lame. I know. It’s not a competition. But still.)

My plan: drive from Jersey to Alaska next spring and then back the other way in the late summer/early fall. That’s the dream, man. (Ooh, is there a VW Bus in my future?) But, already, route confusion is pulling me this way and that. I know I’ll skitter around a bit and take a wibbly-wobbly route to visit friends, and see this, that, the other thing, but…I’d like to start with somewhat of a plan.

So, your favorite cross-country routes? Discuss. Oh and…see you for dinner when I’m out there?

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letter 2In 1977, I took my first cross-country trip with two girlfriends. I was 19 years old and, except for 10 days in London when I was 15, I’d never left the East Coast. Actually, I’d barely been out of New York City. Partway through the drive, I started writing a letter to my brother documenting the trip. I wrote 14 pages, all the way through the final leg of the drive, San Francisco to L.A. Nick saved the letter and returned it to me a few years ago. As literature, it’s unimpressive. But as a record of the awakening of a provincial city girl, it’s kinda special.

Here, a few excerpts from the road trip that made me a Flyover American.


    We just arrived in Nebraska. This is the state I’ve been dying to hit. I never thought I’d be in Nebraska, ever. To be here is the fulfillment of an anti-dream.

    The Rockies just came into view. They’re really vague, just a purple haze, but you can already see an outline. They loom ahead. The Rockies. What am I doing here?

    Next we drove to Utah. We went the scenic route, though. The scenery we saw was simply dreamland. We went up about 12000 feet, onto the tundra. It was all grass & little flowers & babbling brooks & serene mountain lakes. It was national park land, too, so there was no commercial anything, just heavy-duty nature. After a while we started to go down. We went through real farm land (a lot of cows) and it started to get drier and drier as we got nearer to the desert. The land was unbelievable. It was fertile, but not all over. There were cliffs & hills with red & grey & brown patterns and ranches and stuff.

    …we stopped in a little town called Steamboat Springs for lunch. We had picked up a hitchhiker on her way there, so we ate in probably the only restaurant. It was a really pretty valley, and the people were incredible. They were all cowboys, hats, boots & all. All of them were old and they had super-personality faces.

    Nevada is another statement in surrealism. Miles & miles of desert & nothingness, until you hit a city, which just springs up with neon flashing at you hysterically.

    The next day we drove to L.A. That was a spectacular drive. We drove literally along the coast. I can’t even explain what it was like. I could feel the U.S stretching out, miles & miles of it, to my left. To look at where the land met the sea on the other side of the continent took my breath away. I could also see the coast stretching out before me, and I felt like we were driving along the edge of a map.

    I now understand what patriotism is all about. I never understood the vastness & color of the country, and I’ve only seen a fraction of it. It’s so rich & beautiful & everything is different. New York is not America. I can’t wait for my next trip.

    Well, see you soon.

    Please don’t throw away this letter.

    I’m so happy.

    Sophie

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broke down in brysonWhat’s one thing you don’t want to see on a road trip?

The “check engine” light.

I was on a two-lane farm road between the small towns of Graham and Bryson, Texas, when mine twinkled on and changed my weekend. I pulled over and heard liquid gushing from the car.

I was alone, it was Saturday evening, and that Verizon guy with the glasses and crowd of helpful people? Nowhere in sight.

Fortunately, I was only about 12 miles from the Wildcatter Ranch, where my husband and friends awaited me. And it had stopped raining. And a guy who was not an ax murderer stopped and let me use his phone.

We left my car roadside for the night, but then had to figure out what to do about it in a town where, as our waitress at dinner said, “Everything is closed on Sunday but churches.” (And Wal-Mart.) Then she gave us the names and phone numbers of two mechanics.

Ah, small towns. The nearest AAA tow truck was in Decatur, 70 miles away, so Sunday morning we spent two hours waiting for it by my car. The after-church rush passed, four cars in succession, and finally an enormous flatbed truck arrived (presumably it has to be big enough to pick up a lot of pick-ups ‘round these parts), driven by a nice young woman who works at a prison during the week and who managed the huge truck and my little car handily. We had her drop it at Blair’s Auto and Body Shop, which was closed, of course. And despite a sign touting 24-hour towing service, nobody answered the phone. We left the car, picked up lunch at Dairy Queen, returned to the Wildcatter and got in the hot tub. Whatever.

Ah, small towns. Monday morning, going-home day, we returned to Blair’s, now open and extremely busy. But they were friendly and sympathetic and squeezed my car in, fixing it for a fair price. Five hours later, we were homeward bound.

It wasn’t exactly the getaway we planned, but we got to know another side of this small town. And so, to Graham, Texas, I say: SA-LUTE!

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