Posts Tagged ‘road trip’

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.


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Blue VelvetWith David Lynch behind the project, it’s reasonable to expect a layer of surreal* would shroud the Interview Project. His Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks visions of life in America are hardly comforting. They may be fun to watch–especially, it should be said, for college students experimenting with various altered states–but, like a maximum security prison, I don’t want them in my backyard.

For Interview Project, Lynch’s son Austin headed out with a team of interviewers and producers on a 20,000 mile trip around America. Along the way they’ve been doing just what the project’s name implies: interviewing people. Every three days, another interview goes live on the site.

So many of the interview subjects are beautifully ordinary. Some are a little offbeat. Unlike the pieces offered up by the StoryCorps oral history project, some Interview Project videos don’t even have a strong central theme. They’re just of people talking, answering questions. There’s not always a big a-ha or ka-pow at the end. But taken as a whole, all that ordinary adds up to something quietly extraordinary.

A lovely place to start: Meet Ethan Temple of Independence, Kansas.

*OK, there is a touch of surreal to the whole thing. After all, Lynch introduces each piece and both his hair and speaking cadence remain otherworldly.

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As a total word nerd, I’m always inventing new phrases on road trips.

In the lexicon I’ve developed with my friends, “To Clark” means “to overly plan an adventure in an attempt to make sure everyone will have a great time, only to see the plans backfire, causing disastrous results.”

Clark, disappointed again.

Clark, disappointed again.

The verb is a direct reference to Clark Griswold, he of National Lampoon’s fame, who (at least on the silver screen) consistently made good-natured attempts to provide a good time for his (otherwise indifferent) family—Ellen, Rusty and Audrey—out on the open road, and consistently came up short.

It is pejorative, but lovingly so, as in “I’m exhausted, Matty really Clarked us into the ground today,” or “Matty, don’t Clark it too hard.”

The phrase was hatched in the summer of 2000, when Bret (now an editor at Newsweek) and Dave (now a political pundit) and I went camping for a week in the San Juan Islands of Washington State.

The three of us never had been camping together, and I wanted to make the experience special. I booked us the best campsite. I planned some fun kayak adventures. I scouted good hikes.

Of course, lots went wrong.

It rained on our campsite. Our kayaks rolled in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Bret practically needed a Medevac during our hike on Mount Constitution. To add insult to injury, all three of us fell for the same ballerina (and nobody really got her).

Instead of hating me for these unexpected developments, my friends likened me to Griswold, going so far as to call me “Clark” for most of the trip. The rest, as they say, is history.

For me, the lesson was simple: especially while traveling, avoid over-planning at all costs. Build in down time. Poke around. Explore. The key to a good road trip is serendipity, that wonderful phenomenon by which one accidentally discovers something fortunate.

When you Clark it, the itinerary gets so full, the whole notion of happenstance doesn’t stand a chance.

# # #

Of course one always can Clark the home schedule, as well.

I’m guilty of this often, and I’ve done it again this summer. My intentions were good when I agreed to join the gals at Flyover America, but the birth of my first child has made time a rare commodity around these parts.

With this in mind, I’ll be taking an extended hiatus to focus on child-rearing and other stuff. It’s been a pleasure to write with Jenna and Sophia for these few months, and I’ll be back periodically for guest posts or the occasional three-fer. In the meantime, please follow my other work on my personal Web site and daddyhood blog. Thanks for reading.

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Anonymity is alive and well in the heart of the U.S. hotel lobby.

With all of the human comings and goings, everyone’s the same. Even at those properties that employ security guards, there is no way for desk clerks to get a commanding sense of which visitors are guests, which visitors might be legitimate acquaintances of guests, and which aren’t guests at all.

This means hotel lobbies can be great oases on the road.

Home is where the lobby is.

For years, I have taken advantage of this for the purpose of using the men’s room. On road trips, when fellow travelers stop to empty bladders at the gas station, I make a bee-line for the facility in the lobby next door, rejoicing in the cleanliness and privacy that my decision delivers.

In big cities, I know that whenever I have to go, relief is as near as the closest hotel.

Earlier this week, I expanded my penchant for lobby-surfing to satisfy another important task: feeding and changing my 11-week-old daughter.

The impetus for this new discovery was a 450-mile road trip from our home in Sonoma County, California, to Santa Monica. It was the first major automotive excursion with the new kid. My wife, who’s still breastfeeding, wanted clean, quiet and quasi-private places to nourish the child along the way.

Our first stop was a Holiday Inn Express in Westley, California. Next up: the lobby in the lodge at the Harris Ranch outside Coalinga. We concluded our tour de hotel lobbies at a Hilton Garden Inn near Magic Mountain in Valencia. In all three cases, the desk clerks tossed sheepish smiles to indicate they were aware of our presence, but didn’t say a word. The keys:

  • We moved with purpose, making it seem like we knew what we were doing and therefore belonged.
  • We didn’t initiate conversation, a key to avoiding confrontations of any kind.
  • We minimized bags, so we didn’t look like vagabonds literally coming in of the street.

Granted, if one of the clerks had spoken up, we were ready. Our official story was that we were meeting some friends who were planning to check in, but that the friends hadn’t arrived yet. As an alternative, we were prepared to play the “baby card,” and lay it on thick.

Thankfully, our adventure progressed smashingly and without incident. The baby didn’t cry once. Looking back, I’m not sure how we would have done the trip successfully without lobbies.

Anonymity, I suppose, has its privileges.

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Paul Giametti and Andre Braugher in Duets

Paul Giametti and Andre Braugher in Duets

I’ve found a new-to-me, road-trip flick to add to my list of favorites: Duets which was released in 2000 and stars Paul Giametti, Gwyneth Paltrow (whose dad directed), Huey Lewis and a bunch of other cool people, including cameos by Angie Dickinson and Maya Rudolph.

The story takes place in the world of high-stakes karaoke (where the high stakes are pretty low) and is packed with guilty-pleasure pop—and who knew Gwyneth Paltrow and Paul Giametti could sing? (Evidently he didn’t, as he revealed in a recent interview on Fresh Air, where I learned of the movie–which can be streamed on Netflix, by the way. And you can watch the trailer here.)

Duets is fresh and fun and wonderful, but my favorite part was the American imagery, as a collection of tormented characters drive from one karaoke contest to another across the states. This is not the old fashioned road-trip imagery of movies such as Thelma & Louise—there are no dusty motels with creaking screen doors or last-chance gas stations on desolate roads. Nope, this is the America of the modern traveling salesman (the job Giametti flees): bland chain hotels (where Giametti never manages to use the 800,000 frequent flier miles he accrued on his job), fluorescent-lit convenience stores, undistinguished stretches of highway, generic bars where local karaoke stars strut. This is Albuquerque, Kansas City, Houston, and, for the denouement, Omaha, Nebraska–though you would be hard-pressed to tell the cities apart.

In Duets, America plays as big a role as the characters that people the story—and it’s the same kind of lovable loser. It’s not America the beautiful, it’s America the banal. But tons of fun nonetheless.

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