Roadside Attractions From The Rearview Mirror

compassRose

I feel like I’ve driven half-way around the earth’s diameter.  Actually, according to the odometer on the red Ford Escape, we did indeed travel that far.

Our total distance driven, including side trips for sight-seeing, came to an astounding 13,589 miles!  If you’re into engine care and maintenance, that’s would be three oil changes (and filter, of course).  And, as we pulled into our driveway, we were overdue for a fourth change.

I walked into the kitchen and saw the calendar next to our Samsung refrigerator.  Take a look:

2015Calendar

That was our departure date, October 15.  I see it was a Thursday.  I took the calendar down (I was thinking there was something superstitious about leaving old calendars on the wall.  I only see them in Auto Repair Shops and they have Betty Page photos and the dates are around 1956 and the guys that work in some of these places often have seen times of hard luck).  It took me a day to locate the 2016 calendar I bought (20% off) at a Barnes & Noble store in Texas.  The theme is Circus “Freaks”.  Changing calendar themes from Vintage England Travel Posters to The Circus Sideshow must say something about my change in tastes.  The sideshows are vanishing from America…but there will always be an England.

Unusual things and marginalized people have always fascinated me.

Don’t ask.

So, here’s the new calendar:

AprilCalendar2016

In case you can’t read the dates very well, we got home on April 1.  I was so exhausted and sore from driving that I didn’t find anyone or anything to play a prank on.

But, the Tattooed Girl will brighten that corner of the kitchen until May 1!  This brings up an interesting thought…this sideshow girl was once considered an oddity…she made her living exhibiting herself in a circus.  At least half the baristas in the Starbucks I visited had tats far more artistic, exotic and erotic than our Miss April, 2016.

Culture changes…but, as I said, there will always be an England.

So, let me run the numbers.  Using the above dates, we spent 169 days out there…somewhere out there, driving, camping, hiking or just sitting on a beach.  This come out to 40.6% of a year.  Nearly 41% of a year of my life has just been spent looking at things.

We emptied the r-pod (we’re going to sell it, but it needs a few repairs first) and I piled our guides and maps and memorabilia on the floor.  Of course, I arranged everything to look haphazard and casual, but every pamphlet and sticker and book and CD is carefully placed to give you an idea what we accomplished.  I probably should mention that I couldn’t find most of the guide books and National Park maps and tee-shirts that we purchased along the way.  They’ll show up sometime in late July.

GuidesOnfloorFromTrip

I even re-highlighted my route on our Rand McNally.  Here it is:

Atlas

I’m aware that it’s hard to see clearly, but you only need to see the orange line and the green/blue line.  The orange line was our route to Palm Desert, California.  This is where we made a turn on a highway that was surrounded by wind-mills, and began to set our course eastward.  That’s the green/blue line.

Far be it for me to brag, but I do think we took in a pretty good chunk of the lower part of the Lower 48.

If you’ve been following the many blogs I sweated and struggled to produce for your entertainment, you will know that I did accomplish quite a bit more than just fill up the memory chip in my digital camera.

I became certified in sailing (any keel boat up to 30′).  I posed with Miss Sonoran Desert Queen (and she put her arm around me willingly and eagerly…as she thought of her long deceased grandfather).  I saw my first rodeo, an American child’s dream (if you were raised in the 1950’s).  I saw the graves of dead outlaws and B & B’s that were former brothels.

I drank Tequila in a bar in Juarez, Mexico…the same bar where Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Steve McQueen drank.  I tried to feel their spiritual entities, but looking for the nooks where they sat and kissed and drank, only led me to the men’s room.  We crossed the International Bridge from El Paso.  I looked down at the line of defense our government has built to deter (read ‘keep out’) illegals.  The trenches, fences, walls and razor wire reminded me of the Berlin Wall or the Maginot Line.  I was struck by the seven inches you unknowingly step across that separates two cultures that are so close yet so far apart.  I also did this on a day when I was in constant FB messaging with my son Brian.  I pleaded with him to dig into his iTunes for Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues”, so he could, somehow in the cyber-world, be connected with me as I walked across the border bridge…and he would, at that same moment be listening to:

When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez and it’s Eastertime too.  And your gravity fails and negativity don’t pull you through, don’t put on any airs when you’re down on Rue Morgue Avenue, they got some hungry women there, and they really make a mess outta you.”

We crossed the bridge.  Brian said he listened.  But it wasn’t raining and there’s no Rue Morgue Avenue in Juarez.  I did find a Mexican busker who sang Cielito Lindo for us, but no hungry women.  But, I’m not such a dreamer to believe that there are really no hungry women in Juarez…or hungry children…or hungry old men who sit and smoke and drink and think.

Sometimes facts get in the way of a good story.  For me, I have to immerse myself in a landscape, get my hands dirty, my mouth full of dust, get pricked by a cactus or bitten by a scorpion to fully understand where it is that I am standing. If I’m in Mississippi, I listen to Delta blues, if I’m in Texas, Bob Wills goes into the CD player.

Anytime on this trip, “Happy Trails” would be a welcome tune.

I drank a Lone Star beer at the Broken Spoke in Austin when Mariam, my friend William McHone and myself took lessons in the Texas 2-Step.  I even bought a pair of cheap cowboy boots for that night.  I didn’t do very well.  I have no sense of rhythm…only the desire to move around the dance floor to the sound of Texas Swing…and hold my honey in my arms.  I still have the boots, but I still can’t dance the Texas 2-Step.

I saw things that made me cry.

I saw acres of cattle, with no place to graze, penned and waiting to be herded to the killing rooms.  The miles I drove past these death-camps smelled of cow shit.  I wondered if it was their diet…or their fear.

I saw shanty-towns of the most squalid poverty and hopelessness.  I saw Native Americans reduced to playing “Indians” for the tourists…like me.

When we entered a National Park, I flashed my Golden Pass, which allowed us, as seniors, free entry.  I pondered the situation of an average family with four kids paying close to $100 to see the extraordinary landscapes that really belong to all of us.

I laid a flower at the grave of a prostitute in Dodge City, Kansas…a luckless young woman (somehow, I prefer the term “Soiled Dove”) who died from an infection caused by bar-room brawl over a cowboy, or was it Bat Masterson, or a banker, or a lover.

I placed another flower at the grave of an old friend of mine who died forty-some years ago.  He died and I lived.  We were hiking the same trail in the High Peaks.  I lived to return to his grave and place that Adirondack wildflower I had picked months earlier.  Now it was dried and withered from months on the road.  A flower from the mountains that were his last views of his life on this earth.

I saw an elderly man after he tripped on the curb outside a 7-Eleven.  He was bleeding.  The EMT’s were all over the situation.  But…was I seeing myself in fifteen years?

I saw a woman crying while she sat an outside table at one of the thousand Starbucks we visited.  She was alone in whatever sorrow had overcome her.  It took me days to get the image of her heartbreak out of my head.

I saw another woman crying in a bar.  She was with a male friend.  What happened?  Was she leaving him?  He leaving her?  I couldn’t tell, but the scene made me turn away.  I sat in her seat more than once in my life.

I cried one afternoon in the countryside outside of Dallas.  It didn’t have to do with the trip, directly.  I was driving to visit a large cemetery about fifteen miles southwest of the city.  I was listening to NPR and I sat up straight in the seat of the red Ford when the radio host announced that David Bowie had died.  I mulled this over for a few miles.  I realized I didn’t have any Bowie music on any of my playlists.  Then it happened.  They began a segment of “All Things Considered” with the opening riffs…the soaring chords of  “Let’s Dance”.

I didn’t dance.  I pulled over onto the shoulder and wept.  I wept for the lost talent, the lost beauty, the lost art…and another lost member of my generation’s music.

But, I saw sights of jaw-dropping beauty.  Rainbows that lasted over an hour.  Rock colors I never knew existed.  Canyons and valleys and washes and rivers, many that are famous and many that are unnamed.  Actually, I think nearly everything in the world has a name, I just didn’t have the right map.

When you travel, always have the right map.  It doesn’t have to be of any place you’re planning on visiting, but it’s good to have the map anyway.

There are maps of the wild and empty deserts of Arizona and California.  And, there are maps that exist only inside one’s mind.  These are usually the most interesting ones to use as guides.  Landscapes, towns, roads, Interstates, trails and horse paths can change with a sudden rainstorm.

But, the map that has your heart and soul and restless spirit as the compass rose…those are the maps to carry.

You can’t buy them on Amazon.  You were born with them deep in your chromosomes.

FinalPicAtEndOfTrip

To Let: Site # 143/ A Farewell To The Sunshine State

Site#143

[As I write this post, Site #143 is occupied]

On December 30, 2015, around noon, the radio in our red Ford Escape will begin to emit static.  It will crackle and hiss as my favorite country music station fades in strength.  Fort Myers will be receding, falling away into the south…into the muggy soupy haze.  The traffic on I-75 will be roaring past us.  The final songs are playing.  I hear the lines:

“Lookin’ in every trailer park for her red pick-up truck…”

and,

“If you’re gonna cheat on me, don’t cheat in our hometown…”

then,

“There’s a tiger inside of those tight fittin’ jeans…”

I think I hear,

“Tell it like it used to be, when you were still in love with me, before you got so used to me, and wanted someone new…”

Wait, a signal burst from the station,

“Billy gave up his wife and children…just to satisfy your 14 carat mind.”

and, just as the faint sounds of the best country music station in Florida fades into the ionosphere,

“You never called me ‘darlin’, darlin’…you never even called me by my name.”

“Before you got so used to me…”  It’s not that we are “used” to Florida, its just that the calendar will turn over in a few dozen hours to 2016 and we have places to see.  Former sharecroppers shacks in the southern cotton and soy bean fields and places in the western deserts.  We’re trading the Royal Palm trees for the Saguaro.  If you open your Rand McNally and look at the U.S. map, we will be riding along the belly of this great and varied country.  Landscapes will change…but the heart of this traveler will be setting a course toward the sunsets.

Our days and nights in Florida are at an end.  A night in Fort McCoy, another in Tallahassee and then we begin making our way through the heart of the deep south.  Mobile, Natchez and Vicksburg.  There are campsites waiting for us.  I have important personal business in Monroe, Louisiana…I hope it’s not hot and glaring in the sun when I sit beside that headstone in the cemetery in Monroe.  Then Shreveport and onto Dallas.  Mariam will fly back to New York City for several days of business-related meetings.  I’ll stay back…back in Texas where I will plug away on my novel.  I’ll sleep alone in the Lone Star state.  How much trouble can I get into while scribbling away in Arlington.

What are we leaving behind us?  So many things, mostly pleasant and a few not so.  The heat and humidity, unusual this year, will not be missed by me.  (But, I do enjoy going outside without wearing fleece.)

BigCypressNWR

[Big Cypress Wildlife Refuge]

We’re leaving our friends in Jupiter, Brad and Linda, who were so gracious a few weekends ago on the Atlantic coast.

We’re leaving my high school classmate, Katy (and her husband) who prepared a wonderful lunch for us in Zephyrhills.  Katy is my proof-reader.  We’re leaving my teaching colleague, Dianna (and her husband) who showed us the sunny side of St. Petersburg.  Dianna is a transplanted Connecticut yankee.  Good luck in the Florida heat, Dianna.  Teach those children well.

We’re leaving the sublime beauty and stark nature of the Big Cypress and Everglades Parks.

SawGrass

[Sawgrass]

The malls, the walls, the sand and the alligators.  The seashells of Sanibel.  The sunsets over the Gulf.  My learning to sail with Russell and sailing teacher, Randen.

MeSailingDay2

I will miss the Bike Bistro, where I bought a mug and had Mariam’s broken spokes repaired. (The free ball-point pens were orange-colored).  Farewell to Paulette and Emily who provided me with the best iced coffee on the hottest of days. They were more than baristas, they became my friends.

MeJava2

Java2

[Paulette (left) is a gifted artist & Emily (right) has a dog-siting business. They are the top two baristas in Fort Myers]

Gone will be the pink flamingo yard ornaments, adult tricycles, golf carts and circling Turkey Vultures.

Flamingos

Out of my life, like a cool breeze on a hot day, will pass the best public libraries this side of 42nd Street.

I will no longer drive along San Carlos Boulevard and tip my cap at the strippers who are all standing in front of Fantasy’s, waving to the passers-by.

New adventures are awaiting us on the roads to the West.

If you’ve read between the lines of my posts, you may have noticed that this writer is a restless soul.  I feel unspeakably lonely sometimes, even when Mariam and friends are near.  It’s my dark side.  My nightly companion is a melancholy that can’t be described easily.  Have you ever dreaded something and welcomed that thing in equal portions?  Love and hate.  Approach and avoidance.  The beautiful and the obscene.  The sacred and the profane.

Clearly, almost certainly, it’s the air sign of mine.  Gemini.  The twins.  Perhaps that explains my dual nature.

But, I think I can be fixed, like an old Chevy with faded paint that’s not running on all cylinders.  Yes, I think I’ve found the place that could be my Fountain of Youth.  I stumbled on this ghost town while googling the Mohave Desert.  I’ve never been there, but I know it exists.  It will be an unusual place and it bears the oddest of names.  It’s in the California desert.  It’s alongside the dunes and sage and cacti of the Southwest.  I’m not going to tell you (yet) where this place is located.  You will need to stay in touch.

Keep reading my posts.  I have so much more to share.

Good-bye Site #143.  It’s been a great two months.  Perhaps we can do this again sometime.  I’ll buy the wine and pay for the room if you sing that song I love…

Moon&Palm