Day 30 – July 2

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Thank you so much for reading my blog and sharing in my journey over the past 30 days! I felt this way in the beginning, and it never ceased to be true, having you all on this trip with me has made the experience that much better.  When I started out, on June 3rd, I had no idea of exactly what I was going to find.  I had recently quit my job, working in TV, the field that I had always be certain that I would work in forever, and I had decided to move across the country to Tennessee, a place that aside from the good old Chattanooga Aquarium, I didn’t know much about.

The thing that I did know though was that for a long time, I had wanted to drive around the country.  I would use the term, “across,” but in my mind, that implies heading directly to the other side.  I didn’t want that much focus involved in my trip, and I wanted to get a good look around at America.  There are so many things here that I hadn’t seen, and I liked the idea of driving for days on end.  Just driving.  Maybe that’s a hint to become a truck driver or better yet, follow in Danica Patrick’s footsteps by setting my sights on NASCAR.

I made lists of things in America that I wanted to see.  They were pages long.  Each day I would think of something else, and then someone would tell me about yet another thing that I didn’t know of or hadn’t thought about yet.  Finally, I started to map my journey and it became clear that there were somethings that I’d have to let go of.  The saddest of these things for me continues to be Mount Rushmore, something that was a high priority on my original list.  (Followed ever so closely, of course, by the Mall of America).  At first, I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to make it to everything that I wanted to visit, but then I became happy about it.  America is such a vast country with so many points of interest.  I realized that not seeing everything in one swoop would allow me to explore the nation over my lifetime.  And of course, this means that I also have a similar trip of northern America to look forward to one day.

Over the past thirty days, I have driven through twenty-two states: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts as well as through Washington D.C.  Over the course of this trip, I have spent time in fifteen cities and driven a grand total of 6,514.7 miles.  Some of you might me wondering what that mileage total equates to in gas expense and the answer is $722.47.  As far as the other expenses that I’ve incurred, I don’t even want to total those up.  I will tell you though that my Dolly Parton shirt was a very reasonable $19.99.

Before I left for the trip, I told my friend, Danielle, about my plan to forge ahead without a navigation system.  She asked me how I would get from place to place and I replied, “I don’t know.  I feel like I’ll find it.”  So the real question, I guess is, did I in fact, find “it”?  And in some ways, I suppose, I think that I did.

The thing that I found out about America is that it’s an absolutely beautiful country with some of the most amazing people in the world.  In each place that I visited, I was met with kindness and hospitality, and in each place that I visited, I found out something wonderful or charming about the location.  There was not one state or city that I went to and left disappointed.  I was met with frustrations like Chicago’s traffic or looking for my car in New York City, but each place felt uniquely like America to me.  I loved them all in spite of any issues that I ran into, and in more than one city, I thought to myself, “I’d like to live here one day.”

The other thing that happened on this trip is that I stopped seeing each state and city with its own identity or as part of a larger region that had its own identity.  I started seeing America and seeing the little pieces that make it into the greatest puzzle I know.  The truth is that we actually need all of the pieces.  It’s easy to say, “I hate that place” or “I wish we could get rid of those states,” but ultimately, we’re all one family with a common goal.  Each state has something to bring to the table, and each state wants to be at that table.  The thing that perhaps struck me most about my travels is the amount of American patriotism that I found across the country.  Each place sports huge American flags and reminders that we truly are “one nation under God.”  One nation.  No matter where you go, the general consensus of everyone here is that we all love America.

As I drove from one coast, through the Midwest, and then up the other coast, it also occurred to me that America doesn’t seem as big as I once felt that it was.  There I was, in one state after the next, driving my little car that I had in LA.  It felt less remarkable with each passing day as I started to realize that things aren’t as far as they seem, and the people across the country aren’t as different as you might think they are.  For the most part, everyone loves this country, they love their families, they love their cities, and they’re happy in them.  This trip reminded me to compare little and accept much.

As far as for myself, the thing that I found out above all others is that no matter where I go, there I am.  For the past several years, the achievement that I’ve hung my hat on is that I’ve seen every episode of every location of every season of the Real Housewives, (no really, no applause necessary), and this fact continues to be true.  No matter where I was, this remained the one show that I tried to catch whenever I got the chance.

Beverly Hills, 90210 is still my all-time favorite, I still love it as much as I did when I was eleven years old, and I still hope and wonder if maybe one day that will change.  I suppose, as time goes on, it looks less and less likely that it ever will.  Throughout the trip, with no deadlines or outside commitments, I still couldn’t stand to be late for or not comply with the plan that I had laid out for myself.  I still wanted to be on a schedule.

No matter where I was physically located, I still hated both ricotta cheese and strawberries.  I still didn’t have any interest in reading fiction books, always opting for true stories within non-fiction.  My favorite television character is still Lorelai Gilmore, and my favorite sports team is still the Atlanta Braves.  I still love the Olympics, I still hate techno music, and I still don’t think that Ross and Rachel were truly on a break.

Everywhere that I went expanded my horizons, but even though my surroundings were different from one day to the next, it was still me there within them.  I’ll always be from Georgia, I’ll always have a special place in my heart for LA, and no matter where I am, I’ll always look forward to seeing my nieces and nephew again who will always be my favorite people to visit.  I’m never going to be able to keep my opinions to myself, and it seems as though I’ll always have a lot of them.  I’ve now seen Bridesmaids three times, and this trip has led me to side with the philosophy of Kristen Wiig’s character, “people grow, but they don’t ever really change.”  And at the end of this particular journey and every journey, it’s still me on the other side.

Today, my family and I participated in a boat parade on the lake on which my parents live.  Upon me was bestowed the grand honor of being the bald eagle for the pre-4th of July celebration.  At one point, my oldest niece, Louisa, looked at me and said, “those people are laughing at you!”  And I was glad that I had the foresight to be the loudest one laughing.  I looked ridiculous in that bird suit, it was ninety degrees, and I was dressed in fur.  But there we all were, my nieces holding up the torches for their Statue of Liberty costumes until their arms hurt.  All for the sake of honoring our country, all for the sake of being with friends and family to celebrate America.  Today was definitely the cherry on top of my trip, and it made me realize that no matter where I go, or what I end up doing with my life, I hope I’ll always have days like this one.  I hope that, in one way or another, I can always be the loudest one laughing.

Day 29 – July 1

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Miles Traveled: 243; Current Location: Lunenburg, MA

I love the “stars in my eyes” attitude that I had yesterday when I assumed that by leaving New York before 10:00 this morning, I would arrive in Massachusetts by the afternoon.  Unfortunately for me, it seemed that everyone in the free world had the same goal today – leaving New York and arriving in Massachusetts.  My friend, Liz, made the last leg of the journey with me, and it had been four hours worth of driving before we had even made it 100 miles.  This trip gave me a new understanding of the phrase, “snail’s pace.”  Had today been a race though, the snail would have won.

For whatever reason, certain things about New York continue to remind me of Seinfeld.  In addition to its episode, “The Parking Spot,” the show also has an episode entitled, “The Parking Garage.”  In this one, the gang wanders around a parking garage for hours, looking for their car, completely clueless as to where they had parked it.  We’ve all been there.  You’re in a hurry, you’re on a mission, you just want to get into the GAP for it’s half-off sale on khaki shorts for the family.  Whatever the reason for carelessly walking away from the car, the frustration of searching for it is always the same and always very annoying.  Well, I’m here to report that looking for your car “somewhere” on the streets of New York is the absolute worst episode of “The Parking Garage” imaginable.  And when you’re scheduled to be ticketed at 9:00, it’s after that, and you can’t find the car, you realize that looking around a parking garage is amateur hour.  You wish your car was simply lost at the mall.

As I searched for my vehicle, I cursed myself for not writing down the exact address of where I had parked.  What was I thinking?  Obviously, I wasn’t thinking much since I simply walked away from the car the day before without any sign of hesitation.  It’s not as though there is much variation between one street and the next either.  A hint would have been a good idea.  Eventually though, I did find the car, and by the grace of God, I hadn’t been ticketed yet.  New York was smiling on me.  Things were going well.  Of course, an hour later, I hit that traffic I mentioned earlier, and I started to think that Connecticut was frowning on me big time.  Yep, Connecticut seemed to not be very happy with me at all.

I, however, was very happy with Connecticut because it brought me face to face with the inspiration for my very favorite movie.  No, I didn’t see another Titanic replica or anything from Casablanca, it was even better than that.  Liz and I ate lunch at Mystic Pizza.

I love Mystic Pizza.  Once, while cleaning my room, I watched it on a loop for about eight hours or so.  (It thus seems somewhat unlikely that I’ll be named “Neat Freak of the Year.”)  Not only is the film fun and entertaining on the surface level, but when you really break it down, you’ll also find that it’s chock-full of deep wisdom and sound advice.  For instance, at one point, Lili Taylor calls out, “I don’t have to marry an asshole!  It’s the 80’s!  Why would I marry an asshole?”  And I think that’s a very good point.  Sure, if it had been the 70’s or in the future of the new millennium, marrying an asshole would make a lot of sense.  But not in the 80’s.  Not while wearing blue eye shadow and smacking your wrists with neon slap bracelets.  Not on Reagan’s watch.

Mystic Pizza is also incredibly relatable.  In my favorite scene, Julia Roberts swamps her boyfriends Porsche with a truckload of giant fish because she mistakenly believes that he’s on a date with another girl.  In a shocking twist, all is not as it seems, and the girl turns out to be Charlie’s sister.  Julia’s character realizes the faux paus and admits, “I fucked up.”  Charlie agrees before lightheartedly remarking, “yeah but you gave it 100% effort,” and picks her up the following day in a brand new car because it “smells a hell of a lot better than the Porsche.”  I know exactly how Julia’s character feels in this scene because I’m sure this is the same reaction that I would receive in such a situation.  “You totaled my Porsche, no problem.  Let’s head back to your work for some pizza.”  Of course, in my case, this conversation would likely take place in the form of a dream from my bench in prison.

The real Mystic Pizza is a perfect example of the reason that I love America as much as I do.  It’s here, in the U.S. of A, that a person can open a pizza restaurant, see it turned into a feature film, and continue to hang their hat on this fact well into the following century.  It’s a perfect illustration of the reality that can be the American Dream.  The restaurant has many photos, posters, and articles relating to the 1988 film, and they too play the movie on a constant loop.  From the looks of things, I would feel right at home if I moved in there.  Pizza, beer, Mystic Pizza… if I can’t be happy there, I can’t be happy anywhere.

Everyone in the restaurant was incredibly helpful, and no one even seem jaded about being a stomping ground for fans of the film.  In fact, I wonder if the girls working there had dreams of meeting their own Adam Storkes and living happily ever after in Porsches that had been tainted by the smell of raw fish.  I wondered that because I thought to myself, “hmm… I need a job.  I wonder if they’re hiring.”  If I want to be like Julia though, I can probably make more money following in the footsteps of another of her careers.  After all, Pretty Woman had a happy ending too.

I have to report that although I didn’t have any particular expectations, the pizza was very good, and it was a nice break from the traffic.  Naturally, I purchased a T-shirt to have my own reminder of this little slice of Heaven tucked away in Mystic, Connecticut.  And of course, seeing this adorable seaport town with its white picket fences and tire swings made me ready to move away from Tennessee before I moved in.  Although, I’m not sure if I could really live a lifetime up against the looming threat that is Connecticut’s traffic.

Pulling up to my parents house in Massachusetts today certainly felt like grand homecoming, and I’m very happy to be here for this upcoming holiday weekend.  Over the last month, I have seen twenty-nine states as well as Washington D.C. and have stayed in fifteen different cities.  It’s nice to be back here where my family is and where my car’s license plate says it belongs.  My Civic has been advocating for Massachusetts for three years now, and I’m glad it finally made it here.  Of course, next weekend I have a seventeen hour drive ahead of me as I relocate to Tennessee, but that’s part of another adventure!  This trip has been one of the best experiences of my life, and I hope that you’ll follow along with me for one more day through my final wrap-up tomorrow.  I hope everyone has an amazing 4th of July!  Happy Birthday America!