Just Say No!

Leave a comment

I’ve heard about this kind of thing before. Anxiety, depression, abruptly waking up in a cold sweat, longing for the vice that’s recently been removed from your life. I’ve seen “Celebrity Rehab,” so I know all about the effects that a detox can bring, but I never thought that this issue would apply to me. I’ve never thought that I’d experience the traumas of detox firsthand. Until now. Recently I’ve learned exactly what it is to “go cold turkey.” For the past five days, I haven’t watched any TV.

When I was in fourth grade, each student in my class was asked to monitor the number of hours that he or she spent watching TV per day. I won. By a landslide. Around this time, my mother enacted a two-and-a-half hour daily limit on the time that I could spend in front of the set. Believe it or not, this time restriction didn’t work for me. I either ignored her completely or insisted that the previous episode of “Hey Dude” had been a “to be continued,” so I had no choice but to see another and find out how the loose ends would be tied. I was hooked.

Every morning, before elementary school, my mom would wake me up at 6:30 to watch a half-hour of TV before getting ready to head to the bus stop. The show at this hour alternated between “Lassie,” “Free Willy,” “Tailspin,” “Bullwinkle,” and my own personal favorite, “Gummi Bears,” which I would watch while eating breakfast. At 7:00, “Under the Umbrella Tree” began, and this served as my cue to get my ass into gear for the school day. Sometimes I would fall back asleep, but I always knew I had screwed up if I wasn’t up and at ’em and “Under the Umbrella Tree” was on.

TV is the way that my day has always started, and for years, it’s also been my daily calendar. My parents religiously watched “60 Minutes” each Sunday night, and to this day, its tick-tocking theme song sends me into an instant panic as it signals weekend’s end. For this same reason, I can no longer watch any version of “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” and I generally save “Desperate Housewives” for later on in the week. This way, when I begin to feel sick from the Sunday night blues, I can remind myself, “but it’s really Tuesday!” Talk about a great relief!  Wednesday continues to bring me warm memories of a Chick-Fil-A combo meal and Breyer’s mint chocolate chip ice cream (and spitting the chips out into another bowl because they always got stuck in my teeth) and waiting all day in anticipation for 8:00 to hit. From 1996-2000, Wednesday was “90210-day” in my house and as such, it continues to be one of my favorite days of the week.

ABC’s TGIF lineup told me that there were two days without school ahead, and “Rescue 911” meant staying up extra late in the summer. I still sing commercials to occupy myself while waiting in lines or just as a way to annoy my co-workers, my favorites being one for Quaker Instant Grits and the jingle for the Suzi Stretch life-sized doll. I also continue to listen to theme songs and especially love a Carly Simon anthem used in a little-known Judith Light show called, “Phenom.”

Despite many efforts to get in on the action, I still don’t like “Cheers,” but this present-day feeling didn’t stop me from taking it very hard when the show went off the air in 1993. I was seven-years-old and had never seen it before but something about learning of this place “where everybody knows your name” and watching the final episode with my parents struck a chord in me. I sang the theme song on the bus the next morning and spent that day with the show on my mind. I didn’t just watch more TV than my peers, it also seemed to mean more to me. When “Seinfeld” ended six years later, I wrote epitaphs to it all over my trapper keeper in white out. “Serenity now.” Serenity now.

I was also a voracious reader as a kid, and I’ve always found it interesting when people suggest that books are superior to television. I can get behind the idea of “don’t watch TV, go climb a tree,” but I have trouble with, “don’t watch TV with your family, go up to your room and read some C.S. Lewis alone.” Don’t get me wrong, I love C.S. Lewis, but something about the superiority-complex that “scholars” hold over TV watchers has always irritated me. For this reason alone, it has taken me a long time to forge ahead with this experiment in fear that it will sound like I’m suggesting that television is bad for people. I certainly don’t think that it’s bad for people, but by the same token, I’ve wondered what it’s doing to me. I’ve wondered what I would find the time to do if TV wasn’t in the picture.

The main motivation behind this experiment (which is scheduled to proceed for 29 days, equal in length to my trip around America) stems from a blackout (as in power outage, not a result of too many Long Island iced teas) that I experienced in LA a little under a year ago. The power and cable were both out, and I couldn’t watch or record television for an entire night. I was distraught as there were shows that I felt I simply couldn’t miss! I read a bit by candlelight and went to bed angry, like a kid that had missed out on dessert. When I woke up though, something inside me had changed. I found myself hoping that the power would still be out when I came home from work that night. Not having to watch any shows had come to me as somewhat of a relief. Could it be? Could TV be a self-imposed burden on my life?

I ignored this question for the following year and continued to watch television in typical fashion, but I’m interested to see what I’ll end up doing with my time over the next few weeks. Naturally, there are a couple of reality shows that I’ll be saving on my DVR so that I’m not out of the loop forever. Something tells me that no matter what happens, the “no TV” clause won’t be a permanent fixture in my world. So far and in a largely unexpected twist, I’ve spent a lot of time reading Naomi Judd’s autobiography (she also drove through Texas and seems to appreciate fields), and I have strangely found myself missing shows that I haven’t seen in a while, like “My So-Called Life” and “Party of Five.” I suppose the more things change, the more they stay the same. I’m hoping though, that at some point, I’ll proceed with the attempt to expand my horizons rather than simply use this time to move up the expert rankings in subjects that I already know. For instance, I’ve already been tempted to re-read my favorite novel, The Babysitters Club Super Special # 2, but then I reminded myself that the point of this experiment is to learn new things and to step out of my comfort zone. As a result, I’ll go out later and attempt to find Super Special # 3.

I’m also hoping that on day ten or eleven I’ll get the motivation to take up wood carving or learn to make lye soap. Then I won’t simply be a crazy person, I’ll be a crazy person with some skills. Whatever happens though, if this process doesn’t end with me chasing a small boy around the snowy woods like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, I think that one way or another, I’ll come out slightly better in the end. Stay tuned as I come up with things to do! (Hint: “Muzzy” cartoon tapes in French don’t count as “watching TV” for the purposes of this experiment, and my 7th grade flute has already been freshly polished…)

Love Built A Bridge

1 Comment

Oprah once told me that in order to get the things you want out of life, you need to explain to the universe exactly what it is that you are seeking. And so I did. Only in my case, I decided that the best time to share my request with the universe would be during a conversation that I had with a man who held the direct power to make my wish come true – like a genie. Or Simon Cowell. It’s not that I doubted Oprah, it’s just that I’ve always believed in covering my bases. Naturally, as Oprah had promised, the universe (by way of this man) came through, and suddenly there I was. There I was, face to face with Naomi and Wynonna Judd.

But of course, every story has a beginning, and my journey with The Judds goes back much further than our meeting. So, like any decent narrator, I’ll now take you back in time. Cue the wavy screen and fluttering music.

It was a beautiful spring in Los Angeles (this statement of course being a joke given the singular seasonal nature of Southern California), and everyone around me seemed happy. They might not have been happy in each particular moment of answering the phones or getting coffee or being told that they were a “complete idiot” or “the dumbest person alive,” but they were happy to be gliding down the paths to which they were affixed. To them, this choice of lifestyle was the only one that could possibly make any sense, and they wanted to be there. And they told me that I wanted to be there. And I told myself that I wanted to be there. And for a long time, I thought we were all telling the truth.

I knew how they felt. I remembered being in high school and hearing about a classmate’s plan to become a nurse and truly not comprehending any future career goal that didn’t involve working in television. “Sure, be a nurse,” I thought, “just be a nurse on TV.” I had told nearly every person I’d met from the time I was ten-years-old that I was going to move to Los Angeles and work in TV and stay there for the rest of my life and never ever, ever, look back. So you can imagine then, that when, after seven years of our relationship together, I began to feel like Los Angeles was wearing a ski mask and perpetually holding a plastic bag over my face, I became concerned. I’ve been cautioned never to stick around in an abusive situation, but deep down, I felt that LA really loved me, and I was scared to leave. For the first time, I couldn’t picture my future. The phrase “anywhere but here” entered my mind often, but I had a hard time wrapping my head around what “anywhere” would look like. I no longer had any sense of where I was going or what I would do when I got there. After all, I figured that LA would maintain ownership of the television industry in the divorce. I was finally grown up, but for the first time, I had no idea what I wanted to be.

Enter the duo Judd. Just as I was pounding my fists onto the ground and screaming, “GET ME OUT OF HERE” at the top of my lungs (this could be figurative), I slowly picked myself up when I heard Naomi Judd say something that no one around me “in real-life” ever seemed to agree with. “I sure could never live here, but it’s nice to visit for about three days.” Listen, that might not be the exact quote. I didn’t write it down. But I remember the gist loud and clear: there are people in this world who don’t want to live in LA, and at that moment, I felt ok being one of them. Later, I heard another quote credited to Naomi (actually spoked by Kathleen York in a TV movie… don’t ask too many questions here), “There’s got to be some place on this planet that feels like home.” Naomi seemed to have already voiced the chief thoughts that had been running through my mind, and something inside of me told me that I could also go to her for the answers.

Around this time, Judds music became my life’s soundtrack. I listened to “Old Pictures” and could see a house situated in a wooded area where my future family and I would sit around a camp fire on Friday nights, catching lightning bugs, firing BB guns, and sipping on boxed wine. (You too?). I started each morning with “Love is Alive,” and ended each night with “Flies on the Butter” and “River of Time.” I walked around the Warner Brothers lot wearing headphones, blasting “Grandpa” and “Mama He’s Crazy” into my ears. I completed a half-marathon with the constant echo of “Love Can Build A Bridge” and “Dream Chaser” guiding me along. They said “chase your dreams” and I found myself driving around the country, through twenty-nine states, listening to every song of theirs I could possibly find. They didn’t want to live in LA either. They understood me, and images of a different future started piecing themselves together like a puzzle in my mind. Sure, it was one of those puzzles that doesn’t really have any edges and has 547 pieces of blue sky, and you have NO IDEA where any of them go, but I could see the formation starting to take shape. I had the confidence to say, “I know where I’m going” and to leave the pieces that no longer belonged in my puzzle behind.

Through the course of my time in the world I have met a famous person here or there, and each time that I do, I’m reminded that someone famous is still someone. As Zack Morris once put it, “they put on their pants, one leg at a time, just like the rest of us.” But the subject of Mark-Paul Gosselaar brings up the loophole to my ho-hum “you’re rich and I’m not, who cares” attitude towards celebrities in that there is a handful of people who I feel have gone above and beyond in my world to change my life for the better. These people are the ones with whom I most want to share the joy of our “deep personal connection.” (This is how presidents get shot, isn’t it?) This list is short, but it does have tiers, and there are four people etched into the upper echelon. Three of these names end in “Judd.”

Because of this internal build-up to our theoretical future interaction, I was nervous the second I found out that I’d actually be meeting The Judds. My mind kept fluttering back to 1991 when I marched up to Jodie Sweetin’s autograph table only to be rendered completely mute. I had “Full House” sneakers and spent years of my life pretending to be Stephanie Tanner, but I couldn’t even conjure the words to tell her I liked her show. I certainly didn’t want a repeat of that disastrous episode, but at the same time, I didn’t want to startle The Judds with my enthusiasm. I’ve learned over the years that there’s a very fine line between “fan” and “psycho,” and the perception that I fell into the latter category was a very real concern of mine.

I’m also acutely aware of BFS, “Biggest Fan Syndrome.” Many fans feel that the celebrity at hand has played a more integral role in his or her life than the celebrity could have possibly played in anyone else’s. This condition is something I attempt to skirt to the best of my ability as people riddled with this disease have, as far as I can tell, generally lost all touch with reality. I was privy to a firsthand look at the effects of BFS on the night of The Judds show when some other concert-goers realized that I had a backstage pass in my possession. For instance, one woman kindly informed that my ownership of the pass “really wasn’t fair” because she and her daughter had been singing Judds songs together since 1988. “Tough luck, lady,” I thought, “bring it up with the universe.” (I failed to mention to her that my father, who also had a backstage pass, had asked me on the drive over if any of the Judds have children…)

To me, BFS is one of the first signs that a person is starting to leave “fandom” and is teetering on the verge of entering “psycho’s” territory. Even with TV shows that I loved as a child (see: “Beverly Hills, 90210”), I’m careful to remember that I wasn’t the lone viewer and that I’m not getting a check in the mail each time an episode airs. These shows aren’t really mine. And so too, with The Judds, I avoid phrases such as, “you can’t understand how much they mean to me,” or “I can’t even put my love for them into words.” Because you can understand. Many people understand. And these are the words. Putting my love for them into words is exactly what I’m doing.

As excited as I was for the thirty second encounter that I’d have with the people who sang me home to my new life in Tennessee, I was equally nervous. Luckily, I’d spent the week prior to the show on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard which came as a welcomed distraction. For several days I hung out with my family, played with my nieces and nephew, and relaxed in the perfect tranquility that is a New England summer. Just as I was enjoying my last night and preparing to leave, a day ahead of the group, in order to make it to Oklahoma for The Judds show within plenty of time, my dad called. My flight the next morning had been canceled. As far as I was concerned, everything was completely unraveling, and I completely unraveled with it. I lost my mind.

Through the tears and panic, I rationally told my father that I would take a ferry back to the mainland and drive to Oklahoma because “THERE’S NO WAY I’M MISSING THIS!” He encouraged me to stay the course, and I ended up on a later flight, landing in New York just a couple hours later than I was originally supposed to. I took three planes back to Nashville and then drove 375 miles to Conway, Arkansas to spend the night before meeting my dad the next morning and completing my ten-hour drive together. Although, as far as travel was concerned, things ultimately went off without a hitch, my heart skipped a beat when my flight into Nashville was overbooked and a woman holding a cooler that contained a vital organ had been bumped from the flight. As she informed anyone within earshot that she was “literally holding someone’s life in her hands,” I thought to myself, “Right. But I’m going to meet The Judds. There will be a later flight for you.”

My dad and I made it to the Choctaw Casino and Resort in Durant, Oklahoma and picked up our tickets and passes that read “artist guest” on them. “Wow,” I surmised to myself, “they let me into Heaven after all.” Along with our passes came the instructions to be on the left side of the stage by 8:20pm, giving us another two-and-a-half hours to kill. As nervous as I was in this situation (having to walk up to a person and say hello), I wondered how I’d even made it to this point. Surely, I’d been forced to say, “hello” to people before but for some reason in this moment, I had trouble coming up with the word.

Finally, the time came, and my terror only increased when we were queued up backstage and Naomi and Wynonna walked into the room. For a brief moment, I thought I might pass out which upset me because I figured that in a case like that, I’d miss the show. Throughout my life, I’ve suffered from anxiety attacks. Even when I want to read something in front of the class and feel comfortable with the group before me, my hands start shaking as soon as I get to the front of the room. It’s a problem that only healthy doses of whiskey has seemed to have had any effect on, yet I realized that sadly I’d left my whiskey at home.

I scurried to think of a lead-in joke or something to say. The idea of a “meet and greet” is one of life’s great oxymorons because on one side, you have a person who will tell the story of this meeting until death puts it out of its misery, and on the other side, you have professionals eager to get on stage and leave the roomful of bumbling fools behind. For me though, for the fool, this moment is the one that all of my discussions with the universe had led up to. I needed to think of something to say.

Instead though, somewhere in the middle of the line, I decided to wing it. This strategy was quite out of the ordinary for me as I’ve already prepared several versions of the speech that I’m planning to deliver at the Emmy’s. I elected to “just say whatever comes to mind,” which turned out to be, “I drove here from Nashville, pretty ironic, huh?” As soon as I’d said it, I wanted to take it back. Nashville was 700 miles east of where we currently stood, and they knew exactly how far it was given the “irony” that I’d referenced – that they had driven from Nashville too. I suddenly felt like Jennifer Jason Leigh in Single White Female. I wanted to follow-up with, “you don’t understand, I drove eight hours to see the field from A League of their Own…. I’m generally crazy! I’m not stalking you!” But instead, I forged ahead through the valley that I’d created in somewhat of a foggy haze.

I couldn’t really tell you exactly how things progressed from that point, but I can tell you that The Judds turned out to be the heroes that I’d always known them as. Friendly, polite, and seemingly genuinely happy to be there. I was thrilled. The show was as great as I’d expected, and I got exactly what I wanted out of the night – a story to tell my future kids as they catch lightning bugs, run around the campfire, and dance in the living room with Judds concert tapes playing on the big screen (afterall, this is still my dream, right?).

In addition to the trick about the universe, Oprah says that there is no such thing as a coincidence, and I do believe that Glinda the Good Witch sent The Judds into my life as a reminder to aim high and think big. Oprah also instructs believers to “always look for the lesson,” and I definitely took one home from my trip to see the show. If I really want to get something out of life, it’s worth it to make it happen. I might not always be an “artist guest,” but I can always do my best to show up for the things that matter to me. Yes, I had to take three planes, and yes, I had to drive 1400 miles round trip, and yes, this sounds a little excessive, but I wanted to see The Judds perform and that was the part I cared about. The hassle that came along with achieving this goal was much less important to me.

I hope that throughout the years I maintain a glimmer of this adventurous spirit (universe, this is me talking to you), and I hope that one day Dunkaroos go back into production. Dunkaroos are really the perfect afternoon snack – cookies that come with a compartment of frosting, and I think that if we all pool our pull with the universe together, we can probably get them going again. And besides, I think Oprah would enjoy the occasional package of Dunkaroos too…

One Month Later

1 Comment

Current Location: Nashville, TN

Hi again! Are you there everyone? It’s me, Margaret… no no, that’s not right… uh, anyway…. I hope that everyone has been doing well in the month since we last spoke, and since you all were so nice in sharing in my travels with me, I wanted to give you an update as to what it is exactly that the nomadic life has panned out to… Hold onto your hats ladies and gentlemen!

One month ago tomorrow, my parents and I loaded up the car (a different car at that), and left Massachusetts for Nashville, Tennessee. If you’re picturing us sipping lemonade, wearing white gloves, and casually laughing as the breeze catches our hair in a scene that’s in anyway reminiscent of Grace Kelly riding in a convertible circa 1952, well… you’re not picturing the right thing at all. If instead, you see a Ford that wishes it were an actual SUV equipped with a full-sized couch, that my mother proudly purchased from Macy’s in 2001, clutching onto the roof with all its might… let’s just say, you’re a little bit closer.

It will be one month ago tomorrow that my father encouraged me to be his faithful assistant as he prepared to move said couch down a very narrow and winding flight of stairs while explaining to me that he would simply hoist it into the roof of the car, throw on a little rope, tie a couple of knots and botta bing botta boom, ride into the sunset for 1,100 miles. If any of you have wondered what it is that made me think that I could drive 6,500 miles over the course of a month, I present you with this very line of thinking. I present you with my father.

It took us three hours to get the couch out of my parents’ townhouse, and afterwards, my father appeared as though he had just run wind sprints through the Mohave. At best, it was a tenuous scene, and at worst, it hindered on an all-systems meltdown. The stress only crescendoed hours later when we hit traffic outside of New York and traveled just 200 miles within the first five hours. Just when we thought we were home free, my mother got out of the car at a truck stop in Pennsylvania only to find that part of the couch’s tarp evidently liked New York so much that it decided to stay there. Over the course of the trip, two hours, three rolls of duct tape, bungee cords, and too many feet of rope to count became dedicated to “tarp repair.” You know how adults often say things to kids like, “I bet you can’t clean up your toys in less than ten minutes” or, “there’s no way that you can be quiet throughout the whole service at church?” Right. Well, that technique still works on my father. He’ll get anything done that you want as long as you tell him that he’ll never be able to do it. Suffice it to say, I’m sitting on this very couch right now in my new apartment and truth be told, I never envisioned it any other way.

After my couch and I settled into my apartment, I started to realize that I was the only one hanging around the pool during the day. It turned out that the other tenants were spending their days making money, at something they call, “work.” I’ve been taught to avoid all four letter words, so I didn’t immediately leap into action towards living my life with days spent at “work,” but I was getting a little bored sitting around my apartment. It turns out that a person really can only watch “Thelma and Louise” so many times before realizing that they will end up driving off that cliff. Every. Single. Time. So when WME, the company where I worked in LA, offered me a job in their Nashville office, I was ecstatic. (Sure, “ecstatic,” might be laying it on a little thick, but you never know, some of them might be reading this… Love you co-workers!).

Now that I have some amount of money coming in, I’ve decided that I can finally part with the moving boxes that I’ve been storing in the corner of my living room. As long as I was unemployed, I figured they’d be a good back-up to apartment living, but it seems that I can finally throw them away (sorry, “recycle them” just didn’t seem to do it there). As far as the adjustments to life in Tennessee, I have to say that for some reason, there haven’t been any. I miss my friends in LA, but aside from that, I feel like a formerly beached whale finally thrown back into the sea. Of course, the heat takes a bit of getting used to, but luckily, I’m an indoor cat, and central air suits me pretty well. I do miss working in TV, but I love country music a lot, so it’s been almost as exciting to be part of this business. Of course, I don’t dance, I don’t sing, and I don’t “have the rhythm in me,” so my role in this arena is somewhat undetermined. I will say though that not having any definitive goals really does take the pressure off.

Somethings have changed for me in my life here though. For instance, I can now afford to live on my own, so my dream of becoming a recluse is slowly but surely coming to fruition. I can also drive to a place that’s twenty miles away and complete the round-trip within an hour. I know this because today I drove to Franklin to pick up a second VCR that I saw on Craigslist during my lunch break. At my job here, I leave work everyday at 6:00 and make it home ten minutes later. You might think that this sounds like a good thing, but I’m actually putting this one in with “over 100 degrees at 9:00 pm” due to the fact that none of the good TV shows come on until 8:00, leaving me with roughly two hours to stay entertained.

Overall, looking back on my decision to take the trip across the country and to move back to the Southeast, I have to say, that it wasn’t a difficult one. It took me a long time to get to the point where I was ready to leave California, but once I decided to go, I no longer felt that I had made a choice. I felt as though I was doing what I had to. Whether or not this sentiment is accurate can be debated, but I’ve learned throughout this experience, more than anything, to follow the advice that I received personally from Sheryl Crow many years back. “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.” The memory of the trip continues to make me happy, and I think that it will always serve as my personal reminder to go in the direction that I feel the wind is blowing me. As long as the wind isn’t blowing me towards crack dens or dark alleys of course.

On my favorite TV show, “Beverly Hills 90210,” Kelly rejects both Brandon and Dylan in one fell swoop with the three simple words, “I choose me.” Naturally, Kelly was always a very selfish character, but in the one life that I’ve been given to lead, I’ve decided that this philosophy isn’t all bad and that doing what I want to is sometimes better than following a shepherd’s advice. Of course, it’s also been said on “90210,” that “may the bridges I burn light the way,” and there are some days that I toy with the idea of making that statement my motto instead.

In the last month I’ve pretty much just been unpacking, buying VCRs, and working away. Two of my co-workers also live in my apartment complex, and it’s been fun hanging out with them and getting to know the area. I have to say though that my instinct tells me that there are still several honky tonks out there just waiting for me to grace them with my presence. The upcoming month will be a big one for me as well. I’ll be going on a family vacation to Martha’s Vineyard (“hey new job, can I have a week off?”) and then following that, I’ll be making another great migration eleven hours west to see my all-time favorite singers perform. You guessed it. The Judds. Stay tuned for the outcome of that excursion as well! I hope you’re all having a wonderful summer, and if you ever make it to Tennessee, I’ll have some Jack Daniels with your name on it. Now it’s time for the first episode of season four of “The Jersey Shore” – it’s true, I guess… somethings never change!

Day 30 – July 2

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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!

Day 28 – June 30

Leave a comment

Current Location: New York, NY

Well, New York must not have wanted its legacy on this blog to be based solely on the horrors of yesterday’s parking ordeal because like Annie always told me it would, the sun did come out tomorrow.  Although I can’t say that I simply strolled over to my car and effortlessly relocated it to a free spot on the other side of the road before waltzing down Fifth Avenue with a croissant and twenty carats worth of diamonds, the parking spot search-time this morning was dramatically shorter than yesterday.

In another point in the plus column for New York, “Operation Re-Park 2011” came on the heels of going to last night’s baseball game at Yankee Stadium.  I hope it’s clear that I’m not exactly a Yankees fan, and I’ll have a lot of explaining to do tomorrow when I arrive in Massachusetts and reunite with my Redsox-loving family, but for better or worse, going to a Yankees game seemed like a good item to check off the bucket list of America.  Everyone sitting near us at the game was incredibly friendly, and it was a good reminder that there are both courteous and rude people everywhere.  Sure, it’s true that my friend Catherine’s building’s superintendent refused to let me in yesterday because I didn’t have a key, and it’s also true that three of her neighbors passed me without any sort of acknowledgment as I was lugging my 312 bags up the stairs, but that’s fine.  That’s the same do-it-yourself attitude that helped found this country.  And for the record, no one helped me in Evansville, Indiana either.

I really do love New York, and it’s been nice to finally find that its twenty degree temperatures don’t linger all year long.  As far as I can recall, I’ve only ever been here at one time or another during the months between December and March, so I was beginning to wonder if the city did have another (warmer) side to it.  The heat is nice, but there is something to be said about donning winter boots to walk around this city.  They’re much more resistant to the puddles of sticky sewagey sludge that take up residence along the city’s sidewalks than flip-flop sandals have proven to be.  I only wish that I had thought to bring disposable shoes with me as I think I might be forced to throw away the pair that I do have.

Riding the subway continues to be one of my favorite activities here.  There’s just nothing like it.  Sometimes the train is relatively empty and relaxing and then other times, it feels as though you’re walking into a medium-sized fish tank that’s already serving as a holding cell for every single person living here.  And no one ever says, “shucks, that one’s full.”  The trains always have room for just one more.

After moving my car this morning, I went to Starbucks and found that just because something is a national chain doesn’t mean that it has a national price.  Everything is more expensive here, and I suppose that makes sense.  What might someone do?  Go to New Jersey for coffee at a cheaper rate?

Following my trip to Starbucks, I decided to head downtown towards Battery Park.  Of course, I’m somewhat unfamiliar with the subway system here, so I ended up walking about two-and-a-half miles.  I suppose I needed the exercise though.  I haven’t worked in a lot of physical activity in between driving 6,000 miles over the last thirty days.

I made it down to Battery Park and found that the intense level of patriotism displayed following September 11th continues to resonate from this area.  I haven’t been there in quite sometime, and it was nice to see the tremendous amount of work and progress involved with the Freedom Tower which will be the new One World Trade Center and completed in 2014.  I joined in with the masses of my fellow tourists by taking photos of the park and its sites, including the Statue of Liberty which looks ahead from her perch in New York Harbor.  Originally, I had thought of taking the Staten Island Ferry to get a closer look at Her Majesty, but when I saw that the line for such a ride spanned the length of Manhattan, I decided to head back uptown and rest.  I can’t do everything on this trip.

Feeling like a chump just sitting around in front of the TV while visiting New York, I opted to watch Sex and the City so that I could still get a look around town.  It’s very nice here.  The apartments are all fairly big and presumably inexpensive given Carrie and Charlotte’s general lack of meaningful employment.  It’s also incredibly easy to get from place to place and the people here spend a lot of time going to fancy events at high-end ballrooms and restaurants.  All in all, it seems like a good place to live!

Tonight I plan to rest up before taking off for the final leg of my journey bright and early tomorrow morning.  Even if I wanted to lag around a bit, New York’s streets mandate that I get out of here in a timely manner, so I’ll be arriving in Massachusetts by the afternoon.  I can’t believe that the end of my days as a wanderer is finally near!  Thank you for all of your encouragement throughout my trip.  I’ve really appreciated it all!

Day 27 – June 29

1 Comment

Miles Traveled: 228; Current Location: New York, NY

It took twenty-seven days, fifteen cities, and nineteen states, but it was New York City that finally brought me to tears.  There is an episode of Seinfeld entitled, “The Parking Spot,” in which George and another man quarrel over a street spot for hours, both refusing to let the other man have it.  I now know their pain.  And I no longer find any humor whatsoever in that episode.

Ever since I left Virginia, driving has seemed slightly more frustrating to me.  Maybe it’s just the routes that I’m taking, but the general consensus of the drivers that I’m riding alongside these days seems to be that we’re on a much more stringent mission that we used to be.  When I dreamt of riding in my car with my cowboy hat on, listening to the Eagles, and sipping on Diet Dr. Pepper, I didn’t envision rush hour traffic.  I didn’t envision tractor-trailers merging into my lane from both directions.  I didn’t envision the chaotic gridlock that forms upon exiting a tollbooth.  I didn’t envision driving around the Upper East Side for two and a half hours trying to park.  I didn’t envision New York.

Don’t get me wrong, I love New York.  There’s no city in the world that I’d rather visit, but I will never, ever, drive here again.  Ever.  At first though, I didn’t mind it.  As I was approaching the city, it started to feel like a game, and I was in it to win.  There was no sign of any kind indicating my entrance into New York, but I knew I was here.  I could tell by the chorus of honking and seemingly careless merging-practices that were unfolding around me.  This was it.

As soon as I became surrounded by the unflinching attitude of the drivers in this environment, I effortlessly stepped up my game.  My new motto was “be aggressive.” Be aggressive at all costs.  This persona worked for a while.  I thought to myself, “hey, I really have the hang of this,” and that feeling stayed with me as I drove through the city and navigated towards the Upper East Side.  I had been worried about driving in New York City, and my fears were totally unfounded.  Driving here is not a problem at all.  It’s the hope of ever actually stopping to get out of the car that you have to worry about.

I circled a radius of several blocks for quite some time to no avail.  At this point, I really had to go to the bathroom.  Like an absolute fool, I hadn’t stopped since Maryland which was now hours earlier.  When I saw a metered spot at 71st and Lexington, I took it.  The meters are only good for one hour, and several cars on the street already had tickets, so I knew that my car’s newfound home wouldn’t be a permanent option, but it seemed like a good temporary fix.  Surely, I figured, there’s somewhere to go to the bathroom near here.

Of course, I was hoping for a “somewhere” other than the gutter.  I wandered around for a while, looking for a suitable option, before stooping down to one of the oldest tricks in my book.  I walked into a restaurant, told them I was meeting someone, asked where the restroom was located, and then as I exited, pretended to be on my cell phone.  “Oh! 74th and Lexington.  Ok…See you in a minute…”  Never to look back again.

Now that one crisis was averted, I was ready to tackle another.  I had only some idea of where I had parked my car.  As I looked for it though, I passed a sign that read, “be calm and carry on,” and that, my friends, is just what I did.  Thirty minutes later, I found my car, and though I was tired, sweaty, and convinced that I had just trudged six miles uphill in the snow, I was determined to find a long term place to park.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t park in a garage, I have five words for you: “ten dollars per half hour.”  The street was the only option for me.  I got back into my trusty Civic, and carried on.  I would not let the streets of New York beat me.  This was about the time, however, when things started to get a little hairy.

My hyper-vigilant New York driving technique had long ago faded, and I became exhausted and careless.  I had morphed back into a country mouse trying to keep up with a pack of mice from the city, and my true colors were beginning to show.  I turned the wrong way down a one way street.  I could hear the echoed calls of “Masshole” floating my way, and I was completely panicked.

I started to back up.  People were staring at me.  I couldn’t do that.  Finally, I had the wherewithall to pull over to the side to assess my options.  I was illegally parked on a one-way street in Manhattan, facing the wrong direction, at a complete loss as to what my next step should be.  Eventually, the city mouse within me took over, and I realized that I would have to wait for traffic to subside in order to make a u-turn of some sort.  Have you ever waited for traffic to “subside” in Manhattan?  I was perilously faced the wrong way on a busy New York street for a very long six or seven minutes.

Eventually, I did find a place to park.  Eight blocks from where I was headed.  Although that might not seem very far, when you’re carting a huge suitcase, two purses, and a duffle bag, it does seem far.  Before I started my drive into the city, I told my mother that I was nervous about this leg of the trek.  She responded that I shouldn’t be worried.  Huh?!  My mom, who still reminds me to look both ways before crossing the street, told me not to be worried?  “Thanks mom,” I thought, “She’s right, it will be fine.”  Of course then she followed-up, “driving in New York is no problem at all, but don’t leave anything at all in your car.  They’ll break your windows for loose change.”

And there it was.  After this ordeal, however, the idea of taking everything out of my car and carting it eight blocks was completely out of the question.  So, if you’re in the market for 90210 tapes or Ugg boots from 2004, they’re yours for the taking at 78th and 1st.  First come first serve.  Please leave my yearbook though.

Due to the street restrictions, I’m scheduled to repark my car tomorrow morning at 9am, and it’s highly possible that I’ll be reparking it in Massachusetts, a day ahead of schedule.  Thank you for reading my blog!  And please, don’t try to park your car in Manhattan.

Day 26 – June 28


Miles Traveled: 111; Current Location: Washington D.C.

I’m officially in love with Virginia.  Now I understand the slogan, “Virginia is for Lovers,” I think it must be a hard place not to love.  That being said, I take back my comment from yesterday about its perfectly paved roads.  Driving into D.C. is brutal.  Construction, potholes, tons of traffic.  If I can assume that this experience is only a small taste of the one that I’ll face tomorrow as I drive into New York City, I think I might be in trouble.  Luckily I’m sure the other drivers will be kind to me when they see my Massachusetts license plates and realize that I’m from out of town and presumably from Boston.  Right.

But back to Virginia.  I woke up early this morning to get to Shenandoah Caverns when it opened.  I read in the brochure last night and learned that the tours begin on the hour, and I wanted to make sure I was there for the first tour.  You can take the girl out of the workforce, but you can’t take the incessant need to be on time out of the girl.  Today though, punctuality worked in my favor because when I arrived at the caverns, the man at the counter told me that if I went with the visitors from the imminently arriving tour bus then I could go see the caverns free of charge.  I thought that this turn of events was really great, but perhaps I should have also thought, “this man must know something.”

As it turned out, the tour group was exclusively Asian.  I point this out only to reassure you that I had absolutely no hope of fitting in whatsoever.  Everyone, including the guide, clearly questioned how I had gotten mixed up with this crowd, but no one asked.  They’ll be wondering forever.  There were about thirty in the group, and none of them had any interest in listening to any sort of guidance or direction.  The tour took about twenty minutes longer than it was supposed to.  Truth be told though, I’m very glad that I had the opportunity to go along with this group.  Everyone on the tour was so enthusiastic about the caves and were audibly amazed each time we turned a corner.  It made the experience much more interesting than it would have been had I been wandering around by myself, alone with my cynical nature.  Everyone was very nice, and I grew to love my temporary posse.

As you might have guessed if you know me well, I didn’t actually have any interest in seeing the caverns.  I went to Rock City in Tennessee when I was about ten-years-old, so I’ve already seen a cave, and I’ve always thought that this warm memory would be enough to last a lifetime.  I’m also somewhat claustrophobic, so I was worried that the “cave experience” might prove to be a bit stressful, and I’m not a fan of stress.  You might now be wondering why I decided to go to the caverns at all, and naturally, I have an incredibly logical answer for you.

Before I left L.A., I researched Virginia and stumbled upon the existence of something called “America on Parade.”  If you guessed that this attraction is a parade float museum, you would be correct, and if you guessed that there was no way that I was missing it, you would be correct once more.  In a twist that makes nothing but sense, the admission for America on Parade is included in the ticket for the caverns.  When I thought that I was going to be paying money for this ticket, I figured I might as well suck it up and go into the caves while I was there.  And when I got the ticket for free, ducking out to see the parade floats seemed like it would be looking the gift horse in the mouth.

I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I did have my pick of things to see in Virginia.  Williamsburg, Monticello, sites from the Civil War.  They’re all there.  But when I found out about the existence of a museum dedicated entirely to retired parade floats, I think you can all agree that I wasn’t left with much of a choice.  I had to see America on Parade.

If I thought that the Big Chicken was frightening, I’m really not sure what I was thinking in my desire to see these floats.  I have no idea what I suspected that America on Parade might be, but what it is, is a warehouse full of giant sculptures pointed in your direction to greet you as you enter the building.  Ducks, King Tut, a Polynesian woman, rabbits, polar bears, a train… The Small World ride at Disney has nothing on this hodgepodge of ethnicities and species.

Some of the floats even have buttons to push so that you can witness them move… very….slowly.  I guess it looks more impressive on the actual parade route.  America on Parade features floats from presidential inaugurations, Thanksgiving Day and Rose Parades, and from my own personal favorite event, America’s bicentennial.

I’ve been bitter about missing the bicentennial ever since I first heard about it during the episode of Full House entitled, “Stephanie Gets Framed,” and it’s now my life’s goal to be around for the tricentennial in 2076.  In fact, a couple of years ago, I reached out to a tricentennial committee in an effort to start making ties prior to the big day.  They never responded to me, but now that I’ve seen all of these creations used in the bicentennial, I’m confident that I can start my own tricentennial committee and blow the existing group completely out of the water.

Something else that I learned at the museum is that the floats are reused from event to event.  The outer shells can also be changed, so for instance, polar bears that I saw today are white, but in the Rose Parade, they had been covered with moss.  So, over the years when I’ve said, “once you’ve seen one parade, you’ve seen them all,” I’ve actually been correct.

Today was one of my favorite days so far.  I loved interacting with my tour group in the caverns, and I was thrilled to see pieces from America’s 200th birthday.  Virginia is just great, and I plan to spend a lot more time here over the years.  And yes, next time I will go to Williamsburg, which I have no doubt I will tremendously enjoy.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been traveling for almost a month! I hope that everyone is having a great week leading into the long weekend.  Thanks for reading my blog, and the good news is, you’ll stop being pestered to continue reading it soon!

Day 25 – June 27

Leave a comment

Miles Traveled: 387; Current Location: New Market, VA

If it’s true that West Virginia is “almost Heaven” as John Denver claims, I have to then assume that Virginia must serve as its entryway.  Everything that I have seen of Virginia, which accumulates to hours worth of footage, is absolutely beautiful.  Although I have now driven alongside a generous number of trees through many states, Virginia just seems greener somehow.  It seems brighter.

Ever since I entered Arizona more than three weeks ago, I have held onto the theory that each state pays special attention to the conditions of its roads closest to the border.  Every time that I have driven into a new state, I think to myself, “wow ___ has great roads.”  Inevitably, the shipshape surface fades away, allowing the following state to step up and take the crown.  This pattern of road deterioration held true throughout each state’s change-off until today.  Virginia’s roads seem to be meticulously cared for throughout.  They are “border-paved” everywhere, and some of the medians even feature sponsored landscaping, contributing to the state’s already highly desirable aesthetics.

To top it off, Virginia beats South Carolina for cheapest gas that I’ve found, and in addition to the state’s natural beauty, it also has some of the weirdest manmade structures and objects that I’ve encountered on the trip.  Seriously, really odd stuff.

Obviously I suspected that there was a gem to be found within Foamhenge, and it lived up to its promise.  Touted as the “most exact” replica of Stonehenge that there is, I still really didn’t have any idea what to expect. After all, I’ve never even been to England.  I have, however, seen European Vacation, so I did have some preliminary concept of the structure, and if Foamhenge is any indication, which I assume it is as “the most exact replica,” I think I’ve seen enough of the natural wonder for my lifetime.

I don’t want to confuse you here though.  I love Foamhenge.  I love it because some guy (Mark Cline) took it upon himself to carve this thing out of styrofoam and post a sign next to it, threatening that he’s hiding in the bushes so if you hurt the structure, he’ll hurt your car.  I love it because it took him six weeks to recreate a structure of which the completion originally spanned 1500 years.  I love it because it’s in the middle of nowhere, Virginia, and there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to its existence.  I love it because there is a giant sorcerer sitting on one of the “stones,” something that I can only assume doesn’t have a counterpart at the real Stonehenge.  I love it because only in America could someone put several blocks of styrofoam in the middle of a field and in turn actually attract visitors.  It only makes sense that like Kevin Costner, he must have heard that special voice too.  Foamhenge is tangible proof that “if you build it, they will come.”

On the other side of the coin though, if this thing truly does represent Stonehenge, I think that Stonehenge might be one of the greatest rackets of our time.  Or more appropriately, one of the greatest rackets of all time. I now understand why Chevy Chase knocked it down.  Yes, I suppose it’s intriguing given the mystery of its existence, but if I find myself in need of a good mystery, I think I’ll take a Nancy Drew book to Natural Bridge, Virginia and relax under the shade of Foamhenge instead.  This way, when I finally do make it to England, I can spend more time downing pints at a local pub.  I plan to visit Big Ben and London Bridge replicas before my trip across the pond as well, all in the interest of maximizing my free time when I’m actually there.

For Stonehenge’s sake though, the one thing that I hope Foamhenge has that it doesn’t is the massive swarm of tiny black insects avidly protecting the property.  I almost wonder if Mark Cline purposely harvested these bugs near his precious creation in order to ward off an over-abundance of onlookers.  Prior to arriving at the site, I had stopped off at the Natural Bridge gift shop (avoiding Natural Bridge itself due to its $28.00 admission fee) and had gotten a huge “red, white, and blue vanilla” ice cream cone.  Unfortunately, while eating the ice cream at Foamhenge, I inadvertently gulped down a mouthful of gnats instead.  Gross.  If you do go to Foamhenge (which I’m really not sure why you wouldn’t), either invest in a full beekeeper suit or don’t plan to get out of the car.

In addition to the presence of the great Foamhenge, this area of Virginia also highlights several other interesting structures.  For instance, I’ve seen more than one giant dinosaur.  I know what you’re thinking, “who among us hasn’t seen a giant dinosaur on the side of the road?”  I know.  But, when was the last time you saw the statue of a person riding dinosaur-back on the side of the road?  Although I didn’t perform an investigation into the greater meaning of these depictions, I am led to assume that their existence serves as an illustration of the religious belief that dinosaurs and humans once roamed the earth hand-in-hand.  Knock it if you want, but Hanna-Barbera made a lot of money on the same concept.  So roadside Virginia, I say keep on.  Let your dreams soar.

Although each state that I have visited has shown me its amazing strengths, I have to concede that based on this trip alone, as of now, I am most impressed with Virginia.  I try not to think of the states as competing entities because I like to think that they all work together in order to form my favorite country, but I have to admit that I’m particularly struck by the beauty and upkeep shown here.  Obviously the London Company felt the same way in 1607 when they settled in Jamestown, so although I don’t typically like to base my opinions off of the actions of others, I suppose I should have known.

Tomorrow I will continue to explore Virginia before heading off to Washington DC.  I can’t believe that I’m already in the last week of my travels, but I am so grateful to have had this experience.  I certainly do love America!  I hope you all have a fantastic week!

Day 24 – June 26

Leave a comment

Current Location: Wilmington, NC

Some of you might have noticed that I incorrectly labeled yesterday as “June 26th.”  In fact, it was June 25th, but it seems as though I put an accurate description on the future.  I thought that Wilmington was great yesterday, and on the real June 26th, my positive opinion remains intact.  I love North Carolina.

In my mind, North Carolina is the ultimate renaissance state. It has mountains, cities, camping, hiking, fishing, snowboarding, surfing, beaches, tobacco farmers, bankers, historical landmarks… just like “Pedro’s South of the Border,” North Carolina has it all.  I think that you could spend months touring the Tarheel State and leave with a number of strikingly dissimilar experiences, each one as fulfilling as the last.

As much as I love North Carolina though, I sometimes feel like it hates me.  On one road trip many years ago, Melanie and I inadvertently spent hours circling something called Grandfather Mountain, receiving directions from locals that included steps such as “look for the building with the red, white, and blue rooster out front,” or “make a u-turn one mile before you hit the bridge.”  To add insult to injury, North Carolina is also the only state (… aside from California) in which I have ever received a traffic citation, an incident that still evokes feelings of bitterness.  Another time, I asked a gas station attendant if I was close to Sugar Mountain, and he happily informed me that Sugar Mountain is in North Carolina, but I was not.

So North Carolina and I have been through it all, the good times and the bad, but I’m happy to report that without question, today fell on the side of good.  My cousin, Nikolai, lives in Wilmington, but in a hilarious Gift of the Magi twist, he’s in Massachusetts this weekend, where I’ll be arriving in five days.  Almost as good though (sorry Nik!), his awesome girlfriend, Lara, and her family have been nice enough to show me around town, and I have experienced yet another perfect summer day.  Basically, I never want to work again.

Every now and then I think to myself, gee, wouldn’t it be great to be eight-years-old again?  And today, I was.  Of course, I was the kind of eight-year-old that gets to have tequila with her pizza at dinner and see R-rated movies, so I was the best kind of eight-year-old there is.

After seeing Bridesmaids last night for the third time (personal record tied with Titanic), we woke up this morning and had a leisurely brunch at a local place in town.  Then the real fun began.  Lara’s mom’s dog was with us, and we took her to a boat dock to swim…. but Roxy didn’t want to swim.  She leapt through the water to chase sticks but refused to go any deeper than where she could touch the bottom.  Basically, Roxy is the smartest two-year-old I’ve ever met.  Then, as I mentioned yesterday, I was curious to see Dawson Leery’s house from the show, Dawson’s Creek.  As it turns out though, the current owners don’t actually want strangers traipsing through their yard to gawk at the property, so the house is purposely very difficult to see.  I decided to leave well enough alone and managed to overcome my feelings of despair by sitting by the pool, getting pizza, and eating ice cream.

Essentially, today reminded me of the story that my father once told me of the Mexican fisherman.  One day, the Mexican fisherman was sitting in a cantina when an American tourist approached him.  The tourist said to him, “why are you here so early? You could stay out later and catch many more fish.”  The Mexican responded, “I sell enough fish to meet my family’s needs as it is.”  The tourist didn’t like this response and questioned the fisherman about what he did with the rest of his time.  The Mexican explained, “I play with my children, spend time with my wife, play guitar with my friends, and drink margaritas at night.”

The tourist was outraged.  “You should spend more time fishing and with those proceeds you can buy a bigger boat.  Then, with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, and eventually you’d have a whole fleet of fishing boats.  Then, you could sell fish to the consumers directly and expand your enterprise to Miami, New York, and LA.”  The Mexican wasn’t impressed.  “But how long would that take?” he questioned.  “Ten years.  Fifteen tops.  Then you can sell stock in your company and make millions!”

The Mexican pondered this statement.  “But then what would I do, Senor?”  “That’s the best part!” the American answered, “then you could play with your children, spend time with your wife, play guitar with your friends, and drink margaritas every night!”

And that’s how I feel about today in North Carolina.  What could be better than sitting by the pool, eating pizza, making ice cream cones, and watching Full House dvds?  (I told you it was an eight-year-old kind of day).  As far as I can tell, this is my life at the top.  How could things possibly go any higher from here?

Of course, I’m still making an attempt to answer that question, and tomorrow, my journey will take me to Foamhenge which might take this expedition to a whole new level.  One can only hope.  After that, I have a couple more things planned for Virginia, a place that I haven’t spent much time before, so I’m excited for the experience.  Thank you again for following along with my travels!  I’m looking forward to a great final week!

Older Entries Newer Entries