If you follow me on Facebook you may have read these already, but I decided to compile all of my road trip travelogue posts here on my blog. Some of you don’t use social media, and others might want to read it start to finish.
I kept an online journal as my wife and I drove from Arizona to the East Coast. First through the southern part of the country, stopping in Austin, New Orleans, Washington D.C., and New York City; then up to my brother’s wedding in New Hampshire; and finally, back to Arizona via the Midwest.
Spent the whole morning packing the car. By noon we had everything ready. House clean, doors locked. Audiobook downloaded. Wedding suit folded properly.
Sunglasses on. Get in the car…dead battery.
I thought Wendy was joking at first, but nope. It was really dead.
That’s the way it goes. After a jumpstart and a pitstop we were only delayed a couple hours.
Good timing, though, because by the time we hit the land of enchantment, the orange sky was lit up behind us and we were driving into a thunderstorm. Beautiful.
The first audiobook we listened to was “Barking to the Choir” by Greg Boyle.
Fr. Boyle is a Jesuit priest who started Homeboy Industries, a gang rehabilitation program in Los Angeles. His first book, “Tattoos on the Heart,” is already a classic in Christian spirituality.
The second book is equally moving.
Greg Boyle is universally praised in Jesuit circles, and now, thanks to his book, in much broader circles as well.
Universal praise makes me suspicious. Red flags go off and I nitpick for criticism.
In Boyle’s case, I have no nits to pick. He practices true accompaniment. He gives no false humility. No false modesty.
He does incredible work, and he knows it. But he doesn’t romanticize the work, which is painful and difficult.
He knows he’s no better than the gang members he works with, and he truly believes that in depth of his heart. It’s what makes him so good at the work.
His nose isn’t in the air. He doesn’t give off a “holier-than-thou” vibe. He doesn’t venture outside his lane, proscribing political cures for gang violence that may or may not actually help the problem.
That balance is hard to strike. Excellence vs. Humility.
But I think it can be captured in a word, and that’s “authenticity.”
Knowing who you are (which takes intentional self-reflection), embracing your true self, accepting yourself, loving yourself, so you can love and accept others.
When you turn the wheel of a Buick Lacrosse, the steering shaft turns the pinion gear, which moves the steering rack, which connects to the tires.
Why do I know this?
Because a new steering rack is currently being shipped from Dallas to Austin, and will soon be installed in our vehicle.
In related news, Wendy and I have decided to spend a couple days sightseeing in Austin, Texas.
The capital of the lone star state, Austin feels a lot like Phoenix … hot.
Austin is named after Stephen F. Austin, an American settler who moved out West around the time Mexico gained independence from Spain.
There’s a long, bloody history behind Texas becoming part of America. Remember the Alamo. The Battle of San Jacinto. The Mexican-American War.
We would do better in our public discourse about immigration by remembering that our Southwestern territory was purchased with the barrel of a musket.
Anyway, Austin seems like a fun place. Good friendly vibes. We swam in a river. We ate hamburgers with donut buns.
Hoping to be back on the road by this afternoon.
Some thoughts on the sharing economy.
One of the biggest upsides of digital technology is the ability to rent and lend personal property.
I can stand on a street corner in Austin, press a button on my phone, and within minutes a car pulls up to give me a ride. I can go online, press a button, and book a stay that very same night in someone’s guest house.
Airbnb, Uber, and the like are certainly disrupting the hotel and taxi business, but it increases efficiency and turns ordinary people into mini-entrepreneurs.
The review system holds strangers accountable. Each party has an incentive to leave a good impression, knowing that a bad review will hurt one’s ability to rent or lend in the future.
I also appreciate the culture it encourages, especially with Airbnb. Hosts take pride in adding local flavor to their space, recommending eateries and activities, and sometimes interacting with their guests. Traveling feels more communal this way.
Mix-ups sometimes happen, though, as we learned two days ago.
After dropping off the car for repairs, we hastily booked a room for the night. Exhausted, we got to the room and took a nap…
Only to be woken up by someone unlocking our door to enter. I opened the door and saw two people carrying bags. We looked at each other with confused faces.
After studying our surroundings more closely, Wendy and I realized our mistake. Turns out there’s two rental spaces on the same property. We were in the wrong Airbnb.
Luckily, our host responded immediately by phone, and the parties worked out a solution. We stayed put. The intruders took the other rental.
Our Airbnb host was mystified we were staying such a short time in New Orleans. Now I understand his feeling.
Nothing I write would do justice to the city, but here’s an excerpt from the guest book, written by ‘John and Bri’ who stayed August 13th – 17th, 2015:
“We LOVED this city.
It’s grittiness. It’s chaos. The friendly locals, telling us we’ll love the food. The lovely architecture, the music, the energy!! We felt like we were not in the Caribbean, not in the U.S., but somewhere, someplace lost in a parallel oasis where rules are ambiguously defined and seldomly enforced.
We love the contradictions, the people, the fact that you can walk or bike the entire city; the unpretentiousness, the food…this place is an assault on all the senses and we welcomed it.”
Last night we listened to an episode of “WTF with Marc Maron.” It was a repost of a 2011 interview with Anthony Bourdain.
Maron is considered a founding father of podcasting.
This interview is what podcasting is all about. It was a raw, real, wide-ranging conversation about ambition, addiction, politics, success, and of course, food.
I didn’t know much about Bourdain before this interview. I can tell why people were so drawn to his style.
Food most definitely brings people together and opens up connections between diverse peoples. The proverbial breaking of the bread.
Nothing brings this into greater clarity than travel, which is something Bourdain seemed to embody and bring to life for his audience.
Our favorite meal so far was a Tex-Mex joint in Austin. In the spirit of randomness and adventure, we walked there from the Airbnb before picking up our car from the shop. The waiter recommended the Al Carbon Taco Plate, which came with juicy steak, frijoles, spanish rice, and a chip con queso.
About half the time, instead of renting an Airbnb, we’ve been car camping at a KOA, a nation-wide network of campgrounds. Even if you don’t know KOA, you’d probably recognize the yellow KOA logo from the exit signs on highways.
Before this trip I didn’t know much about them, but they’re pretty cool. You park, set up a tent in your designated area. They’ve got bathrooms, showers, etc. Much cheaper than a hotel or an Airbnb.
Setting up and tearing down a campsite, even a small one, can be tedious. All the equipment has to be folded up properly. If you rush the folding process, the sleeping mat won’t fit into its container, and you’ll have to do it again … carefully … to get it right.
This is a good practice for me. I don’t like tedium, but I appreciate the mindfulness it encourages. Focus on the immediate. Stay in the moment. Step by step.
When we camped outside New Orleans a couple days ago, we noticed a familiar squeaking sound from our steering wheel.
Wait, didn’t we just get a new steering rack?
We rationalized: This must be a different sound. No worries.
We did a psychological investigation: Did we get ripped off? Did they misdiagnose the problem? But it wasn’t squeaking when we left Austin…
We had to continuously refill power steering fluid to make it to Washington, D.C. There was clearly a leak, but why didn’t they fix it before?
According to the D.C. mechanic, the Austin mechanic installed a tube improperly. The tube rubbed against the axel, causing a leak.
In fairness to the Austin mechanic, our Buick is unusually designed. Every repair takes longer, and costs more, due to the intricacy of the engine and everything else involved.
The moral of the story: Practice mindfulness.
And don’t buy a Buick Lacrosse.
We spent two days in D.C.
We wanted to see a couple museums, but since our car was in the shop until the next afternoon, we decided to keep those for day two.
Little did we know, day two was the day of the Stanley Cup championship parade. The Washington Capitals won the NHL championship, and the city was primed to celebrate.
Our taxi dropped us off near the Smithsonian museums. As we approached, we ran into a sea of red shirts, people screaming and chanting, chugging beers. It was a Tuesday morning.
We couldn’t even cross the street to get to museum we wanted. The roads were barricaded for the parade.
We ducked into an art museum to wait out the chaos, and eventually hit our destinations. As we left that afternoon, though, we could still hear chants echoing through the capitol mall.
I don’t even think everyone at the parade was a hockey fan, but as someone who took off work was quoted in the Post, “I’m a Washington D.C. fan.”
Goes to show that sports have a psychic and emotional bond with cities.
Even when players and coaches and owners change, the city holds love for the team. Something carries on beyond the individuals who pass through. We hold common stories. Shared triumphs and struggles. Hopes and desires.
When our teams lose, we feel the sting of defeat. When they win, we feel a thrill of accomplishment. We identify with teams. For better or worse.
The exuberance in D.C. was a release … from the expectations of polite public behavior, from the obligations of work, from the daily political drama …
The city had been waiting over 30 years for a title. I’m glad I got to witness their jubilation.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
These words are inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.
New York City is incredibly diverse. A kaleidoscope of humanity. You can see it and you can hear it. We walked around for two days and probably overheard 10 different languages.
America was originally a land of misfits. Convicted bandits and vagabonds, outcasts from Europe, came to America’s shores. The New World. People came for a new start. People came to practice their religion in peace.
Of course there’s contradictions in our national identity. Disputes about what it means to be American. Dark histories of slavery, theft of Native lands, cruel nativism.
But still inscribed in our founding documents is a noble vision. Freedom. Inalienable rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
This is self-evident. All people are created equal.
This is who we are. This is what America stands for, despite its flaws, despite the ugly nativist rhetoric and authoritarianism that gets loosely thrown around these days.
We the People…
My grandfather was a dairy farmer in New Hampshire.
He and my grandmother raised six kids, now grown up to be parents and grandparents themselves.
Growing up, my family used to visit New Hampshire every summer. I have fond memories at the farm. Playing capture the flag with my cousins. Watching Grandpa Jones and Uncle Gordon milk the cows.
It was a wonderful experience for me and my brothers, and I am grateful for it.
City boys getting a taste of the country. In many ways we were fish out of water, but it didn’t take five minutes before the fun and games washed away those cultural differences.
It’s been over 10 years since I last visited New Hampshire.
Life comes at you fast.
I always thought being grown up would feel different. Like you go through some metamorphosis where you know everything and what to do.
I keep waiting to feel grown up, but I’m starting to realize that adults are just older kids. You don’t really change. There’s no before and after.
People act differently, sometimes.
We internalize our external societal badge…job, salary, status, political affiliation, hobbies…
We internalize successes and failures. We suffer from emotional scars. We pile up our shortcomings, measure them against others, measure ourselves against our idealized selves. Life is complicated.
Strip everything down, though, and we’re all just kids who grew up.
For some reason I kept thinking basketball was invented in Indiana. Turns out I was wrong. James Naismith invented the game at a high school in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891.
Indiana wasn’t the birthplace of basketball, but I guess you could call it the incubator. A year after Naismith raised his peach basket in Springfield, Mass., the game spread to Indiana, and by 1911, they held their first state-wide high school tournament. Lots of innovations happened in Indiana, like using a metal ring and allowing dribbling.
Larry Bird grew up in Indiana, as did famed UCLA coach John Wooden, born 1910, who learned the game from some of basketball’s original coaches.
We’re driving back after my brother’s wedding (shout out Danny and Mary!!), dropping through to see some of Wendy’s family in the Midwest.
Wendy once told me that I can’t really know her unless I know her family.
At first I thought that was her thing, since she grew up in a small town with a big family.
I’m tempted to think of myself as an individual, shaped by my own decisions, my unique experiences.
Upon reflection, though, the same adage holds true. I’m just as much a product of my roots and upbringing as everyone else.
Millennials often wonder about the purpose of marriage, and rightly so. It’s a tradition with a spotty history in our lives. It seems like people chart their own course these days. They take ownership of the tradition, make it their own, modify it, or flat-out reject it.
So be it. For us, wedding/marriage is a lot about family. Bringing two families together to celebrate and know each other.
Very grateful to spend time and celebrate with family on this trip.
I spend a lot of time thinking about Abraham Lincoln.
He was a visionary. “A house divided against itself cannot stand. This nation cannot long endure half-slave, half-free.”
He was a brilliant tactical politician. The emancipation proclamation written shrewdly for the moment, delivered at just the right time to win the war. Prosecuting the war not just to military surrender, but to the complete abolition of slavery with a constitutional amendment.
The words of the Gettysburg Address now written in stone in Washington, D.C., next to his gigantic statue overlooking a long pool at his memorial.
In his short speech at Gettysburg he resolved that the soldiers who died there will not have died in vain, because “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Even though we don’t always live up to our ideals as a nation, at least we have these noble declarations to hold ourselves accountable.
When I think about Lincoln, though, I don’t think about his accomplishments as much as I think about his upbringing.
Teachers often talk about backwards design: starting from the endpoint, or objective, and building lesson activities to get there.
I think about the same thing when it comes to historically great people. How did they get there?
Lincoln taught himself by reading books. He went to school for, at most, two years in aggregate.
He struggled with mental health, suffering from debilitating episodes of what they called melancholy.
In our modern efforts to manufacture the intellectual and emotional lives of our young people, I think we’re probably destroying the ability for some creative human spirits to rise to greatness.
Tomorrow morning we leave the Land of Lincoln for the final leg of our journey — through the heartland of Missouri, Kansas, Colorado.
Thankfully I have no car news to report. We seriously considered trading in the vehicle while we were in Illinois, but didn’t want the hassle. We’ll keep riding this horse. I’ve got some thoughts about lemons, but I’m not going to jinx anything before we get home.
One podcast episode we listened to a few days ago is worth reflecting on. It was an episode of “On Being” (shout out Jimmy Tricco for the recommendation!). The host Krista Tippett interviews social psychologist John Haidt about his theories on personality when it comes to political affiliation.
Haidt sees the idea of conservative and liberal as the yin and yang of our society — neither one has all the answers, both sides value different things, both sides provide important perspectives.
We need parts of us that value tradition and respect for authority. We need parts of us that embrace change and value equity.
These inclinations are intuitive, not rational, and they can healthily coexist in a society.
Traveling the country by car has provided a closeup view of the diversity of our lifestyles. People’s livelihoods depend on vastly different factors. Attitudes shaped by geographical features and shared cultural and economic histories.
The country is massive. To put it in context: Finland could fit inside the territories of Illinois and Wisconsin. Germany is smaller than Montana.
The United States were originally designed to be separate, independently governed territories loosely affiliated with a weak central government. Over time we’ve consolidated. The power of the central government has grown, in step with our military campaigns and economic challenges.
Over time the Unites States became a singular noun.
It feels like we’re in the midst of a cultural civil war … or maybe it just feels like that because of social media.
I don’t have any solutions for any of this except to say I hope we can emerge, somehow, edified. I think it will take a critical mass of people detaching from their echo chambers and genuinely trying to see the world from other people’s perspectives.
We’re back in the Grand Canyon State, twenty days later. Part of me wishes we could have spent more time, stayed longer in each place, saw more places, but it’s also very good to be home, and the responsibilities of life beckon.
The drive across Kansas was flat, but we were given a magnificent show while driving into the setting sun. Towering walls of clouds on the right. Intense lightning storm on the left. A panoramic show. The sky looked like it was touching the ground.
Then the terrain changed as we drove past the rocky mountains, through Vail, with green trees everywhere and the rivers carving the land, hugging the highway.
Then past the red rocks of Utah, layers of rocks, whittled away by the wind over millions of years.
Finally into northern Arizona, above the Grand Canyon, where you drive past ranches, dilapidated neighborhoods and signs advertising Navajo souvenirs. Past Mt. Humphreys, then down into the Valley.
We made it. The car made it. The journey of life continues.
Thanks, everyone, for reading along and allowing me to occupy your feeds more than usual. Thanks, also, for those who interacted with the posts. Even though I didn’t reply to the comments or “like” any of the comments, I did appreciate them, and the positive feedback I received from the Road Trippin’ blog inspired me to “live-blog” the trip, instead of writing private reflections.
Thanks for reading! If you want to read more reflective-type stories, check out my e-book “Heel Fast: A Journal of Recovery” which I wrote over the course of an eight month recovery from an Achilles tendon rupture.