Jun 252017

I had to do something really hard yesterday: I had to give up my car. I’m sure you are thinking, “What’s the big deal?” People get rid of cars all the time. The circle of life for automobile ownership is barely longer than that of a fruit fly, so why should this be hard?

Because I’m not one of those people. When I bought my car, new, I fully intended to drive it into the ground. And, basically, I did – nearly 23 years later.  Which is what made it so hard, because in getting rid of the car I was basically divorcing myself from one of my oldest and closest relationships. I have family relationships that aren’t even as old. Or as close. Or who have been nearly as good to me. Continue reading »

Jun 252017

I decided to re-post this post from September 2006 so I could link to it from this new post.

I was glad that on this most recent cross-country trip I took the time to actually see the country I was crossing.

The day I spent in Indiana turned out to be quite interesting. My friend and I went to a small country town where they were having a fair. But it wasn’t a big fair, with midways and carnies. It was a small affair, with lots of local vendors and stalls selling local crafts and foods. It was also interesting because the community is full of Mennonite and Amish people, who were all represented there, but not “on display” for tourists as they might be in more well-known “Amish Country.” I’m not sure there were any tourists there at all, actually, apart from us. It was just a corner of America, being itself, that we got to visit for the day.

I got to visit a few more corners by detouring up to I-90 and going through Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota. Especially South Dakota. Which happened to be where I was on the 5th anniversary of September 11. Where better to spend a day of American self-reckoning than smack in the middle of it? But the difference was striking: just a few days earlier I had been in lower Manhattan, within Ground Zero itself even, on one of those beautiful, clear, almost-Fall days like it had been on the day of the attacks. A sober energy was beginning to percolate within the streets, as people got ready to face the somber occasion of remembering the awful day their neighborhood changed.

By the time that day came, I felt like I was a world away, in the near-emptiness of South Dakota. I began the morning leaving Sioux Falls, driving through the vast flatness while listening to Native American chants on the radio. By lunchtime I’d reached the famous Wall Drug, perched at the mouth of the Badlands national park. I paid the $15 and drove through them, all the while listening to NPR’s urban-broadcast coverage of the 9/11 remembrances and resulting state of the world. In the empty, sunny stillness of the Midwest the day’s activities in New York and Pennsylvania may have seemed a world away, but it was all still in these United States.

Exiting the area in Rapid City, from there it was time to head up into the Black Hills. Along the way I saw a lot of interesting wildlife: prairie dogs, mountain goats, and the most American of all animals: the turkey. Climbing up through the granite turrets of the hills I suddenly saw, there around the bend, Mt. Rushmore and its quartet of great American leaders. George Washington was particularly striking, with a small yet confident, fatherly smile on his lips that seemed to say, as he gazed out eastward over this great nation on this sad day, that, despite it all, we would be okay.

Jun 252017

I realized in writing a post today that I wanted to link to this one, so I’ve resurrected it. Originally posted August 3, 2003, about my drive out to start law school.

As if relocating across the country weren’t emotionally stressful enough, the moving itself caused all sorts of hassles and elevated blood pressure. It took two days and several emergency trips to UPS (too much stuff!) to pack up my car to the gills (where on earth did I get all this stuff????) and then four days to then drive from Santa Clara, CA to Boston, MA.

The most interesting day was probably Day 2 when I went from Salt Lake City to Omaha. First I nearly failed Basic Roadtripping 101 when I almost ran out of gas. That morning when I left Salt Lake there seemed to be enough left in the tank to get me to Evanston, WY, where I had planned to stop and get breakfast. It’s the border town, only 60-70 miles away, and I figured it would be more efficient to hit the road right away and get the gas when I’d be ready to eat. My car generally gets great mileage so I didn’t think the extra miles would pose any problem at all. However, I neglected to calculate the loss of fuel efficiency that comes from lugging a car hauling a gazillion pounds of stuff (approx. 1/2 gazillion kilograms for you metric types) up the northerly spires of the Rocky Mountains. As I was climbing the gas gauge started to drop precipitously low. When I passed the sign indicating 22 miles to go, I figured I was toast. I took out my cell phone and started watching the mileage markers so that I could give AAA precise location information about where to find me when I inevitably stalled out.

And then, over a ridge, like an oasis in a desert, was the first exit in Wyoming. With a gas station at the end of it. I nursed my car down the exit ramp and pulled up to the pump. I’ve never been so happy to be at a gas station before. Had you been there you would have seen me lovingly pat my dashboard and say, “Good car! Very good car!” Next you would have seen me slap myself upside the head for being such a moron.

Gas purchased, and a new personal policy passed to always top off the tank any time I stopped, I headed off across the vastness of Wyoming. I have a book called Rising from the Plains which is about the geology of Wyoming. Apparently the state has some very interesting geological features, some of which are visible from I-80. Unfortunately, while the state may be interesting from a plate-tectonic standpoint, it’s not all that interesting from an automotive touring standpoint. Until about Laramie when the terrain gets more varied with buttes and valleys chasing each other to see which can be the highest.

Heading through the hills surrounding Cheyenne, the friendly fluffy rainbow-bearing clouds from the day before had started ganging up into some nasty looking storm clouds. As I descended out of the hills into Nebraska, I saw in the rearview mirror dark charcoal skies with a lightning bolt slicing through to the ground. Growing up back East I’d seen thunderstorms build up before, but they’d tended to swell up more slowly as they inhaled all the humidity. Whereas in Nebraska follicles of moisture careened into vengeful atmospheric monsters with great speed and viciousness.

When I was a little I had one of those irrational childhood fears of thunderstorms, probably because they were loud. It was only when I grew up and found out that thunderstorms could actually be dangerous that the fear turned more rational. So as raindrops started dripping onto me I began trying to outrace the storm. And good thing too, because as I happened to glance off to the right I saw a swirling patch of dirt. It looked a little bit like the clear air dustdevils I’ve seen while driving through the Nevada desert. But it was bigger, and it was connected by a ghostly funnel silhouette to a big nasty cloud up above.

I’m no idiot, I saw what happened to Dorothy. Tornadoes cause all sorts of havoc and I wanted nothing to do with this one. Fortunately, it was heading southeast and I was just heading east so it posed no threat to me, other than the inherent danger that comes from zipping down a highway while looking at a tornado.

For the most part, I managed to avoid other calamitous weather. The only rain of any significance fell just as I was crossing the Hudson River and ended by Connecticut. I was originally going to cross at the George Washington Bridge at the eastern end of Route 80 so that I could say I’d gone from Bridge to Bridge (Bay Bridge to GWB). But then my dad told me that 80 technically stopped in Teaneck, NJ, and there just didn’t seem to be anything romantic about saying I’d driven from Bridge to Teaneck. Disillusioned and tired, apathy took over and so in Pennsylvania I veered off to I-84 instead.

However it’s too bad I didn’t drive through New York City, because with all of the beautiful flitting butterflies smashed on my windshield I could have used the services of those famous Squeegee Men.