Photographs

When I came home from my trip, I had about 2,300 photos between my two cameras. The sizable lot seemed promising, but after browsing through them all and then taking into consideration the 2 months that I was away, the 20 states that I drove through (the 14 that I stopped at for at least a night), and the nearly 8,000 miles that I traveled, I realized that I returned with a bit of sorry photo collection.

There are several places that I visited that were hardly photographed, if at all. There are no pictures of La Jolla (CA), Lake Tahoe (CA), Tucson (AZ), Denver (CO), Abilene (KS), Seaside (FL), De Leon Springs (FL), or Columbia (SC). Places like Altadena (CA), Venice Beach (CA), Fredericksburg (TX), Austin (TX), Ft. Lauderdale (FL), and Route 66 have no more than a handful of photos each. And I also managed to pass up photo ops of popular sites like Café Du Monde and Preservation Hall in New Orleans, Cardinals Stadium in St. Louis, the bat flight over the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, and Sloppy Joes, Duval Street, and the Mallory Square sunset in Key West.

There are very few photos of me on the trip–a couple of pics were taken by a friend in Venice, one I took myself while driving through Texas, and another was taken by a stranger in Arches National Park. I don’t have a single photo of me with family or friends. In fact the only family/friend photo that I took was of my two hosts in St. Louis (and I’m not in that picture either).  My family in De Leon Springs and Lexington (KY) are absent from my album, as are my Godfather and his family in Ft. Lauderdale. My friends, who I met up with in Altadena, La Jolla, Friendswood (TX), Key West, Charleston (SC), and Irmo (SC), aren’t pictured at all. And of course, if I didn’t take a photo of family or friends then I definitely didn’t take a photo of the kid I met in Cabazon (CA), or the couple from Alabama who I met in Panama City (FL), or the nice man who took a tour of the Hemingway House with me in Key West.

In some instances my minimal documenting was a result of exhaustion or laziness. Walking around Austin in the summer heat tired me too much. And by the time I got out of New Orleans and worked my way down to the Florida beaches of Seaside, Watercolor, and Grayton,  I couldn’t be bothered to stop and take a photo–I  just wanted to get to my motel. I figured I would settle on my memory. (And, at least as of now, I still remember the silver trailers parked on the side of the road in Seaside that sold hot dogs and ice cream to the people on their beach cruisers.)

In other instances, when I wanted to stop and take a photo, hoping to capture a beautiful view or beautiful back road, there wasn’t a (safe) place to pull over and park. The roads to the Salton Sea, Fredericksburg, New Orleans, and Lexington were stunning. The Rockies were amazing. And the bridges in Louisiana Florida, and Georgia were incredible. But there wasn’t a place to park. (Kudos to Utah for providing turnouts.)

Sometimes when I did find a place to park and would approach a subject, there would be too many people or cars or trash cans or other things in the way that made the picture cluttered, and no mattered how I positioned myself I couldn’t cut them out of the frame. Sometimes finding the right angle proved too challenging. Like in Lexington when I finally found a place to park my car, I walked towards one of their classic white fences with the hope of capturing the field and horses behind it, only to realize that the fence was as tall as me and blocking my entire view. (I even tried standing on my car to get up higher… not a good shot.) And because I’m not used to shooting with a digital SLR, I’m still in the habit of being picky with my shots (so not to waste film), and a cluttered and poorly angled photo still seemed like a waste of a shot, so I never attempted it.

Sometimes taking a photo didn’t feel right. Mainly in instances of photographing people who I didn’t know. Like along Route 66 when I pulled over to take photos of a disintegrating motel and I saw that there were a few people sitting in chairs on either side of its entrance. When I drove up they all looked my way, and I couldn’t bring myself to park the car, get out, and take a photograph. I didn’t even know how to ask for a photograph. In my mind it has always seemed okay to take pictures of neglected, abandoned structures. They had been left behind for anyone to do what they pleased. But if the structures weren’t abandoned—the motels, the houses, the trailers, the cars—then it felt wrong to take a photo, to freeze a person’s life only so I could call it art, or, worse, use it as evidence that I went somewhere and saw something.

But mainly it came down to the fact that some days I simply didn’t want to be a photographer. There had already been enough times where I forced myself (perhaps out of guilt) to take pictures. Pictures that turned out fine but were nothing worth bragging about, at least not past the basic declaration of “I was here.” So, when it came to the good walks around the town (like in Fredericksburg), the peaceful moments during a pit-stop (in the Rocky Mountains), or the good times and good conversations with people, I just didn’t have it in me to stop what I was doing, pull out my camera, and take a photo. It’s a little bit of a bummer not to have some of these photos, but I still managed to have good time. And I figure really the biggest bummer would be me losing my awesome memory, and having to take the trip all over again.

South Lake Tahoe, CA

My last stop is in South Lake Tahoe, and it’s the day before my twenty-ninth birthday.

I’ve always been a birthday/anniversary/holiday/celebration type of person, but I’ve been looking forward to this birthday in particular. Not necessarily for the small list of accomplishments that I’m happy to have already completed in my twenty-nine years, but for the simply ridiculous reason that on this day, and only this day, I will be able to truthfully say, “Yes. It is my twenty-ninth birthday.” Any other birthday that I say, “I’m twenty-nine,”  will be a joke, a lie, a fantasy. But on this day, I am officially twenty-nine, and that seems like something to celebrate.

Against financial responsibility, I decide to honor my birthday by crossing the state line into Nevada and book a night at Harvey’s Hotel & Casino. I’ll track sand across the marble floor when I check in, and I’ll throw away my oatmeal, warm carrots, leaky honey jar, and moist bread, and I’ll order room service right before midnight—an ice cream sundae. I’ll think it’s the best eleven dollars spent on the entire trip.

But before that, I head down to the Pope Beach.  It’s noon and the middle of the week, but I’ve yet to let it sink into my head that it’s summer, so those two former facts don’t matter—there’s still a lot of people on the beach. There’s only a few, however, in the lake. The water averages about fifty degrees, unless you go out farther to where the boats are, where the water is deeper, and the temperature there is about thirty-nine. Tahoe is the only place I’ve been where I can be extremely hot and extremely cold at the same time. Whether I’m in the water or on the beach, the sun and sand are scorching, and the wind and lake are freezing.

I plant myself in the yellow sand that’s pierced with pine needles, and I sit back. A man and a woman, both in black bathing suits, wade into the lake holding hands. They spend five minutes ankle-deep, looking down and waiting for their toes to adjust to the water. Then they take a few more steps, the man’s shoulders tense and the woman’s arm becomes straight and rigid. They’re up to their calves.

There’s a tan little boy walking on a log that’s rolled down to the shoreline. The waves are folding into the piece of pine, soaking it, and I’m grinding my teeth waiting for this kid to slip. A few feet away there’s a toddler. A little girl weighted down in the wet sand by her diaper. She’s with her mother, or sister, or cousin, or female watcher. The woman hands the toddler an apple. The toddler sticks it in the cerulean water to wash it. The woman snatches the fruit and tells the toddler, No. “Don’t do that. Gross.” She thinks the water is dirty.

Everyone else is camped out on the beach away from the lake’s tiny waves. Groups of teens with magazines and BBQ flavored chips. Families with coconut sunblock and umbrellas. Couples with sunglasses and white paper cups. Once in a while someone will go to water, either curious or on a dare, and stick his or her toe in and run away. A dad holds his son’s hand as the boy bends down to touch the water. “I can see your lips turning blue,” the dad says to his son.

It’s hot on the beach and I haven’t swum since Florida, and even there I didn’t swim for that long. I take my keys out of my bag and bury them in the sand under my towel, then I stand up and walk down the burning beach into the lake. I have Goosebumps on every part of me, but I keep walking—there’s people possibly watching me and I’m using them as my peer pressure. I don’t stop walking until the water is at my shoulders when I’m about to go under and realize then that I still have my sunglasses on. The cold is setting into my legs. I’m adjusting to the water, and I don’t want to get out just to toss my glasses onto my towel. I don’t really care if they are Ray Bans. I look down. My legs are whiter. There are specks of gold reflecting on the lake’s floor. There are pieces of pinecone, a bubble gum wrapper, and my shadow. I bury my toes in the sand, which is warmer than I expected, and I keep walking, shuffling my feet along, kicking up clouds of sediment.

With each step I feel my skin ripple on top of my muscles. The water is to my chin. I turn around and glance at my stuff on the beach—my towel and tote bag/purse. No one is near it. I lift off, swim a few strokes, and dunk under the water with my eyes open and my sunglasses on my head.

I pop up, satisfied with being completely soaked. A man in a wet suit a couple hundred feet to my left surfaces too. He’s combing the lake for litter, and I kind of want to tell him about the bubble gum wrapper. I keep swimming, dunking under and up. A couple of years ago, I had ear-tubes in my ears and couldn’t go under water. When I finally got them removed, I was already living in Boston, and good places to swim were hard to come by. (I’m often jealous of people who like to run because it’s easier to find place to run than places to swim.) I love swimming.

I swim out past the buoy and stop. The water is dark and I can only make out a hint of my shadow below me. I turn around and face the beach. There’s a young guy– seventeen, eighteen –swimming towards the buoy. The couple in the black bathing suits is up to their waists and bobbing in the water. The tan little boy is still on his log. The toddler and woman caregiver have moved back from the shoreline. And there’s a man standing a few feet away from my bag. He’s eating from a small bag of chips, as if he was standing in a kitchen, and he’s looking out at the lake.

I think about what’s in my bag—my small digital camera, my phone, a couple of credit cards, twenty dollars, a book, a pen, a bunch of Post-its with notes written about the people on the beach, and my shorts. (My ID and the rest of my cash are in the car.) I imagine someone walking by and gathering up my towel and my bag, pretending that it’s theirs. I wonder if I would holler at the thief from the water. Swim back really fast? Probably not. I’m too far out and wouldn’t get there fast enough. I contemplate for a second if I should swim in, at least be closer to shore, and then I think, what does it matter? I wouldn’t drive home just because my bag is gone because the worst thing that would happen is I’m stuck in Tahoe without a cell phone. And I don’t need my cell phone. I don’t need to talk to anyone. I don’t need to do anything. I don’t need to be anywhere. In fact, I’m quite content with where I am.

Still facing the beach, I lean my head back in the water, stretch out, and bring my toes to the surface. I see off to the side the teenage guy who had been swimming towards the buoy. He’s almost as far out as I am. I bring my head back up and my feet back down, then turn away from the beach and swim a few more strokes.

It’s my birthday. I want to be ahead.

Bodie, CA

It’s a ghost town. An abandoned mining town where people come and press their noses against the windows of rotting homes to see what chaos has long been left behind.

I head down to the school-house to see the dusty old desks and the writing on the chalkboard. I walk up to one of the windows, and I straddle the rocks that are stacked right below it. (You’ll see them under most of the windows in the town. They’re for people to stand on should they not be tall enough to see in over the sill.) As I smash my face into the glass to see inside the school, a little girl trots over and stands right in front of me. She balances on the rocks below the window, but even on the tips of her toes she is still too short. I ask her if she wants help seeing in, and without looking at me  she tells me yes. I grab hold under her arms and lift her up. She leans forward and bumps her head into the window pane, forcing her magenta baseball cap to push back and almost fall off.

“What’s that?” she asks, referring to a cracked beige ball on the other side of the window.

“It’s a globe,” I tell her.

She doesn’t know what that is, and when I explain to her that it’s supposed to have a picture of the world on it, she asks what happened to the picture.

“The sun faded it away,” I say.

“Why?”

And I tell her it’s because it stayed in front of the window too long.

“We should move it,” she says.

“Yeah. I don’t think we’re allowed to though,” I say. Pus, I think, that’s what people like about Bodie– they like that it hasn’t moved.

Bishop, CA

Those paintings that I see all the time with a field of tall green grass, maybe a run down barn or fence, horses grazing, a stream, and snow topped mountains– I think I just found the real thing. Eastern Sierras. No picture. I think I’ll just buy a painting one day.

Route 6, NV

For some reason, driving alongside a never-ending set of power lines always soothes me. It’s a good thing too because that’s about all there is out here.

Zion National Park, UT

At the Zion Lodge there’s a ranger with baby face approaching various groups of people who are cooling off on the shady lawn. His shoulders are a little sloped and his pants are little high. He passes by me and walks up to a family of four. “I’m going to be giving a talk in twenty minutes,” he tells them, “if you’d like to stick around.” They look genuinely interested and the mother of the foursome nods. “It’ll be on safety,” he says. “I’m going to talk about all the people who have died here at Zion.” The mother lets out a nervous laugh, and the ranger continues on–greeting people and telling them about his talk on safety, ignoring the other taken aback faces.

I collect my things and head off for the canyon trails. When I finish my hike, safe and sound, I pass by the lodge and the ranger is there giving his talk. There’s visual aids, umms, and uhs. It’s like freshman year speech class all over again.

Route 66: Truxton, Hackberry and beyond, AZ

Rust, weeds, faded boomerang-style signs— it seems to be the place where automobiles have come to die, rather than move forward. Not much else has seemed to survive since 1960, except maybe the memory turned fantasy of being free and hitting the road.

Grand Canyon, AZ

It was so big, I didn’t even know where to begin. I gave up by picture #11 on trying to capture it all.

Making Plans

The first time I did the driving across the country thing was a couple of years ago. I rented a car and drove from Boston (where I live) to California (where my parents and car live). Not knowing what to expect (and attempting to ease my parents’ anxieties), I planned most of the trip right down to the accommodations. I (and my parents, who both gently, but persistently, asked for an itinerary from me) knew where I would be each day.

It was nice to know where I would be staying and when, but at the same time, it was too constricting and seemed to run counter to the whole idea and spirit of “the road trip.” I remember driving through Minnesota and seeing a sign for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s house. Make fun of me–I’m a fan. But it was late in the day, I didn’t have a GPS (still don’t) and knew it would take a few wrong turns to find the place, and that  I would veer off my course, which meant needing to cancel my hotel reservation. I don’t like wasting money. So, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s house went on the list of places I will need to go back and see.

So, this time I made sure to not make too many concrete plans. I knew what direction I was going in, and I had an idea of a route and what places I wanted to see. But that was it for planning. I didn’t book hotels, motels, hostels, or campgrounds or make any other reservations. I knew that all main roads (and even back roads) lead to accommodations eventually and if not, there was always my car. There’s that road tripping spirit people told me about. They said it was better that way– not to have a schedule.

And it is to some degree.  I can stay some places longer or skip some places all together. But at the same time, there are some big disadvantages to living freely. One, is that while I think a lot of people like the idea of the road trip or not having a timeframe in which they have to do something, it’s not the way things are done. Most pay phones don’t work so you better have a cell phone, people assume you have Internet or GPS so finding a good street map of a city can be hard at times, and reservations are expected, especially in the summer.

Hotels, motels, hostels, and camp grounds are entirely booked. Everyone is vacationing. Which means sometimes I’ve had to pay much more for gigantic rooms that I really don’t need, but it’s all that’s available for a hundred miles (especially on weekends). And that sleeping in the car plan– not so great. It’s not only summer, it’s the south— it’s hot and humid, and when I crack a window to my car there’s a lot of bugs that either bite me or freak me out with their ugly selves. And I refuse to be under attack in my car.

But far from accommodations, there also the fun things that book up quickly. Hot air balloon rides (I saw a sign in Moab), white water rafting (the guy in Colorado did his best not to laugh at me when I snag a possible last-minute cancellation), and required guided tours (like for Antelope Canyon, one of the places I’ve been dying to go since the trip began).

Oh, well, all lessons learned. Guess, I’ll just have to do it again sometime, perhaps in the off season.

Onto Monument Valley.

Conversations

Before I went on my trip, and was dragging my feet with researching where I would go or what I would do, I was telling a friend of mine how unenthusiastic I was to get in my car and drive around the country. (Did I ever mention I’m not the biggest fan of driving? That’s another story.) I told him, I knew from past trips that most things would turn out great, but I really wasn’t looking forward to the days of quiet. The days without any conversation beyond, “Thank you,” “Hello,” and “One please.” He told me that it would all work out, and that I would just make friends on my trip. I thought, that sounds nice, but I think Dean Moriarty is long gone.

It possibly breaks the romantic image of road tripping (and, trust me, many days I wish it were 1965 too), but in my small experience with roaming around U.S., making friends isn’t entirely easy. And sadly I don’t have a ton of meaty conversations with strangers while I’m on the road. It’s not for a lack of trying. I smile, make eye contact, give them a good “Hi,” maybe even ask for directions or something that I already know the answer to but am using as a reason to get the words flowing, but sometimes people aren’t in the talking mood. Or they simply don’t know what to say, I guess. Bartenders and servers are usually the best bet for a chat session, but even they sometimes are more loyal to their regulars, and they are still human and not always feeling up to the small-talk task.

Aside from restaurant and bar staff, I am rarely approached when sitting or walking around by myself. If I am approached, it’s usually by a man. I guess I get that. It hard enough for most women to find good women friends, so traveling and trying to meet another woman who you can just kind of put up with is a whole other challenge. A good woman really is hard to find. Mainly it’s men that come up and talk to me, but most of the men who do approach me (and there aren’t that many) are hoping for more than a nice conversation. The other few men who talk to me are either the friendly/bored restaurant staff or it’s them and their significant other. In the latter case they are usually older than me. I get a lot of fun older couples who talk to me. The kind that like to drink and enjoy retirement. I love these people. Unfortunately there’s not enough of them to go around to help keep my voice from going stale.

Groups of men don’t approach me. Men sitting by themselves (sometimes right next to me at the bar) don’t say a word. Even when I smile at them. I think if I were with a girlfriend, there’d be more attention, from lone men and small groups. If I were with a man, or just simply a lone male wander, I’d talk to other couples, small groups, and hippie travelers. And if I were a man and traveling with another man I’d probably get to talk to just about everyone. I could even pick up a hitchhiker perhaps.

But I’m not any of those. I’m a young woman. I don’t look like a traveler, I look like a twenty-three-year-old who is alone in a bar or a restaurant. My cell phone is away. My book is in my bag. I’m watching a muted ball game on T.V., eating my burger and drinking my beer, and no one is saying a word. They’re just looking my way.

Moab, UT

After huddling under a small tree for shade in Arches National Park, trying not to die from a boiling body temperature, it saddens me to confirm that I am not good at hiking.

I like to hike. (I think.) I like to climb on things. I’m a great walker. I can speed walk, stroll, and strut with the best of them. And I walk up sixty steps daily to get to my apartment. But even with my impressive array of skills, I think I may have over estimated my hiking abilities. That, and I think I was a little too excited to explore Arches N.P. Combined with the guarantee of witnessing some bad ass, gigantic rock formations, I saw a sign upon entering the park that indicated possible big horned sheep crossings, and my enthusiasm went through the roof. “I get to see arches AND probably big horned sheep too?!?! Real ones?!” Not those animatronic ones from Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

Careful, timid people –tourists, if you will– probably thoroughly read the five pounds of literature that the rangers give you when you come into the park. I skimmed it. I looked at where the trails were. That seemed sufficient. And to be fair to myself, the first trail I hiked after lightly perusing this literature was fairly easy (just a little walk down the cracked-mud river bed), and the hike to the Delicate Arch as shown by the dotted line on the map looked about the same length.

And perhaps the two trails are the same distance, but they are not the same terrain. Where the first hike was on relatively level ground, this hike is all up hill. I didn’t know this though, and I’m still unsure if others didn’t either, as there were all kinds of people—different ages, different sizes—following the small wooden signs that were marked, “TRAIL” in carefully carved and painted letters. They were happy little signs.

I get a small taste of the uphill fairly early on. The first stretch of the hike is a series of small hills, much like what one would see at a dirt bike course. I have a good pace as I trek up and down the chalky, red earth, and over the white iridescent rocks. Not bad at all. I think, “Cool, I’ll be done and on my way to the Canyonlands in an hour.”

Then I see THE hill. It looks like… a hill. Coming from northern California I’m familiar with hills. Ours usually grassy and have oak trees dotting them, but this hill I’m staring at is bare because it’s not a golden grassy hill. It’s a rock. (Or several large rocks, technically.) And this slab of rock doesn’t actually look steep from where I’m standing, but I have experience with climbing up some California hills (they were good places to make out), and I remember how much steeper the incline is once right up against it.

I’m not thrilled. I can’t see the Delicate Arch. Not even a hint of it. I can see, however, a long line of people, making their pilgrimage slowly up the hill. For a minute, I actually think, “No. That can’t be the trail. Maybe there’s just ice cream up there. A vender with some water.” As I type this, I know that sounds stupid, but I couldn’t believe it. It’s 103 degrees, and all these people are hiking up that to see the Delicate Arch? Really? Even that guy with the six-year-old on his back? And that old woman? She doesn’t even have a water bottle.

Yep. All of them. The lady in Sari. The blonde in the crisp white shorts. The Europeans in their loafers and black socks. Everyone is on his and her way to the arch. And they are all passing me.

I get halfway up the hill and I stop and pull out my camera. Not because the view is amazing, but because I want it to look like I want to take a picture. What I want is to catch my breath. I click away. Eye at the viewfinder, completely not paying attention to what I’m shooting. I put my camera away and casually take out my water. I just need a sip I pretend. Lies. I drink a third of the bottle, doing my sip-and-look-around move, before I fall back into line and continue my hike up the hill.

(to be continued… when I’m not tired and my Internet is not being a pain)

Through Colorado. Into the Rockies.

It`s a roller coaster. I fly around curves and squeeze by semi-trucks. There`s flakes of snow. There`s nets for the falling rocks. There`s signs for falling rocks. There`s signs for rock slides. I feel like the signs should have been placed at the start of ride along with a warning to keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle. I`m white-knuckling it. It starts to rain. There`s signs for Starbucks. Signs for animals on the road– not just crossing the road, on the road. Watch out for everything. Pay attention. Keep my eyes on the road. Don`t hit the center divide. Tunnel. Don`t look too hard at the scenery. There`s dark green, light green, trees woven thick like carpet. Red rock, brown rock, tan rock. Blue sky, gray sky, purple sky. Colors swirled together. I open the window. Train. The river is feet from the highway. And then it opens into land. Wide. Utah. I stick my hand out the window and am so content.

Abilene, KS

To my guidebook`s credit, it didn’t know that the motel it had recommended would be under renovation when I arrived. I drive up and find myself in the heart of a construction site. I get out of my car and ignore the looks. My license plates stick out like a sore thumb, especially in this little city and at this motel where it seems I`m one of the few guests. I check in and begin to unload my car when I finally glance around at the men working on the roof, the men gathered around their trucks, and the men BBQ-ing in a parking space. Not only am I the only guest (aside from the construction crew), I am also the only woman. I feel like the last sucker that fell from the pinata. I keep thinking of Dorothy when she lands in Oz and says to Toto that she doesn’t think they`re in Kansas any more, but it doesn’t seem to entirely apply here.

I hear a truck pull up behind me and a voice say, “You`re a long way from home, aren`t ya?” I don`t respond but then realize he`s not going to move on until I do. So I give him my bare, sweaty, expressionless face. “Howdy,” he says. He looks at me, I turn back around, he drives on, and I spend the rest of the night in my room.

St. Louis, MO

Came round past Cardinal`s stadium, catching a glimpse of the stadium lights and red t-shirts, before turning down S. Broadway. Took a seat at one of the damp patio benches at Beale. The bar staff hurried to dry the chairs with recycled newspaper and cover the speakers with garbage bags. Ms. Kim was going on, sweetie. Rain or no rain.

The band warmed up. A big man with a gap between his front teeth was at keyboard and a tall skinny guy with shaggy hair and a pushed back fedora– you know this guy –played the sax. At 11pm Ms. Kim took the stage and sat sturdy in her chair while she sang the blues long past the Cardinal`s lights shut off . It was a Thursday night and people had to work in morning, but no one dared walk out on Kim. No one wanted to.

Setbacks

There have been a few annoying setbacks during the trip thus far– like my headlight going out back in Tuscon. (I`ve yet to take the time to stop and replace it. My solution is just not to drive much at night.) And my PayPal account was frozen for a random security screening, making it impossible to transfer funds to my bank account. And just when I got the PayPal account up and working again, I get an email from Bank of America saying a fraudulent charge was made with my debit card and now my debit card will no longer work.

I noticed this email on my drive to St. Louis, so I sat in a random parking lot under a Cracker Barrel sign to figure out if there was a way I can get any money.

B.A. Rep: “Your bank in Massachusetts will issue you a new card.”

Me: “Is there another way I can get a new debit card? I`m in the middle of a two-month road trip and I`m not near Massachusetts.”

B.A. Rep: “Where are you now?”

Me: [I look around and see corn fields.] “I think I`m in Indiana.”

B.A. Rep: “Uh. OK.”

Me: “I`ll be in St. Louis tonight. Could I go to a bank in St. Louis?”

B.A. Rep: “No. That`s in the west and your home bank is in the east.”

Me: “Oh. St. Louis is the west?” [sorry– when I think of the west, Missouri is not what comes to mind.]

Me: “So, is there any way I can retrieve money from my account?” [I`d like to leave the corn fields and Cracker Barrel at some point.]

B.A. Rep: “When will you be returning from your trip?”

Me: “Maybe July 25th or so. I`m not entirely sure.”

B.A. Rep: “You don`t have an expected date of return?”

Me: “No.”

B.A. Rep: “Huh. That’s kinda cool.”

Though he was amused, he transferred me to someone else and told me to enjoy my trip, and of course thanked me for being a customer of Bank of America. I think I`m about to figure out what Western Union is all about.

Lexington, KY

Spent the Fourth of July walking around the booths downtown. I’ve never seen so many people in the spirit of a holiday. It was a sea of smiles, hellos, and red, white, blue, with dogs wearing American flag bandanas and kids dancings with red and blue metallic beads around their necks. Ate a corn dog at a crooked table and listened to a girl sporting a corn hat advertise Ramsy’s free corn booth.

Charleston, SC

Ate a plate of shrimp and grits at the Hominy Grill and walked around Battery Street and looked at the townhouses that are as beautiful and polished as people. Imagined for a while what it must be like to live there– I hope they sit on their balconies every morning and have breakfast. Or at least have a cup of coffee.