Saturday, August 2, 2014

The road to Dixie

I admit the cat’s meows took some of the bloom off the rose. So did the endless construction, the commuter traffic in several cities, and drivers who permanently occupied the passing lane.

On the whole, however, I couldn’t complain. My 3,500-mile, roundabout trip across the United States last month was everything I had hoped it would be and then some.

You see a lot when you see America by car. You learn a lot too. You learn even more when you travel with a talkative daughter, a stubborn dog, and a high-maintenance feline in a Nissan Frontier pickup filled to the gills with stuff. I know I did.

I learned, for example, that I like Old Crow Medicine Show. I love it, in fact. I didn’t know it when my daughter Heidi, 22, started playing bluegrass and folk at the beginning of the trip, but I do now.

I also found I like Wyoming’s 80-mph speed limit, Tennessee’s gas prices, sunsets in central Missouri, and the pet policies at Motel 6, where they not only leave the light on for you but also let your dog and cat stay in your room for free.

There is more to travel, of course, than getting from Point A to Point B quickly and cheaply. There are the things you do along the way, the things that become memories and fodder for photographs.

I did a lot of those, too, from dipping my toes in the Pacific near Ocean Shores, Washington, to riding the bike trails in Wallace, Idaho, to taking a picture with Superman in Metropolis, Illinois. Heidi and I even posed with an ear of corn. When you are stuck in Mitchell, South Dakota, you do those things.

The only things I truly didn’t like — besides Nashville’s traffic and the cat's occasional protests — were the bugs that embraced my windshield. In South Dakota, bugs are big — bigger even than the billboards touting Wall Drug — and more numerous than the Harley riders headed to Sturgis.

What I’ll remember most, however, are the personal notes. On my latest and longest road trip across the U.S., I had the chance to visit with Montana friends one last time, reconnect with a daughter redefining her life, and think a lot about my future as a newly unemployed writer of fiction.

That future began Friday, the day before my 28th wedding anniversary, when I reached Alabama and reunited with my wife after ten weeks apart. She was eager to show me the unfinished house that will soon be our home and the fourth-grade classroom that will soon be her workplace.

I gave them both a look but saved the rest of my new community for another day. After seeing eleven states in eleven days, I decided to keep the driving to a minimum.