Wednesday, November 17, 2010


About two years ago, I thought it would be fun to drive from California to Georgia. By myself. Why I thought this would be fun, I'm not sure. Probably for the same reason that I thought taking a Greyhound across the country would be fun.

It was a beautiful drive, but you can only sit alone in a car talking to yourself for so long. Also, I didn't have air conditioning which meant that I was driving across the desert, through the plains, and into the humidity of the south with no reprieve from the sweaty seat sticking misery.

Somewhere in Utah

And there is absolutely no good coffee anywhere in-between. I don't doubt that there is good coffee somewhere in-between the two coasts, but there is absolutely nothing along the highway. I stopped at a McDonald's. For coffee. I want you just to let that sink in for awhile. McDonald's. Coffee. Awful. 

This wasn't my first time driving across the country. When I was younger my Grandparents lived just outside of St. Louis, Missouri. I would spend a few weeks every summer visiting them and occasionally they would drive me back to California.

We would set off early in the morning in my Grandmother's white Chrysler LeBaron. My Grandfather would drive at a steady 50mph across the Interstate and my Grandmother would look at the map and determine the route we would take and which stops we would make.

Both my Grandfather and my Grandmother were British and my Grandmother in particular was fascinated by U.S. history. She would insist that we stop at the home of Daniel Boone or a hideout of Jesse James. We toured the museums dedicated to the pioneers of the Wild West and stopped at monuments in honor of the Oregon Trail or the Chinese railroad workers. But my Grandmother's true passion was the history of the Native Americans. These roadtrips were her opportunity to explore areas of the United States and learn more about the tribes and tribal lands she was so intrigued by.

While we drove across the Southwestern United States, my Grandmother would talk about the the Cherokee, the Navajo, the Apache, the Hopi, the Mojavi, and the Zuni. I would pipe in with what little I knew from school about Christopher Columbus and the Pilgrims. My Grandmother would scoff. That's how I learned about smallpox and colonialism and the legacy of broken promises the United States had left the original inhabitants of North America.

My Grandfather was a composer and an accomplished pianist and organist. My Grandmother, prior to becoming a family counselor, had been a music teacher. Both of them adored classical music and this shared adoration determined the music that dominated the radio. I would lean back against the plush velvet seats and stare out the window while tapes of Chopin, Elgar, or Tchaikovsky played in the background. At the time I had wished that perhaps we could listen to something more normal like Garth Brooks or Tim McGraw.

But as I recreated these past road trips, I found myself skipping the songs on my iPod until I hit Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata or Für Elise. I was surprised at how little had changed since the last time I had driven down those roads. It was as if 15 years had simply never happened.

The same rest stops, the same wide open spaces, the same small towns. Even this sign in Utah was still standing. I couldn't believe it.

When I approached the outskirts of St. Louis, I had to stop. The arch, the city's monument, is now a symbol so representative of my childhood that I couldn't pass by without stopping. I dragged my Grandmother up that thing 8 years in a row. The woman was scared to death of heights, but that was the only thing I wanted for my birthday so she went. Every year.

That night I sat outside the hotel watching the lightning bugs. The air was heavy and sweet from the humidity and the meadow grasses. I felt like I was 8 years old again, trying to catch lightning bugs in a jar while my Grandmother sipped tea on the porch and my Grandfather played Greensleeves on the piano in the living room. Before too long a summer thunderstorm rolled in and I retired to my hotel room as the first drops of rain began to fall.

The next morning I had breakfast at a Cracker Barrel. The first sign that I had officially left the West. After a glutenous and delicious American breakfast and still feeling slightly lethargic from scarfing down too many buttermilk biscuits, I climbed back into my car and continued my drive to Georgia. 

While Californians are carb-counting, Midwesterners
are asking if you want some toast with your butter...

My family owns hunting land in Kentucky (don't judge me) so I had arranged to meet them there before driving the rest of the way to Georgia. I would like to thank my iPhone and Google Maps for successfully navigating me through Kentucky's backroads. Well done. Kentucky in summer is beautiful, but it's hotter than hell and there are about 300 varieties of things with more than 4 legs that bite. 

Driving Kentucky's backroads

We spent a few days hanging out around the campfire eating s'mores and enjoying the stifling humidity and horseflies of Kentucky before packing up and heading to Georgia. 

Camping in Kentucky

On the way back to Atlanta, my eleven-year old little brother, who had opted to ride back with me, started looking a little queasy. I knew it was bad when he declined a donut at the petrol station. (British guy's influence has now prevented me from saying "gas" station. I'm also having a hard time with the word "pants")

"You doing alright over there, buddy?" I was starting to get nervous for the interior of my car. 

He shook his head. "Can...can you pull over?"

We were in gridlock traffic. There was no way I was going to be able to make it over to the shoulder in time.

So he rolled down the window and....threw up all over the side of my car. I received a mix of sympathetic looks and horrified glances from the other drivers. 

My brother turned back to me with a look of apprehension. He was clearly unsure about how I was going to respond and nervous that I would unleash my wrath upon him for being ill. 

I rolled my eyes. "I'm not mad at you. Are you okay? Here's some water. You want me to stop so you can get out and walk around?"

"No. It's okay. I feel better now."

In an effort to create a more soothing driving experience, I switched over to the classical playlist on my iPod. Two minutes into Elgar's Violin Concerto, my brother informed me that this music was incredibly boring music and he would prefer to listen to something more normal. 

In an effort to defend my music choice I informed him that my Great-Grandmother used to see Elgar walking about outside her home near the Malvern Hills. 

"What are the Malvern Hills?" 

"They're a range of hills in England. Near Worcestershire." 

"Ok. Can we still change the music? Cause this is really boring." 

I thought back to my road trips with my Grandparents and how I had begged to listen to something other than classical. I handed the iPod to my brother and told him to pick the music. 

But as we continued our drive through Northern Georgia, I kept thinking about my Grandmother. I looked at my brother who was busy searching my playlists for something he recognized, and wondered how our trip would be going if she were along. I knew exactly how it would be going. 

"Did you know that the Cherokees are originally from Georgia, but in 1830 the United States passed the Indian Removal Act and they were forced to relocate to Oklahoma which is where the Cherokee Nation exists today. Their forced migration is called the Trail of Tears."

My brother stopped fiddling with the iPod and looked up with a perplexed expression. "Wait, I don't get it. Why did they have to move from Georgia?"

I turned down the music. "Well, it's a long story. But luckily we've got a few hours." 

You know you're in Georgia when...


Shopgirl said...

Nice story, I enjoyed the descriptions of various states and your audacity in doing the unthinkable - I too have an adventure on my blog that people still lecture me about (Birthday Hike I think was the title). Also relate to the British influence. I worked with them for years a while back and just as I was returning to normal American speech this year I started reading blogs from the UK. Now the "proper"s, and "patrol"s are creeping back in.. loved the photos too.

Cathy Sweeney said...

Very enjoyable post. I've been a road-trip person since I was young, going on many trips with my parents across the U.S., Canada and Mexico. I still enjoy getting behind the wheel and heading out, near or far. Your experience was very fun to read and brings back memories.

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