“Midwestern Meander” is the name I’ve given the road trip we took in late June 2012. We traveled from our home in New England to Niagara Falls, across Ontario to visit family in Michigan, the rest of the way around Lake Erie to visit family in Ohio, then back home again. I plan to post a bit about each stop, but I’m going about it in rather scattershot fashion.
This time we visited family in Ohio, we tried something a little different. Instead of staying at my mom’s house, we stayed about five miles down the road at a KOA (Kampgrounds of America). We’d considered tent camping but two adults, two kids, my blender, clothes for ten days, and a large number of snacks and audio books was about all we could fit in our VW Jetta. Tent and sleeping bags and other camping supplies would have made us look like the Griswolds on vacation. Our compromise was a stay at the KOA’s “Deluxe Kottage” where there were linens provided, a kitchenette, a bathroom with a shower and hot-and-cold running water, a porch swing.
“You guys like this kind of thing?” my second-cousin asked when she came to visit us. The cabin was, to her eyes, too rustic. But for us, it was heaven. Humid and buggy heaven, but heaven nonetheless. My daughter declared that she’d slept better at the cabin than she does at home. I loved the simplicity of the cabin and the quiet and dark of its forest locale. Add one more room and a cellar, and I would be ready to move in.
Our trip itself was filled with visits with my immediate and extended family and a trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio’s only national park and home to Brandywine Falls, the second-largest waterfall in the state and where my son lost the stuffed dragon my mom had given him the night before.
The night before we left Ohio, my daughter discovered what she called The Most Beautiful Place in the World. With her dad’s help, she’d followed a friendly camp cat they named “Pat” down a path hidden in the brush between our cabin and the next. When my daughter came in to tell me about it and ask me to go with her to see it, I was trying to compose a tactful and compassionate text in response to a volley of texts involving my mother’s unexpected absence at dinner at my sister’s house earlier in the evening. My phone was losing its charge and the signal kept going out, and I was feeling frustrated. I put my daughter off impatiently until finally I realized what I was doing. I turned off my phone and let her lead me down that dark path.
At the end of the path the brush opened out into a moonlit meadow surrounded by trees. The meadow and the trees sparkled with hundreds of fireflies. It’s an image I won’t soon forget, and a feeling I hope will warm me forever, my daughter’s hand in mine as she shared her awe with me.
Today I got my Massachusetts driver’s license. From the time I began driving until today, I’ve had licenses in Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, California, Utah, and Massachusetts.
I’ve visited DMVs, BMVs, and RMVs.
I’ve waited for hours and hours (California) to get my license and registration, and I’ve not waited at all (Utah and Massachusetts).
I’ve been spoken to rudely by the staff (California and Ohio), and I’ve been treated very kindly and in an extremely friendly and attentive manner (Utah and Massachusetts).
I’ve taken written tests in five states (Massachusetts didn’t require one), eye tests in all six, and a road test in one.
I’ve registered to vote at the motor vehicle registry in five states (consecutively, not concurrently) and with three different parties (if you consider “unaffiliated” a party).
Of these six states, my favorite places to get a license are Utah and Massachusetts. Both have their quirks. Utah made sure I knew how long military personal with Utah residency could maintain their Utah driver’s license after they’ve left the service. Massachusetts doesn’t have proof-of-insurance cards (and doesn’t require insurance to get a driver’s license), and I had to get my insurance company to send a stamped registration form to get my plates. But both the Salt Lake City DMV and the Worcester RMV branches were very friendly and accommodating.
I don’t know why exactly, but I’m very nervous when dealing with government agencies. I’ve not done my own taxes since 1998 (I’ve had them done, they’ve just not been done by me), simply because I get way too anxious that I’m going to inadvertently fill out something incorrectly.
I’d done tons of research about the license and registration process in Massachusetts before my husband and I left the kids with my mom and went to the office today. Still, I had pit stains before we even walked into the building because I was so nervous I was sweating more than usual.
Luckily, the wait was not the two hours plus as I’d been led to expect. In fact, we didn’t even have a chance to sit down before our numbers were called.
Luckily, too, the woman who helped us was extraordinarily friendly. The other agents kept coming to her for help with their customers, too, which delayed us a bit, but after our nonexistent wait time, we felt like we were way ahead of schedule. In addition, it was quite pleasant to see such a collaborative spirit among the agents there.
In California, the staff seemed to talk with each other a lot, but it seemed to be more of an “agents versus customers” brand of collaboration than it was a “let’s try to put our heads together and figure out a complicated issue” kind of collaboration. (Not to bad-mouth California. The branch we were at was ridiculously busy, with lines out the door even for those with appointments who were just trying to check in at their assigned appointment times. With as overworked as the staff were, I can see how they might develop an adversarial attitude. And there was one agent there who was very helpful and friendly to us. Well, to my husband. I got the agent who talked loudly and unflatteringly to another agent about me while I was standing right there at the counter).
Long story short, I was surprised to find that I actively enjoyed my RMV experience this afternoon, and I made a point of telling the agent just how much I appreciated her friendliness. What’s even more surprising is that I enjoyed it even though I left there more than $300 lighter than when I went in.
I hope it’s at least several years before I need to add a seventh state to the list. If I do get a seventh, I wonder where it will be…
Toledo, Ohio, to Cleveland, Ohio
Driving time: 1 hour 48 minutes
After our recent all-day driving times, this under-two-hours day felt like a trip across town. We didn’t need to stop in Cleveland, but how can you travel through Cleveland and not stop? Plus, my mom and my sister and brother live about 40 minutes south of here and this gave us a chance to take a trip to the zoo with them on our way to our New England life.
What we didn’t realize was that today was some kind of free day at the zoo for specific counties/townships. Our family got to go to the zoo (which was, even more than we expected, a zoo), but my family of origin arrived too late and were turned away. We left before the exodus and all got to eat dinner together at this odd little family place and then hung out while the kids played and played and played at a rec center playground.
Cleveland gets just 65 days of sun a year, and we were lucky enough to be here for the most beautiful of beautiful days. If Ohio intended to put on her best to make me miss the state even more, she did a lovely job.
I’ve been feeling especially emotional since we’ve been in Ohio. I feel very much tied to the state and the landscape, which is kind of odd since when I lived here, I kind of hated it. I found the landscape boring and the culture oppressive and backwards.
I think part of it is the clarity of distance and being able to see the beauty of the area after being away so far for so long. But I think the other part is the realization that when we head out on the road tomorrow, I will be traveling a route I’ve never traveled before. Up until Ohio, I was traveling away from Utah, and perhaps even towards these rendezvous with our families. As of tomorrow, we’ll be definitively heading towards Massachusetts and the unknown new life that awaits us there.
And I’m finding this prospect a little scary.
In other news, my husband has been trying to get me to like Coldplay during this trip. He’s repeatedly tried to sell me on them by saying they were a more radio-friendly Radiohead. I think they sound like U2, i.e. pretty sissy and incredibly boring, which is about what I think Radiohead would sound like were Radiohead more radio-friendly.
Today, after having me listen to two of his favorite songs, I sportingly suggested I try a song from the Garden State soundtrack, since I really liked the music from that film. I noted that the title of the track was “Don’t Panic.”
“There’s not much likelihood of me panicking now that I’ve been bored into a torpor by the other Coldplay songs,” I commented.
We’ll be playing Iron and Wine on our drive tomorrow, in between the Jim Weiss audiobooks about mythology and about ancient Egypt.
- “Have the Rolling Stones Killed”: XM Radio on Day 5 of the Cross-Country Road Trip (imperfecthappiness.wordpress.com)
- Cross-Country Road Trip, Day 1: Welcome to Wyoming! (imperfecthappiness.wordpress.com)
Peru, Illinois, to Toledo, Ohio
Driving time: 6 hours and something
- Gorging myself at a cookout with my in-laws and watching my kids wrestle their uncles.
- Determining that Gary, Indiana, still smells like it did last time we drove through 10 years ago.
- Watching Ohio unfold before me from behind the wheel of the Yukon for the first time. (The unexpected joy and feeling of being home took my mind off the fact that, at 5’2″ and under 130 pounds, I’m rather incongruous behind the wheel of a GMC Yukon.)
- Noting that the sky in Illinois isn’t as brilliant a blue as the sky is further west (or even compared to the sky in Indiana).
- Laughing hysterically at my husband’s Simpsons reference. “What I Like About You” came on XM Radio, leading my husband and me to determine first that we recognized the song and then that we didn’t really like it (mostly because we can’t figure out what they’re saying). We’d forgotten who it was by, and when the band name (The Romantics) came across the readout, my husband said, “Have the Rolling Stones killed,” quoting Montgomery Burns at a performance by The Ramones. We’ve been on the road long enough that I can’t tell if that was a “had to be us” joke or if it’s objectively funny. And I’ve been on the road long enough, I’m sharing the story regardless.
When we went to rent the vehicle for our trip, we decided it wasn’t worth the extra money for XM radio. But when they switched out the minivan we’d rented for this large SUV, they threw in the XM at no extra charge. For the most part, we’re glad to have it. It’s re-introduced us to classics of the grunge era, the music to which we came of age. But while I think it would be more convenient if there were an XM station that played only good songs and left the sucky ones out, my husband thinks the addition of the sucky songs increases his appreciation of the good songs.
We both agree that we still wouldn’t pay extra for satellite radio.
Ogallala, Nebraska, to Omaha, Nebraska
Day 3 driving time: 4 hours 45 minutes, with no stops
Nickname: The Cornhusker State
Largest City: Omaha, pop. 438,646 (also the largest city we’ve encountered on our trip, including the one we started in)
Nebraska is the home of the very first Cabela’s store in Sidney, Nebraska.
Omaha is the location of Winter Quarters, the staging area for the westward migration of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the Salt Lake Valley. It reminded me that I-80 runs roughly along the Mormon Trail about which I read so much during the time we lived in Utah.
The Henry Doorly Zoo here in Omaha has the largest indoor rain forest in the United States. On the advice of friends who’ve made the trek from Utah to Michigan multiple times, we added the zoo to our itinerary and rushed through our road trip (not even stopping to use the restroom) in order to have at least two hours at the zoo before closing time.
Based on the other parts of the zoo we saw, I was skeptical about how great the Lied Jungle would be. I mean, they had penguins in the same exhibit as the giraffes, and one of the selling points of the zoo is an IMAX theater. And the whole place has a kind of odd, aging Disneyworld feel to it, exacerbated by the geodesic dome that houses the desert exhibit. I worried it was one of “those” zoos, devoted more to entertainment than to conservation and education.When I saw the outside of the Lied Jungle building, I felt my heart sink even more. It just looked dinky and rectangular and boring. But I trusted that my friend wouldn’t have led us astray, and it had started raining as we left the giraffes, so we headed in.
I don’t know how they did it, but that exhibit just kept going and going and going. Starting at the top of the forest and working our way down to the “Jungle Trail” on the forest floor, we traveled through areas highlighting the rain forests of Asia, Africa, and South America. We saw baby gibbons and pygmy hippos and slow lorises, vampire bats and pythons and gigantic Amazonian fish. There were waterfalls and mangrove trees (which I’m pretty sure were fake, but which were really awesome anyway). We could have spent all day there had we arrived earlier and had we not skipped lunch in order to get there when we did.
During the drive today, the little guy slept a good chunk of the way, and our daughter listened to Little House in the Big Woods. The scent of freshly mown grass periodically suffused the interior of the car and brought a smile to my face.
I munched wasabi peas and looked out the window a lot and noted how much Nebraska looks like Ohio. There was lots and lots of farmland. Farmland on rolling hills, farmland on flat land, farmland stretching as far as the eye could see. What struck me was that, originally, the landscape of Ohio was quite different from that of Nebraska. Eastern Nebraska was covered with 6- to 9-foot-high tallgrass prairie, while it was said of Ohio that a squirrel could go from one end of the state to the other without ever touching the ground, it was so densely wooded. And yet both states have been changed so much by their inhabitants, they look remarkably similar today.
The land might look the same, but the accent’s different. Nebraska’s shares some of Ohio’s expansive vowels, but it retains a twang that shows we’re still in the West. We’re crossing the Mississippi tomorrow, though, and saying farewell to the West for the foreseeable future.
I read this in elementary school. I remembered liking it, so I checked it out from the library to read to my daughter.
We both thoroughly enjoyed this book. There are themes of growing up and responsibility, which is nice, but the best part is, of course, that Ralph rides a motorcycle.
I love that the there’s the line about how Ralph was proud that he was going to be the subject of a composition in a far off place like Ohio. (I would have quoted it, but the book is in my sleeping daughter’s bedroom, and I make a policy of not going in there while she’s sleeping unless it’s incredibly important, like if I want to cuddle her a bit before she gets too big to cuddle.)
My daughter has asked my husband and me to read the last five chapters to her over and over again, and then during the day, I find that she’s got the book in the living room and is reading sections to herself and then acting them out.
I knew that, given her parents, she was likely to grow up to be a reader, but it’s very exciting to see it in action.
Earlier this week, we had a blizzard. It was windy and snowy for about an hour and then it was pretty much done. I was in a few blizzards in Ohio when I lived there, and this one wasn’t much like those. I hear Utah doesn’t usually get blizzards, so perhaps it’s just out of practice.
Now we’re in the midst of a winter storm. It’s not windy, but it’s dumping a significant amount of snow. The kids, my husband, and I all went out to clear the first four inches or so from the driveway and the sidewalks today. Every year I’m reminded how much easier it is to shovel Utah snow than I remember it being in Ohio. It’s just so light here that the “heave” portion of the “scrape and heave” shoveling technique I use is much less painful than it was in Ohio. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s pleasant to shovel Utah snow, it’s less unpleasant than shoveling Ohio snow. I hear it’s also good to ski on.
Aside from shoveling snow and pondering the differences between a Utah winter and an Ohio winter (Utah’s much sunnier, too), I’ve pretty much taken the day off. It seems like it’s been about a week since I worked on my novel, when in reality I wrote just yesterday. I find it hopeful that it feels strange not to be working on it. (Hopeful that I’ll keep working on it even without NaNoWriMo to urge me on.) I suspect, though, that it’s easier to get out of the habit of writing every day than it is to get into the habit of writing every day.
Now that we’re approaching the end of November, I’ve started thinking more about my focus for December: Fun. When I planned that as my focus, I left it abstract, figuring I’d figure out what I found fun sometime between August 1st and November 30th. So far the only thing on my list is the same thing that was on my list on August 1st. And that thing is “reading.” I really enjoy reading. And while I find other things fun, reading is about the only thing I find reliably fun every time I have a chance to do it. I especially like reading novels. It’s like immersing myself in a waking dream or an alternate reality. Writing a novel has been a similar experience for me this month. Why is escaping reality like that so appealing to me?
Watching movies is also fun, but they don’t engage me like they used to. I enjoy crocheting, especially crocheting things for other people, and especially crocheting things which require no further assembly once the crocheting is done. And I like crocheting while watching movies; it doesn’t necessitate being engrossed in the film. Perhaps that’s an option for December.
I realize I’m looking for only those experiences that offer unmitigated fun and rejecting those experiences that aren’t 100% guaranteed to be fun. I wonder why it’s so hard for me to pinpoint what I find “fun”? Maybe my fun focus for December shouldn’t involve following a list of “fun” activities I’ve decided in advance, but rather trying to find the fun in the things I’m already doing, along with adding additional “fun” activities as they occur to me.
All good things to ponder while shoveling snow.
Victoria lives aboard her sailing vessel with her husband and two young children, the realization of a dream she and Tucker have had for many years. She expected that once she was on her boat, anywhere she sailed would be—and feel like—home. But on a weekend excursion down the coast to Monterey, she was surprised to find herself homesick for their little slip in the San Francisco Bay, which led her to reflect on the nature of home.
Maggie is three months into a year-long trek around the world. Her most recent stopover is Bulungula in South Africa, where she seems to feel a strong connection to both the geography and the culture. “And, of course, there’s that lovely backdrop — scenery that stuns the eyes, holds the heart and inspires you to leave your own home behind,” she writes. “Yes, I could live here.” She doesn’t say, “This feels like home,” but rather that she could “leave her own home behind” and “live here.” Is there a difference?
Eric Weiner in The Geography of Bliss talks about the phenomenon of travelers for purposes of business or study—anthropologists, reporters—“going native,” that is, abandoning their professional objectivity and the home of their birth to immerse themselves in an adopted culture. How does one know home when they find it?
I grew up a Navy Brat. We moved about every three years. All of our moves were in the United States, and I’ve only left the country once when I went to Toronto with my high school band. I’ve never even had a passport. All during my childhood, I had a craving for “home.” The thought, “I want to go home,” would come to me, but upon further reflection, I could never identify where home was. The closest to home I felt growing up was when we’d visit my maternal grandparents in Ohio each year. Their home was a central gathering place for my mother’s seven siblings and their children. Everywhere we went, I was surrounded by people related to me. In the town where my parents grew up, it seemed cousins of various degrees were everywhere. Grandma and Grandpa had a garden, and even now I think of them when I work with my own tomato plants. There was a spooky basement with an old refrigerator that was always filled with glass bottles of pop, that, when empty, we would return to the grocery store for money in what seemed a kind of alchemy. There were pickled eggs in large jars, grape juice that we drank out of jelly jars, hulless popcorn, late-night horror films on TV, and the tandem bike I rode with my aunt. In the summer, we’d watch the Fourth of July parade come by the house, and we’d collect the candy they tossed from the fire truck before we walked up to the high school for the carnival. One year I won a goldfish by tossing a ping pong ball into a small fish bowl.
When Grandma died, this all began to change. Then Grandpa sold the house, and there was no longer a central meeting place. The close-knit feeling of the family faded, as did my sense of home. For years, I’ve still felt the “I want to go home” sensation, but it’s not been connected to any particular place. As adults, my husband and I continue to move every few years, trying out different locations, looking for home. I’ve lately come to fear that the looking has become such a habit that I won’t even recognize home when I find it.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve begun to dream of Ohio. In my dreams, it is home. It is the place I’m longing to be. I see the rolling, green hills of northeast Ohio and yearn to belong to them. When we visit, I love driving out into that farmland and imagining a little house amid those green hills. But I wonder if it would still feel like home if I actually lived there. When I was in college there, I couldn’t wait to leave. I hated it there. I couldn’t stand the overcast skies, the decay of the post-Industrial Revolution, the culture of depression and helplessness. It feels different looking at it now from a couple thousand miles and a decade away. Is Ohio truly my home, and I could only recognize it by leaving? Or if I lived there now, would it soon feel as oppressive to me as it did when I was 20? How long would it be before I went in search of my next home?
I have a suspicion that my longing for home isn’t actually a longing for a particular place, but rather a longing for a feeling. This feeling is one of belonging and of being loved unconditionally. It’s an escape from the alienation I often feel as someone who is carving her own path through the world. I made an off-hand remark to my husband last night: If you’re going to rock the boat, you’d better not get sea sick. Even though I have a consistent need to rock the boat, I seem to experience perpetual seasickness. I want to find my sea legs. I want to be myself but still feel like I belong. Even more than happiness, I want to feel wholeness. I suspect that this feeling is something I need to come to on my own, and if I don’t find it, no place is going to feel like home.