John Steinbeck had Rocinante, his aptly named pickup truck-cum camper, and of course his trusted pooch Charley.
William Least Heat-Moon had a Ford Econoline van that he tagged Ghost Dancing, a hunger for adventure, a disinterest in the high-speed manner in which most Americans traverse the country, and the time to seek its authenticity.
Kerouac, through his character Sal Paridise, had terminal wanderlust, gawd knows what kind of chemical imbalance tormenting his synapses, and the compelling spirit of his pal Dean Moriarty.
“Travels with Charley,” “Blue Highways,” and “On The Road,” are three compelling classics that detail the authors’ quests to discover America. In addition to the above criteria, each had common tools of their trade: a passion to learn by seeing and the willingness to live differently than their mainstream peers.
Not that Gabi and I qualify to join such lofty company, but welcome to the Tour of the Meanderthals, a name for our random meanderings that Gabi plucked out of the air one night in one of her classic flashes of creative brilliance.
As we leave Monday morning to see this enormous, beautiful and complex country over the next couple of months, the tools we’ll be employing are a bit different than the guys who preceded us:
- Two Blackberrys;
- Two laptops, one equipped with a high speed internet network card;
- A Garmin GPS;
- Three iPods, with enough music, podcasts, archived TV shows and even a movie (“Good Will Hunting”, courtesy of my friend Tom) to last us the entire trip, as if we’ll need the distractions;
- Books on tape, for the inevitable moment when we’ve heard enough of each others’ voices for awhile;
- Road maps, bookmarked pages and countless suggestions from our friends for “must-see” places and attractions across the US.
We won’t be camping by trout streams, sleeping in our car in blizzards or hopping trains from one migrant workers’ camp to another, but we share what each of these notable authors had in common: a genuine interest in seeing the United States from an intimate, personal vantage point. We’ll be avoiding highways, chain restaurants and most urban centers.
We want to meet our fellow citizens, see where they live and try to get a sense of what they might be thinking these days. As Steinbeck cautioned in “Travels with Charley,” our sample of US citizenry will be far too small and much too unscientific so as to render any viable broad glimpse of what makes this country tick. It’ll just be two observations from a couple who give a damn and know a thing or two about what makes people walk upright.
We also come at this trip from slightly different perspectives, and we’ll chronicle our views in this space from time to time.
To get us started, each of us jotted down our top five objectives for the next two months or so. Since we’re about to spend the next 60 days sitting in a car next to one another, it was reassuring for me to see our similar priorities:
- See Friends
- Drinks/cocktails in New Orleans
- See Montana
- Sit in coffee shops in small college towns
- Come home having learned more about other people and about myself.
- Visit friends and family
- Get to meet “average Joes and Josephines” (except Joe the Plumber, whom I feel I’ve already sufficiently met)
- Experience the natural beauty of the US, including the Grand Canyon, Big Sky Country, and national parks like Bryce, Zion and Yellowstone.
- Experience the magic and madness of Bourbon Street together, and witness firsthand the gradual reemergence of New Orleans.
- Uncover some of the country’s hidden gems – its quirky people, places and experiences.
By the way: Kerouac’s mother was named Gabrielle, which I’m taking as a “six degrees of separation” endorsement of our random meanderings.
See? This was meant to be.
We’ll report on our findings and experiences in this space from time to time. Please check in now and again, and do drop us a note so we can keep in touch.