I spent today awkwardly trying to get back into my Chicago groove after spending the last seven days in four states. The multiple trips sent me across, through, and over the midwest in planes, trains, and automobiles.
So much movement and non-stop perpetual motion is mostly, usually exciting, but it can be jarring sometimes too. After I’ve landed back home, it takes me a beat to readjust to a normal pace and scene.
Plus, when visiting family and seeing friends, which this past week of travel included, it takes even more effort to get back to normal. The feelings of emotional warmth and change have to settle into their new shape, but it’s as if I’ve pushed bread dough into a pan and expected it to rise immediately. There’s a process of expansion that the new form taking shape refuses to rush, regardless of how much I want it to. I’m adept at adapting, but I forget that sometimes that takes a minute.
Things are different now, just as they always have been.
Time changes everything. But time always takes its, well, time.
After trips like these I need a brain Discombobulation Area, like the one at the airport where you try to put your shoes back on ASAP and wrangle what’s left of your dignity (quickly! quickly!) after a security pat down and wipe off the sweat congealing on your brow from being chewed up and spit out the sticky mouth of TSA.
(Clearly I love flying!)
Despite all this, I love moving around. My favorite thing about traveling is that it gives me perspective. Literally of this beautiful country, but metaphorically too. The security check line may be long, but life is short. Physical journeys, being an outsider looking in, is the antidote when everything feels small and uber-significant.
Because when everything feels small and uber-significant, it’s usually because I feel small and insignificant. Traveling reminds me how grandiose my options are, reminds me my life is big because it is also small, reminds me not to sweat it. In fact, there’s no need to sweat anything except getting to my ride on time.
And visiting friends, family, old stomping grounds? Traveling to them and dropping by for a while reminds me to be completely present in them. To feel all of it. To remember. To pay attention, because this moment * right now * is what I’ll look back on soon. I want to make it count.
Today after my evening run (or, more accurately, jog-walk… travel = treats!), I stretched in the park across from our apartment. As I laid on my back to stretch these American thighs, I turned my head to the side. Eye level was an ant diligently collecting nectar from a dandelion as if it was the most important thing in the world. He climbed all over this supposed weed, through its golden landscape, over its hilly petals.
It made me remember something my dad told me this weekend while I was home. My parents have peonies growing in the space right outside their front door. The peonies are a wonderfully visual choice once their bulbous, bombastic blooms open, but to get there, they need the help of tiny ants like this one in my Chicago park.
“There will be ants on those peony buds,” Dad said. “Go look.”
Sure enough. There were ants crawling all over their green cocooned buds.
“Ants help pull open their shells,” he said.
Sure enough. Google confirmed. The flower releases small amounts of nectar to recruit the intrepid insects into doing some of their work for them.
Would I have missed this seemingly insignificant observation had I not been paying attention? Probably. I’ve missed more while I’m physically at places than I ever have when I’m gone, longing and paying attention.
Listening to stories from my dad. Taking time to do nothing but feel how my cat’s purr sends ripples through my fingers. Holding my niece in a hug that leaves an 8-year-old-child-sized imprint on my heart.
If that’s what travel does for me, gives to me now… The post-travel come down, the emotional discombobulation is worth it. Every time.
Like Vonnegut wrote, “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.”
As a kid, when a soft spring gently moved aside for its showy sibling summer, like a cloud rolling on to its next destination, we’d pull up the box fans from the basement.
They’d be dusty with skin and sweat from the year before, as well as whatever accumulated on them while they sat on ice for the winter. These reserve soldiers were a sign that summer, finally!, was here. Let the fun begin.
Each bedroom would be curated to hold their rickety form, crunched into a carpet, battled over for the best position of glorious, magical air flow toward one of two kids’ beds. This worked best, meaning a resolution was most peacefully acquired, in the girls’ room when my sister and I got bunk beds and the box fan could spend its season in the sun sitting on the thigh-high vanity we shared. Direct hits for both sleepers.
The sound of a box fan. That constant whir. That restless hum. It’s a lullaby.
Recently, Justin and I got a hyper quiet, new-fangled fancy fan. FIVE TIMES THE AIR FLOW. QUIET QUIET QUIET!
But tonight, for some reason, I turned it off and found myself pulling out our own dusty box fan and clunked it to our bedroom. It’s not so much the old-school style breeze I was searching for. It was the sound.
I have a distinct memory of one childhood summer night, sticky with sweat and anticipation. I couldn’t sleep. The next day was our show day at the county fair. The box fan kept me company as I lay wide awake, as restless as that hum, dreaming of the next day.
Maybe that’s why I pulled it out tonight instead of any other. Tomorrow I go home to Ohio.
Chicago to Lawrence, Kansas, to Denver to Las Vegas to Phoenix to El Paso to San Antonio to Austin to Memphis to Indianapolis to Chicago.
We drove all that in two weeks, with the main purpose of spending Thanksgiving in Vegas wearing matching velour tracksuits and hitting the 24-hour Thanksgiving dinner casino buffet tour.
One of the most memorable moments happened somewhere in Utah, though. Can you tell me the shape of Utah off the top of your head? No cheating! I couldn’t either. (Answer: Utah is shaped like a square with a cute little shelf in the northeast corner. For storing bibles and guns, presumably.) But here we were, making an overnight drive through the state beloved by Edward Abbey, when nature called.
I pulled off into a rest stop area, checked the time—11 pm—and ran into the women’s restroom. Yes, ran, because by nature, I mean I had to, as they say out here, numero dos. Ten minutes pass. I’m humming. I hear a mother and her son come into the restroom. I go mute, as is polite.
My main concern is that it stinks and I feel the familiar poop shame we all share when we do it in a public restroom. This mother’s main concern, though, quickly became me.
Well, not necessarily me as me, but me as what she imagined I was, a conclusion drawn (again, presumably) from my beefy Doc Martens and black pants and the fact that the rest stop seemed completely empty at this time of night because we had parked off to the side and this poor woman with her child thought I was some hoodlum or drug dealer or creepo looking for a beej.
“Hurry up,” she whispered to her son in the handicap stall. “Stopping here maybe wasn’t a good idea.”
At this point I’m still oblivious, gently humming inside my head. I wonder, “Oh no, why?!”
The handicap stall opens. The child exits. I see his small white shoes make their way to the sink.
“No no,” the mom says, quickly. “We don’t need to wash our hands. We need to go go go.”
That’s weird, I thought. Does it smell that bad?
When I left the restroom ~five minutes later, I asked Justin if he saw a mom and kid leaving the women’s restroom.
“Yeah, they looked terrified,” he said. “They were running. I almost went in to check on you. They looked Mormon maybe? I figured they just were scared because this rest stop is scary.”
When I was finally able to stop laughing, I explained my theory of why they were afraid–it was me and my big boots. They seemed fine until she had time to judge that there was a weirdo in the stall next door. I thought I looked country-punk-chic. They thought I looked like a gang member from “A Clockwork Orange,” thirsting to drink their innocent blood under the bright Moab moon.
If only they had seen me–a small woman with just a smile and a tune on her lips, y’all! A kind person who just likes badass-looking boots and who just had to sit and shit for a long time.
It was apropos. Fear unwarranted and breaking through it. That was the whole point of this trip after all–besides Vegas buffets. Here’s how it went down.
This is somewhere in Arizona. I swear I saw new colors on this trip. Or at least I saw colors I’ve known my whole life organized in totally new ways.
San Antonio Riverwalk.
San Antonio was warm. In a lot of ways.
More Texas. There’s a lot of Texas.
In Vegas, even the trees seem unnatural.
THIS IS A REAL PHOTO NO FILTER. !!!
Our drive through the Rockies was one I’ll never forget. No wonder people outside the midwest wonder how we can live in a place so flat. It’d be hard to have this drama dominating your view every day and then try to find majesty in a cornfield.
Vogueing at Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon, as one does.
Yes, hi, I’d like to recommend the one-way scenic drive through Red Rock Canyon at sunset. Justin rented us a convertible for the day for two reasons. 1) So he could go from 0 to 80 in seconds on the highway. 2) So we could see this with the top down. Saying it was majestic is cliche, as is saying I cried as we witnessed a mountain tucking in our sun for bedtime. But I don’t give a damn–both are true.
New color inspiration.
Here we are taking photos at Red Rock Canyon and trying not to fall lest we unwittingly become “those people.”
Justin: Comedian, trip planner, BFF. America is for lovers.
Also for lovers? The jungle room at Bonnie Springs Ranch Motel right by Red Rock Canyon. Rawr! We didn’t request this room but they couldn’t have put us in a better one. It even had a velvet painting of a jaguar on the wall.
Speaking of velvet paintings, look at this dream boat in velour. We wore matching tracksuits on Thanksgiving Day in Vegas. A hilarious sartorial choice indeed, but also a strategic move. When one can hit up all the casino buffets with their 24-hour all-access pass and eat a lot of pumpkin pie, turkey, lobster and the ever decadent ham and green bean platter, one needs a waist band with leeway.
A survivor at the Bonnie Springs petting zoo.
Also, ghosts at Bonnie Springs Motel.
But you can’t never leave!
Part of the beauty of doing this trip as full-time artists/ freelance writers, we got to see a lot of touristy things on days not frequented by tourists. Because all tourists except for us suck.
For example, the Briscoe Art Museum along the San Antonio Riverwalk offers free admission on Tuesdays. AND WE WERE THERE ON A TUESDAY.
Taco spots are always busy though. We ate a LOT of tacos on this trip. Are tacos the new hot dogs? The new American staple food? I see nothing wrong with that. I’d rather have a taco at a baseball game than a hot dog, you know? We’re in that weird mid-paradigm shift where what it means to be an American is as varied as the people living in it–and the people who used to…
As we traveled, I recognized that significance of traveling on land some people stole from another people during a holiday where we celebrated and reimagined that theft.
It was best addressed–meaning unflinchingly and truthfully–in San Antonio. The cathedral light show didn’t keep the truth in the dark, and the art museum, where there was a painting titled, no joke, “Last of His Race” honored the cultures that were either squandered or lost to time–black, brown and white alike.
I found this interesting and chalked up points for SA as one of my favorite spots during the trip because it’s also located in Texas, home to The Alamo, no less, and Texas is good at, I don’t know, ignoring the bigger picture unless they’re the star of it. Or at least that’s what I assumed.
Vegas “medicine man.” Yikes. Was there ever a better–and by better I mean worse–visual metaphor for what was done to the Native Americans?
OK, maybe this. No teepees. No tents.
I sent postcards from every state we visited to my niece and nephew of reading age. Of course I tried to subtly express the urgency of my opinions without being an asshole (PLZ HELP ME FIND A BALANCE, BABY JEZUS). I found postcards that showed cowboys and Indians communicating, sharing, bartering. I loved this orange postcard below that listed the symbols some tribes used to write and what each symbol meant (with an Auntie-drawn frown face by the swastika). 🙁
These postcards made me muse on how much has changed since the first Thanksgiving, like the way we talk, how we talk, the words–and sometimes symbols–that are and are not OK in 2017. It’s pretty incredible, the scope of those changes.
I thanked every star under the big, azure Arizona sky for living in a time when I, a woman!, could work and write from the road. With a hot spot connection, G-Suite toolkit and awesome team of understanding colleagues back in Chicago, I worked my dream profession (writing) while exploring America. What’s the native symbol for Fuck Yeah This Is Awesome?
A virgin pina colada on the Riverwalk.
Non-virgin marijuana in Denver. Grape Kush = 10/10, man.
Some very Texas memorabilia. People are different. People are all the same.
We accidentally stopped at this family owned gas station and it was perfect. Although, we did get a couple comments about being from Chicago where “everyone gets shot.” <eyeroll> Southerners stereotyped us just as much as we did them.
But I did get the BEST coffee-infused blackberry jam here. They put the word “organic” all over the label, which I thought was cute. Not because they thought it would sell urbanites on buying the $8 jar of jam–but that it would, in fact, sell urbanites on buying the $8 jar of jam.
Because Americans of all stripes are nothing if not predictable. But they’re mine. And I am theirs. It’s difficult to face the truth of our country’s past and the flesh and bone it cut its teeth on, but like the grandiosity of the Rocky Mountains or the sheer scope of the Red Rock Canyon–it’s better to face the sprawling perspective, reconcile the violence and beauty, and acknowledge the overwhelming depths head on. In person. Side by side. I don’t want to ever be afraid of this place and I want to make it better so others feel safer here too.
These downtown Chicago sidewalks expressed my mood perfectly on the gray gross day.
Absolutely I will.
Cards Against Humanity headquarters’ bathroom. Gender neutral, of course. 🙂
The Grouch must loathe this guy.
Got my nails done at a salon called The Cat’s Meow before our two-week roadtrip out west. I tipped in cash.
While I waited, I read this Georgia O’Keeffe fun fact and realized only someone who becomes famous making beautiful paintings as metaphors for vaginas can walk around the desert in a kimono-like coat and actually pull it off.
Our first stop was Lawrence, Kansas; second stop was Denver. We bought a joint. Legally.
We saw many signs politely telling stupid tourists to stop being so stupid.
An apple a day keeps the rabid diarrhea away. Theater bathroom in Austin.
Roots like mountains. Dive bar in Kansas.
But he HATES parentheses! Wal-Mart in Texas.
Just in case you missed it, we’ll tint your windows. New Mexico.
One of several hybrid names for cities along state lines that we saw. My other favorite: Kanorado. (Kansas + Colorado)
Denny’s mug. In Utah? Somewhere like that.
Another diner. This one called Banjo’s. Perfect for a short story set in Kansas.
No MSG. No aspartame. Food truck in San Antonio.
No MSG. No aspartame. Gift shop in Chicago.
This is in front of a shuttered and dilapidated storefront in our neighborhood. How I long to know what this lounge was like!
Isn’t this photo incredible? It’s from our recent roadtrip to Vegas and back. This is at Red Rock Canyon Nevada. We rented a convertible to take the “scenic drive” that winds through this brilliant, accidental mashing of plates and ended up there at sunset. I cried.
Not all our driving was so smooth though. Have you tried taking a speeding bullet down a Rocky Mountain in the middle of the night? I cried then also. But for totally different reasons.
As I embark on yet another trip–a flight this time, which is loaded with its own special brand of travel anxiety mostly rooted in my lack of control over timing and metal tin can speeding bullet–I pulled up these meditations I used on our roadtrip. Thought I’d share.
Key idea: The timing in your life is perfect. You’re exactly where you need to be.
Read: It’s OK if you don’t have everything done yet. You’re exactly when you you need to be.
Read: Yes, crying again.
You are safe. Where you are headed you will arrive right on time.
Don’t tell off the TSA agent.
Don’t tell off the TSA agent.
Don’t tell off the TSA agent.
I mean, how wonderful that you even have the opportunity and luxury to travel so fast in the first place? Even if your seat is right by the plane’s pooper. I can find something new and worthwhile in this experience.
It’s in Chicago’s Loop with an entrance that’s hard to find on Google Maps. Instead, follow that old book scent. Or just look for this sign on Michigan Avenue.
After you finish gawking at the books on the ceiling, begin your life-affirming trip through the The American Writers Museum in a long hallway of the country’s great crits, conservationists, comedians, cooks and cultural contributors.
Along one side is a timeline of American history to put in context the row of authors below. Descriptions of their life and work explain how they shaped our country’s consciousness. Interactive displays include a touchscreen of literary academics talking about the recurring themes in American writing and, a favorite, a display of materials described in “Little House on the Prairie” (fox fur, calico, etc.) that you can touch.
The other side of the hallway offers boxes with names of some of the most influential writing in American history.
Flip the boxes around to smell Julia Child’s chocolate chip cookies, hear an “Oh! Susanna” refrain, listen to a presidential speech or find a new fact about one of your favorite writers.
Have Tupac stuck in your head the rest of the exhibit.
A Word Waterfall explores the range of American identity and injustice.
A special exhibit showcases Kerouac’s famous scroll that became “On the Road.”
Quotes remind you you’re not writing and maybe should when you get back home. But it’s cool you tried to be human for once.
Get inspired by the room of Chicago writers and literary heroes.
Find out what you have in common with famous writers. Here’s mine. Not listed: A constant insecure ache that our writing sucks and also addiction issues!
Discover your state’s most iconic writers on an interactive display (Lorraine Hansberry FTW).
Take home a bookmark with a shoutout to your state writer… or the one with the quote you like best.
Cry like the big baby you are in the kids’ book gallery and promise yourself to get a copy of “Where the Wild Things Are” for your home library.
Check out the gift store.
Plan a date to go back because you have so much left to read about!