From The Road: Flying Coast to Coast

“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguarding, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us” ~ John Steinbeck

In Flight

I met Pat in the Los Angeles airport but I forgot to share the story. It wasn’t that I didn’t think about it often. I think about it almost every day, especially when I’m listening to music and suddenly get the urge to tap dance.

While waiting for my delayed flight to Detroit I bought coffee and a blueberry muffin at Starbucks, then luckily found an empty seat in the crowded terminal full of irate travelers. LAX was in the midst of a major construction project repairing runways and most flights leaving the airport had been delayed. Little did I know this was about to set off a domino effect that would ripple across the country.

Pat was sitting next to me. She looked to be about my age, petite with shoulder length shiny silver hair. We wasted no time striking up a conversation. I told her about my flight out of Reno and the frenzy here in L.A. to get another flight after I was bumped from standby on my scheduled flight to Charlotte, North Carolina.

Pat had been visiting her son in LA so this was her first flight of the day. Her son is a struggling screenwriter married to a dancer. She was flying home to Tiverton, RI via Detroit then on to the Providence airport, which is really in Warwick. That was also the route I was now traveling.

We talked about our kids and our work. Pat owns a dance studio in Tiverton, RI. She plans to work for a few more years before she retires. She also has a daughter who is moving from L.A. to Maine. Pat’s retirement plan is to sell her old house in Rhode Island and spend summers in Maine with her daughter and winters in California with her son, although her kids don’t know this yet.

“They’ll be on board with it,” she said.

Then she told me the loveliest story. Years ago an older man called and asked if she offered individual tap dance classes. He was in his late seventies and told her he had just one problem. He couldn’t get around without his walker.

“I need to hold on to something when I’m tapping,” he said.

“I have a ballet barre,” she told him. “I think we could make that work.”

The tap dancer is now in his eighties. He spends winters on the Gulf Coast of Florida and  summers in Rhode Island where he still tap dances with Pat several times a week. Each winter he flies her to Florida and puts her up in his guest house where every day for two weeks they tap dance together.

There was something about Pat’s story and our time together on an otherwise difficult day of travel,  a day that would most likely stress and piss off most people, that made the airport anxiety disappear for the both of us.

An hour later, when we finally boarded the plane, we were quite sure we were going to miss our connection in Detroit so we made plans to share a drink.

Sometime around 10:30 p.m. we landed in the Motor City, and yes, we did miss our flight. Delta provided us with a free night at a hotel. The airport was quiet; the bars were all closed. Pat and I decided we would check in and then go out for a drink. We were hoping our hotel had a bar. Pat got a room at the Sheraton. I got a room at the Days Inn. Both disappointed, we made plans to meet in the morning.

In the Days Inn van, fifteen tired travelers bonded in anger and frustration. A young man was supposed to be at a funeral at ten the next morning in Brattleboro, Vermont.

“I’m driving through Brattleboro tomorrow. I can give you a ride,” I told him. It was one of those days and one of those situations when generosity rises to the occasion. Unfortunately, the funeral was at ten a.m. and he was flying to Hartford and I was flying to Providence. Everyone in the van tried to work out the logistics. Could he change his flight to Providence?

“I’ll still miss the funeral, ” he said.

A few people mentioned he might be able to attend the reception afterward.

“I’m just going to get on another plane and fly home. What a waste of time and money,” he said, dejected. We all encouraged him to try to get a reimbursement for the flight.

Another man had asked for a free rental car in exchange for the night at a hotel in Detroit. His son was graduating from Howard University in DC the next morning. He said he could drive all night and make it in time for the ceremony. Delta said no. No car.

Now the van was getting rowdy. Everyone was swearing about the airlines. “They treat us like shit,” someone said.

Again we all encouraged the upset Dad to get a refund, although everyone understood that would be a poor substitute for missing a graduation and a funeral.

The Days Inn lounge was supposed to stay open until midnight but it had closed at 11:30.  I went to bed and fell fast asleep.

The next morning the flight out of Detroit went smoothly. It was a brand new day with no delays or hassles.  Pat had told me a friend was picking her up at the airport and they could give me a ride to my daughter’s apartment in Providence. He was waiting for us in the terminal and warned me his car had a strong doggie odor. I pulled out my phone and showed him a picture of my daughter and her dog.

“Don’t worry about it. I was traveling for a week, from Lake Tahoe to Colorado, with Athena, the boxer,” I said.

He took my overnight travel bag and put it in the trunk.  “You managed to travel a whole week with this little bag?” he asked.

“I travel light,” I said. “It’s all in how you fold and roll.”

I literally felt as light as my bag when I hopped in the back seat of the old car with two new friends I barely knew. I had been on the road for almost a month. This nomadic existence created a sense of living in the present that I enjoyed. Aware of the moments of my life as I lived them, it was a case of here and now.

Driving through traffic, we laughed as we told Pat’s friend about our airport hassles. We made it sound like a grand adventure, and in a way it was. We also compared notes on the Providence restaurant scene, the serenity of Vermont, and the Rhode Island beaches. I told them about the cop in Battle Mountain, Nevada and my two days traveling alone across the deserts of Utah and Nevada to return the rental car to Reno because I didn’t want to pay the surcharge for dropping the car off in Denver.

The ride went much too fast but I have Pat’s phone number and I plan to meet up with her soon. As I hugged the two of them on the sidewalk outside my daughter’s apartment, I felt like the world was good and kind, despite the daily news.

I felt like I was twenty-five not sixty. I felt alive. I felt like I could do anything, knowing that whatever happened, whatever hassles and problems I came across on the road of life, I could manage, on my own, keeping my wits about me, making friends, and rolling along with the endless numbered days ahead.

No one was home at the apartment. My daughter and her boyfriend were gone for the day, but I had a key and let myself in. I gathered the things I had left in the guest bedroom. I found ice coffee in the fridge and helped myself to a tall cold glass.

I opened my lap top and found Fred Astaire on You Tube then moved to the almost empty room between the kitchen and the living room where I pushed the yoga mats aside, and tap danced before heading home to Vermont.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time and Memory: Stories From Higley Hill

The only things that are important in life are the things you remember ~ Jean Renoir

old Vegas photo 2

Rich and I on a cross-country road trip 1985 or ’86 Las Vegas, NV

Last weekend my friend, fellow writer, and amazing editor Connie and I attended a discussion on memoir with Dani Shapiro, Andre Dubus, and Ann Hood. It was held at the beautiful Providence Athenaeum and was an inspiring literary afternoon.

The following night, back home in Vermont, one of Rich’s older brothers, Tom, called to tell us he was driving north from South Carolina and needed directions to our new house. He was only twenty miles away, down the road in Brattleboro.

Tom is famous for dropping in unexpectedly. He would sneak up through the backyard at our house in New Hampshire and knock on the deck door, shouting “Hallooo!”, scaring the shit out of me. But in his defense, we didn’t have doorbells and we still don’t have them at our house in Vermont.

Our kitchen is in the process of a slow moving renovation. The china hutch and various other items are crowded into the guest room. That night we were without a stove. Luckily, I had defrosted four burgers we could cook on the outdoor grill. I threw together a salad, microwaved leftover brown rice, and opened a bottle of wine.

We showed Tom around the property and shared stories about how we discovered the house, the reconstruction of the collapsing foundation, and the ingenuity of the former owner Mr. Compoletero, whom we affectionately refer to as Compo.

Rich has an annoying habit of interrupting me when he thinks I’m not telling a story accurately. He remembers things differently and almost always thinks his version of the story is the correct one. He was annoying me that night, so when dinner was ready I told him I wanted to share two stories from the literary discussion I had attended the day before.

“And please don’t interrupt, “ I told him. “It’s fascinating and it’s something you need to think about.”

The first story regarding the personal nature of memory and its inadequacies was shared by Dani Shapiro, the author of the newly released memoir Hourglass: Time. Memory. Marriage.

Years ago her parents had been in a terrible car accident. Her father didn’t survive. The first time she wrote about the real life event it was included in a work of fiction. She described the phone call she received, the clothes she was wearing, the hospital room where she sat by her mother’s bedside. Her father had passed away and his body was in another room. When her uncle arrived he asked, “Where is your father?”

Ms. Shapiro had been estranged from her parents at the time of the accident. She was raised an Orthodox Jew and religious tradition requires someone stay beside the deceased from the time they pass away until they are buried. Her immediate reaction was that she had failed her father once again.

Years later Shapiro wrote a memoir, Slow Motion, about that time in her life. She rewrote the story of the accident without referring back to her earlier writing. When she had finished, she compared the two versions. Everything was the same; the clothes she was wearing, the hospital room, the phone call. The only thing that was different was that it was her stepsister who arrived at the hospital and asked where their father was. Shapiro’s reaction was exactly the same. She felt she had once again failed her father by leaving him alone.

James Salter once said, “We know that most great novels and stories come not from things that are entirely invented, but from perfect knowledge and close observation. To say they are made up is an injustice in describing them. I sometimes say that I don’t make up anything—obviously, that’s not true. But I am usually uninterested in writers who say that everything comes out of the imagination. I would rather be in a room with someone who is telling me the story of his life, which may be exaggerated and even have lies in it, but I want to hear the true story, essentially.”

Shapiro has never asked her stepsister which version was true. She can’t explain why she remembered it one way and years later another. From my perspective, she seemed to be saying the important take away for her was that she had failed her father. That is the essential truth she remembers. That is her story.

Andre Dubus, the author of House of Sand and Fog, then shared a story of the night he hosted a dinner party for two sisters. At the end of the evening, while he was washing the dishes, he overhead the sisters discussing their memories of their father. Always the writer, Dubus stopped cleaning to eavesdrop on the conversation.

One of the sisters complained about how their father never loved them. The other sister disagreed. Andre knew their Dad. He was a man who ran his own business, worked 60-70 hours a week, sent his daughters to private high schools and good colleges. Why would he have done those things if he didn’t love his daughters? But one daughter saw it differently. She remembered the dinners he missed, the school activities he never attended, the hours spent away from home.

Dubus noted the difference between fact and truth. The facts reveal that a father worked hard to give his daughters a better life, but one of his daughter’s truth was that he was never there to share the things she wanted and needed from her father. The moments she felt represented love.

In Richard Ford’s memoir, Between Us, a story about his parents, he writes this: “I can recognize now that life is short and has inadequacies, that once again it requires crucial avoidances as well as filling-ins to be acceptable. Most everything but love goes away.”

But even love is open to interpretation if we consider the story Dubus shared. In the age of alternate facts and fake news how do we interpret this? Why do we remember some things and not others? How can siblings grow up together and have completely different childhood memories?

I don’t think Rich understood the story I told at dinner was related to him. I went on to tell another story that he interrupted with one of his own “facts”. Tom was clearly listening. He said, “Dad always used to do that to Mom. One night Uncle “So and So” (I have already forgotten which uncle) said, “Let her tell the story, Dick.”

~~~

I recently wrote a blog on my first Mother’s Day without my mother. I had to dig deep to come up with memories of her before Alzheimer’s and illness erased the mother I once knew. There were also the years my parents lived in Florida. I too had moved away from home shortly after graduating from college and I wasn’t as close to my parents as my siblings were. Long ago childhood memories were lost in the fog of time and distance.

~~~

The other day I heard the news of Gregg Allman’s passing. It shook me up. The Allman Brothers Band are very much a part of the soundtrack to the chapters of my life titled My Marriage.

Rich and I met at a bar, the Tam O’Shanter, across the street from my apartment in Boston. An Allman Brothers cover band was playing that night. Years later we eloped. Four months after we got hitched, we had a party in the backyard of our old house built in 1728 along the Squamscott River in New Hampshire. We danced to Revival. I was two months pregnant with my oldest daughter.

Years before, when we were first dating, we saw Gregg play at the Paradise in Boston. It was during a time in his career when he was in a slump. He was playing small clubs. There was no rock ’n roll tour bus. At the end of the night he and Dangerous Dan Toler exited out the front door along with their fans and climbed into a Ford Pinto. That little story ended up in my novel Life is All This. My main character Sam Ryder’s internet moniker is @MidnightRyder. His motto is “trying to make a living and doing the best I can.”

I’m sharing this story because it’s another example of the elasticity of time and memory. Joan Didion once said, “I write entirely to find out what I am thinking.” Dani Shapiro says  that when writing she focuses on “the soft, pulsing thing that is true.”

Often when I write a blog it rambles and circles back and forth, searching for the truth and coming to some sort of conclusion I never expected. I’m thinking out loud.

Late that night, I shared my Gregg Allman memories on Facebook and when I read it to Rich the next morning, he said, “It wasn’t a Pinto. It was a Plymouth Duster. There is no way Gregg Allman could fit into a Pinto.”

“Well yes, I remember it being difficult. Dangerous Dan got in the backseat. Gregg rode shotgun and bumped his head climbing into the Pinto. He had to twist those long legs of his like a pretzel.”

We’ve had this argument before but this was the first time I heard this particular make and model.

“It was a Plymouth Duster. And it was tan,” Rich insisted.

Marriage is a series of compromises. Essentially, its success is based on the shared takeaways. For Rich and I it is the love of music, cooking and sharing meals, (as James Salter once noted, “life is meals”), travel, and adventure. We are risk takers and comfortable with change. Restless souls who get bored easily. But I suppose if you asked him, he might say something different.

One thing I am sure about. The make and model never change when I tell the story. The car Gregg Allman drove off in that long ago night on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston was a Pinto.

A Blue Pinto.

“For it is, always is, however we may say it was.” – Thomas Mann

Suggested Memoir Reading:

Richard Ford: Between Us

Dani Shapiro: Hourglass

Andre Dubus: Townie

James Salter: Burning the Days

Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking

Jeanette Walls: The Glass Castle (see my post on how this related to a day on the road in Battle Mountain, NV and my own particular imperfections)

 

12 States, Seventeen Days, 3,100 miles on $75 A Day: How We Did It

Sometimes I look at my Instagram feed and realize people who don’t really know me must think I’m a trust fund baby or a retired Wall Street robber baron.

That is so far from the truth it isn’t even funny. It’s actually scary. If I let it be.

Rich and I turn sixty this year. I’m already there. He was a late November baby. We have a minuscule retirement. Our social security isn’t going to pay many bills.

We’ve always lived like this, paycheck to paycheck. It was never a conscious decision just a circumstance of the times we’ve lived through. He is a self-employed carpenter and house painter, I was once a self-employed bookkeeper. By the 1990’s I was forced to take a variety of jobs to obtain ever-increasing, unaffordable American health insurance. We worked long hours, fifty weeks a year.

Over the years there have been job layoffs, along with lack of work in the home improvement industry due to recessions and stock market crashes. Self-employed insurance and COBRA payment costs continued to rise and always interfered with our plans to save for retirement.

But that was then, this is now.

We currently live in a small, funky old house that we bought for cash with the equity we earned from the New Hampshire house and the improvements we made. I am sharing stories of our current minimalist home improvements on Instagram.

Since moving to Vermont I have been on the road half the time. I was able to spend much of last summer in Rhode Island with my Mom before she passed away from Alzheimer’s. I also have more time with my daughters in Providence and Lake Tahoe.

Retirement will be elusive. I’ve finished a fourth novel and I help Rich with some of his work. We’ll do this until our knees and backs give out. If my query attempt with corporate big-time publishing goes as expected, I am planning to take my self-published book on the road in the fall.

The inspiration comes from Joshua and Ryan. If you don’t know who are they are, check them out on their Instagram account and watch their documentary on Netflix. They call themselves The Minimalists. Their wisdom and advice will change your life.

~~~

Here is how Rich and I managed to spend 17 days traveling 3,100 miles through 12 states on $75 a day.

The trip was an escape from winter. Rich and I drove my 2002 Subaru. I bought this car a little over a year ago for $6000 cash. It had 40,000 miles on it. A mechanic noted the date and mileage and asked, “It’s a church car, isn’t it?”

“What?” I replied.

“You bought it from a little old lady. She only used it to go to church, am I right?”

“Why yes, I did buy it from a little old lady. You must be right.”

The trip took us from Vermont to Amelia Island and the Florida Panhandle then north through Alabama and South Georgia to the Shenandoah Mountains.

The Lodge at Shenandoah

The Lodge at Shenadoah National Park, VA

17 days. 3,100 miles. Total gas cost $313.11.

Driving back home we had figured out which states had better gas prices so we were wiser regarding when and where to fill up or stop and top it off. We learn as we go.

Most days we shopped at grocery stores, packed the cooler, and made sandwiches. We bought beer and wine at discount liquor stores and supermarkets. One day in Binghampton, NY we shared the footlong sub of the day at Subway. That lunch with drinks cost $7.66. Breakfast sandwiches and coffee at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Statesville, NC cost $11.90.

The first day we drove for nine hours and found ourselves at a highway rest stop with limited dining options. We chose the Ruby Tuesday and ordered entrees along with the unlimited salad bar and a drink. Wine for me, beer for Rich. Often our drink tab is more than the cost of food but we now pre-game at the hotel with our cooler full of wine and beer and keep the bar tab to one drink each. The bill came to $46.30 and although we had leftovers and ate them the next day for lunch we decided we could have just ordered the salad bar and been satisfied with that.

San Blas FL

San Blas Beach – The Panhandle, FL

When we lived in Florida, my husband loved the sandwiches they made at the Publix grocery store deli counter. A jumbo sub sliced in half and shared costs $7.30. There were lots of Publix along the route.

We do enjoy sitting at bars and meeting people. Some of my best stories come my way while sitting on a bar stool so there was a happy hour at the historic Palace Saloon in Fernandina Beach, FL where we spent $10 on draft beers.

Our friend Peter stayed with us in our hotel room on Amelia Island so he sprang for golf the next day and Rich bought a $6.00 beer in the club house. There were also beers oceanside the night we arrived on Amelia Island. Peter also picked up that tab because he was spending two nights with us. We stayed at a Residence Inn with a private bedroom, a pullout sofa in the living room, and a full kitchen where we kept leftovers, cold cuts, beer, and wine.

At a Piggly Wiggly in Apalachicola we bought cinnamon Danish and bananas and helped ourselves to the free coffee. That breakfast came to a grand total of $3.85.

There was a night of live music and dancing at the Tamara Cafe In Apalachicola along with drinks that cost $32.00. At a belated birthday dinner beachside in Panama City we ordered a dinner that started with a tuna sushi appetizer and ended with creme brulee. The entire dinner with cocktails and tip cost $83.55. At the lodge in Shenandoah National Park we had dinner accompanied by a music from a local folk singer. The meal cost $24.00.

Al fresco Panama Beach

Al fresco dining at Harpoon Willy’s ~ Panama Beach. FL

We splurged at a Publix in the Panhandle for dinner supplies for our friends at the pecan farm in South Georgia. We grilled shrimp kabobs with prosciutto, chicken with pesto, and street corn. We had stayed with them for five nights in Lake Wylie, SC and four nights at their pecan farm in Colquitt, GA. They insisted on feeding us delicious meals each night. In exchange for their generosity we helped clean up and Rich did a few home improvement projects at both houses.

We also stayed with friends in Greensboro, NC and they brought us to the Pinehurst Golf Course. We treated them to the lunch buffet in the clubhouse. That came to $112.71 for four with drinks.

Pinehurst

The putting Green at Pinehurst, NC

There were a few other nice dinners along the route at the Amelia Tavern, Apalachicola Seafood, Carey Hillard’s Fried Chicken outside Savannah, and lunch with a beer at the historic Globe Tavern in Athens, GA. We do enjoy good food and nice restaurants but we think we can refine this on future road trips.

Irish Writers Athens GA

A tribute to Irish Writers at The Globe in Athens, GA

Total food and drink bill came to $505.11 for 17 days.

A key to the affordability of our trip was friends. Out of seventeen nights on the road we spent seven nights in a hotel. The two nights at the Residence Inn didn’t cost anything because we used Marriott Points. The Motel 6 in Lexington would have cost $69 but I had Expedia points so the cost was reduced to $39.91. In Apalachicola, we spent two nights at Rancho inn, a flash from the past that brought me back to the ’60’s but it was clean and quiet and cost $207.10. The beachfront hotel with an ocean view in Panama City, FL was our only night of slumming. At $89.77, the room was clean but the bathroom was old. I thought we were going to have a deck but all we got was a clouded window with a view of the beach. I did take a sunrise walk along the shore and the place was quiet.

Panama Beach Footprints

Footprints from an early morning walk on Panama Beach, FL

The cabin in Shenandoah National Park cost $120 and was an as expected and well-loved rustic National Park lodging experience. I saw one of the most amazing sunsets of my life that night.

Skyland Sunset

Sunset at Shenandoah National Park, VA

Total lodging cost for seventeen nights: $456.78.

I guess you could say that offset some of the food expenses and gave us the luxury of dining out once in a awhile. All I can say about the lodging cost is, You’ve gotta have friends. It is one of life’s greatest gifts.

Total trip: Seventeen days. 3,100 miles. $1275.00. That comes to $75 a day.

I once backpacked through Europe for two months on $15 a day. That was in 1981. Reagan had just been inaugurated. We didn’t know where the nation’s future was headed. My college loan payment was $35 a month. My rent at my apartment in Boston that I sublet during the trip cost $220 a month including utilities. It was a rent controlled building in Brighton along the Commonwealth Avenue subway line. I didn’t own a car.

I don’t how we got from there to here. Well, yes I do, but that is not what this blog is about. I’m sharing this information to let you know you can live the life you want despite your financial situation. $75 in the year 2017 is not a bad deal.

This is today’s post from Joshua and Ryan:

“Everything is ephemeral: on a long enough timeline, everything ends. Your relationships will end. Your happiness will end. Your depression will end. Your life will end. Nothing lasts forever—not even those diamonds in the advertisement. Yet we live our lives like the best things will continue into perpetuity—like the good stuff will stick around and the bad stuff will go away once we obtain everything we want.”

I’ve been living one day at a time my whole life. It’s been a very good and interesting life filled with friends, travel, and memories. There hasn’t been a lot of money and we own no “valuable” possessions.

There is another way to live life. There is no right or wrong way to go about it. A pile of money waiting for your future is not necessarily the answer. Possessions don’t make you happy. How you spend your time and who you spend your time with is what makes you happy. Travel is my thing, yours may be something different.

Our time is now. Today. It is the only thing we have for certain.

***As some of you know, I unexpectedly traveled through five more states after I returned home. I will share the accounting for that trip, too. In total I spent a month traveling 17 states. I could never have done this a few years ago. I didn’t win the lottery. I simply ignored the onslaught of advertising and consumerism, and then pared it down even more. It is still a work in progress but there’s no looking back. Time is what it’s all about. Each precious minute. Time is now on my side.***

Do you have any travel tips for saving money? Please share them in the comments.

12 States, Seventeen Days, 3,100 miles on $75 A Day: How We Did It

Sometimes I look at my Instagram feed and realize people who don’t really know me must think I’m a trust fund baby or a retired Wall Street robber baron.

That is so far from the truth it isn’t even funny. It’s actually scary. If I let it be.

Rich and I turn sixty this year. I’m already ready there. He was a late November baby. We have a minuscule retirement. Our social security isn’t going to pay many bills.

We’ve always lived like this, paycheck to paycheck. It was never a conscious decision just a circumstance of the times we’ve lived through. He is a self-employed carpenter and house painter, I was once a self-employed bookkeeper. By the 1990’s I was forced to take a variety of jobs to obtain ever-increasing, unaffordable American health insurance. We worked long hours, fifty weeks a year.

Over the years there have been job layoffs, along with lack of work in the home improvement industry due to recessions and stock market crashes. Self-employed insurance and COBRA payment costs continued to rise and always interfered with our plans to save for retirement.

But that was then, this is now.

We currently live in a small, funky old house that we bought for cash with the equity we earned from the New Hampshire house and the improvements we made. I am sharing stories of our current minimalist home improvements on Instagram.

Since moving to Vermont I have been on the road half the time. I was able to spend much of last summer in Rhode Island with my Mom before she passed away from Alzheimer’s. I also have more time with my daughters in Providence and Lake Tahoe.

Retirement will be illusive. I’ve finished a fourth novel and I help Rich with some of his work. We’ll do this until our knees and backs give out. If my query attempt with corporate big-time publishing goes as expected, I am planning to take my self-published book on the road in the fall.

The inspiration comes from Joshua and Ryan. If you don’t know who are they are, check them out on their Instagram account and watch their documentary on Netflix. They call themselves The Minimalists. Their wisdom and advice will change your life.

~~~

Here is how Rich and I managed to spend 17 days traveling 3,100 miles through 12 states on $75 a day.

The trip was an escape from winter. Rich and I drove my 2002 Subaru. I bought this car a little over a year ago for $6000 cash. It had 40,000 miles on it. A mechanic noted the date and mileage and asked, “It’s a church car, isn’t it?”

“What?” I replied.

“You bought it from a little old lady. She only used it to go to church, am I right?”

“Why yes, I did buy it from a little old lady. You must be right.”

The trip took us from Vermont to Amelia Island and the Florida Panhandle then north through Alabama and South Georgia to the Shenandoah Mountains.

The Lodge at Shenandoah

The Lodge at Shenadoah National Park, VA

17 days. 3,100 miles. Total gas cost $313.11.

Driving back home we had figured out which states had better gas prices so we were wiser regarding when and where to fill up or stop and top it off. We learn as go.

Most days we shopped at grocery stores, packed the cooler, and made sandwiches. We bought beer and wine at discount liquor stores and supermarkets. One day in Binghampton, NY we shared the footlong sub of the day at Subway. That lunch with drinks cost $7.66. Breakfast sandwiches and coffee at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Statesville, NC cost $11.90.

The first day we drove for nine hours and found ourselves at a highway rest stop with limited dining options. We chose the Ruby Tuesday and ordered entrees along with the unlimited salad bar and a drink. Wine for me, beer for Rich. Often our drink tab is more than the cost of food but we now pre-game at the hotel with our cooler full of wine and beer and keep the bar tab to one drink each. The bill came to $46.30 and although we had leftovers and ate them the next day for lunch we decided we could have just ordered the salad bar and been satisfied with that.

San Blas FL

San Blas Beach – The Panhandle, FL

When we lived in Florida, my husband loved the sandwiches they made at the Publix grocery store deli counter. A jumbo sub sliced in half and shared costs $7.30. There were lots of Publix along the route.

We do enjoy sitting at bars and meeting people. Some of my best stories come my way while sitting on a bar stool so there was a happy hour at the historic Palace Saloon in Fernandina Beach, FL where we spent $10 on draft beers.

Our friend Peter stayed with us in our hotel room on Amelia Island so he sprang for golf the next day and Rich bought a $6.00 beer in the club house. There were also beers oceanside the night we arrived on Amelia Island. Peter also picked up that tab because he was spending two nights with us. We stayed at a Residence Inn with a private bedroom, a pullout sofa in the living room, and a full kitchen where we kept leftovers, cold cuts, beer, and wine.

At a Piggly Wiggly in Apalachicola we bought cinnamon Danish and bananas and helped ourselves to the free coffee. That breakfast came to a grand total of $3.85.

There was a night of live music and dancing at the Tamara Cafe In Apalachicola along with drinks that cost $32.00. At a belated birthday dinner beachside in Panama City we ordered a dinner that started with a tuna sushi appetizer and ended with creme brulee. The entire dinner with cocktails and tip cost $83.55. At the lodge in Shenandoah National Park we had dinner accompanied by a music from a local folk singer. The meal cost $24.00.

Al fresco Panama Beach

Al fresco dining at Harpoon Willy’s ~ Panama Beach. FL

We splurged at a Publix in the Panhandle for dinner supplies for our friends at the pecan farm in South Georgia. We grilled shrimp kabobs with prosciutto, chicken with pesto, and street corn. We had stayed with them for five nights in Lake Wylie, SC and four nights at their pecan farm in Colquitt, GA. They insisted on feeding us delicious meals each night. In exchange for their generosity we helped clean up and Rich did a few home improvement projects at both houses.

We also stayed with friends in Greensboro, NC and they brought us to the Pinehurst Golf Course. We treated them to the lunch buffet in the clubhouse. That came to $112.71 for four with drinks.

Pinehurst

The putting Green at Pinehurst, NC

There were a few other nice dinners along the route at the Amelia Tavern, Apalachicola Seafood, Carey Hillard’s Fried Chicken outside Savannah, and lunch with a beer at the historic Globe Tavern in Athens, GA. We do enjoy good food and nice restaurants but we think we can refine this on future road trips.

Irish Writers Athens GA

A tribute to Irish Writers at The Globe in Athens, GA

Total food and drink bill came to $505.11 for 17 days.

A key to the affordability of our trip was friends. Out of seventeen nights on the road we spent seven nights in a hotel. The two nights at the Residence Inn didn’t cost anything because we used Marriott Points. The Motel 6 in Lexington would have cost $69 but I had Expedia points so the cost was reduced to $39.91. In Apalachicola, we spent two nights at Rancho inn, a flash from the past that brought me back to the ’60’s but it was clean and quiet and cost $207.10. The beachfront hotel with an ocean view in Panama City, FL was our only night of slumming. At $89.77, the room was clean but the bathroom was old. I thought we were going to have a deck but all we got was a clouded window with a view of the beach. I did take a sunrise walk along the shore and the place was quiet.

Panama Beach Footprints

Footprints from an early morning walk on Panama Beach, FL

The cabin in Shenandoah National Park cost $120 and was an as expected and well-loved rustic National Park lodging experience. I saw one of the most amazing sunsets of my life that night.

Skyland Sunset

Sunset at Shenandoah National Park, VA

Total lodging cost for seventeen nights: $456.78.

I guess you could say that offset some of the food expenses and gave us the luxury of dining out once in a awhile. All I can say about the lodging cost is, You’ve gotta have friends. It is one of life’s greatest gifts.

Total trip: Seventeen days. 3,100 miles. $1275.00. That comes to $75 a day.

I once backpacked through Europe for two months on $15 a day. That was in 1981. Reagan had just been inaugurated. We didn’t know where the nation’s future was headed. My college loan payment was $35 a month. My rent at my apartment in Boston that I sublet during the trip cost $220 a month including utilities. It was a rent controlled building in Brighton along the Commonwealth Avenue subway line. I didn’t own a car.

I don’t how we got from there to here. Well, yes I do, but that is not what this blog is about. I’m sharing this information to let you know you can live the life you want despite your financial situation. $75 in the year 2017 is not a bad deal.

This is today’s post from Joshua and Ryan:

“Everything is ephemeral: on a long enough timeline, everything ends. Your relationships will end. Your happiness will end. Your depression will end. Your life will end. Nothing lasts forever—not even those diamonds in the advertisement. Yet we live our lives like the best things will continue into perpetuity—like the good stuff will stick around and the bad stuff will go away once we obtain everything we want.”

I’ve been living one day at a time my whole life. It’s been a very good and interesting life filled with friends, travel, and memories. There hasn’t been a lot of money and we own no “valuable” possessions.

There is another way to live life. There is no right or wrong way to go about it. A pile of money waiting for your future is not necessarily the answer. Possessions don’t make you happy. How you spend your time and who you spend your time with is what makes you happy. Travel is my thing, yours may be something different.

Our time is now. Today. It is the only thing we have for certain.

***As some of you know, I unexpectedly traveled through five more states after I returned home. I will share the accounting for that trip, too. In total I spent a month traveling 17 states. I never could done this a few years ago. I didn’t win the lottery. I always simply, ignored the onslaught of advertising and consumerism, and then pared it down even more. It is still a work in progress but there’s no looking back. Time is now on my side.***

Do you have any travel tips for saving money? Please share them in the comments.

Mother’s Day ~ Imperfection: Stories from Higley Hill

Mother’s Day: Part Two

We are all imperfect. We make mistakes, we are unsure of our choices. We live with regrets. Sometimes on social media I feel lost in a sea of perfection. Beautiful children, healthy food, gorgeous scenery.

I’m sometimes guilty of posting those photos, too.

However, I often try to balance it with the nitty and the gritty. I can’t ignore the difficult places and the hard stories. Especially these days when it seems so very inappropriate to ignore what’s happening to our country. I don’t understand how people go about selling their jewelry, their books, their clothing line, their sobriety, and their yogi lifestyles as if all is normal. They were appalled days after the inauguration but they’ve quieted down now. It’s back to business as usual.

Bar in Battle Mountain

The Barr in Battle Mountain, Nevada

But then again I am guilty of working in references to my books when it seems to fit the story.

We are all a series of contradictions and we all need to make a living.

So, here we are on Mother’s Day. The perfect Hallmark holiday. There have been a few posts on Instagram that I liked about people who had difficult Moms and I appreciate the honesty although I don’t see too many people pointing the finger at themselves.

I once had a group of friends in New Hampshire who would meet for wine emergencies. These were days when everything went wrong. Days we questioned our skills as mothers. Days we needed friends who were honest, self-deprecating, and sympathetic.

I have just returned from an unplanned road trip with my oldest daughter. She had some recent upheaval in her life. A breakup with a boyfriend, a broken hand from a snowboarding fall, a broken car, and a dog in tow. Her lease was up, temporary housing didn’t work out, and she was moving on but she needed some help getting from here to there.

Chelsea and Athena

Arches National Park, Utah

I know. I just returned from a road trip. I promised an accounting of how Rich and I did it on limited resources. That blog is coming, I promise. For this trip I received a buddy pass on American Airlines from our friends in South Carolina.

My first night in Reno convinced me I was doing the right thing despite pulling the credit card out a few times. I do have my faults and inadequacies but I always show up and rise to the occasion.

From The Road: The Stories Mothers Write Last night just before dark I walked the streets of Reno, Nevada. I passed a young girl in hot pants and a midriff baring tube top. Her face was pale, her lips were fire engine red with two pierced silver earrings top and bottom. Tattoos covered her thin arms. On high heels that made her wobble she paced the sidewalk outside one of the nicer hotels. Her legs were as thin and delicate as a heron. A few blocks later I saw this mural on a parking garage and it broke my heart. I am here to help my daughter move after some unexpected upheaval in her life. I flew in yesterday and am driving to Tahoe this morning to pick her up. On a TV in the Phoenix airport yesterday I heard the news of America closing her heart to millions of Americans. The elderly, the addicted, the jobless, the self-employed, the pre-existing. I don't know who we are anymore. I don't understand the people who say they care and continue to go about their daily lives without speaking up. I don't have a lot of money. I will probably lose my health insurance. But what is important to me in this one life I have is to be there for the people I love while also trying to make the world a better place for them and everyone else. Yesterday America told us those are no longer our values. That girl on the street in Reno is somebody's daughter. Just because she's not my daughter doesn't mean she doesn't exist. Where is her Mom? Where is her support system? What is wrong with America? That girl is America's daughter. She deserves a good education, a decent job, an affordable place to live, health insurance, and a Mom who shows up when she needs her. We live In a nation where the wealthy and the well connected can thrive and it's about to get much worse. America is not showing up. #storiesfromtheroad #mothersanddaughters #speakup #saveaca #instagramwriters #instagramstories #wordsandpictures #streetart

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My daughter has been on her own since she was nineteen. She has lived in New York, Missoula, Steamboat Springs, and Lake Tahoe. She rarely asks for help, is strong and independent, and feisty. The teenage years were difficult at our house but as my mother-in-law always said, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

The time we spent together on the road was wonderful. There’s something about hours spent in a car and miles and miles of road that had us sharing previously untold stories. We laughed and talked seriously. We complained about the bugs on the window that ruined our road photos and at the end of the day she was patient with my driver delirium when I took a wrong turn or got cranky.

 By the end of the trip, I was in love with her boxer, Athena. Now that I am home I miss the both of them. Athena would sit in the back seat, her head resting on the center console between us. If my daughter went in a gas station to get coffee or snacks or water, Athena stood up and stared out the window, quietly making sobbing sounds.

Sleepy Chelsea

The Motel 6 in Green River, Utah

On our last night together we unpacked her belongings, rearranged furniture, and hung pictures on the wall. Together we made chicken parmesan in the two pans I bought at the grocery store. She drank beer and I drank wine. And this leads to a story I did not share on Instagram for fear of being judged for my imperfections but it seems rather foolish as I was in the state of Nevada and doing nothing illegal.

Me & Athena

Me and Athena in her new home

It happened when we passed through Nevada. I traveled this road with my husband back in September when we came out to Tahoe in the fall and we ran out of gas. On this trip I was hyper-vigilant about filling the tank when it reached the half-way mark.

When we stopped in Battle Mountain for a refill I told my daughter I wanted to drive through the town. I had read Jeanette Walls memoir, The Glass Castle, years ago. I wanted to see the place she wrote about.

The Three Gossips - Arches

The Three Gossips at Arches National Park, Utah

Before we hit the road, she had taken a few tokes from her pipe. Marijuana is recreationally legal in California and Nevada and in case you don’t indulge, it is a tremendous stress reliever. I was driving and wasn’t stressed so I didn’t need relief. One of my great pleasures in life is driving the open highway. For me it works like Xanax.

Battle Mountain was a photographic gem. A rundown rural American town I love to capture. The forgotten places that led to the election of Donald Trump. The places it seems no one is interested in talking about but me. I was so excited to pull over and capture it all I drove right through a stop sign.

The Owl Family Dining Battle Mountain

The back of the Stop sign in Battle Mountain

“Whoop, whoop.” The siren on the police car behind me shouted.

“Shit, what did I do? Roll down the windows, I think the aroma is clinging to you,” I said, my heart pounding.

I pulled into a little park. The police officer followed right behind me, got out of his car, and peered into my open window. He pointed to the very large stop sign on the corner across the street.

“You didn’t see that stop sign?” he asked.

No I did not and yes, it was rather large. But it was on the sidewalk in front of the building I was so captivated by. I started babbling about the long ride from Tahoe, how I flew in from Rhode Island the day before.

“Aaah, that explains the accent,” he said.

I told him I was so busy looking at the scenery I missed the sign.

“Really? All these beautiful places you’re traveling from and to and you stop here in Ugly to take a picture?”

Battle Mountain ugly

Battle Mountain, Nevada

I mentioned Jeanette Walls and her book and how I wanted to see the town for myself.

He peered in the back seat. Athena was panting, her tongue hanging out, her tail wagging.

“Where you headed again?”

“Colorado.” I told him about the move.

He looked at my daughter. “Ski bum, aren’t ya? Well, I’ll tell you something. My Mom would never have done anything like this for me.”

He stepped aside for a moment and spoke to someone on his radio. My heart was still pounding.

When he came back to the car he said, “You know that Walls woman, she got a lot of things wrong about this town. First of all we don’t have tortoises. I don’t know if she really lived here or not but people swear she graduated from the high school.”

“Really?” I smiled. “Well, you know there’s a lot of memoirs out there now and I guess people elaborate or make things up to fit the story.”

“Yeah,” he said, waving his hand around the town. “You can take a picture of the little monument we got over there.” He pointed to the sign we saw coming into town. Welcome to Battle Mountain. It had a few pieces of rusted farm equipment on the dirt in front of it.

Battle Mountain

“I’m not gonna give you a ticket but I do need to run your license.”

I could feel my breathing slow down. I got my license out of my pocketbook and handed it to him. He went back to his car.

After he returned my license my daughter took Athena for a walk and I leaned my head back on the seat and took deep breathes. When I opened my eyes I saw him talking to her.

She returned to the car. After we pulled out of town, I asked her what the cop was talking to her about.

“He said, ‘You know the places you’re driving through on this trip?’” she said. “Then he held up his hand and lifted one finger at a time and said, ‘Legal, legal, illegal, legal. You know what I’m talking about?’ Then I nodded.”

“You didn’t say anything?” I asked.

“I said. Yes. I know what you’re talking about. And then he said, ’In Utah it’s a felony. If you get pulled over in Utah your mom is going to jail. So make sure you don’t have it in the car when you cross the border.”

“Oh my God,” I said. “You have to clean that pipe. I knew he was smelling something. You don’t have any left, do you?”

“No, that was the last of it.”

That night in Park City we told our friend Steve the story. He told us in Utah it’s a felony to even drive across the border with liquor from another state!! We started talking about Jeff Sessions and how he’s encouraging the legal communities to throw the book at criminal defendants and push for the toughest penalties possible. I told Steve about the 60 Minutes episode I saw about Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia who was found guilty of corruption and bribery but when his case reached the Supreme Court, SCOTUS overturned his conviction. He was vindicated, his felony charge was dropped, and his legal license reinstated.

I guess it depends on who you are in America. Who you know. How much money you have. What kind of legal defense you can assemble. As a Mom I worry about these things. Income inequality, the environment, the future for my daughters, the loss of democracy for all.

In Tahoe the rents are so high kids squeeze into condos or rent little houses that were once sheds. I  picked my daughter up at this house where her friends live:

Little house

Rental House in Kings Beach, CA

I realize there are people out there who will judge me. I can take the heat. My first novel, The Reverse Commute, helped me develop thick skin. There was nothing illegal going on here. The police officer was a decent, kind man who knew and respected the laws of Nevada.

Welcome to Utah

Nevada/Utah border

After we left Utah and entered the safe haven of Colorado we shared a few tokes. Across the street from our Super 8 motel there was a legal dispensary. My daughter purchased some special blend marijuana formulated for soothing the nerves. There was no smoking of any kind allowed in the hotel. Several people were out in the parking lot partaking and chilling out after a long day on the road.

I have many friends who do the same thing now that their kids are adults. Over the past month as I traveled across eighteen states I have seen the hypocrisy of the self-righteous.

I was never very good at discipline. I am no angel and I have made my share of mistakes. During the more difficult, tumultuous times for our family, my daughter told me she thought I was a very tolerant person. I took this as one of the highest compliments she could give me.

The series on Instagram is titled Stories Mothers Write. Mothers are not perfect people. We make mistakes. But with love, honesty, tolerance, and open hearts we do the best we can.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mother’s Day ~ The Cemetery: Stories From Higley Hill

MOTHER’S DAY STORIES: PART ONE

Cemetery.

Recently my Dad took me to the cemetery to visit my mother’s grave. This would be my first visit since the funeral and what he actually said when he invited me to come with him was, “Let’s visit your mother at the cemetery”.

I have different ideas about life after death. I did not feel my mother’s presence in that strange place and I hated thinking of her lying in the coffin beneath my feet. We didn’t stay long. He said a prayer and I watched a wild turkey walk through the gravestones.

My father was concerned about the flowers. A pot of tulips had wilted. A hyacinth was drooping and looked weary. He doesn’t know much about gardening so I explained to him they were bulbs and if I planted them in the ground they would return each spring.

The next day I bought bright yellow shasta daisies and a spade and returned to the cemetery alone. It’s in the neighborhood where I grew up and where my Dad still lives. He runs through there almost every morning to visit my Mom.

I quickly threw myself into the task and started digging. Many of the graves around me had gardens in full bloom. Little trinkets were left at the headstones. Teddy bears, heart rocks, seashells. There is a section of the cemetery where a community of Mung Chinese are buried. On holy days the families bring hibachis and cook chicken shish kebab on wooden sticks that they leave for their deceased loved ones.

A man parked behind my car and stood by a nearby grave while I planted the bulbs. His hands were folded in front of him, his head bowed. Every once in a while he wiped his eyes with his finger. He left before I finished planting the Shasta daisies.

Walking back to my car to get a bottle of water for the plants, I passed the gravestone where the man had stood. His name was carved on the stone along with his birthdate. He was a year younger than me. His wife was four years younger and had passed away three years ago at the age of fifty-four. I wondered how often he came to visit and what these visits did to ease his sorrow.

I didn’t stay long at my mother’s grave. It felt awkward and I couldn’t stop thinking about her lying in her coffin. I set out for a walk around the cemetery, trying to remember her the way she was before Alzheimer’s stole her from us.

I had seen a gravestone years ago when my father brought me here to show me the plot. The stone was already in place with both my parents’ names on it along with their birth dates. It seemed so morbid and strange but I told him it was a nice location. The grave I was looking for had a photo of a man in his forties. He liked motorcycles and trucks. I know this because there was a collection of them placed along the grave. He had a sense of humor too. Carved on his headstone was the following admonishment: “I told you I was sick.”

I thought about other cemeteries I had visited. Mount Auburn in Cambridge with its beautiful flowering springtime trees. Boston’s historic Park Street Cemetery in autumn when fallen leaves cover the ground where Paul Revere, Sam Adams, and  Mother Goose are buried. The cemeteries in Spain where people place ashes in rows of boxes that reminded me of the post office.

My mother’s brother is buried at Notre Dame in Pawtucket, RI where large statues of angels greet you at the gates to the cemetery. At the graveside following the funeral my Uncle Eddie brought a boom box and played Judy Collins’ version of Amazing Grace. After the service, as I walked back to my car, I passed an angel resting her head on a large tombstone. I turned and saw my brother still standing by the grave with his hand resting on Uncle Donald’s coffin.

My brother visits my mother’s grave regularly and so do both my sisters.

Driving alone in my car in my Uncle’s funeral procession,  the Foo Fighters song These Days played on the radio. It was a raucous, rebellious tune with crashing drums and loud screams. I irreverently rolled the windows down and played the song really loud.

One of these days the clocks will stop
and time won’t mean a thing
One of these days your eyes will close
and pain will disappear
One of these days your heart will stop
and play its final beat

My Uncle fell ill suddenly. He didn’t feel well on his annual road trip from Rhode Island to Florida where he wintered. The doctors in Florida told him he had liver cancer and his prognosis was not good. He had only a few days to live. He gracefully accepted the news and told them he was seventy years old and had lived a good life that had come full circle. All he asked of them was that he not suffer. He went home, ordered a hospital bed, and placed it at the window with the view of Fort Lauderdale Beach.

He was a gay man back in a time when many people were “still in the closet” and he didn’t “come out” until his divorce after ten years of marriage to my Aunt Linda. I remember she always liked books and one Christmas she gave me a copy of V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas. I don’t know where she is now. I haven’t seen her in decades. Memory is a tricky thing. I don’t know why these are the random thoughts I keep and why I am sharing them here.

My mother’s last years were difficult. On the other hand, her brother called his friends and invited them to visit him in his final days. He told them there would be no tears and if anyone cried they would have to leave. This was to be a celebration of life. I admire him for this and his bravery in the face of the unknown.

My mother entered the scary unknown long before she died and her last weeks were difficult.

There was a graveyard in New Brunswick, Canada that my husband and I stopped at while vacationing in the Atlantic Provinces. We were looking for the grave of the young daughter of a man, Al LeBlanc, who worked with my husband. She died along with five of her high school teammates on an icy night after a hockey game. Their car slid off a bridge and crashed through the ice. They are buried side by side, their pictures on the headstones.

While they worked together painting houses, Al would talk to Rich about the sadness that pervaded his marriage after the accident. His wife never recovered from her loss and would often say, “We never should have moved back to Canada.” As if, had she not made this one choice, she could have saved her daughter from the tragedies of life.

I never met my father-in-law but I have visited his grave in the town center of Sudbury, MA. Also buried In this graveyard are the children of two people my husband knows well. Placed at the headstone of infant twins who didn’t live long after their birth are toy cars and plastic ponies and teddy bears. The other grave had fresh flowers although the teenage boy who was killed in a motorcycle accident died many years ago. The last time I visited this cemetery I was not yet a mother myself but I understood a mother’s heartbreak must be one of the deepest of all sorrows.

Not long ago I visited a very old, neglected graveyard in Vermont with a friend of mine who is a stonemason. Rows of tipped headstones made from thin slabs of granite were hard to read. The inscriptions were worn from time and weather. A few of the gravestones were fused to trees that had grown up around them. Loved ones no longer visited this place. Instead Nature wrapped her arms around the deceased and covered them with moss and dried leaves.

My friend told me about the art of stonemasonry as we walked through the cemetery. He pointed out the poorly constructed stone arch at the entrance to the cemetery and we looked for small rocks for chinking. I had just started my fourth novel and in that graveyard in Vermont a character came alive that day.

James Salter once wrote, “There comes a time when you realize that everything is a dream and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real.”

All of these memories swirled through my mind as I planted flowers at my mother’s grave. I wasn’t thinking about her and this left me feeling sad. Where was she? Where were the free floating memories that should have come to me as I knelt by her grave? Instead I felt awkward and forced to think about her in this uncomfortable place.

Memories come easier in places where I once shared a day with someone. Music and photographs also trigger memories. Or making scrambled eggs with onions.

It wasn’t my mother who made her eggs that way. It was a friend of ours who died too young. Anytime I make scrambled eggs with onions I am transported back to a beach house in the sand dunes on Cape Cod where Mark made the eggs with onions. He didn’t ask if everyone liked their eggs that way because he automatically assumed we all  scrambled our eggs with onions.

That moment in time with a friend who is now gone ended up in my third novel, Life Is All This. I gave it to a character named Timothy who also died too soon.

James Salter also said, “Writing is not a science… every writer I know and admire has essentially drawn either from his own life or his knowledge of things in life…. Almost all great books have actual people in them.”

My mother didn’t like to cook. She was a homemaker, someone who loved to decorate and sew. She made curtains and reupholstered chairs. One year she made Easter outfits for me and my sisters that included pillbox hats like the ones Jackie Kennedy wore.

My mother had a difficult childhood. Her father worked in the textiles mills in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and when she was very young he contracted pleurisy. He was bedridden for a long time and my grandmother had to go to work. They had no family to pitch in and daycare was nonexistent in those days so they brought my mother to a nearby orphanage run by French speaking nuns.

I remember the stories my mother told us about the orphanage. The rows of beds, the bowls of peas that she never ate again once she left. How she hated it there. When my daughters were young we loved reading the Madeline books. My mother said she never read those books to us because it reminded her too much of her time in the orphanage.

Her parents would visit on Sundays and bring her gifts that the nuns would later take from her because the other girls were truly orphans and no one brought them presents. I can no longer remember how long she stayed there but she carried those memories with her all her life. She was a nervous, anxious woman and often had migraines. I remember the smell of vinegar on the damp facecloth she put on her forehead when she retreated to her dark bedroom.

After her parents financial situation improved and her father got better she returned home. Because they both worked, she spent her summers in Brooklyn with her Aunt Jeanette and Uncle Pete. They were childless and at one point wanted to adopt my mother.

Uncle Pete was from Sweden and captained a tugboat. I loved the stories my mother told about riding with him along the Hudson River. She also met an older gentleman on the rooftop of their apartment building. He was a painter and he bought my mother an easel and taught her to how to paint. I have one of her paintings in my home in Vermont- a couple riding in a sleigh through the mountains. A memento of my wedding in Lake Louise.

After the fire at my parent’s condominium my mother’s Alzheimer’s worsened. She spent six weeks in a hospital In Providence where the doctors tried to adjust her medications and calm her down. She slept all day and at night ran through the halls calling for her mother and father. Her memories were gone but somewhere deep inside was the little girl who didn’t understand why her parents brought her to an orphanage.

My mother never blamed her parents for what happened. It was the Depression, times were hard. She understood that none of us are perfect and life is often hard. We are often faced with difficult choices or no choice at all. Years later, when I was what my mother considered a rebellious teenager, she  would call her mother every day and ask for advice.

I don’t know that my Mom ever really understood me but I do know that she loved me. Although I was never as close to her as my sisters’ were I never doubted her love.

I was an adventurous risk taker and unconventional. All my mother ever wanted was a conventional life. She was an anxious worrier. Bob Dylan once said, “People have a hard time accepting anything that overwhelms them.” My mother often worried about me and I think some of the things I did overwhelmed her. She didn’t understand choices like quitting a good job to backpack through Europe. To her, security meant everything.

Now that I am a mother I have come to better understand my own mother and my grandmother. Being a mother is one of the most difficult jobs you will ever do, and it never ends. Life is full of sadness and loss when all you want for your children is joy and happiness.

Two days after I planted the flowers at my mother’s graveside I found myself unexpectedly not returning home to Vermont. Instead I was flying across the country to Lake Tahoe to help my oldest daughter move to Colorado.

After arriving late at night and before driving to Tahoe, I spent the night at a hotel in Reno, Nevada. My Dad texted me at six a.m. on the East Coast. It was three a.m in Nevada.

His texting has improved. He no longer writes sentences without spaces between the words. This is what he sent:

You did good work on the grave mom will love them dad

To Be Continued…..

Sharing My Confusion: Stories From The Road

Jack Kerouac once took a famous road trip and had this to say about it: “I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.”

Back at home on Higley Hill after over two weeks on the road I think I know what Kerouac meant. Or at least I know some of the questions, not the answers. I too have nothing to offer you but my own confusion.

I sat down to write this blog numerous times since I’ve been home. There were lessons to learn from the road. There always are. Travel for me is new experiences, new places, and meeting people who live different lives and have different points of view. On this particular trip it was the points of view that tripped me up. I can’t find the words to explain the meaning of all I saw and what, if anything, I learned.

A lot of the places we traveled from and to are rural places. Communities where nothing much happens but what did happen in November 2016 changed America into a place I no longer recognize. A place that induces anxiety and anger on many mornings when I wake to the relentless stream of bad news coming out of Washington.

I started this story on Instagram where I share short stories along with pictures. I’m including a few of the posts throughout this blog. I have never experienced writer’s block in my writing career – if you can call something you spend hours doing for little pay and often a lot of overtime a career. But at the moment my thoughts are confused. I can’t find the meaning of the journey.

Then I found these words from Gabriel Garcia Marquez: “Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.”

That led me back to the photos and the words I shared on the trip. They are a map across the landscape of my memories and a guide book to help figure out what it all meant.

#roadtrip #theroadislife

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We were not setting off on a ski vacation, exploring a foreign country, or headed to a beach resort, although we have taken those sort of vacations before and enjoyed them. On this trip our only goals were a change of scenery, sunshine, and warmer weather. We had nothing much else in mind.

We took the road less traveled by heading west toward Albany through upstate New York, then south into Pennsylvania. We were avoiding the Northeast corridor which is one long traffic jam with very few scenic vistas.

The scenery through New York and into Pennsylvania was farmland. Cows and silos, large agribusinesses and tumbling down barns. This is a trucker’s route and sometimes we got caught up in a convoy as we passed through the cities of Scranton, Wilkes Barre, and Allentown, where we discussed Billy Joel and I hunted for a tape of his in my box of music.

Stories From The Road: Florida Bound The grass is green in Hershey, PA. We passed through Pennsylvania coal country. Scranton, Wilkes Barre, Allentown, Frackville. There were miles of windmills along the ridge off in the distance which contradicts the promise of coal making a comeback in this part of the country. We see lots of signs demanding the installation of safe gas pipelines. And then there are the Jesus and pro-life bumper stickers. We shared the $5 Subway sandwich of the day at a gas station in Harrisburg – ham with pickles, and at another gas station in some other burg I had a craving for a Klondike bar. #roadtrip #theroadgoesonforever #instagramstories #writersofinstagram #wordsandpictures #anamericantune #theroadislife

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The following morning in Lexington, Virginia, just north of Roanoke, we woke to blue sky and unfamiliar flowering trees. I have been here so many times before; a motel parking lot, crisp early morning air, car windows wet with dew, license plates from across the nation. On this particular morning we were at the crossroads of three major highways offering choices and options. A cluster of economy hotels, chain restaurants, and gas stations planted in an otherwise bucolic setting along America’s Interstate Highway System.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican, signed the Federal Highway act in 1956, a year before I was born. It is forty-one thousand miles of highway meant to eliminate unsafe roads and traffic jams, and speed up travel and commerce. Advocates of the highway project made the argument that the roads would facilitate quick evacuations in the event of an atomic attack on our major cities and this bill was essential to our national security.

Apparently fear has always worked with the American voting public. However, I am grateful to Eisenhower for these highways and also to Lady Bird Johnson, a Democrat who as First Lady took on the cause of highway beautification. Over the years I have traveled to forty-five states. Although many of Lady Bird’s flowers are gone now, we came across red tulips and blue bachelor’s buttons planted along the medians of South Carolina’s highways.

History is a part of our American story. I learned this lesson when I was very young when my Dad, the U.S. history teacher, took us on historical vacations across America. One thing I gleaned on my current road trip is that Americans have lost a sense of their shared history. They no longer know what the fight was all about during the American Revolution. The Constitution means different things to different people, particularly politicians and their wealthy donors with personal agendas. As I watch President Trump and his cabinet undo everything I and my forebears have ever fought for my heart aches.

In Dothan, Alabama we stumbled upon the first of three mural cities. We found them in a neglected, rundown part of town. No one knew about them anymore. It was a metaphor for American history itself.

Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute We are driving north into Alabama then east into South Georgia. There are miles of cow farms and freshly tilled fields of reddish brown dirt. I keep noticing billboards advertising The Mural City. It is Dothan, Alabama – the largest town we will drive through on our trip to the pecan farm. The billboards are faded and peeling but I assume the murals must still be there. We drive along the main drag that could be anywhere America. Home Depot, McDonalds, but we know we're in the south because there's Popeyes and a farm stand selling Mayhew jelly. We don't know what that is but we saw small signs planted in the grass all along the route for that and Gator jerky. Gator heads too! Rich pulls over to check the Map. I run in the Howard Johnson's to ask about the murals. The woman at the desk has never heard of them but she thinks they must be in the historic district. She gives me directions. #muralcity #instagramstories #writersofinstagram #wordsandpictures #smalltownamerica #thestoryofamericain2017 #dividednation #roadtrip #theroadislife #theroadislife

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Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute Historic Dothan, Alabama reminded me of so many small rural towns I have driven through and written about throughout New England and upstate New York. Hoosick Falls, Hinsdale, Woonsocket, Winsted. Empty buildings, lack of jobs. The industries that once made these towns prosperous are gone now. Some of them were the same here as in Apalachicola where we were just a few days ago. The murals paid tribute to them. Turpentine, cotton, lumber. In The northeast it was textiles, jewelry, furniture, clocks. Different places, the same problems. Why are we such a #dividednation? #muralcity #streetart #publicart #instagramstories #instagramwriters #wordsandpictures #roadtrip #smalltownamerica #theroadislife

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In Lake Wylie, South Carolina, there was this wonderful evening:

Stories From The Road: Florida Bound. Last night in Lake Wylie, SC I met with a wonderful group of women at their book club and read from my third novel Life Is All This. There are so many stereotypes and pre- conceived opinions in America but in this room last night the author from Vermont and the book lovers from Carolina had so many things in common from our kids to our worries about retirement and the whole world in general. Thank you Kim, the evening's hostess. And thanks to my friend Cindy for making the evening happen. I will return when my fourth novel is ready, however I get it out there. #bookclubs #newfriends #readabook #roadtrip #instagramstories #writersofinstagram #wordsandpictures #lifeisallthis #theroadislife

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I will admit I was nervous about attending the book club, a northern leftist liberal in a room full of Southern readers, but these wonderful, friendly women embraced me with open arms. They even asked me what they could do to help. “Just read the books,” I said. “And if you like them write a review on Amazon. Reviews really matter.”

I bumped into a man name Felix numerous times throughout a day spent exploring the historic town of San Fernandina, Florida while my husband and his childhood friend, Peter, played a round of golf. Felix’s persistence despite obstacles made me smile.

Stories From the Road: Florida Bound This is Felix riding off on his bike from which he sells boiled peanuts. We bumped into each other several times today as I walked the streets and he sold his peanuts. He walks with a limp that causes him to rock and sway as he pops into Nana Teresa's Bake Shop where I had a cup of coffee and a cheese Danish. We ran into each other again at Florida's oldest bar, The Palace Saloon with the coca-cola sign, where I poked my head in the open door to check it out for the possibility of a nightcap after dinner tonight. Shandel, the woman who drives the complimentary van from the Residence Inn to town, told me Felix is a fixture here in Fernandina with his jaunty straw hat and colorful Mardi Gras beads. I'm glad I met him. #floridalife #theroadgoesonforever #smalltownusa #southerntowns #roadtrip #instagramstories #writersofinstagram #wemadeit #wordsandpictures #theroadislife

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When Rich and I travel without definite plans, we just get in the car and drive. We open ourselves up to the unexpected. On this trip we learned about the dwindling longleaf pine forests.

Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute This is how life happens sometimes. You meet some people you hit it off with. Your kids are dating or whatever. You keep in touch. You spend some time together. You share things in common like a love of the outdoors, rural landscapes, and ecology. You watch a documentary about #longleafpines. A few days later you find yourself driving along dirt roads in rural Georgia through a carbon forest of these dwindling burnt bark trees dwelling in an endangered ecosystem that now fascinates you. There is something about coincidence, fate, and landscape that has always fascinated me. Who you meet, where life takes you, and how some grand design makes it all happen. A lot of it has to do with choices and your own relationship with risk. But there is always the randomness of the universe that writes the story if you read between the lines. Down in the garage where we drink and play pool each night the walls are covered with license plates, family photos, old signs, and this quote from Pat Conroy: "Entering Charleston is like walking through the brilliant carbon forest of a diamond with the light dazzling you in a thousand ways, an assault of light and shadow caused by light." #lifeisallthis #instagramwriters #instagramstories #wordsandpictures #ruralamerica #patconroy #theroadislife

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When you open yourself up to the unplanned adventure you never know what might happen. One morning we ended up on a hog hunt at our friend’s pecan farm in South Georgia. Something I never imagined myself doing.

Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute Hog Hunting: It was a dark cloudless night with more stars than I'd ever laid eyes on. No mountains to shrink the view. Just a flat endless canvas where I was able to clearly identify Canis Major, Orion's loyal dog. Ron had a constellation map that helped us find Leo the Lion. A hog hunter thought he might be able to come by tonight but something else came up so we were out driving in the dark to back fields where a man named Loren had spotted the #wildhogs the other night. As we bounced along the dirt roads and open fields I stuck my head out the window. The trees blurred past, wind blew through my hair, and a few shooting stars passed overhead. I felt wild and free and young. We wouldn't find the hogs until the next morning. #stargazing #hoghunting #southgeorgia #pecanfarm #instagramstories #instagramwriters #wordsandpictures #theroadislife

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Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute The #hoghunt ended in a hollow of large boulders, yellow brown rocks excavated from the loamy soil of South Georgia. The dogs followed them right in. Cindy and I heard the hogs' loud squeals and stayed in the truck. Later, after the hunt, Rich said a gun would have been less gruesome. But he thought it had something to do with the safety of the dogs who are used to first chase the #hogs down, then corner them where they sieze the hog by the ear to control them until the hunter arrives with his knife. Brandon told us hog hunting has been going on for centuries. Nationwide, wild boars and feral pigs are a menace to farm crops and the timber industry. They are also a menace to the environment. Their rooting and wallowing causes runoffs and contributes to the pollution of drinking water. Because they breed amazingly quickly and have no natural predators a group of hogs can easily overrun a small #pecanfarm like the one we were visiting in no time at all. At the end of the hunt everyone's adrenaline was pumping. Who needs coffee when you a start a day like this? Brandon said, "Once you do it a few times you're addicted." In my case, and I think I can speak for Rich too, that wouldn't be true. But it was certainly eye opening and there has to be something to learn here about other ways of life. #lessonsfromtheroad #roadtrip #instagramstories #instagramwriters #wordsandpictures #abluestateliberalinthedeepsouth #theroadislife

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I will admit I expected to see a lot of Trump support in the form of bumper stickers and lawn signs and yes, it was there.

Stories From the Road: Florida Bound We passed this truck driving through Tallahassee traffic. Two women in a Nissan were driving behind the Frito Lay delivery truck with potato chips dancing on the side of the trailer. The redhead was gesticulating wildly. I could tell she was speaking loudly. Occasionally she'd place her left hand on her heart. The driver was an older gray haired woman. She just kept nodding while keeping her eyes on the heavily trafficked road. "What do you think she's talking about?" I asked. "A breakup? He broke my heart. I kicked him out of the house." "Maybe she's talking about Trump," Rich said and pointed to the message on the dirty back door. A van passed us on the right. Rich got ready to make his move and said, "Get your camera ready. You're gonna want to take a picture of this." It was a pro-Trump essay taped to the back of the van. Something about "Use the power of the Oval Office and send them all back across the border". My phone had slipped between the seat and the console. I missed the photo op. I was relieved to get out of the shopping mall, red light, traffic congested nightmare that is called Tallahassee but we were headed to the Panhandle, a place some call the Redneck Riveria. #staytuned #roadtrip #abluestateliberalinredneckcountry #instagramstories #writersofinstagram #wordsandpictures #dividednation #theroadislife

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On previous visits to the South I had seen the Jesus is the Way and anti-abortion billboards. There were even more of them on this trip and I also came across signs in North Carolina regarding the transgender bathroom issue.

Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute Blew right through the town of Boone's Mill, VA on our way to Shenandoah National Park. I could travel for months but I admit I am weary of the confederate flags, the pro-gun bumper stickers, the sexist T-shirts, the anti-abortion billboards, the Calgary crosses, and the holier than thou. Our friends in Summerfield told us they struggle with living here in the south. The overbearing religion thing bothers them. "What church do you belong to?" Is a common getting to meet you question. They moved here because of a great job offer. They need to work three more years before Medicare kicks in. They admit they are counting the days. It's not that we don't all have the right to believe what we believe as far as religion goes. It's the in your face nature of it here in Bible Belt. My friend told me it makes him feel uncomfortable. Me too. #instagramwriters #instagramstories #roadtrip #abluestateliberalinthedeepsouth #wordsandpictures #theroadislife

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It is as if people have been emboldened by the recent election. Their opinions and prejudices have been validated. Although most statehouses have now removed the Confederate flag there were plenty of them flying on front lawns, waving from the back of pickup trucks, and printed on T-shirts.

Stories From The Road: Florida Bound Traffic dissipated when we reached the Panhandle. Anti- abortion billboards popped up. The land is flat. The sky is big. Until the trees close in and line the roadway. A rusted sign on a building that looks like it once housed a supermarket has a sign that offers Real God Real Church Real People. I wanted a picture but Rich wouldn't turn around. There are no shortage of churches here. Apostolic. Pentecostal. Baptist. Fundamental. Can I tell you all of this makes me feel very uncomfortable? Framed signs with white letters on black backgrounds advertise Trump: Make America Great Again. They appear to be permanent fixtures like storefront signs. Unlike the signs made of sturdy paper with wire sticks I put at the end of my driveway back in NH: Obama for President and Support the Troops. End the War. The bridge into Apalachicola reminds me of the drive to Key West. The town is funky #oldflorida. There are lots of dining options. I am keeping an #openmind here on the #redneckriveria #roadtrip #instagramstories #instagramwriters #writersofinstagram #wordsandpictures #abluestateliberalinredneckcountry #theroadislife

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By the end of the trip I admit the Confederate flags, the pro-gun bumper stickers, the sexist T-shirts, the anti-abortion billboards, the Calgary crosses, and the holier than thou wore me out. The unrelenting presence of religious proselytizing was insulting and invasive. In a nation founded on the principles of religious freedom there is a certain part of the population that doesn’t understand or respect the fact that those words also mean some of us have the freedom to not believe. The political positions juxtaposed with so-called Christian values were jarring and hypocritical.

But, there are always two sides to a story.  Although I saw this in Apalachicola, a small, sweet town in the Florida Panhandle:

I also saw this next door:

And therein lies my confusion.

There was also another message along the waterfront in Apalachicola. I couldn’t find any information on who placed these words along the docks or what the words meant to the messenger. You wouldn’t think we would have to wonder about the definition of a word but yes, nowadays we do have to question not only the meaning of the word, but what it means to someone else. Even two simple words like wake and bake.

Stories From The Road: Florida Bound. Today started with a search for breakfast. We found a coffee shop but they weren't serving food until 11:00 am. I know how Southerns have a more laid back reputation than we Northeasterns, but seriously? I told the young man working the register that we were looking for a bakery I found online. "Wake and Bake? Have you heard of it?" "Yeah. The name was controversial. They're not here anymore." Oh my. I told him about @meandollies in Exeter NH where we lived for many years The t- shirts and the bumper stickers with their logo Wake and Bake. Now a lot of us know what that means – a wake and bake is an early morning high- but they're bakers who rise early and bake bread and muffins, and censorship of words? How is that okay? He nodded in agreement but said no more. We took our coffee to go and stumbled upon an antique car show but my eye was drawn to the waterfront where I saw a few signs wrapped around poles that I didn't notice last night. Signs with Words like Sympathize. Tolerance. Love Others. Peace. Who put these here I wondered. What is their definition of these words? Is it the same definition As mine? The same definition as the Oxford dictionary? Then I saw The Scream and thought yes, maybe it is. #roadtrip #instagramstories #writersofinstagram #freedomofsoeech #wordsandpictures #tatteredflagseries #dividednation #wordsarepowerful #wakeandbake #theroadislife

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In the small town of Colquitt, Georgia where the pecan farm was there were also murals.

And a theater where a biannual show takes place. It’s called Swamp Gravy and it is all about sharing our stories.

Notes From The Road: The Reverse Commute Colquitt, GA is our destination for the next few days. The clock in town says it is the first #muralcity . I had never heard of a mural city and now I've visited three in one day. It is also the home of a community theater that hosts Swamp Gravy twice a year, in March and October. A folk life play billed as "you tell your story I'll tell mine" which is a little like I'm doing here with these #instagramstories Ron told us his uncle was in the play one year and told the story of the first time he stepped into a store that had air conditioning and how amazing that was. The stories they share each season are about life and death, family and community. I wish we were here in March to see it because these are stories I like to write. #lifeisallthis #instagramwriters #instagramstories #wordsandpictures #roadtrip #goodfriends #swampgravy #muralcity #theroadislife

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That got me thinking about the arts and how important they are for our culture, our shared history, and reaching across the divide.

We all have stories. One of the things I did learn was that when I can connect with people one on one and we share our stories, we discover we have more in common than we thought. We share the same concerns and worries, and if we don’t, by sharing our stories we experience empathy for someone else’s struggle.

The divide exists between us when we think all Southerners wear T-shirts proclaiming “Body Tattooing by Smith and Wesson”. I actually met and spoke to the man who was wearing that T-shirt. He pulled up to a gas station on his motorcycle. He is a neighbor of our friends at the pecan farm and had helped them out numerous times. They don’t like the T-shirt either but this man was a good neighbor and he was the guy who was trying to get us oysters for dinner one night. He stopped at the gas station to update us on his progress.

My most troubling and upsetting moments along the road trip were when I saw people as the bumper stickers on their rear fenders, the T-shirts they wore, or the signs they planted on their front lawns. Not to diminish the troubling aspect of all this. Although I said I wasn’t visiting a foreign country there were many times I felt lost in a foreign land. I do realize there are a certain group of people who will never open their minds. It is when I get the chance to meet and talk to people that I find the majority of Americans are kind, honest, and willing to listen.

Still, the confusion remains.

Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute Ron is up before everyone else each morning, mowing between the rows of #pecantrees and checking the irrigation lines for damage from the pesky wild pigs. A #pecanfarm is endless work. We took a trip to Albany, GA hauling a Kabota tracker behind us through miles of tall pines and flat farmland. The blue sky goes on forever. Albany is like Torrington, the town we shopped in when we managed the inn in CT, but the sun is brighter and more intense, washing out colors. Back in Fernandina Beach the town hall had a bell in the tower that was made in Troy, NY. where I took the first photo of the #roadtrip. We left Vermont going west toward Albany, NY. All across America things are the same but so very different. After we drop off the tractor we stop at an upholstery shop that a friendly elderly Black man owns. A younger man is his apprentice. I poke around the old chairs, sofas, and bolts of fabric. There is stuff everywhere. It reminds me of my uncle, my godfather, who was also an upholster. When I started my bookkeeping business years ago he was one of my first clients. His shop was in a large old warehouse in Providence just as cluttered and fascinating as the shop I am standing in today in rural Georgia. #memorytriggers ##thesamebutdifferent #instagramstories #instagramwriters #wordsandpictures #theroadislife

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Do the similarities in the above Instagram post make sense or am I seeing what I want to see?

Do my questions have answers? Can our problems be solved?

Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute Back in Colquitt running farm errands and shopping in great little stores with clothes, gizmos people don't need but want, flowers, and what-all. Ran into a guy who is a friend of our friends and we hope he shows up with oysters tonight. Met another farmer who told us about a man who works for him and recently lost his son. The son won some money at a card game and after he left the bar another man shot him to death. The man who told us this story said this Dad conveyed the story to him in a matter of fact sort of way. I will never understand America's attitude toward life, death, and guns. Never. Because I believe it shouldn't be this way. #tatteredflagseries #dividednation #gunsense #roadtrip #instagramstories #instagramwriters #wordsandpictures #abluestateliberalinthedeepsouth #theroadislife

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Many of the larger cities we visited, like Athens and Roanoke, were hip, more racially diverse, progressive, intellectually involved, and had a lot more music, theater, and arts to choose from. So what happens after Trump cuts funds for the National Endowment for the Arts?

Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute The GPS on my phone was acting up. Siri told me she couldn't find Shenandoah National Park. I think she's tired of the road. Route 220 North dumped us in the center of downtown Roanoke. It looked like Boston's Quincy Market. We pulled over when we saw a coffee shop. A young black man was passed out in a doorway. Another man with dreadlocks passed by with his friend whose hair was knotted, his beard long, like one of those mountain men who come out of the Vermont woods about this time of year. That story is on the blog. Link in my profile and search Shameless in Brattleboro. The dreadlocked man tried to wake the young man on the pavement. "You okay, man? Wake up! Come on." He looked at me. I shook my head. He walked to the corner and checked the street signs at the intersection then called 911. In the coffee shop they played Mumford and Sons. Families shared Sunday breakfast and hipsters read the paper or communed with their phones. I got out my laptop and figured out our next route. I am not tired of the road yet. When we returned to the car the young man in the doorway was gone. #roadtrip #wordsandpictures #instagramstories #instagramwriters #homelessinamerica #americancities #twoamericas #cocacola #theroadislife

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Northeast rural towns voted for Trump, too. I even saw Trump signs in Vermont – down the road from my house – and many people refer to this liberal state as the Republic of Vermont. So does the problem start in rural America?

We are better when we talk to each other and share our stories. Since the eighties politicians have divided and conquered the American voter. Talk radio hosts scream and lie. Fake News is everywhere on the Internet. Instead of addressing real issues like education, the environment, income inequality, retirement, and so many concerns we have in common, the media and politicians distract us with social issues that divide us.

Is it our nation’s neglect of rural places and the forgotten people who live and struggle in these places that is the problem? How is it in an era when we can work anywhere with a laptop and a wifi connection that we fail to come up with solutions to this problem?

Every city we passed through we sat in traffic. Outside of Savannah it was bumper to bumper for over an hour. Aren’t there entrepreneurs who would love to live in bucolic places with the outdoors close by? Places with hiking, white water rafting, a couple of nice restaurants, and old mills that could be renovated into trendy lofts for less rent than the big cities?

Is there a way to bring diversity to these towns? How about instead of building a wall we spend money to revive the arts in rural places? Some towns like Colquitt are actually doing this on their own.

This is what I saw and remembered from my road trip. This is my confusion. As the photographer Elliott Erwitt once said, “The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.”

***Please share your questions in the comments. And if you can think of any solutions, please share those too.***

If you’d like to see more words and pictures from the road trip you can visit my Instagram account.

COMING SOON: How a not very well-off older couple with very little retirement funds took a road trip for two and a half weeks.

**STAY TUNED!** for #howwedidit