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 #dearsubaru

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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

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Lessons From the Road: A Slice of American Life

The drive from Lake Tahoe to Park City, Utah along Route 80 is like traveling across the moon. It is an eight hour trip through the middle of nowhere. A full tank of gas is a necessity. It is important to remember this if you ever happen to be traveling this stretch of highway.

nevada-route-80

Route 80 Nevada

The landscape is desert sand, sagebrush, salt flats, train tracks, and an occasional cluster of trucks, RV’s and Port-a Pottys gathered together for a dirt bike rally. Exit signs mark various locations, such as Hot Springs, a place where smoke rises from the desert soil like hot water from a steamy tub but the springs are not a destination. A pipeline runs in a mile long circle and what appears to be a power plant stores energy from thermal springs. Rich and I speculated on what exactly was going on there.

Below the sign for the exit was another sign: No Services. Exits with gas stations are far and few between. If you’re ever driving Route 80 across Nevada, keep that in mind.

nevada-rocks

Rock formations along Route 80 Nevada

Economizing, we had rented a small bright red Yarvis. The golf clubs didn’t fit in the trunk so we put the back seats down. It also had a wimpy horn that Rich tooted every once in awhile, making a sound like the Roadrunner. However, the little car that could did occasionally reach ninety miles per hour. Most of the ride we tried to keep to the speed limit of seventy-five. The gas tank was much smaller than we are used to. If I ever rent a Yarvis again, I will remember that.

On the radio, we found a local talk show that filled us in on What’s Happening in Winnemucca, Nevada. Bill, a lifelong town employee passed away recently. He worked at the Water Department, and then Parks and Recreation until he retired. He enjoyed golfing and playing with his grandkids. The local schools in town are being redistricted. One school district has too many kids and the other has too little, so students living at the new apartment complex over by the Good Morning Furniture Store will be sent over to the underpopulated school.

A burst of green would occasionally appear on the horizon and we’d drive by what looked like turf farms or a stand of cyprus  running along a driveway leading to a group of trailers or a small ranch house. A woman on the radio sang, “I hate you. I love you. I hate that I love you.” Rich thought she sounded confused and changed the channel.

There are four exits for Winnemucca, population 7,396.  At the second exit a sign on a building announced Beer and Brothel. Get Off Now. “I suppose that could be interpreted in more ways than one ,” Rich said. The gas stations advertised slot machines but we had a half a tank. The full tank theory hadn’t occurred to me yet. Remember that?

sun-dance-casino-winnemucca-nv

Winnemucca, Nevada

It was a sleepy, quiet Sunday afternoon in downtown Winnemucca. We needed to stretch our legs and find a restroom. I suggested the Winners Inn and Casino where the New England Patriots game was on the TVs. It was Brady’s first game back. Unable to pick up the game on the radio we watched a few plays. Slot players sat alone dropping quarters in machines on a blue sky day and only one blackjack table was occupied with a woman wearing a flannel jacket and stiletto heels and a chain smoking young guy  in a leather jacket and baseball cap. Leaning his elbows on the table, he looked anxious. He hit on a sixteen. Although my husband never gambles a good friend of his does and he whispered, “You should never hit on sixteen.” The dealer, a woman a little older than me, won the hand and swept his chips away. A rancher in blue jean overalls and a white T-shirt headed into Pete’s Kitchen, a 24 hour diner.

Outside I took a few photos. The bar across the street from the parking lot offered an all day Happy Hour. Back on the road, we picked up a good radio station outside of Elko. Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit, Led Zeppelin’s Dazed and Confused, and Canned Heat’s Going Up the Country. The trippy music set the scene for desert mirages until we lost the  signal and found an old episode of Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life. On the west bound side of the road, a tractor trailer was flipped on its side. Two police cars and a couple of auto body shop guys were loading the cargo from one truck to another.

In Elko we stopped at Burger King and got the two for $10 Big Mac Meal Deal. Several miles back Rich said we should get gas at the next stop. After we ate we got back in the car and onto the highway where we blew through Wells fifty miles down the road. Twenty miles east of Wells, Rich shouted, “Shit, we forgot to get gas.” The next town was Wendover, fifty five miles east. The red light came on twenty miles after Rich shared this dire news so we pulled into a rest stop to ask a guy in a truck if he had some gas. Everyone drives around with gas when they live in the middle of nowhere, right? No, not necessarily. If you’re ever driving this road, remember not to take that for granted.

“Wish I could help you, but you’re not going to make it,” the guy in the truck said. “There are no exits between here and Wendover. You can’t even turn around and go back to Wells.”

Luckily, we have Triple A so we gave them a call. They found someone in Wells but it would take about an hour for him to get to us. We  immediately started arguing and blamed each other. I said it’s the driver’s responsibility to keep an eye on the gas. He thought I should have reminded him about the gas. On the bright side, there was a restroom in the parking lot. I walked over to use it and Rich paced back and forth along a dirt bike trail. When I returned a woman in a beat up old truck filled with a kitchen table and chairs pulled in to take her sheep dog for a walk. Her short hair was carrot colored and she was wearing a sweat shirt that said, “Over the Hill? I think you have the wrong person.” She appeared to be in her mid-sixties and was driving a faded blue station wagon, the passenger side dented.

We told her we had run out of gas and on the off chance, we asked if she had some. “Oh gee, I wish I did. It’s happened to me before so I should be prepared, and by the way, I know the Triple A guy in Wells. He’s a good kid. I was married to a gambler and you know what they say. Fill your tank before you go to the casino. You might not have gas money when you drive home.” It has happened to me before, too. I should have remembered the road trip to Florida.

As her dog sniffed around the parking lot, she told us she was moving to Ogden, Utah. She lived back in Elko for twenty years, “the longest I’ve ever lived in a place. My husband said we had to move there and then four years later he dropped dead. I had a good job so I stayed. But now my daughter in Ogden has scleroderma. You know what that is?”

“Some kind of auto-immune disease?” I asked.

“Yes. Your skin stiffens and turns to leather. Your feet curl up, you can’t walk, your face stiffens up, you can’t eat. Your organs, too. I’m moving out there to help her die.”

“How old is she?” I asked.

“Forty-five.”

We talked for awhile about life, bad luck, and her plans to take a road trip with her daughter while she could still get around in a wheelchair. Another dog owner pulled into the rest area and his dog jumped out of the car. Her dog got nervous and she said, “I better go. He’s afraid of other dogs.” We wished her well and then she was off. We never got her name. After she left, we didn’t return to bickering. I rolled down the windows in the car, got out my laptop, and started writing. Rich called some friends on his cell phone and spent the better part of the hour’s wait talking on the phone.

The tow truck driver arrived about forty minutes later. He was a handsome young man who had been working at the tractor trailer rollover all day. The truck rolled over one and a half times but the driver suffered only a broken wrist. “He was lucky,” he said, then told us the cost for the gas would be $11.25. The service call was covered by Triple A.

We got on the road and texted our friend Steve in Park City to let him know what happened. He said he’d have cold beer, red wine, and beef stew in the crockpot waiting for us. Thirty-five miles later we saw the town of Wendover in the distance. A mirage with neon casino signs blinking like stars against a pink and blue sunset sky. In the distance was the Utah border and the Bonneville salt flats. It appeared to be a large lake but as we got closer we realized it was an alien landscape flat as a pancake covered with thick crusty salt that looked like snow. To the west the scene was interrupted by mountains, to the east the salt flats appeared to go on forever and you could almost see the curvature of the earth.

desert-mirage-nv-ut-border-wendover

Wendover, Nevada

The view turned to darkness as the sun set and the stars came out. The moon which was just a sliver four nights ago was now a full half moon. I stared out the window at the passing taillights and thought about how running out of gas isn’t really a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Nobody knows what’s going to happen, how their journey will play out. Losing my Mom this summer was sad and I miss her but my loss pales compared to the road that lies ahead for the stranger I met at the rest stop. In a fortunate life, our parents pass away when we are adults and we don’t have to bury our children. The mother I met In Nevada was moving to Ogden to help her daughter die. A cheerful, friendly stranger at a rest stop who I will not forget, delivering a message to not sweat the small stuff when traveling the road of life.

It Could Be Worse

When my children were young one of our favorite storybooks was a tale by James Stevenson titled Could Be Worse! It’s the story of a grandfather whose grandchildren think he’s boring because every day he has the same marmalade and toast for breakfast while reading the newspaper. Whatever daily mishaps occur, from splinters to flat tires, he always says the same thing. Could Be Worse!

I have taken on a lot of work during the tax season. As always with accounting, most of it is boring and tedious. Scanning paperwork, paying bills, data entry on Excel spreadsheets. There is never that sense of accomplishment you get when you write a book or paint a house or teach a child how to read.

I have never heard an accountant say, “Look at this tax return I finished. What a beautiful refund.”

Or “How about this report? Do you see the balance and symmetry, how the debits equal the credits. Amazing.”

But it’s always paid the bills, provided the health insurance, and it could be worse. One day this past week, I actually had a pretty good day creating a travel log for a truck driver who had brought in a large stack of of reports detailing his travels. The papers were stuffed in a shoebox, curling at the edges, and covered with coffee stains. My boss wanted them entered on Ye Old Excel Spreadsheet.

Date. Miles Driven. Destination. Next gas receipt. Date. Miles Driven. Destination. An entire year of entries.

Listening to music is not allowed in this office so I found a way to do this tedious task while escaping to a place I love. I got lost in my mind. For you see, I am happiest when I am on the road, the highway stretching before me. This is how my day went:

We load the truck and leave South Florida early in the morning. Rolling past scrub palmetto, a flock of flamingos fly overhead and the tales I share with the trucker take us all the way to New Orleans. I tell him about a trip I made here years ago. The Mardi Gras party I crashed at Al Hirt’s house when I was twenty-five. A late night at Tippitina’s, 3 a.m. and who walks onto the stage but none other than the legendary Etta James. The boy outside the bar who looked like Jackson Browne.

The road west out of the Big Easy brings us across miles of long straight bridges bisecting the bayou. Crossing the border into Texas and heading south to San Antonio we pass ranches with windmills and cacti. Eagles fly overhead and an escaped bull slows us down as he crosses the empty highway.

I tell the trucker about the last time I passed through this part of the country. My girlfriend and I pulled into a gas station and noticed something leaking beneath the car. We went into the small office where the owner was watching a soap opera with two female friends. We told him what was happening and he said, “I’ll take a look in ten minutes, this show’s almost over.” They were watching All My Children, which they referred to as All My Kids. He gave us each an ice cold Coca-Cola from the classic red cooler with the bottle opener on the side, and because we were familiar with the series we sat down and watched too.

Outside in the brilliant Texas sunshine, he checked under the hood, started my car, drove it forward, and took a look at the puddle of liquid on the hot pavement. He dipped his finger in, sniffed, and then licked the tip. “You girls been using the A.C?” he asked.

“Yes,” we admitted.

“It’s water.” He laughed. He checked our license plate. “You two from New York?”

“No, Rhode Island.”

“Yeah, that’s in New York, right?”

“Umm, no.” We didn’t want to insult the nice guy so we politely explained Rhode Island was a state, which is why it has its own license plate. You know, the smallest state in the union? 

“Wow. So what brings you folks to God’s country?” he asked.

Very few cars are on the road to Laredo as the trucker and I discuss Larry McMurtry books. Lonesome Dove. Robert Duvall. I tell him I once took a bus from Laredo into Mexico, to visit the cathedrals in Monterey and Saltillo, places you wouldn’t visit nowadays because of the drug cartels and the murders. The bus driver played mariachi music, a few chickens traveled with us, and the scenery was beautiful, all mountains and sagebrush.

A man at the Hotel Rio bar told us Monterrey was the Pittsburgh of Mexico. He spoke with his hand at the side of his mouth as if everything he told us was a secret and he was whispering it to us, but he wasn’t. He spoke rather loudly as he told us about his bachelor apartment with a serape on the bed and how the Hotel Rio doesn’t allow single women in the rooms of men, and “vice-a-versa”. We were happy to hear that.

The bartender hand squeezed the lemons and limes for our margaritas and I think of those delicious drinks every time I have a fresh squeezed ‘rita on the rocks, no salt.

The city was crowded and dirty with lots of gypsy children begging for pesos, their mothers sleeping on the sidewalk. In Saltillo, no one spoke English. The city had narrow streets and mountain vistas. We bought hand-painted ceramic Christmas ornaments that still hang from my tree each year.

The trucker and I travel many more miles before my Excel spreadsheet is finished. In Tucumcari I really feel like a trucker as I hum the song Still Willin’, thinking about weed, whites and wine. In Flagstaff, I recall a day when I took a nap with my husband, back then my boyfriend, in a park under a tree snuggled in our double sleeping bag with the wind howling through the trees.

By now, I am calling the trucker Bobby McGee because I know he’s about to slip away as the stack of gas receipts grows smaller. I read passages from my second novel, Take Me Home, as we pass through the towns that Josie Wolcott visited. Idaho Falls where she met the Indian hotel owners who served her dal with lentils and naan, and Bozeman, Montana where she spent a rainy day with Dr. Andy Radcliffe.

On our way back to Florida for the tenth time in the tax year 2014, we pass through Ogallala, Nebraska which brings us back to Gus in Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. I traveled through here with a friend of my husband’s on a trip back home to Vail and we took a two hour break from the road to nap, falling asleep to the sound of mooing cattle in a truck parked beside us.

Finally, we pass through Georgia, not far from Dahlonaga where I attended a pulled pork festival and hiked to the Dahlonaga Falls.

Back in South Florida, I finish the Excel spreadsheet and the work day is done. I save it in the trucker’s tax file and tell my boss it’s all set.

“How’d it go?” she asks.

“It was a lot of fun,” I said.

She laughs. She has no idea where I have been all day. It could have been worse.

Lottery Lunancy

“My wife said to me, “If you won the lottery, would you still love me?’ I said, “Of course I would. I’d miss you, but I’d still love you.'”~Frank Carson

I almost forgot to buy the ticket. I planned to buy it on my way home from work, driving through the neighborhoods of Lake Worth along Dixie highway. I’ve always thought it was the odd little stores in the poorer neighborhoods that sell the winning ticket. I’m sure this isn’t true, but I like to believe that’s the way the universe works.

Victoria Latin Market

Listening to radio, sitting at red lights, I looked for photo opportunities. When I noticed there was only one car in front of the Victoria Latin Supermarket, I grabbed my phone and got the shot  before the light turned green.

Further down the road, I realized I should have gone in and bought some veggies and lottery tickets, but I forgot, because I rarely buy lottery tickets, maybe once a year, when the jackpot is huge and the odds are astronomical.

Charlie Rose reminded me about the Powerball jackpot this morning. “I have to get one on my way home,” I told my husband. Eight hours later, I arrived home to find him laying on the floor, moaning.  His back was killing him. Really killing him. He was resting on an Ice Pak, a pot of boiling water with a towel simmering on the stove. He’d also taken a muscle relaxer and a Motrim. They weren’t helping. Three weeks after he hurt his back golfing, he tells me he has finally made an appointment with the doctor for tomorrow morning.

He started complaining. He is not the best of patients. He is actually one of the worst patients I’ve ever met. When I helped him up from the floor, he complained about the  the way I  held his hands.

“Why are you only holding my fingertips?” I was trying to be gentle. Silly me. I yanked him up and got him on the couch.

It dawned on me that I never stopped to buy the lottery tickets. Things were looking bad. He’d probably be out of work for weeks. “I’m going out,” I said. “I forgot to buy a lottery ticket.”

He asked me to get ice cream.

At the Publix down the road, there were a dozen people waiting at the courtesy booth to play Powerball. I decided to shop first, hoping the line would be shorter after I checked out.

I’d come for ice cream and a bottle of wine, and of course the winning lottery ticket. I bought 2 for 1 Thomas’ English muffins, four boxes of cereal because they were also 2 for 1, bananas, cookies to go with the ice cream, and a package of foccacia mix that looked fairly easy to make, if  I plan ahead and let the dough rise for forty-five minutes, which isn’t likely to happen most nights.

I chose the register line where the one guy in front of me had already emptied his basket. I emptied mine. Of course, there was a problem. I always pick the line with the problem. He didn’t have enough money to pay the $44.68 he owed. He returned the bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups, apologizing profusely to me and the cashier. “No problem,” I told him.

Counting the money in his wallet, he realized he still wasn’t close. He decided to sacrifice the yogurt. 10 for $10. He had 20, all different flavors, all needing to be entered separately. The cashier waved the front end manager over. The guy who really needed to buy a lottery ticket even more than me apologized again. “I’m bailing,” I told him as I started to re-load my carriage, aggravated but fake smiling.

Publix

The line at the customer booth was now almost out the door but I was not going home without lottery tickets so I decided to drive to the Valero gas station at the end of the plaza.

Valero

Parking across from three guys who appeared to have been drinking beers all afternoon, I heard them debate whether they should buy more lottery tickets.

The convenience store was empty. I asked the Indian man at the register, “Today’s big ticket is Powerball, right?”

“Yes, it tis,” he said, with that lilting accent I love. I was going to buy two tickets but now with my husband all cranky and injured and possibly out of work for quite sometime, I splurged and bought four. “Two dollars, right?” I asked. It was one of those rare days when I had cash in my wallet. A five and three ones.

“Yes, two dollars each,” he said.

On my way back to the car, I noticed the three drunks were pooling their money for more tickets just as the lights came on at the pumps.

Lights

Tomorrow morning when you hear the winning ticket was purchased at a Valero gas station in South Florida, don’t try to contact me. I’ll be on a plane to Tahiti. I’ll post my next blog from there.

Marriage American-Style: Year 24

Yet another blog that begins at a gas station.

Peanuts

This weekend was my wedding anniversary. February 7th. Twenty four years ago my husband and I eloped to Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada. How did we choose this destination? After dating for nine years and living together for three of those years, I was thirty-four and finally ready to get married, and he was thirty-three and liked to ski.

I tried to find our wedding photos but after selling our house and moving to Florida, I can’t seem to locate them.

I did find this:

wedding dinner

February 7, 1991 The Post Hotel Lake Louise

 

The picture was taken at the restaurant in The Post Hotel after we had exchanged vows beneath the head of an elk above a fireplace in the cozy, rustic lounge.  After dinner,  my new husband and I got up to leave and accidentally went through the door to the kitchen where a man in a very tall chef’s hat escorted us back to the dining room with a stern reprimand.

“You went through the wrong door.”

We originally planned to spend our 24th anniversary at a beautiful lakeside hotel in Mount Dora, a quaint little town north of Orlando, but my husband aggravated his two herniated discs while golfing and lost a week of work. Like most independent contractors, he has no workmen’s comp or disability insurance, so we canceled the trip. I am not sure either one of those plans would cover a golf injury as he is not Tiger Woods.

I often say I married fun. Years later, I would sometimes add the caveat, fun doesn’t pay the bills. However, your best friend will help you through the bad times. And there will be bad times. Marriage is a long and winding road.

We were home for the anniversary weekend. We share a common wanderlust, a constant need for adventure and new things. So we chose to start the weekend at a gas station a friend had told us about. He said they have the best tacos he’s ever eaten. This is the kind of thing Rich and I love. We are on it, like ten year olds planning a trip to Disney World.

It’s way out west, close to where civilization ends and the Everglades begin. The land opens up out here. The concrete gives way to tree farms; acres and acres of palm trees in neat, uniform rows that flash before your eyes as you drive by, like one of those flip books you’d get in a gum ball machine when you were a kid.

Hanging out by the Ice Machine

The place is frequented by masons, stone layers, and landscapers. Lots of landscapers. You see them everywhere in South Florida.

Landscapers

It takes a lot of manpower to tame the relentless jungle. They come from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and other Spanish speaking countries. I see them working on the 4th of July, Sundays, Father’s Day, rain or shine, on ninety-eight degree days in the summer. And this is where they come on Friday for tacos and beer. Pay Day.

Landscaping hats

They also might pick up a few of those hats they always wear to protect themselves from the relentless sun. I am always amazed at them toiling in the summer heat, wearing long sleeves and pants while I am soaked halfway through my walk, wearing a sleeveless T-shirt and shorts, slathered in sunscreen that is dripping into my eyes and making them sting.

There aren’t many tables at the gas station. Everyone tailgates off the back of their trucks. The parking lot is full of trucks but we arrived in my old Hyundai. We get the beach chairs out of the trunk and head into the gas station.

Tailgating

I am the only female on the property. The tacos have already sold out. We order taquitos, fried chicken, beans and rice, along with a six pack of Modelo to wash it all down, and join the festivities in the parking lot. The hard packed dirt is a mosaic of discarded beer bottle caps.

Beer bottle caps

We are disappointed about the taco shortage and vow to return earlier next time, around 4:30. The patrons at Peanuts Country Store and Gas Station start their days early, around six or seven in the morning. They drive from as far away as Lake Worth, Hialeah, and Dania Beach to the mansions along the shore or the gated communities not far from here. On the drive home, Rich pointed out the neighborhood where he is painting ceilings in a nine million dollar home. Yes, I said nine million. That is not a typo. And he was back at work this week, but his back is killing him.

We finished our meal and it was only seven o’clock. One mile from the gas station is a beautiful new outdoor mall where restaurants line a lovely promenade and high end stores cater to the wealthy communities that continue to multiply like rabbits. Where is all this money coming from and how can I get some?

The Mall

A dance troupe is putting on a show in front of  an enormous multi-plex; a combo movie theater/bowling alley/grill. They are women in their forties and fifties and they really know how to move. Their husbands watch the performance, smiling and recording the show on their cell phones. I find this little vignette very romantic.

Husbands

Rich is circling the parking lot looking for a space. He doesn’t succeed and complains that he’d rather not walk, his back is now killing him, so we continue on through the Florida night, passing through the ever-changing diaspora. Traveling just one mile brings you to a different world. Different languages, religions, bank accounts.

Somehow we end up at Friendly’s because Rich asked “Ice Cream?” and I replied, “Yes.” I never say no to ice cream. Friendly’s is a bit of nostalgia from our homeland. The Northeast, where people eat more ice cream than anywhere else in the country despite the four feet of snow and the impending snowstorm on the way. The place is full of older retirees, snowbirds wearing Red Sox caps and Patriots T-shirts.

Twenty-four years of marriage and this is what it comes down to.

wedding Ice Palace

Chateau Lake Louise Alberta, Canada February 7, 1991

A Slice Of American Life

I am looking for a story. Where do you go after writing 280 posts in two years?

At the start of the new year I set out in search of the real Florida but quickly discovered it was a search for the heart of America. There is no real Florida, just as there are no real Americans, despite what others may tell you. We are all real Americans and I have been on this journey all my life.

My Dad was a U.S. history teacher and we spent a couple of weeks every summer traveling America. He was a brave man. loading my Mom and the four kids into a car with no seat belts or air conditioning. We drove as far away as Michigan and Florida. We visited Presidents’ homes: Monticello, Mount Vernon, Hyde Park. Battlefields: Appomattox, Gettysburg, Valley Forge. Monuments in Washington, D.C. Places like Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village, Williamsburg, and Plymouth Plantation. I was steeped in American History and raised on American highways and byways. The passing scenery is the home movie that runs through my mind’s eye.

Here’s an American story. This past weekend my husband and I had dinner with some new friends. Our hostess was Italian, her husband Canadian. They met outside of Milan where she grew up, fell in love, got married and moved to London before settling in the suburbs of Philadelphia. While living on the Main Line, their two adorable daughters were born in America. But our friends didn’t like the winters and found the social structure unfriendly. The Who’s Who of America. Where did you go to school? Who are your parents? How do you vote? What country club do you belong to?

We also knew people on the Main Line. One was a lovely woman whose husband once worked with George Bush Senior. The walls of the family room were lined with photos of influential Republicans through the decades and it made me uncomfortable. My dented Hyundai was out in the driveway and the Gore for President bumper sticker stood out like a sore thumb but this woman was a lovely hostess. The kids where in the pool when she greased up a giant watermelon, threw it  in the water, and cannonballed in after it. For a woman in her eighties she looked marvelous. It was a chilly, cloudy day in late August and she was the only adult in the pool. I will admit it was hard to talk to most of the guests. I was out of my class with this country club crowd.

This past weekend, our Canadian host told us his father grew up in Egypt, moved to Greece because of politics, then finally settled in Montreal.

“So when we left Philadelphia to move to Florida, it was comparatively easy,” he told us. “I had a job, money, this beautiful house. My father had nothing when he moved his wife, children, and mother to Canada.”

We all agreed Florida is a place of reinvention. No one checks your pedigree.

He told us of an evening in Los Angeles shortly after the school shooting in Newtown, CT; a business meeting between two Canadians, a New Zealander, and an American. They asked the American if this horrific event would change things. “Probably not,” he said. The other three didn’t understand.

“Please explain this obsession with guns,” they asked the lone American. He had no explanation.

We told them we never locked our doors in New Hampshire. When we sold the house we had no keys to bring to the closing. The day we moved our youngest daughter to Denver and arrived at her dorm, she couldn’t open the door.

“Why did you not teach me how to use a key?” she asked.

They thought this was very funny and somewhat amazing. Our hostess said, “In Italy, people do not own guns like here, but they always lock their doors. It is part of Italian culture. They are afraid of thieves.”

We told them we lock our doors in Florida.

We pondered the insanity of semi-automatic rifles and AK-47’s in the hands of ordinary citizens. She worried about the houses where her children would visit their friends.

“I suppose I will have to ask their parents if they have guns in the house,” she said, in her lovely Italian accent. “That seems like an insane conversation to have.”

Yes it does. But it is an American conversation.

Twice a month I work for a couple who own an electrical engineering business. He is an Iranian American. Her first husband died of a brain tumor when she was a young mother with a small child. She and her second husband worked together for years, then married. She refers to him as her best friend. They are trying to make a success of their business but are still climbing out of the hard times they experienced during the recession. Many baby boomers are climbing that same hill toward an elusive retirement.

Once a week I work for a Republican builder. I call him a Republican builder because anytime someone stops by the office, he introduces me as his liberal bookkeeper. It started at my interview when I mentioned I wrote for the Huffington Post. Apparently that is a dead giveaway in certain circles, although I write human interest stories in the Over 50 Section, a label I am much less comfortable with.

Rush Limbaugh streaming on his desktop and the Drudge Report on the homepage of the computer I would be using were his red flag. I changed the homepage to Google. Over at my desk Pandora is playing my custom-made Led Zeppelin/Reggae/Mumford&Sons channel. We argue politics frequently. He thinks he can change my political leanings. I have no such illusions about him. We manage to work well together and although our conversations sometimes get feisty, our civil debates may be a unique American situation.

I no longer watch the news except for Charlie Rose on CBS This Morning. I love Charlie Rose. Of course, just acknowledging the fact that I love Charlie Rose and read the N.Y. Times every morning says something about me.

I recently wrote a blog about the Port Salerno Seafood Festival. It took me several days because each time I sat down to write the piece, the story started with the gas station, the rundown neighborhood we were driving through, the man with only seven dollars to purchase gas.

This was going to be a story about my visit to a small, picturesque harbor town. A place I expected to be the “real” Florida, but I soon realized there is no real Florida, just as there are no real Americans. The concrete jungle that is South Florida is as much America as the Idaho landscape I fell in love with two summers ago. The oceanfront mansions blocking public access to the beach are as real as the man I passed on my way to work this morning. He was wearing a long wool coat and sat on a low cement wall holding a sign that read “Work for Food”. This isn’t a search for the real Florida as much as it is a search for the heart of America.

All my stories, from the blogs to the novels to the pieces I write for the Huffington Post, are slice of life stories. America is a lot of different things but for most of us it is the promise of a dream. The dream of a better life. I don’t see that dream coming true everywhere I travel during my days, but I feel compelled to report what I see. To share the stories I witness with my eyes wide open.

My dream is to write for a living so recently I read an article on how to write an essay for the New York Times. One piece of advice was this: Embrace your own strangeness. So that’s what this is. My strange fascination and bewilderment with the land of so-called opportunity where all men are declared equal. Apparently that blog about the Seafood Festival was always going to start at the gas station.