"The real voyage of Discovery lies not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes"
Marcel Proust

Saturday, July 30, 2011

1960s Road Trip

In 1967, my grandparents took a road trip from Springfield, Illinois south to New Orleans and then west through San Antonio, Mexico City, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and back through Kansas City and St. Louis.  At 7:15a.m. on 10-7-67 they pulled out of their driveway, carrying with them $1,000.87. They’d return at approximately 4:30p.m. on 10-27-67, coming home with $249.91. Only $2.45 was unaccounted for. During their 20-day trip they spent a total of $230.03 on motels, $123.74 on gas, $192.31 on food, $9.50 on tips, and $220.86 on gifts and miscellaneous items. They recorded 4 movies and 7 slides. They traveled 4,599 miles, and at 12:20 p.m., on 10-26, on a rainy Topeka bridge 109, on the Kansas Turnpike, their odometer turned 40,000 miles. How do I know all this? My late grandmother was meticulous in recording all of the details of their travels in her Stenographer’s Notebooks, and I had the pleasure of reading them. On her trips to Chicago, New York, Florida, California, and more she recorded every expense from a cup of coffee to a museum fee. Precision and care was taken with each day’s entry.  
I attempted to keep an expedition expenditure list when my family drove to Virginia one year. It worked for a while, but then I forgot to add the extra Twix bar at the gas station or the groceries we bought for dinner. Details of the outgoing journey were written with honest and excited dedication to the task, but my hand and head failed to keep up to those initial standards on the return trip home. I wonder how many people still keep detailed records of trips. Is it a lost art? Now, our cars can record some of those details in trip odometers and GPS units, but I’m sure there are still folks out there who enjoy making columns in notebooks and filling in little squares by hand—the joy of flipping back pages and comparing the gas prices in Tennessee and Florida, checking for a fair price of a hotel by their past days’ travels, and tallying up how much they’d spent at the end.

On their first day out they spent $26.48. Today that is practically absorbed by my family on our first stop for 4 hefty lunches at Hardee’s. Here’s a list of their expenses on that first day:
Coffee—Litchfield, IL                                        .31
Gas—Standard—Fairview, IL                            2.70
Lunch—Cape Girardeau, MO                             .72
Motel—Travel Lodge, Memphis, TN             10.40
Gas—Phillips—Howardville, TN                     4.60
Dinner—“The Flame”—Memphis, TN            7.50
Dinner Tip                                                           .25

I’m a detail person. I’m shocked at myself that I’ve only completed one of these detailed trip logs before. Rereading my grandmother’s methodical travel log stirs a new desire to try it again.  

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Memorial Drive, Joplin MO

It was a sad road that I traveled yesterday. One of destruction, of loss, death, depression, and heartbreak in Joplin, Missouri. From Schifferdecker Avenue to 32nd Street to 20th Street, across Main Street and Range Line Road and Interstate 44, each street felt like a funeral procession. The May 22 tornado had traveled these same roads—an unlicensed, reckless and deadly driver that left miles of emptiness and pain behind.

The twig-like trees stood out among the expanse of twisted metal and splintered wood that covered miles of land. They were stripped of their leaves, with trunks pock-marked where flying objects had pummeled them on their way by. But little green leaves sprouted in irregular clusters as they fought to regain their composure—a small sign of renewal in a ravaged land. Many trees had trapped the twisted metal of someone’s home. They had captured someone’s quilts and blankets and held their shredded fibers like massive spiderwebs among their branches.

The neighborhoods were eerily quiet. There were no children squealing playfully in their backyards. No one was cutting their grass or trimming flowers to take into the house. No joggers. No walkers. No postal carrier walking from home to home. I wondered where they had all gone. Where they were now. What road had they taken?  Would they come back or could they never return?
As I passed each forgotten toy or recognizable household item, I kept thinking, “This is someone’s shoe, someone’s jacket, someone’s toy.”

While walking the sidewalks of a torn apartment complex, I saw a penny on the sidewalk—heads up. I left it- another small piece of hope for someone. On our journey weaving back through the devastated route, I saw other signs of hope on their road to recovery— on the sign of Joplin High School, where the “J” and “lin” were missing, they had fashioned an “H” and “O” out of duct tape to create “Hope High School.” Spray-painted messages of “We’re ok” and “God Bless Joplin,” with the ever-cheerful Smiley Face accompanying them, brought a brief smile. Work crews who graciously allowed us to drive carefully through, and the smell of fresh lumber and the sound of hammers birthing new homes for someone were hopeful sights and sounds.

For me, these sights from the road were new yesterday morning and I was overcome with that initial shock and heartbreak that comes with being handed a letter of loss. But for others who had lived through it and were beginning to rebuild, the road may appear to them as one of Hope and reconstruction. Where my wheels turned solemnly and slowly, theirs are starting to turn with purpose and strength.