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

Monday, July 23, 2012

Rebecca Ruth Loves Lucy

As my family and I drove Interstate 64 west across Kentucky last week, we reminisced about the trip we took about six years ago when we stopped at the Rebecca Ruth Candy Factory http://www.rebeccaruth.com/ in Frankfort. Previous trips across I-64 had piqued my interest in the candy factory, and my chocoholic daughter was at the perfect age to enjoy a Willy Wonka-like candy tour fantasy. Their famous Kentucky bourbon balls were enough enticement for me.

With old-fashioned paper directions, we made our way to the factory—which we found was also old-fashioned. As we neared the address on our paper, we wondered if our computer directions had fooled us. We were rolling through a residential area of little houses—clearly not our vision of where complex industrial mechanisms churned out chocolate-drenched candies. We pulled up in front of a little white house that resembled my great-aunt Frances’ residence. We sat silently in the car, inspecting the home.
I was the guinea pig who tentatively approached the screened door, completely expecting Aunt Bea to answer it. In a way, she did. It was a home turned into a candy factory and the welcome from the small staff was just as warm as if we’d been welcomed in for dinner.

It was late in the afternoon, and we were momentarily disappointed when they told us that they were done making candy for the day. But another family was milling about in the living room that had been converted into a little gift shop, and they asked if we’d still like a tour of the place. Sure.

They took us down a very narrow hallway as casually as we were walking toward Bea’s kitchen and stopped briefly in a room that forever changed the tv viewing interests of my daughters. They played a clip from the I Love Lucy episode where Lucy can’t keep up with the chocolate conveyor belt and begins stuffing chocolates in her apron, her mouth, and her shirt. Even just yesterday, my oldest daughter flipped on the tv and enjoyed an episode of I Love Lucy. Who doesn’t love Lucy?
The rest of the tour was one of imagination. We walked past empty conveyor belts and the tour guide tried to describe what we could not see. We went to the next silent, still machine and imagined again. It was all rather funny, yet, in a very strange way, we enjoyed it.

Rebecca Gooch and Ruth Booe were 2 school teachers who turned their candy-making hobby into a business in 1919. Ruth invented the famous chocolate bourbon ball that is the company’s prized sweet. We saw only about 6 employees of the 10 to 15 that work there. Today, those employees make about 100,000 pounds of candy a year.

Don’t expect to be wowed by Willy Wonka-like candy factory pizazz here. I have to say that the Louisville Slugger museum tour, just down the road on I-64 remains my favorite all-time tour. And while Rebecca Ruth’s didn’t have much to see, it had that same up-close and personal feel I liked about Louisville Slugger. I enjoyed the surprising stop-- the most memorable tour where I never saw anything.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

All-Star Game Road Trip

As the Major League Baseball All-Star Game approaches Kansas City, just a short drive from my house, I actually wish I were 5 hours away. Not because I don't want to be near it. I LOVE baseball! I played softball for years and must make at least one MLB game and a handful of local baseball games each summer in order to get my fix.

But from a marketing stand-point, I would like to be just on the edge of St. Louis. Multiples of me at the intersections of major interstates coming from the east, north, and south to funnel onto I-70. Me at a roadside stand hawking Driving Across Missouri: A Guide to I-70 http://www.amazon.com/Driving-Across-Missouri-Guide-I-70/dp/0700616977. Me, dressed in Royal blue and a tad of Cardinal red (since I'd be on Cardinal territory), yelling out to baseball fans from around the country-- "Don't wait until the National anthem to start your fun! Start at mile 234!" 

Of course, I should have just added another 2 billboards to the dominoes along the route: Billboard 1: "Do you know what happened at mile 119?" Next Billboard: (a cheesy picture of Ted and I smiling and holding our book) "Read our book and you'll find out!"

Meanwhile, Ted has set up his stands on the opposite field, the border of Colorado and Kansas, and is hawking his Kansas book http://www.amazon.com/Driving-Across-Kansas-Guide-I-70/dp/0700612602 along with some Cracker Jacks for the game. Together we have surrounded east and westbound fans-- covered all our bases, moved in for the bunt, and oiled our glove.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Transcendentalist Road

On a recent trip to Boston, my family and I decided that the literary town of Concord was just too close to ignore. One rental car later and we were cruising down Interstate 93 towards the hometown of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Louisa May Alcott. (Is there an ordinance that writers from Concord must be addressed by their full name? Maybe I'll start going by LuAnn Michelle Cadden- Nah.)

As a Midwest driver, I always notice when driving on the east coast that you can't really see what is off the exits. Tree-lined highways hide gas stations, Big Macs, and any signs of habitation. In the Midwest you can see the golden arches rise a mile ahead above the cornfields. It makes me feel somewhat unsettled not knowing if we'll ever see people again. Will we really find a gas station or bathroom when we need it?

A few curly exits later we arrived in mid-19th century New England. The homes were old and well-tended. Friendly stone walls surrounded front yards and although the roads were paved, I felt our horse power was kicking up dust behind us.

Our first stop was Orchard House, http://www.louisamayalcott.org/, the home of Louisa May Alcott, author of dozens of novels, but best-known for Little Women. Although I loved Little Women as a young girl and still now as an adult, I also love to think of "Lou" Alcott feverishly writing her more sensational novels in order to be a female writer among a world of male writers. A Long Fatal Love Chase and Pauline's Passion and Punishment are titles that might make little women blush.  

Alcott's father, Amos Bronson Alcott was a Transcendentalist who spent many evenings in the family parlor talking with fellow transcendentalists and friends Emerson and Thoreau. Transcendentalists believed in self-reliance and a spiritual connection with nature. They believed that education should be a communion of emotion and intellect. In Alcott's words each man and woman should have “an original relation to the universe.”

On our way to the Alcott's we drove past Emerson's home-- he was their closest neighbor and one of their closest friends-- just a short walk down the road.

Henry David Thoreau helped the Alcott family survey the land for their home, invited them out to Walden Pond for day excursions, and taught Louisa to be a young Naturalist.

The road to Walden Pond was not too far, either, nor was the road to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery where they were all laid to rest on the same hill.

As we drove the roads I imagined the families strolling along the road, throughout the town, around the pond and meeting each other for stimulating conversations.  I saw Louisa perusing the books in Emerson's library. He was her mentor and told her that the library was her own to use. I saw her admiration in him as they talked of good writing and I saw her determination to pen her first book, Flower Fables, for his daughter, with success to make him proud.

I saw Thoreau inspire Louisa to write her first  book as he took her on walks in the woods and stirred her imagination with stories of fairies. One day in the woods she saw only a spider web, but he taught her to see a "fairy's handkerchief."

Alcott's first book was inspired by Thoreau and written for Emerson. What wonderful links!
Alcott's grave

Emerson's grave
After we finished the peaceful trek through the pine trees around the Walden's Pond (which happily surprised my imaginings), we started our journey back to the speedy modern highways. As we pulled into congested downtown Boston I felt we had returned on a time machine. I felt our road trip had taken us from 1840 to 2012 in approximately 40 minutes.
Alcott (closest) and Thoreau (tallest on far right of picture) share eternity on the same hill-- with Emerson just a few more steps away.

Tree roots blanket Thoreau's grave

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Even Spongebob Goes on Road Trips

Talk of approaching summer day trips and vacations inspired my nine-year-old daughter and me to read Amelia Hits the Road by Marissa Moss. Moss has a whole series about ten-year-old Amelia. Reading the book is like holding Amelia’s journal in your hand.  I love epistolary novels (books written in letter or diary/journal form.) 
 Amelia’s exploits reminded us of our road trips and trips that I took as a little girl with my family. My brother and I often played the license plate game just as Amelia did with her sister:

We’ve been playing the license plate game for hours (or decades!). By the time we get to the Grand Canyon, I bet I’ll see all the states.
Like Amelia, I also bought a handmade Indian doll when I visited the Grand Canyon when I was nine years old. I remember how cool it was to pull off the highway to this dusty little roadside stand and purchase it from the Native Americans that made it.

One of our favorite parts in the book was when Amelia’s family started seeing the first of many billboards advertising the “Mysterious Place.”

1.      Mysterious Place—30 miles ahead—Stop and Experience the Mystery!

Parents are happy that the billboards will stall the kids from saying they’re bored for the next half hour, but fear the exit they will pass as the kids point and whine from the backseat.

2.      Mysterious Place—15 miles to go to this Unique and Amazing Sight

3.      Mysterious Place—Just 5 miles ahead—DON’T MISS THIS INCREDIBLE SIGHT


Do these billboards remind you of any you’ve passed along the road? It reminded us of Wall Drug billboards in South Dakota and Bridal Cave in the Ozarks. Of course, the kids in the book made the parents stop and Amelia exclaimed,

What we saw next was so astounding I’m not sure I can write about it. The Mysterious Place was—indescribable. At least, I can’t describe it, but Mom’s word for it was “cheesy”—and she didn’t mean cheddar.

There are actually many children’s and young adult books out there on the theme of road trips. I’m talking about novels and stories, not puzzle books and such (although Mad Libs on the Road is pretty fun).

The littlest road warriors can share a road trip with their favorite cartoon characters. Spongebob, Mickey Mouse, Arthur, and the Berenstain Bears all have road trip adventures. Elmo’s Rockin’ Road Trip sounds like miles of fun (grin), and even the Mystery Machine heads out on the highway in Scooby Doo and The Haunted Road Trip (seriously—I am not making this up). And for the beginning reader, there is Fred and Ted’s(not Cable) Road Trip by Peter Eastman.

Other road trip titles I found were the following:
Jackson & Bud’s Bumpy Ride: America’s First Cross-Country Auto Trip by Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff
The Popularity Papers: Bk 4 The Rocky Road Trip of Lydia Goldblatt & Julie Graham-Chang by Amy Ignatow
Road Trip (Diary of a Teenage Girl: Bk 3 Chloe) by Melody Carlson
Road Trip by Roger Eschbacher (a picture book)
Road Trip to the Parks by Michael DiLorenzo

Even celebrities have road trip stories for kids. Henry Winkler, a.k.a “the Fonz” from Happy Days has a book called Barfing in the Backseat #12: How I Survived My Family Road Trip. Woody Guthrie's book spins a more positive attitude in the book that animates his children's song, Riding in My Car. The blend of illustrations and photographs along with movable parts and flaps make the book as lively as the song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frRcDMGdTWM 

So on your road trips this summer, don't forget to pack some road-related reading for those little backseat drivers!  

Ok-- one for the road... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95W7cXehn6o&feature=fvwrel 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Maybe Next Time

As the first spring breeze rushes through the windows of my home, I start planning weekend road trips. It’s time to start determining destinations and looking at all the territory between home and vacation spot. Getting from Point A to Point B requires careful research. It might be a beeline journey down the highway, but so much is to be explored on the way. Like hot fudge spilling over a mound of ice cream, I see the delicious journey expanding North, South, East, and West—maybe up to ten miles-- outside the royal blue line on MapQuest.

I research every National Historic Site, campground, State or National Park, quirky artsy backyard, famous birthplace, rest stop, and roadside monument on the route like a kid crazy with the greed and strategy of planning what attractions they must conquer in a few days of Disney World.

But in the midst of the glory of my, “This is great—just 7 miles off the highway! What a gem!” the echo of a nerve-grating phrase re-enters my brain, “Maybe next time.” First uttered by my husband on a trip to southern Missouri in 1998 as we sped past a site that I wanted to stop and see, that phrase has made me a stronger traveler: more skeptical, more strategic, yet, flexible, more out-spoken, and most likely, more annoying to whomever wants to get to Point B quickly.

Because we all know what “Maybe next time” really means. It means, “Never. Are you kidding? You think we want to really stop and see this?” or even on a kinder note, it just means, “We don’t want to make the time.”

My husband and I were leaving from the Lake of the Ozarks after a weekend-long houseboat trip with my family and were continuing our trip on to southwestern Virginia to visit his family. Back at home I had done my pre-trip research and found a State Park that sounded fantastic to explore right off the highway, only a few turns from where we disbanded our boat at the Lake. It is called Ha Ha Tonka State Park and contains acres of wildflowers, some not found up north where we lived, and the ruins of a castle. But unfortunately Ha Ha Tonka only mocked me as we drove by with, “Ha! Ha, LuAnn! We’re not stopping!”

Unfortunately, the site was too close to our Point A. My husband was ready to hit the road for our day-long journey to Virginia. He was already in highway mode while I was anticipating a walk through a dry prairie glade after days on the water. As a happy-go-lucky newlywed bride, I reluctantly agreed that it would be a long journey and we better just get on the road and go. As we passed by the road to take us to the park he said something to the effect of, “We’ll come back sometime.” As you guessed it, after 14 years we never did go back. (But I did get there 10 years later when, for my job, I traveled there and helped lead a Naturalist hike along those trails and to the castle. Thanks, Kevin!)

But, I know it’s not just my husband that gets in “highway mode.” We all suffer from it time to time.
I’m glad we took the time on the way across Interstate 90 to Rapid City, South Dakota to stop at Porter Sculpture Park in Montrose. It was quirky, disturbing, creepy, beautiful, and the perfect place to pose for dramatic silly pictures. In Instamatic language, “We must have taken a whole roll of film there!”

Being an Illinois native, I had to show my daughters the corn shingles of the Corn Palace in Mitchell. Even if the inside was full of tourist trinkets, just scaling the corny walls with our eyes was treat enough.

Why stay the night in a Rapid City hotel when you can stay wake up in a peaceful cabin dwarfed by rocky peaks that surround it? Only about 10 miles south of our route, Cedar Pass Lodge in the Badlands National Park gave us the feel of camping out in the wilderness with the luxury of a mattress and no set-up. 

The next day we drove West through the park on our way to Wall Drug Store—another quirky stop all tourists to Rapid City are required to see.

These days my husband knows me better and often indulges me in my brief off-road thrills. On your travels this spring and summer, stifle the phrase, “Maybe next time.” It might not be there next time. Natural disasters, a job move to China, Godzilla, alien invasion, and the dreaded Highway Construction all threaten to make Next Time, never.  This Time is the moment to have some silly educated or un-educated fun and make a trip a timeline of memorable moments from Point A to Point B.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

I-55 By Train; Springfield to Chicago

The week between Christmas and New Year’s my family visited the Windy City. In order to offer my daughters a new traveling experience, my husband and I took them on their first train ride. They were seasoned veterans on airplanes, buses, taxis, vans, and rental cars, but a ride on the Iron Horse was a new adventure.

I pulled out my nearly complete I-55 manuscript to see the highway from a different vantage point. Initially, I got a radically different vantage point. When the train started rolling towards Chicago I realized I was rolling backward. A trip to the snack car and a seat at a dining table remedied the situation. The White Castle burgers weren’t bad, either.

Northbound by Day
Checking my manuscript by the comfort of train was not only relaxing, but enlightening. I noticed details not seen as clearly from the road. The Northern Cardinal is the state bird of Illinois and I point out in the book that at mile 161 north, in Bloomington-Normal, you’ll see ISU’s mascot, Reggie Redbird, on a water tower. Well, on my train trip I was surprised to see another Cardinal mascot painted prominently on the water tower in Elkhart. Ah, Redbirds rule along this route!

By train, I feel like I get a sneak peek behind the scenes of everything from commerce and industry to the privacy of someone’s backyard. We rolled past the back of Sangamon Center Shopping Center, past the Indian Hills subdivision and out into the cornfields. As we caught up with I-55 just past Sherman we started racing the cars next to us.

From 55 you see the grain elevators off in the distance—the tall castles of the open prairie-- but on the rails you roll right next to them and glimpse them as would a freight engineer ready to fill up their car with corn or soybeans. 

I smiled with sentiment as I rolled past the entrance to Funk’s Grove, seeing the Maple Sirup store, hidden by trees from I-55’s view. I was closer to the prairie that I helped plant here in 1995 than I had been in years. It felt intimate rolling right through Isaac Funk’s grove rather than alongside it.

Intimate. The rails pulled me right into the small towns which I talked about from the road. With each station stop, I saw the downtowns which all look the same and all look different. Cozy diners with cozy names you’d never find in a shopping mall. Small lamp posts lining the street like decorative candles. American flags and old brick buildings. Here I was at each town’s doorstep just long enough to say a cordial hello and be on my way again. 

I rolled right past the entrance of Exelon Corporation’s Braidwood Generating Station, the largest nuclear power plant in Illinois, through the tranquil wetlands of the Des Plaines Conservation Area, and into the suburbs of Chicago.

Southbound by Night
We pulled out of Chicago at 5:15p.m. and sadly watched over our shoulder as the city’s skyscrapers disappeared from view. I was clever enough to score some seats facing the right direction this time even though most of the trip would be through darkness.

But the most fascinating thing I saw on the ride home was a spectacular light show right in the middle of the dark fields near Dwight. It’s not uncommon to see red lights blinking atop towers here and there, but I took a double-take when I saw my entire window light up with red dots at the same time and then go completely black again, then fill with red dots for miles and then go black in one blink. When I realized we had just passed Dwight, the light finally went on inside my head. We were passing the huge wind farm and fields of wind turbines.

Upon closer inspection, I could see that the red lights were in different spots every time they lit up. The blades were turning and the red lights were rotating in the sky. If it weren’t for my phobia of the germs that travel on public transportation I would have had my face completely pressed up against the window. The interior light of the train was reflecting my face back onto the window and distracted me from the total light show experience. As it was, I was pretty close to the glass and must have looked ridiculously like one of the kids we saw in Chicago who was attached to one of Macy’s department store windows. I do know that my older daughter responded with annoyed protest when I kept telling her to “Look! Look! The lights keep going on and off again! They’re red like Christmas lighting up an entire field! Isn’t that cool?” I’m sure she hoped that no other sane person on the train could hear my giddy glee.

The girls gave their new train expedition two thumbs up. The 9-year-old spent most of her time finding any reason to travel between rail cars and experience the fun-house-effect of the floor swinging one way while her upper body swayed the other. All to just have one more thrill walk from car to car, she’d throw away our dinner garbage one sugar packet at a time, use the bathroom, and offer to check the price of coffee in the dining car. The people in the cars between us must have thought she was a very small train stewardess.

The 12-year-old saw the ride as an uninterrupted luxurious reading session (except when her sister attempted to throw away her paper bookmark).