Nashville was the next stop. We arrived around 3pm after gaining an hour someplace in Tennessee. It was a beautiful drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains then down through the green valleys. We spent some time regrouping, making reservations for the next stop in Memphis, for Graceland, (the PLATINUM tour woohoo), and for an evening at The Ryman Auditorium, the former Grand ‘Ol Oprey.
It was an annual event: the Red, White and Bluegrass Show, featuring Ricky Scaggs and his 6 fabulous musicians. I have never heard a tighter band and the acoustics were out of this world. What a grand experience for both of us.
After the show we walked around the corner to Broadway and were met by a feast for the eyes: neon everywhere advertising country music bars and cowboy boot shops (buy 1 pair get 2 pair free – how do they do that?) I didn’t have a camera with me so we made a plan to return the next day and shoot up the place, which we did.
Then back to the car and into that long green corridor that has guided us for the past 8 days.
We just spent 2 days in beautiful, art-infested Asheville! We spent the better part of the stay visiting artist studios by the score. The RAD (Riverside Artist District) is huge. The artists have taken over at least 10 large warehouse buildings next to the French Broad River. They are open To the public daily and many of the artists seem to be making a living as working studio artists. There is an abundance of ceramic artists, some painters, sculptors, photographers, glass and woodworkers, and mixed media artists (including encaustic!) These people understand the value of their pursuits. For the most part, the work is genuine and not necessarily reflective of the region for the sake of the tourist trade. Quality stuff.
We explored the district mid-week, and there was a vibrant constituency. We saw several sales. Some customers had come from 100 miles away to purchase special pieces for their homes. The artist community here is definitely doing something very right.
We drove out to Maggie Valley to check out the country. While we didn’t see much on the road we drove up a mountain and saw some beautiful views of the Smokeys. This is truly a beautiful part of the country.
We got up this morning after spending a very comfortable night at a Super 8 Motel and started to get ready: Pack up the back of the car with clothing and non-essentials (they go in next to the giant red duffel of camping gear); put the cooler (after filling 4 ziplocs with fresh ice to surround our lunch), the bag with all the electronics and the Trader Joe’s bag with non-perishable foods into the back seat. The iPad, phones, iPods and wallet goes in the front with the passenger. Bikes go on the hatch, and we’re off.
So as we were bustling around we both noticed a strong odor similar to a campfire. The manager strolled by and I asked her about it. She said it was from the wildfires not too far from here. I realized then that the misty morning wasn’t misty, but smoke hung in the air to the southwest. So I thought I might write about global warming today. I hadn’t seen anything yet.
We rolled out around 9:30, heading for Jamestown Avenue, where I lived the year my father was in Viet Nam. We had been living on post, but when Dad was deployed we had to move out of Army quarters and into a subsidized rental a few miles away. Another new school.
Anyway, we found the neighborhood easily enough but as we turned toward my street I recognized the former 7-11 where I would walk after school to buy some Mary Janes and wax lips. It was boarded up. I started to notice that many of the buildings surrounding us were in poor repair. It didn’t seem unusual that the passage of almost 50 years would change a neighborhood, but, then, like a punch to the stomach I realized that I was looking at recent tornado damage. As we turned onto Jamestown Avenue it became apparent that the entire housing development had been devastated by a large tornado. We saw houses without roofs, partial walls, a driveway leading to a chimney. We saw empty lots with mailboxes standing guard, and hundreds of splintered trees – trunks 2 feet in diameter broken off – newly razed logs stacked neatly nearby. Construction workers everywhere, a car, its hatch open to reveal piles of clothing, the owners moving around their lawn picking up scraps.
Our house – # 420 – looked intact from the street. The lawn was overgrown, though, and there was a large pile of debris piled to the left side. A sign on the door said, “Please do not ask about scrap metal, remodeling, or clean-up”. I had identified the house on line by the stand of pines behind it. That was gone – two trees remained.
What does this have to do with global warming? Years ago North Carolina was not part of Tornado Alley. Wildfires did not erupt in the eastern part of the state – which now resembles a young desert. Now tornadoes are as common in this part of the country as in the Midwest.
After Jamestown Avenue, we went to Fort Bragg. The guard who searched our car was very friendly. I found the house right away, and it looked the same. So did the swing set across the street where I spent all of my afternoons. I noticed the steep bank behind the house and remembered abruptly that my best friend Cheryl Smith had lived at the top of that hill. Memories of our time together that year and a half – when we were 8-9 years old flooded back. I also realized that a hilltop that appears frequently in my dreams is that place. In the dream I’m climbing up the hill and
looking through the brush for a lost friend. Just now looking at the carport of the Jamestown house I realize I’ve dreamed about that, too. In this dream I am looking for something in the basement, which is an unending labyrinth of rooms filled with appliances, tables and chairs, sofas, lamps. I wander through this maze looking at everything, discovering hidden rooms and closets opening into loft-sized rooms. I open a door and emerge onto a carport – that carport, there – in the photograph.
Today we visited four of my houses, moving backward in time from 1970 to 1967. We didn’t plan to go in order, it just seems that my family moved steadily north, so the most efficient way of visiting these places was to move south from one to the next. The memories flooded back, in reverse chronological order. All of the houses were as familiar as my feet, except one, which I barely remembered.
When we got to Fort Belvoir we decided not to enter. We were told by the guard that it’s a felony to photograph on an army installation. This was new information and I wondered why we weren’t told this at the War College yesterday. But I wasn’t about to argue. When we saw the sign that declared, “100 percent of vehicles will be searched” we decided to photograph the entry gates and leave it at that.
Yesterday when we entered the post at Carlisle we were asked to step out of the car and stand on the curb while they searched our car. We unzipped bags, opened all four doors and the hatch and watched as they went over every inch if the car with a mirror on a stick. When the friendlier of the two MP’s asked me what was in the cooler I said, “some snacks, some beer and wine, sealed up tight” he smiled and refrained from opening it. They gave us a pass and didn’t say a thing about photography, though they saw all of the cameras.
Fort Belvoir had an intensely hyper-security vibe that I first noticed on the website. The post is the center for defense systems for the US, and I have a healthy respect for how seriously they take themselves. That’s okay; I can be flexible.
We wound up in a Motel 6. Well, as Tony said, they can turn the light off, but turn on the vacuum cleaner! This was our second, and last, night in this chain. But it was an experience. You can see our lovely view from the window. But – look – what’s that? A VW bus?! What better symbol of a road trip back through the 60’s could you ask for?
We started the trip today, despite the rain and heavy traffic. Here are some highlights: visiting the quarters at Carlisle and recognizing them instantly (Young Hall).The parade field, bleachers and softball field look the same. So does the building that housed the teen center and the PX where I was falsely accused of shoplifting. The water tower. Then we drove down to where the old bowling alley was – now a substance abuse center – and saw the building where the craft center was. Remembered making a leather belt for my boyfriend (by the time it was finished, so were we – I was only 14). I can see every detail as I think about it.
I Talked briefly with a woman who had met a couple earlier in the week who had been at Carlisle 30 years ago and also said it looked just the same. For me it was 40 years, almost to the day, if not to the day. I should look that up. Anyway she said she sent her husband off to Afganistan this morning. She said he has been to Iraq once already. She was extraordinarily brave.
We visited the brand new Army Heritage Museum and walked the 1 mile loop to see exhibits about all of our wars. It was impressive, especially the WW1 bunker.
The road to Frederick was beautiful: farmlands, rolling hills; finally the sun came out creating beautiful late afternoon light across acres of green and golden fields. The radio station was playing songs from 1970, one after another: “build me up buttercup”, “Venus”, “Shilo” – all these songs that were on the jukebox in our lunchroom at Wootton Junior High School, which I attended that year when we lived in Rockville. And that’s where we’re headed tomorrow.
June 24 – Dobbs Ferry to Frederick, Md.
Okay so now the water bottles are in the fridge, the bags are zipped, the rack’s off the roof (bye kayaks – stay well) and the snacks are in the cooler. We’re off in the morning – aiming for 9 to miss the worst of the rush.
Here’s what I’m worried about: Tornadoes, Severe Thunderstorms, Floods, Wildfires, crazy heat in the desert and crazy people on the road.
Here’s what I’m looking forward to: The open road, seeing my old houses, memories to come, taking lots of photographs, spending lots of time with MDH, exploring interesting places, freedom, swimming, biking, writing, motels, camping, great light, no appointments except for the sign graveyard in Las Vegas.
So we’re actually setting out on this adventure. Tomorrow night: Frederick, Md.
I will keep you posted.
The cameras and camping equipment are packed. The itinerary is printed and in the binder, motel reservations made for the first 5 days. Passes to army bases applied for and pending. The house-sitters have arrived and are camping out in the spare room.
Laundry is in the machine; we’re making progress.
The final route is posted above – on 2 maps – it was too big for one. We start off in Dobbs and go directly to Carlisle, PA to check out the quarters my family occupied for 10 months in 1971. Then to the Army Heritage Museum, and, finally, Gettysburg. Of course we hope to find some interesting roadside attractions in-between stops.
Counting down to 0800, Friday morning.
It’s impossible to create art or to think about creating art in the last 6 weeks of the school year. I’m not complaining – it’s a very rewarding time in many other ways, and it’s a time to just kind of get out of yourself to focus on others. Now that the last meeting has ended (as of 12:30pm today) it’s time to start thinking about creating things artful.
Saturday I’m going up to take an encaustic class in Kingston. I was a bit worried about diving into this so close to my departure (the big road trip – remember?) – there’s so much to do – but now I can’t wait to get my hands dirty. I started assembling images to work with and this feels good. The “so much to do” will get done.
We have a new route planned, though it may change again. You can see it above. Comments? (I’d be so grateful for your input)