New York – Southern Tier

We left Detroit to follow Route 90 past Cleveland and Erie, Pa., where we connected up with I-86. For the past two days we have followed this meandering highway as it winds between the Allegheneys, skirting Pennsylvania, then dipping back up through lower New York State. The behavior of this roadway directly corresponds with our mood. We don’t want to commit to “going back” – both of us would like to stay on the road indefinitely. Last night we sat in a restaurant in Binghampton looking through the photographs and marveling at how much we have seen and done in the past month, and at the uneven passage of time that has marked this trip. Nashville seems so long ago – OKC – was that last summer? Asheville, like the beginning of the summer, while Gary bookends the end.

The last two days, across Ohio, Pa and NY, it has rained relentlessly. I’ve taken very few photographs. After driving ahead of or behind the weather for the whole five weeks, it finally caught up with us. But last night it cleared, revealing that rare and perfect light that emerges after a rainstorm, when color is saturated by the angled light of 7pm and the watery sheen covering the landscape. You can shoot anything; it’s all about the light.

So this is the last morning. We’re eager to get out, looking forward to the drive along Route 17 through the Catskills and the Borscht Belt. I would like to stay off the interstate alltogether. To blast in over the Tappan Zee seems a disappointing ending to the trip. We’ll cross at the Bear Mountain Bridge and roll home down Route 9.


The Heidelberg Project – Detroit

We left around 11, aiming for Ann Arbor, Michigan. I wanted to explore Detroit the next day. We arrived around 6 pm, after stopping along the lakeshore to explore the dunes, the 1933 World’s Fair “Homes of the Future”, and Mt. Baldy (125 feet!). We had lunch at a rest stop, and then sped off to Ann Arbor.

We checked out this morning and headed straight to The Heidelberg Project. In 1986 an artist named Tyree Guyten started painting abandoned housed in an effort to bring attention, and, ultimately, funds to the depressed neighborhood he lived in after the decline began in Detroit. Today several houses remain – having survived two attempts by the city to bulldoze the area- and other artists have contributed to the project. The city now supports the project and other grassroots art installations have sprung up around the city, contributing to it’s modest resurgence of late.

We spent a couple of hours photographing the neighborhood, and Tony was lucky enough to meet and talk with Tyree for a bit. we then got back into the car and explored the city from south to north, as far as Grosse Pointe. I was fascinated with Detroit and would like to learn more about it’s recent history, then go back for a few days in the near future to meet some of the artists and photograph more in-depth.

We then drove on toCleveland, where we are staying tonight.

Miller Beach!

We got up early and drove up to Miller Beach, Indiana, where my sister and her family live. They bought the house last year as a retreat from their busy lives in Chicago, and decided to move there permanently. It’s one of those best- kept-secret communities on the beach near the Dunes National Lakeshore, along Lake Michigan. The community is surrounded by remnants of Gary, Indiana, now a part of the great Rust Belt circling the lakes in the Midwest.

We stopped off at the Cahokia Mounds in south Illinois to visit a beautifully designed little museum that described the civilization of this, the oldest and most elaborate society of native Americans in our history. We walked the mounds and imagined what these pyramidal structures would have been like 900 years ago when this prehistoric city was thriving.

A few more stops: one small town was hosting a street fair so we walked that and then had “the best catfish in Illinois” at a local luncheonette. And, finally, the last few Route 66 attractions before we would turn east and leave that highway for good.

We arrived in Miller just in time for a quick swim before Marianne returned home from a day-long orientation for her teaching program. She is about to change careers from corporate law to teaching middle school and I couldn’t be happier for her or more proud of her courage to follow her dreams after a successful 20+ year career. In addition to that, she was leaving the following morning to embark on a 450 mile, week-long bike ride across Iowa with 14,000 of her best friends. By now she has completed more than half the trip, and in good time.

We stayed at the beach house until Tuesday morning. This was to be our mini-vacation. We went into Chicago to meet an old friend Sunday, and spent Monday taking a long bike ride on a rail trail, then soaking up the sun on the beach and swimming in the silken waters of Lake Michigan. We bar-b-que-d both nights, and we were ready to hit the road again on Tuesday.

Miami and Joplin

We left the motel pretty early; there was a lot we wanted to see today.first, the Coleman Theater, right there in Miami (pronounced “Ma-am-ah”) where we stayed for the night. I was photographing the exterior of this beautiful wedding-cake art deco building when a pleasant middle aged man invited us inside. Glen gave us a 45 minute detailed tour of the vaudeville theater, which has been completely restored in the past ten years by volunteers and with the help of 10 million donated dollars.several “miracles” have also played a role in the reconstruction: lost chandeliers turning up in Texas, patches of the ruined carpet found hidden under flooring- the magic goes on. We were treated to the sounds of a fantastic organ and a visit to the stars dressing room to stand in the footprints of Bob Hope, Buckwheat and Doris Day, among many others. This was the biggest, fanciest theater west of New York, built by a zinc and lead millionaire for his wife, who had grown weary of journeying by train to the big apple for a little entertainment.

Next stop: Joplin. Very sobering. The extent of the damage here compared too what we saw in North Carolina was astounding, jaw dropping. I photographed some of it, but felt exploitative, and kept the shooting to a minimum. One house was relatively intact (That is, standing) and had a large sign in the front yard asking for donations. I stopped to snap a photograph and a young man came out of the house and saluted me with his beer. I asked him if he was the owner and he answered yes, more or less, and we talked for a while about his trials. He had moved his mother north about twenty miles- she and the dogs were okay- and he stayed behind to fix the house. He told me that three months before the tornado his insurance company had tripled his rates and he let the insurance go. ” it was as if they had a crystal ball” he said. He said 5 contractors told him the house was salvageable, 5 others told him to raze the property. He laughed a bit as he said that if he did fix it up, he would have the whole neighborhood to himself. He said there had been so many trees around the house it had always stayed cool in the hot summers but now it was too hot to work with all the trees gone. He told me he had to drive 5 miles to collect water, but the state would give him 100 gallons for $1, so it was worth the drive. Hard to siphon, though, and the lack of pressure made it difficult to clean up. We talked a bit more, I wished him well. He said, “God bless you” as I climbed back into the car. Then began the guilt as I realized I could have handed him some cash, but I hadn’t. He had seemed so proud i didn’t want to insult him, but then there was that sign, and of course I should have helped out. I felt terrible.

Hours later we arrived at our destination in Stanford, Mo., Meramec Caverns. A charming roadside attraction, but so much more. The last of the privately owned caverns it contains unique formations, and a colorful history. This is where the James Gang hid out, and how they escaped the law, traveling by boat through the 16 + miles of river running through the chambers of the cave system. Our guide was funny and knowledgeable, working on his Phd in geology.

We stayed at the motel on the property, and it was a pleasant change from the highway stopovers we’ve grown accustomed to. We had our take out catfish dinners at a picnic table next to the river, listening to birdsongs rather than truck traffic.

Hot and chaotic

We drove from Amarillo to OKC yesterday, into 100+ temps. We had to abandon our plan of late to check into last minute cheap motels because Tony was expecting a proof on the poster he designed last week for a new client. We had reserved a room in the Day’s Inn West, OKC, and Tony gave the address to his printer so he could overnight the proof.

We arrived at the motel around 7:30. I was feeling the heat and the accumulation of a few heavy mileage days, and all I had been thinking about for hours was jumping into the beautiful, sparkly pool I had seen on the website (the reason I picked this motel). For the third time on this trip, the pool was out of order. I overheard the desk clerk tell a family from Montreal the bad news and almost burst into tears. We were stuck with the motel because of the pending package of proofs.

I went out to the car to gather my wits (and because the lobby was hot and smelly), and sat for a few minutes complaining about the heat, etc. Tony went back inside with me after the French family exited, and the clerk assigned us to a room in the front of the motel. I asked her to please move us to the rear, away from the traffic noise, and she responded, “oh, I would never put you back there”. I had to ask her three times why not before she finally replied, “well, that’s where all the drug trafficking happens”. I just looked at Tony and said, I’m not staying here. The desk clerk happily refunded our money and sent us to the other side of town, “where all the nice motels are at”.

We lucked out with a nice Sleep Inn, complete with working pool and room service. We went for a swim at 9, and Tony got up early and went over to the Days Inn, where they were kind enough to hold his package.

Meantime, the craziest thing happened. On our way to OKC we noticed a tiny crack on the side of the windshield. Within an hour it had grown about a third of the way across the windshield. I was silently freaking out, imagining the glass exploding and sending thousands of tiny glass pellets, like buckshot, into our faces at 75 mph. I had all kinds of scenarios spinning around my hyper-anxious brain. Of course we made it to OKC intact, windshield and body-wise.

So, this morning we headed north, but by the time we reached Tulsa the crack was longer still and my fantasies had grown to include my jugular vein and pellets not bouncing off Tony’s glasses, but smashing through them (remember, we’re driving 75 mph). I gently reminded Tony to call the insurance guy just to see what he thought.

He told us to take care of it right away.

The next 30 minutes were chaos: calling Safelite (Tony remembered the jingle and actually knew what the company does – restore glass in cars), figuring out where we were, taking 10 minutes to get the guy to understand that we couldn’t make it to Yonkers by 3 ( it was 2:45 and Yonkers was 1600 miles away) – but we might be able to make it to Broken Arrow if we could get directions. We programmed the GPS, switched drivers (I’m the better navigator, he’s the better driver) and took off. If we didn’t get there by 3 we would have to wait until tomorrow. While we sped along I shouted directions, Tony answered the dispatcher’s questions, the phone slid under his seat, a cop almost followed us, I continued to envision the window blowing in all over us, the dispatcher kept saying, “You’ll make it” (how does he know, he doesn’t even know where we are?) – somehow we got there by 3:03. They took us.

We then spent 2 1/2 hours in a very pleasant waiting room, with our cooler next to my chair, the phone plugged in and resting on top, and my iPad humming through several games of Scrabble.

We were out by 5:30 and at our destination, Miami, OK, by 7:30. Sadly, we missed the big blue whale, but at that point I really didn’t care.


A few words about taking care of business on the road.

As of today we have been on the road for a month. 5500 miles haven’t hampered our responsibilities, nor has living on the road been an impediment to taking care of business.

Here are some of the things we have managed to do in the past four weeks:

1. Tony has completed two medium-sized free lance jobs with a small laptop and consecutive wifi set ups.

2. We have guaranteed an apartment for our youngest daughter, including the paperwork and wiring of funds.

3. We have kept current with our bills.

4. We have had a minor medical emergency and received excellent care and proper meds. The CVS in Asheville had all my info, as if we were at home.

5. We have replaced a bulb in our headlight, two brake light bulbs, a windshield, changed the oil twice, and rotated our tires.

6. We have shopped at two Trader Joe’s and thus kept our favorite foods in stock.

7. I have photographed, downloaded, Photoshopped, saved, uploaded to the blog, and backed up over 3000 images.

8. We have done laundry weekly.

9. We have kept up with our workouts, hiked and ridden our bikes.

10. We have kept up with friends and family, and with my work.

11. Bought and shipped birthday presents for Lauren, and bought her dinner.

12. Refinanced our house.

13. Replaced a lost credit card within 12 hours.

What I have not been able to do on the road:

1. Kayak

2. See my friends and family up close.

Even so, everything here on the road seems simpler.

Heading East: Santa Rosa, NM to OKC

We’ve turned east, tracing the old Route 66 back through somewhat familiar territory before we head north toward Gary, Indiana. Yesterday we stayed in Santa Rosa, NM, so that we could spend some of today at The Blue Hole, a spring-fed swimming hole (always 61 degrees) formed by a sink-hole. it’s crystal-clear and a beautiful deep indigo at the center. Divers come from afar to explore the hole, and there’s an impressive dive-center at the location. We arrived at the spot and it was full of teens. We took a long bike-ride, then headed back to the hole. I noticed that nobody over about 25 was jumping in and everyone jumped right back out again. I decided that I didn’t want to have a heart attack here, so we went next door to a pretty little lake to swim and sun for a few hours. It was a very welcome break from driving and shooting.

Later, we passed by a modern ghost town. It looks recently and quickly abandoned. We stopped and spent about an hour photographing the site.

We passed through Erik, Oklahoma again. This is where I lost my photographs to camera malfunction, so I was able to recapture some of the images, though the light is different.

We’ve started taking advantage of the “cheapie” motels along the route; I prefer them to the chains. Each has its own individual flavor, and most also have the amenities we have come to expect from the chains: fridge, microwave, wifi, etc. But you can walk outside and sit on a plastic chair and watch the world go by. It’s quiet. The owners walk around tending to their properties and chatting with the clientele.

The process of checking into these motels is identical to what I remember from my childhood travels across the country. We reach our general destination then drive along the motel strip looking for the cleanest, but cheapest, stop. We pull up to the the office and go inside to inquire about vacancy, AAA, etc. There is usually a strong personality behind the counter and we trade banter back and forth across the formica counter as I fill out the registration card. I’m handed a key attached to an oblong plastic disc and return to the car to drive it over to room 103.

The heat is turned way up again. It reached 105 in Oklahoma City, where we stayed again last night. A crack has formed in the windshield, and I want to blame it on the heat, but Tony is doubtful. We watched it grow in the last hour of the drive yesterday, from a tiny line on the passenger side to a foot-long fissure crawling toward the rear-view mirror. It is distracting and more than a little disturbing.

Today we drive to Joplin – new territory and the site of the worst tornado event in our history, just over two months ago. I don’t yet know where we’re staying tonight and that’s just fine.

Empty Lot

We got up early and drove over to Fort Bliss to photograph the house I lived in when I was 5 – 6 years old. I was in kindergarten and first grade here. My memories of that time are few, but significant. First, there was an incident when my parents came and took me out of school, unexpectedly, to go “on a little vacation”. We piled into the car and headed up to New Mexico, up a steep, winding road into the mountains. My mother was literally on the floor in the backseat covering her head and sobbing the whole way. I remember feeling very confused and somewhat annoyed that I couldn’t put my feet on the floor. The trip ended when the car spun out and we hit the side of the mountain head-on. I remember everyone being very relieved that we hadn’t skidded in the opposite direction, off the side of the mountain. We turned around and headed back home, vacation over.

Looking back on that, there is only one explanation that fits. My father’s work was in missile command, and he would have been at the information forefront during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Either my mother freaked out and forced my father to take the family to a safe place, or the military sent us up that mountain.

The other memory was going to meet the president at the airport. I remember being on the opposite side of a chain link fence, in the first line of a crowd of people as he walked by, reaching over the fence to shake hands. I remember that charismatic smile as he bent to greet us little ones.

Next, I don’t know how much later – a day? Months? The Mother Superior came into our classroom and whispered something to our teacher. My teacher’s face turned red, and, framed by her habit, the tears streamed down as she told us to “get on our knees and pray; the president’s been shot”.

So today we were admitted on post by a friendly MP, and followed the GPS to the “house”. The entire neighborhood was gone, reduced to the yellow-brown dirt of this desert, phone poles still standing, driveways intact. I lived on a cul-de-sac, and that is still there. Funny that the house is gone, and the happy irony is that my best memory of the house was when the circle would flood during a heavy rain and all the kids would go “swimming” in the street. That was before concerns about kids going down the drainage flows – and I remember the water streaming through those and thank god that it didn’t happen to me or my sister. But those were joyous days – whooping and soaking in the rain and playing so hard I had to gasp for breath.

The curb is still there. I can visualize the water, and there are even sandbags over the drains today. Even though the house is gone, I can clearly remember this place.