Unfolding the Map
William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) leads us to speculate on wanderlust today as we drive with him through Johnson City, Texas. Satisfy your wanderlust by reading through the post and click on the map thumbnail if you want to see where the wanderlust has led us so far.
"Johnson City was truly a plain town. The 'Lyndon B. Johnson Boyhood Home,' pleasantly plain, is here; and commercial buildings on the square were plain and homely. The best piece, the refurbished Johnson City Bank of rough-cut fieldstone, was perhaps the only bank in the country to be restored rather than bulldozed for a French provincial Tudor hacienda time-and-temperature building."
Blue Highways: Part 4, Chapter 5
Johnson City, Texas
I have been reading a set of daily meditations for men, and a recent mediation was "wanderlust." The questions I was supposed to consider were whether I ever had wanderlust and what I did about it.
I think I developed my wanderlust early but was a little timid to do anything about it. I grew up in Northern California, and went to college there. After a year-long relationship in my junior year that ended and left me somewhat heartbroken, and then a short and intense relationship in my senior year that abruptly ended, I decided I needed to get out of California and see something of the rest of the country. I joined a volunteer program and went east of California for the first time in my life, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I lived there for 10 years, and it was there that my wanderlust truly kicked in.
I was lucky enough to eventually have a job that allowed me travel to other states. In particular, I loved my trips to the East Coast. I would take the car provided with my job and drive through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, down through New Jersey to Phillie, back through West Virginia and so on. I took small roads when I could, much like William Least Heat-Moon (this was before I ever read him). I turned off on side roads to see places with interesting names. It was during my time in Milwaukee, in my early thirties, when I made my first backpacking trip to Europe and visited nine countries over the course of 2½ months.
I am lucky enough to marry a woman who also loves to travel, and together we've lived in exciting places (Milwaukee, San Antonio, New Orleans, Albuquerque) and traveled together to Europe twice (once as international observers to Northern Ireland, once to Germany for a wedding which involved side trips to Poland and the Czech Republic). I've been very fortunate to have some jobs that allowed me to travel as part of my work. In San Antonio, I made thrice yearly trips to New York City, and made a fact-finding trip to Bangladesh as well as the international observer trip to Northern Ireland.
Even in Albuquerque, I have been able to travel. Once on a day's notice, I helped a 70 year old woman deliver a van from Albuquerque down to a rural community in the state of Guanajuato in Mexico. I traveled to El Salvador for immersion Spanish lessons.
I write all this not to chalk up my traveling experiences. Others have traveled more widely and extensively than me. We have a friend whose goal is to visit thirty countries by the time she's thirty, and she probably will. But in the spirit of my meditation assignment, what stands out to me is my willingness, not necessarily my ability, to go places and to explore my world. Take my life in San Antonio, for example. While there, my wife and tried to explore Texas as well as we could. In particular, we wanted to see the Texas hill country, which we heard was beautiful, especially when the wildflowers bloomed in the spring. That exploration took us a few times to the environs of Johnson City.
Originally, when I thought of wanderlust, Johnson City would not have been the first name that would have come to my mind as a destination. Wanderlust initially meant to me exotic climes and adventures in faraway lands. For example, under this paradigm, my trips to Bangladesh, El Salvador, Mexico, and even Europe, would have been considered by me true examples of the product of wanderlust.
But wanderlust means so much more than trying to take a trip to some faraway place. There's nothing to say that wanderlust can't involve a plain sounding place like Johnson City. It was our wanderlust that brought us into the Texas hill country - we'd heard of wonders like Pedernales Falls and Enchanted Rock (more on that when we get to Fredericksburg) and the historic LBJ Ranch. We knew that a place like Luckenbach existed in that area, where Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and other musicians were known to frequent. It was those draws, plus a willingness to see new things and experience something different that brought us there. And, we even stopped in Johnson City to eat at a place called Uncle Kunkel Barbecue, simply because it reminded us of a person that lived in Milwaukee with the same last name.
So to me, wanderlust is a desire to go anyplace, see anything, and to constantly have that yearning to travel. Wanderlust is not confined to the high marquee places. A person who has true wanderlust is one who will turn off a main highway because a name looks interesting, or because they're just curious about what's up that road. True wanderlust leads us to places like Johnson City as much or more often than places like St. Croix, and allows us to learn if there is anything there. Most of the time, we'll find something interesting.
I have wanderlust. I try to travel. When I can't, I read and scratch my wanderlust itch through others' experiences and words. And now I write in this blog about both experiences. As Terri Hendrix, Texas singer-songwriter from the Texas hill country, sings: "Take me places I've never been before." I hope I never lose this affliction and gift.
I leave you in this post with a video of Terri Hendrix, a marvelous musician and one of my favorites, singing Jim Thorpe's Blues from her album The Spiritual Kind. The guy playing mandolin is her longtime collaborator Lloyd Maines, who is the father of Natalie Maines, lead singer for the Dixie Chicks.
If you want to know more about Johnson City
Johnson City Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
Pedernales Falls State Park
Texas Escapes: Johnson City
Texas State Historical Association: Johnson City
Wikipedia: Johnson City
Next up: Stonewall, Texas