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    On the Road
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Entries in Terri Hendrix (3)


Blue Highways: Lakewood, New Jersey

Unfolding the Map

Travel, people!  Go to places that you've never been and even never thought of going!  That's the overwhelming message of this post.  As William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) eats in a diner and waitress tells him not to go someplace, don't listen.  I'm telling you to go wherever you want and don't let anyone persuade you not to go.  You'll thank me later.

Book Quote

"When I paid the waitress, she filled with motherly counsel.  'Look, you're a nice boy.  Go to the shore.  Go to Atlantic City.  But for godsakes don't go to no middle.  The Pineys breed like flies in there.  Live like animals.'

"I'd heard those words across the country.  It was almost an axiom that anyone who lived off a main highway was an animal that bred like a fly...."

Blue Highways: Part 9, Chapter 8

I couldn't find a real exciting picture except for these storefronts in Lakewood, New Jersey. Photo by Kevin Knipe and hosted at City Data. Click on photo to go to host page.

Lakewood, New Jersey

When I was a little kid, I guess I was typical.  Whenever my mother or father told me I couldn't do something, it just made we want to do it more.  "No, Michael, you can't jump off the roof."  "No Michael, I won't let you walk down to the ocean by yourself."  "No, Michael, you are too young to go hunting with your dad."

Each time I heard "No" or was told "You can't..." I immediately didn't hear the rest.  I didn't hear the reason why I couldn't do something, which usually (though not always) made perfect, reasonable sense.  I blocked it out as my affronted brain feverishly tried to work out a way that I could do it, and would do it.

Luckily, I grew up.  Luckily, my frontal lobes finally developed, giving me (usually) a healthy sense of caution.  While I am not always risk averse, and like a good adventure, I'm not foolhardy either.

But when faced with a situation, especially when I'm traveling, where I'm discouraged to go somewhere or try something new, I still get like that young, past self of mine:  I start trying to figure out a way that I can do it.

I've heard it a lot in my life.  "Why would you want to go there?"  Or, even better:  "Don't go there, it's (place appropriate adjective here) and not worth your time."

I usually don't take heed.  There have been very few places that I've gone that I haven't found something, or some reason, to have made it worth my while to go.

Like LHM's waitress, most people measure the worth of a place by comparing it to what they know.  If it matches somewhat, with maybe a few differences, they are happy.  It is this mentality that leads people to always choose Applebees just off the interstate regardless of what culinary delights might be just five minutes drive into downtown.  We know what we like, and we stay with it.  As I write this post, I am eagerly awaiting a global music festival in Albuquerque, Globalquerque, which starts tonight and is one of the best things about this city.  It brings the world to our little corner of the desert.  Yet most people in Albuquerque don't know about it, and many of those wouldn't go because they aren't willing to open themselves up to something new.  Their rationale is, quite possibly, "I won't like it, and so I won't try it."  That's not me.

If I had that mentality, I would have never gone to Bangladesh.  I wouldn't have had the thrill of being scared half to death by a crash and a pair of gleaming eyes in a tree as I went from a hut to the outhouse very early one morning, only to realize that it was a giant fruit bat.  I would have never experienced the countryside, in the space of two weeks, fill up with water as the monsoon unleashed its fury.

I would have never gone to El Salvador and experienced the kindness of most of the people and also the fear that pervades the capital as dangerous drug gangs roam the streets.

I would have never gone to Northern Ireland as an observer during the parading season, where Protestant Irish groups parade with huge drums, desperately holding on to a tradition based on subjugating Catholic Irish groups because it's the only tradition they have.  I would have never seen the might of the British police and military apparatus, supposedly protecting the Nationalist communities from encroachment by more radical Protestant marchers but whose intentions were not trusted by anyone.

I would have never gone to Milwaukee to do volunteer service, lived in the inner-city, lived in Texas (you can't imagine how many "why would you want to move there?" questions I got then), lived in New Orleans, or visited half of the places that I've gone to.

Yet each place I've been, even if others think I'm nuts for going, has given me something precious.  Bangladesh was my first true immersion into a developing country, and the curiosity and generosity of its people, as well as the sheer mass of people, gave me an appreciation for where I live and where I am from as well as an overwhelming admiration for those who somehow, some way eke out a living in very, very difficult circumstances.  El Salvador gave me a respect for a people who, politically, were starting to come out from under the heel of decades of paternalistic and autocratic governments as well as many memories of trying to learn how to communicate with people with less than adequate Spanish.  Northern Ireland, even in the midst of hopeless division, showed me that even the hardest cases can have deep cracks that will one day open and that where hope seems small, it might only be the tip of the iceberg.  It too had fundamentally good people who were trying to find a way out of a decades-long nightmare.  Had jobs not called, I might have made Milwaukee my home base.  I came to love Texas.  I still see New Orleans as a spiritual home.

I'm not trying to elevate myself over everyone else in this post.  I don't think of myself as superior simply because I'm open to trying new things or going places that others say I shouldn't or would never think of going themselves.  However, I believe that those who isolate themselves into certain routines, that play it safe, that always stay with what they know probably have a narrower world view than others.  There is a cartoon that I found that, while a bit over the top, captures this spirit.  It shows an obvious racist Klansman-type with home decorations consisting of various fascist symbols.  Someone hands him a ticket for an around the world trip.  It shows him meeting new people of all ethnicities and doing new things in various countries.  Finally, when he comes back, his extremist decor is replaced by mementos from his trip, and he is placing a picture of himself with some African kids in the center of his bookcase.  I believe that challenging oneself to do things, even a small thing like trying a new restaurant or tasting a new type of food, expands our horizons.  I believe that travel, especially going to places that in some ways challenge us, opens our minds and helps us appreciate not only the places we go and people we meet, but also ourselves and where we live.  It gives us perspective.

I always take inspiration from my grandmother, who was a self-described "backwoods bunny."  Yet well into her fifties and sixties she made two trips of a lifetime to Europe to visit family that she had found in Austria.  She hated to fly, but she did.  Her photos and stories of Austria inspired me to travel there too.  I waited until I was in my thirties, but I did, and once I did there was no stopping me.  I'm a better person for it.  As my wife told an audience she was speaking to recently, "I like who I am when I travel."  I'll go her one further.  I especially like who I am when I travel to places I never thought I'd go.

Musical Interlude

I had a song for this, but I couldn't find it.  Oh well.  Terri Hendrix singing "Take me places I've never been before" will do.

If you want to know more about Lakewood

Township of Lakewood
Wikipedia: Lakewood

Next up: Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey


Blue Highways: West of Minong, Wisconsin

Unfolding the Map

I really don't have much in the way of introduction for this post.  I'm just going to let it, and the subsequent two or three posts, speak for themselves.  The only thing I will say is that this blog has been about my inner thoughts about the books I'm mapping, so I can warn you that the next few posts will be very personal and difficult for me, and are a result of William Least Heat-Moon's chapter where he picks up a runaway girl and gives her a ride to Green Bay despite his misgivings.  The map will show you the area that I believe approximately shows where LHM picked her up.

Book Quote

"'Hey! Sir!  Going toward Green Bay?'...

"'Do you live in Green Bay?' She shook her head. 'Look, I'm not picking up some teenage roadie unless I know what you're doing.' I kept checking the rearview mirror.  'Where do you live?'

"'Eau Claire.'  She was trying not to cry.

"'What are you doing up here?'

"'Come on, man!'  I put the truck in gear.  Her face red with rage, she screamed, 'I split!'

"'What's in Green Bay?'

"She took a few steps up the road.  'Christ!  I don't need a ride this bad!'

"'And I don't need your trouble.'  I put the van in gear again.

"Through gritted teeth she said, 'My grandmother's in Green Bay!'

I checked the rearview mirror again.  The truth was I thought she might be the bait on some scam.  'Hey!' she said.  'I'm the one's supposed to be scared.'"

Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 12

Old saloon in Minong, Wisconsin. Photo by Tom at Tom's Travel Blog. Click on photo to go to host page.

West of Minong, Wisconsin

A Letter
The Daughter
I Will Never
(Part 1)

Dear ____,

I don't know what to call you.  The only reason I call you ____ is because I'm not really sure what I would have named you or if you would have come to me with a name.

I'm writing this letter to you because this next set of stops in Blue Highways, where LHM rides with a young runaway girl hitching to Green Bay, seems to invite me to do something that I have been meaning to do for a long time.  I need to come to some kind understanding that I will never know you.  I need to grieve that you will never exist in my life.

You see, I'm 48 years old now.  My wife and I put off having children until we began to consider becoming parents in our late 30s.  Little did we know that was too late.  Her body had developed conditions that meant that there was little chance of fertilization, and little chance of implantation even if fertilization occurred.  That was terribly emotionally difficult for her - for both of us.  I was supportive, assuring her that she had no blame, no reason for feeling guilty whatsoever.

We decided that we might try for adoption.  After all, I was adopted.  I am not particularly attached to my genetic material, and besides, I have always felt that loving and caring for a child transcends genes.  But, despite initial explorations, we couldn't get it together.  Then, personal difficulties and professional opportunities delayed us even more.

It is said that if you wait until you are ready to have children, you will never have them.  That perfectly describes us.  As I have gotten older, I think too much about things.  I hope that you will understand that it's not selfishness that drives me to give up my dream of you.

I want you to know that I always assumed I'd be a father.  I have always dreamed of raising a daughter.  I don't know why a daughter in particular.  Maybe it's the romantic notion of the bond that fathers and daughters develop, so different than the mother/daughter bond but just as special in its own way.  I pictured myself helping you grow, teaching you, being proud of who you would turn out to be and all the the things that you would have accomplished.  I saw myself not only playing with you and later, helping you learn how to throw a softball and how to bat, going to your dance or music recitals, and also being present at your birthday parties or taking you to your friends' parties.  I imagined that your mom and I would share being with you in your myriad of activities, and the best times would be when all of us were together.

I could see you being strong and independent, because after all you would have your mother and me as role models.  I also pictured in you an intelligence and a curiosity about what the world has to offer.  You would have a renaissance of interests, encouraged by me.  I would have only tried to give you a good basis for making the right decisions, but I wouldn't have tried to force you into being a younger, female version of me.  Instead I would have encouraged you to explore and experiment and find your way in the world and hopefully, you would teach me as you made your discoveries. 

I imagined you growing up.  I saw myself accompanying you to a father-daughter high school dance.  I pictured you bringing home boys.  I would play the protective father and you would protest that you could take care of yourself and I would trust you to be careful.  I saw myself proudly giving you away at your wedding.  You would look beautiful in your dress and in your happiness.  Your mom would dry her tears and I would choke back a lump in my throat.  I imagined you tired but happy after delivering your own children, and myself as the silver-haired grandfather connecting with granddaughters and grandsons just as we bonded.

But that won't come to pass.  You will be forever an illusory desire because I realize, at my age and after waiting so long, that it just .might be too difficult now.  You see, when people are young, they have kids without thinking about the consequences.  They just do it and work out the details later.  When you get older, you begin to wonder whether you can step up.  Latent fears, including that of being an older parent, step in.  You wonder if you be able to change your lifestyle to accommodate a child's needs.  You wonder if you have the right stuff.

If there is indecision, then I don't think it's right to try.  You can't just give child-raising a trial and after a month say "this isn't for me."  But it's hard for me to think about, because I really, really wanted you.  And I know, in my heart, that I would have been a great father to you, whoever you might have been.

I think about the runaway that LHM finds in the middle of the woods in Wisconsin, and I know that would not have happened to you.  You would have had no reason to run away, no reason to be scared and lonely and on your own.  Our house would have been the place that you and your friends would have wanted to be.  You would have been happy, and you would have been loved.  I would have used everything that I learned from my life, which, as you will see in subsequent posts has taught me a lot, to not only teach you but protect you.

I know that I have a naive view of parenting.  I know that there would be troubles, growing pains, arguments and fights, drama, heartbreak and other difficulties.  But we would have worked through them, and even if you were angry and upset with me you would have known that you were supported and loved.

But right now, I just want to say I'm sorry, and that on days when I'm not denying to myself what my choices have meant for my chance at fatherhood, I miss you terribly and I grieve your loss.

Musical Interlude

When I first heard this spoken-word song, If I Had a Daughter, after we purchased Terri Hendrix album The Spiritual Kind, it brought a tear to my eye.  Ms. Hendrix encapsulated many inner feelings I have.  This video was made by someone Ms. Hendrix knows and was approved by her.

If you want to know more about Minong

Minong, Wisconsin
Town of Minong
Village of Minong
Washburn County: Minong
Wikipedia: Minong

Next up: Hayward and Park Falls, Wisconsin


Blue Highways: Johnson City, Texas

Unfolding the Map

Click on Thumbnail for MapWilliam 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.

Book Quote

"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

Downtown Johnson City, Texas. Photo by William Beauchamp on Click on photo to go to host site.

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