Road Report: Driving, Cross Country in the United States.

General, Travel Reports

Road Report. Cross Country

Comfort Inn. Pittsburg, PA.

Sun. Dec. 14th, 2003.

(Rough draft, brushed up draft on blog in a few days)

Just got into the hotel room (the first with Net access) after belting back a few drinks with a fella I met at the bar down the street from my roadside hotel off the 79 in Pittsburg PA. Lets call him Joe. Talking to Joe left me feeling like a career politician might feel if kidnapped from their bubble and placed in a working class bar in some random town. It was a stunningly educational, occasionally frightening, and ultimately hopeful, conversation. Skip to the end of this post if you want to read about that.

It feels strange to type after 5 days away from the computer…very strange, but its coming back quick. It does not feel strange to sit though; I’ve been sitting for 12 hours a day in my little car for the past 5 days. I’ve been on the road now since Wednesday when I left sunny San Diego headed for New Hampshire. I drive during the day, taking lots of short breaks.

A note about truckers before I go any further down this road. What a crazy ass numbing job truckin’ must be! But they keep America humming and they are your best friends on long trips, if you are observant you learn the language of the road, and it’s all trucker-eze. If trucks are going slow, go slow. If they are going fast, go fast, because they know where the cops are and the coming road conditions and weather. Follow tucks around cities, not through them. Be suspicious of highways with few trucks. Stop at rest areas where there are a lot of trucks and take a short nap like they do to keep your eyes sharp. Don’t tailgate them ever, and don’t pass them on curves if you can help it. Never pass slowly, lounging in their blind spot. And always, always, always give them the right of way. If you do this, they will take care of you on desolate desert freeways, dark snowy tree lined highways. If was the president I’d fund trucker yoga classes though, because judging from my back and kidneys, life on the road is brutal to the body, and after 12 hours of driving, the last thing you want to do is work out.

I headed out on the 15 North to the 40 West, passing through the song, “Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino,” except in reverse. I pushed hard to get to my mother’s house in Santa Fe, driving 970 miles in one day. It’s sort of a blur of gas stations since I had to get a roof rack and load it up, thus taking the gas mileage in my ’95 Subaru Impreza 5 door station wagon down to about 20MPG. It’s a very sure footed AWD car though, especially loaded down and with the bigger engine. Highly recommended machine.

Before I left I bought a video and still cameras, justifying it because I’m going to be teaching media literacy at a school. I’ve decided to take a little video every 100 miles and make a 15 minute short – should be interesting.

Thursday I left at 2pm and headed down to the 40. There was a storm coming across the country that I was trying to stay ahead of, but I slept late and had a good breakfast with my mother and visited with my stepfather and then my aunt and uncle came down and they all had to help me unload and repack my car. That was comical, each one making sure I had food, water, maps, etc., as if it was my first drive after getting my license. Driving away I regretted teasing them, especially my mother, for being so caring. One should not scorn love, even if it is totally ridiculous. I called from the road and said as much and felt better.

After a beautiful secondary road to the boring but excellent rt. 40 the storm caught me. A couple of hours outside of Amarillo Texas the bridges started freezing in the rain. I went by 12 accidents, one of which happened in front me. An SUV just started drifting on a bridge, slammed into one guard rail, then all the way over to the other one and stopped. I pulled over and getting out of the car couldn’t even stand on the side of the road ’cause it was solid black ice. He was fine and the cops arrived in minutes, probably called by truckers.

The next morning it was still raining when I work up in the little Travelodge and hit the road by 8:30am, a little late due to the time change escaping my attention. The weather channel and I conferred and I stayed on the 40 to keep it raining instead of snowing. I really, really, wanted to go north because I live the scenery and being raised in Maine I get irrationally nervous in formerly confederate states. It didn’t help that one of my books on tape was Don’t Know Much About

American History. I listened to that in the mornings, and the Iliad in the afternoons when I was spacey. I followed the rain all day.

By Ft. Smith Arkansas I stopped again. The next morning it had snowed a couple of inches, just like Amarillo. After Little Rock I consulted the weather gods, called a friend who got on the, plotted, planned and strategized. I could go north, letting the storm continue East at about 50mph, then follow it into the North East where it was heading to dump all kinds of snow. This would keep me on the North side of the Appalachians. Or I could continue in the warm south along the 40 to the ocean. But the storm was forecast to ice up the 40 around Appalachian pass, but if I could make it to the 95 and run up the Eastern seaboard behind it. The problem with that was the big city traffic and of course I wanted to go north. I finally decided to make a dash North at Memphis up the 55 to the 57, to the 64 North. It worked and although it rained and snowed lightly most of the way, the roads were mostly good. In Evansville Illinois I stopped for the night after a harrowing last hour driving in snow at night. By this time the truck stops were filling with bad coffee and piles of fried everything as their main fair.

The 64 was a serene country highway that I took to the 71 and up on to Cincinnati. Still snowing lightly, but with good roads, I called another friend for a consultation. We elected to stay south of the Great lakes, but north of the mountains, which meant the 70 through Columbus to Pittsburg where I am now. I’ll make NH tomorrow, weather willing.

So back to Joe.

Joe is 32, single, with a 14-year-old daughter he loves to death. I’m going to relay his story and thoughts, as they were very illuminating to me. I am not endorsing his opinions mind you.

Joe pays his child support willingly and is devoted to his daughter completely. He thinks he’ll not get married due to his parents’ savage divorce that left them both poor and angry. He’s a carpenter in a big union and is training to build bridge molds in Pittsburg. He’s from a small town in Pennsylvania where he owns 35acres he bought with his own money so he could someday build a house on give to his daughter when he dies, “She could sell it, live in it, I don’t care, just so she’s got somethin'” he told me. She wants to be an Ocean oceanographer and he totally supports her. He has interesting times going to football games where she cheerleads, because sometimes her school plays his old school where he played football. He was in the military for a few years and worked in factories.

Joe’s political thoughts were surprisingly shaded grays.

We established that there is a triad of top priorities for him.

1. Family values.

He’s dismayed at the condition of families and that schools are having to parent, “The world’s changing and we’re not keeping up with how to keep strong family values.” He’s sort of pro life because abortions will happen anyway so they might as well be safe. He worked since he was 12, he was “disciplined” which he was adamant was never “abuse” and he was troubled that we’ve forgotten that there is a difference. He got in fights outside of school, but never one’s that were really really serious and they helped him vent, which is missing now, he said. His high school coach smacked him around when he was out of line. He is pro-Bush due to his family values. We didn’t get into gay parenting, but he said, “Hey, I judge on character. Some gay guy hits on me and I’ll kill him, but otherwise I don’t care. Same with blacks and others. Live and let live, judge on actions.” I told him I lived in a gay area and went to gay bars with girls sometimes to dance and got hit on, “Oh, well that’s different, it’s their turf.” We agreed that their you have to expect to get hit on at a gay bar. He said he had no inherent problems with different folks and we agreed that assholes come in all flavors. He supports women working and would love to stay at home with his daughter if he found a rich one to marry, not that he’s going to get married again. But he’s also confused about how to keep good family values and raise kids well in this new world.

2. Economy. He was anti-Bush due to Bush’s position on union wages and overtime. He was very proud that his union president had refused a meeting at Bush’s ranch on these grounds. Unions may have problems with some dead wood, but they were needed and he was a union man. We talked about how he’s in the middle of family values and unions, democrat and republican. About how we need health care and good jobs. About how he wants a politicians to talk plainly and come from poor backgrounds so they can relate to common folks.

3. Guns

We have to be able to keep our guns so nobody can attack our country. This was not negotiable. Violence in our country was more due to lack of education, money, opportunities, culture, and then guns. We talked about Iraq. He wanted us out, saying the war games he played while in the military were bad enough, the real thing must be horrible. We agreed it was a rats nest, but Joe was mystified why we didn’t bomb the piss out of the busses of terrorists we saw coming into the country from other countries.

We talked about slavery. He had great grandfather, or some such old relative, who told him that when he and his family were hungry in the winter because their farm was not producing enough food or money, the slaves were eating on the plantations because they were kept healthy for work. He said, hushed, that it wasn’t all beatings and abuse. His opinion was that slaves were given freedom to fast to let everybody adjust in a healthy way. We agreed we were left with a terrible legacy of bad social psychology, being a country founded on freedom but having had slaves. We also agreed that the American Indian thing was a big mess and wished some politician would tackle that problem.

And we talked about truckers and the silent rules of the road. On this we were in perfect agreement. We parted and wished each other well crusin’ safely on the coattails of the kings of the road.

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