Sketches of East of Here

I. Setting Out.

My brother is driving. I'm in the backseat at liberty to write. Dad, riding shotgun, shuffles through sheets of paper explaining stock valuations and physical therapy exercises.

The car is a 2015 Buick Lucerne with 62,000 miles on it and counting. Destination: Ludlow, Massachusetts, where my dad grew up, where he's from, where he still has family: his cousins, his aunt (who turns 88 in two days), his sister (who he hasn't seen in 25 years), his niece (likewise).

We left Belleville, Illinois, at 8 a.m. this morning, yours truly behind the wheel. Football (a.k.a. soccer) streams on satellite radio, channel 157, the European Championship tournament. This is the first round of the tournament, dubbed group play. Earlier, Russia knocked off Finland. Now, it's Turkey and Wales.

It's been awhile since I've been in a car's backseat. I'm enjoying it; it feels like a luxury. Like I'm flying on an airplane. What else is there to do but to read, to write? To describe, to explain, to tell?

At the first rest stop, my dad pointed at some new socks he was wearing.

"What do you think of these?" he asked...


Click to continue with my account of traveling by car to Ludlow, MA with my dad and brother to visit family there...

Coal Clams Are the New Storm Here

As we sat down at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room on our last full day in Savannah, the arrangement of food on the table drew attention.  The number of items itself was only part of the story: sweet potatoes, cheesy potatoes, fried chicken, cornbread, corn, rutabaga, cole slaw, cukes, black-eyed peas, lima beans, stuffing, barbecued pork, cabbage, green beans, jambalaya, white rice, baked beans.  All in porcelain bowls with serving spoons.  This was a family-style meal.  The way it works is that you stand in line outside the restaurant for a half an hour or so.  When one of the tables inside opens up, seven to nine of the people standing in line take a spot at the open table.  When you sit down, the food is hot and ready to go.  You grab a bowl next to you and start loading your plate.  If there’s something you want in a bowl across the table, you ask for it to be passed.  

Anne-Marie didn’t initially sit down.  She set her purse on her chair and went to wash her hands.  Brook had her hand sanitizer out.  I had mine out.  The woman seated to my right asked to use one of the bottles.  She and her husband had driven up from Miami, though they hail originally from Spain.  They had planned to be in Japan this week but canceled that trip because of the outbreak.  The other couple at our table was from Michigan, bringing the total at the table to eight.

I was conscious of the way I handled the bowls when passing or receiving them.  But I also felt resignation.  What’s done is done.  Let’s just enjoy lunch, I thought.  Reflecting back on the meal I’m wondering about the family-style concept in the age of corona.  That restaurant is an institution.  The original Mrs. Wilkes’s grand-daughter came to our table in greeting.  Yet, with the way the news is trending overseas, the word ‘inevitable’ comes to mind.  How do we stop going out to eat?  How many traditions are we willing to concede?  How many will we lose one way or another?  I mean, I’m putting pen to paper on this trip not just because I’m a writer but with a mind to meeting an assignment for a travel writing class I’m taking at Washington University in St. Louis.  My readers are my classmates.  But I don’t know, as I sit here in Savannah, ready to go home, if my class will even convene later this month.  Stanford has already gone online...


What follows is an essay I wrote one year ago as the coronavirus pandemic was taking hold. After multiple unsuccessful attempts to publish it elsewhere, I am happy to publish it here on my blog today. Click here for the full essay and thanks for reading...

Tijuana Exodus & Old Tricks in San Diego

13:04. I'm in my room, 1415, at the Westin San Diego. This is two hours in the room I didn't think I'd have. Because check-in isn't until three o'clock. I'm grateful.

I've looked at myself in the mirror. I look rough! My cheeks are approaching brick red, or burgundy. I stink!

First order of business is a full-on shower. Then some walkin' around, looking perhaps for a notebook store. Then I'm going to that burrito place I went to a year ago. I'm-a get two burritos, one for this afternoon, one for dinner...


Continue with this short travel essay...

Tijuana Mission Trip 2.0

We're between mountains, like in Colorado, or Utah. Wall! Border wall. To our left, to the north. Contiguous. Iron? A rusty red. Eight feet high? It cuts into the hillside.

Suddenly it's a little greener. Wind in the palms. Some flattening out. By the looks of it, the playa at camp will be windy. Stones, boulders on the hillsides. I've lost sight of the wall as we've tended south.

This is a smooth road. Turning to the south. Large round boulders. Accesso planta dart. Windmill. This is the back way into camp. It has a rural feel but there's actually quite a few plants or factories back in here. The road has gotten very rocky. A metal structure manufacturer. Galvanization. A burned area. Car carcasse. Lots of old tires. A guy in a chair under the shade of a tree just looking out at the road. Railroad.

We take a right onto a much smoother, paved road. There are lots of cars stopped on the side of this road. There are canopies set up. Lots of them. Is it a market? We're close to camp. Turning right, I know this road. There's the old, snub-nosed flatbed lorry. The silo-like red cylinder lying on its side. Dust! At 14:42 we are at the Amor Hacienda Camp...


Continue with this Tijuana 2019 travelogue...

Andersonville, August 2018

I.  Prologue:  Illinois Itinerants.

Itinerant.  Now there's a good word I don't use, have never used, to my recollection.  It means "passing about a country".  That's the adjective, as in "itinerant laborer" or "itinerant preacher".  But there's also a noun version: "one who travels from place to place".

And I'm thinking this might be fitting for us as we head to Chicago tomorrow, knowing the route I'm looking at taking, off-highway, through all those random little Illinois farm towns, Raymond and Stonington; Blue Mound and Boody; Pontiac and Ransom...



Find the full account here...

Tijuana Mission Trip—Pack Notes (An Appendix)

*  The pillowcase.  I wasn't happy with the resting place the lumpy pillowcase offered.  It's not the pillowcase's fault.  When I woke at night after I got the good air mat from Frank what woke me up was my sleeping mind's dissatisfaction with the lumpy pillowcase.  It was lumpy, it was damp, it was full of dirty wadded-up clothes or my balled-up second towel.  What ended up working the last night was to stuff just the bottom compartment of my backpack and then put the neck pillow on top of that.  So forget the pillowcase.

* Backpacking airmats.  Completely useless unless I can sleep on my back.  What just gives me an everlasting chuckle is how somewhere during the first night as I was tossing and turning on my mat—and as Graham was tossing and turning on his—I heard him completely let the air out of his mat, like a mat assassination.  I don't know if that is what he was trying to do, in some sort of "F this mat" move but as the air was going out I thought to myself, "We should probably move on from these mats..."


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The Only Good Way to Get a Really Good Suntan is to Start with a Really Bad Burn

And tomorrow I will circumautolate another part of the country, virgin to me, assuming I make it onto the plane.  We fly to AriZona to visit River's parents.  They say they have enough water but I am afraid they will try to tap into her, claiming genetic rights of appropriation.  Gila, Salt, Colorado, her.  I imagine large red rock formations, poisonous creatures of sand, water-hoarding cacti, shimmers of heat appearing to rise in the distance off of the road we are traveling.  Lizards, near-tropical birds, political animals, billboards, a pool, a cadre of golf courses.  I need only the stars, a red light and enough sobriety to make a little sense of a timeless sky.  I will not pack any of my meths but I shall be able to get plenty of them there, for paper scratch.


Full travelogue here...

NOLA, February 2017

I.  Strep To.

Who wants to riverboat gamble?  Bramblewine, Charley Pride, kiss an angel good morning.  At 4:35 a car on St. Ann honked, a woman whooped and I coughed this cough I've got, craning for health, for a clear cranium, for enriched uranium, for heavy water—Enough.  It's not a cough I've got but a sore throat and a wicked one.  All my life I'd hear about other people getting strep throat and I can't recall ever having it myself...until now?  Dunh, dunh, dunhhhh!  I have been under the weather for weeks and now I'm in New Orleans, Louisiana—what am I doing here?  Sipping room coffee at five a.m. because I can't sleep and my throat hurts and I don't have my trusty foam contour pillow, upon which I have grown heavily reliant.  The day will unfold, though, and it might just get better.  The only tool of destruction I have here is the liquid—no grass and no pills.  I have a legitimate chance of remembering the good time I'm going to have out there on those patchworked cobblestone streets in this old amorous city on the river...


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Trip Up East 2016

September 3, 2016.

He and I are laid up, stuck, at Lambert.  Our flight was scheduled for 11:05, pushed back to 2:25p.  The plane is detained in Oklahoma City for maintenance.  There was an earthquake north of there this morning, about seven o'clock.  Some in St. Louis—my mom—said they felt the tremor.  B and I were running, felt nothing.

I went and got us coffees, long line at Starbucks.  There is TV noise, there are children, there are many aboard the blunderbuss of airport confusion.  The board is clean except for our flight.  Bad luck, bald luck, bad eagle.  It's been awhile since I've had an unpleasant flight experience, not since a layover in Miami coming back from The Mexico in 2010.  I can't recall what amount of time that required.  There's a lady from my eventual flight on her phone, talking away.  One call after the next, as if her talking keeps the phone charged.  She's telling people the flight was canceled, and rescheduled.  Not true.  Alarmist.  Unruly kids, agitated mother.  I'm not long for this seat...


The story continues...

Trip Up East 2011

October 3, 2011

10:55 eastern time.

I have moused this little notebook from a cupboard at work.  The market is bouncing again this morning: first down 95, then up 30, then down 90, now down 62.  The S&P 500 is at 1125.  I will wait until it hits 1080 to buy again.

My dad and I leave tomorrow to travel northeast.  We will fly into Boston, spend one night in Ludlow (MA), drive up to Vermont for the Contrary Opinion Forum (three nights, Tues-Thurs), then return to Ludlow for four more nights.  B—and my sister!—fly into Hartford on Saturday the ninth.

I am worried that the market (1) will fall—it's already been such a crummy three-month stretch; and (2) will hit my buy tripwire while I'm gone.  I am also worried about ongoing furnace and AC installation/replacement while I'm away...


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