Saturday, April 30, 2022

Signs from the Road Chapter 2



Neither of us remembers how we made the decision to take a road trip. Most likely we were complaining about winter temperatures and slippery snow in our tiny coastal community of Provincetown, Massachusetts, a peninsula at the very tip of Cape Cod. Probably we were motivated by promising two friends we’d come visit. And certainly we thought about if not now, when? So we mapped out thirty stops: no snow. Warmer weather. Friends and family. Dog Parks.  American cities and small towns. Meeting strangers. Leaving vacuum cleaners and chores behind. Just Thelma, Louise, and Mattie, on the road.

Where to start? Northern Florida serves as our starting point. It’s 1,464 miles, 22 hours driving time to St. Petersburg from Provincetown. We look at a map of the East Coast and we look at each other. Janet and I don’t do well in the car. It’s a hot spot for us. We argue about directions and I complain about her tailgating, which she denies. We also stiffen if we sit too long. So first off, we decide to limit our driving to 4 or 5 or at most 6 hours a day. 

We have to see our daughter and son-in-law and our grandkids, two hours away in Natick before we leave. From there we’ll drive to Western Massachusetts, to Greenfield, to stay with friends for a few days. We’ll catch up with them and several other local friends before we leave for a night in Philadelphia. And then on to Charleston South Carolina. But wait, we’re already breaking our proposed four or five or six hour driving limit, The ride from Philly to Charleston is ten-plus hours. So I look for a midpoint: according to Google, I’m not the first traveler seeking that midpoint—the question has been asked hundreds, maybe thousands of times. The definite winner is Rocky Mount North Carolina.  Okay, that works. I book a pet-friendly hotel in Rocky Mount for a quick overnight and we’ll drive two hours the next morning to Charleston. We know very little about Charleston except for its reputation for Southern hospitality and Southern grits. (Fast forward: We didn’t know then about the plantations and the international  slave trade based in Charleston from 1856 to 1863. That’s a heartbreak.)

From there planning the trip gets increasingly interesting. Thanks to Janet’s fill-in part-time job at one of Provincetown’s hotels, the manager who is also a friend has gifted us with four certificates for free stays at sister hotels, each one for two nights. Tybee Island GA. San Antonio and Austin Texas. And Memphis Tennessee.  Tybee Island is barely fifteen miles from Savannah. We’ll plan on being there three days. The place is dog friendly and right on the beach. Next, we’ll head four hours to Flagger Island, Florida. Mattie has a dog friend there, a black lab named Mary Jane. Mary Jane’s owner tells us Flagger is a quaint coastal town like Provincetown, and we’ll run the dogs on the beach. Then St. Petersburg. New Orleans. San Antonio, Austin. Marfa Texas. Bisbee Arizona. Tucson. Phoenix. Mexico. and three stops in California: Palm Springs, Pismo Beach, and Topanga.

     I decide to write and revise all these stops on an 8 by 11 inch envelope. As we keep planning, I add the miles and driving time from one stop to the next and high and low temperatures. For each stop I add the miles and hours to the next stop, the average temperatures, and the dates we’ll be there. (Fast Forward: that envelope worked like a charm, even when we changed plans.)  

Where to stay? Neither of us are hotel chain types. We prefer quaint quirky places. But we’ve never used Airbnb and we have Mattie. As I begin googling, some things become clear: in most cases, we can find places to stay for around a hundred dollars a night. (Fast forward: not exactly.) I choose places that have the greatest number of positive reviews, and I look for those that include a free breakfast, not so much to save money, but so we can eat quickly and hit the road faster. The chains jump out. I choose mostly 3-star ratings, but I let a couple of 2-stars slip in because they look and sound just fine. (Fast forward: In several cases, I’d come to regret those slips.) I spend about ten hours (it might have been twenty. Or thirty.)  booking our stays. I make copies of each confirmation and slide them into a plastic sleeve folder. 

What to pack? Eight weeks on the road. With a dog. And a separate trip to Mexico. That feels like a lot of packing: 

        Snacks for the car. Single bags of popcorn, Kind bars, peanut butter crackers, chocolate, oranges, pistachio nuts, breath mints.  Bully sticks and other treats for Mattie.  We’ll be gone almost eighty days and we’ll happily eat our meals out. But we could easily drop ten dollars a pop on quick road side stops, and maybe we wouldn’t want to take the time to stop as often as we want to munch. Plus we don’t know how leaving Mattie in the car alone in strange places will work out. Our solution is to shop at BJ’s and buy plenty of munchies. I pack a good supply in see-through plastic bag that we’ll keep up front in the car, and the rest goes in a grocery box, stuffed in a corner of the car’s way-back.

Weather appropriate clothes? Figuring this part out is challenging and I feel like a genius when I come up with a plan.. The Rav has a good sized trunk area and should hold our suitcases and supplies well enough, But who wants to lug suitcases and dog supplies in and out of hotels night after night? I’m a light packer (so I thought) and Janet is not (no surprise there!) We’ll start off in cold East Coast weather and warm up in the Southern states and along the Southern border. But none of the temps are exactly sun-bathing weather, except for when we fly to Mexico. Mexico will definitely be pool ware, so we decide we’ll each pack a suitcase specifically for there and we’ll put them the furthest back in the car. We won’t have to touch those two suitcases for weeks. 

For our day-to-day travels, I come up with this idea to pack each outfit separately—for example, a top, a bottom, and underwear-in a see-through plastic bag,  I figure we’ll separate the plastic bags by cold weather or hot weather. So over a few days, an hour or so at a time, Janet and I pull out the clothes we want: summer, winter, sweaters, blouses, tee-shirts, pants, shorts, socks, underwear, pajamas. We sort and match them in some almost random order. Some plastic bags have long pants and long sleeves and others have capris and tee-shirts. We decide to each make a separate bag for beachwear: a bathing suit, a cover, slip flops. All in all, we end up with close to thirty see through bags. Each day, when we check into our hotel or where ever, we’ll simply pull out one bag each, along with one shared suitcase that has our nightwear and toiletries and medicine and Mattie’s blanket and food and munchies.  It seems pretty efficient. 

 We  pack the plastic bags in grocery boxes, upright for easy identification, one box for warm weather clothes, and a second box for cold weather. We quickly realize we have four pretty good sized boxes that take up room more room than expected.They compete for space along with our three suitcases.  I fail to factor in Janet’s ginormous toiletry bag—it’s the size of an adult raccoon. It’s all a tight fit but it’s workable. We put the plastic bags right in front and easy to reach;  the Mexico suitcases go way in the back; Mattie’s supplies and food fits on the left side,   snack replenishments fit on the right side, and my laptop and Mattie’s foldable soft crate are tucked behind the passenger seat.  We make a make-shift shelf for Mattie’s  food and water behind the driver’s seat. She has herself a little apartment back there: a small soft bed, a window to view the world, her food and water, and a squeaky toy and bully stick.

By the time we leave Provincetown the car is pretty darn pretty organized.  (Fast forward: Ha!)

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Signs From The Road

 This is the first chapter of a nine week cross country road trip JB and I took in 2020, just before the pandemic began.  God only knows when if ever this adventure will find its way to publication, but it may just find a home here on my blog. It was QUITE a trip: I recommend hitting the road 100%,

love kj

Signs From The Road

Provincetown MA

March 2020: 

My fourteen day state quarantine hadn’t even ended when I was pretty sure I had the Corona Virus.

At first I felt a heavy weight on my chest, and then a headache on my left temple. I waited it out for a few days before I called my local health center. An aide called me back, asked a half dozen questions about my symptoms, and a half hour later a clinic nurse called and asked me the same questions. As soon as I told her I’d been traveling in California, she set me up for the test the next day. I’m seventy two and I’ve had pneumonia twice. I pep-talk my lungs to stay strong. But two months after a fantastic cross country trip,  I was curled up, lethargic, with a slight headache, and an on-again off-again sore chest. The little guest bedroom off the living room was black, and so were my thoughts. These were the early days of the pandemic when New York body bags were too many to store, and being paranoid, and scared, and talking  to myself  left me  questioning if I had the courage  to get through dying on a ventilator, no family allowed in my final moments, myself aware and alone. That was the Corona Virus in March 2020. 

I had to wait four days for my test result. Negative. 


Janet and I had rushed home, condensing a two week return trip from California to Provincetown in four days in order to stay ahead of the rumor that New York would be closing entry in order to control the already rapid spread of the virus.  This rush return trip home was the exclamation point of a very worthy nine week road trip. For three wild days we drove the empty highways with our dog Mattie, fourteen wheeler truckers,  and pelting rain and fog.

    It was a wild end. Eight weeks, 25 cities, 20 states, 15 friends and family, 20 hotels, 8500 miles, one 2012 Toyota Rav, one good dog, and one damn pandemic. A pandemic, like the plague of 1812.    

    When my partner JB and I first got the idea for a road trip, I bought a few road trip books from Amazon. We hadn’t mapped out our trip yet and  mostly I wanted a sense of how to think about it all--how to plan and  how to pack.  In our case, two months on the road in our own car with our dog. We’d be gone for weeks. We’ll be in all kinds of weather and temperatures. How should we pack? How far should we drive? We’d need dog-friendly accommodations. Where should we stay? What should we see? 

The road trip books I chose disappointed me. So here I am now, based on our actual hits and misses, presumptuously writing my own travel guide for how to hit the road in your car with your dog, with all weather clothes, with snacks, and with a promise to control our frustrations and tempers. 

It turns out road trips are a lot like life: it’s tricky to balance planning ahead with savoring the present. This book aims to achieve both. The chapters are organized as journal entries, by date and location, each entry dotted with practical information (planning the trip, mapping the stops, budgeting time and money,) but also with our very human and often laughable exchanges and experiences along the way. We meet a pregnant dog sprawled across two bar stools in Tybee Island, Georgia. We have ten minutes of total and misguided exhilaration thinking we won $ 10,000 on a Florida lottery ticket. We sink into six inches of  mud in Topanga, California (not our car, our feet!) We giggle at an electronic flashing road sign on the Sopchoppy Highway: This Saturday: Fish Fry for Doris!’ And I can’t even remember where this gem of a sign found us: “Fold Your Worries Into Paper Planes and Turn Them Into Flying Fucks…”

So dear reader, if you’re ready to hit the road, here we go!

Wednesday, April 06, 2022


The last few months have been a whirlwind. Just as my favorite cousin was diagnosed with terminal cancer, my 105 year old Godmother, who lived in her house for the past 93 years, fell and ended up in a nursing home. JB and I stepped in to help both women transition, Maureen to a too-soon death two weeks ago and Marie to a profound loss of independence. 

My cousin Maureen planned every aspect of her remaining 3 months, including her funeral services. In later life she became a Crew Mom in hot air ballooning, and her wake had miniature hot air balloons hanging from the chapel rafters, and behind her casket on the altar there were giant posters like this painting. She spoke about dying in practical and no-regret terms. Her hospice death was more difficult than she and we had hoped, but the send off was everything she wanted. 

My Godmother is now in a nursing home, heavily restricted because she fell while there, for reasons still unknown. So she's gone from the isolation of 2 years of Covid to a chair alarm that alerts the nursing aides every time she stands up or moves. We are trying our best to get her back home with a live-in aide. This has meant major renovations to her house and weekly lengthy trips from my own home. I'm her primary family and I want to help her however I can. I'm increasingly confident she'll be home again. 

Did I mention that at 105 years old Marie entered the nursing home on zero medications, with a pretty good working memory, and in excellent health except for a very bad knee? Amazing in every way.

So JB and I are depleted and exhausted. No regrets, but no rest. We'll be heading to a 5 day spiritual retreat in mid April, and with spring now arriving in New England, I'm looking ahead with renewed hope. Hope is in short supply in this troubled world right now: I can barely follow the tragedy for the Ukranian people and the very real threat to civility and democracy in my own country. Do tyrants always fall? I surely hope so.

No active writing for me these days, but my two books are out there, on Amazon, and my finished family saga is waiting for renewed attention. My back surgery hasn't been as successful as I hoped, but I'm better than I was and I'm ready to resume my gardening ways. I have optimistic genes. I'm thankful for that. 

For the hundredth time, I'm still so sad that blogging has taken a back seat to other social media options. I miss the almost daily backs and forth so much. But I appreciate being here and I appreciate everyone who stops by. Mwah!

love kj