Running on Full

Tourism, as defined by Webster, is the constant search for bathrooms within a large variety of settings. At least I think that is how Webster defines tourism. Honestly it has been a long time since I cracked open a dictionary.

Sometimes it is incredibly easy to pee. Like in the back country where few to no toilets means pretty much every space has been peed on. One exception to that rule can be found within the Mount Rainier trail system which features a partially walled but other otherwise completely open toilet. The views are amazing. Your only company are the marmots.

Maybe the most welcoming rest stop ever

Cities though operate at the other end of the spectrum. General rule of thumb is the bigger the urban setting the harder it will be to find a spot to pee. Even places like McDonald’s will likely require you to remember a number code or some other silly challenge before being allowed a stop at the golden throne. I probably shouldn’t complain though less they decided to swap out the number code with a Sphinx like riddle (OK, before you go to the bathroom tell me, what is white in the morning but brown by evening?).

Vermont of course has the nicest bathrooms. Recyclable paper towels, clean interiors a hint of syrup in the soap; pretty much everything needed to make your stay as pleasant as possible. Their highway rest stops are even more impressive. Quaint even. One welcome center we visited offered rustic wooden rocking chairs that overlooked an impressive wooded mountain valley. Besides maple syrup, the gift shop also sold an impressive amount of hand crafted objects. There was a rough looking but otherwise sturdy feeling barn immediately adjacent to the shop. The stop felt more like a destination than a quick place to pee.

Weathered barn at the Vermont rest stop

Nevada has the worst rest stops ever. Cinder block squares surrounded by broken glass and desert. You do not linger at a Nevada rest stop. Arizona rest stops are much nicer but, and this is an important detail, you do risk being bit by a rattle snake if you wander too far off the path. At least that is what the signs tell you.

The Midwest approach to rest stops falls somewhere between the continuum of Vermont and Nevada. For example, food options are usually limited to vending machines with clear signage indicating that the host state is not responsible in any way for you actually receiving a snicker bar at the end of your transaction.  To further discourage possible litigation these signs also let you know that some charity is responsible for maintaining the condition of these machines (it is assumed that this charity also gets a share of the vending profits but, come to think of it, that is not something explicitly spelled out). They may even offer a small, joyless outcropping of playground equipment somewhere at the edge of the dog walk park. But plan on going elsewhere for your syrup.

In between rest stops we also checked out some colleges. The Heinz Memorial Chapel at Pittsburgh University
Cool mural at Pigeon Bagel in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. Yummy bagels but no public bathroom in these Covid lingering times.

North Bennington, Vermont

Shirley Jackson moved to North Bennington with her husband Stanley in 1940. There the two literary stars entertained an impressive list of up and coming authors while all the time suffering the disapproval of their very conservative neighbors.

The Powers Market was the place to go in North Bennington for both groceries and gossip. A trip to this market reportedly pushed Shirley into writing The Lottery. The gossip today is that Powers (now a coffee shop) has not been open for over a month.

North Bennington today does not appear that conservative. Celebration of their most famous author however is limited to a single brick within a time line walk.

Next door to Powers was North Bennington’s only restaurant, The Rain Barrel. One time artists such as Bob Dylan and Joan played their back stage. Today the place is a coffee shop/cafe with Kurt Vonnegut prints on the wall. In 1970 Shirley’s husband Stanley passed away while eating his dinner. He was 51.
Two of the homes lived in by Shirley and her family. Above the house where she wrote The Lottery and also her first novel The Road Through The Wall. The house below was purchased by Shirley and Stanley and is where Shirley passed away in her sleep at the age of 48.
Sculpture Park within North Bennington

We skipped Walden Pond in order to have time to savor North Bennington. No disrespect to Henry Thoreau, but I think we made the right choice. However romantic writing in isolation may be, Shirley’s path of speaking uncomfortable truths to an oblivious hometown seems to be the more admirable way forward.

Northeastern (Boston)

Never too old to play at the beach

We arrived in the Boston area on the heels of a tropical storm and several days before our scheduled tour of Northeastern (which is still a few hours from now). Took advantage of this time to grab brunch with our cousins Brook, Olivia and Jacob (goes by Jake and loves his pancakes!). Also did a bunch of sightseeing by which I mean we walked aimlessly throughout the city mostly in search of a bathroom. We also ate a lot of food.

Chowder just tastes better at the beach (Cape Ann)
Mystery Train record shop in Gloucester (and our car gets a little bit more cozy)

Postcards From The Road

Old Man In The Mountain and His Two Lovely Ladies (Sterling Pond, VT)

In between college visits we also did a little camping, dodged a tropical storm and tried to pretend it was a lot sunnier than it really was.

Love me some poutine at Vulgar Display of Poutine in Littleton, NH.
Littleton, NH. Note the long and recently built (2004) covered bridge in the background.

University of Vermont

Vermont leads the nation in fully vaccinated adults (over 76%!). They also suffered just 250 Covid related deaths. South Dakota, in comparison, has almost the same population but has thus far suffered over 2,000 Covid related deaths. They obviously know what they are doing when it comes to Covid. It was still though pretty annoying when told only one parent was allowed on the University of Vermont tour.

Me stalking the tour

So I did what any rational adult would do. I stalked the tour. Then I tired of stalking the tour (only thing more boring than being on a college tour is watching said tour from a distance; like watching a badly pirated opera).

Other quirks related to Vermont include their difficulty labeling things. Lakes, for example, are often called ponds here. Vacation homes (just like in the Adirondacks) are referred to as camps. Don’t know why, they just are.

Equally perplexing are their voting habits. Vermont, one of the whitest and most rural of states, consistently votes well to the left. Vermont’s largest city, Burlington (42,500 or about 1/200th the size of NYC) oscillates between the Democratic and the Progressive party (and right now is led by the latter). It’s not only an urban phenomenom- driving though the country I have seen many BLM flags but not one Trump or Blue Lives Matter flag. This becomes even more noteworthy when you consider how similar VT really is to rightward drifting Iowa. Must be something in the maple syrup.

That’s So Vermont

On the shore of Lake Champlain

We were suppose to camp two nights near Lake Placid. But then the rain came. Buckets and buckets of rain. The forecast said it would last two mostly uninterrupted days. So we fled the Adirondacks and headed toward Vermont.

Car ferry linking Plattsburgh, NY with Burlington,VT

It’s hard to describe Vermont without using Vermont as an adjective (as in, man that is so Vermont). So I will just tell you a little bit about our day.

At the trailhead was a Nature Library

After crossing Lake Champlain we took a short “poetry hike” at Niquette Bay Stay Park.” It was a beautiful hike though the woods where we stopped ever so often to read a laminated poem stuck to a tree. At the trail head was a Nature Library. Then it was off to Burlington where we sipped maple syrup lemonade at a Farmer’s Market before browsing several used book stores. And now I am writing you about a quarter mile away from the Ben and Jerry’s factory. That my friend is a typical Vermont day.

First Stop Colgate University (Hamilton,NY)

About 3,000 students at Colgate. Add another 3,000 living in town and you got yourself a tiny, overly intellectualized little town that would leave Sean Hannity foaming at the mouth. Within an hour of Colgate are at least a dozen similar schools that add a bit of a progressive accent to an otherwise Trump-like region. For example I was pumping gas when next to me a man yelled to himself  “$3.15 a gallon! Unf#$@ing believable!” then traded glances with me as if waiting for me to add “Thanks Biden” (a few years ago it would have been “Thanks a lot Obamacare.”)

Blink and you will miss it Hamilton, NY

We brought masks with on our trip of course. So far though we rarely wear them and the world sure seems to be a lot safer than it was a year ago. But it was recently 116 degrees in Portland (and 104 in Lady Smith, BC). That ain’t good.

After Hamilton it was north to Lake Durant State Park in the Adirondacks. Some rain but dry enough for two nice campfires. No stars at all though but we did enjoy listening to the loons, frogs and owls carry about their business. Then this morning the rain finally came and we find ourselves drying out just west of Burlington.

Something Different, Something Old

Our first trip together was the last summer of the 20th century. Corey and I were still getting to know each other while at the same time figuring out how to build a campfire and pitch a tent. It was awesome. It was amazing. And it was something we knew we would do again and again.

Taken at Rest Stop in South Dakota with Missouri River Below (circa 1999)

About a decade later we started the blog. Someone had to explain to us what WiFi was. Neither of us had ever heard of Facebook and I don’t think Instagram was a thing yet. But over the years we caught on and sometimes even caught up to technology. And along the way we camped through a hurricane, a pandemic, crazy elections and even crazier Presidents. But nothing, nothing at all has prepared us for what comes next.

Little Henna

Someday soon Henna will go to college. It may be somewhere far. Or it might be right off the purple or red line. Either way our tight traveling family will forever be changed. The new journey begins tomorrow with us headed toward Cleveland before heading for points further east to tramp though the mountains while also of course checking out a few colleges. Final decision by Monkey Survey? Probably not. But we will keep you posted.

Not that long ago in San Francisco

The Suicide Birds of West Virginia

Hard to figure the intentions of that pretty blue song bird (maybe an Eastern Blue Jay- where is Tom Lally when you need him?). Maybe she thought we were predators? Or she saw a worm inside the cabin? Or she was just so filled with despair that the only thing she could do was repeatedly smash her beak at high speed into the oversized windows of our West Virginia cabin. And yes, I do think it was a she. Guys just aren’t that committed to anything.

We did what we could to save that beautiful but dumb bird. We tried lowering the drapes, affixing wet toilet paper on the window and stacking furniture up against the window. Still she persisted. If anything she grew more determined. At first she would fly away whenever someone stood by the window. An hour later she just perched on the deck staring that deadened gaze into our souls.

Maybe the first ever Passover Seder at Pipestem State Park

So I called the front desk. The fine folks at Pipestem Resorts are incredibly friendly. They also ask no questions. The other day I managed to procure from them two dollops of horseradish for our virtual Seder. Not one question. This time they listened to my concern without comment while transferring my calls to various departments within the resort. Eventually housekeeping said they would do what they could do. And then we left to begin our day, convinced there would be a dead bird on our deck when we returned.

Hours later we returned and there was no dead bird on our deck. We felt a weight lift from our shoulders. Then, like something from a horror movie, the bird returned to peck one more time at our window before flying away.

Update: Big thank you to Tom Lally who identified the bird as an Eastern Bluebird. He also thinks that he is attacking his own reflection in a bit of hormonal rage (knew it was a male).

Part 2: The Longest Day

Election-Day began sometime around 4 AM when Henna woke to get ready for her shift as an election judge. Together we walked the few blocks to the Edison Park Lutheran Church. It was an incredibly pretty morning. Pitch black with a bright moon and only a few cars on the street. I wanted to buy a paper at the local newsstand but there was no one tending the business. With no school that day I returned home and went to bed.

The real anxiety started when I woke up the second time that day. Henna by then had already been working for several hours. Corey and I decided to keep busy so we took a nice walk in the forest preserve, picked up a nice piece of salmon to cook later and repeatedly texted Henna. It was a slow and steady work day for her that did not end until eight that night. The things that Henna was worried about did not come to pass. She had to remind no one to wear a mask. One person came in wearing a MAGA shirt but then zipped up her jacket before entering the sacred voting area. A campaign worker bought everyone pizza.

For me the true panic hit me sometime after it became clear Trump would win Florida. The panic then continued right up to the point when Georgia turned blue. Sleep in between those times was hell. Each night I woke sometime around four and then checked my phone before returning to bed. That simple act of doing so, regardless of whatever news I discovered, caused me so much stress that it took at least half an hour before I was able to fall back to asleep. And then the alarm would wake me a little after six and I would immediately check my phone again.

Jonas looking out at the world and wondering when everything became so gosh darn partisan

At work I had created a fun election themed activity for my social skills groups. Moosely Moose vs. Silly Seal. Two stuffed animals with radically different visions for the future. After Tuesday I decided Moosely Moose was a bit of fascist. He also made unrealistic promises such as telling all the children that post-pandemic they would all get a chance to ride on his back. Silly Seal in contrast was all heart and wanted nothing more than to entertain everyone with tricks he learned in the circus. Some of the kids saw right through the Moose and picked Silly Seal as their leader. Others though went with the Moose. I made a mental note to keep my eye on them.

Most of work though was spent feeling guilty about the time wasted refreshing my phone. Immediately after work/school the three of us would spend endless hours watching television, the anchors repeating the same phrases over and over again. Spend too much time on anything and you begin to see the worn spots in the delivery. Chuck Todd’s magic Election Day Board began to look like just any other ordinary Smart Board. Still we watched, waiting for the next big thing to happen.

By Friday morning it felt good to be on Biden’s side. Georgia had turned blue. Arizona and Nevada were also in the right column. My dad texted me when Pennsylvania finally crossed over the line to sanity. My mom called me when the election was called. By Saturday night we had all finally exhaled.

Corey wants me to write a Part 3. I like to think that it would be unnecessary. I think (maybe hope) that our Democracy is strong enough to stand up to the lies and bullshit coming out of the soon to be former President. I have a little bit of faith that just enough Republican voters and politicians will stand up with the rest of the population to save our country from becoming a dictatorship. But….. I never thought Trump would get elected. I never thought he would serve all four year. I do not think he will remain president after January 20. We will see. Until then I would much rather talk travel than politics.