Q: Hello, Major Dude. It’s been just over three months since Waller Grant hit the road. Do you have a report for me?
A: Oh, man. Haven’t you been reading my blog posts, dude?
Q: Some of them. Whenever I have time. By the way, you could use a proof-reader, man. But don’t you think a nice summary of the first quarter on the road will be useful?
|The Caravan's Travels--Seventeen States|
A: I suppose. Here are some facts for you. We have travelled in seventeen states and two Canadian Provinces. We have stood beside and viewed three of the Great Lakes and driven over and beside many, many rivers. We have parked the caravan and slept in 18 campgrounds, one Walmart parking lot, one grandfather’s ranchero, and one friend’s driveway. We luxuriated one night in a motel in New Brunswick. So far the odometer has increased by almost 11,000 miles, which includes driving between each campground with the monster attached and the local and regional driving without the monster.
Q: So how am I feeling about all this?
A: All in all pretty well. Like a fly at a fruit stand.
Q: Are you glad you decided to “take off,” as you call it?
A: Certainly. My wings are humming.
Q: You’re feeling chipper.
A: Sure why not. Today we leave Rhode Island and head to the Hudson River Valley. We have new tires, brakes are working, propane tanks are full. Things are great.
Q: So let’s talk about the trip. What is your favorite thing that you have seen or done so far?
A: That is a question impossible to answer.
|"Plowing It Under, " by Thomas Hart Benton|
at Crystal Bridges
A: Because there are just too many wonderful things. For instance, I am really enjoying the art museums. The entire collection at Crystal Bridges is overwhelming. But then Diego Rivera’s industry murals at the DIA are also. And the Homers at Portland Museum, the Sargents in Boston. The museum in Salem, Massachusetts, has imported an entire traditional Chinese home that is enlightening. Do I choose one of those as favorite or Niagara Falls or the broad sweep of autumn from Maine to New York. Or bicycling around Acadia National Park. Or picking apples outside Springfield, Vermont, eating them right off the tree.
Q: Aren’t you just being a bit evasive or disingenuous here?
A: Not at all. And so far this may be the greatest surprise for me. It is all so spectacular and interesting and overwhelming. For example, in upstate New York in just three days we toured Fort Niagara, the history of which is fascinating; then the next day we stopped by the Women’s Right History Center in Seneca Falls, followed the third day by a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame. There I am trying to digest the history of political and military relations between the French, British, Colonists, and Native Americans, but I get caught up in the history of women’s rights, and before I can get my head around that, I am trying to separate somehow the historical from the nostalgic legacy of baseball in my life and in the country’s development.
Q: What have you been most disappointed by?
A: That would probably be myself. One of my goals for this trip was to lose some weight and improve my health. For the first six weeks that seemed to be happening. It was August and we were finding time to bicycle, and I was watching what I was eating. Sure, I indulged in a beer or two at various places, but somehow the pants drooped a bit and I was able to move a notch on the belt. Then somewhere in October, eating out and finding local beers became the rule rather than exception. Also the weather turned a bit cooler and wetter, and our daily drives to one place or another got longer, so I hopped on the bike less often. That portion of the “taking off” hasn’t been happening the way that I wished. I must keep evaluating this.
Q: But you are walking more, aren’t you.
A: Yes, I am. That part is good. Still I have gimpy hip, some sciatic problem or something, which I have experienced off and on—mostly on—since my thirties. . It is painful to do some of the things we do most: standing around looking at stuff in museums and walking. I need to begin a stretching and strength building routine, lose some weight again and see what happens.
Q: Next quarter, I’ll check in with you about that.
A: Please do. Another thing I am disappointed about is that music has kind of faded into the background, so to speak. Before the trip, a friend gave us a great set of songs in several playlists, and I also downloaded thousands of songs from my CD collection. When we had long drives, we played the ipods, but recently most of our driving has been under two or three hours at a go, often in traffic, so I guess we just stopped playing the songs. For me, the history of American popular song is an integral and essential part of the understanding who and what we are. I haven’t been able to find a way to include popular music in my writing or in our daily habits.
Q: So the music has faded.
A: No, I am not saying that or speaking metaphorically. Doing this trip is a gigantic balancing act. I mean the four of us are together all day. We have to keep balancing everybody’s needs. I am sure that in the future when the boys tell their side of this story, they will say that I or Knightsmama and I made all the decisions and controlled everything. But it feels to me that we are quite respectful of each other. For instance, right now, the boys are hiding in their bunk room playing xbox, Knightsmama is in our bedroom studying, and I am in the center of the monster at the kitchen table typing, this time with ear plugs listening to J. J. Cale. My point, I guess, is that no one gets to play their music loudly or for long periods. And I am the only person in the family approaching this trip as a scholar or writer with a project.
Q: So how are the boys doing?
|An Early Halloween at Jellystone Park|
A: I suppose the real answer to that is, you will have to ask them. You know everyone who has voiced an opinion to us about this says, “When they look back on this trip, they will know how special this opportunity is.” Dr. J. has been a real trooper. Here he is fifteen years old and having to spend all his time with a 10-year old or with his parents. It is a tough go, I think. His work in setting up the trailer and packing up has been essential to the success of the trip. He has been a steady Eddie. If he didn’t have texting capabilities and a fairly large data plan on his phone, however, I think he would have gone bonkers. Captain Crunch, on the other hand, vacillates between being the most charming companion, full of joy and exuberance for the next new thing, and being a selfish terror and an emotional wreck who feels he is suffering the greatest indignities. As at home before the trip, he has had several moments when he feels he is being treated with undiluted cruelty. These moments occur most often in stores or museum gift shops or when we deny him a second soda or ice cream.
Q: How do you react to these moments?
A: I suppose one would say that I react incompetently. I get sucked into the irrationality of his and everyone else’s actions. I yell, I sulk, I pout, I scream. On two occasions I have felt that we just needed to call off this trip, turn the caravan around, head home. Sometimes, I don’t think Knightsmama and I have the skills to see everyone through the journey. I mean, this really is difficult, being rootless with only each other for conversation and entertainment and support. I don’t blame the Captain for having a difficult time, sometime. I think Knightsmama and I have to ask ourselves at what level are we culpable. How selfish are we being?
Q: Any other frustrations?
A: Yes, I can’t keep up with writing about the trip. Part of it is that I need to digest and think about what I have seen and felt. I mean, I am trying to get a draft of something that is beyond the newspaperish immediate report, more thoughtful, if I can say that. But I still want to capture something of the immediacy of the narrative of a family moving across the nation. The trouble, as I have said, is that before I can find that middle ground, something new just as interesting and wonderful happens. Since the first of August, I have written about 20 blog posts, a little over 140 pages of double-spaced manuscript, which I can add to the 40 pages I wrote before we left. That’s pretty good, I think. But there are well over a dozen posts I would like to write that I haven’t found the time for: I hope—maybe I should say, had hoped—to write about Lincoln, Hoggie Carmichael, L.L. Bean, Bar Harbor, Ben and Jerry’s, Vermont Country Store, Calvin Coolidge, Basketball Hall of Fame, the Jellystone Yogi Bear Campground, Boston and the Revolutionary War, Plimouth Plantation, Newport, and I have thoughts I’d like to explore about Edgar Lee Masters, Sherwood Anderson, Longfellow, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thoreau, Emerson, Winslow Homer, and the Wyeths, So another problem I have is that I am always behind on my reading. I have written about one side of my father’s family, but I have some things to add about the Lillys and the Grants, more folks buried back in Illinois.
Q: What are you thinking about your work, about returning to your regular job?
A: I don’t know. What do you mean?
Q: I mean, part of this trip, the sabbatical, I thought, was to evaluate where you are in you career.
A: As is typical of me, two forces continue to tug, and the experiences of the trip just make both sides stronger. One side says, “Look you are a writer and teacher. Get back to that. Being a teacher and writer is very exciting.” The other side says, “Look at all the wonderful ways that history, literature, art, music, cultures, and languages are contributing to the development of the human spirit. Don’t you want to foster that and help others create similar programs back at the college. Being an administrator is exciting and useful.” So the assumption is that I will return to my previous job and foster a collective vision for the continued study and appreciation of the arts and culture at my college. That is the college’s assumption, so why shouldn’t it be mine? I probably shouldn’t say any of this here, but I am attempting to let this trip sink in deeply and if I am not honest and forthright, that won’t happen.
Q: Anything else you want to say before we end?
|Cousins Gretta and Kate|
A: Only that I think both Knightsmama and I felt something change in the last month or so. We spent two weeks in Bar Harbor, then a week or so in Vermont, then two and a half weeks around Boston. In Massachusetts, which basically was the end of our first quarter, it felt like time slipped away from us. We left the region without doing several things we wanted to do. But, all in all, on a day by day basis, we could live with it. One thing is that Mack Daddy Waller visited us for a week; also we had friends and family in the region, and we visited them. Another thing is that we all made new friends in the area, so there was a bit more of just hanging out and talking about life. I think we are coming out of the “tourist mode” and entering in a “living on the road mode.” While I sometimes think, “Oh my God, we have another nine months of this,” more often I think, “Wow, here we are—we’ve settled into being pilgrims.”
Soundtrack. Tom Petty and the Heatbreakers: "Runnin' Down a Dream."