Saturday, November 30, 2013

Something I Have Been Turning Over in My Mind, Part 2

           In order not to go completely insane during the year, I have set several goals:  places I wanted to go and when I wanted to be there.   It’s very un-wonderish, I know.  But, really, I think I would definitely go crazy if I just woke up each day and asked Waller Grant where we should go and what we should do.  I am wondering, therefore, if Wonder can be a permanent state of being, or is it something we experience happenstance.  Mixed inside of the bigger goals are often small goals that are less concerned with ‘The Road Trip’ and more associated with repairing my past failings. 

Waller Grant in Jersey City
Here’s an example.  Waller Grant had set a major of goal of seeing New York City.  We originally set the date for around November 23rd, Dr. J.’s birthday.  We kept the goal but, when we looked at weather patterns and the Brooklyn Net’s home schedule, we switched things around.  Those are the big goals.  One of my smaller, personal goals was reading Washington Square by Henry James while we bivouacked in NYC.  Call it professional pride.  It would make sense that I, an English professor, would have read the book and that I would visit the real Washington Square in the city. 
Yet my “relationship” with James is “complicated.”  Robert Russell, my professor at UT from whom I took the second American Lit. survey prejudiced me against James, and I have not been able fully to overcome that prejudice.  One day in class he said, that he always kept a volume of Henry James on the table beside his bed.  If he could not fall asleep and all else had failed, he picked up that book, read two paragraphs, and he was out before he could turn the page. (Some of James’ paragraphs are so long, however, that I have to wonder did Dr. Russell force himself to stay awake past turning the page when he became enmeshed in one of James’ multi-page ponderations.)
I am prejudiced against James, but not too profound in my disregard of him.  I have enjoyed the novellas Daisy Miller and The Turn of the Screw and a few normal-sized short stories.  But I just don’t have the intelligence or the metabolism for one of James’ big books.  So while I was in New York, Washington Square, at only a couple hundred pages, seemed an appropriate and attainable goal.  It was.  Yet, following our little jaunt into Newport, my hesitation to be enamored by the summer extravagances of the Vanderbilts, et, al., and my recent re-reading of Theophilus North and The Great Gatsby, I have to say that I did not leap into the book believing it would be a warm and relaxing bath.  Still, I was committed.  I needed to read more Henry James, because, well, I should.

Blurry Night at Washington Square
No less a writer than Donald Hall has declared that “everyone likes Washington Square.”  I am not one to contradict Mr. Hall, and I cannot offer myself as the exception that proves the rule.  It is a likeable book.  However, as all good books are, Washington Square is peculiar.  It’s particular oddity is that, at least in my estimation, of the four main characters, there is no one to admire.  We have the inconsistent and drama-inducing aunt, the over-bearing and insufferably intelligent father, the inconsequential daughter, and the near-do-well, unsteady suitor.  James does his little magic by carrying his readers though some really tedious afternoons and evenings in the homes of wealthy.  Oh, the father does insert himself into one middle-class home to brow beat the suitor’s sister, and the aunt and suitor do venture incognito into the dirty streets of New York.  But mostly this is a drawing room drama. 
Each character, in his or her various moments, does command our respect and sympathy.  Yet when it is all over, I could not help but feel that none of the characters suffered in the degree that they ought to have.  The father is a supreme a-hole and shouldn’t receive anyone’s good wishes.  The suitor has the moral substance of a glass of claret.  The aunt would receive proudly and unquestioningly her own space in Dante’s Hell.  The daughter, always more perceptive than anyone credits her for, didn’t deserve her grief, except for the fact that she accepted it.  In other words, I am very happy that this book is not 600 pages; I couldn’t stand to be in the same room with these folks that long. 
Still, I read the book, and I made my pilgrimage to Washington Square, the real place, once again.  It was an early evening.  The family had been walking a good bit of the day—the 9-11 Memorial, Trinity Church, Wall Street, Battery Park.  After a ride on the Staten Island Ferry, we subwayed it back to the East Village. We wandered from Prince Street, strolled around the fountain, celebrated the arch (and the Empire State Building shining through it), admired the fine old houses lining the park, thought of James and Wharton and Stephen Crane and Edna Millay.  It was a lovely, if chilly, walk, and we were glad to see that money had returned to the park’s environs. 
All of this is in counterpoint—you knew there had to be counterpoint, didn’t you?—of our experiences at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island the day or two before.  Have you forgotten why you love the United States?  Have you forgotten why you should love the United States?  The quick antidote to that disease is a visit to these symbols of the open arms of American liberty and freedom.  Since were camped in Jersey City, we worked our way to the ferry on the Jersey side, meaning we travelled first to Ellis Island then to Lady Liberty.  As we have grown to expect, before anyone could board the ferry, we all had to be relieved of our outer garments—which were plentiful since winter had struck—and of our belts, wallets, cell phones, keys, purses, backpacks, and shoes.  No, we could keep our shoes, as the poor fellow from India stripping in front of us learned.

Ellis Island
“Keep your shoes on, sir!”  barked the uniform on the other side of the conveyor belt.  Which just confused the man as he stood staring at his half-empty plastic tray, his two arms half bent, extended forward, holding his tie shoes.  To make matters worse for him, he was also attempting to corral and disrobe two children about waist high, while his wife dealt with the baby in the stroller.  Everything had to go through the x-ray machine.  Except the shoes.  The back pack with baby clothes and formula and god knows what else had to be opened and examined.  The second bag with snacks for the kids pulled out of the stroller and plopped into a gray plastic tray.  And the baby, for a few seconds, held up, tentatively, quizzically, offered to the officer.
 “No baby.  Stroller.”  So the stroller was folded and lifted and then placed on the conveyor. 
Finally, the children and man, one by one, were allowed to go through the body scanner.  Then the man went back for the baby, stepped through again.  At last, the wife, stripped to her silks and simple head covering, hesitated her polite steps through the scanner and allowed the officer’s wand to be waved around her,
We were next.  Without incident.  And on our way to the waiting area for the ferry while the family was still reassembling themselves. 
I am telling this, maybe simply because this is our life now after 9-11.  Over and over in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, any place that has the symbolic power to tempt extremists of various kinds (remember, Oklahoma and Atlanta were home grown terrorists), we have stood in lines, half-stripped, placed our valuables in plastic trays and allowed bored and nervous uniforms to inspect us.    So first, we know the power of our freedom through the negative reactions that it provokes in others.  Freedom, liberty, and our version of capitalism are frightening and horrifying to others.  They want it destroyed.

Liberty at Sunset
But second, positively, we know the power of our freedom because all of us—those from India, and from Germany, France, China, Japan, Columbia, Brazil, and everywhere else in the world—are willing to stand in these lines and be inspected just for the luxury of celebrating these abstractions. In the case of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, we give ourselves over to a joy that is indescribable. Three million people each year visit the Statue of Liberty; three-quarters of a million at Independence Hall.  All endure the search.  God bless America.
Of course, at various times at Ellis and the Statue, I unpocketed my i-phone and took the requisite photos of buildings, statue, skylines, and family.  I pulled out my little Sony video camera and did it again.  Then I became aware that, for me, the more powerful moments were in the selfies that individuals and couples took of themselves, the photos that mothers posed of their children, that fathers snapped of their children and grandchildren, that Dr. J. took of a couple from Texas, who thought he was from Canada because his hat said so.  It was cold, cold, cold this day, but everyone was smiling and laughing in a dozen languages, in scores of language.  How would I know how many?  I’m a typical American and speak only one.  New Yorkers witness this scene in various ways a hundred times a day.  It is why, after disasters like 9-11, Hurricane Sandy, and the Republican led government shut down, we open these sites as quickly as humanly possible.  The world asks . . . the world demands them to be open. 
I don’t know why the determination to visit these symbols surprised me so this day.  I have taught in a community college for thirty-five years.  My students have included Vietnamese refugees, Chinese dissidents, Cubans, Salvadorians, Columbians, Nigerians, Iranians.  I am dean of the division that houses the Foreign Language Department and celebrates professors from ten or more counties.  There they are in Austin teaching.  My division also includes the Department of English for Speakers of Other Languages.  Every day, I witness the dedication of the teachers and the joy of the students as they make their way toward full integration into this country.   Knightsmama has, perhaps, found her calling in teaching English as Second Language, working last year with students from countries as varied as Russia, Iraq, The Congo, and Mexico.  We, I, should not be surprised at the importance the United States has for countless, countless individuals around the world.

The Skyline from Ferry
The counterpoint?  Where is the counterpoint?  It is here.  Washington Square begins, “During a portion of the first half of the present century, and more particularly during the latter part of it, there flourished and practiced in the city of New York, a physician who enjoyed perhaps an exceptional share of the consideration which, in the United States, has always bestowed upon distinguished members of the medical profession.”   The book was first published in 1880.  So the book concerns the years, 1840-1870, more or less.  The Statue of Liberty was dedicated in 1886, but was a greatly anticipated project from the mid-1870’s.  Ellis Island began processing immigrants in 1892, but in the three and a half decades prior, over eight million immigrated through a station in lower Manhattan.  My point is that while Dr. Sloper and his daughter, wealthy beyond worry, suffered their little family drama, at the edge of Washington Square, New York City was changing.  None of this makes it into the closed rooms of this novel, except at the end, when Catherine is aware that her kind were emigrating up town, but she remains too comfortable to uproot herself. 
Not too far away from Washington Square is The Bowery, where Stephen Crane set his first novel, Maggie:  Girl of the Streets, published in 1893, and where Ragged Dick, of Horatio Alger, Jr.’s first, 1868 novel, occupied himself.  A little further away is the Lower East Side where many of the recent immigrants found themselves in over-crowded tenements.   At Ellis Island, I purchased a book How the Other Half Lives, written by journalist Jacob A. Riis in the late 1880’s.   Riis was also an early documentary photographer.  The edition of the book I purchased includes one hundred of his photographs.  Riis’s journalism eventually led to the creation of the Tenement House Commission in 1884, and inspired mayors like Theodore Roosevelt to make real and lasting changes in the legal and geographical landscape of New York—laws governing rent, sanitation and such, and the creation of building codes and playgrounds.  Roosevelt called Riis “the most useful citizen in New York.” 
The facts are astounding.  Between 1870 and 1880 (the year Washington Square was published) 22,000 tenement houses were added to those already in existence, so that the number of houses exceeded 37,000, sheltering over a million souls.   Rents were high and often families took in strangers to help cover the costs.  Landlords made enormous profits, most over 25% of operating costs, some up to 30% or 40%.  As one reformed landlord stated, “It was just a question whether a man would take seven per cent and save his soul, or twenty five and lose it.”   Riis’ chapters on Italians, Chinese, Jews, Poles, Bohemians, and Blacks are fascinating and moving.  He breaks your heart discussing desperate mothers and abandoned babies.  His discussion of what we could call “tweens,” and what were then called “Street Arabs,” is both tender and affectionate.  But I have to admit that I have spent as much time looking at his photographs as I have reading the text. 

Ragged Captain Crunch in Chinatown
Because I have a great affection for Horatio Alger Jr.’s Ragged Dick, I was drawn to the photographs of the young boys who basically lived in packs on the streets.  Alger’s character is quick witted, optimistic, industrious, while harboring relatively unimportant vices such as smoking and gambling.  In several photographs, Riis caught these boys in a corner—protected from winds—clothed in coarse pants and jackets and barefoot, each one, sleeping, one flopped on the other.  The innocence of their faces still refused to give way to adult angers and resentments and fears.  In one chapter Riis tells of one boy who showed up in the police department and was reluctant to leave given that there he was provided a bed and his breakfast consisted of three slices of bread and an entire egg.  He did not go to church (“We don’t have no clothes for church.”) or school, or purchase bread (We don’t buy bread: we buy beer.”)  Another photograph captures a boy, paused mid-step beside a wood slat wall, carrying a growler, delivering beer, we assume, to some adults.
So there we have the impoverished counterpoint to the abundant wealth of Henry James’ characters.  But I am certain I am uncertain of my point.  I am merely exploring a feeling.  Moral outrage at how James could ignore the lives of the destitute living just a few blocks away is too simple and gratuitous. Each writer, each artist need not be all writers or artists.   But my reality—the reality I am living in now in 21st century America wealthy enough to take a year-off and travel (as Dr. Sloper whisked Catherine away to Europe)—and the reality of the books I have been reading—all of these books do present a “slice of life”—shove me into the corners of some uncomfortable moral reckoning, which at present I don’t appear to be equipped to reconcile. 
On the one hand, aren’t we all Gatsby standing on the dock yearning for the green light, the America where all our dreams are welcomed and fulfilled?  Is there anything wrong with that dream:  we look at life, study it, make our schedule of self-improvement, improve, or so we think, and expect the reward, a good life, a big house, a beautiful spouse, a happy family.   Aren’t many of us more like Nick Carraway or Theophilus North or Catherine Sloper’s suitor, standing somehow in the middle between those who have achieved and those who have not?  We are uncomfortable in the apartments of the half-talents, the strivers, the hopefuls, and we are just as uncomfortable in the Plaza or the posh homes on Washington Square where the wealthy attack any threat, including each other, with the tiny precise scalpels of their good breeding and good luck.  But really aren’t most us like George and Myrtle Wilson, a generation or two out of Riis’s tenements and another generation or two shy of financial security and social standing?  We lack something of Gatsby’s determination and charm, and are certainly bereaft of the Buchannan’s cruelty and deep pockets.  Most of us in America are comfortable, at least compared to the immigrants in New York tenements of the late nineteenth century.  But probably each of us is only one or two disasters away from a twenty-first century version of them. 

Visiting with Our Friend Sarmita in Hoboken
The Great Gatsby begins:  “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
 ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’”  It is good advice.  It is something I hope my sons, who often express dismay that they are wasting a year of their lives in a trailer, will some day believe about this trip.  Maybe Waller Grant and the Caravan is providing them with an advantage.
My mind, therefore, turns toward the question “what advice did my father give me?”  I could list several bits of useful wisdom.  But one maxim demands attention, here, more than others.  He said in one of our heated discussions while I was a teenager:  “The only measure of a man’s worth is the size of his bank account when he dies.”  I think he and Dr. Sloper would enjoy each other’s company.  What do I know:  maybe it is wise advice.  But it is not a lesson I have followed.  Maybe that explains the discombobulation I feel attempting to balance Newport and New York, Fitzgerald, Wilder, James, Crane, Alger, Riis, and Davis in my little pinhead.   It is a moment of slack-jawed wonder for me:  how do we explain the great separations of the rich and the poor?  I don’t easily lay the blame in the characters of the wealthy and the needy.  Alger’s recipe for success—and success for him was respectability, not simply wealth—was something like pluck and luck.  Hard work and a little grace.  For now I will accept that.  But I know the matter is not settled.

Soundtrack.  Counting Crows:  "Washington Square."

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Something I Have Been Turning Over in My Mind, Part 1

I’m going to talk about five books and two cities we have visited.  I have recently reread two books that were extremely important to me as I matured.  The first book is The Great Gatsby, a book that just about almost everyone admits to admiring.  During the week we stayed at Croton on Hudson, we bought a paperback copy at Bruised Apple Books in Peekskill.  If you are ever in Peekskill, you must visit this bookstore, and while you are at it mosey around the corner to The Peekskill Coffee House.  The bookstore is large, tall shelves requiring a ladder to reach the heights, with a wonderful literature section.  One evening, Knightsmama and I stepped in just as the store was about to close, but the proprietor welcomed us, said he had some work to catch up on, and let us browse while the jazz LP played one more time.  To give you an idea of the selection in the store, another book I bought there was Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Note.  Not only did Bruised Apple carry that book, but Exley’s other two.  I would have purchased all three, but, as you know, I am a slow reader, and we really don’t have a great deal of time for reading, so who knows if I would ever find the time to tackle all three—and more important, the Caravan cannot handle our book buying addiction if we let it get out of hand.  The coffee shop, by the way, is also a creperie, enough said.

Bruised Apple Books
I first read The Great Gatsby at UT in Professor Wood’s class on the Modern American Novel:  a dozen or so novels from Winesburg, Ohio to Mr. Sammler’s Planet.  I wish I could remember Professor Wood’s first name.  I liked him so much I signed up for his contemporary short fiction class.  He wrote one of the recommendation letters that got me into A&M.  To make an A in the novels class, students had to write a report on one of the writers and present it to the class.  I selected Fitzgerald and began an intense love affair with dear old Scott, then and there.  For about two years I read everything I could find—letters, notebooks, The Pat Hobby Stories of all things, and then ventured to his college friends, Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop.  One problem I had in school and still have is that college classes in English are mostly skimming classes, and I like to dig in.  I mean, one is allotted only a week or at most two for a book and then one moves on.  That approach leaves very little room for obsessions.  I became obsessed with Fitzgerald.   For my class report, I read The Far Side of Paradise, the first great biography, and soon enough found myself in The Crack-Up, and Sheilah Graham’s Beloved Infidel.  My fifteen-minute report took the entire class hour.  I think everyone was aghast when I began listing the classes that Fitzgerald failed at Princeton, and I was only a fourth of the way through my stack of note cards.    Sometimes, I get excited by the details.
If I remember correctly, I have read Gatsby a couple of time since college, and the book had begun to simmer on the back burner of memory with other half-forgotten and once admired classics.  So this time around I didn’t have many expectations.   I don’t need to summarize the book here; everyone knows the story.  Nor does anyone need this geezer community college teacher to weigh in, but I must say that this odd little book—and in many ways it is very odd—is an astounding moment of literary insight and compassion, captured with mesmerizing grace.   Insight into the corrupting effects of outrageous wealth, especially inherited wealth.  Compassion for the broken lives of those caught in the wake of such wealth.   Grace in its heart-broken point of view and the melody of its prose.   Once again, I was pulled into the wonder of this book, the fragility of its simple plot aiming a ferocious anger at the moneyed class. 
When I first read the book, I was adjusting myself to being the son of a prosperous man who did not share his wealth generously.  My simple problem was, of course, that it was very difficult to date the beautiful, wealthy girls to whom I was attracted.  While Daisy Buchanan is, to me now, an incompletely drawn character, and one wonders what Gatsby ever saw in her.  I can tell you exactly what I saw in a girl I occasionally dated in Temple and who also went to the University, but who had joined a sorority and quickly moved “out of my league.”   Poor boys, rich girls.  Fitzgerald’s line about the rich made sense to me, then, and Hemingway’s wit never diminished that sense.
Another of my all time favorite novels is Thornton Wilder’s Theophilus North.  If my memories of Gatsby had dimmed the book’s greatness, mine of Theophilus North had increased the wattage of my expectations.  In graduate school, as other students dug into Faulkner or Joyce, I quietly admired The Cabala, The Bridge Over San Luis Rey, and The Ides of March.   I should have been beyond this point in my education, but when I read Theophilus North, I placed myself smack dab in the middle of the adventure and lived as if I were the young miracle worker.    Theophilus North is a late novel for Wilder, basically his rose-hued good-bye to a long life and honored career.   Setting the novel in Newport, Rhode Island, after the First World War, Wilder lets his narrator loose in what he calls the nine cities of Newport.  Admittedly, it is almost a silly book, a young narrator, working his way into confused households of various economic situations, and through a sort of charismatic slight of hand he makes everything right.   This is a gentle book.  Where Gatsby is lyrical and savage, North is unaffected and charming.   However, the book ends, also, with a kind of disgust.  In just one summer, North has had enough of the fantastically rich, their hangers-on, and those forced to serve them.  He doesn’t light out for the territory, but he does get the hell out of Newport.

In the last days of October, we parked the caravan at Fishermen’s Memorial State Park in Narragansett, Rhode Island.  Our four days there, we were one of maybe half dozen trailers closing out the season.  By now Knightsmama was chugging along in her final classes for her degree, so we found a cute library and another in our long series of sweet coffee shops, this one called Cool Beans, for her to conduct her business in.   One day Captain Crunch and I played catch on the beach while his mom completed some assignment.  Then she joined us, and strolled along the shore.  Another afternoon we drifted over to Galilee, walked the piers and ate a lovely late lunch at George’s.  I ordered a half dozen clams, and broiled scallops and asparagus.  A memorable meal. 

Cherry Stones
One afternoon we loaded ourselves into the Big Ass Truck and made our way to Newport.  Along the way, we paused to get a photograph at a pizza joint, where our friends Patty and Stephen Brown first met, many years ago.  Then we followed the coast and found ourselves rising on the Claiborne Pell Bridge, another of the beautiful bridges we have marveled at.  After a quick visit to the Visitor’s Center where we were shunned by the most disinterested Tourist Information Public Servant we have spoken with on the trip, we headed off on the drive around the island. 
The most memorable parts of the day were three events.  First, before we could get out of Newport, the town proper, for our drive around to gawk at rich people’s houses, the animals in the back seat of the Big Ass Truck were grumbling for snacks, so I stopped in gasoline/convenience store that sat uneasily and conspicuously in the middle of the cute tourist part of the town.  As I stepped out of the store with a bag of sodas and chips, a guy filling up his red expensive sports car called to me and said, “When I saw that big truck with Texas plates, I didn’t expect to see a guy like you driving it.”  I laughed and said something profoundly innocuous, I’m sure. “Where’s your gun rack?” I told him Governor Perry made me leave it when we left the state.  He didn’t want it falling into Yankee hands.  This guy looked like someone that I would like to know or even to be—a little like Sting if Sting had led a harder life and didn’t have the ego that Sting has.  If someone played this guy in a movie it would be Greg Kinnear or maybe David Duchovny, dressed down, someone who could play seedy with a indestructible innocence and goodwill still shining through.  We talked a while in the parking lot.  I assured him we were intelligent and enlightened and safe for civilized folk.  I told the fellow what we were doing, seeing America and all that, all of which he appreciated.  He had travelled a great deal.  When I asked what he did, he said, “I am the son of inherited wealth and waved his hand toward the hills above us where the mansions were.”  My response:  “Good for you.”  Who knows where that came from?  Anyway, I wished him well and he wished me well.  Then he ran to his car and retrieved a pen with the web address: Check it out. 
Second strong memory.  We had driven ourselves around the island to the ocean side, parked the B.A.T. so we could walk below the sea wall on the rocks.  As we have often observed on our journeys along shorelines, there was a couple, old people—you know, about five years older than I—sitting in lawn chairs and wrapped in windbreakers, their laps covered in blankets.  The man and woman were both wearing sun glasses, so they appeared solid and internal and impenetrable there on the sea wall staring at God knows what, thinking about God knows what.  They both had books in their hands, but only the woman was reading. 
As we climbed about on the rocks, we were invaded by a group of children younger than Captain Crunch.  The woman accompanying them yelled out the usual orders to be careful and to stay together, which they did periodically and unpredictably.  I was more in the old-codger-staring-at-the-ocean mood, so I wandered away, but Knightsmama had a great conversation with the woman who was one of a few home school moms in the area and, I guess, it was her day to bundle up kids in the SUV for a little adventure. 

Fishermen's Memorial Park
I had noticed a stone marker on a hill, so I made my way up to discover a monument and memorial to those lost at sea.  One group included the passengers of Egypt Air Flight 990, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on October 31, 1999.  217 victims including the crew.   In one of those coincidences that have occurred several times on this trip, I was standing on this ground at the end of October contemplating an event whose anniversary was just a day or two away.   The grounds had been dedicated, originally to a Jay O’Brien, a local businessman and fishermen, who had died at sea, but through efforts of a compassionate citizenry, it has become a site to honor all who have died off the shores of Rhode Island and Narragansett Bay.  It is a sobering experience to read all the names engraved there in stones, from Revolutionary War sailors to working fishermen and women to passengers on tragic pleasure cruises.   One gazes at the ocean with a different sense of wonder from this hilltop.
Third strong memory.  If in reading these posts you have not realized that Captain Crunch has a way of forcefully and, often, successfully imposing his will upon the rest of us, you have not been paying attention.  These last days of October were also the final days of the 2013 World Series.  Captain Crunch and Dr. J. had, to my disappointment, become avid fans of the Boston Red Sox.  The Sox are a fantastic team, I must admit, and one would think with my beard extending to my chest that I should be a fan.  But my loyalty to the Cards is deep and lasting.  Still, if someone besides the Cards must be champs, I am glad it is the Sox.  Captain Crunch, simply and purely, had caught baseball fever.  Everywhere we went, any time we paused, he began advocating for a game of catch.  His greatest desire was to find a ball field, stand on a pitcher’s mound, and fire a few fast ones into my glove.  In Newport, in the middle of town, right along the docks almost, we discovered a perfectly manicured little league field.  God, I love a ball field, the diamond of grass, the arc of smoothly raked dirt, the expanse of the outfield . . . even if it is locked up and decorated with “No Trespassing” signs.  Nothing was not going to stop us that day, so we left Knightsmama in the B.A.T. to study, and climbed the fence by the third base dug out.  Dr. J. with his long legs just about stepped over it, from bleachers to fence to foul line.  Captain Crunch is a monkey, so he was up and over.  I, on the other hand, provided one of my periodic lessons to the boys, and to anyone peering from their yachts, on why they should not get fat and old.  But I got over.
Captain Crunch had been wondering lately what position he could play.  I had been pushing for second or third.  So we started off with Captain Crunch at second base and Dr. J. at first.  Actually, I was a little worried what the Captain would do with a grounder, but after skimming a few at him and his making the throw to first cleanly, I began burning a few unpredictably to the right and to the left, and he handled them all with aplomb.  Soon, we had to try him out at third, and Lord, if he didn’t make that throw with force and accuracy.  Will Middlebrook watch out!  After a while we switched things up, timed our base running, stole bases, including home with faked squeeze plays, tested our arms from the outfield fence.  And we pitched.  Captain Crunch reminds me of Tim Robbins in Bull Durham.  He’s better when he is not thinking about it.  But he has some stuff, I’m telling you.  Dr. J., on the other hand, might have the makings of a strong pitcher.  On a little league field his arm scares me.  I have to brace myself and say a little prayer that I see his fastball coming in before it hits me.  What can I say?  It was a great afternoon, feeding our passion for baseball and father-son time. 

Before we trespassed on to the little league field, the family had done the requisite trip down Bellevue Avenue to gawk at the Rich People’s Houses.  These buildings and their owners (or previous owners) are famous and infamous.  And the houses are a sight to see.  I guided the B.A.T. up and down Bellevue and adjacent streets:  the Berwind’s “The Elms,” Vanderbilt’s “The Breakers,” the other Vanderbilt’s “Marble House,” the Oelrichs’ “Rosecliff,” and the Whetmore’s “Chateau-sur-Mer.”  We even got out a couple of times to wander the streets, just to see how close we could get without forking over money.
             Now, I know that these particular houses are no longer owned by their testy and insufferable owners, but I’ll be damned if I am going to hand over my hard earned money to look that the possessions of rich people.  It seems to me that my doing so would be just one more way that the rich have tricked the middle and working classes into congratulating them for their avarice.  “Thanks for exploiting me as you accumulated your wealth, and while I am at it, here, take a little more of the money you begrudgingly left me.”  Nope, I am not going to play that game.  Nowadays, we even have a name for this robbery:  “Lifestyle Tourism.”  Well, I have an idea:  how about every millionaire family member of a Fortune 500 company drop by the next state park where I will be parking the Caravan of Wonder and hand over, say, 20 bucks a person, for a personal tour!  There’s a little “Lifestyle Tourism” for you. 

As close as I will get to Rosecliff
            Look, don’t get me wrong.  These houses are beautiful from the outside.  I suppose I am happy that the architects found someone with deep pockets to support them and their developing arts.  I assume the houses are gorgeous inside.  But I am not an Antique Road Show kind of guy, and, sue me, but I move pretty quickly through the portions of museums devoted to furniture and finery.   What is more, I have never been entangled in television exploits of the dirty lives of the rich and famous, whether it be the real wives in some wealthy suburb or the fictional a-holes of Dallas, Denver, or Knots Landing.  I should point out that there is a pretty decent book about Newport that Knightsmama and I read after we escaped the city.  While I admire the research and clarity of writing of Gilded, a history of Newport, by Deborah Davis, I didn’t finish it.  By the time I got to Doris Duke, I was done.  But I found the early portions—the how and why Newport became the haven for the super-rich—to be fascinating.  Sorry to say, as many things in this country—it begins with the unholy alliance of wealth and Southern slavery.  Then it continues with inherited wealth and stupid ostentation. 
            [Well, this post has certainly gone on long enough.  Next time, let’s move back to New York City and a few ruminations about Henry James’s Washington Square and the Lower East Side.]

Soundtrack.  Hall and Oats:  "Rich Girl."

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Rainbow in Early Winter

I have gotten reflective, and nostalgic, God damn it.  I hate it.  I kind of like it, also.  But I am losing my attitude.  My language slackens even more than usual.  Everything returns to facts.  Or that’s the way it feels as I reject a dozen false starts for this post. The Caravan of Wonder has parked itself in Jersey City. When we open the door, we can see the Statue of Liberty lifting her beacon to the East—though I don’t know if anybody sees her except tourists.  We are waist deep in our week devoted to New York City.  So far we have “done” the Empire State Building, Central Park Skating Rink, Museum of Modern Art, Chinatown, Madison Square Garden, Rockefeller Center, FAO Schwartz, 9-11 Memorial, Trinity Church, Staten Island Ferry, Barclay Center, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Washington Square Park, and Greenwich Village. We have kids; we have become tourists again.  We buy passes and ticket packages, and we have stuff we have to do.  It’s all wonderful.  It’s hell. 

The City, From the Empire State Building
Yet Monday night, just for a bit, I felt something different, something older, softer in me, returning. Something sentimental. You see, I can never claim to be a fully experienced traveler.  I am not rich, nor have I been that person who scrimps and saves during the year so that I can travel to old familiar haunts.  For instance, I have a friend who for many years has traveled to Montreal during the summer.  He, his wife, and daughter make a second life there.  They have a neighborhood where they live, restaurants and coffee shops they like to visit, routines they establish.  I don’t have that.   Another friend and his wife (they don’t have children) visit New Orleans twice or thrice a year.  I don’t do that.  But if I had a city that called to me it would be New York.  Since age eleven, I have lived within a ninety mile radius of Austin, except for two summers, those when I worked in New York in 1977 and 1982.  Since then, I have visited New York on separate occasions with a girlfriend, a previous wife, a couple of co-writers on a book, and by myself doing research.  Except for the fact that, upon exiting a subway station, I never turn the correct direction, New York feels familiar to me, a little like a second home.  It’s the only place I could say that about, and perhaps I am even stretching it here.
The first time I lived in New York, I worked on Staten Island at Henry Kauffman Campgrounds.  I had completed two years into my Master’s degree from Texas A&M, unsuccessfully, I guess, since after two years I should have had a degree, but didn’t.  I had completed most of my course work, but I had two problems:  I liked teaching, so I spent most of my time focused on that; and I thought I should write a thesis, rather than merely do course work.  I told myself I wanted to be a writer and a scholar, so writing a thesis was a place to start.  Mostly, I just needed to grow up. I was a late reader—I rarely read books in high school and I had a lot of catching up to do.   Looking back, I find it difficult to pinpoint my problem.  I am going to say that I was dreamy, idealistic, and unaware how important some basic skills actually were.  As was typical for me, somehow, as my father would say, I had gotten my tit in the wringer by getting on the bad side of a couple of professors. On the other hand, others found me, at worst, harmless, and, at best, full of raw unformed potential. 
During my first semester, I had angered the semi-well-known rhetorician who had been assigned my teaching advisor—he had co-authored a freshman textbook with his wife, the real famous person—by refusing to take his sage wisdom on how to teach my classes.  Luckily, I was assigned another set of advisors.  It was a set:  one was my nutty officemate, Carlson Yost, a kind of conservative gadfly working on his doctorate, who had more enemies than I did; the other was a newby, Dr. Jeanne Nelson, whom everyone thought had a brilliant career ahead of her.   These two guided me through the next few semesters.  Jeanne surprised everyone and decided to move to New York with her husband, Wayne Gordon, who was hired to supervise the Henry Kauffman Campgrounds on Staten Island.   Then they surprised me and asked if I would like a job for the summer. New York in the summer, making a couple bucks an hour.  Sure, what’s not to like?  

The Lady
Working on the campgrounds that summer did what I think Wayne and Jeanne hoped it would do for me.  It opened up worlds that I had never seen before.  The campgrounds were a Jewish philanthropy, and sponsored kids from Brooklyn who travelled to the island every day.  Some were Hasidic, others not.  In May, my job consisted of helping Wayne and his maintenance man prepare the camp for summer.  I have one memory of driving a tractor, mowing a meadow, singing “Ain’t No More Cane on the Brazos” loudly, to myself.    During the season, my job consisted of being the go-fer.  People would ask me to go get stuff, and I would go and get.  It was a large camp near the highest region of Staten Island.  There were plenty of roads roaming around a varied landscape.  I also delivered food and picked-up trash, while I listened to a reggae radio station.  For a while I lived in somebody’s basement apartment and read Hemingway’s novels and stories at night.  Mid-summer, I moved on the campgrounds and lived in the infirmary.  I walked, took buses, ate bagels and Dannon yogurt, swam in the campground pool after hours, dated the pretty lifeguard for a while and bought a hideous suit so I could escort her to an Italian wedding.  At the end of the summer, I weighed a waifish 153 pounds.
But mostly I indulged in the fantasy that I was a young genius from the South who had come North.  My mind was full of such figures.  From Texas, I knew of the three East Texas Williams:  William Owens, William Humphreys, and William Goyen.  I included Katherine Anne Porter.  Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Carson McCullars, Harper Lee.  And of course, Willie Morris, whose book North Toward Home, was every ambitious Texas writer’s model for success:  enjoy your glorious Southern youth, attend a big college and edit the school paper, become a Rhodes Scholar, edit the state liberal rag, land a job at great magazine in New York, drink a lot, and cavort with Robert Penn Warren and James Jones.  It sounded so easy.  In my dreamier moments, I mused that had become John Boy Walton, tearfully leaving Walton’s Mountain because destiny could not be denied. 

Financial Good Luck?
1977 was the summer when Elvis died and The Son of Sam was apprehended.  In their own way, both events signaled the end of something, a kind of innocence and freedom.  In my mind, they paired Southern rural vulnerability with Northern urban violence, but that was obviously a simplification.  Mostly, my summer was more insular, more personal.  I had discovered a system in which I could work for two weeks and save enough for a weekend in the city.  Every other Saturday and sometimes Sunday, I hopped on the Staten Island Ferry, wandered through the Met and Guggenheim, enjoyed the steel drums in Central Park, listened to Judy Collins do a sound check, attended a concert in Trinity Church, stepped inside the Algonquin, saw a game in Yankee Stadium, watched a production of Joyce’s The Exiles at Circle in the Square, refused the overtures of several gay men, observed the madness of Washington Square Park, ate clams and drank beer in the Village.  That was what I did most, wander around the Village, drink coffee or beer, visit bookstores, and think of the romantic and tragic lives of famous writers.  John Dos Passos, Katherine Porter, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edmund Wilson, e e cummings, William Carlos Williams.  You will notice that I have not mentioned the Beats or New York School, nor have I mentioned early days of punk or new wave music.  This explains something, doesn’t it?  Some innocent ignorance of the new and the avant garde.  Looking back, I wish I had found a way then to discover the poetry of John O’Hara and the music of Patti Smith.  That happened later.
So Waller Grant is mid-way through our week in New York City.  We have our PATH transit card loaded up; we each have a metro-card for subways.  We celebrated Captain Crunch’s birthday by standing in the interminable lines for Homeland Security at the Empire State Building—a very important location for us lovers the Percy Jackson books— and by moseying down to Chinatown for a Vietnamese lunch. Because my hip hurts from so much walking, I use a golf umbrella as a walking cane and pop aspirin and ibuprofen, so I sat in an Asian bakery tending a cup of black tea with milk while Knightsmama and the boys wandered the shops.  On the other days, we have done all those things that families that visit New  York City do—except stand in front of the Today Show or go to Letterman or Saturday Night Live or whatever the latest version of Cats or Phantom is. 
On Monday, Veterans Day, we stood in the lines for Homeland Security at the 9-11 Memorial, and fought the tears as we emotionally descended into the abysmal waterfalls—the grief of a city, of a nation, falling in waves, over and over, and always, into two bottomless pits.  I once wrote a poem with the line “The earth cannot hold all their tears,” but I could not imagine this—the continued sadness this city feels for the people who died there twelve years ago. Later that day, we wandered toward Wall Street, where we witnessed young ladies caressing the dangling testicles of The Bull (one of the more politically disturbing things I have seen), and then on to Battery Park.  The days in the city had grown cold, so at a street fair I finally purchased a hat befitting the Major Dude, a knitted rainbow noggin complete with ear flaps and tassels.  I donned my sartorial splendor, thinking myself as much a hippie throwback as a Gay Ally.   After a quick trip on the Staten Island Ferry, we boarded the R train, exited at Prince Street, then zigzagged our way through Washington Square Park and across Greenwich Village toward the Christopher Street PATH station.  My goal: 51-53 Christopher Street, Stonewall.

The Major Dude and Captain Crunch buy new hats
  Maybe it happens every day.  There we are, one version of The Great American Family on its New York Pilgrimage.  We had done many of the things we were supposed to do, and now the father is taking a photograph of The Stonewall Inn, his wife and sons standing behind him on the sidewalk.  The father is thinking of the Boston Tea Party, of Thoreau going to jail, of Seneca Falls, of the Haymarket Riots, Selma and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.  Stonewall: the beginning of the movement that is bringing equal rights to gay and lesbian Americans.  Stonewall:  one in the long series of actions and statements made by brave Americans that extend the definition of freedom and liberty that this nation represents to the world.
Just as the father touches the little red button on his iphone, two men, most likely in their late twenties, step into the frame.  “We want to be in the picture,” one yells.  At first, the father is confused.  All he wants is a photograph for the record, for his memories, and maybe for his blog, something personal and insular, if he decides to write about Stonewall.  “I was here” is all he wants to say: “I thought about the importance of this place.”  

A new friend announces himself
“Here, take our picture.  By the way, I love your hat.”   And then the father realizes, yes, of course, this is the perfect picture. Two young men he does not know, happy, joyful, celebrating their partnership, their love, their friendship, perhaps on their way to dinner, just living their life, sharing a moment with, within, The Great American Family. The camera winks. The two men and the family talk for a while.  The men learn the family is traveling the US in a RV taking in New York for a week.  The father wants to begin a lecture explaining why they are standing there in front of this monument, but knows he doesn’t need to.  The young men understand.  They understand much better than he does.  The men tell the two sons that they are lucky to have these two people as parents.   The father thinks he knows what they mean.  Then they all say good-bye and never exchange names.  They don’t need to.
         I write that experience in third person because that is how I experienced it.  It was all a bit too perfect.  Stonewall was about a great many things, but this is one of them—the family of man, no barriers, just people letting people be themselves together.  We strolled out to Seventh Avenue.  For a while I stood there.  Here the buildings are not giants, the traffic is lighter, the pedestrian movement is less frantic. People hold hands, people smile.  I know the Village is not the same as it was in 1977, but it isn’t that different.  For a moment, it all came back.  My joy in New York City is located in the smaller, less crowded pockets.  A great deal of the city is too affluent for me, too busy, and where it is not affluent, it is too crowded, too loud.  But Monday night, Veterans Day, walking to the train through the Village, I was nostalgic for a moment in my youth when the world held more possibilities than limitations or failures.  I did not become what I had dreamed I would be.  But there I was with my wife and two of my sons, a chubby old man, with long hair, scruffy beard, an umbrella for a cane, and my crazy gay pride hat, leaning my way into the chilly night.  It is its own small story, maybe worth the telling.

Soundtrack.  Simon and Garfunkel: "A Hazy Shade of Winter"

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The First Quarterly Report, Self-Interview, October 31

               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.
Q:  Why?

"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."