Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Second Quarterly Report: November through January

Hey there, Dude.  What’s up?  How are you doing?  It’s time for the second quarterly report for the Caravan of Wonder. 
Okay.  At the moment, I am involved in a fist fight with depression, I guess.

Why’s that?
We are involved with a bit of an unplanned hiatus here in Texas.  The Buckaroo, my name for Knightsmama’s dad, has had a health setback. So we have been “off the road,” back in Texas for almost a month. The boys and I are holed up at the Buckaroo’s rancherito near Lake Tawakani and Will’s Point.  Knightsmama has been spending most days and nights in a hospital in Tyler—about 60 miles from us—and then at a rehab facility in Dallas—again about 60 miles away, but in the other direction.  It is an entirely different kind of adventure than we had planned.  If this were Kerouac’s On the Road, this would be one of the times where he was stuck back in New Jersey living with his aunt, all that time that was skipped over in the narrative.  It’s a bizarre life, living out of a suitcase but staying put, having a regular schedule that is not the schedule you really want.  It’s still an adventure, but it’s in slow motion. 
Central Park, photo by Dr. J.
Sorry to hear that?  Is The Buckaroo going to be okay?
Most certainly.  It won’t be the life that he was planning and recovery will be slower than anyone wishes.  But he is an amazing man.  I mean, last summer, at eighty, he was out on his land building fences in 100 degree heat.  He won’t be stopped.

Glad to hear it.  So how was the adventure before this interruption?
 I don’t know how to say it.  In many, many ways, the first six weeks of this quarter—the first of November to the middle of December—were perhaps the most emotionally and intellectually satisfying, while still being, perhaps, the hardest.

How so?
Well, before I answer, I also need to add a qualifying statement.  I need to say that the last couple of weeks in December and the first week in January were also wonderful.  But they were wonderful in a different way.  In the middle of December, we rolled the caravan into North Carolina and stayed with my middle sister, The Queen Bee.  We hung out with her and her husband, three of her four children, the spouses of all four, and two grandchildren.  It was totally generous of her and her children to welcome us and take care of us.  Plus, my oldest son, The Philosopher, and his girlfriend, and the Buckaroo and his girlfriend, also joined us.  This is a great deal of family.  It was a terrific interlude, in which we were totally nurtured.  These weeks were gigantically meaningful in the scope of things and if we had done nothing else on this adventure, we would forever feel the love of the universe.  Just in and of itself, those few weeks were a perfect gift to my sons about what family is.  You know, at a certain point, we humans have to forget all our fancy and important dreams about our place in the world and just pull back into family.  We descendants in the Grant-Jamison Tribe are all very lucky:  no one is at war with anyone else.  If anyone is the Black Sheep, I guess it is me.  And they still take me in.  In any case, these weeks could have occurred in any year, I suppose.  They didn’t have anything directly to do with our Pilgrimages in America, except, of course, they do, just in a different way.
Manhattan From Jersey City, photo by Dr. J.

Thanks for pointing that out.  Tell me about November to mid-December.
First off, Knightsmama did amazing research locating campgrounds for us.  All through October, in Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, we kept finding ourselves at the tail end of the season for various campgrounds.  When we left Narragansett, Rhode Island, on October 31, we were the last campers out.  I think they locked the gate right after we exited.  As one would expect, by November, almost every other Yankee RVer had headed far south.  We were beginning to panic that our plans for New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia would be crushed.  But Knightsmama saved the day with diligent and creative research.

So where did you stay?
November 1-7:  Croton Point Park, at Croton on Hudson, New York
November 7-14:  Liberty Harbor RVPark, Jersey City, New Jersey
November 14-21: Pine Grove Furnace State Park, Cooke Township, Pennsylvania
November 21-26: Campus Park and Ride, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
November 26-December 6:   Brunswick Family Campground, Brunswick, Maryland
December 6-15:  Misty MountainCamp Resort, Crozet, Virginia
December 15-16:  MayberryCampground, Mt Airy, North Carolina
December 16-January 2:   My niece’s front yard in Pittsboro, North Carolina
January 2-4:  Wilmington KOA, Wilmington, North Carolina
January 4-5:  On the road to Charleston, South Carolina, then to Texas
January 5-Present:  Will’s Point, Texas
Sunset Pine Grove Furnace, photo by Dr.  J.

Any thoughts about these places?
As it has been with a great deal of trip, there is really no way to summarize, to bring all this under one umbrella.  It is all too varied and diverse.  I can say that at first I welcomed the weather.  By the time we got to Jersey City and our week exploring New York City, things had gotten fairly chilly.  It even snowed briefly one morning and the boys got to ice skate in Central Park in a tiny sleet storm.  By now, however, I am pretty sick of wet and cold.  It is one of the reasons I am sad about our being pulled to Texas:  we would have been in Florida at this point. 
But back to the Middle States.  This time period for our trip alternated between Great American Cities—Boston (in October), New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.—and the countryside.  Several of my favorite campgrounds for the trip so far are from these six weeks, especially Pine Grove Furnace and the town of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and the County Park in Brunswick, Maryland, on the Potomac River.  There is nothing really special about these places.  We were danged near the only campers at either place.  No other nomads. Both places did attract some tent campers on weekends.  Also the folks at Misty Mountain, in Crozet, Virginia, near Charlottesville, were extremely generous and welcoming.  All three locations were forested, some pines with their needles, plenty of leaves on the ground.  When it wasn’t cold and wet, the boys wandered around.  At night, I felt alone but safe.  Over all, I think I just loved the country side. 

Lighting the Capitol Tree
What about the big cities?
            Boy, what a contrast.  I am so ambivalent about them.  Even though we spent several days exploring each of them, I still feel like there is so much, too much, left to do.  That feeling began with Boston.  We camped in three locations near Boston but we went into the city only three times. And it took us so long to get in and out that we never had a leisurely day.  With New York, we were bivouacked just across the Hudson, so with the PATH and then various subways, we felt we had figured out how to maneuver ourselves around the city.  We saw a great number  of the things one is supposed to see, but I still haven’t visited the United Nations or the Brooklyn Bridge or Mets Stadium.  There is just too much.  With Philadelphia, Knightsmama and I ended up spending a number of evenings in a Starbucks in South Philly because she had a class to complete, but we toured Constitution Hall, the National Mint, and the SEC.  I am really sad, I didn’t get to the Philadelphia Art Museum or to Brandywine for the Wyeth museum.  Finally, with D.C., we had a fairly long drive and commuter rail trip, but we made it into town three days, and saw a great deal of the Mall.  We had been there once before, but this time we got to tour the Capitol, Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian, and the National Gallery. 
Why didn’t we see more?  First, we were shivering in the 30’s in most of these places.  We had commutes. With the boys, we often got late starts—I know, there are parents who don’t put up with children dragging their butts.  But you have to remember that we are doing this for a year; we just can’t pull 12-hour days every day.   And finally, I have a gimpy hip that was really starting to bother me, enough so that I bought canes in Philadelphia.  I don’t like to admit it, but I slowed us down.  I just can’t walk for 12 hours nonstop.    
Mt Vernon, photo by Dr. J.
I am looking at your blog.  Why haven’t you written more about the places you have visited. 
            That’s a good question.   I did write several posts about New York.  But that is where I got stumped.  In a post in the fall, I wrote about one of the problems with the trip is that I am living on two time periods.  One is the timeline of the actual trip itself, and the second is the timeline of the writing about it.  There seems to have developed about a six week gap in the two.  I was proceeding with that timeline; then the holidays hit, and I veered off into some different topics.  Then the Buckaroo got ill.  That really threw me off schedule, and I wrote a couple of posts about that.  Finally, I began taking an on-line class from American Military University in the Humanities, as part of my sabbatical arrangement.  I got myself behind on a couple of assignments and had to catch up.  Luckily the readings are quite interesting, and when everything is said and done, the class will feed into the overall concerns of the blog.    
Daedelus Bookshop
Since you are hoping still to meditate on what you have seen, what will some of the future posts deal with?
            The truth is that I don’t know.  I am not going to make any promises.  How the blog posts work, as far as I have figured out, is one of four processes.  One is that I give myself an assignment because I feel that the topic is essential to what I hope this project as a whole will become.  Currently, I think these could be Boston and John Adams and Paul Revere—the beginning of our independence.  Add to that Plimouth Rock and Nathaniel Hawthorne and Salem.  Then the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and Ben Franklin.  Then the National Mall.  There is so much more, but this gives you an idea.  A second method is that there is a classic American books involved.  I have been reading in the following:  Franklin’s Autobiography, Fredrick Douglass’s autobiography, Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner, Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel.  I had planned on including Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and something by Flannery O’Connor, but our trip through the south was redirected.  Same for Hank Williams.  Then third, various visits begin to pile up unrecorded and I notice that there are related motifs that I can explore as a group.  Right now these could include the Civil War (Gettysburg, Wilderness, Fredericksburg, Antietam), presidents’ homes (Coolidge, FDR, Wilson, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe), writers’ graves (too many to mention), national tragedies (the Twin Towers, United Flight 93 crash site, Johnstown Flood, Harper’s Ferry).  Then fourth are my thoughts about past generations of relatives—most of whom come from Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

That’s a lot.  What are the most moving places you have visited in this quarter.
I would have to say the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston just might be the most moving.  We just walked up on it at dusk on our way to meet my nephew and his wife for dinner at Faneuil Hall.  Part of it was the surprise, just finding ourselves in the middle of it.  Next has to be the Statue of Liberty, so many voices and languages making a joyful noise in celebration of our open arms.   Then in no particular order:  Storm King.  Emerson’s Grave, The Stonewall Inn, United Flight 93 Memorial, Antietam Battlefield, Walt Whitman’s Grave, Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, D.C., and as always, the Lincoln Memorial.  Scott and Zelda’s grave, which I went to by myself, was quite moving.  St. Mary’s Catholic Church is taking wonderful care of the grave site, but when you think of both of their stars shooting so brightly and so quickly across the American firmament, it’s all rather too sad. 
Hanging with My Friends

What were you favorite places just to hang out?
I really enjoyed Narragansett.   Then, again in no particular order, I really liked Beans in Belfry Coffee Shop in Brunswick, Maryland.  The town of Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  Greeley Park in Manhattan.  Mudhouse Coffee Shop in Crozet, Virginia.  Daedelus Bookshop in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Bruised Apple Bookshop and the Peekskill Coffee Shop in Peekskill, New York.  Downtown Knoxville, Tennessee. The Jean Bonnet Tavern in Bedford, Pennsylvania.  The City Tavern in Philadelphia,. The Poe House in Hendersonville, North Carolina.  S and T Soda Shoppe in Pittsboro, North Carolina.

Are you going to write about beer anymore?
Certainly, my problem is that for a while I was drinking so much so often that my notes got too thick and cluttered.  I was having trouble getting the information down in a coherent fashion.

Were you drunk?
No, I was not drunk.  But I have tasted a large number of beers on location.  If you do a couple of flights a week, there are a large number of beers you have to have an opinion on.

Thank you.  That’s all I wanted to ask.  Is there anything you want to add before we go?
I guess just this.  I am surprised by how much I truly enjoyed being on the road.  I was really grateful to rest for a couple of weeks in Pittsboro with my sister and her family.  But I was quite ready to get back at the helm.  I know there is a lesson to be learned—much to be learned about America—during our moments of stasis here in Texas.  But I am ready to learn it and get the heck out of here for another five or so months.  Fingers crossed.

Soundtrack.  Roger Miller:  "King of the Road."              


  1. Sorry you're sad and in stasis. That as much selfish as sympathy. I was living vicariously. Maybe I still am. It's been a sad, static winter. Here's to a spring of happiness and movement.

  2. Hi Dude, I agree with the earlier comment. Spring will come, sometime . . . . . . . . .

    Would you consider expanding your blog entries and creating a book about your experiences, reflexions, and impressions? You could title it "America," although they'll probably tell you that title's been taken mny times over.

    Take care and good wises for an early spring!