State by State
Memories from 50 states as they come to me in one evening alone in my sister's cabin and home alone some late nights during my 50th year of life (alphabetical by state).
1. I am staying in Phenixville, Alabama while on business in Columbus, Georgia. I am with my supervisor - a pale white Madisonian with yellow hair who is nervously in charge of our expense account. She's been crying openly at work of late as her husband does not want to have children and she's desperate to be a mother. He's agreed reluctantly to father a child, one child, but the pregnancy is not coming. I've recently accepted a super-sweet, full-time fellowship to the University of Wisconsin and feel awkward being on a business trip where I am being groomed as a key liaison to a data center. I have not informed the bank of my plans and yet the pace at which the bank is advancing into the information age is above anyone else in our immediate work group. Mary and I sit at a fish restaurant, outdoors, while twenty-degree weather has descended back upon Wisconsin. Georgia is visible across the river as we let the late day sun warm us and we share a meal comfortably… way more comfortably than any time I can remember with Mary in the bank back home. Phenixville folks seem simple… the kind of simple we northerners are conditioned to believe rural southerners are innately. The simple is good this night. I am present in the moment knowing things are going to change dramatically in the weeks ahead. A lovely business trip where I confirm I can find something wonderfully good in any person I spend the requisite time getting to know one-on-one.
2. It's ten o'clock at night on route 9 somewhere between Anchorage and Steward, Alaska. The dusk arrives slowly and the lake we drive along for five, or is it ten, minutes is somehow brighter than the sky. My future in-laws are in the back seat. My future wife is in the passenger seat. Nature looms huge as I try and absorb Alaska knowing all I will see of her, perhaps ever, is what lies between these two cities. My mind is abuzz with thoughts of these two people in the back who are taking the inner-waterway cruise down to Vancouver, British Columbia. I struggle to remember Willy as I write this - he's been dead for over ten years now. I remember the Alaskan cruise was one of his happiest moments out in nature. He spoke of it occasionally in the precious time we had left to get to know each other. His family continues to speak more grandiosely of it now that he is gone.
3. It's 9am at the west gate of Arkansas and I am due to cross the state from west to east quickly as I'm meeting friends for a conference in Memphis, Tennessee. I'm weary of driving as yesterday was a wild weather day where tornadoes were touching ground in places throughout Kansas and I drove through the outrageous weather after having dropped Dad off at Stapleton, the old Denver airport. I'm looking at the map of the razorback state, absorbing the 320 or so miles I will see while crossing on but a single highway. Little Rock is smack in the middle. I have no regrets about not having time to check out the capital, capitol, or any landmark in the state whatsoever. I've been humbled by yesterday's weather and a large sunny sky is more than enough for me. I am lost in a reverie of a summer of cross-country driving and the spectacular great fortune had… meeting great people and enjoying work and play in Berkeley, California. I am excited to see a friend from before I left for Cali. I have not seen such a person, outside of a quick three days with Dad, in over a month. Arkansas looks familiar and familiar blurs memory to the point of no specifics at all.
4. My wife and I are in Arizona for yet another Spring Break escape from the rains and mist of Seattle. We're giddy about Tucson and all the things we love to do in town. We've been to a Mariners pre-season game against the White Sox at Electric Field last night and we've frequented healthy restaurants for romantic dinners our first two nights in town. We head up to Sabino canyon for yet another legendary hike up the main, but car-free, road. The saguaro are glistening with dew in the morning sun. Our stride upon our favorite running shoes is large and purposeful. A gila monster, bright orange and also purposeful though small compared to us, cuts across a dusty side path close within view. The sky is blue blue blue and the top of the surrounding mountains brown. The air is fresh but segregated into cool and warm parcels, all of which blend effortlessly on the route from mouth to lungs. I'm feeling confident that the day is going to be a lifetime of sorts in its own right.
5. It's morning in Palo Alto, California - the town I like to hate for all the pretension I sense surrounding Stanford University. The temperature is a perfect 72 degrees. I'm feeling anxious as I tend to feel at all our six-month visual analytics consortium meetings. Most of the labs bring five to ten people. My director and I are the only two representing the University of Washington. Tom has come to schmooze and tell some wonderful stories about what we should be doing as a collective. I'm feeling the weight of actually having to do something brilliant and useful to justify our inclusion. I need to walk off the morning angst. I cut across a large street of traffic and I'm in the wilds of the Stanford campus. I didn't know there were wilds. I smell eucalyptus and see these beautiful trees - reminiscent of two trips to Australia. I notice the world full on. I am out of my head and make a pact to myself to spend the evening exploring the rest of the wilds of campus. The day is going to end greatly… no matter what transpires during the interim.
6. My future wife and I have ascended Eisenhower pass rather quickly upon arriving in Colorado for a four-day work stint of mine. It's snowing and I am running about in shorts and a sweatshirt, breathing deep the air and spinning around to see the mountains as if intoxicated by the moment. Irma suggests she feels she is about to get sick. We hustle over to the rest stop bathroom so she can take care of her condition. I'm feeling ridiculous for being so energetic at over 7,000 feet elevation - sure that I certainly deserve Irma's fate more than she does. Sickness does not come to me. She's still feeling dizzy so we descend back down the pass - knowing we can try again tomorrow or the next day. We stop in Georgetown at the Ram Pub. It feels great to be away on business with such a charming and thoughtful lady. The owner of the pub spies us and sits down with us. He stays with us for our drinks and appetizers, making himself comfortable with stories of celebrity events in the pub. He overstays his welcome, for sure, but neither of us are willing to even hint at the intrusion. The moon is up when we leave the pub. We head back to the bed and breakfast and crawl under the most comfortable down comforter I have ever experienced. We sleep for ten hours straight. We have missed breakfast and all the interesting people who had played board games the night before. They look at us questioningly but we don't really give them any food for thought. It's the only time I can remember that I didn't engage in getting to know housemates for an evening.
7. I am back in Connecticut after a year away at college. I'm noticing things I never noticed when Connecticut was all I saw. I've made it to the University of Connecticut campus to spend a weekend at a friend's fraternity house. He's the only brother there. I've done that ritual on my own campus. Johnny and I are buddies but we don't know each other well. For whatever reason, we've been shy around each other but neither of us can keep a big goofy smile off our face when in each other's presence. I feel great to be there with him. I know we bonded over a doubles match at the Connecticut state tennis tournament. We whooped an opponent we weren't supposed to beat. It's our only win at state in our careers playing high school tennis. Saturday he's studying his pre-med text books and so I am studying my accounting textbooks - reading the chapters we never got around to covering during the term. I'm in the magical zone of learning all weekend - the zone that defines the college years compared to any other learning endeavor I've attempted. At some point we look up and the sun has already set. We head somewhere to watch Quadrophenia together as it's playing on campus in a makeshift theater. My mind is transported to faraway times and faraway places through music and a coming-of-age journey of English chaps about my age. We've enjoyed the movie immensely but we say nothing as we head back to the house for a solid night's sleep. I miss Johnny or perhaps I just miss not having gotten to know Johnny when I had so many chances like that weekend.
8. I am on a road trip with my future wife, her sister, and her Mum. We're to be in Delaware for 36 hours and I'm hyping them up on what I remember of the historic New Castle Landing on the Delaware River. We're making our way down through Wilmington as I try and find route 9. We're lost in the ghetto with a tandem kayak on top of our car. Ethnic groups of which we are not are enjoying the evening outside of their row houses by the sidewalk, not three feet from our passing car. Joanne is laughing but I can't tell if it is joy or discomfort in her manner - I assume it is a bit of both but I feel neither in particular. Wilmington has always been a bizarre place for me and the night is nothing unexpected as I have learned to expect anything and everything in that town. We find route 9. We meander down to New Castle. We settle into historic Terry House. I walk about town knowing for sure this is my favorite place in the state now and forever. I feel a wonderful, great love for my travelmates and the loyalist flavor of the union jack flying about in town.
9. I'm checking out the southwesceros of Calle Ocho in Miami with my Cuban born wife and her Mum. My eyes are wide as I recognize what I have learned to know about Cubans everywhere I look. I see the walk, the talk, the food, the entertainment - the sense of community in all its expression. A sense of living right comes upon me as I realize my choices have brought me to this place - I would not be here without the sense of adventure and love of diversity I have grown to embrace by this point in my life. I drive along the street so slowly that my memory tricks me to thinking I am walking. I can remember individual people in vivid detail. I park the car. We meander over to a sandwich shop. The cubano sandwich I have come to adore from experiences in Puerto Rico seems to taste better when among Cubans. I stare at the sandwich and have to admit it looks the same as always. No doubt my romantic mind is going hog wild again. I want to stay with the memory for a while longer but a voice in me tells me to keep moving on.
10. I've arrived in Atlanta by plane - heading to a conference without any particular plans to meet anyone there. I remember the last time I came to town by plane - I took a cab and it was an unpleasant experience because I botched the address and was brought to the wrong hotel. I've done my homework and know that the MARTA light rail will take me close enough to my hotel that I won't need any other transport. I have settled in a seat - happy to be anonymous and sure I won't need to talk to anyone I don't want to talk to. I stare out the window the whole trip - pleased there are so many trees in bloom. It's spring and it's warm and I've had a cold stretch up north. My wife wanted to come with me but I talked her out of it. I'm wanting to be alone and anonymous and buried in work when not at the conference. It's not a feeling I remember wanting to have otherwise. The feeling leaves its mark as I don't want to go back to Atlanta ever again. I fly through happy to be flying through whenever I see the skyline upon approach.
11. We have decided to do a 10K run fundraiser for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Maui organization. We're with my future wife's sister and her husband who are reliving their honeymoon. The four of us are really enjoying each other's company. I am getting to know them as one gets to know another couple the first time you travel intimately with them. The Red Sox are in the middle of a four-game sweep of the Mariners at Fenway so there is plenty to talk about. The Hawaiian air has soaked into my brain until I can't imagine life without it. The run smells so wonderful as we start out with a wind to our back. At the 5K turn, we come around to see a fat, black cloud up ahead. The wind is blowing straight at us. I am thankful the breeze is more than warm enough and still smells so good. But, my logical mind is suggesting there is a good chance we are going to get drenched in a downpour if not electrocuted. My logical mind reassures that lightning is not a Hawaiian experience, but it's not sure when it does so. We have no problem making good time to the finish line. Volunteers are holding down the various tables offering bananas, yoghurt, and other treats we have earned. We don't even approach the park but instead hustle over to an indoor locale we have agreed to meet my future in-laws at after the race.
12. Dad and I awake for the first full day of our cross-country trip. The afternoon and evening after leaving Seattle yesterday were wonderfully relaxing so we're already in road-trip bliss. We can't imagine wanting to stop in Idaho along route I-90 again as we've already stopped in Coeur D'Alene long enough to entrench ourself in the state. We notice an olive-colored structure that's obviously something unique off the right-hand side of the road. The serendipitous existence of an exit suggests we should let the road-trip gods guide us on an exploration. Turns out we've found an Idaho mission and Dad and I always love missions for exploring. Of course, we've thought of missions as Californian or Mexican so the Idaho mission is quite the surprise. We stand there for a while admiring its simple, but welcoming, architecture. I suspect Dad is thinking exactly what I am thinking. This is it. The cross-country trip we've talked about for well over 30 years. We're actually on it and it will never be in the future again, but soon in the past. We're grounded in the moment and yet affected by shared memories of times and places that feel just similar enough.
13. I've arrived in Chicago, Illinois for the first time in my life, having driven from Newark, Delaware. The city is way more friendly than any other American city I have experienced to date. It's alive for a June Friday night. I'm staying in Evanston for the evening as I've arranged free board from our fraternity grapevine. They tell me the El is an enjoyable ride down to Division street where young people go to connect with each other. The train is magical. I see the University of Chicago campus for the first time. I notice nothing but smiling faces among the ridership. I'm feeling a bit invincible as I notice the hugeness of the skyline as we rapidly approach. Invincibility stirs on a night of street-walking, club-dancing, people-schmoozing, and beautiful-ladies-watching. A friendly kid from Milwaukee suggests I am being way too friendly and might soon be taken for gullible if I am not careful. I put the thought in the recesses of my mind but he seems way too over-concerned and likely from a sheltered place. Dawn is coming as I get back on the El for the forty-minute ride back to Northwestern. The sky is red in the distance and the stars are no more. There are a lot of strange people on the El. They don't look very trustworthy. They are singing strange songs and passing out on occasion. One is trying to pick-pocket a sleeping passenger. I leave the train. A strange woman follows. She yells out for me to wait up. I turn a corner, see a hedge row and dive into it. She passes still yelling out to me, trying to keep up as she turns the next corner. I am stone-cold present in the moment for the first time in Chicago. The city had been just too vibrant to experience with full sanity up to that point. I could never live there as a result.
14. I have invited myself to stay with a friend of a friend in Bloomington, Indiana. She's a wonderfully quirky artist doing her PhD on campus. I'm still a year away from having to get serious about my dissertation but I am fully engaged in the life of a graduate student. She's got a derelict dog that might just bite me at some point. She's taken me all around town with great taste in restaurants and coffee shops. They all know her at the Starbucks we frequent each morning around 6am. We seem to need each other just a bit the three days in town. She's not writing and I start to feel I'm being way too convenient an excuse for that. It's time to move on after we decide to open Starbucks for a good-bye coffee. It's only 9 degrees as I head out in the dark in an unfamiliar rental car. I am driving up to Purdue. I've spent time investigating some researchers on the U Indiana campus - it was great and relaxing. Now I have to collaborate with engineers at Purdue and I am getting a bit tense at the thought. The sun comes up over the farmland as I drive the backroads up north through Indiana. The whole drive just screams Indiana at me even though I have never really driven the backroads before in state. Time slows down. I notice the light as it changes quite perceptibly. I love the pace. I am alone with wonderful thoughts that warm me throughout. Two years living in Wisconsin come back to me as I recognize the midwest. I feel confident I am going to enjoy my time at Purdue. Confidence turns into appreciation for those I spend time with - I sense they feel they are appreciated. My 60 hours in West Lafayette are educational and fulfilling. I'm relieved to know I can be happy in the land of family values.
15. I'm arriving in Council Bluffs, Iowa at the home of a friend of my best friend from childhood. I have been expecting an informal visit but the arrival is anything but. The house is enormous and I am informed that we have been set up in the west wing - the left half of the house that is as vacuous as the right. We are treated to a five course meal for the evening. We wake to take a boat from a boat garage down onto a lake via some fancy electric conveyor. John doesn't water ski but knows I certainly do. I ski the glass-like surface of the artificial lake that has been formed by diverted water from the Missouri. It takes no effort at all compared to those skis on choppy Long Island Sound. I notice the skyline of Omaha, Nebraska on the other side of the river. I eavesdrop a lot during lunch. I come to find out I am staying at the home of the CEO of Libby's foods. The patriarch never stops moving and I conclude that the house reflects his work ethic. John and his friend wander off at some point and I find I have a basketball in my hands. I shoot baskets for a couple of hours through a net that hasn't been used in years. I know this because the net is shredding into small wisps of nylon each time the ball barely rips through its shrunken state. I am wearing a University of Iowa hat that has been given me to keep me cool under a blazing Iowa sun. John returns to dine upon one more enormous meal with me and our hosts. I am bursting at the gut when we turn to leave. John has a devilish grin on his face as we return to driving west to California. He marries a different Iowa gal from upstate within two years of our visit.
16. I'm near the end of a twenty-month stint of installing Local Area Networks and application servers in insurance field offices across the United States. I have enjoyed being a junior team member and learning great things from my wise elders. I find myself in Overland Park, Kansas with a co-worker named Doris. We flew into Kansas City late at night and went straight to the hotel. Doris is bushy-tailed and bright-eyed next morning for our first day in the office. She asks me questions about the work that make it obvious its my turn to advise and protect at long last. She's never been on a business trip and in fact she's never been outside of Puerto Rico, where she grew up, or Connecticut, where she went to school and accepted her first job after college. She admits she's very scared of snakes and has no idea whether snakes are hiding out to get her in the business park subdivision. I like Doris a lot. Kansas folk are wonderful to us and there are just enough of them who don't travel at all to make Doris feel more at home than I can. I feel just a bit too entitled when I realize it is time to move on to my next project without having to spend a just amount of time passing on gained knowledge to others. Overland Park is my swan song for LAN installations. Thankfully, there were no tornadoes in state during that trip. I am not completely sure about the snakes.
17. I enter the bluegrass state of Kentucky on foot. The baseball game I had come to Cincinnati to attend has been canceled by a baseball players' strike. I am with my freshman roommate from university, but we're both attending the University of Wisconsin now - not that we knew that until we saw each other on campus surprisingly. We're carpooling east together and we both are keen to enjoy the Ohio River for a day. We walk across one lovely bridge over the Ohio, meander through Covington telling stories of the hiatus since undergrad, and then cross another lovely bridge back to Ohio. I sense the twenty or so blocks of Kentucky I have experienced is indicative of Kentucky in general - or so I have convinced myself not having any other evidence to the contrary. The next time I am on foot in Kentucky, it is because I am running out of gas, noticed just in time to pull off the interstate, and have been told there is a gas station just a mile and a half up the road. I barely avoid the downpour that threatens and then erupts just as I am ready to resume driving. The Covington experience was significantly more enjoyable.
18. I am in New Orleans, Louisiana for five days with my Dad. He has accepted my offer to donate his time at a conference booth where our lab is showing off new technology. My friends are quite impressed that I have recruited my Dad - even more so when they realize he's keen on being one of the crew without any mention of affiliation or retirement status. We work four hour shifts. We sneak away for a day to check out the bayou. He's noticing all the historical signs announcing the Acadian Trail and he's recounting the historical markers from the other end of the trail in his hometown in Nova Scotia. The Acadians started there when kicked out by King James-supporting Protestants. The bayou is magical and most surnames are recognizable to Dad as having equivalents in Nova Scotia. I am amazed by the thick flora and pea soup green rivers of the bayou and the friendliness of those with whom we stop to chat. Our street hikes in New Orleans are fantastic as well - we explore the history of the city together and sample the local foods and beverages daily. He heads back to Connecticut and I head back to Seattle. Too many poignant moments to recount from those five days so I had better move on.
19. I am sitting behind Mom and Dad in our family car as we head west across Maine to cut over to the White Mountains from the coastal route we usually follow to and from Nova Scotia each summer. This year our trip is later in the year and Dad wants to take an extra day to meander back to Connecticut - surely full of memories from a childhood of Nova Scotian summers. I've just recently become addicted to watching football on Sundays but we are going to miss the games to instead experience the fall foliage. The road is sleepy here back in the 1970s, but out of the blue a yellow, heavy, Detroit-steel Dodge Dart cuts across the road in front of us. Dad swerves to avoid the oncoming vehicle but upon seeing the ditch just off-road along our path, instinctively turn back onto the road. "We are going to hit," he says loudly. Brakes screech and police evidence suggests we still were going 35 MPH when we plowed into the Dart. A 94 year-old man, obviously never wearing his seat belt, lies unconscious with his head dangling out the thick side door which is fully open. A line of blood trickles from his head. He never awakens again but passes away in the night weeks later. His younger family members, having come out upon hearing the collision, stand around complaining that "Dad never looks for oncoming traffic when turning into his driveway anymore." Mom gets an ambulance ride to Dixville hospital, twelve miles away. Dad has the impression of a steering wheel etched in his chest. My sister wakes up wondering what happened. The Volvo has accordianed to become just 18 inches of metal in front of the driver's seat. Very impressive. We head to a hotel for the day as Dad tries to figure out alternative transport home. Mom is bruised but fine. I watch the Bills-Jets game and O.J. rushes for well over 200 yards on his way to the first 2000-yard season in U.S. pro history. I refer to Maine drivers as 'Maniacs' ever since.
20. I'm back in Maryland visiting my college buddy Ken. We're both working the same profession but I chose a Boston office while he has chosen a Baltimore office upon graduating a year after me. It's a lovely summer day so Ken straps a windsurfer rig to the rack above his black pick-up truck. Ken never seemed the pick-up truck kind of guy, but everyone seems to have one if they live in the Federal Hill neighborhood of Baltimore. I am the first to take the windsurfing rig out for a spin. It has been a while since I enjoyed a summer full of windsurfing, but I quickly regain my wits to take advantage of the wind. I notice how flat the water and the surrounding grassy environment seem compared to New England lake experiences. There are no shadows on the lake as any trees in view are set back well from the shore. I've been renting canoes often back north of late. I find myself at the other end of the lake quickly but that's only because I've been lost in a reverie wondering why I didn't take the Baltimore job out of college. The people surely seem more diverse and friendly in his office compared to mine. I remember the hot, humid, swampy feel of the Delaware summer and remember why Boston seemed the better choice at the time. I tack the rig a couple of times so I can look back to where I have come. I hadn't noticed the bend in the lake. I can't see Ken or any of his friends with whom we had come to the lake. The wind picks up and it takes me another ninety minutes to fight my way back to where I started. Seems we are due back in town for some cocktail hour of interest. Federal Hill guys are always doing cocktail hour as well. No one else gets a turn at windsurfing on the perfect windsurfing day. Guess these guys aren't going to become best friends any day soon. In fact, they never do.
21. Dad and I are taking our chances as we wait a couple weeks later than usual for our annual Appalachian hiking weekend. We've scheduled a four-day weekend this year so it's been worth the wait. We have decided to set up camp at the base of Mt. Greylock, Massachusetts. No one is in the campground as we pull in to claim a site. In fact, no one is anywhere in sight the whole time we are there. The New England foliage has been kind enough to run late this autumn as well. It's picture perfect everywhere I look. The weather provides days in the mid to high seventies and nights down in the forties - perfect sleeping weather. We set up our old-reliable 1960s canvas tent and sit down at the rustic picnic table our camp site provides. Within minutes we notice that there is a consistent bouncing of acorn parts on the table - a real rhythm to the cadence of single bounces on wood. Our site comes equipped with a feasting squirrel. He's as enthusiastic and appreciative of the by-far warmer than usual weather bringing blue skies and occasional puffy clouds. He continues to eat and drop acorn shells for the duration. Dad and I meander along the trail hour after hour from near sun up to near sun set. We enjoy our stove-heated morning coffee, our scrambled eggs, our breakfast sausages, our beans, and our creamed corn and spinach - same menu every day we hike the Appalachain. I know no better place than the Berkshires for hiking until many years later when I am well into my thirties.
22. I am back in Detroit, Michigan for a couple of days. Seems I make it back every two to five years, but I've been finding myself alone in town more often in recent years. Not sure why I can't shake the desire to be street hiking up Woodward or along Jefferson but I have been subscribing to and reading the Detroit Hour magazine reliably month after month for seven years now and the accumulation of stories are readily available at any moment. And, of course, I rarely miss a Red Wings, Lions, Tigers, or Pistons box score which feels more like an obsessive-compulsive source of joy than any other activity in my life. There is something magical about seeing the ruins of Detroit, and meeting those quirky souls who have stayed behind. I suspect it's a mix of Rome meets Havana on some level. I imagine Rome has the more interesting ruins, Havana the more interesting people left behind, but both cities have an ideal mix of both on the whole. Rome, Havana, Detroit. That feels right. I don't know who I am when I walk the streets of Detroit, but I feel connected in a way I don't recognize when anywhere else in the world. I certainly have thoughts I don't have anywhere else in the world. I like what the city does to me in terms of slowing me down and making me feel so capable and lovable. This day I notice the changes to the Riverwalk - surprised there aren't more over the two years since last I visited. I fall asleep underneath some jetting rocks at the easternmost point of Belle Isle for an hour or so. I do a familiar power walk loop of the old office buildings that don't seem capable of much more ruin than they've had. I head over to Greektown for one of the most delicious meals of my life as the tastes encountered are not at all familiar. The waiter treats me special as the only person occupying a table for one. I head to the ballpark to watch the Tigers lose the last game of a key series to the White Sox. They had already won the series and apparently didn't want to appear greedy about it.
23. I have headed to the Minneapolis-St. Paul for five days during Spring Break on the RISD campus. It's not a paid trip explicitly, but I can tell I am going to pocket some goodwill as I visit the owners of a business I have been sub-subcontracting for the last eight months and I visit a collaborator who is soon going to be a co-curator for our big annual conference's newfangled art exhibit. Jurying starts in two short months. It snows every day that I am there but the snow does not slow me down. I park myself at a Motel 6 that is far enough away to be cheap but requires a daily drive to the city. Takes me a while but I find the perfect daily parking spot within walking distance of the campus as I am apt to do in any city I visit. I am in winter wonderland among the old grain mill ruins along the Mississippi, the grandiose U Minnesota campus, and the lake-centered neighborhood where my client manufactures some wonderful stuff that shows great promise in terms of sustainable production and materials reuse. I awake at 2am and can't seem to fall asleep as the imagery from the days in town are starting to accumulate and keep me awake at night as I process them for the long-haul. I want to remember this lovely Spring Break with lovely people and the freedom of the road at my feet. I turn on the television to see live that a massive tsunami has just slammed through the Japanese coast - within twenty minutes. My first thought is that my nephew's sixth birthday will be associated with a devastating tsunami anniversary for the rest of his life. I am addicted to the news coverage for 90 minutes until I pass out again from exhaustion. I rent some x-country skis, head out to the junior Olympics ski team training park, and ski the angst of tsunami devastation off for hours. I overdo the ski to the point of missing zoo hours. I had meant to visit our Minnesota Zoo ocean conservation partners who suggested they were keen to meet me. I walk the perimeter of the zoo outside of the black wrought-iron fence. The cold continues to feel wonderful deep within my chest.
24. I have overstayed my scheduled stop in New Orleans by a couple of hours as I got caught up in bar conversation with fellow Connecticuters who were visiting the city - not to mention many distractions trying to walk back to my car parked for free outside of downtown. I get to Gulfport, Mississippi after dark and find a quiet parking lot on the outskirts of town to catch some shut-eye. I've been on the road since San Francisco and December weather has forced me down to San Diego and across route I-10. I have never seen the Gulf of Mexico before but I am too exhausted to remember that was supposed to be my reason for being excited to be in Gulfport. The air is warm in the sixties and there is no raging hailstorm like the one I experienced the night before. There is no snow on the ground and twenty degree temperatures as there had been when sleeping outside Las Cruces. I miss sunrise which is rare on the road. It hits me all at once. The Gulf! I drive to a vacant strip of beachfront just east of the city. My first view of the gulf seems to be the prototype for all memories of the gulf ever since. I am now reluctant to return here post-Katrina but I suspect I'll get around to it again some day (yup - December 2016). I make my way over to Waffle House for a batch of pecan-covered waffles and some conversation with the waitstaff. There are still two-and-a-half days of driving left to go to get back home.
25. It's my third trip to Saint Louis, Missouri on business in the last six months. The field office has a different vibe than most as the office manager is a real character with many interests outside of technology and insurance. In fact, he'd gladly give up the technology for a handshake and a good story face-to-face by his desk. I overhear "Hey Charlie" often as I run around installing software and running tests on the hardware. I have arrived just after a snowstorm brought on by a real cold front. Saint Louis does not plow its streets so I trudge through the morning walks I live for when on the road. Today I am going to hike the extra few blocks over to the Mississippi River to see what I can see in terms of ice. The beautiful riverside park space is completely deserted - dramatic in contrast to the scene six months ago when I was distracted often by people watching. As a result, my mind is sharp and more focused than usual. River. White snow-covered terrain. Gleaming arch monument. Abrupt city street front. Disappointingly there is no ice buildup beyond the first few feet into the river from shore. The temperature outside is five degrees Fahrenheit, or so the marquee atop the Adam's Mark hotel suggests. I love the clarity at times like these. I immerse myself into my favorite thought experiment when I am on the road: I have lived here all my life and I will continue to live here every day of my life from here on out. I check in with how I feel with that proposition. I immediately see the local office folk in my mind's eye and know it would be an honor. So there I have it. Time to get back to the hotel and get ready for another work day that's surely to end up in Charlie's pub come supper hour.
26. After ten months of working in Seattle after a move out west, we get our first opportunity to take a week's vacation. I've arrived in Kalispell, Montana as a gateway to Glacier National Park - a national park I've been keen to experience since hearing many glowing reports over the years. The morning is sunny and seventy-two degrees feels a lot warmer than that at altitude. Irma and I get a full morning and afternoon in the park - hiking on occasion and driving throughout the park to see the rugged rocks of granite from multiple angles. I work up a great sweat rushing about from one breathtaking vista to the next. We decide to head north into Alberta for the evening. As soon as we get north of the mountains, the sky is overcast, the clouds are low, and the temperature falls quickly to freezing. Two miles from the Canadian border, I stop at a pay phone to make one last check of office voice mail. There is an urgent call from a client who wants to see me today if at all possible. I call him to let him know where I am and we spend the next twenty minutes in an impromptu business meeting by phone. By the end of it, he's fine with scheduling a get-together in a week's time. I hang up the phone to realize I am freezing in my T-shirt and shorts. I feel a chill from the inside out as the cold has taken advantage of my open pores. The snow falls for the next fourteen hours as we drive up to Calgary. Such is late September weather in these parts on occasion.
27. I arrive in Omaha, Nebraska by plane for a five-day dissertation progress review with an adviser on my committee. Our meetings are scheduled in a haphazard itinerary that provides me lots of free time in the state. As a result, I figure now is as good a time as any to try my luck at disc golf. A collaborator of mine has suggested reasons why he likes the sport that seem quite aligned with my interests. I head to the first drugstore I see while driving to a disc golf course by Chamberlain Lake. Cheap Frisbee knock-offs are available for 99 cents a piece. I buy a bright yellow one and a bright red one and continue to the course. The course lacks much tree cover for the first five holes and the flimsy discs I have purchased are no match for the wind. I adore the sport upon walking the first three holes under a huge Nebraska sky and smell of cut grass in the breeze. The sixth hole is more wooded and I can control the discs better. Upon finishing the hole, I wander back to the launch box to play it again. A seasoned veteran has arrived at the tee. He explains the details of regulation disc golf discs. He shares his discs with me as we play out the remaining twelve holes together. The eighteenth hole has a dramatic high launch towards the lake with a lighthouse sitting at it's edge. We shake hands and I am off to the store he recommends to get myself some real discs. I play six more courses in the area in the next four days and meet all the requirements of my adviser. He's ready to sign-off on my proposal. I'm ready to play disc golf for the rest of my days. I fly back to Providence with dangling arm, sore back, and tired chest muscles. The Nebraska courses will most likely be the longest courses I will ever play in my life.
28. We have arrived in Las Vegas, Nevada for an early-season Wisconsin football event. Twenty or so fellow Wisconsin alumni I know from Seattle have flown in for the game. Irma and I have driven down from Seattle in order to see many of the Utah and Wyoming national parks on the route. The pre-game festivities are busy and satiate with enjoyment as they usually do at Wisconsin games. The game is fun and the Badgers win. We're not that keen on gambling so the next day we head out past Henderson and up into the pink and rose-colored rocks known as the Ring of Fire. We're a scant 26 miles from the Vegas strip but there is no sense of a city anywhere in view. I get a kick out of scraping the rock with my fingernails as it quickly crumbles into a fine powder when I do. I am amazed it hasn't already eroded into nothingness eons ago. The hike is reminiscent of other New Mexican and Arizonan hikes among scrub grass and protruding rock structures. The pink is unique - lacking the salmon hues of Bryce Canyon or the reds of Arizona. For the first time in my life, I attune to an awareness that national parks are not the end all when it comes to traveling to find lovely natural settings. Crowds gather for national parks. I'll search out hikes and experiences on the fringes of famous named landmasses to much success from here on out.
29. Six days ago I graduated college. Ten days ago I immersed myself in fifty-four friends who wished me well at my graduation party near campus. My grandmother had sent the money for the party but I overshot the budget by another 100%. Now I am in Keene, New Hampshire at my first audit client, among complete strangers who I just met not two days ago. I am wearing a business suit and have just put my necktie into my lunch soup, a broccoli cheddar concoction, to bestow myself with the nickname "soup" for the duration of the gig. Though it snows every day for three weeks, or so I remember it doing, I get out and wander the neighborhoods at night - recognizing New England after my three-and-a-half years down in the Middle Atlantic states. Keene grows on me just fine and I return six months later for the securities audit - enjoying evening little league games with the townies who I start conversations with in fits and starts. It's an unnecessarily drastic, and thus bumpy, transition from the bliss and camaraderie of college life, but I survive it fine… eventually.
30. Who doesn't adore the New Jersey shore? I am blessed that my best buddy Andy lives here within walking distance of the ocean. I like to visit often, usually aiming for the Night in Venice weekend if at all possible. One summer, but just once, I visit Andy twice in the same summer season. I kick off summer around Memorial Day with some beach volleyball on a crisp, humidity-free beach day. After we've played for an hour or so, an opponent dives for a dig and her keys come lose from her pocket. Most of us hear them hit sand, but we can't find them in the sand. We try for a good ten minutes and she is sure to stay after to keep looking for them. When I come back just before Labor Day, I find myself playing beach volleyball again on the same makeshift court that has survived the summer weather well. The humidity of the summer has passed and volleyball feels great as an activity with ocean and sand in sight at all times. We've played a half an hour when someone kicks up a set of keys. "Oh my god. I lost those keys at the beginning of summer." I recognize the gal who had been my opponent earlier. I don't verify my assumption, but I assume she's lost the keys for those months in between and am lost in contemplation of the coincidence of me being present on both ends of that lost keys transaction.
31. Mom and Dad are celebrating their fortieth wedding anniversary. It's an awkward time for the American Campbell four as the kids are recently divorced and the parents have been forced to reckon with the aftermath. The kids look wonderful and are full of energy and cause for celebration. Mom and Dad are gleaming as they settle into the idea of time alone with each other and with their offspring in the lovely setting of the central New Mexican valley. I've been to New Mexico three or four times before and am sure Mom and Dad will love the place for the reasons I do. The food. The sense of community. The adobe motif. We find ourselves on the backroad between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The town of New Madrid, New Mexico feels like an old Spanish silver mining town that has attracted artists who run galleries and collectibles shops in town. Time slows down when I exit a curios shop to find Mom looking off into the distance. For the first time ever I get a sense of Mom enjoying life on the road for a stretch. I feel a warm sense of satisfaction that she's one with the moment. It's just one of so many relaxing moments she deserves to come after such a glorious parenting career.
32. Sis and I are falling asleep in the Volvo as Mom and Dad drive us north for American Thanksgiving. It takes us just a quick twenty minutes to get into New York State from our home in Norwalk - and then we cruise along in the state for over six hours to get to the Canadian border. I'm lying on my back, fully stretched out and comfortable, alternating my attention between the limited conversation in the front seats and the incessant reassuring hum of the road beneath me. I've been seeing stars out the window and the occasional leafless tree branch that blocks that view on occasion. The road had been flat for some time but we've been winding our way through the Adirondack mountains. It's almost midnight if we're on time for our usual 2am arrival in Ottawa. I'm close to falling asleep on multiple occasions but the gradual cooling of the air that leaks through the rubber seal near my head keeps my thoughts alert. Eventually the bright pink streetlights of Watertown, New York come into view one by one and we slow down to make our way through downtown. I pop upright to see out the window - anticipating the first snow view of the season. Watertown never disappoints in that way. For whatever reasons, the pink glow on white snow is easy to conjure up all these years after seeing it last on a November family trip north. As soon as the last pink light fades behind us, I know I'll be at grandma's soon and I lay back down in a semi-conscious meditative state.
33. I have flown into Charlotte, North Carolina during a stretch of business trips. I know no one in a town I find myself in for the first time in a while. We arrive on a morning flight and are whisked away to the field office to get our bearings and coordinate our schedule with those who work in the office regularly. I notice that everyone looks like they have just come from playing a round of golf - the office attire is surprisingly consistent with casual business slacks and white shirts. Golf season has been active for a month down here and our hosts suggest that the courses here are lovely and the locals have the highest number of courses available per capita. Everyone I meet seems to enjoy their officemates - there is no sense of tension as we bring in the technology that will shake up the workflow for many. We work into the evening and enjoy a lovely meal at a restaurant picked out on our behalf. I settle into the hotel for the night but I am not tired at all. The night smells lovely as fragrant blooms are readily available within walking distance of our hotel. I put on my sneakers and head out into the night. Our hotel is in the middle of a corporate business park that goes on for blocks and blocks. There is no sense of anyone else mulling about at 9 or 10pm. I notice perfect landscaping wherever I look. The sidewalks are pristine with no hint at having been used. Every bush and tree has been trimmed for symmetry and clean appearance. I give up trying to make it to a residential part of town. On my way back, one street down and over from the path on which I came, the water sprinklers come on. They are on as far as the eye can see and as far as the ears can hear. Their sound starts to annoy me as sidewalks are gently becoming drenched beneath my feet. I am convinced I don't like planned perfection - never again will the evidence be so confirming for I will recognize the signs well from here on out.
34. I have been discussing North Dakota with one of my favorite ladies who work within the Dean's complex of the College of Ocean and Fisheries Science at the University of Washington. Linda grew up in Jamestown until her family moved away to the San Francisco Bay area just before her fifteenth birthday. She tells stories of driving her cousins forty minutes to the nearest movie house. She tells stories of the seasons of life on the farm and the peace that comes with familiarity of knowing everyone you see on a daily basis. The drive Dad and I have picked out to bring the Toyota Celica back east takes us through North Dakota from west to east on route I-90. Jamestown is on the way and I have reserved a hotel room in town. We spend a day driving from Butte - most of it alone the Yellowstone River which suggests occasional stops to admire it's journey. As we get within ten minutes of North Dakota, our discussion centers on the fact this is the last state I have yet to step foot in. Dad is hyping the moment up as if I have accomplished something quite remarkable. I'm thinking of the hours and hours Dad put in with me discussing the states when I was in second grade and we were getting quite grounded in his adoptive country. We seemed to love the names and doubled our enjoyment by speaking the name of each capital city just as often. I had learned to rattle off a list of states alphabetically within a minute quite comfortably. The list is etched in my brain as I use it for activities such as writing this journal of sorts. We arrive and jump high in the air.
35. I have been shipped off to Cleveland, Ohio as a sixteen year-old high school junior. Dad has suggested that Case Western Reserve would be a grand place for me to start a formal engineering career with undergraduate study. I arrive to a twenty-seven degree evening at the airport where two students, my hosts, are awaiting my arrival. They bring me to a makeshift bed at the Theta Chi fraternity. The Spring semester is in full swing and courses are hard. They tell me I have a day to myself as they all need to study before being able to party for the weekend. I take public transit five miles west through downtown and walk Euclid Avenue back to campus. I have a strange sense of being alone and away from my parents but I repress that feeling in order to explore as much of the city, ghetto or otherwise, as I can in one day. I arrive back to campus tired on a Friday night but seven fraternity boys suggest I go to an professional indoor soccer game with them, home of the Cleveland Force. When the game ends, one young man suggests they go get themselves some prostitutes for the evening. They give me bus fare for me to find my way back to campus. My eyes are wide for the rest of the trip. Classes on Monday and Tuesday certainly are intense. Guess CWR won't be in the cards for me, but I will work for a Cleveland-based audit firm in six years' time.
36. It's peak time for the blue state/red state political nonsense and I am fully aware that I am leaving the bluest state from the 2008 elections, Rhode Island, to visit a friend in the reddest state of that year, Oklahoma. Chris is really busy with work as usual so I have some time to explore the capitol up in Oklahoma City. The capitol has a wonderful art collection of Oklahoma artists and a fine tribute to Jim Thorpe. In fact, the capitol building is lovely. So is the Oklahoma zoo which educates me about the seven unique ecosystems of the state. I have a hard time eves-dropping on conversations as I am out and about in Norman, Oklahoma. Red state conversations kind of freak me out over all as that kind of conservatism is quite unfamiliar to my values and tastes. And yet, I feel a certain grandioseness to the sky and the land when in state for five days. Luckily I am invited back to give a seminar and meet with the National Weather Service a few years later when I finally get my fill of the state.
37. Our summer vacation for 2001 is to be a full lap of the state of Oregon. We have driven halfway across the state on route 84 before, but we know we are in new territory when the blue mountains appear on the horizon after a wonderful evening in Pendleton. We drop out of the mountains and over to the Snake River valley. As we approach our expected crossing over the Snake, we learn that the bridge is out and will be for months to come. We head into the nearest town at the foot of the Walowa mountains. There is not a hotel room to be had this time of year and the area seems worthy of that distinction. We find a kind soul who owns a bed and breakfast with a room that is currently being renovated. She suggests we stay there for the evening if we can accept the room being half-painted and a bit out of sorts on the furniture situation. The bed is comfortable and we end up spending two days hiking up into the glorious Walowas and jetting about down in Hell's Canyon on the Snake. Just as I am thinking that must be the highlight of the trip, we make our way back out and around to the Oregon Outback. I'm immediately smitten with the air and golden sunshine up at a five-thousand foot plateau that goes on and on in all directions. Then the John Day Recreation area. Then Strawberry Mountain. Then the Rogue River. Then Crater Lake. Then. Then. Then. Our summer vacation for 2002 brings us back for a second lap.
38. I spend the summer of 1987 working in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. I fly out from LaGuardia airport every Monday at 7:30AM and return Friday at 10:00PM for eight straight weeks. I am working my last accounting job before heading to graduate school at Wisconsin and it's quite an interesting project with unique responsibilities. Labatt's USA, the beer importer, has purchased the Rolling Rock Brewery, the beer manufacturer, and the home office outside of New York City wants me to spend time with the accounting crew in Latrobe to determine if they are credible as accountants compared to the New Yorkers. Of course, the Pennsylvania crew is making about thirty cents on the dollar compared to home office so everyone is hopeful even more work can be piled upon them. The head of the Latrobe crew is late in his career. He answers what seems like every question I ask with, "I am trying to think… hmmmm… let's go get some pie". Everyone else on the crew is working hard to support young families and I get a real fondness for them. They don't blow smoke in my face when I meet with them as the New Yorkers tend to do back in the home office. I end up pushing for no lay-offs at the brewery quite assertively… quite assertively meaning quite weakly at that point in my career, but I am happy with the growth I sense I have gained. There is not much time for anything else but work which is OK as the summer is ninety degrees for the duration and there is no air conditioning at the room I rent. Plenty of air conditioning at the brewery to keep the beer from spoiling prematurely.
39. I have landed in Providence, Rhode Island for the latter part of my forties. I had been sneaking away to the city when coming east to visit my family or my wife's family for over ten years and I kept getting the strong sense I could live here if I ever had to live on the east coast. I was feeling old in Seattle as young people keep piling into the city and driving the young music scene. My colleagues at the University of Washington didn't walk about campus all day as I liked to do and so I saw young people everywhere. As I turned 45, someone advised me that one becomes invisible on the west coast at age 50. I seemed to be on that trajectory so I convinced myself Providence is the place to be. Before I knew it, I was hooked and found myself surprised to not have dreams of being elsewhere. I have not known that willingness to stay where I am before. The architecture of the city is wonderful. The people are friendly. All of New England seems close, including all the friends and family of my life before Wisconsin and Seattle. I live here now and can only remember snippets of memories at the beach with my sister as previous Rhode Island memories. I can move on knowing that new Rhode Island memories are forming daily.
40. I have been driving for four straight days from San Diego, staying south on account of the snow that has come as far south as New Mexico and northern Texas. I'm near the exit to the road to Clemson, South Carolina - either in the town of Anderson or the outskirts of Clemson according to my Rand McNally road atlas. My eyes are heavy and so I pull off I-85 via the exit to Clemson University. I'm ready for a nap in the parking lot I find but it turns into a full-fledged night of sleep - which is surprising as my fifth straight night sleeping in the driver's seat of a Toyota Tercel hatchback hasn't kept me up much during the nights. I wake with the later winter's morning light and decide it's too early to go into town. I want to drive as for the first time during the country's crossing I start to feel close to home and am convinced I had better get a hotel room the last night on the road. I'll get to the coast some day but for my first fifty years of life, route I-85 and the views between Atlanta and Charlotte are all I'll know first-hand of the state.
41.I've been crossing South Dakota from east to west, having entered just west of Luverne, Minnesota. I am settled into a road trip mode that's familiar enough to me now after two previous cross-country adventures. The flats of South Dakota are redundant when peering at them from I-90. The border had suggested no possible change in anything. The early autumn weather has been perfect so far and time in upstate New York, Canada, Michigan's upper peninsula, Wisconsin, and Rochester, MN has provided lovely autumn colors and clear blue skies. It's hard to see color in plowed-under fields after the crops have been harvested. My mind turns to thoughts of the Sioux and their buffalo-coexistence lifestyle for generations upon the prairie and plains that used to exist in these parts. The blue skies turn hazy, then grey, and then open for torrential rains while I sleep the night away at the Sioux Motel in Murdo. Day two in the state brings me back to Mt. Rushmore for a second visit and to my first exploration of Rapid City where I linger upon the badlands as they sure look spectacular in comparison to the eastern half of the state. The bluff of the Missouri provides a dramatic exit as I look across the wide river towards Wyoming just after sunset.
42. Getting used to an east coast schedule again after fifteen years living a west coast schedule. I've replaced Northwest airlines with Southwest airlines as my airline for getting away during Spring Break. This year's destination is Nashville, Tennessee - a place I've been curious about for years but unwilling to go out of my way to visit until they acquired an NHL hockey team. Nashville is immediately cozy as we settle into a hotel room within view of the Vanderbilt University football stadium. The weather is colder than usual for Tennessee in early April but that's just fine as the Detroit Red Wings are in town and we've got tickets to the game. Day one brings one of our legendary street hiking tours of new surroundings (a legendary campus and four distinct urban neighborhoods). We're wiped out by the time the game comes around. Apparently the Red Wings are too. They lose 8-0 and I have put the celebratory goal-scoring song to heart. "Oh my heart. My achie-breakie heart." The fans sing it tirelessly and I realize the Wings are the hottest ticket in town, being division rivals and the team to beat in the division for every year the Predators have been in the league. It's unique but I feel pangs for the annual Wings-in-Vancouver experience of yesteryear. The next day brings a wonderful farmer's market behind the state capitol building. The day after brings a road trip to Chattanooga during an ice storm. We take a near empty cog ride to the top of the great Smokeys north of town but the park is closed up there on account of ice. Still, the Smokey mountains look beautiful with a glaze of ice shimmering upon them early mid-morning and late mid-afternoon. And downtown Chattanooga sure is enjoyable for an evening in the bible belt.
43. I have weaseled my way onto some grant funding for visualizing border crossing data for the El Paso-Juarez and Windsor-Detroit daily automobile and pedestrian counts. The grant lead has inherited the team from my advisor and he's more interested in organizational behavior than quantitative analysis. I find myself at U Texas-El Paso alone representing our team with the business and engineering schools. The faculty I work with are not so keen on the student populace but talk about the enormity of the buildings in which not much is going on. The desert is in bloom so I am keen to do a few days walkabout after the work is done. I drive through west Texas down to Big Bend and spend 40 hours alone in the wilds of the Big Bend State Park, trying to mimic what I have heard of an aboriginal walkabout of Australian fame. I see a lot of wildlife and many stretches of the Rio Grande where Mexico greets me from across the water. It sure seems like I could swim across at any time and after my walkabout I do encounter a place where people do kayak across from the northern side - not sure why the Mexicans don't do the same. There are times in one's life when solitary exploration out in nature seems to do the mind and spirit infinite good. Doesn't hurt to put in ten miles a day in moderate altitude climbs and descents for the body as well. I am lucky to experience the desert sky at night for a couple of hours after the moon has set but before a big storm sets in. The disappearance of so many stars at 2:30 am is eerie but I can tell pitch black clouds are the reason. The lightning off in the distance (so far that there is no thunder for at least the first forty-five minutes of star by star disappearance) is a sure giveaway. I have reset some important internal clocks and the next year is magical. Magical enough that I recreate the walkabout experience in southern British Columbia almost exactly a year later. A connection between Mexico and Canada feels palpable as a result.
44. Life has brought me back to Salt Lake City for the fifth time. The first time was in college during my first cross-country drive. The second was by plane to get away from the Seattle rains for a birthday weekend. The third was for a three-day national grant kick-off rendezvous of fascinating knowledge acquisition. The fourth was as an overnight stop when driving from Las Vegas to Yellowstone. The fifth has brought me back as a grant reviewer for the AAAS (american association for the advancement of science). I know no one I am to spend four intense days with but I feel significantly more mature than the four previous times I have been in town. I take the opportunity fully to collaborate and share my opinions on data visualization and web-enablement of scientific processes. I find no direct peer among the eighty people involved when it comes to my area of responsibility for the review. As a result, I find myself getting bolder and impassioned with my opinions on how the grant work can become more meaningful for those working it. I find so many parallels between the relationship of UU and USU and what I learned about UW and WSU. Utah feels very comfortable and that helps as we head north to Logan where I am able to hike and explore the Wasatch mountains upon finishing my meetings. I remember the joy of a particularly lucid hike the last time I was in state for important academic meetings. As usual, the second time around can't quite match the first time but that's only because I have been spoiled rotten by times' past. I am no longer immersed in the upside of an academic career and it has taken a few years to settle into that awareness. As usual, it's all good once I do. The fifth trip to SLC is a charm.
45. I am in the tenth grade and have transitioned into high school life in a most generous fashion. Being the last of the baby-boomers, the high school is busting out with students but no construction is in progress as the drop-off in enrollments is just two years away. We have spent our ninth grade sheltered in our own crumbling building across town. As a result, I have avoided hazing rituals but haven't been doing any after school activities as I enter the 10th grade. I am out to rectify that by making up for lost time. I have signed up for a school ski trip to Vermont. A bout with bronchitis sure seems to suggest I will have to bow out gracefully, but teenagers being teenagers I am convinced by peers that I'll be fine in near zero temperatures for hours on end with impending pneumonia. My hacking cough seems to have caught the attention of all my fellow bus passengers within the first hour of our four-hour ride north. It is an annoying cough - one I would learn to use to my advantage during tense varsity tennis matches in seventeen month's time. Seems everyone is scheming on how best to get me through the trip. There are many suggestions but less than half seem to strike me as reasonable. Frequent nips at Southern Comfort seem to help. So do full-on marijuana sessions on the gondola among a surprisingly wide range of classmates. Beer seems like a bad idea as does most everything else that is offered the hacking sophomore. Our first day skiing comes atop Mt. Ascutney after a night of rain atop fresh powder. The layer of ice rips through the shins with enough authority to take one's mind off of one's lungs. Day two brings great vertical elevations atop Mt. Killington where the windchill is minus twenty degrees Fahrenheit. The chill of the air seems to choke the desire to cough until a third of the way down the mountain. Day three is a blur as I remember none of it but the dank stank of bunk quarters where I remember hiding out for the whole day (though I am told I survived a few runs down Mt. Okemo until my future tennis coach/calculus teacher brought me back to the hostel) - wiped out and exhausted. Like many strange and glorious experiences in high school, my experience somehow seems to build camaraderie among the students and there is a sense of public school pride that they got me through the weekend alive. The bronchitis lasted another ten weeks but everyone shares in a bit of responsibility in its duration and my cough becomes comfortably familiar. I remain a western Massachusetts Berkshires ski fan for the rest of my downhill ski days.
46. I am in Cape Charles, Virginia and my date is the only other person in the world who knows I am there. My parents assume I'm staying on my old undergrad campus when I phone to check in from there on day one of a four-day getaway. My date is a Moroccan Jew, fresh off her military year, that I have befriended over time upon joining her Wednesday evening bowling league. The therapist I am seeing who is helping me adapt to the struggles of cubicle life in the corporate world suggests Amalia is the perfect friend with whom to overcome fears of adult physical intimacy. Amalia is divorced and happy to talk of sex in a matter of fact way that makes me comfortable she's no freak for my first experience. We have a wonderful talk all the way south through New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. I have reserved a KOA camping cabin for a couple of nights by an oyster processing section of the Chesapeake, just where the bay begins from the Atlantic Ocean. We have a wonderful time palling around, playing basketball, swimming, and taking a row boat out for a spin to where we can get naked under the sun among just tall enough eel grass. She's fondly calling me 'Mitsy' though I haven't been able to connect the name to my being. That seems to help as I can always defer to becoming Mitsy for that first intentional expulsion of bodily fluid - should I not recognize myself. Though I feel it was important to play it cool the day after, I seem to have one of those full days of existence one is sure to remember on one's death bed. I continue to be sure I found the right person to come of age with in that regard. We are treated to an endless feast of baked oysters as the oystermen have had such a great bountiful day they are want to share. The sun sets over the bay, the stars come out slowly yet surely, and I drift off into a fantastic sleep in mid-sentence of story-telling turn taking.
47. I'm struggling again with surviving the corporate world. I'm not surprised after having such a great first graduate school experience. Two week's vacation a year means choosing a place to visit takes on a higher sense of risk than usual. Work has provided enough travel to amass two round-trip frequent flyer airline tickets and Seattle, Washington seems to be the furthest place I can get to for free with those accumulated air miles. I convince my wife to get away for 4th of July week so we only have to burn four day's vacation. Being only two weeks after the summer solstice, dusk comes very slowly to the Puget Sound area. I've found a great place to watch the fireworks but it's 10:30pm and the sky is still too bright as a backdrop for the festivities. I have been up since before dawn with jet lag and euphoria of being away from the office. I've watched the sun set into Puget Sound to my west and watched the white snow of the north face of Mount Rainier turn pink, rose, and purple over a two hour prolonged period of the sun following the northern latitude sine curve to below the horizon. I feel so small watching that mountain from a mere 41 miles away down in Tacoma's Commencement Bay harbor. For whatever reason, I enjoy feeling so small and the feeling lingers for years. Three years later I am ready to risk everything to get back there again - sure I can make a more enjoyable life for myself in view of the mountain than any I have been able to pursue back in my home state. Many poignant days are spent hiking and x-country skiing on the mountain aboriginal residents call Tahoma. Seattle becomes home for fifteen years and there are no regrets to be had - I assume that's something everyone aspires to as it feels so self-affirming.
48. I have spent time in Wheeling, West Virginia with Dad and as a destination of the first vacation I ever helped plan with my family at age five. But I haven't really immersed myself in the heart of the state until I take my wife there for her birthday week. She's convinced me she's keen to do some whitewater rafting down the New River for her big day. I am sure she'll love it but I am also expecting the usual equivocation when settling into a rugged outdoor experience. Such telltale signs never come. We paddle and raft our way down the river as part of a gang of eight in a wonderful blue raft with yellow underbelly. The river cuts through an ancient canyon of rock and mud slopes that was just south enough to be out of reach of most glaciers in North America. The river runs south to north which is a strange feeling to someone used to New England waters. A bridge painted in rust color crosses the canyon over 300 feet above us. Stories of grandiose suicide jumps add to the thrill of being alive in a raging river that is lined by household backyard litter of atypical recent early autumn storms. A couple of kayaks have crashed upon rock without occupants. My wife is grinning ear to ear as we finish our four and a half hours on the river. She has the "please can we do it again" look of a five year-old on her face. I am stuck with John Denver's "Almost Heaven, West Virginia" lyrics in my head for the duration of our time in state. "The radio reminds me of my home far away" seems to resonate with my essence most of all. I appreciate that the cost of gasoline is set by law to be the same everywhere in state. It's one less decision that has to be made on vacation.
49. I have replayed every single day of 22 months of life living in Madison, Wisconsin so often in my head that I tire to write of any of it. Those days are nothing short of a full-on coming of age period that feels like a life-affirming journey, if not a lifesaving one. I struggled when realizing I would die some day with so many memories unshared but that struggle is way behind me now. It has been replaced by an overwhelming humility and feeling of being blessed by an affinity towards recognizing serendipity that has made my life feel special to me. That affinity was honed in Wisconsin. There will always be a "thank you, Madison" not far from the tip of my tongue. In a completely isolated event, I found myself hugging the shore of Lake Superior on a late autumn evening, experiencing the Aurora Borealis for the first time from our planet's surface. Heading east from Duluth towards Ashland, Wisconsin, I learned a lot about the lights by studying them intensely while driving. For two hours, the lights seemed to change not one iota. The background green glow kept the same exact patchwork. The spotty blue and purple streaks moved alongside me as a full moon is apt to do on a summer's night. A single fat pink streak acted like a beacon of the night to make time stand still in my head. I was bringing the car by which I had gotten to know the Pacific Northwest back to New England where it first provided service thirteen years earlier. Dad was quietly sharing the experience in the passenger seat. Should I continue to be so lucky, there are certainly many more Wisconsin adventures in my future and fleeting memories to drop into my consciousness at any time.
50. Poor Wyoming. Always last on so many lists. The state that hosted Matthew Shepard's last moments of life. And yet, it seems like the right state to be last - a last frontier where one can be the furthest from any other human being in the lower 48. I spent a full day in Cheyenne, Wyoming once and I guess it kind of felt a slight bit urban. But the Tetons and Yellowstone and the pigtail curves in Custer State Park suggest the state should never aspire to urban density. Our day in Cheyenne started with taking a run around a lake within city limits. There was a charity run taking place but the numbers of participants was small enough that we were more than welcome to share the path with them. As we could not find any obvious things to do in town during the day, especially when considering the available outdoorsy things to do outside of town, we left for the day to explore possible surrounding rural experiences. We stopped to admire many viewpoints and pinched ourselves to remind ourselves where we were. It was easy to drift off into a fantasy space where you weren't anywhere specific at all. Reality came upon us when it came time to find a place for supper. We were in the mood for a vegetarian meal and we could not find any place to have such a meal beyond industrial salad bars of off-season fruits and vegetables. We scoured the city, stopping to explore the state capitol complex under a nearly full moon rising quickly above us. The day had been long and our energy expenditure rigorous. It was after nine o'clock when we finally gave up and got bean burritos at Taco Bell to hold us over until we could get to Laramie for a vegetarian meal at lunch the following day. For sure, Cheyenne must have great vegetarian options by now.