The end of the American Road

Roy, NM. No one ever goes here.

In my first blog post for the Bangor Daily News three and a half years ago, I started my introductory piece with this:

Most of my adult life I’ve had itchy feet…

Which led to dozens of stories and memories of road trips all over the U.S. and encounters with exceptional people I never would have met had I stayed at home and off the American Road. But it’s over now. The itchy feet are healed. Journeys Over a Hot Stove will persist, but the journeys will become more internal, and I do want to return to the joys of great food. It’ll happen.

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What stays with me after so many years on the road, thirteen different homes and addresses since 1992, tens of thousands of miles through all the lower 48 states plus Hawaii?

An Indian (native) kid, maybe 16, 17, in a bar in Pendleton, Oregon – who wanted to shoot pool with me. Mid 1980s, I think, and I forget how I got there or why I was there. We both had beers (the bar didn’t give a rat’s behind about your age) and this young guy shot great pool, was super friendly, and delivered great oratory about how the government and others were destroying the Columbia River, taking away their tribal livelihood and traditions. Hanford Nuclear Plant and waste dump. Destroying the salmon runs. All that. After three or four racks of pool, it ended, and I decided I had rarely made such a strong, instant connection with another human being. True: this kid had an extraordinary mind and soul, and he glowed with it.

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Fast forward to the late 1990s, Taos, New Mexico, and a kid name Estevan from the Pueblo. I’m tutoring him, even though he doesn’t seem to need it. After a few weeks we’re friends, I become close to his mother, meet his alcoholic father, and in time it all ends. Estevan is “half blood,” and back then was bullied for his mixed race. He said to them, “My blood is as red as yours” (this, at age 14) and in time his relations with other Pueblo (Tewa) kids improves. He made a beautiful cholla key chain for me – for my car.

Lakota Wacipi drummers, Eagle Butte, S.D.

These, and other relationships I’ve had with Indians in New Mexico, South Dakota, and elsewhere, have made me feel at time that these are my people. It’s bizarre, I guess, for an Eastern WASP to have that reaction when I’m not at all a “culture vulture,” but how do we know where we really come from, what our overall heritage really is?

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I think this is the cafe with the pool tables in Dubois, WY. (photo credit unknown)

 

 

 

 

Pool again, in Dubois, Wyoming, just east of Jackson Hole. 1980s. I’m there with my kids and ex-wife for a week or so. Go into town to find a pool hall. Three local ranchers are playing nine ball, and though they know I’m an eastern dude they welcome me to the game, five dollar bills on the rails. We play three games and I’m completely “in the zone” and win everything. Crushingly. All smiles, handshakes, thanks, great game — the opposite of what you might see in a movie. I’ve never shot pool that well since, in spite of my wasted youth staring at green felt.

Monday, Sept. 7, 1998, we’ve done a road trip to Trinidad, Colorado to see their annual rodeo – kids and adults. During the rodeo, one of the clowns comes out and mimes to the emcee that Mark McGwire, swimming in steroids, has tied Roger Maris’ 61 home run record, set in 1961. My wife and I are seated behind two women who live in Trinidad, and strike up a relationship that would lead to this.

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Road Trip Tips…

First, please don’t pull a “Clark Griswold” on your trip…

• Go. If you haven’t had your fill of roadies, start listening to Willie Nelson or Bob Seger to get inspired. Grab a friend or spouse or family and head west.

• Leave your ego in a fast food paper bag and fold it up tight. If you’re accustomed to posturing, pretense, hidden agendas and having a cork a little too snugly fit in your nether parts, you will miss huge opportunities. Lose the ego, see other people as you would like them to see you. Have fun, be open to gentle teasing, play pool with strangers.

• Stay off interstates, go local. Take longer on the trip than you’d planned. In fact, don’t plan, don’t schedule, feel free to meander.

• Don’t be shy, but don’t foist yourself on others. I wrote this simply because we don’t see the word “foist” enough. Be open, but not wide open.

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Where’s the end of the American Road?

It’s not a “where,” it’s a “when.” If you saw my post, “In Search of the Dew Drop Inn,” you already have the answer. The Road ends after the last rush of exhilaration, the last memorable and friendly conversation, the last unsolicited smile from a stranger. I’ve been doing this since the 1970s, and it all concluded last month along he East coast in a new country, a different land with a broken heart and too much of its soul sucked out of it. When you look in the rear view mirror and see as much nothing behind you as you know lies ahead (until the Kittery bridge), you know that Journeys Over a Hot Stove will need to become something else. And it will.

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Road trips are at the heart of three of my novels – Place, Calling Out Your Name, and String Theories.

Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, humorist, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.