Travels with Harley

The first question I typically get this time of year when people talk to me about work is “Are you teaching summer school?” To this question I always have the same response, and it is this:

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but teaching is a pretty demanding career. It is particularly strenuous for those of us who do it right and actually care, which is roughly half of us, but that is a topic for another day. Although most teachers are not paid during the summer, it is a time to let go of the previous year, hibernate, relax, enjoy family time, and even prepare for the next school year. I normally do not teach summers because I am aware of the plague of “teacher burn out” which happens when a select few take on too much of a workload to support the school. For me, the time off is needed to not go crazy.

3169665644_62fe7a3df6I try to make the most of my summers by traveling. I always get the urge to reread Travels with Charley by Steinbeck because he does such a beautiful job describing his cross-country travels. Two years ago I was lucky enough to take a similar trek across the country when my brother, his wife, and his daughter Harley moved from Arizona to South Carolina. I sought this opportunity to take my own road trip across the U.S. and dubbed the journey my “Travels with Harley.” We loaded up our version of “Rocinante” and like Steinbeck’s faithful poodle, my 2-year-old niece was my sidekick through the roads of America.

35This was going to be a great opportunity to accomplish numerous goals, including: checking off several items on a baseball bucket-list that my brother and I are obsessed with, actually seeing and visiting 15 states, and crossing through the roads that Steinbeck traversed on his journey home. Another goal was to visit any literary historical landmarks, but we were a little too removed from any place of real literary significance. The coolest thing close enough, which I regret not visiting, was Carl Sandburg’s home in North Carolina. I wish I would have known about LiteraryTourist.Com back then. It is a wonderful resource and full of valuable information. For what its worth, I got to see where Elvis was born.

Seriously. This is what New Mexico looks like.
Seriously. This is what New Mexico looks like.
The journey was epic. I saw more in a three weeks than I ever thought I would of the United States. The whole time keeping in mind why Steinbeck took his journey, “I had not heard the speech of America, smelled the grass and trees and sewage, seen its hills and water, its color and quality of light. I knew the changes only from books and newspapers.” I realized that although I have traveled before, I didn’t really know America. I only knew Tourist America, and even then, only a very few cities in very very few states.

Steinbeck’s map.
So what did I see and learn? Well, America is big and it is very diverse. Not just culturally and ethnically diverse, I mean the personalities, the lifestyles, the customs and habits. It is incredible. I also learned that racism and prejudice are still very real, although I also encountered some of the friendliest people I have ever met. I learned that New Mexico looks like Cars Land at Disney’s California Adventure.

My map.
Finally, I learned that the open road is something that cannot be tamed. That just felt like something that needed to be written. Steinbeck learned a similar lesson, “I do know this – the big and mysterious America is bigger than I thought. And more mysterious.”

tumblr_n1n9hi5TKu1qjdz6po1_500I could have written about the specifics of my travels, but I will save that for my next post about my latest travels.

As summer is just getting started and many are venturing off or planning crazy road trips or even small getaways, pick up Steinbeck’s work to give you some perspective. It is a fast read and an entertaining work of non-fiction. One last Steinbeck quote: “A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”


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