“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” —G.K. Chesterton
To download a words-only document of this memoir writing, click below.
A Road Trip from November 30 through December 4, 2020
|Day||Destination||Address||States Seen||Special Stops|
|Day 1, Monday Nov. 30||El Paso, TX||Quality Inn Airport East|
900 N Yarbrough Drive
El Paso, TX 79915
|Arizona, New Mexico, Texas||Skeleton Canyon, AZ (Geronimo Surrender monument)|
Chiricahua Desert Museum
Rodeo, NM ~ Portal, AZ
NM-80 & Portal Road
Rodeo, NM 88056
Socorro Mission La Purísima
10041 Socorro Road
Socorro, TX 79927
|Day 2, Tuesday Dec. 1||Dallas, TX (Lake Fork)||Leica’s|
Yantis, TX 75497
|Texas||Texas 87 Traveling Center|
8700 I-10 East
Esperanza, TX 79851
|Day 3, Wednesday Dec. 2||Murfreesboro, TN||Clarion Inn|
2227 Old Fort Parkway
Murfreesboro, TN 37129
|Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park|
490 Toltec Mounds Road
Scott, Arkansas 72142
|Day 4, Thursday, Dec. 3||Durham, NC||Megan’s|
Durham, NC 27705
|Tennessee, North Carolina||WNC Farmers Market|
570 Brevard Road
Asheville, NC 28806
|Day 5, Friday Dec. 4||Ithaca, NY||Home|
Ithaca, NY 14850
|North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York|
Day 1—To El Paso
Monday, November 30th, 2020
I had lunch with Dad, my stepmom Judy, and my stepbrother JL at a Pho (Vietnamese) restaurant. It was some time in the early afternoon on Monday in the military base Fort Huachuca, near Sierra Vista, in Arizona. We had just transferred the title of the silver 2002 Honda CRV.
I had woken up early that morning, around 4am, but couldn’t leave early for the road trip. Later that morning, I posted to Instagram twice: about Tombstone, Arizona, and about driving home.
Ryan, my brother, video chatted with us during lunch at the restaurant. Afterward, I took my tofu curry leftovers to the car. I said goodbyes and gave Dad some parting hugs. Then once I was in the car, I gave Judy and Dad the signal that I was ready to follow them out to the interstate. Only I took the interstate the opposite direction, listening to my GPS Google lady dictate to me in Spanish, “Gire a la derecha.”
Dad and I had loaded up the car earlier. A TV, a pillow with a red pillowcase, a little cooler, a large plastic storage case with hand-me-downs from Judy, a rice cooker, a Pilates style exercise mat, 2 lemongrass plants, and one plant of scallions. I also had on board a set of spare headlights, emergency equipment, and a bucket of cleaning supplies.
After Dad and I loaded up the car, I drove us to the gas station, where Dad filled up the tank and we pumped air into the tires. The pressure was set to 31 psi, instead of the recommended 26 psi (which would later worry Dad).
I can’t believe how earlier that morning, I had considered still catching my scheduled flight home, scheduled to depart from the Tuscon airport at 10:32am. But once that timing passed, it started sinking in. I was really driving solo across the country.
Even Dad had pleaded that I wait to take off until Tuesday at 6am. But I was on a mission, with time constraints. I had to get my covid test done by Friday afternoon.
Plus, I was on a mission to see a Spanish mission that night. El Paso, I was determined to see.
I’m glad I did.
As posted to Instagram on Wednesday, December 2nd:
My path from Sierra Vista to El Paso brought me southeast of Bisbee, AZ on 80 East.
While still in Arizona, I passed the monument erected in 1934 to mark Geronimo’s surrender.
“The surrender of Geronimo in Skeleton Canyon on that historic day [September 6, 1886] forever ended Indian warfare in the United States,” says the monument.
It’s a modest monument right off the highway in the middle of vastness. I said some prayers for the late Chiricahua Apache medicine man and his people. Hopefully they were received.
Once in New Mexico, I took Highway 9 East, past Columbus, NM, a border town where the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa led an attack in 1916. According to my cell phone, I was incurring roaming charges for entering Mexico.
A lot of history on the roads of the wild west through Arizona and New Mexico into Texas. Yet I was struck with the sheer beauty, peace and vastness of the land of the West along the southern frontier. I can see why many would fight to defend freedom on an unfettered expanse of this land.
For about 5 hours it was just me on the road, on one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever taken. Me and the land for miles and miles, valleys and valleys.
Chiricahua Desert Museum
It irked me that just down the road from Geronimo’s Surrender monument, I passed a house with both a very large Trump flag and also a very large confederate flag. I wouldn’t see other confederate flags until North Carolina, where I saw two extremely large ones on main roads.
On my right as I crossed into New Mexico, right at the border, was the Chiricahua Desert Museum. I headed in.
The museum was closed due to covid, I was told. All of New Mexico was pretty much shut down, a lady said. At the gift shop I purchased two necklaces—sister necklaces—with a turquoise stone on each. They were Native American made.
I knew I would be giving one to Megan, whom I’d see later in the trip in North Carolina.
By the time I finally reached Socorro, it was dark. But lovely.
By the time I finally reached Socorro, it was dark. But lovely.
It was perhaps 9pm. Right in the middle of the urban/suburban El Paso area, the church had a pull-off area from the road. I parked and then walked through the opening where only a traveler by foot could pass.
I took multiple pictures of the beautiful monument, in blackness. The air was a little chilly, or perhaps I had shivers from remembering the days I’d fear Jesus as a child, passing through the Youngstown, Ohio hallway where Jesus’s sacred heart portrait was hung. I’d always make a furtive glance to Jesus, but keep walking. My mom being Jewish, our house didn’t display any Christian artwork or paraphernalia; the Jesus painting was at my uncle’s on my father’s side.
I left the monument in peace.
Promptly from the car, I Googled the nearest Choice Hotel. It happened to be the Quality Inn Airport East on Yarbrough Drive. I could see there was an Internet special and discounts for the Black Friday / Cyber Monday weekend. I made a reservation.
At the check-in kiosk, one of the customer service representatives was breathing heavily through his mask. I noticed his heavy breathing. I also noticed the clocks on the wall: from left to right were clocks noting the local times for El Paso, New York, Mexico City, and London.
I failed to mention one of the biggest joys of entering the El Paso metropolis: that of hearing Spanish music on the radio. Upon entering the city limits, “Quiero Saber de Ti” by Vayven Del Amor was the song playing. I asked, “OK Google—Qué canción es esta?”
Here’s what I plan to post to Instagram and my blog on Socorro tomorrow, Monday, December 7th:
What most people don’t realize about Texas is that its first European contact was—you guessed it—the Spanish. Spanish conquistadors arrived to North America in what is now Texas in 1519. What people also don’t realize about Texas is that at one point or another in its history, it was occupied by France, Spain, and Mexico; as well as the USA and the confederacy during the US civil war; and of course the original occupation of the various indigenous tribes of North American natives.
Texas is known as the Lone Star State. It gets its name because for ten years after independence from Mexico, it was an independent republic before accepting annexation to the United States (unlike any other US state). Even for years before that, Texas governed itself, though that governance was not recognized by Mexico. (The “six flags over Texas” are France, Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the United States, and the Confederacy.)
Here is the short outline of Texas history post European contact—
- 1519: Early Spanish explorations
- 1684-1689: French Texas
- 1690-1821: Spanish Texas
- 1821-1836: Mexican Texas
- 1836-1845: Republic of Texas (as the “lone star”)
- 1845-1860: Statehood
- 1861-1865: civil war era
- 1865+: “the rest is history”
Texas is where I grew up, from ages 5 to 15, in Dallas. I recall taking Texas History in school in the 7th grade before taking US History in the 8th grade. I wondered why I’d spend a year looking at the history of just Texas? But now, looking back, there was a lot going on in Texas. Its history as a US state, in my opinion, is one of the richest. (Hopefully not to say one of the bloodiest!)
On my road trip through Texas last week, I made it a mission to see an old Spanish mission. This El Paso landmark was originally established in 1691 as Nuestra Señora de la Limpia Concepción de Los Piros del Socorro. The current structure, operating today as the parish Socorro Mission La Purísima, was renovated following a flood in 1829. “It remains one of the oldest continuously occupied settlements of the Southwest,” reads the monument.
Day 2—To Dallas
Tuesday, December 1st, 2020
I missed saying “Rabbit Rabbit” for December, as my brother and I say out of habit on the first day of every month, first thing in the morning. I missed it due to the worthy cause of speaking Spanish with Luz at the Texas 87 Traveling Tiger Center off I-10 East.
I had left the Quality Inn at about 3:40am, and after driving enough to clear some of the El Paso metropolis, I pulled over for coffee.
I wanted coffee, waters, a bathroom break, some time to write and post to Instagram, and perhaps some breakfast. I was going to post about the Chiricahua National Monument.
After using the restroom, Luz told me the restaurant was closed but would open soon. I believe it was 5:30am, and the restaurant would open at 6am or 6:30am. I decided to stay, sit with my coffee, write and wait. Luz said it would be okay.
Luz is a resident of both Mexico and Texas, she told me. I was impressed by her ability to have a foot in both worlds.
I loved shopping at this stop of wonders. I procured a beautiful Mexican decorated bowl and planter, a small salamander decorative plaque, and postcards of Texas. I also purchased two 12-inch sister porcelain and painted Día de los Muertos skeleton ladies with hats and long skirts. One had a red and orange skirt, with prominent paintings of flowers; and the other’s dress and skirt was more purpley. That skirt included painted lands of people and cacti.
I really enjoyed talking with Luz. What a pleasure. She noticed the notebook I had with me. I showed her the front of the red notebook, which portrays the anatomical heart from the anterior view. And then I flipped the notebook over to the back to expose the anatomical heart from the posterior view. El corazón.
For breakfast at the restaurant I ordered the Special Breakfast Tacos: three large sunny-side-up eggs mounted on fried corn tortillas topped with chorizo, and served with beans topped with cheese. How I miss the Tex-Mex of my youth! And how amazingly seasoned the chorizo was. I had never tasted anything seasoned quite like it. Soul satisfying.
I took leftovers on the road with me. “Para llevar.” I appreciated the opportunity to practice my Spanish with the server and cashier at the restaurant.
Since returning from my trip, I have purchased an extra heart notebook, which I plan to mail to Luz at Texas 87. Hopefully it will be received for the holidays.
It was still many hours on the road in Texas before I’d arrive to the home of Leica, east of Dallas. Leica, my mom’s best friend, had graciously agreed to let me stay over in a spare accommodation of hers that evening.
What really touched me when driving from West to Central Texas was seeing the many oak trees on both sides of the highway. Those were the trees I grew up with. Sprawling, vast. A texture I could appreciate.
I also appreciated the topography of Texas—how, like the stretch from Arizona and New Mexico—it was still a desert until the central plains. There were still rolling hills, formidable. Sure, I saw a lot of oil rigs in the west before coming upon the central oaks. But nevertheless Texas is still a vast and beautiful land to me. I know it has the capability, despite ubiquitous large ass trucks everywhere. That’s truly a Texan thing.
Finally, it was emotional to me to see the cityscape of Dallas from the highway, and to pass the beloved theme park Six Flags Over Texas (in Arlington) on the right while traveling east on I-30. I knew those rides, those roller coasters, those thrills. What memories. What evocation.
After making it through Dallas traffic and badly having to both pee and get gas, being quite tired from the long day’s drive, I mustered the energy to make a final stop at a gas station before the last trek to Leica’s. Leica technically lives in Yantis, Texas, at a spot on Lake Fork.
It was maybe 7:30pm when I arrived, yet I felt as if it were 10pm or midnight. It was wonderful to reunite with Leica, who did insist on taking a picture of the two of us at a “social distance” with masks on to show my mother.
After briefly chit-chatting, Leica was happy to show me the “shop” where her husband Gary works on building motorcycles for fun, among other projects. Annexed to the shop was the sweet room—a veritable “fishing cabin”—where I would have my stay for the evening.
A pair of men’s fishing waders at the foot of the stairway entrance to the cabin resembled the presence of an actual man there. Leica warned me, but that would still jolt me a time or two.
The bed was cozy and warm and covered with the softest of blankets. Leica also warned of an occasional hornet or wasp that would be harmless, as well as a yellow bug that I oughtn’t confuse with a ladybug.
I conked out at about 10pm.
I conked out at about 10pm.
Day 3—To Murfreesboro
Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020
I slept a solid eight hours. The night before, I had agreed to meet Leica for coffee at 6:15am. While I’d set my alarm for 6:00, I woke up naturally at 5:58.
A flashlight guided my path from the shop cabin to Leica’s house. Gary and Leica were both awake when I arrived. Very sweetly, Leica was preparing a breakfast of breakfast burritos. And coffee was ready.
I took a shower in their home, as recommended by Leica. The shower water in the shop would have been cold.
To maintain some modicum of distance, Gary ate first. Meanwhile, I started a video call with Mom in the kitchen before making my way to the living room.
Then I sat to eat.
This whole time, I was amply and pleasantly distracted by the home décor. I had snapped a photograph the night before of Leica’s rendition of Lucia Heffernan’s “Norman Catwell.” Leica is quite the talented artist. She is modest, however, and claims she cannot come up with her own ideas for renderings. I loved seeing a study of a photo of my mom in Prague. The image of my mother looks just like her. Especially the glasses.
I loved seeing the antiques of Leica and Gary, as well as the artwork. The two of the them designed their home together and exercised liberties in details such as wooden closet doors, etc. Antiquing was something they both shared in common before they met and married. I loved their antique lamps.
Before I finished breakfast, I was roaming Leica’s closet. It’s an inexplicable destination. I think there are many professional organizing theories out there that suggest one’s closet should bring one joy, even secret joys. Leica owns that theory. And contrary to popular belief, some places are indeed too sacred to post to the Internet or Instagram ; )
What caught my attention in Leica’s closet were two Troll dolls, in particular a small Troll with purple hair tied up in a ponytail. I remembered playing with that Troll as a child.
“Would you like them?” Leica asked. I could not refuse them. It was exciting to see their faces once more, tracing the excitement and joy with which my child brain could distinguish them. They were to become my new travel companions and little guardian spirits.
Then what Leica showed me in her closet was a full-length antique mirror that belonged to my great-grandmother, Bubby, my mother’s father’s mother. “Bubby” is Jewish for grandma. I met Bubby before her passing in 1992. What a character. She was an immigrant to New York City from Poland and lived in Queens, where my grandfather was born. I met her in Dallas and recall pushing her around in her wheelchair at the hospital. I wasn’t older than six.
After leaving the closet to return to the kitchen table and breakfast, Leica pulled out a couple more items to show me and offer as gifts. The first was a crystal cut glass bowl that was my grandmother Mimi’s, my mother’s mother. I suppose my mom had put the bowl in a garage sale after Mimi’s passing, also in ’92. The second gift was a lovely long glass pitcher that also belonged to Mimi.
“I’ve enjoyed that pitcher for many years,” said Leica. “But it’s time for it to move along.”
The love for the pitcher was evident, as she pulled it right out of her kitchen cabinet. The bowl arrived from the guest room.
Of course I was beyond grateful to accept these heirloom gifts. I would have the spirit of my grandmother with me on the roadtrip now too. I felt the infusion of ancestral matrilineal medicine. Thankfully the large plastic container of hand-me-down clothes from Judy would be able to house and buffer the glass bowl. I used the rolled-up exercise mat to pad the pitcher for storage in the plastic container as well.
Leica would send me on my way with a mystery care package. She had an online Zoom deposition to attend at 9am, and I had to hit the road. She and Gary were most gracious hosts for my one-night getaway and a supremely surprising morning.
It was a gray morning, and as I drove out of Texas, it was raining also. I thought to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Texas Flood.” While the gray hyper rain would set my windshield wipers to “Hiroshima,” as my old color guard coach Randy would call flags in a color guard spinning chaotically, I was happy that dry Texas was getting some rain.
It was just a little nasty and dangerous driving 80 miles an hour on the two-lane interstate, behind a truck in front of me, passing a truck on my right, while it was flooding down in Texas with my windshield wipers set to Hiroshima. But it’s okay. I had poise as well as my grandmother’s spirit with me.
The rain abated by the time I reached Arkansas. I pulled over to the I-30 Eastbound Arkansas rest area to use the restroom and have some leftover breakfast burritos. What I uncovered in Leica’s care package were not only burritos, but also grapes, granola bars, an orange, nuts, fruit snacks… And underneath it all, a homemade pie!
I couldn’t wait for the following day, when I’d share the pie with Megan and her partner Jon.
Toltec Mounds Archeological Park
I pulled over later to the Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park near Scott, Arkansas. A sign from the interstate attracted me, and I found the 10-minute detour off the road worthwhile.
“Before you begin your journey through this prehistoric site,” read the trails guides for the Knapp and Plum Bayou Trails of the state protected park, “It may interest you to know that the name ‘Toltec Mounds’ is actually a misnomer.”
The guides continue.
Gilbert Knapp, who owned this site from 1848 to 1905, mistakenly thought the mounds were associated with the Toltec people of Mexico. In 1883, this idea was disproved. Investigations by archeologists at that time showed that these mounds, like others in North America, had been built by the ancestors of North American, not Mexican, Indians.
The prehistoric peoples who inhabited the site lived there from approximately A.D. 650 to A.D. 1050. This “Plum Bayou” culture of unknown origin was mysterious, utilizing the site as a ceremonial center for 400 years.
I took a picture of the three largest of the 18 mounds in the park. However, the photo of course doesn’t do justice. The pamphlets note that considerable farming damage over the last 150 years has nearly destroyed the mounds, until the land became an official Arkansas state park in 1975.
Describes the Plum Bayou Trail Guide pamphlet about Marker #8, Mound S—
Nearly twenty years ago, Mound S was fully excavated. Later, it was reconstructed to form the low, flat mound you see today. During the excavation, archeologists uncovered a large amount of animal bone, mostly white-tailed deer, as well as abundance of charred seeds and nuts. In fact, there were more animal remains found on this one mound than could have been consumed by the few people living there. This discovery led archeologists to believe that Mound S was the location of many feasts.
Without excavation, a lot of knowledge would not have been uncovered. The archeologists were able, for instance, to uncover the many stone tools utilized by the native peoples to build the mounds: arrow points, knives, drills, awls, axes, and adzes.
They used a kind of rock called chert as well as novaculite, quartz crystal (from the Ouachita Mountains), sandstone and silstone to make their stone points and tools. The only rocks available were gravel deposits from the Arkansas River. Otherwise, the rocks used were found 20 to 50 miles away. And it was obvious enough to Arkansas residents that these mounds were manmade, as otherwise the land was of the delta.
During excavations, archeologists uncovered fragments of a conch shell from the Gulf of Mexico as well as copper from the Great Lakes area. This discovery provides another sliver of insight into the mystery of the lives of the Plum Bayou people. The Native Americans who lived here had contact and trade with people along the Mississippi River.
The park ranger lady told me that mounds were used to hold huts for living; to hold religious ceremonies; to hold feasts; and to hold burials.
There is still a lot more I could read about the history of the mounds.
Inside the Toltec Mounds Archeological Park museum, I read the following sign.
Native Americans have lived in eastern North American for 12,000 years. Archeologists divide this time into eight periods. Each period is identified by certain changes in the environment, society, and in tools produced.
The Toltec Mounds were an important community center from A.D. 600 to A.D. 950, or during the Late Woodland Period of A.D. 400 to 800 and the Early Mississippi Period of A.D. 800 to 1300.
It wouldn’t be until the Colonial Period of A.D. 1540 to 1775, the final period of the eight periods, that the Indian way of life would be considerably disrupted by contact with the Europeans. Early Spanish exploration in the 1500’s led to the 1539 exploration of Hernando de Soto in Texas and Arkansas. In the 1600’s, the Spanish had colonies in Texas and Florida; the French in the St. Lawrence and Mississippi Valleys; and the English on the East Coast.
The first period of the eight time periods was the Archaic Period, 8500 to 500 B.C. Some plants were cultivated in 2000 B.C., and the first ever eastern mounds were built in 1500 B.C.
I admit that a lot, a lot of my 5-day trek was a newfound reckoning of sorts with the genocide of the native peoples of North America in the United States. In the Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park museum, looking at a map of other state parks dedicated to preserving the trace of Native lineage throughout the country, I was reminded of how widespread the Natives were.
I just did a Google search on how many Native American languages are spoken today in the US.
The answer, “in spite of everything,” is 150 Native North American languages by at least 350,000 people, according to data from 2009 to 2013 by the American Community Survey. To think that some may only consider English as the native language spoken in this country.
I am sure there were hundreds more. But even knowing that 150 different native tongues exist here, I pause to think of cultural and biological diversity and what threatens the two.
On the Saturday following my trip, I wrote some angry texts to Liz and Lauren. “Tears are words that need to be written,” wrote Paulo Coelho.
It struck me on the road trip that I don’t often think to how many places and rivers and states are named after Native American tribal references. I feel that the colonial instinct is passed on through the country truck-driving legacy from the cowboys and the European settlers establishing the US. I listened to the radio in every state and heard a lot of country and Christian music and conservative talk radio spanning Texas to Arkansas to Tennessee to North Carolina. Even yes Virginia and Maryland and Pennsylvania and New York!
I later continued.
Sorry that I am processing some of this trip with you— But do you not find it strange that some people (including even my family) will have a Thanksgiving and not think twice about the Native Americans and what really happened on Thanksgiving? Like, we should be thankful for massacre and then not even acknowledge it? And that’s our tradition? I think our world has a long way to go with regard to human rights. But it’s chilling to think that we can look at our own backyard. And I feel like this stuff literally surrounds us, but we or I am so unaware most of the time! It’s probably easier to block it out.
I’m not trying to come down hard on cowboys, Christians, conservatives, Europeans, gun toters, willing ignorance, blatant disregard, unconscious or subconscious disregard, trauma repression, Trump voters, Southerners, Westerners, Americans, or country music lovers. I am among several of those categories, I’m sure, or have been at one point or another. But I do feel in a time of calling out “White silence,” we as US citizens should be more respectful in our ways.
Consider the fact that Native Americans or First Nations peoples are still alive! Consider how offensive or insensitive the celebration of Thanksgiving might be to those people, for instance.
Wrote I in more texts to Liz and Lauren:
I feel our country has unprocessed racial trauma through its establishment of the genocide of native peoples. I had forgotten even Delaware is named after the Delaware tribe! Even here, in Ithaca, our landmarks are native named. I feel inspired to check out the History Center and learn a little more about the native people of this region.
Liz and Lauren both texted me back. Liz started.
If we dwell on all the horrors, past and present, I think we’d drown in sorrow and rage. So I acknowledge some when I can, but don’t berate myself for choosing not to focus on something that is not in my control <3
Lauren replied the following day with the following.
I agree with Liz about not berating oneself around these things. I think knowledge and self awareness and the want to grow are great and important things. And I do think that knowledge can be a very crucial part in world and local problem solving. It’s okay that you’ve gone down one path though Shayna, and it seems you want to look at another one and that’s good too. Just remember to be kind to yourself. We are all people ignorant of things and you as an American I don’t think are particularly ignorant. Though as a culture we have our own biases and have caused harm in particular ways, and perhaps our biases have been disproportionately harmful because we have had had power and influence over others. While I think it’s important to learn from this and try to continue forward in the healthiest way, I don’t think it helps to hate ourselves or take on fully what others before us have done where we had no say.
I appreciated their attention and responses. I think if anything, what I hope for out of some of this writing is a call to more sensitivity on this topic for the sake of indigenous and affected groups. I remember in my years of being vegetarian, for instance, from 2003 to 2013, the holiday of Thanksgiving and its accommodating meal did feel a bit political. It seemed a holiday marking the slaughter of many innocent turkeys with little to no consciousness around it. But what bothered me more was the feeling that I wasn’t allowed to talk “politics” during Thanksgiving while at the dinner table of stepfamily, for instance, who had “opposing” political views. No politics, no religion, was my instruction. No fuss. All I’d wanted to suggest as a vegetarian was the mere counterpoint statement of gratitude for all the turkeys who would have offered nourishment for countless people that day. I wouldn’t be trying to convince people to not eat turkey or to quit eating meat. But even one acknowledgement of the counterview would be inappropriate. Strict peace was to be upheld at the table, especially for that of the hosting family.
I would abide, but at least I can publish the old sentiments here now, after many meals of meat later. After the country’s recent presidential election, I feel some families are reckoning how difficult it can be to talk among family alone about what are important values. If we can’t bring it up at the dinner table—even if not for a holiday meal, which ought to be a sacred meal? —then when can bring it up?
I think one of the healthiest ways to come to get to know equality and inequality is to speak with your friends who are different from you, who see things differently because of their heritage or upbringing or experience or values.
I know I could do more myself to actively engage with Native American community.
One such friend of Apache heritage whom I would see the following day, on Thursday in Durham, is my oldest friend Megan.
I got a late start to my day after the morning visit with Leica, and I was sidetracked by the Toltec Mounds. After commenting at the Toltec Mounds gift store about the beauty and abundance of a plant literally named “the wandering Jew”—not that that would be offensive to any Jews—the lady at the kiosk offered me a cutting of the plant that I could not refuse.
My dear friend and colleague Katie Barnes in Ithaca, a fellow massage therapist, had given me a Wandering Jew cutting before, when I started working back at Rasa Spa in August. She calls them Wandering Judy’s. I sometimes call them Wandering Judes.
My new plant friend was yet another unexpected companion for traveling.
It was getting to be about 9pm before reaching hints of Nashville, Tennessee. But thematically, I decided to stop in Murfreesboro instead of Nashville. For one, as Katie Barnes had pointed out in a Facebook Messenger chat, Nashville is overrated. More so for me, however, was the fact that Megan and I had both performed in Murfreesboro during drum corps together back in 2004.
As my old friend “Krazy Kathleen” once said in 2009—Kathleen who accompanied my first road trip east to Ithaca, from Colorado— “The universe appreciates a symbolic gesture.”
The nearest Choice Hotel, according to the Google, would be the Clarion in Murfreesboro. I listened to some nice roots music on the radio along the way there. Thanks to my Choice Hotels membership, as recommended by my father, the unmasked receptionist gave me a discount and an upgrade to an atrium hotel room off the first floor.
Day 4—To Durham
Thursday, December 3rd, 2020
The roads winded through the Smokies on a lovely drive east through Tennessee. I noticed that at many gas stations in western Tennessee, as well as at the Clarion hotel where I stayed, people were not wearing masks anywhere. It panicked me somewhat, so I kept heading east. I stopped for breakfast at a Cracker Barrel east of Knoxville and west of Asheville, North Carolina, before crossing the state border. People were again wearing masks by then.
A lovely older couple stated I must have felt good to sit at the rocking chair by an open fire in the Cracker Barrel’s fireplace. I rocked and concurred. They asked me where I was from, and I said New York. They said they were also visiting, from New Orleans. I told them I’ve never been to New Orleans, but would love to see it someday.
An even older lovely couple dined a distance away. A man and woman. The man walked rather slowly. Both showed age and long lives. They seemed a traditional southern couple. There is something to longevity that calls my respect.
Day 4 was all about seeing Megan. I knew I would have to drive across the country to bear for her the gifts of New Mexico and Texas.
The only detour I took that day was to check out a farmers market in Asheville, just a jaunt off the highway. I’ve always heard great things about Asheville. At the WNC Farmers Market I procured more gifts, including locally harvested jams and jellies for Lauren, a North Carolina native. The Scuppernog jelly (a native grape), the Smoky Mountain Special jelly, and the rhubarb jam seemed sufficient for Lauren. Lauren loves making jellies and jams herself. It was satisfying to purchase the pintsize Mason jars, as there is a national Mason jar shortage now.
One of Liz’s gifts from the trip was a book on beaded jewelry techniques and designs. It came from the Toltec Mounds gift shop from the day before.
Megan I’ve known since I was 13. I recalled the whole, whole story when having dinner that night with Megan, Jon, their dogs Lucy and Ouicho, and their two cats in their quaint Durham apartment in a historically Black neighbhorhood. Jon asked the question of how we met.
Megan is an adoptee whose biological mother is Mexican, with Apache heritage; her father is white. Megan and I in recent years have bonded more on our identities of mixed ethnicity or multiracial experience. We also bond on the concept of erasure, which Megan explained to me as the cultural and ethnic erasure of a biological parent’s connection to that culture and history. She believes each person has an inherent right to that heritage and culture, and that there are bad side effects to not being culturally grounded. She and I have different experiences of erasure, but we can relate.
I knew that it would be healing for Megan to receive the Native American made turquoise necklace from New Mexico and the Día de los Muertos porcelain lady from El Paso. They would harken her Mexican and Native American ancestors and bear the spirit of the western lands. I told Megan I thought of her often in Arizona and in the west. I was in Apache country. I was on the land of her ancestors and learning about Geronimo (born Goyahkla) and Massai and Cochise.
The last time Megan saw her biological mother was in New Mexico around 2007. She first met her biological mother and sister when she was 16. I couldn’t believe that fact when she told me on this trip, that she first met her blood kin when she was 16! I remember the week she turned 16. She had a car accident and came to a color guard rehearsal late. But I had no idea she was meeting biological relatives for the very first time.
When someone you love unearths a ground shattering new fact, it’s like an archeological discovery. The excavation tosses out the paradigm and forever changes the course of history.
“Imagine going your whole life without seeing anyone is who blood related to you,” Megan said, when I asked her what it was like to see her biological mother and sister for the first time. “Then all the sudden you see them.”
She said she could feel a physical reaction in her body. That her body recognized being near her kin.
I also had no idea that when we were marching alongside each other in drum corps in 2004, her biological grandparents had come to a drum corps show as audience members. They watched Megan perform, and they loved it.
I had always loved watching Megan perform. It was Megan, just a year older than I, who would forever change my life through her dancing and performing. In the 8th grade I would watch Megan and the rest of the high school winter guard perform in May, prior to my freshman year of high school. It would convince me to give the color guard and dance a try. It was again Megan years later—when I was in my senior year of high school, before my freshman year of college—who would romantically tell me through a chain link fence in Orlando, Florida that I would follow her example and march in the Santa Clara Vanguard of Santa Clara, California the following summer. She was right. I had no choice but to believe her wholeheartedly. She and I marched together in the summer 2004 season as well as in 2005.
I imagine it was because Megan was adopted that I could sense there was always some distance Megan would place to keep from others from getting too close to her. I could sense that. But I also could sense, very sensitively, that this distance would erode and pacify or not the be case between the two of us. Our late color guard coach, Randy, would fan the flames of our connection. He made Megan my “big sister” in the color guard when I was an incoming freshman. And he would dub himself as Yoda, Megan as Anakin, and me as Luke, before the whole guard.
I’ve known Megan now for 22 years. That’s almost too many years to count. There’s not too much I can say to speak on a sister without it sounding too niche or personal or fantastic. Our relationship is still improving, continuing and growing. Of all the people I can think of being a sister in my life, it would be her, as I don’t actually have a biological sister.
Of the houses in this North Carolina neighborhood, one had magnificent magnolia trees. Another had a tree with giant roots—that was the yard of the neighbor two houses down who’d cook Megan and I two fried fish sandwiches by request, as he would serve for other passers-by on the block. Just $7 a pop.
I was overcome with a dreamlike and trancelike state upon first stepping foot into Megan’s home. I could immediately tell a cheer and the vibrations from the happy plant life greeting me, let alone Megan. It was fantastic to meet Jon—“the man, the myth, the legend,” as he jokingly self-described. They were a lovely, loving couple.
There was a Buddha framed in the bathroom, his craft eyes glued on as if he were a popsicle stick.
“I thought you’d like that,” Megan remarked after I made a comment about him.
And there was yet another Wandering Jew plant on Megan’s kitchen windowsill. I took that as an omen. I took it as auspicious. She offered me yet a new cutting and new plant friend when my interest piqued.
She sent me home with other plants from the weekend, including one mixed plant pot that had a baby cactus. Finally. A cactus for my home!
Right away we ate the pie that Leica had prepared, along with a brew of Pai Mu Tan tea. And right away I presented Megan with her gifts. I’d selected one turquoise necklace and one Día de los Muertos lady at random to give her. She first opened the lady statuette, which turned out to be the sister with the red and orange skirt (fortuitously also Megan’s power colors). She placed the lady on her altar, where a candle would be lit later that evening. Then she opened the turquoise necklace, which turned out to be the necklace with the bigger of the two stones, the one I was first called to at the Chiricahua Desert Museum gift store. She placed the necklace around her neck and wore her lapis lazuli earring studs, her favorites.
She felt that the turquoise stone resting on her upper breastbone would be healing for physical pains she has been experiencing in that area of her body. She mentioned some left shoulder/pectoral pains as well. I reminded her of a shamanic journey I had, as there was a period of weeks spanning mid-April through June when I was partaking in an online course where participants would check in for daily 15-minute shamanic journeys Mondays through Fridays. It was a great creative healing tool for me, and in a journey in mid-May, I journeyed to meet a Protective Figure. That figure turned out to be a Native American man. He wore a headdress and a leather looking jacket. As I lay prone in the journey, the Protective Figure took a little round turquoise stone and place it on my lower back, maybe upper lumbar or kidney area. He lay one hand on the stone and one hand on my upper back, and he gave me a blue stone energy treatment.
My dear friend Jen-Mitsuke Peters, who facilitated these journeys, encourages Rick Hanson’s practice of Taking in the Good or consciously drawing out the qualities and sensations of the good as a psychological and physiological practice. With regard to shamanic journey experience, one way to “take in the good” that I’ve practiced is to enhance and draw out the shamanic journeys and visions, so as to have the subconscious know that my conscious self is trying to manifest the psyche in the material world and have a bridge between the worlds. I try to build on that relationship.
I would catch up on the news that the following morning, Megan would have a second interview for a fundraising job in New Mexico at an arts nonprofit dance organization. She and Jon have wanted to move to the region for a long time. It would coincide with Megan’s application to the University of New Mexico’s Chicana studies program, where she would go for a PhD and study folk medicine.
I melted into happiness and exhaustion on the air mattress that Megan and Jon kindly set up for me. Both dogs, but particularly Ouicho, were fond of my location on the air mattress. They were warm companions. Puppy therapy, I’d say, though they were not puppies, these Labrador retrievers.
One dog had belonged to Megan and the other dog had belonged to Jon. It was beautiful and symbolic that the two dogs could live harmoniously together immediately and throughout the span of Megan and Jon’s 8-year-plus relationship. Certainly I had many thoughts on the road trip about love. One topic I brought up to Jon and Megan was why there aren’t more songs on the radio about less common experiences? For instance, why are there no songs on the radio about leaving everything for a Spanish lover and having it not work out? Or even songs about dating someone who’s not of your culture or land?
Jon was quick to point out the song “Tarantula” by the Scabs, a song by a male dating a Mexican female. Even if I’d never heard it, at least the recall of the song was off Jon’s tongue.
On one hand, a lot of the songs I heard on the radio about love and relationships had aspects I could really relate to. But on another hand, there is a lot of honesty and grit that is not reflected in those songs. Why, for instance, do we not hear songs on gay love on mainstream radio? And sure, who really listens to mainstream radio anymore, other than romantics such as myself on cross-country road trips?
Nevertheless, Megan and Jon have a compatibility that is palpable and respectable. Megan said their childhood traumas answer each other’s. I could look to them as a couple, as I could look to Leica and Gary, for instance, and see a lot of things going right. Megan and Jon met in graduate school together and shared common scholastic interests. They share the arts together: Megan a dancer and Jon a musician. They have traveled together to Ireland and Africa among other sites. They have moved together with their dogs and cats and plants from one US state to the other, far from their families in Texas, and have still maintained their lives and relationship.
It is really sweet to know each person is well loved and cared for in their partnership. And sweet to have finally met Jon in person after all these years of corresponding with Megan predominately by phone.
We would order sushi and talk everything and nothing. History and destiny. Travel and local lore. Life, love, and all things.
It was so kind of Megan and Jon to offer a foam roller (what a lifesaver on the road!) and a cork yoga mat for my stretching and decompressing needs. But the best was a ritual bath that Megan prepared for me.
In the spirit of a mini home temazcal or limpia, the bath preparation would start with the boiling and steaming of an herbal infusion of dried homegrown plants. Megan selected her special marigolds and basil for this offering of spirit. I would lie on the air mattress or sit quietly to breathe, meditate and reflect on the intention of the bath. And then I would breathe in the steam of the herbal infusion to enhance the quality of connection to intent.
Megan poured in the infusion to the hot bath that Jon drew for me. I felt like a princess.
After the renewing bath, in which I said my soul prayers, I felt like a new woman. And my muscles appreciated the relaxation. I hugged Megan and Jon goodnight and went to bed.
Day 5—To Ithaca
Friday, December 4th, 2020
I sat with Megan and Jon both for 4am coffee. Megan’s job interview would be at noon that day, yet she insisted on waking up early with me to bid me farewell. She would walk me out to the car and hug me before leaving. I took off with new plants, plus a new old wooden meditation bench that Megan had picked up at a meditation center in Athens, Ohio.
Day 5 was a breeze. Just 9 hours to Ithaca. Before leaving Megan and Jon’s, I reserved a 3:30pm covid test appointment at the walk-in clinic on Meadow Street. I surely made it by 3pm.
Throughout the trip I would leave my car wearing a pink beret that Judy had given me. It was the habit I’d formed, like wearing a face mask, before I would pump gas or enter the gas stations and various stops. Taking off for Day 5, after pumping some gas, a man in his car pulled up next to me as he was exiting the gas station.
“Excuse me,” he said, with a big smile, “Would that be a raspberry beret?”
“What?” I asked.
He gave me the thumbs up sign. “A raspberry beret!” he repeated, and he told me about the song by Prince.
“You have to listen to it,” he urged.
I smiled, agreed, and said I would. Once I connected the Aux cable to my phone and played it in the car, I did recognize the song. But it would make me laugh to have a new meaning and association with it. That raspberry beret of mine was my esteemed cap from the moment Judy gave it to me and throughout the journey.
I debated stopping in Gettysburg, and I even debated getting a picture of two beautiful Japanese looking trees in Harrisburg. But I was on a time limit. On a mission.
I found that the length of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and even upstate New York was still mostly limited to a mainstream country radio station or a Christian music station. Pennsylvania was “long” at 3-4 hours, but it was nothing in comparison with the rest of the trip. By the time I’d reach the neighboring state of Pennsylvania, I was already ecstatic to be so close to home.
It sure was wonderful seeing the “Welcome to New York” sign off the county road, under a gray sky. It was wonderful seeing signs for Ithaca. It was even wonderful to be greeted by Ithaca’s characteristic gray. “Ithaca gray,” as my ex-boyfriend Colwyn once would suggest as a Crayola color.
I write tonight on Monday evening, December 7th, exactly a week since leaving for the 5-day trek. After 2,728 miles and about 8,000 words later, I am that much more traveled and in place.
I am grateful to everyone mentioned in this account, but above all to Megan, to Leica, and to my father…
It was my father who precipitated this writing. It was my father who precipitated this road trip. And it was my father, after all, who gifted me the car (which I’ve now named Bubby).
For endless hours as a girl, I remember watching my father as he’d drive my brother and I solo across the country. Either from Texas to Florida or Florida to Ohio or Ohio to Texas or somewhere along that triangle. Once we drove together in a truck, and another time it was a U-Haul. I seem to remember an old Nissan once as well. A light blue one. I remember a yellow Jeep brand boombox we used to play as we listened to the tunes of Beck’s Odelay.
I thought about my father a lot on the 5-day trek. I realize that any fearlessness I may have had or any road mastery I may have acquired came as the result of bearing witness to many a long-haul road trip with my father driving my brother and I. Sure, it was well before I was of driving age, even well before I could understand the mechanics of driving. But I caught on to the techniques early on. I caught on to the rhythm of leaving space before changing lanes, of nodding in ways to the semitrucks. It was Dad’s tried and true, old-school methodology of listening to the local radio stations that I practiced on this trip.
Dad taught us about how to check out the best eateries and dives and truck stops along the way, though this probably doesn’t apply as much in covid times. I used to love heading east out of Dallas to catch the gumbo and jambalaya of Louisiana and Mississippi, as those were Dad’s favorites. I used to love the slot machines in the truck stops, even if I couldn’t gamble. I loved it all. I loved the cooler where Dad would keep Sunny Delights, cans of Coca-Cola, and water.
Tonight I’m drinking my last can of Sprite Ginger Ale that Dad had put in my little red cooler for the trip.
I’m grateful that I followed all Dad’s advice prior to the trip, except for releasing some tire pressure to go from 31 psi to the recommended 26 psi. Otherwise, I got the car insurance right away. I got my Triple A membership. I checked in to Choice Hotels.
Yep, Dad traveled in style. And driving across the country solo seems to be a rite of passage in my immediate family, as Ryan has made treks all his own too.
“Thank God you’re home already,” Dad said on Friday at about 5pm when I called him to thank him.