3805 miles later, from upstate NY, reflecting on the last 12 days, journeying from coast to (almost) coast…
1. My Blue Stallion:
When we – my stallion and I – arrived at Rapid City, South Dakota, at 10pm, having left Billings, Montana some 454 miles earlier that morning at 8:00am, and following some white knuckles sections on the 10% grade, climbing from Bighorn Canyon to the observation point at 9430 feet elevation and zigzagging through the Rockies of east Wyoming, I literally kissed the steering wheel. And when I was given a room on the other side of the motel, unable to see “him”, I asked to be switched, even if it meant shlepping stuff to the 2nd floor. Yes, I checked and filled up oil as needed and had him looked at once along the way (ok, that was after the A/C stopped working, and yes, the guy showed me some hose but I know it’s just because my stallion is not used to the intense humidity), and when all else failed, we talked. After me worrying all across Nevada, trying to listen and “check the gauges” (oh, wait, this is water, not oil; so where is the oil gage? Oh, I don’t have one?!…) he told me that he was created in order to do this sort of stuff (i.e. drive),and I can just relax and enjoy the road. All cowboy songs of admiration and partnership to their horses now make sense. It just so happened that mine is blue. Which bring us to #2.
I was plenty warned about the radio during the “nothing in the middle”, because there is only “country and G-d”, so I must say, I like this country and I don’t mind G-d. I also left equipped with 2 books on tape (CD) – both excellent [“Promise Me” and “The Japanese Lover”], totaling some 15 hours of story time, which granted, is a fraction in 12 days driving but nevertheless were great, entertaining and thought provoking – and between finding my way, wowing at the views and listening to songs I grew to like, I didn’t have time for much more. Not to mention, NPR – it’s almost everywhere. Driving through South Dakota’s Black Hills I chance on a program presenting Israeli Author Etgar Keret, and here I am, very present with the curvy drive along the beautiful dark hills, and at the same time, transposed to his IDF experience, and that of becoming a writer.
“Oh, you must be seeing a lot of Trump signs”, said a friend who heard I was traveling through the “nothing in the middle”. Not even one! Also no Hillary signs. Maybe it’s too early; or maybe everybody knows what they are voting; or maybe which John Deer to get and what to do about the litter of hogs and how to prepare for winter, which is going to be much harsher than the amazing weather I encountered, are a lot more pressing issues. I listened to one radio program – on fox – and the interviewer and interviewed sounded seriously concerned and undecided about the elections. No inflammatory slogans, just a real interesting deep conversation. Which made me think that maybe — the people on the edges hear things and assume things about the people of the middle, and vise-versa without really spending too much time talking and getting to know each other.
4. “Not’ig much eve’ happens he’e”
Shabbat morning in Billings Montana: I ask the concierge at the hotel for directions to Riverfront Park on the Yellowstone River and if it’s “safe” to go there, you know, safe, you know, me, by myself. He’s confused. He calls another “gal”. They both look at me unsure what I’m asking. I think of Oakland and Israel. They finally say, “Well, ye know, it’s a country road; speed limit is 45? I think, maybe 55? But there’s a good shoulder”. We stare at each other. Finally he says, “You’ll be fine, not’ig much eve’ happens he’e”, and I think to myself, I’m afraid I’m going to miss that.
5. Alabama / California
At that same moment I reach the observation point at 9430 feet elevation above the Bighorn Canyon, another car stops to admire the scenery. A woman, maybe in her 60’s, goes out, and we exchange the usual – isn’t this something? Yes, amazing. Then she says, “where you’re from?” in her southern drawl, and I hear myself answer: “California”. I can see a little cloud come over her face, as if she’s thinking, ‘they sure talk funny there’, but then a brighter cloud replaces it, as if the rest of the thought is, ‘well, they think we talk funny too, so maybe it’s all alright’! we wish each other a great day, and farewell, and for those 2 minutes, life is simple: I come from there and am going there.
6. Stam lake
My Blue Stallion and I had an agreement: everyday I’ll stop and take a walk for at least 1 hour so we’re not just driving through endlessly. That day, as already mentioned was a long one, but shortly after Burgess Junction on Route 14 (we’re in Wyoming -), a lake appeared on my right side. “Stam Lake” (just a lake), I called it between me and myself. There is no obvious sign, no national park, no entrance fees, no tourists, just a gorgeous, deep blue water, dark green trees – lake. I park, take my phone as camera (no reception) and walk down. Then I see- a trail. And here the magic: the ability to trust the trail. I have no map, no backpack, nothing. But there is a trail, and I know it’s going to be ok. There are a few people, couples, families, local license plates, fishing, “chilling” – hats down, polls stretched out, kids and friendly dogs wading; evidence for beaver and baby ducks in water. It’s so beautiful and so peaceful, I almost run the whole circumference in joy.
7. Teton and Yellowstone
The night at Grand Teton, after the storm, in a small cabin with the wood stove, was so, so nice! Outside the cabin, there are the bear lockers; and me, with the Yosemite “hype” experience from the summer, ready to pack all I have into the lockers, but the park people here are so much more at ease: “ca’ is fine”, he says, swallowing the ”r”. And the next morning, maximizing my time to check every “attraction” at Yellowstone. No wonder it’s the 1st National Park. If the god of Grand Teton seems moody and stormy to me, the god of Yellowstone seems like a relaxed, comfortable grandpa. Even his sneezes are predictable: “Old Faithful” erupts at known times. Next one at 9:45am.
8. Idaho Falls and Sioux falls
Surprise! Places that are called something “falls” – turn out to have waterfalls! Different, but both beautiful, I take time to walk around in each city. The “middle” has friendly, helpful people, I should add here. For example, Elko, Nevada: how I dreaded driving across Nevada! I used to say that driving through NV is a “dream” – since I much prefer to sleep right through it. But here we are, me and my Blue Stallion, and the CA license plate, and everybody smiles: the people in the gas station; there are clean bathroom, cold water to fill, and fascinating desert views. At the motel in Elko, the credit card machine is not working. “If you don’t mind”, says the lady, “please stop by in the morning and we’ll try to run it again”. “What do you mean, if you don’t mind?? Aren’t you afraid I’ll drive off without paying?” She laughs. Her husband comes in, “it’s not a problem.” When in the morning, the machine still doesn’t work, he writes the number on a piece of paper. I’m clearly not from around here. I clutch my purse, and lock the car. They look at me with this, ‘CA / city people are so uptight!!’ It takes time to get used to the middle.
“Are you taking highways or country roads?” asks one of my friends, “well…” I stammer. “Because if I drive cross country, it will be all on country roads!” is the answer. I shrug. Going across Wisconsin – on country roads – I think I now see the same farm house again. And again. It’s still beautiful, really very beautiful: the bright green fields, the red barns, the white houses, the tractor parked just so, even the Amish carriage (yes! Saw one!), and the perfect clouds, but then, so was the first hour. Or two. Or three. Now , after I’ve seen the grand Mississippi River, driven around Chicago in the stormy rain, and across almost flat Indiana and Ohio, I admit, I’m slightly resigned. The Midwest makes me think of my kids’ grandparents. And Zoe, our golden lab who would have been so much fun right now. And everyone who isn’t here, which at this point – is everyone. It’s grey. It’s long. It’s humid. Who’s idea was it anyway? I click in my final destination in upstate NY and decide to just pull through. Then, I enter Pennsylvania, and glorious hills – mountains! – appear! My daughter, who – lucky for me – made her state report on Pennsylvania, calls. I’m all “wowed” with the newly discovered scenery, after thinking I said goodbye to anything higher than a mound, as these lovely shapes and colors appear stretched to the horizon all around me . “It’s the Appalachians!”, she reminds me. “Beautiful!” I report, “Not like the Rockies or Sierras”, I’m quick to assure I’m still loyal to the West, “but really, really nice”. Before too long, we roll into NY state.
10. Peace be the Journey
Two passengers did join me. Yes, I know. My friend was worried I’ll pick up someone. “Do you have any stranger in your car?” she asked me. I don’t know about you, but in my life, handsome strangers who you actually can connect with– are hard to come by, and even then, they can’t necessarily clear their schedule and drive thousands of miles with you to the end of the world. But Pesky and Shmesky did. Those were the names I gave two flies who settled in my car in Rapid City, South Dakota, and didn’t leave till later in Minnesota (Actually, I think Pesky flew out but Shmesky stayed to reappear in Wisconsin complaining about his loneliness…). Anyway… 3805 miles, and 14 states later, I have discovered, there is no nothing in the middle. I am also still two hours away from New York city, so maybe the best thing about the journey is that it isn’t over quite yet.