Road trip?

Neurotic people like me plan many things in advance, but one thing we are not so good at planning is vacations. This is in part because we feel like we do not deserve them and therefore don’t prioritize them ahead of time. And yet, after a 9.5 month journalism school program and two years of working before that almost since the day I graduated college in 2006 (with a 6 week break of sorts in the summer of 2008), I could really use a vacation.

At some point this past spring, I got it in my head that it might be nice to take a road trip, because it is something I would not have commandeered in my younger, more workaholic days and because I saw photos from a road trip my cousin took across the United States that looked absolutely beautiful.

So I started to consider going to the Pacific Coast. I have been there before but mostly to its cities and certianly not enough for all there is to see. I loved my cousin’s photos of Hearst Castle along the coast in Central California and figured it might be neat to see the home of a newspaper magnate of yore. I had all sorts of thoughts about hiking through Redwoods and camping on beaches. Mind you, I have camped about twice. But 26 is the age to try new things, I thought. Why not start in Vancouver, Canada, I thought, and work my way down through all of the Pacific Coast cities, as far as San Diego?

The indoor pool at Hearst Castle. Credits: The Mosaic Art Source Blog

The indoor pool at Hearst Castle. Credits: The Mosaic Art Source Blog

As school ended last week and Memorial Day, the marker of summer’s coming was suddenly upon us, it became more necessary to start planning this trip. However, some unwieldy variables occurred to me, like recruiting trip participants, paying for a rental car and anticipating gas costs, and planning the trip’s scale.

For one, the many places to go on the West Coast are all very far from each other. Recently, someone was making a joke about how East Coasters assume the cities on the West are as near each other as the cities out here, which cluster in one amazing and kind of scary when you think about it megalopolis , from D.C. to Boston. San Francisco, it turns out, is ten hours from Portland. I realized I would have to allot a lot of time for an ambitious coastal trip (word play intended!).

This sheer distance combined with the fact that I have never headed up a road trip myself but just been the passenger was starting to make the trip a bit improbable.

So tonight, determined not to fail quite yet, I went to the Borders in Penn Station after dinner with some friends in Korea Town and looked at some travel books. While doing so, a small old man approached me and whispered. I couldn’t hear him, but I immediately looked into his dark eyes and said “I’m sorry,” knowing what he wanted. Suddenly he growled back at me, his voice had astonishingly lowered by octaves, “Sorry for what?” Startled, I let him go on with his pitch. He unrolled a yellow strip of plastic on which was written “Funeral” in black letters and asked, again in a whisper, if I could spare him some money to fund a funeral for his dead father. In his other hand, he clutched chocolates. “I’m sorry,” I said firmly, now that I had something specific to refuse. “Some change?” he pleaded. “Sorry.” Unlike my earlier refusal, he was okay with that and walked away. I turned back to my book and thought, as fun as the people are here, I need a long vacation from New York.

I had impeded my own progress in road trip planning, however, when a book called Don’t Go There caught my eye. The subtitle made it impossible to pass up: “The Travel Detective’s Essential Guide to the Must-Miss Places of the World.” I learned that there is a city in Nigeria (if I recall correctly) that was built for 500,000 people but today holds 14 million; that Port-au-Prince, Haiti, has just about everything wrong with it possible, from crime to pollution; and that you have no good reason to visit Bakersfield California.

Finally, after about an hour of skimming Don’t Go There cover to cover, I turned to my thick Lonely Planet California book. Too big. I turned to my smaller Pacific Northwest book. The first thing that caught my eye was a blurb about coffee. The Pacific Northwest prizes their coffee, it said. My expansive road trip suddenly turned into a vacation of hanging out in Portland and Seattle and enjoying good coffee. Contrary to what one might expect, New York is not a city where high coffee standards prevail, so the coffee meccas out there would be a vacation for me.

To conclude this ramble, my goal is to make some aspect of this trip a reality. Hopefully my siblings will join me on it, but if that doesn’t work, I’d like to go with a friend or two. I’ll provide updates about my progress, and for anyone who has trip planning/Pacific Coast/camping/driving advice, please comment!

Road trippin’ across these United States

This morning, I wished I had a dog, so the walk I took to the Hudson River would have some purpose.

It did have a purpose though, not that it needed to. As I looked across to New Jersey–not that far away, then at a slow-moving barge, and then at the elegant George Washington Bridge, with its cars that look like small white legos, and then beyond, I wondered what you see if you keep moving up the river. Then, I started to think about how great it would be to see that other amazing coast, the one on the west.

Inspired by my cousin, who is currently on a road trip across these United States, I have decided I want to take a trip this August either across the country, ending in Seattle, and then driving South through California, or I want to just fly to Seattle or Vancouver and continue to drive south until I reach Mexico with stops in Portland, San Francisco, Monterrey, L.A., San Diego, and other places as yet off my radar.

I don’t know if this new curiosity about the other coast has to do with the larger forces of the economic crisis, which has bred terms like the “staycation” and perhaps forced us to look inward at our own nation and its possibilities. I think it has more to do with wanting to go on my first real road trip– a no frills, uncomplicated trip, sure–and a feeling that life is too short and unpredictable not to do stuff like this. So I guess, in a way, that thinking has to do with the economic crisis and the way it has flipped all sense of certainty about the future. As I often say, I think too much.

So here is to a new goal… If anyone has road trip thoughts, let me know.

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