October 22, 2018

Solo-Meandering the USA in my Dandelion

And on a shoestring.

By John Guy LaPlante

This is a big anniversary for me. How to observe it?

Exactly a quarter of a century ago I began and completed a this-way and that-way tour of 18,000 miles through our 48 states. My native land. Yes, alone. And writing about it along the way for my old paper, the Worcester (Mass.) Sunday Telegram.

Yes, 25 years ago! It was an adventure that became an Adventure.

It’s not an uncommon fantasy for people who have been hitched to a job for decades and are panting for retirement and a big adventure.

You know the fantasy. Roaming our highways and byways and finally getting to see the real United States at leisure. Stopping and going at will. Beholding the Grand Canyon and Big Sur, Savannah and San Diego, the cotton fields of Mississippi and the lettuce fields of southwestern Arizona. Falling in with good folks everywhere and making the most of serendipitous moments at any curve or crest.

And doing all this wonderful stuff alone. In a small RV, freed of the daily drain of costly restaurants and motels.

Now that is a fantasy!

Then reality butts in. Up come fears of terrible things happening. Suppose I get a heart attack out there, all alone. Suppose I get mugged. Tough questions pop up. Can I really handle six months of this with nobody to share the burden and relieve the loneliness? Will things at home run along all right? Can I handle the problems and difficulties sure to come up? Can I afford the dollars and cents of it? Is it worth the effort and the uncertainty?

Few, I’m sure, decide yes. Most of us give up the big dream. We settle instead for a package tour, leaving the driving and the imagined headaches to others. Still others just play safe and stay home.

Well, I’ m one of the lucky ones. One of the loony ones, according to some. I made the big trip. I traveled around the 48 states for six months. In truth I made two sorties. After 14 great weeks in my first time out—covering nearly 6,000 miles–I developed emergency real estate problems back home and had to hurry back.

Then I started out again, altering the route as needed and happily running up 12,000 miles in pursuit of my adventure. A few things went wrong, and I had a scary confrontation with a thief bent on stealing Dandelion, my little Volkswagen RV—with me on board! But life would have been just as risky at home, I’m convinced.

There’s as good a chance that I might have slipped in my tub and had to wait a week to be discovered, or could have been assaulted in my own fair Worcester. That was my home back then.

On my first trip I wandered down the east coast to Key West, then along the Gulf Coast to Mobile, Al. That’s when I had to come home. I had averaged only 80 miles a day on the road during that  6,000 miles.

The second time I picked a different route. I headed up to Montreal (sounds strange, I know), then down to Pittsburgh. I followed the Ohio River to its meeting with the Mississippi in Cairo, Ill. I then followed Ol’ Miss to New Orleans. I returned to Florida, then drove west along the Gulf and through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona into southern California. Next I wandered up the Pacific to Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.

Me logical next step to get home would have been to drive across the northern tier of states. But it was January, and Dandelion, air-cooled as she was, was a cold, cold beast. So I turned back to southern California, then east through Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Oklahoma City, Little Rock, Memphis and Nashville, Akron and Scranton, and finally Worcester.

This trip lasted nearly six months also and covered that 12,000 miles.

When it was over, I felt it didn’t take anything remarkable on my part to make it happen, and I believe it’s a dream anyone reasonably fit and mildly adventurous can undertake successfully.

Think about it. No foreign languages necessary, no strange currencies to deal with. Stable prices. The country peaceful from ocean to ocean and border to border. No bad water to make you sick. No bad gas, in fact the cheapest gas on earth.

Good roads just about everywhere and good radio stations (well, that’s arguable). Convenience stores and supermarkets at nearly every corner and crossroads. And always a motel or hotel or hoselto fall back on, or just to brighten the routine.

In my gallivanting I got to behold some of our country’s most celebrated sites and sights and often stumbled onto nice little surprises. I made dips into Mexico as well as Canada. I ran into all kinds of people, 99 9/10 percent of them cordial (I’ll tell you about the thief soon).

And got a good look at the continental U.S. through my own eyes after a lifetime of seeing it through the media. I found the U.S. pretty darn nice, and our folks pretty nice also.

If you smile, people will smile back, my father used to say. I found this true in my work and our neighborhood. It was true on the road.

Of course I used common sense. I paid attention and steered clear of problematic neighborhoods. I was careful about where I stopped for the night. I listened to my sixth sense about which people to approach.

I didn’t feel at all deprived of the comforts left at home. In fact, the daily adventure of gypsying and making out was wonderfully rejuvenating. There was great zest and satisfaction to it. It was fun.

I did it on a budged that was quite modest and hardly exceeded what I would have spent at home. The problems and irritations were minor. The biggest irritation was getting correct street directions to someplace. Often the directions were vague or inaccurate, or my understanding was. So I learned to question carefully and double-check with a second person if possible.

I did it all in Dandelion. She was VW’s Westfalia model. Oh, I had bought her a couple of years earlier.  To take short jaunts and have fun. I called her Dandelion because she was a sunny yellow. She made me feel cheerful just looking at her. And I could spot her instantly in any parking lot, which was handy.

Didn’t I have the right to call her she? After all, she was my safe and lovely little land yacht mile after mile, her Porsche engine  humming sweetly as she carried me up the long grades, across the mountains, across the vast and lonely stretches, sheltering me in heat and cold and rain.

We were not youngsters. She was a ’78 and I a ’29, quite compatible. We both had lots of miles on us, and we both had new parts—mine being a pair of implanted cataract lenses.

As we traveled, she got to need a few additional replacements—muffler, fuel pump, a couple of tires. I did not. I enjoyed my cup of coffee and she a pint of oil. We got along fine.

The Westfalia was VW’s factory-built camper, nearly self-contained. I say nearly because it had a sofa bed and a propane heater, a table and tiny closet, and a small sink and small stove, but no refrigerator and no toilet.

I had a small ice chest but soon felt I didn’t need it. The lack of a toilet was more serious. I’m fairly regular, thank goodness. With the plenitude of fast-food restaurants and other public places, there was no problem. That’s how I handled number 2 urgencies. For number 1 urgencies in Dandelion I used a milk bottle. I remember that’s what Charles Lindberg had used on his historic flight across the Atlantic.

Bathing was more challenging. But there were ways. I found that my YMCA card got me into Y’s in larger cities for a shower, a swim, sometimes a steam bath.  A few times I stopped at a motel around 11 a.m., when the maids were making up the rooms. Not to sleep, just to shower. A few dollars got me towel and soap and a room number. I was never turned down. Also I got good at sponge baths in Dandelion every morning.

I rarely spent a night in a campground or RV park. Many of them were excellent. It’s just that I did not need their services. In many places, especially in peak seasons, you have to begin searching for one in late afternoon—far too early for me—and often have to drive miles out of  your way to get to one. In the morning you must drive a long ways back to return to your route.

Most of the time I parked by the side of a street. Literally. I would look for a residential street in a quiet neighborhood around 11 p.m., pick out a quiet spot, not isolated, park among other cars/ I didn’t want to be the only vehicle. That would work fine. I’d be up and gone by 7 a.m.

I had other strategies also. A few times I slipped into a handy used car lot.  No reason why Dandelion couldn’t pass as a used car for the night.  I know that wasn’t quite kosher and some of you will tsk-tsk me, and that’s all right. I had few problems.

Once around 4 a.m. I was awakened by a loud slap on Dandelion’s flank and the cry, “Police!” A young officer on cruiser patrol. He focused his flashlight on me. “License and registration, please!” He looked at them and frowned.

I told him my story….just a harmless senior citizen seeing the country and looking for a safe place for the night.

He chuckled. “You know, you nearly got away with it. What I couldn’t figure was, ‘How come a used car with a bicycle on its front end?’”

He returned my documents and told me to go back to bed. “Just make sure you’re on the road by 6:3o a.m.!”

I was also checked out in Florida by a policeman as I was parked and asleep on St. Petersburgh’s famous Pier around 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Unusually early, I know, but I wanted to attend the midnight liturgy at St. Peter’s Cathedral nearby. A knock on the van. A man in blue. I explained.

“Okay, that’s all right with me, Pop,” he said. “But just move over under that light up the street. Safer over there.” I thanked him and did that and then returned to bed.It was a beautiful and memorable service at St. Peter’s.

On Christmas morning, missing my loved ones and wanting to mark the day, I went to another service, at St. Andrew’s, also in St. Pete. I stayed afterward for a festive dinner in the church hall. It turned out to be a wonderful Christmas.

My usual routine was to rise early and eat breakfast in Dandelion, then go to the nearest McDonald’s or Burger King or Roy Rogers for coffee (and once in a while for breakfast) and to read the local newspaper…and to use the bathroom. Reading the paper was essential. I wanted to keep up on the news and learn something about whatever community I was in.

I’d eat a simple lunch in Dandelion or picnic in a nice spot. Evenings I’d eat out at a local joint. Around 9 p.m. I’d seek out another McDonald’s or such for coffee and a cone of fake ice cream. I’d scribble a page or two in my journal and read one of my travel guides for the next day.

I’d try to get into a talk with somebody who looked interesting. Many of the folks were engaging, offering information and suggesting nice things to see or do. I don’t recall a bad encounter.

One evening I was sketching—copying a newspaper photo. Sketching faces was a hobby of mine. Two black men nearby of my age noticed. I said hello, and they asked me about my sketching.

“Why don’t you let me do a sketch of you,” I said to the one with the jaunty baseball cap.

“Yes sir,” he said, “if you feel it’s worth the effort.” He was smiling. Both sat down with me in my booth.

Franklin was his name. He told me he was the minister of a nearby church. We had a good chat and he liked my sketch. I signed it and dated it and handed it to him. He tucked it carefully into his magazine.

“Now you be careful,” he said as he and his friend stood to leave. “Don’t you park down there for the night,” he said, pointing. “That be drug country. Bad country.  You spend the night over thataway,” and pointed the direction. “You be all right over there.”

That’s what I did. A tranquil night.

I stayed at hostels six times. I carried an American Youth Hostels membership card and their national directory. AYH has a serious image problem.  Naturally many people believe AYH is for young people only. Most do not realize AYH is for youth of all ages. Most of the time I was the oldest youth in the place.

Hostels are basic and spartan—most often just a dormitory bunk and kitchen to cook your meals. With a bathroom down the hall.  But invariably clean and well run.  They require an ID when you sign in. That keeps out riffraff.

They’re wonderful for meeting other travelers…a delightful bunch, most on the youngish side, often students, often from foreign counties. I stopped at hostels in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania and California and Oregon, and they’re among my pleasant memories. I recommend them.

I also visited with friends in Montreal and Hallandale, Fl,., and Albuquerque, New Mex., and Salem, Or.

And with my three children. My son Arthur was practicing law in Miami. My daughter Monique was a lawyer in California. My son Mark was a doctoral student in economics at the University of Washington in Seattle. “You’ve got it made,” my friends would say. In the travel sense, yes, though I always hoped they’d settle nearby.

“You went alone!” people often remarked to me. Yes, alone. The best reason was I didn’t have anyone to bring along. Sure, there were lonely stretches and it would have been a pleasure to have the right companion riding next to me. The up side, of course, is that not once did I have a bright day spoiled by the little misunderstandings and disputes that can pop up.

The driving was rarely boring, even through the long stretches of western Texas.  It’s there and places like that that I’d see signs like “State Prison. Do not pick up hitchhikers!” and “Poisonous and Insects Inhabit Area,” and “No services next 70 miles!” They’d make me think and wonder.

I enjoyed radio. It could be good company. But in some parts of the country, radio was a wasteland. Drivel.  And through some areas, of course, no reception.

All this makes me sound like a loner. I hate the word. So often stories about murderers and other sociopaths mention he—rarely she—was a loner. Extremely pejorative. I love the company of some people. Some I prefer to skip. What does that make me?

Well, in a sense I was a loner, but a card-carrying one.  I took a one-year membership in “Loners on Wheels,” a national club. I attended one of their get-togethers….wonderful people sitting around with coffee cups and sharing pot-luck dinners. Very nice. But not something I’d drive miles out of my way to get to.

I also joined the VW Limbo Club. Strange name, I know.  It was for people who drive little campers like my Dandelion. Nice people, given to restoring their VW’s, talking things mechanical, sharing travel tips, and providing mutual assistance. They published a list of members across the U.S. who stand ready to help you out and often, let you park in their yard. I held the directory at hand but never got to use it.

We with VW’s were a close fraternity. We’d see another VW coming and of course would raise a hand in salute. But those drivers so often seemed to be about 23 years old and have a pony tail and an earring. Imagine their surprise when they’d see me.

Some items were indispensable and I had them all tucked in my wallet. My driver’s license. My AAA card for peace of mind. My ATM card, which let me do my banking in big cities and little towns all over the country—and its monthly reports turned out to be a fine record of where I was every day and how much I spent.

My Blue Cross / Blue Shield card, good for medical services everywhere. Never had to use it.

My AT&T card.  Every Sunday morning was catch-up time. I’d locate a public phone and make calls across the country.

Also my passport, but never was I asked to see it, even when I crossed into Mexico and Canada. And my Social Security card, of course, proclaiming my citizenship in the best country in the world.

I did have one scare about my ATM card. I was about to meet my son Arthur for lunch in the downtown skyscraper in Ft. Lauderdale where he had his office. In the lobby I noted an ATM machine with a Cirrus logo…which was my bank’s network. I went on and had lunch with Arthur. Strolling back, I spotted the ATM and said to him, “Wait just a minute.”

I inserted my card. Instead of it spewing out the dollars I requested, it spit out a white slip. “Sorry, buddy, your card is not valid and we must confiscate it.” Something like that. The machine had gobbled up my precious plastic! I couldn’t believe it. I was furious.

I called the bank. It turned out I had used a different machine, not Cirrus affiliated. An attendant was scheduled to service the machine tomorrow, and I’d get my card back then. Tomorrow! I needed it now—I had an appointment to leave Ft. Lauderdale in the morning. The clerk checked again: sorry, a mistake. The attendant would be there this afternoon. I had my card back within the hour.

The next morning I left Arthur’s in his bedroom town of Plantation and headed west on 1-75 across the Everglades toward Ft. Myers on the Gulf Coast. It’s called Alligator Alley. The Everglades are flat and boring, well, to a motorist in a hurry. Darn few houses. A gray, sunless day.

Half way, I spotted a small shopping center on the left and turned off at a cloverleaf to get to it.  For a quick coffee.  Then I got back on the highway for the final half…drove on and found myself right back in Plantation! Well, I stopped at an auto parts store and bought a dashboard compass. Then I turned Dandelion 180 degrees and finally got across to Ft. Myers.

That $4 wonder saved me more than once. It was a boon not only in open country but in cities.

A great idea was my bike, the 12-speeder I kept hitched above Dandelion’s front bumper. I’d been a bike rider for years and I thought bringing it would be good for exercise. It became a great help for sightseeing, especially in big-city downtowns where parking was difficult and expensive. I’d park a mile out on a quiet side street and pedal in. Far easier way to get a lot of sight-seeing in.

For instance, I used my bike every day in Philadelphia. I had planned to stay a weekend. I stayed six days because so much to see and do.

I rode my bike in Huntsville, Savannah, St. Augustine, New Orleans, San Diego, Seattle, Yuma, dozens of places.

I even biked into Mexico…into the small down of Algadones, just across the border from Yuma. I had heard that hordes of Americans poured over every day, primarily to buy cheap medicines. I wanted to see.

I parked Dandelion on the American side within sight of the Mexican flag and pedaled over. The Mexican customs officer waved me through. I reached the first “farmacia” in minutes, and sure enough, it had half a dozen customers, all Americans, all senior citizens.

Then I rode up and down the main street. It was lined with more pharmacies, clinical laboratories, opticians, dentists, chiropractors, physicians, some of them specialists, even surgeons. All advertising in English, as well as tourist and souvenir shops and eateries.

I entered another farmacia. Business was very good. The customers were Americans. Business was in English. The place was as modern and attractive as any back home. Clerks in spotless white jackets checked prescription availabilities on their computers, then assembled the orders from groaning shelves.

I asked the clerk for Prednisone, 5 mg, 100 capsules. It was a widely used medication, relatively inexpensive. They had it. She quoted the price, not in pesos, but dollars and cents, and spoke to me in excellent English. The price was 60 percent of what I usually paid. But I had a problem. “I don’t have a prescription,” I said. None needed. “Tax?” No tax.

The package she gave me was printed in English and the pills were made in New Jersey by an American company. Some customers were walking out with big bags of prescriptions. I couldn’t believe it.

Back at the border the American officer asked if I had bought anything. “Medicine,” I said, holding up my tiny bag.  He waved me back into the U.S. perfunctorily.

I also rode my bike into Canada … in an unplanned visit to Victoria, the charming and sophisticated capital of British Columbia.

I had stopped in Port Angeles, Wash., in late afternoon. Spotting a senior center, I had wandered in …. always a nice place to meet people. A man—“just call me Boyd”—invited me to play pool. We played two games (I lost).  Learning about my travels, he said, “Do take the ferry over to Victoria tomorrow.” He pointed out the window to the Strait of San Juan de Fuca.  Just a mile away. “Victoria is a lovely bit of England. You’ll have a grand time.”

I took his advice. I rode my bike onto the ferry the next morning. She was the MV Coho, a big, comfortable ship capable of hauling a hundred cars and trucks, it seemed. She would make the 22-mile crossing in 90 minutes.

Soon I was settled in one of the spacious lounges with a splendid view of the strait. I got to talking with Don Brown, a smiling Manitoba cattle and wheat farmer, returning home after a vacation in San Diego.

He had a special interest in my Massachusetts: an ancestor had taught at Tufts University in its early days.

As we entered Victoria harbor, I joined him on deck to watch. A beautiful city, attractively laid out along the water. And! Three seals gamboled off our port bow as a Canadian welcoming committee. Very nice.

My bike maximized my pleasure. I picked up a map and pedaled around the compact downtown, visiting a grand hotel, the city library, the provincial museum, Parliament, and a couple of shopping centers. There was a sophistication and politeness that were remarkable.

Back in South Carolina the bicycle had saved me when I ran out of gas on a country road. No gas station, no telephone in sight. I strapped my gas can to the rear carrier and pedaled off, reaching a station in a mile and a half. In 30 minutes Dandelion was humming again.

I ran out of gas four times. It sounds stupid, I know, but it wasn’t. The gauge was faulty. I had it tinkered with, but unsuccessfully.

I must say each of the incidents had a pleasant twist.

The fourth time occurred on 1-5 north of Sacramento, Cal.  Heavy traffic. I stood by Dandelion’s side, red gas can in my left hand, my thumb extended hopefully. Drivers whizzed by, most looking the other way.

Now stops an 18-wheeler truck behind me, with a national logo. With not one trailer, but two. Dave Winterton, 32, the driver, was delivering paper towels from Portland, Ore, to Phoenix, Ariz.  He drove me to the first exit—17 miles—and insisted on turning off the interstate to get me to a gas station.

I said thank you. “Get your gas,” he told me. “Then I’ll drive you back.” I couldn’t believe it. Later, when he left me off by Dandelion, I asked him for the name and address of his boss. Told Dave I wanted to tell his boss about Dave’s incredible generosity. “No, no!” Dave insisted. “Please do not do that! Please don’t!”

My worst accident accident was a front left blow-out (I hit a piece of junk metal) after dusk outside Pittsburgh. I managed to keep control and pull over.  Across the street was a coffee shop. The clerks, two gray-haired ladies, were sympathetic and offered me the telephone to call AAA’s 800 number

The woman answering gave me a local garage number. But that garage couldn’t come. It referred me to another garage. This one said yes. A truck with two men showed up in a half hour. In 15 minutes I was on my way on my spare.  It was my only call to AAA on the trip.

Now finally about the fellow trying to steal Dandelion. The terror struck in the middle of the night outside a 24-hour supermarket in Norfolk, VA. I was asleep in Dandelion under a bright light in the parking lot.

I was awakened when my front door banged shut and was astounded to see a man squeezing into  my driver’s seat. Preparing to try starting Dandelion!

“Hey!” I yelled.

“Who dat?”  he said, looking back. He was black, about 25, muscular.

“Get the hell out!”

Slowly I picked up the can of Mace I kept by the bed as I slept. But I worried: Mace is potent stuff. In this tiny space for sure I too would get a whiff. But I was determined. If he made a move toward me, I’d give him a squirt.

But he bolted—he opened the door and ran off. My heart was pounding. I hopped behind the wheel, found the key, started Dandelion, and drove off. Away, just to get away.

I was barefoot. It was surprisingly painful to work the clutch and the brake with my tender feet. But I drove on, trying to calm down. I kept thinking I could have become one of those tragic items in the news: “Elderly Massachusetts Man Killed in Supermarket Lot.”

I replayed it all in my mind. Of course I had locked the door. I locked it every night. But had I? My habit was to hit the button with my elbow. I think I missed the button this time.

Finally I parked in front of some nice houses. Very quiet neighborhood. It was a while before I dozed off. In the morning I thought it was all a nightmare. But how come I was parked here? And not at the supermarket?

Time and again people asked me, “You must have read ‘’Travels with Charley?”’ or ‘Blue Highways?’” Yes, I had. John Steinbeck and William Heat-Moon were both solo travelers like me, though Charley was Steinbeck’s pet poodle. I read both when they came out, from cover to cover. Countless others have also, and the books have become classics of the open road.

I garnered good ideas from them. For instance, Steinbeck wrote that at any of the places he camped at for the weekend, on Sunday morning he would put on a white shirt, a necktie, and his blue blazer and go to church. What church didn’t matter much. Meeting the people was the main point. I did that, too, attending Catholic, Unitarian, Episcopal, Presbyterian services, even Mennonite once.

I got to the Mennonite church late. Had a hard time finding it. I had on my white shirt, tie, and blue blazer. Two men welcomed me when I walked in. They wore white shirts, but no tie, and jackets, but without lapels. The service started.  The men all sat on the left. All dressed like my host. All the women on the right, in bonnets and long dresses.

My host walked me nearly to the front, had me sit in a pew on the left. Boy, did I stand out!

A few hymns. The minister walked to the pulpit and spoke. He had just returned from a month in Haiti. Told us about the great poverty. Reminded us how lucky we were to be Americans. Said the special collection would be sent to Haiti.

The service continued. At one point a  loud clap. Everyone jumped up, turned and faced the rear, knelt, and rested their head on the pew. The minister said a prayer. Another loud clap. Everyone jumped up and faced the altar again. That happened twice.

At the end, I walked out with the others. The two men were waiting for me. Asked about me. I explained. One invited me to dinner. He was disappointed when I said thank you but couldn’t?

How could I ever forget a wonderful experience like that?

At a Methodist church, one a man gave me a tour of town afterward. At an Episcopal church the minister asked newcomers to identify themselves. I stood and talked for a minute, mentioned my solo touring. Afterward a lawyer slipped me his business card. He jotted his home number on it as well. “Call me if I can be of any help,” he said. And I knew he wasn’t talking about legal business. Lots of people were wonderful.

“Blue Highways” inspired me in a different way. I loved Heat-Moon’s basic idea: road maps used blue ink to indicate secondary roads and he’d use those roads.

Smarting from a failed relationship and a set-back in his college teaching career, he felt he needed a change. He set out in a fixed-up van along “blue highways.” He resolved not to use Interstates and not to skirt small cities and towns, but to get into them and meet their ordinary folk. So he stopped at cafes and taverns and roadside stands and stores and savored the real America. Great idea.

I did the same thing, though I favored fast-foods. Still I met the ordinary folk. I chose the slow roads mostly all through the east. It got harder in places like Arizona and New Mexico, where interstates are the only practical choice, though I wandered off when possible. On the Pacific Coast I traveled “blue” again mostly.

There was a price: the frustrating stop-and-go through the gauntlet of gas stations, muffler shops and fast-foods that line up the front and back of ever city, big and small, in the U.S.

In many places the McDonald’s and Taco Bells and Jack in the Boxes are de facto community centers where locals gossip for coffee and gossip. They’re like the pubs of England and the tavernas of Greece and such but without booze. People can sit and talk for hours and do. I loved them. They’re among some of the most democratic institutions we have. Everybody stops in. They were a regular stop for me all the way.

Supermarkets, shopping malls, museums, farmers’ markets, university campuses, flea markets, libraries, I frequented them all. And met wonderful people.

What this country is a good “industry” guide. To lead us to factories and plants and farms which welcome tourists and see how things we buy and use get made. There are countless guides listing parks and museums and monuments, but I don’t know of a single such guide. Too bad.

Our libraries … they deserve a special word. I visited prestigious ones in great cities and proud universities, and tiny ones in towns and villages. All wonderful.

The American library … what a splendid and wonderful concept: take home anything on their shelves we choose, enjoy it, bring it back in two weeks, no charge. We take our libraries for granted. Rare in the world! Here I was, a complete stranger just passing through and I was always admitted and given gracious service.

Did I have a favorite place?  My answer was, many. Essex, Conn., Cumberland, Md., Charleston, S.C., St. Petersburg, Fl., Beaumont, Tex., Yuma, Ariz., La Jolla and San Luis Obispo, Cal., Astoria, Ore., Victoria, B.C., Santa Fe, N. Mex., Little Rock, Ark., Lancaster,  Penn. Last but not least, Worcester, Mass., as I said, my home town.

Definitely I preferred the smaller cities to the big ones. Sorry, New York. Sorry, Pittsburg. Sorry, Los Angeles.  Sorry, San Francisco.  Sorry, New Orleans.

What was the big pay-off? The memories. Of places I saw, things I did, people I met.

Fascinating places. The Amish corner of Ohio. The Blue Ridge Skyway. Port Everglades, Fl., and its  great cruise ships. New Orleans’ famous Jackson Square and its jazz players. Balboa Park in San Diego and Chinatown in Vancouver.  The Redwood Highway in California. Lake Union in Seattle, Hoover Dam in Nevada. The Ozarks in Arkansas.

You probably notice I haven’t mentioned national parks and monuments. I had visited many in previous years with my family, and I got to see more in future years.

Many memorable experiences. The Rodin Museum in Philadelphia. The humongous Green Dragon Flea Market in Ephreta, Penn. Canoeing on Florida’s Cessahowitzka River. Standing in the footsteps of missionaries, adventurers and pioneers at the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

The hundreds—thousands—of RVs and their owners in the desert at Quarzsite, Ariz. The mountain lion I spotted outside Cambria, Cal. Unneeded jetliners stored in the dry air of the Mojave Desert. Hundreds of wind turbines whirling on the mountain crests in Tehechapi, Cal.

The helicopter flight I took over the Grand Canyon. The glitzy casino palaces—and no-waiting wedding chapels in Las Vegas. Massachusetts’ own very beautiful Quabbin Reservoir.

And the people. Retirees Frank and Edi Loughney of Hallandale, Fl., who visited 47 of the 48 states by Greyhound (still to come: Arkansas). Louis Girard of Quebec and St. Petersburg, Fl., who celebrated his 70th birthday with a parachute jump and took me up for a sight-seeing flight just before his 80th.  Bud Dodd of Gallipolis., Ill., retired police chief, who introduced me to his donkey Radar, “the best pet any man could have.”

Arthur Riles, 83, of tiny Cave In Rock., Ill., married and divorced seven times and still smiling. Jay Prefontaine, graduate student at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, where he was writing poems and short stories  like crazy as he struggled for success as a writer (his hometown: Auburn, Mass, my kids’ also). Carlos Eyles of Cayucos, Cal., writer and free-dive photographer of fishes and marine mammals, and his wife Margaret, a Rolfe therapist. And others.

Experiences and memories made possible by the good fortune of living in the USA, which guarantees me, you, all of us the fantastic freedom to travel like this.

Way up at the top of this account, I asked, how to celebrate the anniversary of this great adventure? Well, I’d love to take another trip around the country. You know, to see the changes. Alas, not possible.

But hey, I am up to one thing. I’ll take a celebratory pedal on my trike around downtown Morro Bay, Calif., which is now my home, sweet home. That’s a dandy daily adventure for me these days.

P.S. My computer tells me that you’re getting 6,434 words from me in this post. That’s the longest I’ve written in quite a while. Thank you for getting all the way down to the bottom of it with me.

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Have time for one more little story?

Originally this was written for the Travel Section of the great big Boston Sunday Globe.  Back then Sunday papers were nearly two inches thick. Remember?

Well, on Monday morning, the very next morning, I got a call from Tom Rooney, my age, a banker friend. “Hey, John, I read your travel story in yesterday’s Globe.  Great photos! And it was the longest, yeah the longest, in the whole paper!”

“Gosh, thank you, Tom.  The longest! I didn’t know that! But wasn’t it the best, too?”

He laughed. “I did read every word!”

Which pleased me. Hearing a reader say that is music to any author.

By the way, as I mentioned in the beginning of this piece, during this adventure I also wrote oh, a dozen detailed reports about it for the Worcester Sunday Telegram. I had put in 16 years at the paper in my younger years as a reporter, bureau chief, and  weekly columnist on the daily Telegram,  and in time feature writer on its Sunday magazine, and then editor of the magazine.  Those reports right from the open road all had photos.

Wish I had some of those photos for you now. Sorry, not available.

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Remember, dear readers, I welcome your comments, favorable and less so. I read them all. Just email them to me at johjnguylaplante@google.com. Your comments are my only remuneration.

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