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Spare Change

a travel blog by roel krabbendam


We are prying our fingers one by one off the east coast of the United States and moving to Tucson, Arizona, one truck stop, cheap motel or greasy spoon at a time.

120F last Friday in Tucson: looking forward to sweating and swatting snakes and scorpions in the Sonoron Desert.

Or not...
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"C"

Framingham, United States


We spend our time searching for security and hate it when we get it. ~John Steinbeck, America and Americans

The letter for today, Elmo, is the letter C.

To the Romans it meant 100, but I’m thinking more about Consuming Caffeine and Copious Quantities (Cheating a bit there with the Q, I know) of Cholesterol, in Cheap Cafes, Cruising Cross-Country, in a Convertible (Car, not Castro…), to see Canyons, and Cactii…I originally named this trip Cholesterol, but I’m really thinking about Change. Colossal Change. After 10 years on the east coast, we are moving to tuCson.

Arizona.

No C. This essay would work so much better if we were moving to Connecticut, with 3.

We’ll be living near my mother and my brother. Otherwise, what’s the point in having them? My top secret master plan is to build a compound and install my entire family around me, so that later, when I’m older and even grouchier there will be lots of kids available to keep me focused on something other than my impending demise.

Thinking strategically here, people: focusing on the future.

What you have become is the price you paid to get what you used to want. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960

Among other reasons for leaving our life here behind is a sinking feeling that our efforts to get ahead left us simply elsewhere in a maze of corridors all the same. It is an awkward kind of security, knowing too much about tomorrow. For all of our striving with time ticking by, one place looks and feels exactly like the last, each day the same, no sense whatsoever of progress beyond an accumulation of gray hair. We suffered from a diminution of hope, a hardening of our habits, a clotting of our vital juices, a cholesterol of the psyche.

Hope requires faith in the possibility of change, and change is what we’re betting on to restore our trust in the future. It seems slightly archaic or simply naïve to believe in change, as if we wouldn’t be dealing with ourselves whether we moved or not. Perhaps this is a way, on the other hand, not to find ourselves but to lose ourselves, or to get beyond ourselves: to fuss less in any case about our own nest and pay more attention to the horizon…and what better place, than the wide open space, of the wild, walmart west? West, with no C.

For Sale. $399,800. Acton’s original 1798 Schoolhouse. Now 3 bedrooms and 1½ baths.
The schoolhouse is right on the town common, and the town mows the front yard.
The Town Hall and the Library are right down the street.
The schools are some of the best in the state.

Good bye.


permalink written by  roel krabbendam on July 24, 2007 from Framingham, United States
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Change of Pace

New York, United States


Traveling by bicycle provides ample time for observation and reflection, and affords contact with a rich panoply of individuals that alas, a car immediately denies you. That satisfying “cha-hungk” of the driver’s side door, so carefully considered by car manufacturers, seals you like Tupperware behind the windshield, whether your top is up or down. It is the secret source, I suspect, of that peculiarly American shallow over-friendliness, a sure sign of isolation.
We are in a lime green Saab convertible traveling typically between 60 and 90 Miles per hour, a speed friendly to feline wildlife found not at all on this continent, and to fellow citizens in air conditioned Continentals. It lends itself not at all to casual contact.
We will see what we can nevertheless, even if it ends up a mere flip book of shots through the windshield, and I will rely a little more on what others have written: Bernard-Henri Levy with his peculiarly French musings on everything American, (American Vertigo, c2007, Random House), and Michael Eric Dyson on New Orleans leached of its poor (Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster, c2007, Basic Civitas).


permalink written by  roel krabbendam on July 24, 2007 from New York, United States
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Changing Direction

Washington, United States


There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have often found in travelling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one's position, and be bruised in a new place. ~Washington Irving

The news out of Washington often as not involves change: embracing change or holding the course, more of the latter since we entered Iraq, and screw the consequences. We will never know, I suppose, if offering this country as an easy target over there spared it from assault over here. Its actually not a horribly bad theory, as much as I despise serving up teenagers and the poor to something as theoretical as that. Does possibly improved security at home merit 3 or 5 or 10 definitely dead teenagers a day? It feels a little like voodoo, a little too much like Aztec virgin sacrifice, the kind of ritual that makes us feel so superior when we read about it in high school history class.

Meanwhile, young interns arrive in Washington every summer, swearing allegiance to the cult of change, finding meaning in the possibility of it, and it’s undeniable: there’s no inspiration in “staying the same”. Conservatism thrives where fear erodes faith in the future, except when its fear of the status quo I suppose. Hillary and Barack sprinkle fairy dust of the past and of possible futures, and I say: “good for them”. Politics without hope is no more inspiring than a junior high food fight. The politics of fear is undeniably worse.Personally, the only thing I expect of politics is an effort to get everyone on the same page: a little inspiration, a view to the future, a sense of hope. The economy does what it does, and frankly I’ve never quite understood the relationship between who’s in charge and what I earn. What I do understand, however, is the embarrassment I currently feel when I tell a foreigner I’m from the US. It feels like an act of kindness when they don’t blame me personally for the failings of this country and the dishonesty of its administration, because I know perfectly well that I too bear some responsibility, sipping these frappaccinos and driving this convertible.


permalink written by  roel krabbendam on July 24, 2007 from Washington, United States
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Change Agent

Washington, United States


“Be the change you want to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi

The Lincoln monument is among my favorites here, a strangely reassuring figure commemorating an assassination perhaps, an emancipation certainly, a man and an ideal most of all.

I went to a hypnotist years and years ago, when I had still not passed the oral component of my California state architectural exam after three tries, and when she asked me to imagine two things that would help me pass the exam, one image that came to me was my grandfather on my father's side with his hand on my shoulder. The feeling of that, of comfort and security and strength, was exactly what hit me as Mia and I walked the steps of the Lincoln Memorial late at night, all kinds of people gathered here unexpectedly at such a late hour, the darkness framing our approach and focusing our attention on the brightly lit figure inside, Lincoln imagined by Daniel Chester French in the early years of the twentieth century. That 28 blocks of carved stone should elicit such emotion, that is a remarkable achievement.

"IN THIS TEMPLE, AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE UNION, THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN IS ENSHRINED FOREVER".

"Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth." Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. 100 years later from these steps:

"Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon of light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity....."

....."I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character...."

"....When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village, every hamlet, from every state, and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual,....Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

My thanks to http://www.epinions.com/content_118944272004 for the facts.

permalink written by  roel krabbendam on July 24, 2007 from Washington, United States
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Secret Agents

Richmond, United States


"They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself." Andy Warhol

There’s nothing particularly elegant about tunnels typically, as hard to admire as an esophagus, self-effacement verging on complete invisibility.Tunnels are secret, and mysterious and grounded, and deep: digging to the heart of matter.While a bridge will dazzle with impressive connections vaulting all obstacles, a tunnel impresses by dealing with every little impediment along the way.The best bridges: elegant, inspiring, full of grace. The best tunnels: not so much. Tunnels are evasive perhaps, but also profound. Whether you call someone "shallow" or call someone “deep”, it may well be they are tunnellers: change agents from below, secret agents.


permalink written by  roel krabbendam on July 25, 2007 from Richmond, United States
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Change of Clothes

Williamsburg, United States


Just because everything is different doesn't mean anything has changed. ~Irene Peter
Here on the left is a gentleman pretending he is from the 18th century (an actor?), or perhaps he is merely dressing up for our benefit and he is still being himself (a mannequin?), or perhaps he really feels more comfortable in an 18th century ambiance, (a transvestite?), or perhaps he is truly frustrated in this era and craves the means to live as an 18th century man, a trans-epochal you might call him. 80 families apparently live here in Colonial Williamsburg, and they probably all feel differently about it. We didn’t ask them.

Levy accuses Americans of collection without discernment, the museumification ofthe banal and a preference for modern simulation over historic artifact. “Defeat of the archive. Triumph of kitsch” (Levy, p29). Williamsburg would not dissuade him.

I see it more benevolently as the triumph of theater over dry facts, a movie culture rejecting 8th grade history class in favor of a little more drama. Who can blame them, these mythical average Americans? They didn’t have the benefit of Mr. Winslow Smith as an American History teacher, and for them it never really came alive. I read Mr. Smith’s obituary last year, and immediately his dry and dramatic manner came right back to me, 30 years now since I graduated from Junior High. For Mr. Smith, history was drama, and for one short school year I feel privileged to have heard and felt his point of view.

Mia wanted to see Williamsburg because of the American Girl dolls collection, a collection of hideously expensive popettes I fruitlessly swore we would never buy her, each evoking an epoch of American history. “Felicity” peeked her interest very early in her life, lending this visit the overtones of a pilgrimage. Mia’s satisfaction at trying on straw hats and visiting the millenary and trying her hand at calligraphy with a quill pen was our reward. She left exceedingly satisfied with the visit.


permalink written by  roel krabbendam on July 25, 2007 from Williamsburg, United States
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Eternal

Kill Devil Hills, United States


All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward. ~Ellen GlasgowHere near the site of the first Wright brother’s flight, we spend a morning on the beach at Kill Devil Hills. The hike over the dunes puts all signs of man at our backs, and for a while we waddle in the waves. The dogs are a little less eager. The eternal song of water on sand is a welcome break from the clock and the road and our destination on the other side of the continent.Memories from my last visit here clobber me rather unexpectedly, a break from college twenty-five years ago, leaving Ithaca, NY in a Spring snowstorm, driving an Orange Hornet non-stop to the warmth of this very place…did we camp somewhere, Laurie and I? I did not know then that she would move down here a short time later, and that I could not help but follow, and that this was an early chapter in a very long and emotional book. The dogs bark, bringing me back to the present, and I look around at the sun glittering on the water, and at my two girls shrieking with pleasure in the waves, and at a sky, a sky of the most unusual and surprising depth and color, and I am reminded that this now, this-here-now, this instant and this instant and this instant, eternally, this is what matters.Sometimes I forget.

permalink written by  roel krabbendam on July 26, 2007 from Kill Devil Hills, United States
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Fast Food

Morehead City, United States


A gentleman on the ferry recommends El’s in Morehead City, NC for dinner, and that’s where we pull in around 8pm after a drive through the marshes from Cedar Island, through Smyrna and Beaufort, night slowly obscuring the landscape until our world narrows to the beam of our headlights, the story on the CD player, Mia’s hiccups. We are road weary, and our eyes sting, the Bright lights assaulting us like hallucinations.Pulling into the darkened lot, we are careful to douse our lights. A line of cars fans out, each facing in towards the kitchen, which glows supernaturally. A door opens. A woman steps out clutching menus, and several attending dogs weave ornate choreographies behind her as she approaches. I raise my eyes from their stupor, roll down my window, accept the menus. “Do you know what you want to eat”? The dogs kicking up dust behind her disperse as we give her our order.El’s is the self-professed "Home of the Super Burger": coleslaw, mustard, ketchup…perhaps some secret ingredients…that and the onion rings were surprisingly good. The waitresses take orders at the car and deliver it, a triumph of infrastructure minimization (its all kitchen and a very large exterior garbage can), maintenance minimization (no messy customers spilling coffee and catsup (which is it: ketchup or catsup?)), and good old American suburban isolation. Like home delivery, there is practically no opportunity for communalism. Everyone sits in their cars, in the dark, facing forward.

permalink written by  roel krabbendam on July 26, 2007 from Morehead City, United States
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Changing your mind

Atlanta, United States


The only difference between a rut and a grave is their dimensions. ~Ellen Glasgow

I’ve always wanted to visit New Orleans, and this trip seemed finally to offer that opportunity. Unfortunately, we changed our minds. Somewhere just north of Atlanta we realized we needed to be in Tucson within 2 days, and that’s a long, long way to go. 1,736.2 miles according to Yahoo Maps: 25 hours and 14 minutes of drive time. To get ready, we stopped at Polly’s college roommates house north of Atlanta and drank some of their fine scotch.

Levy celebrates Atlanta as a triumph of capitalism over racism, a “showcase of peaceful desegregation” (Levy, p.159), a city successful in elevating blacks into every nook and cranny of power where the mayor proclaims Atlanta “Too busy to hate”. Then he wonders, considering the enormous crimes perpetrated against blacks, if it isn’t a façade or willed forgetfulness, a decision not to bear witness. Our brief stop in the northern suburbs, where we actually see no blacks at all, begs the question “desegregation”?

So we changed our minds about visiting New Orleans.

I used to equate “changing my mind” with “failure”, but this led to a number of corollaries with disastrous implications. For example, on bicycle trips it became impermissible to ever retrace steps. This led to some fine(?) adventures in sodden farm fields, but also compounded navigational errors. In renovating condominiums, it became impermissible to sell before the renovation was complete. I learned some fascinating woodworking techniques, but the venture resulted in marital and financial toast. Now “changing my mind” gets filed with “breaking out of a rut” and/or “improved understanding”, and I work a lot harder at improving my understanding before making up my mind.

Anyway, while visiting New Orleans offered a textbook example of grappling with my current obsessing on “change”, going there seemed rather akin to shamelessly examining a car wreck or a cripple: we weren’t coming to help, we weren’t going to spend much money, and we weren’t staying long enough to achieve any real understanding.

We headed west on the I-20 instead of south to the I-10, across Georgia and Alabama and Louisiana, crossing the Mississippi river and managing 800 miles before calling it a night in Dallas, Texas.As we left Louisiana, at the first Texas exit, an exit numbered a daunting 600 something to give you just a little taste of the miles to come, with hunger etching little curlicues in our stomach linings, off to the right stood a tall pole announcing "Jim's B-B-Q (and Catfish)", and how could we possibly resist?The appearance evoked more authenticity than it inspired confidence, but we entered anyway and the staff and customers were terrific and funny (Polly almost backed our car through their plate glass and into the booth with the owner), and the food...the food...that was some incredibly delicious beef barbeque.


permalink written by  roel krabbendam on July 27, 2007 from Atlanta, United States
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Change of Venue

Dallas, United States


The fact is, neon enhanced motels and greasy spoons are very hard to find. The very premise of this trip was undermined from the start by the triumph of corporate standardization over the unique. Reliablility trumps Individuality. We've stayed in the following so far:
1. Holiday Inn Express, north of Richmond, VA
2. ...it will come to me...a beach hotel...the Holiday Inn was full..., Kill Devil Hills, NC
3. Red Roof Inn near Fayettville NC
4. La Quinta Inn north of Atlanta, GA

We are traveling, mind you, with two rambunctious dogs cooped up in a car all day: not every innkeepers dream guest. Most places added $10/dog to the bill if they accepted us at all.

Only the Red Roof Inn was disgusting, proving perhaps that corporate standards are no panacea, and the La Quinta north of Atlanta was absolutely wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that when it came to finding a hotel in the Dallas area we dialed 411 to find another one along Rte.20, and were directed to Arlington, Texas where there were several. When we arrived however, tired from the 12 hour, 850 mile haul from Atlanta, they were completely full…all of them. Family reunions and visiting athletic teams had every single room. There was a moment there of…not despair really, but…uh.

With the help of the desk clerk, we landed instead at Best Western just down the street.

College students drinking beer on the corridor veranda outside our room kept waking us up.

900 Miles to go, on not very much sleep. It’s a big country.




permalink written by  roel krabbendam on July 28, 2007 from Dallas, United States
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Here's a synopsis of my trips to date (click on the trip names to the right to get all the postings in order):

Harmattan: Planned as a bicycle trip through the Sahara Desert, from Tunis, Tunisia to Cotonou, Benin, things didn't work out quite as expected.

Himalayas: No trip at all, just...

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