Roadtrip: The Journey is the Destination

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Where is Shirley?

Timely Writer e1646366182602

Put Manchester’s Pam Eliason in the pantheon of American free-spirits who have set out to find meaning, meals and a clean bathroom while on the fly across our Passaic and prairies, Walla Walla and Wally World, Roswell and Rosebud. Jack Kerouac crawled. John Steinbeck glamped. Cheryl Strayed and Bill Bryson hiked. Robert Pirsig Zen-Motorcycled it.

Put Eliason in the Castro Convertible category. By day she drove her 2020 Honda Fit, and by night she carved out a niche under the hatch to sleep with the cooler, a fan and to ponder trying to fit into the tail of the subcompact. She stayed at registered campgrounds sans tent and hiking boots. Hers was a sneakers and sandals affair. She says she never felt unsafe and when in doubt, she sought out animal sanctuaries to stay at, perhaps reasoning, like Walt Whitman, that “I think I could turn and live with animals.”

Paul Theroux told Smithsonian in 2009: “The mixed blessing of America is that anyone can go anywhere…Travel is mostly about dreams.”

Eliason sallied forth with two modest dreams on June 16: To see the places of her youth in and around Pittsburgh and to see Mount Rushmore. We are longtime friends through church. Hearing about her trip was a religious experience.

Eliason, as a high muckety-muck scientist in real life, thrives on accuracy, but her fun half often wins out just before the slide rules take over. In short, she was born to be a scientist in a Gary Larson Far Side cartoon, perhaps the one putting a dead scorpion into her co-worker’s sandwich and then saying, “Hey! That sounds awfully crunchy for peanut butter and jelly!”

And she. She would take the road less traveled, known in map parlance as blue highways as opposed to the red interstates. Not that she had packed any paper maps. Steinbeck didn’t have no Google maps.

Her first major stop was in Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania, in search of her house from kindergarten to third grade. “I drove around and found it,” Eliason said. “The woman out front had no problem with this skeevy person scoping it out.”

There were other Pittsburgh joys. “Pittsburgh is a city of tunnels,” she said.” When I got to my first tunnel I had to stop and take a picture.”

“Weischedel Florist was my sweet spot,” she continued. “I used to steal grapes and cherry tomatoes there.”

Presumably, this wasn’t in the recent past.

She horsed around at the Carnegie Art Museum (the industrialist had to have been a Pittsburgh Steelers fan) and serendipitously caught a beautiful Juneteenth dance display. On that same day, which corresponded with Father’s Day this year, she met her most memorable character of the ride, Coach Mike. Sitting at the counter of an unnamed diner outside Cleveland, Eliason had to wait a considerable time for service as a covey of motorcyclists descended for a meal at the same time. 

There is comfort in sharing your story at leisure with someone you know you’ll never see again and Coach Mike and our intrepid traveler hit it off, killing the better part of an hour over their counter stools.

“I’m talking you ear off!” Coach Mike apologized.

“No! No! This is great,” Eliason said, taking her hand off the dead scorpion in her purse. Coach Mike at the moment was coaching junior varsity bowling. It’s the kind of stuff that only happens on road trips.

Eliason had little use for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. “There was so much frenetic energy and noise,” she opined, grabbing a picture of a 3D arachnid-like representation of Pink Floyd’s The Wall as proof.

For those who think Indiana is a cultural wasteland, they have yet to visit Elkhart’s Hall of Heroes-Superhero Museum. “As soon as I walked in this young guy went into a three-minute schpiel about the museum and everything in it…and then he winked,” our traveler explained. “I thought this was odd but then saw him do the same thing to the family behind me.”

Wink. Wink. Nudge Nudge. Say no more! Superhero suits are tight. Superman was carrying quite a package and it certainly wasn’t kryptonite. As a drooling 12-year-old, I didn’t care if Catwomen Julie Newmar and Eartha Kit had any superpowers other than their impressively snug costumes when they appeared on Batman.

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Mars, Indiana.

One memorable night, car camping meant listening to the mating calls of the entire bullfrog population of Indiana. In imitation, Eliason sent out her own barbaric yawp of “Rabir! RABIR!” like a person trying to yell with a frappe in their mouth. It’s good she didn’t keep that up all night or she might have scared away the several ghost horses that came and went from nowhere in the wee hours.

There is so much more dear reader. How can a few words do justice to Mars, Indiana? The Corn Palace? The Nutcracker Museum? The Badlands? Carhenge? The Black Hills? (a monetary offering for the sacred land of the Lakota has been refused. As the $12 billion meter ticks, the Lakota want their land back, thank you very much).

Eliason saw Rushmore as both impressive and strangely unforgettable: “Once you look up Jefferson’s nostrils, you can’t unsee them.”

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Mt. Rushmore.
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Once you look up Jefferson’s nostrils, you can never unsee them.

Seeking a last highlight before circling back, Eliason mistakenly stopped at Nebraska’s Wall Drug, no doubt lured on the tri-state invasion of Wall Drug billboards.

Humorist Bill Bryson described Wall Drug in The Lost Continent thusly: “It’s an awful place, one of the world’s worst tourist traps, but I loved it and won’t have a word said against it.”

“Everybody said to go to Wall Drug,” Eliason said. “I had a beer and a burger. I got a picture of this guy, and then I was out of there.”

Not so for Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece in the western Pennsylvania woods. It is a timeless work. From wherever anyone stands on the property, there are both the sight and the sound of moving water. But alas, as Simon & Garfunkel sang on the Bridge Over Troubled Water album, “So long, Frank Lloyd Wright…”

She was back home July 1.

Eliason says she can’t wait to do it all again.

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Pam’s first car was a Gremlin. Could it be THE one at Nebraska’s Carhenge?



About this Author

John Angelo

John Angelo’s humor has appeared in “Publisher’s Weekly,” “Writer’s Digest,” and “American Bookseller.” He is a frequent contributor to the “New Hampshire Business Review.” For a Christmas concert at his Catholic grammar school, the nuns told him to mouth the words and that he’d better not make a sound under any circumstances.