We left LA on our ‘visit the friends and fam road trip’ in a firestorm of drinks, dinners, a farewell luncheon with my geriatric ladies, and engaged in one of life’s most underrated cultural events – the humble garage sale; an early morning jamboree of bargain hunters, odd-bods and low-grade criminals walking the streets picking up rubbish as part of their community service. First stop was Vegas, the highlight being the bathrooms in the Paris Casino and the French/english phrases they pump out through the stereo system; “I think you’re cute too, but I would like to get to know you first.”
On to the Hoover Dam (architecturally impressive but a picture from the car window will suffice) then a leisurely stroll along the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Continued along the majestic Navajo trail – a landscape you’d imagine on Mars but littered with two-bit towns comprising of old tyres, red rocks and a miserable collection of half finished trailers.
All this brilliant scenery, I should point out, quelled my usual illness of driving narcolepsy and I made an excellent companion, always ready with a piece of chewy, a tidbit of news from the lonely planet or a helpful hand-wipe.
A night in Moab, Utah (mullets, 4 wheel drives and singers doing curious versions of ‘goodbye yellow brick road’) a morning exploring the magnificent Arches National Park, then a fabulous drive to Boulder Colorado, with a view of the Rockies and their dusting of freshly fallen snow.
Once Gregory got over the shock of his culinary buddy having become a vegetarian (if my husband were an artist it would be like telling him he could only paint in black or white) we enjoyed a hike in the Rockies, an afternoon of tobogganing (keeping our feet dry with the poor man’s North Face – socks, plastic bag and another pair of socks) and a delicious meat free curry.
Week two of no bra or makeup and we were ready to tackle the great mid-west, dodging a snowstorm by stopping in Kansas City, Missouri. Home to the greatest number of water fountains outside of Rome, and – apparently - to seventeen national historic sights – though unless they were referring to the seventeen-odd miles of cornfields I’m not buying that title with a three-dollar bill.
It was right about here that diabetes, high cholesterol and scurvy became very real possibilities as we abandoned fruit and vegetables and delved into delicious mid-west BBQ on our way to the windy city.
Frank Sinatra said it was his kind of town and apart from the vicious winter weather, I’d say it’s my kind too. Of course we were given rock star treatment from another of Gregory’s chef friends; staying in his suite complete with steam room, wine humidifier and enough medicinal marijuana to numb a herd of elephants. Cocktails at the top of the Hancock building, deep dish pizza, hot doug’s hot dogs, Mr. Beef, Arabian style tacos, dinners at restaurants Gregory’s been following for years, all rounded off with an exhilarating ice hockey game and a Christmakkah celebration where the Jewish and the Christians celebrated around a candle lit Christmas tree.
Five days later and our poor car could barely carry us to Canton, Ohio this time to enjoy a gaming dinner in an old converted speakeasy.
On our way we passed Gary Indiana, their welcome sign painted on the sewerage plant, and while the scenery was hardly impressive, the billboards were, sporting pro-life slogans like; “pregnant? Scared? Text options to 94685,”
and a diet tip to “choose right, eat small.”
Next stop Lewisburg Pennsylvania, where I dropped Gregory at his friend’s restaurant and spent the afternoon chasing Mennonites about the countryside – you wouldn’t think they could outrun me given that I was in a car and they ride a horse and buggy, but it was back streets and farm roads and they knew all the shortcuts.
Of course we stopped off in our beloved NYC, then headed to the country for a Llewellyn style Christmas, which meant brisk walks in the frigid air, tart whiskey sours and 5 nieces dressed up as Zoro.
A whirlwind tour through almost every east-coast state, (billboard highlight in Maine; “take the US out of my UTERUS”) then we pointed the v-dub south and headed for the very flat, very manicured and very religious state of North Carolina where we continued our anthropologic billboard study with gems like;
“VIRGIN – teach your kid it’s not a dirty word.”
“Following your friends is easy. Following your heart is brave.”
And possibly my favourite…
“Breast milk is the best milk. Eat at moms.”
I just knew I’d love the south and I wasn’t disappointed. Mark Charleston, South Carolina as a port of call one of these days, you won’t regret strolling through the old town, gas lanterns guiding your way, catching your heel on the cobbled roads as you gaze in wonder at the mansions, their white trimmed, black shuttered windows open to reveal secret walled gardens, individually decoupag-ed stairs and rich old antiques standing underneath dusty portraits of the men that made this town. Everyone greets you as you pass them by, and all I wanted them to do was invite me into their enclosed verandah so we could share some mint julep tea.
Of course, you can stand at the market where they used to sell the slaves, but if we condemned everyone for their past transgressions there wouldn’t be a country left to visit. Except perhaps Switzerland, and apart from chocolate and founding Red Cross, they don’t count.
Now in Florida, hanging out with the in-laws at their 55-plus retirement community, finding ‘gators far less elusive than the Mennonites, visiting the brilliantly done Kennedy Space Centre and slowly acknowledging that it may, in fact, be time to consider employment. Only one problem…even I wouldn’t hire me – who has a career synopsis that reads teacher, dancing plate and hostess for the mafia? I have a severe case of employment schizophrenia.
Then I remember we still have four glorious days in San Francisco before we fly home and I skip off to get changed for early morning water aerobics.