Running away from home

I believe the urge to travel is born in Americans even as we are nesters by nature. We are a nation of immigrants after all and of native tribes forced to constant mobility for survival. The immigrant in us wants nothing more than to make a secure, permanent home and yet the tribesman needs to see what lies beyond the next peak and to follow streams to their ultimate destinations.

I suppose that’s romanticizing my own lifelong wanderlust and my paradoxical nesting instinct but I do believe it is largely an anthropological matter and a nationalistic one as well. Most societies either stay put or keep moving. Americans tend to want both at all times.

For as long as I can remember I have explored the Western U.S. and embraced its heritage. My father was born and raised on the plains of southwestern Wyoming. He took me there often and to get there we had to cross some startling and impressive landscapes. There was never a single day of our travels that wasn’t breathtakingly beautiful and completely different from the day before it.

When I was twelve Dad and I were given special permission to watch a Pueblo Indian bonfire ceremony outside of Taos, New Mexico. That was a day or two before we were caught in an Arizona flash flood and forced to dodge boulders bouncing onto the highway.

I have fished for trout in the Yellowstone River during a snowstorm while being watched by a family of moose that surely thought we were crazy.

I saw lightning explode a tree outside of Denver.

Bits and pieces of old memories and far away places dance in my head fairly constantly.

Tuba City, Arizona: an unremarkable town of Dairy Queens and KFCs plopped smack in the middle of a fabulous nowhere, an arid land of beautiful red rock mesas and spectacular cumulus sunrises and sunsets. One constant view, a million shifting colors; nine thousand people bored out of their minds.

If you wish to see the entire Western U.S. from the top, climb eleven thousand feet up the Beartooth Highway from Yellowstone to Red Lodge, Montana. Above the timberline you will meet tiny ground-dwelling marmots dancing through breathtaking fields of wildflowers between lingering patches of August snow. Looking down at Rocky Mountain peaks may bring tears to your eyes. It should surely install God in your heart.

My heart aches for these places and the thousands of others like them I have never seen. And yet I fear I cannot travel fairly constantly without being tethered to my hearth and kin. I need my home and I need just as desperately to leave it.

It’s a uniquely American dilemma.

Carolann and I have long talked of getting a nice motorhome someday and easing our way into a lifestyle that will give us the best of both worlds. Someday, we figure, we can run away from home for a few days or several weeks at a time secure in the knowledge that our children are well and that our century-old house awaits our return.

It was a good plan until last weekend when it finally dawned on us that “someday” never comes.

We will take delivery of our new home on wheels on Tuesday.

© 2007 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

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Author: Dave

Dave Williams is a radio news/talk personality originally from Sacramento, now living in Dallas, Texas, with his wife, Carolann. They have two sons and grandsons living in L.A.

8 thoughts on “Running away from home”

  1. I love to read about your travels. You’d make a good travel writer. But not until we’ve finished our book manuscript.

  2. Dave Williams, I just read your blog for the very first time! What an incredible talent you have. Your words painted an image, no an experience, on my mind…captured my heart! And your analysis of the American spirit, divided between two – a settler & an explorer… I’d never really thought about it like that before; but you’re spot on! Thank you for sharing!!

  3. Dave,
    Thank you for your essay “Running Away from Home.” I hadn’t realized we have wanderlust in common. During my pre-adolescent years, I ran away from home, across the United States, 11 times. But you have to understand, I was not running from my parents. I was with them, and the three of us ran away from home together, driving between New York and California. We moved from one coast to the other 11 times,between 1956 and 1960, as my parents searched for a better life, only to be rebound to the other coast in search of something perhaps better. Here’s an excerpt from the anecdotal family history I wrote for the benefit of my son and daughter and their families, and other relatives of ours who are interested.

    —–

    My mother did not drive in those days, so that duty fell entirely upon my Dad’s shoulders. On most of those road trips, my Dad drove to “make time,” and usuallytraveling U.S. 66 he’d complete the 3,000-mile trip in five days — an average of 600 miles a day. When departing from New York (where all of us were born) we’d typically head out on the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Turnpikes, then follow U.S. 40 through a slice of West Virginia into Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, where we’d link
    with U.S. 66.
    Despite the rapid pace he set, we always managed to stop along the way to visit
    interesting places. The Meramec Caverns near Stanton and Onondaga Cave at Leasburg in Missouri’s Ozark Mountains. Prairie Dog Town in the Texas Panhandle. The Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. We visited Father Flanagan’s Boys Town, west of Omaha Nebraska, one year when we took U.S. 30. And Las Vegas. At Kingman, Arizona, we’d veer onto U.S. 93 through Black Canyon, across Hoover Dam, and on through Boulder City into Las Vegas. My Dad’s favorite place to stay and
    play was the Showboat Hotel and Casino on the Boulder Highway. One year when the Showboat and other places in town were full, perhaps because of a convention, we stayed at a divy motel called the Desert Rose, on the Strip. Rooms at the decrepit Desert
    Rose lacked bathrooms; guests had to share a bathroom down a musty hallway.
    I remember other dusty, battered places we stayed in our cross-country voyages as
    well–“motor courts” and “tourist cabins” with saggy, squeaky beds, metal-barred
    headboards, bare-bulb ceiling fixtures, dripping, rusted water faucets with ceramic
    knobs, and showers that were little more than sunken areas in the painted concrete
    bathroom floor with a drain, a shower curtain and a slatted wooden board on which to
    stand.
    Some of the motels had a carports between each room. We never stayed in hotels–always in motels–with one exception. Driving along the Pennsylvania Turnpike late one night, my Dad exited at Bedford in response to his fatigue and we took U.S. 220 south into town. We stopped for the night in a two-story rooming house on the west
    side of the road about a mile south of the turnpike. The rooming house was situated at the crest of a hill, and although I slept well, my Dad’s sleep was interrupted throughout the night by the sound of trucks double-clutching as they surmounted the hill.
    Those were the days before fast-food restaurants. We’d eat in roadside diners and grills and coffee shops with names like the Tophat Diner (Joplin, Missouri), Bill Murphey’s Restaurant (Baxter Springs, Kansas), Pop Hicks Restaurant (Clinton, Oklahoma), U-Drop Inn (Shamrock, Texas), Maria’s Diner (Grants, New Mexico), the Green Lantern Cafe (Holbrook, Arizona), the Frontier Cafe (Truxton, Arizona).
    We’d buy gas in the East at Esso or Conoco or Shell stations; in the Midwest at Cities Service; and in the Southwest at Phillips 66 and Whiting Bros. stations. At those filling stations we’d sometimes buy soft drinks–Nehi orange or grape–from coin-operated coolers that would open from the top, revealing bottles suspended from their necks by a series of brackets arranged in a maze through which you’d slide the bottle you selected to a slot that was unlatched when the proper coins were deposited.
    The whimsical Burma-Shave advertising signs along the highway presented a pleasant diversion. The signs were always arranged in clusters of five or six, typically spelling out the lines of a poem, often related to highway safety and sometimes cloaked in dark humor:
    On curves ahead
    Remember, sonny
    That rabbit’s foot
    Didn’t save the bunny
    Burma-Shave.

    Or:

    Proper distance
    To him was bunk
    They pulled him out
    Of some guy’s trunk
    Burma-Shave.

    Or:

    Men who
    Have to
    Travel light
    Find the 35 cent tube
    Just right
    Burma-Shave.

    Route 66 traversed a wonderfully changing panorama of landscapes, from the thickly wooded Missouri Ozarks to the gently rolling prairies of southeastern Kansas and northeastern Oklahoma to the arid red-soil plains in the cattle country of western Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle to the scrub-land plateaus of New Mexico and eastern Arizona, to the bleached, barren deserts of western Arizona and California. The open land between cities and towns was dotted with tourist outposts: curio shops, produce stands, Indian trading posts, and firework stands.
    Sometimes during my family’s journeys my bed was the back seat of the car, as my Dad drove through the night to make time. My Mom would fix up the back seat with a pillow and blanket, and I’d sleep as the car rolled on. In heavy rains or snowstorms my Dad would seek out the taillights of a trucker, in whose tracks he’d follow. I remember waking in the middle of the night to the sound of clanging bells at a railroad crossing or drawbridge, or to the glare of streetlights or neon signs as we pulled into a town or a gas station or the graveled parking lot of a roadside restaurant, where my Dad would stop for a couple of hours of sleep before pressing on. I’d awaken in a groggy state, wondering where we were, how far we had traveled and what time it was.
    With me still are the names of some of the places where we stopped or through which we passed: Morgantown and the Blue Mountain, Kittatinny and Tuscarora Tunnels along the Pennsylvania Turnpike; Wheeling, West Virginia;Columbus and Springfield, Ohio; Indianapolis, Ind.; Vandalia, Illinois; the Chain of Rocks Bridge, a 1929 structure that crossed the Mississippi River between Mitchell, Illinois, and the northern edge of St. Louis, Missouri; Stanton, Leasburg, Rolla, Lebanon, Springfield and Joplin, Missouri; Baxter Springs, Kansas; the Will Rogers Turnpike through Claremore to Tulsa and the
    Turner Turnpike to Oklahoma City; Shamrock, McLean and Amarillo, Texas; Tucumcari, Clines Corners, Moriarty, Grants and Gallup, New Mexico; Holbrook, Winslow, Flagstaff, Williams, Ash Fork, Seligman and Kingman, Arizona.
    Some of the places through which we passed were noteworthy because of difficulty we encountered there. My parents always associated Zanesville, Ohio, with a driving blizzard that engulfed us; Peach Springs, Arizona, was the site of a near-blowout mishap that we averted when my Dad discovered that the whump-whump sound the car
    was making was the result of a “bubble” that had formed in one of the new tubeless tires on our ’56 Oldsmobile; in the vicinity of Searchlight, Nevada, my parents found themselves unexpectedly within the boundaries of military artillery testing
    grounds, and in the relentless desert heat we stopped for sodas and directions at a way station frequented by miners who displayed their mineral findings from the region’s barren rocks under blacklight, which turned ordinary gray rocks into a rainbow of iridescent hues.
    Across the country, as my Dad drove, I would systematically drive my Mom crazy. Bored in the back seat from the seemingly endless miles of two-lane highway, particularly our early journeys that began when I was 8 years old, I would reach around to the front and play with my Mom’s hair, with her ears, with her nostrils. To help alleviate my boredom, she’d initiate a game of “My name is,” and the three of us would take turns working our way through the alphabet. Mom: “My name is Alice, I live in Albuquerque, and I sell aluminum.” Dad: My name is Bill, I live in Buffalo, and I sell bulletin
    boards.” Jeff: “My name is Charlie, I live in Cleveland, and I sell cherries.”
    And so it went, across the miles.

    —–

    How I treasure the memories of those travels today.

    Your pal,
    Jeff

  4. Jeff,

    Thanks for the wonderful memoir of your travels as a child. In the not too distant future I hope to begin an RV Travelogue and feature essays like yours. With your permission, you’ll go first. I’ll let you know.

    PS…What the heck kind of filing system do you have for a memory? I want one!

    Dave

  5. I think we need to put a GPS in your RV so I can come knocking on the door. You never know where I’ll pop up.

    I’ve never done an extended road trip before. Can’t wait to read about your travels.

  6. Fairly recently I’ve come into a conglomoration of reminiscant stories regarding the 1950s and 1960s: Jeff’s story above, my Dad’s blog (a phrase I never thought I’d write), a audio recording of my great-uncle talking about his childhood, and the aforementioned Bill Bryson’s recent memoir, and all of these make me very happy for two reasons. First, I want to sit with my Dad at Patrick’s Roadhouse over coffee and corned beef hash and hear more stories. I find the time and nostalgia interesting. I like knowing about when my parents and people their age were kids. I can picture the events in my mind’s eye clearly as it is described to me, and yet I know that some people with the most fascinating stories find it incredulous that people of my age and generation find this stuff even remotely interesting. Which brings me to my second point of happiness. I look back on my childhood years (and, granted, don’t have to look that far back) and while remembering them fondly, albeit not very exciting, I hope with eager anticipation that my son will find me and my stories as wonderful as I find my Dad and his.

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