Do you want to experience the air in different parts of the world? In different parts of the country? Have you ever woken up in a hotel room and not remembered where you were? Have you ever looked at a destinations board in the airport and forgotten where you are going? If you answered yes, you may be a world traveler. You may have a travel bug that drives your dreams.
As I return from my umpteenth Puerto Rico business trip, I’m thinking of my next trip. Ever since I was a little girl in the South Bronx, I have dreamt of traveling the world and getting to experience new cultures, eat new foods, and visit wondrous sites. My mom didn’t have that travel bug. As a matter of fact not that many people in my immediate neighborhood did. Many individuals never even ventured into Manhattan (of course that is a world onto itself). A ten-block radius was oftentimes world enough for many people. One of my favorite shows was Scooby Doo in which the group got to go on spooky road trips in their Mystery Machine van. The “road trip” was such a cool, sexy idea to me. Of course, the major obstacle was that no one around me knew how to drive a car. So, road trips seemed kind of far off in the distance. I hadn’t read “On the Road” when I was younger, but the road trip was something I aspired to.
When I got the opportunity to attend a private boarding school in Massachusetts I wanted to jump immediately at that chance. While my mom had allowed me to apply to the various elite, yet far way schools, letting me actually attend once accepted (even on full scholarship) was an entirely different matter. It took some major cajoling and a letter writing campaign on my behalf, but eventually she relented and let her baby move out of state and experience a whole new world. From there on, the world was to be my stage. I made it my goal to experience every town, every city, every state and every country to the fullest, for I wanted to soak in as much of the environment and the context of each place as I humanly could. I wanted to experience a world beyond television, or rather actually go to the places I saw on television. Ostensibly, living on my own from such an early age allowed me to be independent and to set forth on accomplishing my goals.
Now many, many years later I have had the privilege of travelling to different continents and countries and my worldview has consequently expanded. I have even travelled to Cuba, which many Americans unfortunately do not get to experience, and have lived in Spain. Those were major goals and adventures that lit a fire in my soul.
But now, I have a new quest: to belong to the 50-state club! My goal is to have spent at least a day or attended some significant event in every state of the United States of America. Google what it means to travel to all 50 states and various definitions and clubs come up. Does driving through count? Does having a layover where you spend all your time at the airport count? There are actual clubs dedicated to the experience of having been to all 50 states. For me, it is actually an important distinction to note that spending time at an airport does not count! Now, if you spent 8 hours in one day in a specific state that does indeed count in my book, but for those who take the quest seriously, merely crossing the border does not count. The sole criterion for counting states toward membership in a group called the All Fifty Club – www.allfiftyclub.com – is “that one should breathe the air and set foot on the ground. Thus driving through the state counts if you get out once.”
So, where am I in my quest for the 50-state club status? As a New Yorker, who went to boarding school in Massachusetts and whose first real job was in Washington D.C., I have spent a significant amount of time in the East Coast states. I have lived in Virginia and have traveled extensively to Rhode Island and Connecticut on business. For some reason I have gotten food poisoning in Rhode Island at least three times and Connecticut was where I first experienced the ultimate in coffee-junkie enabling, the drive-through Starbucks. As a Massachusetts boarding school alum, I have spent time visiting our rival boarding school in New Hampshire and for one day I sold knock-off perfumes business to business there. Inexplicably, I had not spent a significant amount of time in Vermont until last summer. And, I do not understand how I could have let that happen considering that it is such a beautiful state, extremely welcoming and filled with such good things as honey, maple syrup, and bed & breakfasts. It is by far one of my favorite road-tripping states.
As a girl that dreamt of road trips I fulfilled my childhood dream by doing four cross-country trips, two coastal roads trips, an Upper Midwest road-trip (which also included wide swaths of Canada) and a Southern road-trip. I have managed to see much of the country between and along the coasts. Pennsylvania; a state of Hershey’s kisses, the peaceful Amish, plus curmudgeons and Duke’s of Hazards look-a-like townsfolk. Indiana; a state where an 18-year old trooper will pull you over with delight and fine you $100. Ohio, a purple bell-weather swing state with four key cities, where nonetheless the KKK still manages to hold rallies near the biggest Asian art museum outside of Asia. Iowa, a truly flat state with a migratory path towards Chicago. Nebraska, a state where I actually got to visit my first set of trailer parks. Wyoming is stunningly beautiful and empty. So empty it is a bit spooky, with howling winds at night sending chills up and down your spine. Utah’s beauty, especially the Great Salt Lake desert is absolutely striking, though the hordes of motorcycle gangs kind of scared me. Nevada is a land of contrasts–with areas in the northeast pocket that are so desolate they resemble a run-down western movie set. The town of Wendover is a must-stop spot for at least half an hour. Northern Nevada is seedy, while the southern part of Nevada, well just really the Las Vegas and surrounding area, is glitz and extreme hedonism. California–what can one say about Cali that hasn’t already been stated. Beautiful coastline, but even the San Francisco Bay Area is fake. As someone who went to graduate school on the West Coast, I had the good fortune to road trip up the coast through Oregon on up to Seattle, Washington and to elope to Hawaii. New Mexico is stunningly spicy, serene and sumptuous. Arizona–not so much, plus I worry about being dumped in Mexico by the INS, since most of Arizona is not clear on the fact that Puerto Rico is part of the United States. Texas, wow that is a huge-ass state; with El Paso being a dustbowl, Houston housing a surprising number of teetotalers and San Antonio highlighting 50 shades of pastel. Louisiana is home to my favorite city of New Orleans; with its delightful jazz, beignets and muffalettas. I absolutely adore New Orleans and am hopeful that one day its infrastructure will be fully built up-can you believe the Superbowl power outage that happened? Georgia is the urban center of the south via Atlanta through its smorgasboard of restaurants which fills my tummy to no end. Memphis’ Beale Street is an interesting mini-version of New Orleans. Birmingham, Alabama was an interesting experience to say the least, where everyone noticed that I wasn’t from there and treated me like a pied piper, following me on bikes and on foot while I took photos. I understand Birmingham has been at the center of community mobilization efforts in the past but that was just plain old weird.
So, which are the states that are left for me to reach my 50-state goal? I have just 7 states out of 50. Seven states. A mere 14% of the total! Yet, these seven states seem, at times, seem such an elusive goal. Let’s see, I have (1) Alaska, (2) Idaho, (3) Montana, (4) Kansas, (5) South Dakota, (6) Oklahoma, and (7) West Virginia. Now, West Virginia just so happens to be the home of the annual Mothman Festival (a well-known monster story) and as such I will be able to road-trip on down there come September. I have always felt the call of the wild that drives folks to Alaska and I know I will make my way there, even from way out here in New York. So, my question is: how do I get to Montana, Kansas, South Dakota, Oklahoma and Idaho? Montana the land of mountains (per its name in Spanish) is big sky country. Of course, there is the Glacier National Park, the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, and three of the five entrances to Yellowstone National Park. Did you know that Montana is slightly larger than Japan and slightly smaller than Paraguay? It is the fourth largest state in the United States and the largest landlocked U.S. state. Wow. I need to get myself there; if the Spanish made their way there way there centuries ago on horseback, I think I can get myself there in the near future. Did you know that Idaho’s nickname is the “Gem State”, because nearly every known type of gemstone has been found there. Wow, ok, how can a girl like me that loves gemstone earrings not have been there yet? Now, Kansas is a land of sunflowers. Those are my absolute favorite flowers, but did you know that Kansas was also known as “bleeding Kansas”? Hmm. Intriguing. Speaking of intriguing, did you know that more than 25 Native American languages are spoken in Oklahoma? Of course, Mt. Rushmore is located in South Dakota, but did you know that the eastern part of the state is often considered part of Tornado Alley, and South Dakota experiences an average of 30 tornadoes each year? Holy whirlwinds, Batman! That is scary and electrifying. Road-tripping South Dakota seems like it would be a trip.
My big quest and mission this coming year is to get ever closer to that fifty state goal. I must be strategic and targeted. But not too strategic. I must allow my soul and blood to find its way to these most awesome places and fill my heart with glee.
Now, I lay me down to sleep to dream big dreams of where my suitcase will travel to next.