I bought an oversized map of America a few months ago. It’s all muted colours and wriggly lines, and sits on the wall by our bed. I ordered it online, so I can prepare for our roadtrip. Our being Jordy and mine. He is American, so has a first-hand idea of the distance between California and Iowa, having driven it time and time again. Iowa is where he grew up, and California is where he calls home. I, on the other hand, know vaguely my Carolinas, and the specifics of Manhattan, but not a whole lot in between.
Having pinned it to the wall and opened a bottle of red, my first words were: ‘Texas is big’. Overwhelmingly so. This coming from a girl who grew up at the bottom of Australia; the stretch of nothing above and beyond Adelaide is enough to make your eyes water, trying to focus on a town or landmark that isn’t dusty or red. But still, Texas seems dominant.
We live in a very small studio in Sydney and I can glimpse the map from where I sit now. And there’s Texas. I have to squint to find Iowa almost every time.
We’re not actually going to Texas, though, as we head out on this road of plenty. It seems an omission, but of the fifty states and my twelve weeks approved annual leave – already a stretch of my boss’ patience – something had to give. And that something was the great expanse between the seas.
We have our sites set on the East and West, mostly. New York because we could think of no better place to start our journey. New York for me will be about bagels on the Lower East Side, and bikes in Central Park. I like the dispalys at the Natural History Museum and the cheap beers in Brooklyn. It will be three years since I met New York, three years almost to the day, and I couldn’t be happier to close the distance.
From New York it will be onwards to Washington DC and our fill of culture and history and democracy. We will walk the halls of power at the White House, or at least the touristy bits, and exhaust ourselves with Smithsonians, having only three days to master this heritage we have inherited (albeit vaguely filtered, on my part).
On the road again we head south to what I think and hope to be an absolute picture of the good life in Charleston and Savannah. This part of the drive pleases me and I want to take it slow and notice the change of pace as we skirt the Appalachian Mountains and find that dappled coast. I want a few days of calm and iced tea, of sitting on porches and long afternoons. Some quiet, before things get loud and we head to Nashville and Memphis, straining my lungs singing out just as hard as I can to Hank Williams, and scratchy old Woodie Guthrie recordings I’ve prepared. I hope my man is ready for his share of Johnny Cash and Elvis and beautiful Dolly’s Coat of Many Colours. After all this singing, we wind our way down the Mississippi to New Orleans herself. I’m reading Tennessee Williams and Kate Chopin in preparation, and dreaming of wild trees and sweet whisky and hoping it all tastes as good as I imagine. The idea of beignets alone pleases me. That I get to have them for breakfast seems like a whole other kind of wonderful.
From New Orleans we will fly out to California. California, I all but sing. I’m longing for this state like a memory. Like I know its dry hills and salty waters. As it is, I’ve hardly been, just five slow hours at an airport terminal a few years ago, sometime before sunrise.
My California is thought out of John Steinbeck novels and watching Gene Kelly films with my grandfather on sick days. Mostly, though, my California is from Joni Mitchell songs. Some people grew up going to church on Sundays, their family in neat rows on pews hearing sermons. I grew up listening to Joni Mitchell on Sundays, all the windows open and my family singing and cleaning, gardening and reading, and always taking their time with breakfast. Because of Joni I can hear the harmonies of the Ladies of the Canyon when I cook. I feel the heartache and joy of Blue in my romances and in embarking on these travels, feel especially inspired by Hejira. I’ve known all the words to her songs since I was five, but I find as I go through life I hear her voice and poetry echo not just in my head, but in my experiences. She is a familiar choir of truth, wisdom, strength, humour, vulnerability and kindness. She is what I am drawn to and what I am drawn by at the same time.
California also happened to be my man’s hometown for the years before I met him and I want to see his Silverlake, and the sprawling expanse of city from Griffith Park. I told him I want to wander the Rosebowl Flea Markets and the very last tip of the Santa Monica Pier. He says OK, but that there’ll be a lot of freeway in between. He is going to feed me $3 fish tacos from a food truck, the best I’ll ever eat apparently. Food trucks aren’t a thing in Sydney, so I take his word for it.
From LA we will follow the coast south, to a sleepy town called Encinitas that appears to me, out of photographs, as a world of bougainvillea and old houses on clifftops. Houses built just to put windows between everyday life and the wide stretch of ocean. Here we will spend Thanksgiving with family and friends. My first ever Thanksgiving. I sigh at the very idea of a holiday about family, home cooking and gratefulness, three things I hold above almost all else in life. I feel excited to not only meet the people dear to him, but to share a table with them. I have an idea that we will all take turns remembering the things we are thankful for, as we pass roast pumpkin and red wine. I hope I’m right.
With our bellies and hearts full, we head north. North to San Luis Obispo and the dreamy scape of Big Sur and Monterey. My 17 year-old-self will be dreaming of Kerouac as we follow this romantic coast. Kerouac and Steinbeck again, because I can never seem to get enough of his words. I read and re-read and take it in all anew, each time wondering how he managed to write such a place, and such characters and humanity and hard work into the lives it held.
We’ll wind our way through Napa and lower Oregon slowly, so I can see the redwoods and sequoias. I’ve poured over National Geographic images and read museum-like descriptions of their majesty for years, but nothing will compare to the glory of their height and breadth in person. Years ago, when I was last in New York, I’d been told there was a sequoia cutting at the Natural History Museum. Late to meet friends I was wandering from room to room, glancing sideways through halls and hoping to catch a glimpse of it. I rounded into one room and the golden light from the reflection on the rich wood and the sheer size of the hollow actually took my breath away. I was humbled. The idea of miles of these on end, towering and firm to the ground as we drive north makes my heart flutter.
I understand the Oregon coastline is rough and grey and nothing short of spectacular. I of course know it only as Goonies-country, and will be smiling at every cliff and stormy beach like a 12 year old. As December continues and the temperature drops, we head further north, through Portland. I have friends in Portland, old and dear friends. Friends who make wine. Pinot noir and cold climate wines that my man and I happen to love.
To Washington state and Seattle and another old friend, an old friend of Jordy’s who happens to be pretty damn sweet. I know nothing of this town but I have a feeling he and his lady will paint it at its best. As a girl who’s grown to 31 with hardly a glimpse of snow, I worry about the cold and the wind off the sea in Seattle. This is to say nothing of our flight to Chicago, the original windy city, as it were. But we’ve only a few days there and then it’s on to Iowa and the small town of Fairfield for a white Christmas. I’m so happy to see the town where my man grew up and meet his oldest friends in the world. It’s a whole town that believes in quiet and spending time with your thoughts. Or without them, I suppose, which is a much harder thing to do.
For today, though, still in Sydney’s early spring days, my thoughts are entirely what boots to pack and what to read on the plane, where I left the list of addresses to send postcards home to friends, and whether I’ve lost any pieces to the miniature Scrabble set my aunt lent me.
Just a couple more sleeps till we fly…