Kaitzer thought I’d lost my mind as I did an equipment check for a road trip across the country. Hoping to make a dent in my third novel, I planned to write in the small mom and pop coffee shops throughout rural America. Since any adventure worth its salt has a name, I’d call mine “Writin’ and Travelin’ Across the Blue Highways of America.”
Realizing that I’d be camping much of the way, my wife offered an encouraging admonition: “Don’t freeze to death.”
“Kaitzer, I had cold-weather training in the Marines,” I reminded her.
Kaitzer always knows just what to say to bolster my confidence. “Joe,” she said, “that was 51 years ago. You’re 72.”
On the old road maps of America, the main routes were red. The back roads through rural America were blue. Just before dawn and a tad after dusk, the old roads emit a mysterious blue hue, and it’s that time when the pull of the blue highways is strongest.
Most travelers who go it alone anticipate the loneliness of the back roads and the purity of experience as they attempt to find their true selves. I, on the other hand, had no intention of finding myself. I didn’t want to open up a can of worms.
Why do people leave home to go on such an extended road trip? What is the myth of the road that fascinates so many? And above all, what do such road warriors expect to find or discover on the road? I have no clue! But if you want the answer to such inquiries, read “Blue Highways,” by William Least Heat-Moon.
Throughout my journey, I found life to be similar to that of La Cañada. Yet even in similarity, there can be vast degrees of difference. One common experience I found, though, was that Girl Scouts are out selling cookies seemingly everywhere. It’s that time of year.
While working on my novel in the Rock House Coffee Shop in Jordan Valley, Ore., two boys and two girls entered pulling a wagon filled with Girl Scout cookies.
“I’ll take two boxes,” I said, “one for me and one for the soldiers.”
They were excited to make the sale.
“Why aren’t you in school?” I asked.
“It’s Saturday,” Carolyn, the older child, remarked.
On a road trip, you lose all sense of time.
The children were from Rockville Elementary; each was in the same class but a different grade. “How does that happen?” I asked.
A man purchasing four boxes of Samoa’s explained, “Rockville is a one-room schoolhouse, K-8. Carolyn’s my granddaughter, one of eight students.”
Eventually, the children sold their entire allotment, which was an accomplishment for a town with a population of 170.
In Meridian, Idaho, the Treasure Valley chapter of Blue Star Mothers of America organized Girl Scout troops throughout the county and sent 1,600 cases of cookies through the “gift of caring” to soldiers and sailors throughout the world.
I thought of the La Cañada Girl Scout troop, #889, which I led about 15 years or so ago. All those girls who were in it are safely into adulthood and most, if not all of them, are out of college now. We sent hundreds of cases overseas to soldiers and sailors serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The community of La Cañada overwhelmingly joined us by taking cookies to the former Valley Sun building on the alley behind Foothill Boulevard. From there we picked them up and shipped them off to the armed forces. There are still lots of girls in La Cañada selling Girl Scout cookies. Buy an extra box. Tell the Scout you buy it from that it’s for the troops.
I crossed the Mississippi in Wisconsin and headed south to Chicago. I’d visit our daughter Sabine, a former Girl Scout who’s now a pharmacy student at UIC, eat plenty of D’Amato’s pizza, and write at Sawada coffeehouse. The snow, ice and freezing temperatures made me realize that Kaitzer was right, I am 72.
Writer John Irving once asserted there are only two plots to a novel: a stranger rides into town, a stranger rides out of town. I rode out of town and headed home.