Archives For Road Trips

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A former student of mine, now a good friend, gave me a call not long ago and we tossed around dates for me to come visit him out in Seattle. Nothing was gelling properly, and I have yet to make firm plans to get out there, but I know I will before long. But the conversation got me thinking about travel and other far-flung people I know, and so a plan was hatched to take a last-minute road trip out east.

Facebook can be a very interesting way to plan a trip. Last March I kicked around ideas for spring break road trip on a post and I was amazed at the number of people who suggested that I come see them in places like Colorado, California, or Massachusetts. So for this trip all I had to do was put up an Instagram picture I took of the northeast U.S. and within 24 hours I had a trip planned, based on the comments and suggestions people left.

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First stop was Asbury Park, New Jersey. Hometown of Bruce Springsteen and yearly vacation haunt for one of my old Limelight directors and his wife. After spending the morning having a run in the Manasquan Reservoir, I met them on the boardwalk and they showed me the sights. Asbury Park seems like its on the verge of something, and there are only a handful of reminders left that this was Bruce’s “city of ruins” for a while. The downtown is clean and trendy, the boardwalk is expanding, and people will always, always want to spend their summers on the beach.

Up next was Providence, Rhode Island and a Brown graduate I once taught, a long time ago. Same class as the earlier student. Hadn’t seen her in at least five years, and it was probably longer than that since we had a proper conversation with each other. So of course we talked about Harry Potter all night and our opinion of the new story. I got the grand tour of Brown, and we bounced around from place to place, eating and drinking, and enjoying each other’s company more and more as the night went on. A former student, now a good friend.

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On to Boston. I had originally planned to spend 2-3 nights here, but wound up trimming up this leg to just one night, once the meetings and work responsibilities started piling up. Saw a former work buddy of mine for the first time in sixteen years. I last saw him back in 2000 when I was helping my friend Randy move back from Baltimore. We chatted over beers and local cider and caught up properly, and I left that night happy that I still had this man as a friend.

And then it was time to head west and for home. While I drove through upstate New York I started sketching plans in my head for a longer visit next summer, maybe, hopefully. Hope to stick around in the states for my summer wanderings. And of course I still need to get to Seattle.

I stopped for the night in Eire, Pennsylvania, on recommendation from a parent of former students of mine, and yes, now a friend. I ate blackened swordfish and roasted potatoes and walked along the lakefront and watched the sun set, aware for the first time in a long, long while that I actually felt happy.

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In which we come to my favorite portion of the trip.

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It’s time for a road trip.

The first time I rented a car (and drove on the left) was in 2009. I drove from Dublin Airport to Galway on the Irish M6 and then turned the car over to my buddy Eric, who was more than happy to do the rest of the driving. I was content to navigate and look out the window.

The next summer I was in Scotland and had planned to wander the highlands. Twenty minutes after leaving Glasgow Airport I popped a tire after driving too close to the curb. Always had trouble guessing how far to the left I was supposed to be. I ended up driving on a spare and had to restrict my travels.

I like trains.

And yet, they can’t take you everywhere. Trains don’t get you to the best parts of the countryside. And I love to drive, so I had to summon some courage and rent a car. Pro tip: renting a car out of a smaller city like Stratford can reveal some fantastic deals. A “premium” car was only a few pounds more per day than a standard sedan, and so I found myself behind the wheel of a lovely 2016 black BMW.

The first leg only took me an hour south, into the green hill country of the Cotswolds. The A road became a B road which became a town center and then a larger city and then a parking garage. Test after test. Lunch in Cheltenham and then to my B&B, the Malvern View. A walk up Cleeve Hill, a shower, and then a short walk to The Rising Sun for dinner. This is the only place within walking distance for dinner, but it serves nicely. Abbot Ale while reading a book about the Back Room Shakespeare Project.

I wait out a short downpour (with another pint) and then decide to walk back. It’s almost 9 PM but there is still another hour of light in the sky. I stop and watch the sun setting, the lights of Woodmancote and Bishops Cleeve in the distance, mist rising from a wet field. A man in Wellington boots appears and walks through a gate and disappears down a footpath, a line of sheep waiting to greet him.

I took this photo. It’s got an Instagram filter on it, but only to better capture how I experienced that light, those colors, and that moment.

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You can’t get here by train.

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The next day was spent walking the Cleeve Hill Ring. Through farmland and wood, up a hill and down a hill. Green fields and crackling power lines overhead. Words and pictures will never really describe what I saw, or how I felt during this walk or the ones that followed in the Lake District. All I can really say is that walking in Great Britain is pretty much my favorite thing in the world. They do it better than anywhere else on the planet as far as I’m concerned. The British have something called “right to roam”, which gives walkers the right to walk through privately-owned lands, whether it’s a sheep pasture or a country estate. It is simple and democratic and perfect.

But let’s get back to that car.

I left the Cotswolds via a narrow one-lane road, passed through Bishops Cleeve one more time, and then found myself on the M5 and the M6, driving to the North and to the Lake District. By now I was feeling more and more comfortable behind the right-side steering wheel, and I finally found that sweet spot that told me how to center the car in the lane. Google Maps and Bluetooth and turn-by-turn directions meant that all the guesswork was taken away regarding my navigation. My favorite music played through my phone, and all I had to do was enjoy the ride and the precision steering of the Bavarian Motor Works.

I have been following The Herdwick Shepherd on Twitter for a long time now, and recently finished his wonderful book The Shepherd’s Life. And so the Lake District had a new fascination for me. I also have a Beatrix Potter story I’ve been wanting to tell, but this entry is getting a bit long so we’ll save that for another time.

It rained all afternoon and evening, and so I spent a long while lingering over beef bourguignon and Cumberland Ale in the hotel bar. My hotel room had no wifi and no phone service, and so the only thing waiting for me back there was spotty TV reception and the Sunday Observer.

At least the local ale is good.

The Lake District seems to attract all the wealthy walkers. The parking lot is filled with Mercedes and Jaguars, a strange contrast to the spartan condition of the hotel. Everyone has “proper” walking gear. The right shoes, the right packs. I find a launderette in Ambleside and chat with a B&B owner for a bit while I run a load of clothing. I have lunch in Bilbo’s Cafe, because why wouldn’t I, and then the afternoon is spent wandering the Cumbrian Way. The weather is glorious and I want to walk and walk and walk forever. A couple I meet along the way is surprised that I don’t have a map with me, but the way is marked easily enough, and I have a good sense of direction. I know my way back. And there is good beer waiting.

It all ends far, far too soon, and the next day I’m back on the road. Signs marked LEAVE dot the landscape as I head south. The vote is in a matter of days.

Haroosh’s Last Trip

November 25, 2013 — Leave a comment

In Which Haroosh and I Take One Final Trip Together, and Some Lessons Are Learned

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Are you packing your suitcase again?

Yes.

Does this mean you’re going on another adventure?

Yes, Haroosh.

Wonderful! Do I get to come with?

Yes, of course. I think it’s important that you come on this one. You might learn something. It’s time to teach you about things greater and more important than Adventures.

Where are we going?

Florida.

For a holiday? I mean, a vacation?

Not exactly.

Oh. What is it, then?

I”m not sure what to call it, exactly. We’re going to see some family. To pay our final respects.

What does that mean?

It means that someone has died. In my family. And so my uncles and my mother and I are going to go say goodbye, and be with some of our family for a few days.

Oh. And I get to come with?

Yes.

It doesn’t sound as much fun as the other trips we took.

I know. This one is different. This is a trip we need to take together, my uncles, and my mother and I. The last trip, perhaps.

The last trip? For me?

For many of us.

Oh.

Are you okay, Haroosh?

Yes. Maybe. I don’t know. I… I thought we were going to take a lot more trips together.

I know.

We were supposed to see the world. That’s what Kyle wanted you to do. With me. See the world.

I know. And we did. A small part of it. But that’s all done, for now. I have responsibilities, and it’s time you got back to Kyle. I’m sure he misses you.

I haven’t seen him in a long time. Will he be different?

Probably. He’s a little older now. He’ll be in high school next year.

Oh.

Will he still want to have me back?

I think so. I think you’ll be with Kyle for a long time.

I hope so.

So, we’re going to all drive together? All the way to Florida?

All the way to Florida. Without stopping for the night.

What’s it like down there?

It’s warm. Very warm. I used to live there, a long time ago. We’re going to say goodbye to my cousin, who we used to spend a lot of time with, her and her sister and her parents, when I was younger. We went on camping trips together, rode horses together, had pizza on Friday nights. She used to drive me to school. I had to sit in the backseat, but sometimes they’d let me play some of my music on the car stereo.

Was she nice?

Yes, she was very nice. She was a teacher, like me. And she loved animals. Horses, dogs, cats, even pigs. She would have liked you very much, Haroosh.

I bet I would have liked her too.

Are you ready to go, Haroosh?

Yes, I’m ready. Let’s go. 


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The photos are from the last time we visited Lorri and the rest of her family, in 2004. We went down to spend Christmas with my sister and her family, and took a day to drive over to St. Cloud to see the old neighborhood and to catch up with Lorri and Jenny, Jane and Mike.

I’ll write a bit more about the trip, and Lorri, in the next day or so.

In case you’re wondering who Haroosh is, I suggest starting here and then reading the rest of these entries.

Thundercrack

October 14, 2013 — Leave a comment

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Woke early and enjoyed a third morning of being able to read and drink coffee at my leisure. Graded papers until around noon, then decided to take a long drive. Followed Rt. 71 westward, the cool autumn air whipping around the inside of my car as I listened to Dylan’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid soundtrack and the first album by The Head and the Heart. Same albums I played over and over again during my various winter trips across the eastern half of the United States.

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Sun shone through the cornfields, glowing in the afternoon light. Pictures never do it justice, the way the fields look this time of year, contrasting against the blue sky and the deep green grass lining the roads. This is the Midwest at its loveliest, and I wish it could just stay this way forever. Not looking forward to the long six months of brown and grey and dead everything.


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Drove through Newark and Norway and a surprisingly vibrant-looking Ottawa. Used to drive this route all the time twenty years ago, back and forth from school to home and back again. I gas up and I hear a group of farmers chatting. Gas smell on my hands is pleasant, makes me think of the short time I did farm work myself.

Jump back in the car, now a time machine, continuing all the way to Starved Rock, last refuge of the real Fighting Illini, according to legend and a somewhat sketchy oral history. Obscure Springsteen tracks pour out of my stereo as I wind through a canopy of orange and yellow and russet. Take a short walk in the state park along the Illinois River, careful not to aggravate the various ailments plaguing me. Only thing I’m good for these days are sitting with a nose in my book, or driving in my car.

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Traffic is slow in spots as cars queue up behind a combine or a grain truck lumbering their way to the side roads. For some reason I spot no less than three abandoned cars along Rt. 71. For a moment I wonder if I’m heading towards some apocalyptic disaster, and the cars are the only remainders of those who tried to flee.

Then “Thundercrack” comes on and I forget all about the apocalypse.

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The Sea-Bell

March 17, 2013 — 5 Comments

Today I drove around for a couple of hours, to nowhere in particular. I do this a lot lately.

Trying to stay in one place for a bit, save some money for the next round of wandering. But I tend to get in my car a lot and just drive, mostly the back country roads, so I can listen to the radio and get lost in my thoughts for a while. I’ve driven these roads countless times over the years, so I’m always searching for a new, unexplored route.

I bounce from classroom to classroom during the week, a different teacher every day. Some days I sit in the corner of a high school class while they watch 40-year old films to learn about World War II. Some days I entertain eight-year olds and they think I am a god.

Often I see former students and former Limelighters, and it is always a happy reunion. Still smiling about the bear hug I got from an eighth grader I had a few years ago; he stopped by my room every passing period of the day, just to keep saying hi.

On one of my drives I swung by my house, where another man now lives, where my neighbors are complaining of branches that are creeping across the divide into their patio. I forgot to bring any branch cutters, and so the small tree continues to grow and trespass onto another property.

Sometimes I stop driving and I walk inside a school and I sit in the back and watch my former company of actors and directors move on without me. During the intervals new ideas flood into my head and I scribble them down in a small black notebook. I have lots of ideas these days.

I continue work on a new play I started last fall, back in the writing course I took at UCD. I dust off an old one and I strip it back to only what’s necessary. I outline, I write dialogue, I collect pictures and think about color palettes and light plots and scene design.

And I think about teaching, the real job, and I wonder what I’m going to do with myself.

The old life is right there, if I want it. I can move back into my old house, my old classroom is waiting for me, and all my old friends are here. Everything could go right back to the way it was.

One of my best friends mentioned something about “getting it out of your system” when I moved to Ireland. My grandmother said the same thing. A lot of people say things like “Well, now you can say you’ve done it, and you’ve got no regrets.” Like it’s a box I wanted to just tick off on the Brian Fauth Bucket List.

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Once upon a time, I could have settled down and loved a woman and raised a family, and maybe that would have been a good life.

Once upon a time, I got on a plane and I flew across the ocean and I saw great cities and I met lovely people and I climbed green hills and I watched a continent pass by my train window.

Once upon a time, I thought I could go back to doing what I did before, and what I did better than anyone else, and I thought that would be enough. But that was a long time ago.

I’m like one of those guys in the old stories, the ones who forget the instructions and accept the gifts of the Fair Folk. There’s always a price to be paid when visiting the Twilight Realm; when you return home, nothing is ever the same again. You drift through life as a shadow, and try as you might, you can never find your way back again.

And so I drive and I drive and I drive, through the end of a bleak and cold winter, and I watch the snow melt along the roadside, and I stare out into the horizon, searching for a new route to take me home.

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Communities

February 4, 2013 — 3 Comments

A week ago I woke up and decided to drive to South Carolina. This is what I do now. Drove through Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee. Couldn’t bear another dinner of roadside fast food, so I got off the interstate, searching for a historic district and an interesting place to eat. Downtown was empty and streetlight haze-dark and I wandered back to the strip of chain restaurants and ate a disappointing burrito.

Quiet man with a soft Tennessee drawl in a Super 8 late at night, says they have Wifi throughout the hotel. Room seems 20 years from a decent renovation, somewhere tucked into the beginnings of the Great Smokey Mountains. Faded hotel with worn-out towels and free wireless internet, some strange collision of the future and the stubborn past.

The mountains become the Piedmont and I’m in the South. Shuttered beachwear shops and me in short-sleeves in late January. Coastal community along the Intracoastal Waterway. Borrowing my aunt’s condo, sitting empty for a few weeks, cousin Mary two doors down.

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Spend my time reading Martin McDonagh plays, watching DVDs of the glory years of The Simpsons, and trying, trying, trying to write something decent. Ponder where the new one should go, tinker with the structure of an old one, trying to raise the stakes, deepen the dramatic conflict. Mostly failing. Hand is still numb, feet and heart want to take me back out on the road, hop from place to place and explore the different villages and communities.

Myrtle Beach, a canyon of mid-century beach hotels, packs of Snowbirds mixing with seedy clumps of men strolling along the strip. Shabby chic of Pawleys Island and a deserted beach. Deluxe shopping center tucked inside an ancient forest of Southern Pine and Palm.  Upper Strand vs. the Lower Strand. Egrets and herons and an occasional lone hawk circling overhead. Old ladies drinking rum in an outdoor bar on an overcast day. New York voices eating liver and talking about Indian Wells Golf Club.

The deli at the nearby grocery store had Lebanon bologna in the case, Pennsylvania Dutch-style salami. Something from my youth, and my ancestors from the Lancaster County days. Guy behind the counter says he’d never heard of it until a few years ago, but they started carrying it to feed the Yankees that all come down here on holiday. It’s pretty bland-tasting, nothing like the Weavers brand Grandma would order by mail decades ago.

It’s been cold here, relatively speaking, but nothing like what’s been going on back home. There are beaches, but no downtowns, no sidewalks, really. A short boardwalk along the marsh lined with empty restaurants with names like “Bovine’s” and “Drunken Jack’s.” People seem in pretty short supply around here.

In a few weeks the Canadians will come, I am told. They come here every year around this time. It’s too far to drive to Florida. 554291_10151477908183552_863910637_n

Recently Haroosh and I got talking about our trip to Washington D.C. to attend the second inauguration of President Obama. Sometimes we spend 10-12 hours a day in the car, as we travel through all these United States, and you need to do something to pass the time. So having a conversation with a small baby chick seems the perfect thing to do.

If you’re wondering who Haroosh is, and why I’m having conversations with him, I suggest you start here.

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Near Grantland, Maryland

Haroosh: Where were those people from?

Me: Ohio.

Same as last night, at McDonald’s!

Yep.

And they were at the Inauguration too?

Yep. And now we’re all heading back home. What did you think of it, by the way?

What? The Inauguration?

Yeah.

It was…it was really something.

Is that it?

No…I’m just trying to find the right words. Do you think a lot of people will be upset that I went?

What do you mean?

Well, I know a lot of people don’t like President Obama.

Ahh. Right. Well, maybe it’s best to think of this as not about politics, but more like history.

History?

Well, sure. First African-American president.

But that was four years ago. It was a bigger deal then.

Well, I suppose. But being reelected means something, too.

You were telling me about what it was like on Election Night, in 2008. All those people, and they were so happy.

Yes. One of the most amazing nights of my life.

Did people really think he was going to make everything better, just like that?

Well, no. But there was a… feeling, I guess. That maybe things would start getting better. That everything wouldn’t be so… ugly.

Do you think he’s made everything better?

It’s not as simple as that, Haroosh. He’s done some things I’ve liked, and some things I don’t like. That’s the short answer. But you didn’t really answer my question: what did you think of the Inauguration?

There were a lot of people.

Yes there were.

Especially while we were waiting for that subway train. And they were shouting sometimes, and those old ladies were fainting. And then they said the train was broken.

That was not the best moment, no. But did you listen to the speech?

Yeah…it was hard to concentrate, though. We were standing there a long time. And I’m pretty small.  But I liked it. He talked about people that don’t get talked about a lot in those types of speeches, didn’t he?

Yes he did.

And that’s what America’s supposed to be about, isn’t it? Opening the door for more people, granting greater freedoms and liberties. At least, that’s what I remember from what you taught us in fifth grade.

Yes. We didn’t get a chance to go look at the Constitution, but that’s what we’re supposed to be all about.

I think I know what you mean about things not being so…ugly now.

Well, we have a long way to go. And presidents can only do so much. But think about all those people standing in front of the capitol building, or waiting for the subway, or driving back home to Ohio or Alabama or other parts of America. Black or white, young or old, for them, it’s still a big deal that he’s the president. They’re counting on him to make things just a little big better. And yeah, I know a lot of people aren’t happy that he was re-elected. That’s a different kind of ugly that won’t go away for a while. But I’m okay with the vision of the United States of America that the president talked about in his speech. That’s the country I’d like to live in.

I wish he would have mentioned something about baby chicks, though. He won’t forget about us chicks, will he?

I don’t think anyone will forget you, Haroosh.

It’s good to be back on the road, isn’t it?

Yes. Yes it is. I’m glad you took me with.

I’m glad you’re with me, pal. It wouldn’t be as much fun if I was doing all this by myself.

So. Where are we going next?

I have no idea. Wherever the road takes us, Haroosh.

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