All in all, The Grandma Road Trip spanned 16 days, more than 2,709 miles (not counting detours), and 9 states (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois). We visited 2 grandmothers, 4 aunts, 2 uncles, 3 cousins, 1 brother, 1 almost sister-in-law (and two of her relatives!), 1 best friend and her son, 1 sister, 1 nephew, 1 father, 3 dogs, dozens of tangueros and a handful of people who are as good as family. It wasn’t enough, it was too much and it was everything. Now, after it is all over, I am homesick for multiple cities and also convinced there is no place like where the heart is.
Monthly Archives: September 2012
Leg Six: Acworth to New Orleans, 498.3 miles
Tuesday, September 11th: I left after Atlanta’s rush hour, managing to get a little sleep and after a tough goodbye with Mums. We’d gotten so used to traveling together, to sharing a small space together, it felt strange to make this last leg alone. I stopped for an early lunch with Aimee and then again, later, to make some calls for the movie, wrapping up some loose ends. Otherwise, the trip was uneventful, except for the end.
As soon as I arrived in Nola, I went straight to rehearsals for the NO Show. It turned out our leading lady was out of town and I would have to voice one of the lead parts during the live recording the next day, with Helen voicing the other. After rehearsal, I met Jamey for dinner. Normally, I would’ve just collapsed after a trip home from GA, but I still wasn’t done. I changed clothes in the bathroom, then went to tango! I didn’t dance very much, mostly just caught up with everyone since I hadn’t seen them for about two weeks.
It was midnight before I got home, which I’d last seen about 15 days previously, before Hurricane Isaac and before this insane road trip with my mom. I was so glad to be home in Nola, but I found myself missing Mums and everybody I’d gotten so used to seeing while on The Grandma Road Trip.
More than anything, I was just glad we had done it, glad to have spent the time with family and made the memories, glad to be safely home and to find my home safely waiting for me.
Leg Five: Chicago to Acworth, 685.8 miles
Monday, September 10th: We met Norm and Trouble for breakfast at Delia’s one more time and said our last round of goodbyes before heading out of Chicago. We passed striking teachers (and/or their supporters) on the overpasses as we exited the city and we honked our support as we went.
After passing through all the toll stations, we settled in to finish our second fluffy Janet Evanovich audio book, then started the looong audio book Mums had chosen, The Thirteenth Tale. It wasn’t long into the story before I realized we weren’t going to finish it together and regretted that we didn’t listen to it first.
I almost wished we were beginning the trip all over again. But, it was long enough as it was.
We tried to stop at a place called The Thirsty Turtle in Indiana for lunch, but it was closed and we ended up at a Steak N’ Shake instead. We fared better with dinner, at The Oasis Southwest Grill in Kentucky.
And though the audio book was extremely engaging, it seemed like we were in the mountains of Tennesee, sharing the dark road with 18-wheelers, forever. It was pretty tense, probably most of all because we were exhausted.
We made it home pretty late, but I stayed up to do laundry and pack for the last leg of the Grandma Road Trip, then got a few hours of sleep.
Leg Four: Columbus to Chicago, 355.8 miles
Thursday, September 6th: We made a pit stop at Tim Horton’s for coffee and doughnuts, then another at my Aunt R.‘s work to say goodbye, then got on the road for Chicago. For some reason, we were a bit more distracted on this trip and stopped several times. First at the amazing Amish Cheese Shop, where we got gifts for folks, some goodies for the fridge in our Chicago hotel room and a sandwich for lunch.
I drove a lot of this leg of the trip, but we switched out shortly before Chicago, in the land of the wind turbines. They’re beautiful, but they also kinda freak me out. There’s something about their enormous size and how slowly the blades turn, and that they turn at different speeds.
We got to Chicago just in time for rush hour and about the only smart thing we’d done was switch drivers. At least Mums was fresh for that hellish experience. Chicago rush hour is no joke – and we know Atlanta traffic. Between the multitude of tolls and the suddenly-upon-you barriers that you can easily t-bone yourself on, we were quite aggravated. Chicago has three or four different events most nights and I had been thinking about finding a milonga since we were getting in pretty early and didn’t have plans with family yet. But after the 6+ hour drive, traffic getting into the city, the less-than-fun experience of unloading the car and getting everything up into the room, then taking the car to the lot a few blocks away and walking back to the hotel, I was pretty tired. I let Mums talk me into a quiet dinner at the hotel restaurant and an early evening.
A word about our hotel. The hotel we’ve stayed at before was sold out one of the nights we planned on being there, so Mums scrambled to find another place while we were in Columbus. She found The Write Inn, in the “Frank Lloyd Wright historic district” of Oak Park, across the street from a Hemingway museum and full of “old world charm.” (Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway are the dueling scions of Oak Park). There were such mixed reviews online that we were a bit uncertain, but we decided to take a chance. We ended up being very glad we did. It was inconvenient in a few small ways which mostly related to getting our things in and out and the parking situation, but we really enjoyed it as a home base during our visit.
And that first night, we had such an amazing meal at Hemingway’s Bistro, inside the hotel. It was a bit expensive, but the food was incredible and the atmosphere was really relaxed and elegant. Even when somebody put on a bunch of Bajofondo tango music, just to taunt me. If I’d had any energy left, I would’ve figured out where to tango and gone that night, after listening to that. As it was, we watched President Obama’s speech at the DNC from the comfort of our hotel room. I didn’t mention this in the Columbus post, but I noticed the big campaign push while we were in Ohio, which is always an early indicator of how the election’s going to go. And now, here we were in the President’s home state, just in time to watch his speech.
Friday, September 7th: As usual, Mums woke up early, which meant I woke up early. We walked around, discovering the area around the hotel, which is packed with great shops and restaurants, but we had some trouble finding a hot breakfast. We ended up having coffee and quiches at this awesome coffee shop called Red Hen Bread. We continued our walk, finding the post office to mail our postcards and a movie theater and an amazing book shop called The Book Table. That place is dangerous! We both ended up buying a few books. Me, Victor LaValle’s Big Machine and David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary. Then, we had the best Indian buffet lunch I’ve ever tasted at Khyber Pass and saw The Words at the Lake Theater. We missed the first couple of minutes and both of us were a little stunned at the end. I could feel it coming, but I still felt surprised when the movie was over.
Then, we went to my aunt and uncle’s place to see everybody. My brother and his girlfriend had just gotten into town and my dad came up from the city, where he was working. Two of my cousins were off at college, so we didn’t get to catch up with them, but their younger twin brothers were home, and learning how to drive! I haven’t seen them for a few years, so it was hard to believe they were old enough. They are two of the most intelligent and conscientious kids you have ever met. They’ve had their own business for years, in fact. Whenever I worry about kids these days, my cousins reassure me that there are some good ones out there.
It was amazing to spend this time with our family, but my tentative plans to tango in the city flew out the window.
Saturday, September 8th: We met Norm and Trouble, my brother and his girlfriend, at Delia’s Kitchen, a great place we’d found on Lake Street the day before. There are so many great places in just a few blocks of Lake Street. Afterwards, we did a little shopping for Grammy‘s birthday dinner that evening. We dropped them off at the house, but ended up staying the rest of the day, ourselves. Except for practice driving sessions with both of the twins (funniest experience ever) and picking up my dad from the L station, I spent the day hanging out and helping prep for the Big Dinner. Grammy‘s 88th birthday was quite the event. She didn’t know that Norm, Trouble, Mums or I would be there and she seemed so completely thrilled to have almost the whole family together.
Between dinner, pictures and Norm (guitar) dueting with one of the twins (piano) on “Greensleeves,” we were all together till almost 1 a.m., so tango didn’t work out on Saturday, either. The twins were determined to help me get to tango, however, so earlier in the day, they’d helped me hatch a plan to finally, finally, tango.
Sunday, September 9th: On my last full day in Chicago, I met the twins and their dad at Red Hen Bread for breakfast. I did some work, finally catching up on a few things. Then, there was a flurry of plans and then a hectic pulling together of those plans as Norm, Trouble, the twins and our younger cousin and I all met at the L station and went into the city. My brother and I are different as night and day and I was a bit stressed wrangling the cousins while he was more laid back. It turns out there was construction on our line and we had to switch and then walk a few blocks, but one way or another, we made it to our destination. Which was the Art Institute of Chicago’s south garden where the Tango Guerillas have a free, public class every Sunday. Chicago also had a summer dance series going on as well – they are absolutely spoiled for dance. This Sunday, they had a class featuring Enriqueta Kleinman, which was pretty amazing. Several members of the Tango Guerillas quickly took me and my posse under their wings, especially the cousins, which was really nice of them. After the class, Norm and Trouble took the kids out for dinner and I stayed for the milonga, having an absolute blast.
Later, I saw that I missed a flurry of phone calls from various family members. It turned out one of the cousins was late for a family obligation and we all had to rush back to the suburbs. I ended up taking the L back on my own while the others caught the train from another station and my dad tried to meet up with all of us from a third station. It was really comical, but we all ended up getting back about the same time. Late, but happy after our day in the city.
That night, Mums and I packed and watched the news, waiting for word about whether or not the teachers would strike. We had to call it a night before we got our answer.
Leg Three: Acworth to Columbus, 536.6 miles
Sunday, September 2nd: Mums and I set off reasonably early. She drove the entire way to Columbus while we listened to a fluffy Janet Evanovich audio book and I played with my new iPhone, which I’d gotten the day before. Considering I live in New Orleans, which is so flat it’s sunk in, I was pretty enamored with the mountains of Tennessee. Case in point (and I took about a hundred of these):
I was looking for postcards along our way to send back home. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find a postcard in Tennessee, especially on the Sunday before Labor Day when all the welcome centers are closed. It turns out that very few gas stations actually carry them anymore, which is kinda sad. I did manage to find some.
We stopped for lunch at Cracker Barrel, where I was amused by the “low carb” options on the menu. Maybe they are prepared pretty healthily, but none of these would occur to me as particularly low carb. Except maybe the trout.
As soon as we got to Columbus, we met my relatives at a Bob Evans. I was a bit exhausted (being out late finally caught up with me) and was feeling kinda cranky, but it was so nice to see them. It’s been a very long time since we’ve all been together. We laughed a lot, especially while my family tortured our extremely good-natured waiter.
That evening, Grandma S. gave me a book called The Ringling Legacy and it occurred to me that she’s basically been doing research for The Winter Circus since before I was alive. A few years ago, she drove me to Bowling Green to interview Montana Miller, who I later became friends with, and Montana mentioned an old television special she’d been featured in and Grandma S. said, “Oh yeah, I remember that.” I thought she was just making it up, but she and Montana swapped details about the special. She has collected clowns my entire life, which is probably the reason they’re my least favorite part of the circus. But clearly, she has something to do with that seed of circus love that has always existed inside me.
Monday, Septempter 3rd – Wednesday, September 5th: Over the next few days, Mums and I did a lot of fun stuff with our Columbus relatives. We all got slaughtered in miniature golf by Grandma S. We cheered my aunt R.‘s over-40 soccer league game, where her team kicked ass and where, I have to admit, I snorted a bit rudely with a lady complained about the “humidity” on a cool, breezy evening. I *wanted* to say, “Really, lady, if you want to complain about humidity, go visit New Orleans where *any* day is going to be more humid than this pretty, breezy evening in September.” But, that would’ve been even ruder. We helped Grandma S. clean and organize her basement a little, though I wish we could’ve helped more. Three generations of book lovers visited a great, used bookstore in an old church, which was mighty dangerous. But probably my favorite moment is when we all watched So You Think You Can Dance together. Mums, my aunt R. and I are all huge fans and Grandma S. seemed to enjoy herself as well. We were loud and enthusiastic and it was so much fun.
And as for the home thing that Mums brought up before the second leg of the Grandma Road Trip – Mums grew up in Columbus and I was born there. While we moved to Georgia when I was very little, I do recognize a lot from other visits and there’s something a little primordial about being there. It’s the original home, maybe, even if I haven’t lived there in my own sentient memory. Each leg of this trip so far has been going backwards to an older version of home.
Leg One: Baton Rouge to Acworth, 552.7 miles
Friday, August 31st: And as I made the decision to leave, I was hearing about a dam in Mississippi that was likely to fail. It was on my route, which meant this might be my last chance to get out for a while. I took my chances, nervous through the long journey from Baton Rouge to Slidell and into Mississippi. I didn’t relax until I was in Alabama, which is ironic because it’s usually my least favorite portion of the trip. But I was going north, getting away from the coast and that was good news. I’ve made this trip 3-4 times a year since 2000, so that’s about 50 times. Whenever I can, I stop in Auburn to see my sister Aimee and her son. This time, I picked them up and took them with me. We had a blast together in the car, even if it was pretty late by the time we got into Acworth. The best was listening to Aimee read my nephew his bedtime portion of Peter Pan from her iPad. The juxtaposition of past, present and future represented by an old story on an iPad, my sister reading a bedtime story to her son, and the deeply dark night pressing against the car windows, will probably always be one of my favorite memories.
Saturday, September 1st: Mums and I ran errands to get ready for the trip. We’d planned to leave on Labor Day originally, but I suggested we begin on Sunday to avoid bad traffic, since I was already there a day early. Our most notable errand might have been going to the library for audio books. This is the library I grew up with, still called the “new library” after it was moved to a new location when I was in elementary school.
We also had lunch with my best friend since 2nd grade and her son.
Then, there was a round of laundry and re-packing. Now, the focus of my packing was purely on The Grandma Road Trip and while I did have to include some work documents since I would be finishing my work on the movie long distance, I was also able to lighten my load a bit.
But to really prepare, it was necessary that I tango. So, I drove down to the city and had a fabulous couple of hours with the tangueros there. This is my second time dancing in Atlanta, but the people I’d met before weren’t there and one dancer who had moved from BR to Atlanta was out of town. So, I had to brave an unfamiliar group all over again, but the Atlanta dancers were so welcoming and talented.
Mums hadn’t wanted me to go considering we were getting an early start in the morning, but I think she saw that it was worth it when I returned. I hadn’t danced in more than a week and when I came home, I was so much more relaxed and happy. I was bound to be a much better travel partner in the morning.
Leg One: New Orleans to Baton Rouge, 80.1 miles
Sunday, August 26th: Becks and I met for dinner, catching up. During dinner, I got a call from my boss, confirming that the office would only be open for a few hours the next day so that we could prepare it for Hurricane Isaac. This was meant to be our last week and now the office would be closed for at least two days. Also, she said, I should fill up my gas tank, because gas stations were already running out. Becks and I finished dinner, grabbed some hurricane supplies and looked for gas. One station we passed had a line for several blocks and two others were sold out. As we separated, Becks said, “You might want to pack the car in case you have to leave straight from work.” So, I stayed up late Hurricane-“proofing” the house, packing for both the Grandma Road Trip and for evacuation. Have you ever had to pack as if you’ll be gone for just 14 days and also maybe indefinitely at the same time? It’s pretty hard.
Monday, August 27th: Monday should’ve started our last week in the office and instead, we had to get it ready to face the storm, as well as a bit of business as usual. As the hours passed, it became clear I was going to Baton Rouge. Several people were encouraging (begging, in some cases) me to leave. I was grouchy. This had happened a few years ago for Gustav and I ended up trapped in Baton Rouge for a week. But, I knew they were right, so I headed to Baton Rouge. I ran a few errands and stopped by to see my editors at the 225 offices. Then, I went to stay with friends who are like family to me. We hadn’t gotten to see much of each other lately, so between that and the BBQ dinner, it felt more like vacation than evacuation that first night.
Tuesday, August 28th – Thursday, August 30th: We had power the entire time I was with my friends, which made them call me their lucky charm. It was so comfortable to be there, but I was still restless. I knew everybody was safe back in Nola, that my house still had power (amazingly, it didn’t go out once), but I didn’t know when or if I would be able to go back to Nola. I knew I’d done the right thing by leaving when I-10 was flooded at LaPlace, making it extremely difficult to get back into the city. It would’ve been difficult to leave on our trip from Nola, had I stayed. As it was, the office had a bit of flooding and we wouldn’t be able to reopen to the following week, so after four days in Baton Rouge, I left a day early for the the Grandma Road Trip.
I texted Mums: On my way home tomorrow.
She texted me back: New Orleans home, or here?
That question of home was a better one than either of us realized, and would echo throughout the trip.
As my latest movie was coming to an end, Mums and I found ourselves in a similar place: jobless and excited about the possibilities, while trying to reconcile ourselves to change. I live in a different state from my mother, as she does from hers. We have, all three generations of us and in our own ways, been trying to establish better relationships with each other despite this physical distance. So, Mums and I conceived of a trip, a massive road trip, to visit both of my grandmothers, who are 87 and 88 and who I haven’t seen in a few years. This trip would also enable us to see other family we hadn’t seen for a long time and spend more time with each other. Plus, and this isn’t the smallest factor, we each needed an adventure.
I will break down this trip in the next several posts, maybe over a few days, beginning with Leg One: Baton Rouge.
I heard this first one last night at Tipitina’s before the Amanda Palmer + Grand Theft Orchestra show last night. My response: “This would be fun to tango to.” Can’t stop playing it. 🙂
This second one was sent today by a friend to amuse me. The story is that Reggae Pop, featured in the video, goes to L.A. parties and dances with all the guys’ girlfriends.
And back to last night’s show, Amanda Palmer brought up the St. Cecilia’s Asylum Chorus to do their acapella version of her song “Map of Tasmania” and they killed it. Enjoy the video: