Monday, October 5, 2009

California Dreamin', Reconnection With an Old Roadtrip.

Another beautiful sunrise.

I wasn’t always able to travel. I did have to work regularly to support a family. I helped my wife raise three daughters. We had a couple of dogs and cats and we built our own solar heated house in the early 1980’s.

In those days, there was no traveling. Only the trip to Chicago to my Father’s funeral in 1983. That trip was sponsored by an older man who was a friend and neighbor. He gave me some cash in folded bills and let me use his late model car to drive my family down to Chicago, from East Central Minnesota, to be with my Brother, Sister and Mother.

Most folks know that you can’t have this life of a vagabond, being on the road, while also being a family man. I did have many jobs as a truck driver over the road. It paid good wages and that is what was needed to support the family. When I could, I’d get off the road to be closer to home, but invariably got back into the cab of a semi when we needed to make a better paycheck. Traveling for money is a lot different than living the life of a traveler.

Here's a picture of a restored B Model Mack. I cut my truck drivin' teeth on one of these, a 1946 B Model.

It was in early 1990’s that I got a job that afforded me a block of time off of work while the paycheck still came in. I was working at a YMCA camp in extreme Northern Minnesota on the Canadian border. The camp was on a lake, and the lake had to follow natures guidance and freeze and thaw each year. Since it was impossible to cross a freezing or thawing lake with a boat on the water or on foot over the ice, I was just given April and November off.

I worked there as the camp cook in summer, and did caretaking duties the rest of the year. The first year I worked there, 1991, was a great experience. And now, here we were, November, off of work and a little money in our pockets.

I drove a 1978 Chevy sedan in those days. We took the kids out of school and loaded up the family car. We headed Southwest and left the Northshore of Lake Superior buried in 42 inches of snow. We drove all night, and after a short nap in the middle of the night while we sat in the car in a rest area on the I-35, we pulled in to Wichita, Kansas in time for breakfast at a diner I spotted on old US Highway 54. In the old days, US Highway 54 was a cut off shortcut for the trip West on US 66. Instead of going through Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle, US 54 went West at Witchita, KS and rejoined US 66 at Tucumcari, NM.

You got a plan to motor West? Try Route 66.

In Dodge City, Kansas, we went to a self serve car wash and sprayed the overcast of salt off the Chevy. The windows were rolled down part way by the time we hit Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our arms getting tanned near Phoenix, Arizona and we swam in the ocean in Los Angeles.

We ate Mexican food and drove through the Navajo and Hopi Nations. Grand Canyon welcomed us and we drove through and toured Hoover Dam. I showed the obnoxious lights and glitter of Las Vegas to the children. When we arrived in L.A., the weather was great. Still summery in early November. We visited some friends for a couple of days, then traveled North to San Francisco.

From L to R, Daughters Jayne and Alyssa and Mrs. Spadoman in 1991 at Grand Canyon.

The City by the Bay was beautiful as well. We walked over the Golden Gate Bridge and went to Fisherman’s Wharf and the Embarcadero. My eyes as wide as the children's. We ate way too much sourdough bread.

Hoover Dam, a highlight of the 1991 West Coast trip.

We saw more of the ocean and the giant redwood trees and visited more friends in Eureka, California, and although we were broke by then, we managed to get home via a scenic route through the Bitterroot mountains in Idaho through Clearwater National Forest with a short time in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

My daughters with good friend Hal in the Redwoods, 1991.

We saw wild elk and deer and buffalo, eagles and hawks flying, birds and animals strange to us midwesterners. Those racoons and skunks seen dead on the road from the untimely meeting with the tire of an Oldsmobile doing 75 were said to be taking a nap at the center or side of the road.

Then 13 and 15 year old daughters swimming in the ocean. This year, we have pictures of our Grand children following suit.

By that time in our life, we traveled with the remaining two younger daughters. They were 13 and 14 respectively. I say remaining because our oldest daughter was lost to this world earlier that same year. We simply took the kids out of school and told the teachers that we were going on a trip across the country.

US Highway 101 at Big Sur on the California coast, 1991.

The school made a little fuss, but the wiser of the staff knew this was going to be more than time off. An educational process would take place by actually seeing things that most kids just read about in books. The family bonding that took place was worth far more than a few weeks of public education. After the trip, my youngest daughter told me her highlight was Hoover Dam. She has gone back a couple of times to see it again in adulthood.

The girls drove the Chevy on old Route 66 in the desert of Arizona. The younger was cautious and sensible, the older seemed to like to put her foot down hard on the accelerator.

Kids got to drive on old Historic US Route 66 in our "vintage" '78 Chevy.

Los Angeles provided teachings about Los Dios de los Muertos, or, Days of the Dead. A Mexican and South American celebration, on November 1st and 2nd, where it is said that the spirits of the dearly departed come to visit those of us remaining on the Earth. The displays of the event were still up in old L.A. when we went there to visit.

These displays, alters, are erected and items reminding the living of their departed are placed on them. These items, or offrendas, are things the departed one may have liked. We put up an alter each year and throw a huge party. It beats going to the cemetery and crying. The tears are still there, but not so much when friends are together and memories are sweet. We still celebrate “Los Dios” in our home each year. It is our favorite holiday. We look forward to sharing the fun, laughter and community with our friends and the friendly spirits that visit. We learned about it on this fabulous trip.

Our Los Dios de Los Muertos , (Days of the Dead), alter, 2006 when we lived in Ashland, WI.

Look for the official notice of this years Los Dios de Los Muertos celebration. I’ll post an invitation and tell some stories right here in the Round Circle as soon as I return from Seattle on October 14th.

On the road, we ate sandwiches and cooked a little on a single burner stove. We camped a lot on the side of the road. Motels were there, but our budget didn’t allow for constant luxury. A shower, or a swim, every few days was good enough. McDonald’s and like were out of the question as the grocery store allowed a better diet on fewer dollars.

We tried to see everything. Disneyland was a disappointment, no Mickey there that day, and it rained besides. Rodeo Drive, which had no meaning to our lifestyle, was gawked at. We missed a few things but have been back since to see those we missed and revisit the places we fell in love with. Most of the natural things intrigued us, and as I look back and remember that fact, I am proud of what we held as priorities.

I don’t get to travel with the girls much now. The older has four children. There is no vehicle big enough to carry us all any distance. The younger is busy with life and career. I don’t get to travel much at all anymore as we can’t afford it anyway with the prices of gas food and lodging.

When I quit working for the camp. I moved back to Duluth, then eventually, to Saint Paul, Minnesota. I started working in the movie business, driving truck and operating equipment fulfilling duties with regards to motion picture production.

A Wintertime photo of beautiful YMCA Camp Menogyn in Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

The work was very intense. Long hours every day for six days a week. Each movie shoot varied in length, but most were 8-10 weeks. I’d catch up on sleep and laundry and get back to it on Monday. When it was over, I had a pocket full of money and time off, usually, before the next movie started.

That’s when I really was able to travel. That time between movie shoots. A better and newer vehicle and a little extra cash to boot. I made many trips during that stretch and got to go back and check some places out that I passed through on trucking journeys.

A heart problem and subsequent surgery in 2003, my third such in 18 years, slowed me down a bit, but after a long recovery period, I was able to travel some again. I was disabled from the onslaught of heart disease and diabetes and given a disability. All that meant to me was a modicum of income and time off to travel. Early retirement so to speak, and I knew what I wanted to do if I ever retired.

I realize that this article isn’t about the trying times that face each of us every day in regards o the current world situation. It is my badly needed break from it all. The writing about memories past is paramount in recovery. So instead, I gave you a snapshot of how I have lived my life. I am still very much aware of the turmoil we have on our hands with war being the first and foremost on the list of things that I find hard to endure.

Talk about being hard to travel, it’s impossible now. No amount of fixed income money will allow it and it isn’t prudent to be so wasteful with resources. Obligations that I didn’t take the time to make in the past are staring me in the face today. The idea of being a Grandparent has weight, the Peace Vigil held weekly in the town where I live is a commitment, and there are things to do everyday in this fight to “live” right up until we die.

I added to that the idea that maybe I have something to share that may be of help to others. This is not to brag or put up a shingle, but rather admit to myself my mistakes and teachings and share them with others when I feel so compelled.

Maybe I’m not smelling the roses as they say, or eating enough ice cream. In other words, I might seem to be enjoying life as much as I did before when I was footloose and fancy free and traversing the continent on four wheels ala William Least Heat Moon or as John Steinbeck had done before me in Blue Highways and Travels With Charley respectively..

Some folks comment about the interesting life I have lead because I got to travel and live out a few dream scenarios. Now you know the rest of the story. I’d trade the heart attacks, my lost daughter and the horrors of Vietnam for a home life any day. And I’d sure wish I could forget the current war and the lack of any peace around the globe. The daily bombardment of news about so many atrocities has me reeling some days. That’s when I go back and remember the roads I have traveled and recharge. Pinch me and wake me up, Okay?

Peace to All.

Authors Note:

This was written and posted long ago on my Round Circle blog. Since then, not much has changed, although recently, in the Summer of 2009, I took my Grandchildren on the same trip to many of the same places and some others that we didn’t get to the first time. 6670 miles and 22 days on the road. Look HERE and compare the pictures from 1991 and 2009 trips.

By the way, all these pictures were taken by yours truly on that trip in 1991, or at home, except for the one of Hoover Dam.


susan said...

That was a great story but far too involved for me to adequately comment about in it's sections.

My husband and I drove across the country from RI to Portland when we moved out here and once we got past the Mississippi I was in a state of amazement about how big and beautiful it is. A few years ago we drove Hwy 1 from San Francisco as far as we could north to the Oregon border. I shed a few tears on that trip.

You've done well Mr. Spadoman. I hope you have many more journeys to come (and great pictures too).

Spadoman said...

Dear susan... Thank you for coming over to my neck of the woods. And also, thanks for wishing me more trips. I'm leaving for Seattle this evening in fact.
Tell me about the tears on that Highway 1 trip in California. I used to have a place in Eureka, CA. I love that part of the country and return there often.

Peace to you.

Mel said...

It's a wonderful life--comprised of the events that unfold for each of us.

I'm sad for some incidents, elated by other--and at peace, seemingly, with them all.
Things happen for reasons that I don't always get to know--but all in all, I've been graced with some very awesome things. As have you and yours, apparently.

That southwest Route 66 is one of my favorites....I think I've convinced himself it's his as well. ;-)

Safe journey, sir. And here's to more adventures....wherever or feet are!

*sending peacefilled thoughts*