Saturday, September 29, 2012

Buck up lil camper.

It just takes one moment to make you snap out of it.The aforementioned guy who brought me coffee had some very encouraging words when I stopped by to give him a thank-you postcard. Just as I was starting to turn into a whining windbag someone snapped me out of it without even knowing.

After my last post I drove to the centre of Claremont, OK,  I bought a large coffee and went antique shopping. I didn't buy anything but I hadn't really intended to. I then headed west expecting to meet up with the  Will Rogers Memorial Museum. I somehow didn't find it, instead I kept driving. A friend once told me if I get down to crank the music and sing. So I did just that. Before I could settle into driving I found an abandoned drive-in. I am a sucker for abandoned things I haven't photographed before and a drive-in is on that list. It did have a no trespassing sign but I couldn't resist. At one time it had a clam-shaped parking lot.

Oklahoma boasts the longest stretch of the original Route 66 remaining in the country. I would add it has more remaining neon signs then any state east of it.  I am happily pulling over every ten feet to snap a photograph.

I stopped to eat at Ollies Station Restaurant just outside (or maybe still in) Tulsa, OK. I ordered a chicken fried steak burger, onion rings and a Dr. Pepper.  I'm not a huge meat eater but I keep seeing it on the menu. The same thing with fried green tomatoes and I tried them so I decided I needed to try it too. I don't think I would order it again.

I brought a little book called Road Trip USA, Route 66 with me and it lists old motels still in business. They have been looked after and now they are part of the history. Or so I figured.

 I hatched a plan. I would stop at the next motel listed and photograph it and it's neon. Then I would offer to trade my postcards of their establishment, which I would make and print overnight, for a room. So, with a package of Arizona Neon postcards, a Barter Van magnet and my laptop ready to display the images I just took of the motel, I marched up to the office with a smile on my face and my "I'm confident but not threatening" stride. The majority of owners of these kinds of places live in their homes attached to the motel. Bob walks out and I start in about my proposition. To my astonishment he's not buying it. It was of no cost to him and there wasn't a single room rented!

With nothing to lose I start making small talk with him and he tells me he's looking after the place while his friend is in India for a couple of months. Bob lost his job at a mechanics shop recently and is having a hard time getting another one. Looking around the town of Stroud, OK, I can see why. It's mostly storefronts from what I can see. It's raining out and it's getting dark so I ask about the price of the room. It's $42+tx, something like $48.50, but he'll give me something for free. I don't want anything but a room so I thank him and start to gather my things. Bob speaks up and says what's the best I can do. I begin to explain my proposition again but he's clearly not the least interested in my cards. I offer to pay the price with no tax. He ups it $.50 and we make a deal.

I know I can't keep staying in hotels but I caved. Although last nights experience wasn't what I wanted, it still gave me time to work on my photos from the day. Since plopping my butt down in my room I have been editing photos and writing this post. All while eating junk food and watching ghost stories while it pours outside once again. I'm wondering now if I should have bought a crappy little car and stay in motels with the money I'd save on gas. I'm not done trying my bartering with motels idea though. I still think it could work.

What I've learned thus far, part 2...and my first blahs

I've learned that it's hard for me to receive help from people. Ok, I've always known that but with the situation I'm in and the Barter Van idea I have to swallow my pride. I have been looking after myself for so long I've taken on the attitude that I don't need anyone; I can do it all on my own. No man, or woman, is an island and no one gets through life simply relying on themselves. I am learning it's ok to accept help. I am also the type of person who would rather focus on other peoples problems rather than dealing with my own. Recently someone I met made a point of devoting the day to me and anything I want to do. I hadn't realized how hard that was for me to do. Maybe that's why I find it so comfortable to travel alone. That way I can do what I want and not feel guilty about the other person not fulfilling their desires. Then again, I can also be quite selfish. The good thing about being alone for long, and I mean long, periods of time on long stretches of road is I get ample amount of time to reflect on such topics.

Reality isn't so romantic. I dreamed about doing this for so long, especially Route 66, I hadn't realized how dismal parts of it truly are. Most of the time I drive through long stretches of flat farmland until I reach the next town. And when I say town I really mean a few buildings and closed up shops along with the one or two places doing their best to survive off the Routes lasting stigma. Other places don't even try to be part of it with only a couple houses remaining amongst the boarded up shops, motels and gas stations. I am at odds with being happy to find weathered old signs and coming upon the restored places. My creative side always likes finding the neglected but my nostalgia wants to see more restored places. I think my notions of the road trip remain romantic only in my head.
Kansas town restored because of Disney's movie Cars

Sign from motel turned apartment. Like so many along the route.
I remember people asking me why I want to do this and my response was always I want to know what it feels like to be free and see 'what I'm made of'. Reflecting on that, and being a month into my journey I don't think I know exactly what that means. It's true I am free of work and schedules but I still worry every day about my van breaking down and my money diminishing. I have chores and sometimes I think it's harder than when I was pampered with power and hot water at my fingertips. My ultimate goal is still elusive. Is it so I can say I did this? Is it so I don't regret not doing it when I'm old? Is it to return to Nova Scotia with a new body of work to have another exhibition? Is it to be free and see what the world has to offer? I answered yes to all of these questions before I left but the same questions linger...and more. I wonder if I am capable of going all the way across the US and back without succumbing to loneliness or fear of being stranded in the middle of nowhere. Luckily fear and doubt never last long with me and never stops me from doing what I started out to do. I know in the end if I was to quit now it would send me spiraling into a state of regret depression.

I share this now because I want to be completely frank about the ups and downs I experience. So many moments have been amazing and things do seem like they are falling into place but after spending two days driving without really meeting anyone I've become a bit tired and lonely. I decided to check into a motel, get beer and watch tv. I haven't zoned out in front of the tube in a month and it seems like a luxury now. The motel is gross but it was cheap and the woman at the desk was nice. I tried to barter with a few other old motels but there was no takers. I asked to pay a fraction of the cost of a room to just park in the motels lot for the night but was turned down. So many of these old motels have lost their luster and have become seedy places for people to live. I slept poorly thinking about my van and all of its contents. The one saving grace for this stop over, well maybe two, is the mind-numbing television and the guy I met at the car dealership next door. We only spoke for a moment when I went out to get beer and he immediately offered his help with anything I need. I invited him over for a drink but he worked late and had to decline. In the morning he showed up at my door with coffee before he had to return to work. And the kindness of strangers continues.

There are still many things that make me happy. Simple things like having just enough butane left to make coffee or seeing my first stick bug or armadillo. I don't want to leave this post on a bad note but thought it was important to tell the WHOLE story and not just the wonderful parts. Now, as I sit in McDonald's parking lot I am torn between moving on or staying to hang with my new acquaintance. It's always the decision to keep moving or to take an extra day. I am in the town of Will Rogers birthplace and maybe I should take time to visit the museum etc. I guess my next post will tell what I've decided.

Lastly, I want to thank people for taking this journey with me. I know even at the down times I'm not alone. I appreciate the encouragement more than you know and will adjust my attitude back to the free spirited, fun-loving, adventurous person I know I am.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Here is a little sneak peak  of some of the signs I've seen along the way. I really do have to get the gallery page of my blog going. More to come as I head west on Route 66.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Buckle in...this is a long one.

Sometimes I get to a point where there is so much to talk about I don't know where to begin so I just pick one thing that's on my mind. I'm at a point after this last week I feel I've missed mentioning so many amazing things and haven't given thanks to some of the people I have encountered.

Last week I had the pleasure of staying with Spencer Stewart and his mother in Maryland, PA. He was a wonderful tour guide due to the fact he has a lot of the same interests as I do. We made a trip to Washington, DC, where we toured some of the Smithsonian's museums and walked up to the Lincoln monument. All this in the rain while keeping good spirits and enjoying sights. Washington isn't what I would call a 'homey' city. It felt like no one lived there at all. We ate lunch at a little old diner where the man serving us decided to sit and have his lunch with us. I love that kind of thing. The next day it was off to Baltimore to visit the American Visionary Art Museum, which I would recommend to everyone if you are in the area. The gift shop there is a kitch-lovers dream. We met the owner and he gave me a 5-color screened sideshow poster ad for the store. My new favorite thing, displayed on my fridge.
American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore
Then it was off to Ohio to stay with Matt, whom I met at Serpent Mound, in Cincinnati. First I visited the American Sign Museum. I made it an hour before they closed  and on my way out I saw a man restoring signs and made a comment to him. He turned out to be the owner of the place and gave me a private tour of all the signs yet to be restored. Before I left we traded a pack of my neon postcards for a museum t-shirt and they told me to stay in touch. They may be interested in selling my work there in the future.
American Sign Museum, Cincinnati
Leaving the museum I got turned around over and over again trying to find my way to Matt's house. I ended up on the highway out of town so I called to thank him for the invite but I would be continuing on. Once again I was back on a highway that actually led me back to his area. Clearly I was meant to stay so I called again and ended up at his place just in time to go out for dinner.

Now, this part of my journey is still being processed in my head. I am not what you would consider a spiritual person and have always based my beliefs in science. Matt is one of the most spiritual and generous people I have ever met and I made an effort to go out of my comfort zone and try to be open to his way of life. After an amazing day walking around Cincinnati he invited me to a friends place where they have a spiritual gathering every second week. There, his friends meditate and practice Oneness, giving blessings to each other through transference of energy by placing their hand on your head. (forgive me if I'm getting this wrong). I am still processing all of this but I will say it was a very warm inviting experience and I am proud of myself for putting aside my cynicism.
Terminal Museum, Cincinnati
I left my new friend and headed west on route 50. In Aurora I came upon a garage where the owner has been collecting old signs for over 30 years. He is very used to people wanting to photograph and was happy to let me loose with my camera. He and his brother shared stories about trying to cross the border and they wished me safe travels as I pulled away.
Garage, Aurora Ohio.
I drove straight across Indiana without even realizing it. That's the thing about driving across the US,  you cross the state borders in such a flash you don't even realize you're in a new one. In Salem, Illinois I stopped to take a photo of an old motel sign and it just so happened Terry, the owner, was showing someone a room. He approached me and was curious about what I am doing. After chatting about life and travel he offered me a room for the night and I gave him a package of postcards and a Barter Van magnet in exchange. I immediately went to the grocery store and bought ingredients for dinner since I could cook in a real kitchen! Not long after that the welcome wagon shows up at my door in the form of Brian. This old motel is now apartments and he thought I was moving in. I'm easily distracted and the night I planned to spend working on my photos turned into an evening drinking beer outside, watching the storm and shooting the shit with him. I'm always floored by the amount of information people share with me about their lives. He complimented me on my lack of judgement on people and I cherish that as someone who works really hard to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.
Motel Lakewood. Salem, Illinois
So, now I sit in my room and the storms continue to brew outside. I don't know who's looking out for me, or if I even believe in such things, but one has to pay attention and give thanks. I have read that when you truly follow your desires things fall into place. Well, I'm here to tell you there seems to be a lot of truth in that.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Going with the flow

I entered Ohio two days ago with no plans of anything. A friend at home suggested I visit Serpent Mound in Peebles. I arrived late in the evening and the caretaker told me I had to leave as he was locking the gate. I went back to get my van and sitting next to it was Adam. We chatted for a second and I told him I was off to find a place to sleep. He kindly offered me a spot on his land where he owns a small organic farm. Trusting my gut, and feeling he was of no threat, I followed him. We stayed up for an hour sharing our stories. He needed to be up and gone by 4:45 am to make it to the Saturday market with the goods of his Mennonite neighbors so we said an early good night.

Parked at Adams
 He left the doors open to his house so I could take a shower and make coffee etc. He didn't know it at the time, and neither did I, but he gave me the best gift so far; a day of solitude with three dogs. I ended up staying at his place alone till about 3pm. I made breakfast (with my food), made coffee, had a shower, did my dishes and then went for a walk in the woods with his dogs.
Adams house

Little house as I walk away
I have been asked many times what I want for myself when this adventure is done and my best answer is a house in the country where I have a garden, dogs and a studio to work out of. Hanging at his place on a gorgeous sunny day gave me a little taste of what it would be like. I felt at home.

Serpent Mound

Adam in the white (middle)

In the evening I was invited to camp out near the mound and watch the drum circle. It was Equinox so it's a big deal to many people of a spiritual nature. This kind of thing is completely out of my normal realm but part of this journey is to introduce myself to new things without judgement. I had a great time talking to people and met some great individuals who took a genuine interest in what I am doing. I showed my house off to the curious. I felt welcome and I'm glad I stayed.

Friday, September 21, 2012

What I've learned thus far.

It's almost three weeks since I departed on this crazy journey of mine and there's no shortage of things to learn and adapt to when living in a van full time.

My transition from tiny bachelor apartment to van dwelling wasn't such a big deal. My daily routine stays the same; get up, make coffee and while it perks clean house. Living in such a small space, and being slightly OCD when it comes to organization, makes me have have to keep a tidy abode. There really is no way around that. Plus, if I am ever to be stopped by the police it just looks better.

My toilet is in both my kitchen and my bedroom and that takes some getting used to. I didn't think I would use it that much but I do enjoy not having to go outside in the dark scariness to relieve myself. I have also discovered it's important to remember to empty the campa potti every few days or there's a strange smell of cured meats in my house. (most of you are wincing right now and I don't blame you, but these are the gritty facts)

Without power my fridge is an ice box so I need to buy a bag of ice every day. If I forget the water melts and severe turns cause the water to come pouring out all over the place. This goes for everything else too. Every single item has to be tied down or wedged in or things go flying. Just this morning I took a quick turn and my fridge opened, sending cheese, sandwich meat and potatoes flying. It's a bit of a distraction when you're driving.

Obviously showering, or not showering, is a constant concern. I'm ok with a few days of bird bathing in gas stations or fast food joints but after a while a hot shower is definitely needed. I have been lucky in the last week to have the luxury of staying with people and showering on a regular basis. Back on the road and one day later I'm already missing that which we all take for granted.

Lastly, where to sleep for the night is a concern every time I see the sun disappearing on the horizon. I have pulled over in front of a little cemetery, in broad view in parking lots and sometimes right on the side of the road. Last night was the only time I had a problem. In West Virginia I was feeling rather crappy due to a cold and felt I shouldn't drive any further. I pulled over on the side of the secondary highway I was on and crawled into bed. It was only 8:30pm so I knew I would be up early and back on the road, hopefully feeling less coldish. After about 10 minutes a car pulled over behind me, stayed for a minute then left. A few minutes later a truck pulled over in front of me, then turned around and pulled in back, stayed there for a minute, and left.

It was the first time this kind of thing happened and I got spooked so I drove to the next town. I parked on the road between a lawyers office and the police station thinking it would be safe. Two seconds later another car pulls in behind me and there is a flashlight in my face. You know the saying, "they are as afraid of you as you are of them"? Turns out that's the case here. People were checking me out because I'm a stranger here and called the police. The kind policeman told me people are suspicious because with the way the economy is they want to hang on to whatever they have left. Apparently there is a big problem with stealing in the little town of Ritchie County. He allowed me to park in the police station's lot for the night. When I left in the morning I swear I was followed by a black truck until I was out of town.

Now, I head out towards Ohio with a golf ball sized hole in my exhaust. Hopefully I can find a mechanic who is willing to let me trade for the fix. Let the learning and exploring continue!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Generosity and inspiration in Ardmore, PA

Sometimes you meet people and just their aura is inspiring. Todd and Kristin Kimmell invited me to their beautiful 1895 house in Ardmore, PA. They have to be two of the kindest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. I mean, just LOOK at them! I showed up in their town with very short notice and they still welcomed me. The family had plans that evening so off they went leaving me, a relative stranger, alone in their house for hours. If this isn't trust I don't know what is. I set myself up with my laptop in the corner of their kitchen and didn't move for fear of lighting the place on fire.

In the morning I was called in for coffee and breakfast and given the abbreviated history of Philadelphia. I always enjoy listening to charismatic, smart people and Todd is definitely one of them. In return for their kindness I left them with a piece I made on copper which they seemed to genuinely like. I am flattered to have it in their home amongst all the amazing work they have surrounded themselves with.

Todd has a studio in the basement of a Masonic hall which includes a 100 year old bowling alley. And yes, I did get to throw a ball down the lane...I scored 8.

Todd is the creator of The Grand Review, which he describes as "a remarkable collection of delightful yet obscure historic imagery from private and public collections....Rediscovered, then rethought and reworked, we present these carefully chosen images back to the public as handsomely crafted large format prints." His studio is enough too make a person drool. I wanted to walk away with many of the prints and regret I didn't, however, I know where to find them when I'm settled again.

I am only two weeks into my adventure and can honestly say I am delighted with the people I am meeting. It is giving me lots to think about when it comes to what I want to do in the grand scheme of things. For now, onward ho!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Trust in strangers

Chris and Paul
Before I left on my journey I was advised by everyone to be careful of people, especially in the big, bad 'ol US.  I do realize there are some out there who do not have the best intentions but if you ever want restore your faith in people travel alone.

As you may already know I had a fainting spell last week. I stopped at All Computer Services in Highland Park, NY to get a virus on my laptop fixed. As they were working on it we chatted and I told Paul, the owner, all about my adventure and where I'm from. When my computer was fixed he refused to charge me, telling me I needed the money for my trip. In return I offered to buy him dinner. I was famished and would enjoy the company. On our way to eat we stopped at a friends place to invite them and stayed for a beer. I asked to use the washroom and just steps later I was down for the count. The rest of the story is through Paul's experience told to me.

When I came to about 15 seconds later I had no idea what happened or where I was. I was screaming my name and where I'm from, over and over. Everyone from inside the house came out to see what was going on. All strangers to me. No one there knows anything about me except for what I told Paul during our small talk. They put me on my side with a sweater under my head while they tried to calm me down and find out what had happened. They find all the pieces of my broken glasses, get me into a car and Paul's friend drives us to the emergency. There I am asked questions he has to answer. I don't have my purse, no identification, no money.  I signed a form with the nurses help, agreeing to let them do whatever they needed to do to make sure I'm okay. Released with a concussion and a broken nose, I am taken to Paul's place. My memory picks up here.

Thanks to Paul my memory was restore by him answering my repeating questions over and over. If it wasn't for him knowing the answers I'm not sure what would have happened. For the next 4 days he waited on me hand and foot at his place and when at the shop Chris kept me company. These two people are amazing and I owe them a lot. The accident was scary but it could have been so much worse had I been with other people. They deserve to have a post dedicated to them, so here it is.

I had posted earlier that I need to learn to slow down but this isn't what I meant. I'm not a spiritual person but if I was to get anything from this I would say the universe told me to take it easy. I would have understood a more gentle message though. Next time you can be more subtle Mr./Mrs Universe.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Exploring caverns in New York State

In the early days of roadside attractions businesses would compete for the motorist's attention. Repeating signs (like the famous Burma Shave ads) were used to peak your curiosity with each one claiming more fantastic sights to be seen. On my drive through northern NY state I came across this one for the "Secret Caverns" and was immediately hooked.

By the time I saw the third sign I knew I wanted to visit. Funny enough, I ended up at a different spot called Howe's Caverns, which turned out to have pretty boring billboards mind you.  I hadn't realized I was at a different place until just after I paid so I reluctantly joined the next tour.
We descend 150 feet below the surface and walk out into a beautiful sight. I have always wanted to see the formations in underground caves and although the tour guide kept saying it's all natural I wasn't convinced. I will say most of what I saw was naturally occurring but when your view of the place is interrupted by electrical cords it kind of takes away from the charm. At one point I actually saw an electrical socket in the rocks.

Guided tours are not my preferred way of seeing things but sometimes it's the only way to gain access and you do learn a lot from the guides. It was an hour and a half tour which included a boat ride and some amazing sights.

In the end I was really happy I stopped, even if it wasn't the place I thought I was going to. Although the photos don't do it justice I hope you can see it was an awe inspiring place and I certainly understand why it's been in business since 1843.