Ponty’s Pen: Road Trips in the USA

Every now and then we get something for Christmas that really sparks our imaginations, allowing them to run—or, in this case, drive—wildly to other lands.  For a young Portly, it was receiving a copy of Sid Meier’s Civilization II from my aunt one Christmas.  That game opened up vast new worlds and incredible historical “what-ifs,” and was partially responsible for my decision to study and teach history for a living.

For Ponty, it’s an annual copy of Fodor’s Best Road Trips in the USA.

Travel guides have always been one of my favorite genres, too.  Sure, travelogues are more engaging and adventurous, but travel guides let us learn about places without a great deal of authorial embellishment.  We get the basics about an area, and then can put ourselves immediately into those places, imagining visiting the great sites and destinations—or the backwater burgs and forgotten byways—of the world.

Ponty captures that spirit of adventure and fun in this touching, personal, and engaging little piece about his imaginary—and, let us hope, someday real!—travels around the United States.

With that, here’s Ponty with some reflections on Christmas and road trips:

Tina and I love the Christmas period. Tina, most probably, more so than me. Away from the religious aspects of the season, we get to put up lights and decorations and see the dour yet comfortable trappings of home turn, for just a month, into a grotto of red and gold and green. The only thing that annoys me about these 2 weeks is the great Christmas lie – pre-peeled sprouts. They’re never pre-peeled. In fact, you spend more time with them than you do with the sprouts off the stalk. That bugaboo out of the way, the rest of the season is peachy. We have our traditions, some new, some we’ve been doing for ages. Amongst the new was something we picked up in one of those cheesy Christmas movies.

On our tree, we have two baubles that can be opened. We take a small piece of paper before Christmas Eve and we write our wishes for the New Year, tie them up with ribbon and pop them into the bauble, to be opened on New Year’s Eve. Whether those wishes come to pass is irrelevant. Hope springs eternal and it’s always good to hang onto it.

We also do Christmas boxes, which are opened on Christmas Eve. We have a budget for these set at £30 and we buy each other daft things. This year, Tina bought me a laser gun nose trimmer, which, courage permitting, I may try next year.

On the big day itself, we managed to surprise each other with some interesting gifts. Tina and I are of the mould where we prefer giving gifts rather than receiving them, so any pre-Christmas jitters on the presents are always the wonder of whether we bought well for each other. We usually do and this year was no different.

The first present I bought for Tina was a certain book of impossible murder mysteries by an author called Tyler James Cook [that’s me! —TPP]. She absolutely loves this book [I’m glad she’s enjoying the book!  —TPP] even though she spends a good amount of time exclaiming ‘how the hell was I supposed to get that?!’ Still, it put a smile on her face and that’s lovely to see. She got me the Top Gun soundtrack which made me feel like an eighties kid again. Some proper good tracks, old and new, Otis Redding, Kenny Loggins, just because, and there are some cheesy as hell eighties classics that make me smile through the sickbucket. I mean, that blooming Loverboy track, “Heaven In Your Eyes.” What the bloody hell is that? That was cheese wrapped in cheese. The surprise nobody wants in a Baby Bel, that is, if disgusting, bland made-to-look-like cheese is your preference.

I also bought her Stranger Things (more on that in the future) which both of us are hooked on. For me personally, the cool eighties opening sequence, the massive Silent Hill references, of course I was going to be hooked. However, the one gift – and it’s the same every year; there’s always one present that stands out – that Tina bought for me which I will pore over all year is Fodor’s Best Road Trips in the USA.

Tina knows that this is one of the biggies on my bucket list. I was a late comer to driving, only passing my test 3 years ago at the tender age of 41, but I’ve found that I love it. For me, it’s not just a case of travelling from A-Z, it’s the opportunity to see more of the country than I might ordinarily and look around, while negotiating some tricky country roads through outstanding scenery. And it’s not just in this country that I’d like to do that. Road tripping across parts of Europe would be interesting but America is my dream. Ever since I picked up Bill Bryson’s travel books in my early twenties, I’ve wanted to see the US. The mountains, the small towns, diners, kitsch roadside attractions, the lakes, the beaches, some of the cities. I nearly came to America early in my degree – Ithaca was running a film course and there was the possibility of a one year transfer – but circumstances altered that. Still, it’s a trip that has firmly remained in my heart. And why stick to the standard tourist traps when you have the hidden gems waiting to be explored? This travel book shows you America not only through the eyes of the author but how it could be travelled and that’s aces with me. Even if this particular wish is never fulfilled, I can say that, in my mind’s eye, I have journeyed through the Blue Ridge Parkway, I have seen the Carolinas, I have trekked through Yosemite and I have thoroughly loved all of it.

My favourite sections of this book are the maps. Fodor plots various routes through the States but the maps show you how you could alter your route to take in other states, other towns. Like maps anywhere, the roads will look built up and complicated around the big cities and towns but away from them, you have interstates and country roads that go on for hundreds of miles, twisting and turning through the country, taking in towns I’d never even heard of. This is the States I want to see, away from the hustle and bustle of tourist traps – the real America. In much the same way an American coming to our shores might find more comfort sipping a real ale in a village pub, listening to locals talking about the cricket rather than visiting London or Manchester, I don’t want to see fake America, with its Hollywood billboards and tacky Vegas neons. I want to see the heart of the country. No cameras, no flashing neon signs. Just real people going about their business.

The 3 big road trips highlighted in the book are the Northern Route, taking in 12 states, starting in Seattle, Washington and taking you all the way through to DC; the Southern route, starting in Jacksonville, Florida, and ending in San Diego; and lastly, the fabled Route 66 journey, starting in Chicago, Illinois and ending in Los Angeles, California. All 3 road trips look appealing but when you look at them on the map, you can see the possibilities for change. For instance, the Northern Route takes you through Indiana, Montana and South Dakota but over Nebraska. I hear the plains of the Cornhusker State are beautiful, offering some stunning views and panoramas so why not jump off Highway 44 and head down through Omaha into Nebraska? After all, a certain Nebraskan inhabitant has promised us a big steak dinner if we ever find our way to him; who could pass up that opportunity?

The Southern Route, possibly my favourite of the Ultimate Road Trips, takes you through some of the low states like Texas and I’ve always wanted to see the old Spanish towns of El Paso and San Antonio. Despite my aversion to obvious tourist destinations, I’m also intrigued about New Orleans. I looked at the map and figured you could probably start this journey in Charleston, South Carolina before heading down to Jacksonville, taking a short stop in St Petersburg before heading across the South coast and moving up off the I-10 to see Arizona and Oklahoma before heading back down and hugging the Mexican border to San Diego. The possibilities are endless.

Fodor doesn’t only look at the often travelled road trips like the Pacific Coast Highway or the Blue Ridge Parkway. He also offers the reader the best of the American states, the states that take in the history of the Civil War, wine country, and the Great Lakes. He also informs the reader of the best places to eat and drink, to stay and visit. It’s an absolute treasure trove for someone looking at the States as more of an adventure rather than a 2 week holiday.

The maps in this book will keep me going for ages. I hope beyond words that Tina and I get to look at the States as I’ve always wanted to and maybe, just maybe, I might pop that wish into a Christmas bauble one year, with the hope that it might be fulfilled. If this trip never transpires, so what? I’ll have lived the journey through this excellent book and I’ll always be thankful for that.

PS. As a final note, I apologise for the distinct lack of (which means none) pictures in this piece. As of late, my photos have been coming out like Christmas at the Fox’s, pictures by Michael J. Either the fault is with the click mechanism which invariably means that when you press the button, the camera shakes, or it’s something to do with a lack of blood in my alcohol system. Whichever it is, I’ll try to rectify the problem this year and then I can get some good visuals up.

10 thoughts on “Ponty’s Pen: Road Trips in the USA

  1. I have never felt closer to you than I do this moment. What you do with your maps book, I do with videos of England. There’s lots of video of folks driving the country roads – sometimes by car, sometimes by bus – that just make my heart sing. Laughing … and times that stop my heart because to an American, y’all are driving wrong!!! What looks like a ‘near miss’ to me, lol, is just hohum to the English driver, lol.

    By the way – I was very much touched by your comment today on TCW in regard to fostering. I don’t know about England but here in the States, once a child leaves your home, you don’t have (nor are allowed) any contact or information regarding the child. I think of my foster kids often and miss them like family.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Audre. When I get Cloud storage sorted out, I can send you videos of our countryside drives. We’ll keep the bad language to a minimum. 🙂

      I also liked your comment on fostering. For one, you have the right attitude to it. You care for them like family and you recognise the baggage that these kids will be bringing with them and treat them accordingly. I’ve heard stories about foster parents in this country taking a child or children and letting them go at the cut off age of 16, the child ending up on the streets, engaged in criminal activity or worse. Makes me wonder what the point was in that foster parent taking them on in the first place.

      That said, there are some good foster families who provide a home for their troubled kids. That’s what our father did with us. I’ll never forget what he sacrificed for us (he gave up the prospect of marriage to care for us) and how he still touches our hearts.

      Liked by 2 people

    • He died when I was in my first year of university. That said, he came to visit in the early months and said he was so proud of me for getting there. I credit him with virtually everything that’s happened in my life and I’m sad that I didn’t apply myself at university as much as I could. I was tipped for a first in the early months but drink and debauchery took over and when I left, I scraped a third.

      My brother has picked his life up and is doing better and so shall I, in time. Whatever happens with us, we’ll see him again and let him know how much he contributed to our lives.

      Liked by 2 people

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