It’s hard to get back to this topic with China still so fresh in my mind. And, now I’ve been invited to go back in late December to a different area of the country and am prepping a show about my travels there for early August, but I really do want to also keep writing about my past journeys. So here goes …
We had made the decision to move back east and with my parents now living in upstate New York, that seemed like the most practical destination. We had a VW bus that we prepped for travel. I attached edges to the table in the back that stuck up above the surface to keep any crayons or other toys from rolling off. It was already set up with curtains and beds. I sewed pockets into the curtains to make drinks, snacks and other necessary items for my children easily accessible. There were still no seatbelts or car seats at that time, but I knew I didn’t want them running all over the bus. I had also learned by then what kinds of food traveled easily. I remember thinking that I should write a book on safe and reliable traveling with children because I had already done so much of it. I knew what kind of toys and art supplies were best and stocked up on those. When traveling with my kids, whether on short or long trips, I always made sure I had something new and exciting, something they'd never done before. Painting was definitely out, but they both loved it so I found paint with water books. I found a narrow necked bottle that attached to the curtains and filled it halfway with water - just enough for them to manage without it spilling everywhere. I also picked up a couple of those "magic" books with the special pen that looks invisible but reveals what's on the paper. Justin got a coloring one, and Jessie got one with puzzles and the like.
We were finally packed and ready for our exciting adventure. We hosted our final Open Mic and said a tearful goodbye to all of our wonderful friends. Just as I was getting into the bus, an artist friend handed me a jar of old barn nails saying, “You never know what you might need along the way.” That turned out to be a very prophetic statement. We left in late April and planned to travel for a week. We didn’t consider the fact that we were traveling in an older VW bus loaded down with all of our possessions, two children, two adults and a cat. We also thought we had plenty of money for the trip and planned on getting jobs when we arrived at our destination. We didn't realize at the time that we would break down in every state along the way. That ill-fated trip took us almost a month. The only time we stopped on purpose was to work on an herb farm as day laborers in Pennsylvania to make enough money to finish the last leg of our journey.
The first leg of our journey took us southeast toward Salt Lake City. We almost didn’t make it up the highest point we would have to climb when our bus just stopped. We could see the summit but couldn’t get there. We jumped out of the bus and went around to the back to look at the engine and see if we could figure out the problem. There it was, right in front of our eyes. The fly wheel was shifting back and forth and had widened the slot that held the two pieces together. We looked at it for a while when I remembered the jar of barn nails. We pounded a few of the largest ones in there, but it wasn’t quite enough. A year earlier, Paul had repaired the brakes on our Plymouth Valiant and had one small piece left over, he took them apart a few more times and still couldn’t figure out where it went, so he threw it in the toolbox, hoping for the best. That old brake part fit perfectly with the nails in the leftover space in the flywheel, and that repair took us all the way to Ohio … but not without many stops along the way.
Although we had made a temporary fix, the car now only ran during the daytime, so we slept the first night in the bus on the side of the road. It was important to stop frequently and let the kids run around. They were young, just 3 and almost 7 with lots of energy. And I did make them run – literally. At every stop, we ran circles around each other and the rest areas. We also let the cat out to do what she needed to do. My cats never had litter boxes. They always learned to let me know when they needed to go out. By the time we stopped running, everyone was happy to sit back down in the bus. The next day, we drove into Salt Lake City just as night was falling and, as the car died, we coasted into a motel right off the exit and went in to see if we could afford a room. The attendant took one look at us with our long hair, hippie van with curtains in the window, our kids trailing along behind us and our cat looking out the back window. He cautiously asked if we had any pot. At first, in our paranoia, we denied having any. He kept at it, insisting that we must have something and explaining that Salt Lake was the driest town in the US and please, please would we help him out. We finally took pity on him. He offered to trade us a room for a few joints then threw us the master keys, turned on the No Vacancy sign and asked us to keep an eye on the place while he was off partying with his friends. No problem! We got nice soft beds, showers, and the kids even got TV, a rare treat. This wasn’t going so badly after all. The young man came back the next morning looking a little bedraggled but with a big grin. We tipped him generously, in weed of course, and went on our way. We still had a long way to go.