To pick up where I left off…
In January in Amsterdam I had met a fellow American traveler named Brian. We hadn’t really communicated since then, but one day in May we both happened to be online at the same time. I mentioned that I would be taking a roadtrip south from Cleveland when he was going to be in Chicago, so he decided to tag along.
We decided to go down to Leesville, Ohio, where Betsy, my mother’s step-mom, had a little house on a little lake. It seemed like a great place to stop for a night on the journey south. Betsy was up from her home in Mexico, visiting with her two college roommates Bridget and Sallie. The three of them were having a great time and happily included Brian and me in their fun. It became clear that we had to stay for more than one night, and three days were quickly laughed away. I started calling them “the three aunts.” As we ate blueberry pancakes with rhubarb syrup, we discussed everything from the definition of “creativity” to third wave feminism. Bridget played us a song she had written as we made s’mores around the backyard firepit. I walked out of the local thrift store with a blue Western Flyer bicycle, imagining how good I will look cruising the sweaty streets of New Orleans.
Eventually it was time to resume the journey, and so that evening we arrived in Charleston, WV. Betsy had called ahead to a high school friend who welcomed us into her home. At her advice we ate at the Blue Grass Kitchen, which specializes in local organic food. The Empty Glass Bar was just behind the restaurant and was also highly recommended. The patrons there were so friendly to the two wayward travelers and offered us all manner of intoxicants. A couple of the more flamboyant gentlemen were particularly intrigued by Brian, although sadly the attention was not reciprocated. After politely turning down the bag of cocaine we finally made it back to our beds.
The next day had North Carolina on the agenda. Several hours of turning highways and barren interstate got us out of VW, through VA and TN, and finally into the Smokies. Brian decided to stay in Asheville, so after dropping him off downtown I drove west to Annie Langley’s house in Maggie Valley. Annie and I spent the weekend hiking, tasting the French dandelion wine, and of course we checked out the fireworks on the Fourth of July. It was great to see everyone celebrating our own national holiday, and it was so different from the events I’d seen and participated in while in Europe. Distinctively American.
The road began calling me again, ever and onward deeper into the South, and so I made my way into Georgia. As a child I had loved visiting Helen, “a re-creation of an Alpine village complete with cobblestone alleys and old-world towers.” As I walked through the pseudo-Austrian town among the throngs of tourists and watched the teenagers tubing down the river, I realized that “Alpine” is more than just architecture: the was a spirit that I’d only caught a glimpse of, but I could tell that it was impossible to import. Luckily it was replaced by typical Georgian friendliness. For a few days I visited with my grandparents and other family in Atlanta, and then finally it was time for the last part of the trip: the journey to New Orleans.