Category Archives: Travel

Stranded in Nowhere, Florida

landscape photography of four coconut trees

Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

I was hoping to blog about all my adventures during the week-and-a-half I spent in Washington DC over Christmas.

I’d hoped to recount spending New Years Eve on the Pennsylvania/Maryland border with my Aunt Barb and her Biker Gang, and the few days I spent with her in her mansion and sanctuary for rescue pigs.

I’d planned to tell the tale of driving to North Carolina, spending the night in my car at the airport, flying to Oregon, and spending a week desperately trying to catch up with everyone. (Spoiler alert: I failed miserably, but at least I had ample time with my family.)

And finally, I meant to chat about the weekend I spent with my Aunt Margaret, Uncle Chad, and cousins Austin, Emma, and Nolan, in South Carolina.

But alas, I suppose I’ll have to save all that for my book. Stories are like iPhones. No matter how good the last one was, there’s always a newer and better one. Keeping up feels impossible.

So instead, I’ll tell the story that began roughly 24 hours ago. After spending the weekend with my Aunt Margaret, I prepared to drive south to Florida. Florida! I’d never been to Florida in my life.

Throughout my stays in Tennessee and Ohio, I had asked everyone I could think of if they had Florida connections. I’d heard so many stories of Pinecraft, the Amish Las Vegas, that I wanted to see it for myself. Finally, my friend Rani told me that her husband’s grandmother had a house in Florida, and was willing to let me stay with her!

I’d had a bit of communication with Rani’s grandmother, Erma, but not a whole lot. So that whole 9 hour drive, I had a niggling fear that things wouldn’t work out.

What if I showed up, and she’d forgotten that I was coming?

What if no one answered the doorbell?

What if everyone was already in bed when I got there?

Erma is from Holmes County Ohio, where people get up at insane hours of the morning. I think 5 am is typical. Early to rise means early to bed, right?

I called her, but she didn’t answer. So I left a message. I told her that I’d get in around 9 pm, and if there was anything I should know about getting into the house, she could call me back.

She never called.

So I drove along, and day turned to night, and my phone battery began to dwindle. I figured I ought to buy one of those chargers that plugs into the cigarette lighter. I almost never run out of battery, which is why I’ve never bothered to purchase one, but I am aware that routinely spending hours on the road, going to strange places, and not owning a car charger, is a pretty bad idea.

So I pulled into a gas station in nowhere, Florida, and went inside. Bought a car charger. I was starvingly hungry, so I used their microwave to heat up some food that my Aunt Margaret had sent with me.

But when I settled back into my car and prepared to resume my travels, I realized that the charger didn’t work. So I impulsively dashed back in to exchange it.

And when I returned to my car, and looked in the window, my heart froze.

There were my keys. My phone. My food. Just sitting there, neatly, inside my car that was most certainly locked.

“Cry now, find a solution later,” is my body’s natural response to situations such as these. So I dutifully burst into tears.

“Are you okay?”

“No,” I said to the kind female stranger who was watching me, concerned. “I just locked my keys in my car.”

“Oh man. Well, let’s see. Normally I have my tools with me, but…”

The kind stranger, who I later learned was named Annette, scanned the gas station for a solution. Her eyes rested on a truck full of tools, and she made a beeline for it. It was owned by a skinny guy with floppy hair. I never caught his name, but Annette talked to him, and he followed her back to me, carrying an antenna and a couple screwdrivers.

The two of them, along with a steady stream of strangers who passed by and offered their ideas, and the gas station cashier who gave us duct tape when we needed it, tried a number of strategies. With the screwdrivers, they pried the car door open a quarter inch, before switching to a crowbar and getting it open a bit more. The antenna, with duct tape on the end to keep it from slipping, pushed the door release button.

Nothing.

Annette looped the antenna through the inside handle. Some car doors unlock when you open the door from the inside, but not this one, apparently.

Finally, the male stranger with the floppy hair said he had a grabber tool, but it was at his house, a few minutes away. So he left his crowbar and screwdrivers with us so that we knew he’d come back, and drove off.

Annette and I chatted while we waited. She’s an electrician, which I thought was really cool. Both she and the stranger with the floppy hair have the life philosophy that if you drive everywhere in a truck full of tools, you can fix any problem you might run into. I was really enchanted by this. I’ve never really understood why you’d drive a gas-guzzling truck when you could, instead, drive a car with good gas mileage, but after this experience I could definitely see the appeal of constant access to tools.

Floppy hair returned with a pole that had a little grabber on the end. He used his crowbar to pry open the door a bit, stuck his grabber tool through, grabbed onto the lock tab, and pulled it up.

We’d done it! Well, not “we.” They’d done it. But we all got really excited, and floppy hair shook my hand vigorously and said, “Thank you!!”

Then, perhaps realizing that I should be the one doing the thanking, clarified: “Thanks for letting me help! That felt great!”

Annette gave me her phone number, in case I should ever be in the area again. After once more expressing my deep gratitude, I got in my car and drove away, the wind whistling through my slightly-bent car door.

The roads were wide and empty. I ate my now-cold plate of food, and prayed that Erma would still be up, despite my delay. She had never called me back.

A few hours later, the GPS led me to a dark, deserted-looking house.

I parked, and walked to the front door. Then pulled out my phone and called Erma again.

She answered. “Oh! You’re here! I didn’t expect you until tomorrow!”

She let me in, and we tried to figure out where our communication had broken down. My private opinion is that I told her the wrong day, because despite her age, I still seem like the most likely candidate to make a mistake like that.

She hadn’t gotten the message I’d left earlier that day. “But I don’t always check my messages,” she said.

Thankfully, it turns out that Holmes County people let loose in Florida, staying up later, and sleeping in until 7 am! So I hadn’t woken anyone out of slumber.

So yes, I’m in Sarasota Florida now. If you happen to be here also, or will be in the next three weeks, hit me up!

 

From Ohio to Delaware

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I came to Delaware because I missed the ocean.

The morning I left Ohio, I woke up to find another layer of snow on the ground, and wistful flakes drifting from the sky. It was beautiful, but I was terrified to drive in it. So I lazily packed up the rest of my things, drinking tea in front of the fireplace at intervals, and just waited.

The snow stopped, but my driveway was still slippery with slush. My landlord, who lived upstairs while Carita and I lived downstairs, pushed some of the slush off with his little lawnmower-sized snow plow, and then drove my car up the steep driveway for me. “You know,” he said, as I prepared to leave, “our boy’s camp needs a secretary.”

I thought this was the sweetest thing to say. Even though, at this point in my life, I don’t want to be a secretary, I understood the statement as “we wouldn’t mind if you stuck around longer.”

The roads weren’t slippery but there was snow beside the road. When I stopped to get gas, the snow began in earnest again. I bought donuts and a cheeseburger and terrible gas station tea. And then I just stood in the snow with my head tilted back and looked. It was the most magical event. The huge flakes floated down but I didn’t feel cold, or like it would get in my eyes. Space and time felt warped. Like how it feels when a train goes by and suddenly you feel like you’re the one who’s moving, zooming along at an impossible speed.

It was a lovely drive. Snowy, but it never stuck enough to get slick. I was tense and nervous, though.

Over the mountains. The snow made a haze which caused each individual mountain to stand out from the one behind it, stretching away from me in pale and paler lavender. It was twilight, so the whole world was purple, with black tree skeletons silhouetted against the sky.

My cousin Annette lives in Lancaster PA, and I decided to spend Thanksgiving week with her and her family. Justice, her oldest, became friends with me as soon as I went down to the basement and played basketball with him, but her younger daughters were a bit shy of me at first.

That evening, Liberty, the 4-year-old, stuck a cloth basket upside down on her head.

“What a beautiful hat!” I said. “May I try it on?”

She let me.

“Oh, I’m so fancy, in this beautiful hat!” I said in my own interpretation of a fancy accent.

Liberty was delighted. “The queen! The queen!” she said.

So for the rest of the week I was The Queen. “Where’s my queen?” Liberty would ask her mom, when she wanted to play with me.

Matt came up from DC on Wednesday evening, so that was nice, seeing him again.

The drive from Lancaster Pennsylvania to Dover Delaware only takes a few hours, so I spent Saturday morning with my relations, before zipping down the Delmarva Peninsula. It began to rain. The hills of Pennsylvania flattened out. It almost felt like Oregon.

Arriving in Dover, I stopped at a coffee shop, where I planned to meet my new roommate Angie and our mutual friend Janessa. They hadn’t arrived yet, so I went ahead and ordered my tea.

“That’ll be 2:50,” said the cashier.

“Oh!” I exclaimed, happily handing over a $5 bill and two quarters and getting three neat bills of change. “Do you guys not have sales tax here?”

“No, we don’t,” said the cashier.

“It feels just like Oregon! We don’t have sales tax either!”

She smiled politely.

Angie and Janessa arrived, and I had a fun afternoon of meeting my new roommate and hanging out with an old friend.

I’ve been in Delaware less than a week, but it oddly reminds me of home. The weather has been more mild and Oregon-like, and I’ve already driven to the ocean twice. And the Mennonite community is just much smaller, more Oregon-sized.

But it’s like the teeny tiny quaint version. The entire state is smaller than my county back home. And Dover feels like a small town even though it’s the capital of Delaware.

Even the ocean seems little to me. Which is a bit weird. Obviously I can’t see with my naked eye that Japan is further away than Europe. But maybe it’s because the beach isn’t as extensive, or because there aren’t as many waves. Or maybe because it’s so much quieter.

A few ending notes:

  1. If you’ve noticed something different about my blog, I did turn ads back on. But I’d like feedback from you…so if you see sketchy ads, or if it makes your page run slow or weird, please let me know. My email is Jemilys@gmail.com. (Also, remember that you can always install an ad blocker. If I didn’t mention this, someone would be sure to point it out in the comments, haha.)
  2. I have a fun holiday-related blog series coming up. I’d like to blog every other day from December 12 to January 9. So if you have any fun holiday related blog post ideas, let me know! My ideas so far include:
    1. Gift guide for single brothers (or uncles, nephews, etc)
    2. Guide to prepping a guest room for holiday guests
    3. Maybe some fun fiction
    4. Cozy winter/Christmas themed books/stories
    5. My own holiday adventures

Let me know if there are any winter/Christmas/New Years/Holiday posts you’d love to see!

The Real Holmes County

It rained so much it almost felt like Oregon, only with prettier trees. I took to driving the wending, back roads, because they told me that’s where the “real Holmes County” was. Sometimes I was lost on purpose, and sometimes on accident.

After my long road trip east, after Texas and Tennessee, it seemed to me that Oregon has slower-than-usual speed limits. But they’re even slower in Ohio. I wonder if it’s because of the curves, or because of the buggies and bikes, or because of the potholes. And I wonder why there are so many potholes. Even on the Interstate. I always tense up when one looms unexpectedly, imagining my tire popping like a balloon.

And I’m never prepared for the school zones. In the wandering nowhere, suddenly a wee little schoolhouse appears and I’m supposed to go 25 mph. But only “during restricted hours.” What are restricted hours? Regular school hours? I slam on my brakes, but I’m already 2/3ds of the way through the zone before I hit 25 mph.

I suppose they’re Amish schools.

On these roads, it feels like no one exists except Amish. I’m passing a version of the same house, over and over. It’s huge, and white, and squarish, with a simple gabled roof. And the first story sticks out farther than the second story. Or maybe it’s just a lean-to.

I wondered, then, if I’d gotten things mixed up in my head. If Holmes County was actually the Amish capital of the world, not Lancaster County PA, as I’d always thought.

Wikipedia told me that while Lancaster County has a bigger Amish population than Holmes county, Amish make up 41.7% of Holmes County’s population, vs. only 7% of Lancaster County’s population. Although the 41.7% number is from 2010, so it must be closer to 50% now. Wikipedia projects that it will become the first majority Amish county by 2025.

I imagine Amish taking over Holmes County, then Wayne County, then Ohio, then America. I imagine Apple creating an Amish friendly phone that can’t connect to the internet. I imagine more train companies forming, offering competitive rates, and courting Amish clientele that won’t fly. I imagine Forever 21 offering ready-made Amish dresses, stitched by exploited communities overseas.

When my grandpa was four years old, only 5,000 Amish existed. Now, at latest count, there are 330,465.

I found a tiny Amish town, and pulled up to the general store to check my directions. Then, a sign outside caught my attention. “Fabric Store, Lower Level.”

I wanted some yellow knit for a sewing project, so I peeked around the corner of the general store, but found no handy entrance to the lower level. Perhaps I had to go through the general store?

The general store was empty except for a couple Amish employees. I made my way to the back. There was a small wooden door that looked like the entrance to a closet. But it was open, and there was a staircase behind it.

It reminded me of an entrance to a speakeasy.

Like a speakeasy, there was much more activity below than upstairs. As I passed the long row of suspenders on the stair wall and entered the hidden fabric store, I saw people everywhere. All Amish. All chattering happily in Pennsylvania Dutch. I wished Mom was there to translate. I wished she’d taught me.

It was more than a fabric store. It looked to me like an anything-an-Amish-person-might-want store. Sweaters and jackets in black, gray, and navy blue. Long dark socks. And earmuffs! I’ve had a hankering for earmuffs lately, so I nabbed a pair.

I was about to ask the Amish cashier to cut a half yard of yellow knit for me, when I looked at the long bookshelf behind her. “Oh! You have my mom’s books here!” I said.

“Which ones? Who is your mom?”

“Those ones. Fragrant Whiffs of Joy and Sunlight through Dusty Windows. My mom is Dorcas Smucker.”

She gave an excited exclamation. “I love your mom’s books! She always makes me laugh!”

In this way, I suddenly had an Amish friend. Susan. We talked about all sorts of things, and then her husband jumped into the conversation, wanting to know what crops we grew in Oregon.

I told them about getting off the 39, away from Berlin, and seeing the real Holmes County instead of the tourist version. They told me that tourists never come into their store. “We get Amish from other areas sometimes,” said Susan’s husband. “Like, Pennsylvania Amish. But see, we don’t advertise anywhere that non-Amish might see it.”

I got a delicious feeling then, like I’d discovered a magnificent secret.

It was a tiny town, hardly significant. But Carita told me it was one of the most Amish towns in existence. And my mom told me, later, that my ancestors came from there. Including my great-great grandpa, who fathered three sons and then took his own life. My family still battles the mental illness that he passed on.

The fanciful side of me likes to say that perhaps I wasn’t lost. Perhaps I was drawn to this little town where some of my family’s most painful roots are buried.

Thoughts on Amish/Mennonites and Education

I walked into town. It was a perfect, crisp fall day. Everywhere I looked there were either Amish people, or people staring at the Amish.

A big yellow school bus roared up the street. It was full of adorable Amish children, with their bonnets and bowl cuts, peeking out the windows.

Now I was staring too.

“Do the Amish schools hire school buses?” I asked my landlady that evening. “Or do Amish children go to public school?”

“Oh, some Amish school children go to public school, and some go to Amish schools,” she said.

“What about the Mennonite kids?” I asked.

“It’s the same way. Some go to public school, and some go to Mennonite schools.”

I must have looked amazed, because she qualified her statement. “The public schools here aren’t like other public schools, you know,” she said. And then, I don’t know how she worded it, but she made it sound like the area has enough Amish and Mennonites that they have a good say in what happens at the public schools.

I found this so fascinating.

I know that both my parents went to public school when they were young. But now, I don’t know of any Mennonites in Oregon who send their children to public school. Paris, TN was the same way. Public school was not an option.

I wonder how this switch happened. From what I know about Oregon, it happened because the small country public school consolidated into a much larger school in town, so local Mennonites had much less influence over what and how their children were taught.

I’d be so curious to know how it was in other places. And why the attitude is different in different areas. Does it come down to how much influence the parents have at the school? Or is there more going on than that?

In general, I am fascinated by people’s attitudes towards education in different places. In Oregon, it would never have occurred to me to drop out of high school, and my parents would never have allowed me to anyway. Still, some Mennonite schools in our area do stop at 10th grade. I’m not sure why. But both here in Ohio and in Paris TN, “normal” was going up to 8th grade.

Still, in Paris TN, as far as I know I didn’t meet a single Mennonite who’d been educated past eighth grade (although to be fair, not every single person told me how far they’d gone in school)(and many of them did get their GED). But here in Ohio, I’ve already met a number of college educated people. Maybe it’s just because there are SO MANY Mennonites in Ohio, that your chances of finding another college educated person is that much higher?

One quick note before I end this musing: I was emphatically told, after my last blog post, that I absolutely cannot judge all of Holmes County by this little stretch of Hwy 39 between Sugarcreek and Berlin. That the bizarre tourism here is not the “real” Holmes County at all.

I am sure this is correct, but I do have two things to say regarding this.

First, I didn’t for a moment connect the Amish tourism with the actual Amish, or even the Mennonites. I assumed that it was caused by non-Amish coming to stare at the Amish, and other non-Amish deciding to capitalize on the this tourism by opening gift shops and “Amish” variety shows.

I would be very curious to know to what extent the actual Amish people benefit from the tourism. I’m sure that it happens, because people are eager to buy Amish made products. But I still feel like actual Amish have nothing to do with the weird showy touristy stuff.

Second, I don’t want to ever pretend that I understand an area just by living in it for a month and making a few observations. I welcome any and all insights from locals, and will always assume that you know what’s up, and I don’t.

With this in mind, I would LOVE to hear about the Mennonite/Amish relationship with education in your area, whether you’re from Oregon, Tennessee, Ohio, or anywhere else.

 

From Paris to Berlin

This weekend I packed all my belongings back into my little car, and drove north to Berlin Ohio. Yep. First it was Paris, and now Berlin. What’s next? London, Kentucky? Rome, Iowa? Ooh, I hear there’s a Mennonite community in Athens, Tennessee, although I was just in Tennessee.

As I was returning my library books for the last time, I ran to the corner thrift store to snap a picture of what I thought was the funniest thing I saw the whole month.

This was printed on the store window:

And this huge sign was right inside the front door:

“YOU STOLE A 10¢ BLOUSE? THE POLICE ARE COMING FOR YOU, YOUNG LADY! Have a great day, Jesus loves you!”

Oh, and I forgot to take a picture of the ironic “In God We Trust” sign posted right next to the sign about security cameras.

I found, though, that it was pretty typical for places in that area to have lots of security cameras, no matter how cheap the merchandise or how Christian the establishment. People were big into locking doors and putting huge outdoor lights above their houses to deter thieves.

According to Jenni, there really is a lot of crime in the area. But it was hard for me to wrap my head around because everyone was so friendly, saying “hi” to strangers, taking hours to get my oil changed because they were busy chatting with the neighbors, etc. Why would you be friendly to people you’re suspicious of?

Anyway. On Saturday I packed up the last of my stuff and drove north. It was raining and dark by the time I reached Ohio, and after I got off the Interstate there were ELEVEN little roads I still had to take, all assigned numbers instead of names, often looking more like driveways than roads, winding curbless over hills. I peered at road signs and tried to avoid horses and buggies.

Random question: Do you prefer numbered roads or named roads? I find that I can memorize a list of named roads and navigate fine, but numbers fly out of my head. Although when there’s a system to the numbers, like the perfect grid of roads in Illinois, it can be nice.

If there is a system to the numbered roads in Ohio, I haven’t figured it out yet.

Anyway, I eventually found my way to the basement apartment of a medium-sized brick house. I met my roommate Carita. We hit it off, and I admired her fireplace and her books and the lovely view of the countryside out her back patio door.

The next morning, when I drove to church, I realized that Berlin Ohio isn’t quite the calm countryside I’d seen out the back patio doors. It turns out that I am living in the heart of a giant tourist attraction. All up and down my street are theaters doing “Amish Variety Shows,” and large hotels, and touristy stores selling overpriced souvenirs. It reminds me of the bayfront in Newport Oregon, only instead of a vague ocean-and-seashell theme, there is a vague buggies-and-bonnets theme.

So that was an interesting transition. Paris was the real countryside, with fields and hills and woods. Berlin is such a weird, almost fake-feeling countryside. Like, there are two very real cows in the pasture behind my house, but just up the street is what seems to be (from my glimpse as I drove past) an “Amish” barn for tourists, right next to a hotel. Or maybe it’s just a store built to look like a barn?

Anyway. Those are just my first impressions of the transition, but I already feel like Ohio is a strange world of its own.

 

Tennessee, and Me

This is my last week in Paris, Tennessee, and I haven’t done a single blog post on my time spent here.

This is partially because I’ve been prioritizing other writing projects, and partially because I realized, once I started trying to write about this place, that I don’t quite know the tone to strike when documenting this sort of month-by-month travel.

My travel writing is usually very event-based. I’m going out, breaking away from the everyday, doing fun things, and seeing cool stuff. But this new type of travel is such an odd mixture of eventful things and ordinary things. Like yes, I’m in a new location, around new people. But I still have to work, and they still have to work. It’s not quite as exciting.

So what has it really been like to relocate to Tennessee?

Let me see if I can sum it up for you.

The first person I met upon arrival that rainy Saturday night was Jenni Yoder, my new roommate and friend. She gave me a tour of her little house, showing me my room, and where I could make hot water for tea. There was a welcome basket on my dresser with insect repellent and water and snacks and maps of things to see in Paris TN.

Jenni explained to me that her parents were gone on a trip, and so she’d periodically go across the street to her parents’ house and cook for her three younger brothers. Her whole family went to a small church in a log cabin, and I was welcome to come along, she said.

So that’s what I did the next morning. I ate breakfast, met her brothers, and went to her cozy little church.

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Her church was tiny. Maybe 20 adults, total. And lots of small children. The service was cozy, informal, and discussion based. People were kind and welcoming.

But there was something about it that made me feel completely out of place.

The discussion seemed to be in some sort of coded language. At first I just thought people were just being vague, and I was about to ask for clarification, when I realized that I was the only one in the room who didn’t understand.

Eventually I pieced together what was going on. Let me see if I can concisely explain it to you. There’s another church in the area, a much more conservative church, that Jenni and her family used to go to. There was a lot of pain and dysfunction in that church, and eventually, a group of people split off and formed their own church. The log cabin church.

That means that every single member of the log cabin church has the same pain memories. They were hurt by the same people and the same institutions. So when they talk with each other about it, they don’t have to go into long explanations. All it takes is a few vague words about pain, and everyone knows what they’re talking about.

Actually, one of the most interesting things I’ve noticed about the Mennonite culture in Tennessee is that it’s very much a church split culture. I should ask Jenni about the exact details, but the way she talks about it, it makes it sound like every Mennonite church in the area was formed by a split with a different church, with the original church not even around anymore.

I know that Mennonites in general are way too split-happy. But I realized, after comparing Oregon with Tennessee, that in Oregon we’re much more of a migration culture than a split culture.

I mean, before my time I think there were a few splits. And maybe Riverside was technically a split from Brownsville? I’m not sure. But for the most part, when Harrisburg had issues people migrated to Halsey in droves. And when Brownsville had issues, people migrated to Fairview. And people leaving Harrisburg and Halsey used to migrate to Brownsville, but now Riverside is a much more popular destination.

Anyone know the science about what causes splits vs. migration?

Anyway, I’m not going to claim that either is a particularly healthy option. But being in Tennessee makes me think that a split creates an even more insular environment, because not only did this group grow up in the exact same community, but they have all the same pain reference points now too.

I went to the log cabin church again the next Sunday, because Jenni’s brother was speaking. The next weekend I was in Nashville with my cousin Jason, and I went to an Anglican church. That was really cool. I’d never been in a liturgical service before. It felt extremely reverent. And then this week I caught a little virus and stayed home and drank tea.

So from the church community standpoint, I didn’t really get very far in Tennessee. A month sounds like a long time until you realize that it means only four Sundays.

Most of my connection actually has been with Jenni’s family. They live across the road, and I eat meals with them several times a week. They’ve all been incredibly kind and thoughtful and generous. And Jenni also introduced me to some of her friends from her previous church, who are coming over for tea this afternoon. So I’ve made friends, but not really community, if that makes sense.

I’ve also spent time on my own exploring the town. The coffee shop, the library, the park. And I’ve noticed a few fascinating things about Tennessee culture in general. But I think I’ll save that for the next blog post.

Fun Times in Texas

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Sarah Beth and I in the coffee cart

It was late when we got to Texas. Somewhere between 11 pm and midnight. Sarah Beth met us at the door, wearing PJ’s and a smile.

“I just moved in today, so things might be a bit chaotic,” she said.

Amy and I laughed. I guess it’s our lot in life to pop in on friends when they’re in the middle of moving.

The last time we’d seen Sarah Beth was at her wedding this summer, but that being, you know, her wedding, we didn’t have a whole lot of time to hang out with her. We made up for it now. Who cares if it was the middle of the night? We sat on the couches and started gabbing.

Eventually we made our way to bed. By the time I got up in the morning, Sarah Beth was already gone. She had an early morning babysitting job. Andy, her husband, had also gone to work. I rustled around in the cupboards looking for tea, and then sat on her couch and sipped it in the quiet morning. It felt just like old times.

That’s how we used to hang out. I’d go over to her apartment and we’d stay up late, figuring out the personality types of all our acquaintances or whatever. Then when I’d get up in the morning they’d all be gone to work. She and her roommates. And I’d find myself some breakfast and tea, and just chill alone at their place as thought it were my place, before finally driving off to my 11 am class.

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, Sarah Beth has about 10X the energy I do.

Eventually she returned, and the three of us got ready to go to her main job at Atrium Coffee Co. 

She felt a bit bad that she had to work the afternoon shift both days that we were in town. Beyond a few jaunts to thrift stores and the local Mexican restaurant, most of our time in Texas was spent sitting in a coffee cart.

But, see, it was great. Business was slow, so we could sip our coffees and Texas Fogs (Like London fogs, only re-branded to appeal to proud Texans) and chat and catch up and try to figure out why people do the things they do.

And then in the evenings we got to know her husband Andy better. It’s kinda scary, when your friends get married to people you’ve never really gotten to know. But it turns out that I can trust Sarah Beth’s taste. He’s a cool guy.

Saturday morning it was time to leave. Amy and I left Rosebud and drove north and west. When we got to Little Rock, Arkansas, we took a tiny detour from the highway and stopped at the airport.

“Goodbye, Amy! Thanks so much for driving with me!” We hugged and she disappeared into the airport to fly home. It was just me, now.

I crossed the sprawling Mississippi River, zooming into Memphis, trying to stay on I-40 as it merged and un-merged with other highways. There were too many lanes for me to count without losing concentration and swerving out of my own lane. But it was great. There wasn’t a single traffic jam.

Through Memphis, into the wilderness again, I stopped at a little rural gas station. Where the inevitable happened: I couldn’t figure out the gas pump.

I went inside. “Excuse me,” I said. “I’m at pump 4, and I put my credit card into the machine but nothing happened.”

“Oh, it asked for a PIN? Yeah, that sometimes happens. Just pump your gas and come in here to pay.”

Well, my issue had nothing to do with a PIN. But whatever. I pumped my gas and then went inside to pay. In the polite chit-chat with the cashier, I wanted to explain why a grown woman like me would have trouble with a simple task like pumping gas. “See, I’m from Oregon,” I said. “We don’t pump our own gas there, so I’m not used to doing it.”

“Oregon!” he said in his thick southern accent. “What are you doing way out here?”

“Oh, I’m just doing some traveling. I’d like to try living in different places.”

He looked at me like I was an idiot. “Well why did you choose Tennessee? Go to Florida or something!”

Ha. Well maybe I’ll take his advice once winter rolls around, but so far I’ve found Tennessee beautiful. Lush and green, with rolling hills and forests and bizarre blankets of kudzu.

That night I pulled up to the little brick house that was to be my home. It was the end of my trek across the country. Now, it was time to live for a month in Paris, Tennessee.

More about that in my next blog post, coming sometime this week.