Back once again with the renegade master.

Road Trips

by dixie

It’s an odd road I’ve taken to get to where I am. I grew up a very stereotypical American child, geographically challenged and insular. Now I’m Irish by choice, living in a house with a loft, and among my personal achievements for the year is “added Africa to the list of continents I’ve been to.” I feel comfortable in saying I’m a seasoned flyer. Lightly seasoned, maybe, but seasoned nonetheless. But the first time I ever got on a plane was at the age of ten, much older than most of you, my readers, would have taken your first plane flights.

This isn’t to say I never left the state of Georgia before I was ten. Far from it. The only family I had in Georgia were the people I lived with; for Thanksgiving and other holidays that required extended family we had to go to North Carolina or Michigan. And we drove.

Grosse Pointe Michigan, by the way, is a 12-hour drive from Atlanta, straight up I-75. I had two sisters, and the family car was a station wagon (or estate car, if you prefer). Think carefully about that before you try to judge my parents on anything.

When I learned to drive as a teenager, I wasted no time in taking road trips of my own. Before leaving for college, I’d driven to Baltimore for a convention, and to Hilton Head to visit Molly. I also drove to and from school every day for two years, 40 minutes each way.

When I grew up and left Atlanta with all the speed and grace of a bullet fired from a gun, I abandoned my car and my road tripping ways. I travelled by Greyhound bus (never again) and by plane. I started crossing oceans. By the time I made it out to LA, however, I’d bought another car and returned to the ways of the road. Over seven years of my Pasadena exile I drove across America twice, drove up the Pacific Coast Highway three times, drove two and from Denver at least four times, and drove the road between Pasadena and Las Vegas more times than I can count. Or would want to.

The only people better suited to road tripping might be professional truckers, and that’s a debate I think I’d have a shot at winning. So when I say it’s a little funny that I’m now living in a country you can cross on a single tank of petrol, and that I spent an entire month flying around a continent, this is where I’m coming from.

It’s fitting, then, that when I finally reached Atlanta during my month of madness it wasn’t by plane, but by car.

Beaufort: a détente

by dixie

Although DC has characteristics of the South, and I spent my day in New York with a southern family, Beaufort was the first real Southern experience of the trip. I could taste the thunderstorms in the air when I went for my run, and I could hear my vowels lengthening in response to the voices around me. And I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as I waded into (then back out of) small-town Southern life.

Something about Spanish moss triggers all kinds of feelings in me.

Walking along the seafront in Beaufort, enjoying the trees.

In the same way the Spanish moss dripping from the oak trees harbours colonies of hell-inducing chiggers, the slow, honeyed southern accent conceals a dark forest of nasty. The words are pretty but the sentiment can be unpleasant. In a town that sees more tourists and snowbirds than actual familiar faces, I can’t really blame people for being politely standoffish, but the effect was still striking. Beaufort was pretty and ostensibly welcoming, but we didn’t engage with each other. More that we tolerated each other while I did what needed to be done. We were civil, possibly even pleasant, and I’d like to think we appreciated the finer points of each other. We will likely never be friends, Beaufort and I.

Words to live by

I did manage to have a good conversation with the proprietors of a “charming” greasy-spoon diner set in an old schoolhouse, but it took a while for the warmth to creep into the conversation. We chatted easily with the other customer as well as the owner as our food was served, but by then I think I was ready to get out. Small Southern towns offer some beautiful things, things that can’t be found anywhere else, and that are infinitely delightful and valuable. I am happy to leave them for the people who live there, and get myself out of its hair. Atlanta was waiting for me.

I was lucky that it didn't rain.

Stoking fires

by dixie

“I’m lucky to know a lot of really awesome people…and I’m lucky to get the chance to see a lot of them on this trip.”
— my journal, 15 April 2014

For the first time in possibly ever, I was a Good Daughter this past April. It took no small amount of doing, and I’m not sure I’ll ever do it again, but I did it. Most of what I did on this adventure was see people and manage relationships (including filial ones). I touched base with people I hadn’t seen in a while, I shored up relations with people I like to keep in touch with, and I saw family. Lots of it. Probably more than I have in the past five years put together.

Relationships are like little fires; you have to poke at them every now and then to remind them you’re there, lest they go out. Even in the cases with my oldest friends, people I might not talk to for years but fall so easily back in with, that effort of stoking the flames of friendship is necessary and worthwhile. I know this idea isn’t news to anyone reading this, but sometimes it doesn’t get the face time it deserves. It falls in the “important but not urgent” category of items that get shifted quietly to the bottom of the to-do list until they either become a problem or are forgotten altogether.

Most of the time you don’t get a month off with standby passes to run around and do all of this stuff though. I got lucky and had the opportunity to refresh as many connections as I could given time and scheduling constraints, and now that I’m home the trick is to remember to keep up with it through the daily grind of normal life. Some relationships are easy to maintain because they’re close and pleasant. Some are trickier because they’re less immediate, and the pleasures of maintaining them get deprioritized. And some, like family obligations, get neglected for far too long.

On Thursday I’ll tell y’all about the first leg of my trip south, to the places where I’m from, to visit family.


by dixie

“Things were feeling tenuous this morning, but I’m kind of holding it together.”
— my journal, 15 April 2014. Tenuous? Really?

When I left for Denver I was halfway through the trip and halfway through my little notebook. It’s possible that at that point I still didn’t really know what time it is. I hadn’t managed to get more than one night of sleep at a time, and those were rare enough. No wonder I felt like I was hanging on by my fingernails.

Deciding to take a day trip to see Molly was the best idea ever. We hadn’t really talked since we were teenagers; I went to her wedding but as anyone who’s had a wedding knows, you don’t get to indulge in lengthy conversations during those. I put myself on the first IAD-DEN flight out and booked for the last one back, and reconnected with someone I spent pretty much every weekend with for years. She picked me up from the airport, we went to brunch, and we worked through the initial awkwardness. In a way we were meeting for the first time. Again.

After that it became awesome.

We went down to a sort of hip area of Denver, walked around and went to a yarn shop and looked at thrift stores. We tried on shoes…which is funny because we two are the least girly girls on the planet. We hit her favourite vegan food store. After a little more walking around she floated the idea of just sitting down somewhere and talking, and we hit on the question that pretty much anyone has to make at that point in the afternoon: coffee or booze?

I’m a coffee person…but I knew she liked cocktails. So we ended up in a bar, having cocktails and talking about life. We talked about family (hers and mine), writing, my new job, feminist issues in Disney and Pixar movies etc, etc, etc… The afternoon sped by, both of us less and less concerned about the things we needed to get back or attend to, until reality turned up in the form of flight schedules. I did need to get to the airport at some stage.

We left the bar later than we should have. Then the satnav decided it was going to be strange and confusing.

When you miss an instruction from a modern GPS satellite navigator it automatically redraws the route, and if you have the voice commands turned on it’ll tell you “Recalculating…” as it tries to figure out how to unfuck your journey. It gives you a little time to think about your poor life choices before sending you on your way.

Molly, burdened with the responsibility of not just driving safely but also getting me to the airport on time, relied on the satnav rather than her own perceptions. As we wove through the back streets of Denver I started to wonder about the satnav’s perceptions, though. We’d be three blocks away from Colfax, where we were instructed to turn right…then before we got to the street the satnav would say “Recalculating…” This made me a little concerned, especially when we ended up driving around the wilds of the city with no real understanding of what we were doing or how we were going to get where we were going.

When one is within two hours of takeoff from an airport that is on the other side of the city…and it’s rush hour on a Tuesday…one might be tempted to start freaking out. Molly kind of did, on my behalf. It was good of her, but I’d already come entirely unravelled during the Longest Night in SFO. I knew that the consequences of missing this flight would be annoying but not life-threatening. It would seriously mess up the week’s timetable; Beaufort, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh would all tumble to the ground like a house of cards. All my plans would shatter.


One of the nice things about “again” is that I’d been there and done that and survived. I somehow managed to recalculate when I didn’t get where I was going. I didn’t hit all the places I’d planned to hit, I had to cancel some reservations, and some thing ended up looking very different from how I’d planned, but nothing was ever ruined.

Losing my shit in SFO was a problem, but I got pulled out of that with a minimum of damage done. That wasn’t going to happen here; I had people I could stay with in Denver and I knew I’d be able to get myself on a flight out, to somewhere, at some stage. Worse things had already happened on this trip, and I survived them. I sprinted through Logan airport and begged my way through security to get on a flight I probably shouldn’t have been on in the first place, all while nearly delirious with sleep deprivation. Spending a night in Colorado drinking with my best friend from childhood would hardly be a disaster.

Of course, we made it to DEN with plenty of time to spare. I even had time to get a postcard, something I hadn’t managed through the entire weekend in Baltimore. Once again Denver came through for me and was made entirely of win. If I got nothing else out of this month of madness, reconnecting with one of my oldest friends was good enough to justify the entire thing.

A week of family

by dixie

“The Boston flight is tight and I’m exhausted. I think I’m going to choose the path of sanity for once and stay [in DC]. Also, I need to cook my hosts meatloaf.”
— my journal, 14 April 2014

The Monday after Baltimore I’d planned on taking a day trip to Boston to see a friend and offer the city a slightly longer hello than I’d been able to offer the last time I was there. When my alarm went off I blearily looked at boarding totals and decided it was close enough to the line that it would be way better to take the morning on sleep, yoga, and running than chance spending the day in IAD.

Taking a day to breathe was refreshing. I noticed the seasons starting to turn in DC. On my way to yoga I could smell the thunderstorms in the air.

Baltimore kicked off a week of family: big celebrations, small celebrations, connections, and reunions. When people ask why I don’t visit the US often, I mention the fact that everyone is scattered everywhere and it becomes a problem of where to go and who to talk to. I got to go everywhere on this trip, seeing most of my immediate family and getting to reconnect with people I’d lost touch with, what I’d call “chosen” family.

Closer than friends but not related by blood, chosen family encompasses people I have known for a very long time as well as people who have more or less stuck to my life through the years. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for this group of people, even though they aren’t related by blood or marriage or anything other than shared experiences. It might be because one has to have something in common to start off with before this kind of relationship forms, so you already have something to talk about. This isn’t always the case with standard family.

So I went from Baltimore, with an excess of blood relations, to a quiet Monday evening with my sister in which I finally cooked dinner as promised. (It was my award winning meatloaf with haricots verts and mash.) I enjoy spending time with my sisters now that we’re all grown up. The next day I visited someone I consider just as close, but who I actually did a lot of growing up with, part of my chosen family instead. Thursday (this time it actually will publish on time) I’ll tell you about my brief trip to Denver.