Mike Bland

Day 1, Jan 30: Hoboken, NJ to Harrisburg, PA

My Great American Road Trip begins, as I take the PATH to Hoboken and drive to Harrisburg, PA, then cave in and announce the trip on Google+.

- Memphis, TN
Tags: GART, personal

It was about 2:55pm. I had taken some money out of the ATM at 12th and 8th, and was walking down Greenwich St. towards Christopher St., avoiding the busier Hudson St., as I pulled my freshly-packed suitcase behind me, my backpack on my shoulders and my Strat’s gig bag in my hand. Still, a light load for three-to-four weeks’ travel. I’d brought a couple of music books, Stephen King’s On Writing, and my Kindle; I’ll make some time for more than road signs and highway lines, certainly.

In the PATH station, waiting for the Hoboken train, there is a sign down on the other side of the tracks saying something like “Please keep away from the edge of the platform”. Ah America, land of the free, home of the brave, but ever lost without our safety placards and regulations.

Took the elevator up to street level in Hoboken. One stranger, looking down at my gig bag, said to another, “What d’ya think? Shotgun?” The other stranger said, “Looks like a guitar to me.”

“You’re both right!” I added.

“Oh yeah, just like Desperado! Antonio Banderas!”

We three, and probably at least one or two of the others sharing the elevator, walked out of the shaft into the unseasonably warm afternoon with a smile. I hadn’t been out of Manhattan for five, ten minutes, and already the connection that had eluded me for the entire month of January, at least, was manifesting itself.

I got to the Enterprise counter around 3:30pm. So fast! I’d made my reservation for 4:30, giving myself nearly two hours to get there in case of unexpected holdups. By 3:45pm, I was pulling out of the parking garage in a blue Ford Focus with black leather seats, minutes away from I-78, which hadn’t yet become clogged by the evening rush out of Manhattan. This isn’t going to be cheap, but the only thing making it difficult is my expectation of friction at every step.

The drive through the remaining daylight was a peaceful one. Got a little confused at the NJ Turnpike toll gate, but didn’t cause a wreck, despite my efforts. Sometime before sundown, Yolanda called. She was so happy to see that I’d finally done it, finally gone, in pursuit of my dream, making the Great American Road Trip. We already missed each other, but somehow we missed each other less than when I was still sitting in Manhattan. “One of these days, I’ll do it. Just need to plan it. Maybe tomorrow I’ll do it.” Tomorrow never knows, and neither do I, but waiting for one of us to awaken with the knowledge of what’s to come wasn’t getting me on the road any faster.

I drove only until 7:30pm or so, landing in Harrisburg, the place I always stop to go to Starbucks right after turning from I-78 onto I-81, or right before turning from I-81 onto I-78. I check into the Quality Inn right by the exit. No, I’m not a fancy traveler. I want to hit the road and see the world, not pay through the nose for a luxury room I’ll barely get to enjoy. I have dinner at the Red Robin, which has rapidly become a mega-chain preserving the tradition of down-home USA diners, with some European art and advertisements to give it a dash of cosmopolitan flair. Then I drive across the parking lot to the Books-A-Million, shopping for road atlases. I choose the 2012 Michelin atlas that fits easily in my shoulder bag, get a small skim decaf latte at the Joe Muggs counter, then pick up a British guitar magazine, Guitar Techniques, and the latest copy of The Economist.

Retiring to my room, I talk to Yolanda again for a bit. Later, I lose the battle with myself not to announce my trip on Google+, but only after sending a few personal emails to folks and eventually running out of steam. Typically I prefer the personal touch, as I strongly suspect that the broadcast model of friendship tends to diminish rather than strengthen our bonds, at least as long as there are no direct personal connections made to accompany it. But maybe my Luddite tendency is only an expression of my preference for friction, making things difficult on myself in order to prove something to somebody, fulfill some acquired instinct to demonstrate a perverted form of piety towards some ridiculous ideal.

No. While that instinct comes into play, my feelings towards social networking and technology in general are a bit more complicated than that. However, I can take some small comfort in the circumstances: At least I didn’t announce this trip before I left, all show, no go. At least I’m spreading the word after making it happen for real.