For some, the Great American Road Trip is exotic, big game, to be hunted and bested, mounted like a trophy. For us, it was the beginning, the prototype of the life we want to lead. It was something we wanted to befriend, to find the secret scratching spots behind its ears. The US is its own ecosystem, and every line on a map a different species. The vast stretches of the upper Midwest, the endless forests of the Northeast, the towns that dot the Gulf Coast; all are beasts we would love to study. Not to capture, not to claim as a spoil-of-war, but to reveal more of the tapestry of humanity. There is no upper limit on the knowledge and experience to be had, and our aim to see just how far we can stretch our own. One of my favorite parts of the trip was discovering the myriad threads that tie humanity together, whether it was the creation myths of the Pueblo nations or commiserating with the bartenders we met along the way.
Early on, I learned about the concept of literary deconstruction and examining works of literature through various lenses to break them down and analyze them. It becomes increasingly difficult not to see the signposts all around when you apply a socialist or feminist bent to your observations. Our journey across the country in many ways acted as a highlight reel or slideshow for the United States as a whole. Our adventure was the best education I’ve had to date. Even as we traveled, social media and current events kept us plugged in, placing us everywhere and nowhere all at once. We directly witnessed so many different human interactions, and being removed from the geographic and cultural confines of the Rust Belt, the answers to questions weren’t as readily apparent. We were able to see the nation from so many different angles, applying the techniques of literary and cultural criticism through it all. It reaffirmed many of our beliefs, it also led us to question others. At the very least, our experience has given us newfound empathy for those we don’t always agree with, and renewed vigor in formulating our personal philosophies.
With so many highs it was difficult to choose favorites. On a different day we might name another place. How does one judge descending into the New River Gorge against wading in the Colorado’s frigid waters on a Glen Canyon beach? What makes learning about the one-armed, explorer, cartographer and general badass John Wesley Powell any less intriguing then witnessing Native American dance? Is the culture of the Puebloan people preserved at Bandelier National Monument any less important than the sculpture gardens at the Nasher Center? Is anything more beautiful than stumbling upon the expansive crater of Valles Caldera at sunset, or watching J look upon the Pacific Ocean for the first time, or having a cool lake to ourselves on a sweltering Texas day?
The first time I saw Pittsburgh I knew I would leave her. She could be cold, nebby, and casually racist, but really, it was me. With so much out there to see in this world, I’ve never entertained the idea of being tied down to any one city. I’ve never had a car note, a mortgage, or a desire to settle down. While I appreciate the homes others have fashioned for themselves, I’m not quite ready for a long-term commitment.
I have an ongoing joke of a New Year’s resolution: all new mistakes. It’s a way to remind myself to take chances, explore new territory, learn to dig deeper. It’s a call to say yes to opportunities and have a sense of humor when things go awry.
As a young girl, I remember sitting in a dark theater watching Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. I wanted to be just like Indy. I was captivated by the sight of Petra, a city carved into the mountainside; enchanted by the canals and footbridges of Venice. I wanted to explore ancient catacombs, ride a motorcycle through the countryside. I also hate Nazis (but I’m not afraid of snakes).
Most everyone, even those who haven’t been to a beach, understand that it’s a good thing. Even as a child living next to Lake Erie, I would leap at the chance to go to Huntington Beach, or even Rocky River Park, just to be on the sand and hear the waves. While I am certainly no expert, having only recently upped my ocean count by one, the Southern California coast was a truly luxurious experience. Being able to take advantage of an October heatwave and play in the Pacific Ocean is something that would make a younger J’s head explode. The impossible made possible by the mere passage of time.
The Fremont Experience is a walkway connecting casinos, gift shops, and free-standing pagodas in a covered outdoor mall. A Michael Jackson impersonator and a man in a banana hamock had claimed corners on which to busk. Situated between them was a woman in a habit and pasties, intensely focused on her phone in seeming ignorance of her nudity. Heavy equipment could be seen demolishing a building from behind scaffolding touting a forthcoming new Vegas. Zip-liners whizzed past, over it all.
Much like our old home, Pittsburgh, Cuenca has just over 300,000 residents, 3 rivers, and a surplus of bridges. Most of the similarities are what you would expect from any city of comparable size, and most of the differences are negligible. We can work on the language issue, and we’re pretty okay with being taller than most people. Our best stories happen when we’re off the map, and getting lost continues to be part of the fun. After a few months in Cuenca, we’ve created a list of some of the more notable differences between here and your average US city.