An American Road Trip: Beyond the City Walls

This is a recreation of the original article, published by CultureHoney Magazine in 2016.

Boston, New York, Washington D.C and onward across America. Nashville, Denver, the Grand Canyon, and finishing on the beaches of Los Angeles. Truly a coast to coast road trip.

Sounds like a dream road trip. It was. 4000 miles from start to finish. Fifteen different states. It was awesome.
But with these trips, the real gems, the real moments that turn into memories are the ones found off the beaten track, away from the bright lights and big cities. The best moments are the ones that come from beyond the walls of the giant cities.

The Preamble

A hop, skip, and several jumps ago, London, like many British cities, was walled off. Slowly, encampments and villages began to grow just outside the walls of the city. The East End was originally one of those villages.

Those who lived outside the wall tended to be those who couldn’t live in the city, whatever the reason. Some were poor, many were refugees. London was a city surrounded by many of its workers.

Not much has changed when you look at major cities all around the world. The term “commuter” captures the essence of what it means to live outside and travel into the city to work. Some choose to live that way, others simply can’t afford anything else. Whatever the reason, most people around the world live outside the walls of the big cities that dot the globe and come up in travel-hungry conversations.

But stories don’t come from big cities. Stories come from people. And when the people are found outside the big cities, then that’s where most of the stories will come from.

This is, in essence, a testament to that. This is an example of an incredible road trip, fueled by the stories from beyond the walls.

Where the coastal waters remain cold and the trees grow every shade of green

We started our journey an hour north of Boston in a town called Ipswich, just off the northern coast. Here we stayed in a house previously owned by a tax evader who, upon selling the house, up and ran to the Mexican border. Rumour has it she’s hopped back across a few times, but rumours have a lot of things and neither I, nor the current house owner, have seen her.

We spent a few hours of the first jetlagged day in Boston seeing a man who talked to a squirrel, a dog walking himself, and several homeless men with signs reading, ‘Give me a dollar or I’ll vote for Trump’. Genius.

If you like walking, do the Freedom Trail. If you don’t like walking… well then, don’t go to Boston. It’s a walking city. Don’t do the tour though. Grab a map and walk your way to freedom alone. That way you can meander along, popping into interesting looking bookshops with giant Garfield cats that scare the living daylights out of you when they move.

Also, spend more than a few hours there.

The next hours were spent trying to stay awake till a reasonable hour. I managed 8pm…
Ipswich, which we explored the next morning before hopping in the car and driving to New York, is a beautiful town. The place where all the flowers blossom on cue, an assortment of wildlife roam, and birds wake you up with their singing on the balconies and patios of life.

From there we drove to New York, hitting an ungodly amount of traffic along the way, and staying in a lovely house on Long Island.

That night we had New York Style pizza. Sausage and mushroom. It was glorious. The next day we took the train into the city.

The buildings there are as tall as everybody says, and the atmosphere is electric. If you’re an introvert like me, you aren’t going to like all the people running around, but it’s just as easy to get lost in them and forget they’re even there.
Central Park was the only real spot of green in the whole city. It felt strangely architectured, but was still a lovely place to stroll around and have a picnic. The Natural History Museum was wonderful, though despite a rigorous search we were not able to find Dexter, the capuchin monkey from Night at the Museum.

It was a long day, seeing as many sights as we could in the Big Apple and finishing with a night of jazz at The Village Vanguard. New York was cool, but seeing jazz in its birthplace was the highlight of that city.

The next day was accompanied by a brief exploratory drive of our host’s neck of the woods in Long Island before hopping in the car and driving through a thunderstorm and on to Washington D.C.

If you’ve never been to the eastern coast of America, it’s far greener than the rest of America. Dense forests surround the land not taken up by the big cities that dot the coastline. Driving through that dense forest on a two lane highway is surreal. You aren’t quite sure where you are or where the forest will spit you out again.

In D.C. we spent three nights and two days at a lovely, yet slightly odd, house with a giant dog and a fair amount of alcoholic beverages, books, and guides. We’re assuming bartender to be the profession of this host, but we never could confirm it.

In the remodeled attic with three small windows to keep out the day but let in the night, we prepped for our two-day stint in D.C. We didn’t know it yet, but we were to hit, if my memory holds true, fifteen different memorials, museums and sights in those two days.

D.C. is strange, like a city that couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a walking city or not. Don’t take a car there. Walk everywhere. But be prepared, because everything is scattered around just outside of normal walking distances.

Also, visit the Spy Museum. The Spy Museum is awesome.

The dry and barren lands that separate the Atlantic and the Pacific

Not entirely true, as much of the U.S. is beautiful scenery with an abundance of greenery, but you’ll understand once I get to New Mexico.

Nashville was our next stop, and after an 11 hour drive we arrived. The couple we stayed with here was quirky, fun, and incredibly hospitable. She a blues guitarist, he a construction worker (who loved British comedy… I approve). Much of our time in Nashville was spent talking to these two lovely people, and I wouldn’t change that. The stories you hear, the lives you learn about are worth far more than the pictures on your camera and the sights you see.

Still, we did venture into Nashville, accidentally arriving on the second day the Country Music Festival – the one weekend of the year where every cowboy, wannabe cowboy and country music lover lands in Nashville with a mind to drink, let out a few yeehaa’s and drink some more. I was high-fived by three (I think) random dudes.

Two hours there was enough for two introverts. The music was incredible. The downtown consists of eight blocks of solid music bars and souvenir shops. Everything is overpriced. I drank a $20 double of whiskey while listening to a bluegrass rockabilly band.

Nashville to Oklahoma City, where a lovely couple with an obscene amount of dogs welcomed us. While there (for the night) we talked about everything under the sun (even having a conversation with her father, who was in California [I believe] at the time), and got to witness a military reenlistment… long story.

It was brief. Brilliant, but brief. Then we were on the road again the next day, driving towards a two-day rest in Colorado.

There was a lot of reading, card games, and a visit to Estes National Park, where we saw elk, played Pooh Sticks, got serenades (sort of) by the mandolin, and got trapped inside a lovely mountain coffee shop while it thundered outside for about twenty minutes.

After Colorado came the drive we had been dreading the whole trip. Thirteen hours straight in the car from Colorado to Flagstaff. Here, as we shot down and then across through New Mexico, we felt it only appropriate to bust out some Wild West audio book for the long, hot journey. I don’t remember the name, nor the author. But the story was a classic one. Outlaw has to decide between riches or a woman. He was betrayed as a youngster, leading to the life he had, and everything in the end would be decided by an epic gun-battle in the canyons of the desert land.

Classic. And very appropriate for the dry, arid landscape with varying hues of red.

Once in Flagstaff we slept, ate at Denny’s, and drove on up to the Grand Canyon. It was an hour and a half drive and we knew we’d only get an hour there, but who goes that close to the Grand Canyon without visiting? So we snuck up the east side and drove along the ridge of the Canyon, stopping at a couple different lookout points, even sitting on the edge of the canyon itself at one of them. My goodness, that’s a view.

And back out we drove, onward to Phoenix.

The original plan in Phoenix was to visit a genuine cowboy bar with a genuine rodeo in the back (and, if possible, for me to ride the bull).

But alas, not everything can work out and not everything will. The bar was closed that night, and there was no other bar that our host knew of so we went to a steakhouse that allowed us to throw our discarded peanut shells on the floor – which I thought was quite the novelty – and then went to sleep.

The final countdown

The final day of driving was rather eventful. A semi was on fire on one of the two lanes halfway through the journey, and an hour outside of Pasadena, our final resting stop, the car started shaking. We made it, thankfully, to our destination. Four thousand miles of driving and our car broke down as we pulled into its final stop. How poetic.

Don’t worry, it was under full warranty.

The final day, to round out the trip, we went to the beach (in a different car) and saw the other side of the giant country we just drove through. We’ve both lived in Los Angeles, so it wasn’t a tourist spot for us. Plus, I had a train to catch that afternoon as my brother lived in San Diego and I was scheduled to travel down and meet him.

Sixteen days of traveling and it was all complete. An incredible journey, seeing incredible things and meeting incredible people. It was a brilliant trip. But the places we saw didn’t make it brilliant. It was the people we met along the way, sometimes briefly, that really made the trip worthwhile. The big cities are fantastic and a must for any travel-hungry soul. But it’s the stories from beyond the walls that will really make you remember the journey.

P.S. Like our trip, this was a whirlwind article that couldn’t capture everything that happened. Sixteen days is a lot, and a lot can happen. I figured I’d take you through it with the highlights.