Monday, July 12, 2010

Driving, Driving, Endlessly...

...across this giant nation. I'm going to the mountainous portion Idaho for a little while, to cool off in a climate better suited to my thick northern blood. I'm in a hotel room in Jamestown, North Dakota and I really ought to be sleeping if I'm going to beat the crowd to the free breakfast buffet early in the morning, but... I promised my dad's cousin I would write this tonight. Then I told her that I couldn't because I was too tired, but I'm going to write it anyway and surprise her. I put on a little music to keep me up.

All right, so I'm really tired, don't get your hopes up for anything particularly entertaining...

Maryland to Ohio.

The first day of the drive started the same way it always does when I leave Maryland for the West. The same highways, through the Cumberland Gap, all the trees, then West Virginia, and more trees and more hills. This time, though, I had something to look forward to, which was a night at my friend Anita's home, which is (until August, anyway) a beautiful little cabin in the middle of the woods outside Athens, Ohio. Anita is one of my best friends from childhood. She and I used to play in the woods and streams behind her house. We always climbed this one tree that grew big blossoms in spring and summer, and laid in its branches making up fairy stories. We tried to catch tiny fish in the streams by taking off our shoes and using them to scoop them up. It never worked. I remember looking at the places where the roots of the trees met the water and wishing I was tiny enough to live in the little nooks and crannies that formed there. That also didn't work.

Anyway, now she's engaged to a delightful young man named Brad, and they rent this gorgeous cabin with a wood-burning stove out in the country. It is surrounded by flowers and vegetables, and butterflies with wings so big they look too heavy for their little bodies. Little Girl Inga would love it as much as Big Girl Inga does. I got there at around dinner time and we went into town to eat. When we came back we opened a bottle of red wine and sat out on the back porch for hours talking and laughing and telling stories. We talked a lot about the place where we took ballet as kids, and how the training was so strict that we still do certain things the way we were taught there. For example, I only took classes there for three years, but I still obsess about my posture. My ballet teacher used to tell us that if we slouched when we were young then when we got older we would become hunchbacks. So now every time I notice myself slouching I quickly sit up straight, even if I'm tired, as though she can still see me.

My favorite thing about the cabin is that they have a porch upstairs as well as downstairs, and they put a second bed out on the upstairs porch, which is where they sleep most of the year, except for in winter. I love sleeping outside and I imagine how lovely it must be to wake up out there in the sunrise every morning and look out over the pond. I slept in the indoor bedroom, which has a ladder you have to climb to get to it. Their little black cat joined me in there some time during the night, and let me pet him when I woke up.

The last time I was at their place was when I left Chicago in April. Brad, Anita's fiance, bakes bread from scratch as a hobby and that day when Anita woke me and I climbed down the ladder, he made us a breakfast of bacon and eggs, with a slice of his homemade bread covered in butter and honey. So this time when I woke up and climbed down the ladder, my hair sticking out like a tangled nest, and didn't see Brad anywhere in the kitchen, I reacted with all of the courtesy of a tired and hungry baby who didn't get quite enough sleep the night before. Anita greeted me with a smile and the words, "Good morning. Cappuccino?" and pressed a mug of delicious caffeine into my hand. I responded with, "Where's Brad?!" She replied, "He had to go into town, he left early this morning." Me: "But what will we eat? Who's going to make me breakfast???"

Anita had made some biscuits, which we ate, and we packed up my car and drove back into town to meet Brad for eggs at a little restaurant. They weren't as good as his homemade kind, and he seemed to appreciate the fact that from the depths of my exhaustion I only wanted his version of breakfast, after I re-enacted the scene for him with gusto. (Anita, if you're reading this, let me tell you once again that your cappuccino and biscuits were delicious, and thanks again.)

They make a cute couple, those two. They met in college and are both well-read and well-spoken. Brad says things like, "Inga, how do you feel about feminism?" (I eloquently answered, "Pretty good, I guess.") He was asking because of something somebody said about F. Scott Fitzgerald, I don't remember exactly, it was really hot outside and my brain stops working once the temperature goes over 72 degrees (22 Celsius for you Euros). As we were all walking to the car, he turned to Anita and said, "Let's get her a present before she leaves." I thought they were talking about their landlady because my brain wasn't functioning properly, and so was surprised when he stopped in a bookstore and bought me a copy of The Great Gatsby, so I can read it and then discuss how it pertains to feminism with them some time in the future. Anita invited me to their wedding, which I wish I could attend, and then I got in my car and drove away.


I still love that town! The first night I showed up at my Icelandic friends' (Einar and Lena) house, I was so tired from staying up late the night before that I just kind of sat around like a zombie and then took a much-needed shower and went to bed. I got to spend time with my friend Nancy, and had a proper girls' night with my Chicago Girls. I brought the Jameson, they brought the rest, which included asian food. I didn't realize how much I had missed them until I was sitting in their company again, talking and laughing and dancing while taking embarrassing pictures. They wanted to know all about my trip to Iceland, I played them all my new favorite songs and they caught me up on what was new with them. One thing that all of the Great Friends of My Life have in common is generosity of spirit. The Chicago Girls are a prime example of the generosity of the people I'm lucky enough to call my friends. When you're telling them something, they pay close attention and ride the emotional waves of the story with you. When you play them a song you like, they really listen to it, and if you jump up and dance around like an idiot while you're listening to it, they either join you or take your picture to capture the moment. They tell you they wish you would move back and be near them again, but understand when you explain that you want to wait until you can better afford it. Being around them makes me a better friend to them, because I want to repay them somehow for being so great. In other words, it was so much fun and I can't wait until the next time we're all together in the same place.

The next day I had coffee at the Holy of Holies, also known as Julius Meinl, with my friend Susanne, who is a member of the Icelandic Association of Chicago because she did a year in The Land as an exchange student in high school and traveled there again last summer. Her exchange program sent her to Ísafjörður, of all places, and she survived. We talked about how disgustingly hot it was outside, and how nice and cool we would be if we were still on our favorite little island, and made plans to figure out how to find jobs there next summer or sooner. That night Einar and Lena had a little barbecue with me and another Icelandic girl, and we all sat around taking shots of Opal and Topas schnapps and listening to music. There was more talking and laughter. They enjoyed hearing tales of my trip in May, especially the ones where people thought I was either ten years younger than I really am or mentally retarded because of my poor Icelandic language abilities. We decided that the test of a true man is to feed him a spoonful of Lýsi (Icelandic fish oil) and see if he can take it without making a face. Good times were had by all, and I remember three out of four of us stumbling down the street to get a burrito at about three in the morning. Ahh, Chicago.


Minneapolis is where another one of my childhood best friends, Kasey, lives with her fiance Andrew. This is where I'm starting to repeat myself a lot. Again, we chilled, we ate, we drank, we talked and laughed and took a few naps. Only this time we also watched tv and movies, one of which was Drop Dead Fred, which was one of my top 3 favorite movies as a kid. Watching it again as an adult, I still laughed at all the things I laughed at when I was little, only now I discovered it has a really good message about being yourself and not letting anybody break your spirit. Who knew? I thought it was just about smashing things and picking your nose and wiping dog poo on clean carpets.

We also drove around town eating a snack while watching people and looking at houses. Very similar to the Icelandic national sport of driving around while eating ice cream, only I was eating barbecue chicken and french fries instead.

Minneapolis is really nice, and so are Kasey and Andrew. I'm getting more and more tired as I write this, time to wrap it up...

Still Driving... 

So here I am in North Dakota. I'll spend the next two days driving across Montana, and on the third day I should be rolling up to my aunt's house in the mountains. I'm so excited! Yet another journey. I love to travel but I'm starting to feel that some day I should pick a place to live for a little while already. Or maybe two places, and go between them. I love the adventures, I do, but the thing that's hard about traveling like this is that no matter where I am, I'm always missing the people who aren't there.

My friend Nancy is kind of like my Chicago Mom. When I was living there she would frequently call me and bring me around town with her to run errands, which would then turn into dinner, which would then turn into her filling grocery bag after grocery bag with left-over food and goodies she had around her house. She would feed me until I couldn't eat anymore and then make me eat an orange just to make sure I was getting enough vitamin C. She's also a hypnotherapist and does something called Self-Acceptance Training, and on top of that she's a big student of spirituality and so is always full of lots of wisdom, which she feeds me while she's feeding me.

We were talking about this very trip, and my future plans, and all the things I'm excited about, and challenges and all that stuff. I was telling her about how sometimes people will try to make me feel bad about the things I'm doing because it doesn't fit a certain picture of what people "should" do with their lives, and she was telling me about how some people fear the unknown. "You're going to a new place you've never lived in before, with all new people, new experiences, new landscapes, it's all unknown and you love it. You live in the unknown."

I think I'll keep her.