Sunday, August 20, 2006

Day One tally

The Florida Caverns State Park is in the central time zone – which meant that it was still only 4 p.m. when I finished my visit. On a Sunday, nothing in historic Marianna was open, and my choice was to check into an inexpensive chain motel or keep moving.

The point of road-tripping is to go where the wind takes you, and I opted to head south – yes, out of my way – to Panama City Beach.

This is a place that has always reveled in the joys of kitsch, and Goofy Golf and T-shirt shops are still going strong. But many of the hotels and motels aren't. What hurricanes haven’t claimed, the developers have. Though the beach itself is still glorious, you'll have to brave a gauntlet of massive high-rises to find it. It’s a disappointment.

Today’s tally:

· 642 miles

Expenses:· Breakfast: home
· Lunch: A sandwich from home
· Gas refills: $62.59
· Motel: $72 (includes internet and breakfast)
· Park and caverns: $11.60
· Tolls: $13
· Dinner: $20

Total: $179.19


Anonymous said...

Jane, as promised, an article about Elizabethtown, a road trip movie tied into music. Does anyone know of Orlando Bloom's song itinerary set out for him by Kirsten Dunst?

October 23, 2005
Gas, Food and Therapy on the American Road
IN Cameron Crowe's "Elizabethtown," Claire Colburn, a cheery flight attendant played by Kirsten Dunst, extracts a promise from Drew Baylor, the film's hero. Instead of flying home to Oregon from the Kentucky village that gives the movie its name, Drew must drive. When the time comes, Drew (played by Orlando Bloom) finds that Claire has prepared an elaborate multimedia guide - a kind of do-it-yourself AAA TripTik - complete with maps, commentary and mix CD's to give each vista its appropriate musical accompaniment. In other words, Claire has thoughtfully put together a package guaranteed to make Drew feel exactly as if he were in one of those cross-country road-trip montages that occur so frequently in movies like this.

We hear a lot about America's love affair with the automobile, but Drew's leisurely drive is a reminder that the relationship is frequently a three-way romance involving a movie camera as well. This ménage has spawned a vast filmography of buddy pictures, getaway pictures, existential wandering pictures and innumerable hybrids - from "Thelma and Louise" and "Rain Man" back to "Sullivan's Travels" by way of "Harry and Tonto" and "Easy Rider," to name only a few.

If nothing else, these movies serve to remind us that we inhabit an endlessly photogenic nation. But they also acknowledge the anxious distance that the film industry perceives between itself and the rest of the country. The movie road trip is at once an acknowledgment of the artificiality of movies and an imaginary antidote to it. After indulging the pretense that a studio back-lot set or a street in Vancouver is really downtown Chicago, how satisfying it is to be treated to views of Monument Valley or the Mississippi Delta, whose specificities of terrain and custom make them impossible to counterfeit.

The itinerary Claire has carefully mapped out takes Drew from Louisville to Memphis and then curls across the Mississippi River, through Oklahoma into the Great Plains. The song list, meanwhile, meanders from James Brown to U2 to Stephen Foster. After two hours of watching Drew and Claire flirt and canoodle, you pretty much know where it will end, but this sequence has ambitions to be something more than a cute, geographically expansive variation on the sprint to the airport that concludes so many romantic comedies. The American landscape, after all, is a rich repository of visual grandeur and historical meaning, a democratic vista that contains, and connotes, much more than the infatuation of two fresh-faced young citizens.

Drew's winding sojourn across the heartland comes at the end of a trying week, during which he has endured the death of his father, the loss of his promising career and the collision of the West Coast and down-home branches of his family. Threaded through these personal difficulties are some larger issues. Instead of a standard, tiresome Red State/Blue State confrontation, Mr. Crowe examines the tensions within an extended family - and within the heart of an individual - between the hometown comforts of small-town life and the demands of mobility and achievement.

Drew's road trip allows him to have both, since the main destination on this kind of trip is not a particular place but an idea of place. If your iPod and your GPS navigation system achieve the right synchronicity, you may find yourself transported to an authentic, mythic America - without Wal-Marts or Starbucks or strip malls. The purpose of the trip is not only to re-establish a connection, however glancing, with that old, reliable America, but also, this being America, to find yourself, to heal.

A similar episode of therapeutic tourism occurs at the end of Wim Wenders's "Land of Plenty," a low-budget film that opened in New York the same week as "Elizabethtown." Mr. Wenders's love affair with the wide-open American landscape dates back at least to "Paris, Texas" his 1984 film, written by Sam Shepard. "Land of Plenty," which takes place mostly in rundown parts of Los Angeles, is - not entirely unlike "Elizabethtown" - a fable of American disconnection and family estrangement. Lana, a selfless, politically serious young woman played by Michelle Williams, comes to Los Angeles to look for her uncle Paul (John Diehl), a mentally disturbed Vietnam veteran. At the end, Lana and Paul, fulfilling the dying wish of Lana's mother, set out on a cross-country drive to discover the beauty and variety of America, from Truth or Consequences, N.M., to Down East Maine.

As in "Elizabethtown," this concluding montage is moving, in part because it answers a deeply felt, almost mystical need to believe that the beauty of the American landscape has the power to soothe even the ugliest divisions within American society. Paul and Lana's estrangement is a metaphor for some of these rifts, which are less ideological than temperamental. It is not so much a matter of left against right as a clash between piety and paranoia, both of which represent strains in the national psychology older than the nation itself.

But the country - the physical landscape - is nonetheless imagined to contain any schism, and cure any wound. Some of the sites selected by Claire (and by Mr. Crowe, of course) offer further testimony to this idea: Drew pays a visit to the Lorraine Motel in Memphis where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and also the memorial to the victims of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Her voiceover emphasizes the soothing, inspiring aspects of these memorials and discreetly omits the acts of domestic political terrorism that are their reasons for existing.

That may be a prerogative of movies, and of tourism, which is as much about safety and familiarity as about discovery. But the concluding montages of "Elizabethtown" and "Land of Plenty" call to mind the ending of another film that uses similar imagery to a slightly different purpose. I'm thinking of the denouement of Spike Lee's "25th Hour," a 2002 film that remains unmatched in its portrayal of the raw, angry, tender mood of New York City in the months after Sept. 11. Monty Brogan, the mid-level drug dealer played by Edward Norton, is heading upstate to serve a seven-year prison sentence. His father, who is driving, suggests that they turn left at the George Washington Bridge and head west. In some small desert town, his father says, Monty can lay claim to his American birthright and start again, with a new identity and a new life, a good life free of the compromises and conflicts that have wrecked the old one.

It is a seductive scenario, and as it plays out over Terrence Blanchard's lush, swinging score, it brings a tear to the eye, as do Mr. Crowe's and Mr. Wenders's variations on the same theme. But the difference is that Mr. Lee, perhaps less inclined to sentimentalize America, at once recognizes the power of the fantasy and acknowledges that it is a fantasy. In the last shot, we see that they have driven past the bridge rather than over it. The continent on the other side of the Hudson remains a place full of endless possibilities, forever out of reach.

Chris said...

What kind of music do you listen to on your journey?

There is a place on the Georgia-NC border near Great Smokie National Park called "sliding rock falls." A natrual waterfall on a 45 degree angle which, the young and the brave of heart slide down.



Debbie Kowalsky said...

Hello, Jane! Now that you're probably out of Florida, the scenery will be great, but the distance between gas stations may be very long at times. Stick to the large ones where the truckers go. Most of them now have a franchise like Subway with them, so you can feel comfortable eating the food! Back in 1988, my husband and I were doing an across-country trip in a Z-28 convertible with a dog and an 18-month-old in tow. One night we had missed dinner and we were in an area where there was absolutely nothing but an old family-run gas station. My husband bought us a can of Spam (with a dusty top) for dinner. I didn't eat and haven't forgiven him for it since. He's very careful about planning out food stops ever since!

Sylvia & Bailey said...

I sent this via email originally: Hello Jane,

When I read your article this weekend about your road trip from Miami to Seattle I almost feel off my chair. For about a year now I have had the same trip planned and I am departing in about three weeks. I have had my route mapped out for months and it is fairly close to the one you chose. I have tons of interesting adventures planned along the way and yes, I too am a single woman traveling solo. The biggest differences are that I am taking my dog, towing a trailer and not coming back! Yes, I am doing this as part moving trip and part grand vacation for me and my dog, Bailey. As part of the trip we are going to an adventure camp for people and their dogs in Ohio at the end of September for 4 days. We are going to be doing a lot of camping and hopefully visiting some national parks. When I get to Seattle I will be in my new home. I have no specific time frame but figured it would take me about a month at least.

I wish you well on your trip. I hope we can keep in touch. I maybe not have access to the internet or the Miami Herald after I depart in three weeks but feel free to email me if you would like or call me on my cellphone (see email). Until I leave I will keep tabs on your progress in the newspaper.

Best Wishes and Happy Adventures!!!!

Sylvia Thompson

ps. I must say that from my perspective the coincidence is uncanny. The fact that a woman is writing about her adventure in the newspaper driving cross-country from Miami to Seattle exactly three weeks before I am leaving on the same trip is amazing!

Sylvia & Bailey said...

Jane, Here is a travel book you should have picked-up before you left. I think you would love it!

Eccentric America published by Bradt and writen by Jan Friedman.

It has odd and unusual destinations for the whole country

Anonymous said...

You should definitely stop at the Barber Racing Museum or your readers and I will never forgive

sara herald said...

Jane, if you can head north so that you end up driving west from Pierre through South Dakota into Montana. If you do that you can catch the little town of Deadwood and check out Spearfish Canyon (where they filmed much of Dances with Wolves), the Badlands and Devils Tower. Prairie Dogs are everywhere right in the park. Stay in Custer State Park (variety of decent accomodations and a hugh bison herd). From there you can visit Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monuments as well as the Jewel and Wind Caves which will give you a nice contrast with the Florida caverns and which are not as well none as Carlsbad but very impressive. When you make this drive there is so little development you will feel like a settler crossing the prairie in search of a homestead. From there you can continue west and jog down to Sheridan Wyoming and check out the Custer Battlefield on the banks of the Little Bighorn. You can head a little further south and then cut in heading west through Cody Wyoming to see the great western museum there as well as the Pow wow facility named for Joe Robbie who donated it. You can enter Yellowstone there and either make the complete figure 8 and catch the Tetons and Jackson Hole to the South or just do the northern loop and exit to the north and catch the interstate through Butte to Missoula. More later hope you are having a great time.

sara herald said...

Jane in Nashville there is the "Parthenon" and the surrounding park just past Vanderbilt. Nice to relax or walk or just check out.

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