Parked Her Carcase

Digital illustration: Belinda Babbitt

Speaking as a person whose sense of direction can barely get me from my own front door to the kitchen and back without assistance, I have a certain empathy for even the fictional characters who lose their ways in the world. Not so much so that I don’t laugh up my sleeves just a little at their plight all the same, since they are, after all, make-believe…
Digital illustration + text: Parked

Slow-Moving Cars & Shiny Objects

Distractions abound. One split second of inattention can lead to disaster, whether it’s the roadside wildflowers that make me fail to notice the brake lights ahead of me or the glittery wings of a metallic beetle that keep me from realizing that everybody in my promenading party has walked on ahead without me and I don’t quite know where. Not such great and significant dramas in the grand scheme of things, these, but small indicators to remind me that things could have been so much worse if I hadn’t been so fortunate, and might be yet if I don’t learn from the nudges.Digital illustration: Tripping along the Road

The best fortune in them is, of course, that I’m cautioned before the crack of doom. How much better to be alerted by noticing the swerve I had to make to avoid plowing into the slowed traffic, or by realizing I have to catch up with my strolling companions than that I actually caused a crash or hiked right off the trail into uncharted wilderness alone. A little jolt is an occasion for large thankfulness.Digital illustration: Dyslexic Map

That’s how I travel through life, bumbling along its unmapped corridors with my faulty personal GPS and my avid, easily attracted magpie eye. I bump into life as much as I take a route through it. I’m just relieved to have lived this long without disappearing down any of an infinite number of rabbit holes and being lost forever in the warrens, tripping in them obliviously only because I was too mesmerized by nonessential Other Things along the way.

Signs & Portents

Every trip tends to have its unique interests, but they all share certain qualities, too. One, for me, is the abundance of intriguing, useful, surprising, puzzling, inviting and sometimes downright amazing signs of all sorts that mark the way. Our summer road trip was chock full of them, too; many whizzed by too quickly at highway speed to be commemorated by me with my trusty little camera, but some served well to mark a few of the highlights and oddities of our pilgrimage west and back.

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Some signs made me wonder if we’d suddenly gone far astray from our intended route, to another state, country or (occasionally) planet. [Remember to click on the images if you want to see them in greater detail.]

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A few signs were rather provocative, and many simply amused me greatly for one reason or another.

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Vintage signs often outlive their original purposes by being moved–or read–out of context. Unless, perhaps, the message has a more cosmic meaning…

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Some of the most welcome signs are those very familiar ones not seen in a very long time. It doesn’t matter so much that I’ve frequented the place or embraced the item as that the sentimental landmark each represents of other persons and places is called to mind.

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I’m especially fond, though, of those signs that seem to have lives of their own, through age and adventures unknown. I like to imagine what they denote beyond their mere artful decorations and texts.

On this particular escapade of ours, all signs pointed to a grand tour and many colorful memories. And led me, of course, to think ahead to all of the travels and signs yet to come in my life.

Going Places without Getting Anywhere

Summer holidays allows some of us lucky folk to indulge our inner travel junkie. This summer was pretty much the lottery winner for the Sparks household in that regard, and it helped to scratch my perpetual go-somewhere itch more than a little. We went on a Road Trip. By that I mean a 6000+ mile loop from Texas to the west coast, north to Canada, and back again, over five weeks.

I won extra, since I got to make that trip with my favorite partner-in-crime, my husband. And he likes driving and I don’t much, so he did nearly all of it. I just got to watch the world go by, cities, states, countries, plains, hills, mountains, rivers, forests, and much more. I sat there mesmerized, my camera propped on my lap or–more often–shooting away virtually aimlessly as we buzzed by at 85 mph/137 kph (yes, there are some places where that’s the speed limit in the US) in hopes of catching some of the amazing, beautiful, weird, wonderful stuff we passed along the way. Thank goodness I didn’t have to try this kind of photography on the Autobahn.

Being dyslexic in so many helpful ways, I am the last person who should be navigator on any trip, but I was reminded that maps of any sort have their limitations anyway, and GPS only adds new layers of complexity and adventure, as when our perky GPS announcer lady (affectionately known as Peggy Sue) calmly informs us from time to time that we are in Undiscovered Country, or as she likes to put it, Not in a Recognized Area. The fun part of it is that the map on our GPS just goes blank at that point except for the little red arrow that is us, which thereupon floats through the air with the greatest of ease. That’s when I really call on my fantastic piloting skills, of course.

Mostly what I learn from maps of any sort is how far we are from where we intended to be and how many complications lie in the space between. But that, too, is part of the thrill and amusement of road-tripping or, for that matter, travel of any sort. The planned and well-known aspects are seldom as exciting and interesting as the things found by accident, the experiences had in passing and the ‘scenic route’ that is a fixable mistake. If we never made any U-turns or wrong guesses or took any side roads instead of the Main Drag, life and travel would be ever so much duller. And this trip was anything but dull. I’ll share some of the adventures with you when the dust settles!digital illustration

Signs of a Good Trip Ahead

That wonderful invention the GPS is generally a generous gift to a diva of disorientation like me. With my myriad forms of dyslexia all interlocking magically to make it virtually impossible for me to find my way practically anywhere past my own mailbox, it’s nice to have a personal assistant, albeit a computerized one, telling me how to get from Point A to Point B and beyond. And I do love a good road trip, when the opportunity arises.

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You are Here, but There’s No Here Here

But even our GPS (sometimes fondly called Peggy Sue after the lady who first helped us find our way around our new home, town and state) in all her digital wisdom can’t find everything. Sometimes, as on the above-pictured occasion, she has no more clue where her driver and passengers are than they do. And you know, it’s kind of amusing to me. Not only does it amuse me to look at the GPS screen and see it telling me that I am a little red arrow flying through the air in the vastness of uncharted space, but it’s weirdly reassuring to me that my lack of omniscience is far from unique in this world. All the same, I do appreciate Peggy Sue’s selfless assistance when it’s needed and available.photoOn the other hand, there’s plenty to be said for going forward without knowing what comes next. In life, it’s just plain inevitable–prescience of any sort is in mighty short supply. On holiday, going with the flow is often the perfect way to have a rich and full adventure, and even the occasional mishaps stand a chance of being fodder for both present delight and reminiscent hilarity. On the pictured ‘flight’ across uncharted Texas territory, my spouse and I were so happily absorbed in relishing the sights along the unknown way that we both failed to notice one of our other digital auto-assistants signaling us that the supply of petrol was diminishing, until it was seriously questionable whether we’d make it to a gas station before the tank ran dry. We knew we were in the vicinity of Seguin (a place we’d been through a few weeks ago) and crossed our fingers that following the intermittent signs to town would get us to a refilled tank in time. Not only did we make it in time, we had a trip in a time machine on the strength of that refueling. The little bit we’ve seen of Seguin has a remarkably somnolent sense of being stuck in time, and not even strictly one single point in time but rather as though everyone in the whole town has dragged his or her weathered boots every step of the way through its history, and everyone in turn has stopped off at a different spot in the past before picking up speed and rejoining the flow of time. Past and present meander in and out of each other and the buildings and land around Seguin and beckon us, in our turn, to slow down and enjoy the oddity of being off the map and off the tow rope of time simultaneously.

photoWe didn’t stop quite long enough to buy wrestling tickets, mind you, but the lure of the unique and the mystery of moving ahead without any inkling of what might lie ahead kept us rolling along all the happier when we were securely back on a full tank (once we found one of those vintage petrol pumps that was fully functional and deciphered the toothless ramblings of the guy sitting in his lawn chair ‘instructing’ us through our transaction from across the lot). If we hadn’t been to Seguin, we’d never have experienced its time-capsule marvels, potted around wondering how on earth a town that size could survive with so few gas stations, or gotten to see the World’s Largest Pecan, a sculpture on the lawn of City Hall that is probably really about the second or third largest representation of said nut in the US and possibly about the second or third least decorative sculpture (sorry, Seguin!) upon which any town proudly bases a promotional motto. Strange? A tad. Stuff I could easily have lived a long and healthy life without seeing or experiencing? Perhaps. But I’ve no regrets that our particular turns in the road took us there and led us to all of that fun, plenty entertaining even without wrestling tickets.