fifty states

During this pandemic, we’ve been inundated with maps of the fifty states (and the District of Columbia).  They are color coded to indicate the differences in any number of variables related to the impact of the virus, which is proving to be difficult to pin down both medically and in terms of its cultural and political effects.

But if you’re looking for some more of that, you’ve come to the wrong place.  This posting harkens back to simpler times and pursuits.

Maybe one of the games that you played on road trips with your parents was spotting license plates from other states (and even Canadian provinces).  Growing up by an interstate highway leading to the Black Hills, as I did, you might see a license plate from a long way away even when you didn’t stray far from home.

And, occasionally, you’d see visitors from afar even in your own little town.  What were they doing there?  What tales from the outside could they tell?  (If a blonde in a convertible sports car with that iconic blue and yellow California license plate drove up to the municipal liquor store where you worked over forty years ago, would you remember it today?  Asking for a friend.)

At some point, you might dream of visiting all fifty of the states.  And, maybe, as time went on, you’d have a chance to do so.

Two of our children traveled a fair amount in young adulthood, and there got to be a friendly competition between them to see who would check all fifty boxes first.  With more than a twenty-year head start, I had been to all of the states, but I would enter into the discussions about the quest.

One time — I don’t remember the details — we must have been talking about our experiences in different states, and I mentioned my only visit to Oklahoma that I could recall:  connecting in the Oklahoma City airport before a flight to Fort Smith, Arkansas through a thunderstorm.

The youngsters cried, “Foul.”  They felt that being in an airport wasn’t really being in a state.  A vigorous debate ensued.

In 2014, I was flying to Baltimore.  I usually took a direct flight there, but in this case I switched planes in Raleigh-Durham.  So, I set a trap.  I sent an email to those two kids and Sue that said, “I’m making a connection at RDU on my way to BWI.  If I should unfortunately expire while I’m here, in what state will I have died?”  Shortly thereafter, one of the kids replied, “NC.”  Aha!  I win.

Despite that brilliant maneuver, they have continued to protest my total.  One of the kids sent me an article, “Baby set to finish roadtrip to become youngest person to visit all 50 states.”  The subject line in the email, “Keep up, dad.”

Maps of the states are commonly found on blogs and social media sites, showing the favorite candy by state, what the most common term is for soda (pop!), its richest person (yawn), the most frequent cause of weather-related death, and any number of other comparisons.  One favorite:  a list of books for “reading across America.”  (The choice for Minnesota was In the Lake of the Woods, by Tim O’Brien, who grew up thirty miles down the road from us.  Sue and I had read it at the same time last year.)

I’m always fascinated by differences between the states, even neighboring ones, and that’s certainly kept the analytical part of my brain going during this shelter-in-place period.  But the dreamy side of me imagines being out on the road again, exploring the wonders that lie in each nook and cranny of this great land.

I’m thinking about where I want to go after I get a vaccine shot for the virus.  Maybe Oregon; no sense waiting another fifty years, as I did between my first and second visits.  Yosemite for sure.  And I have to get to Monument Valley.

One of these years, I’d like to take a long road trip to trace some of the history of American music.  I figure a loop including Chicago, Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans, Austin, and Kansas City would do the trick.

Although I’ve been there scores of times, I want to see New York City come alive again.  Maybe I can tack onto that city experience the trip up the Hudson River that I’ve never gotten around to, full of history mile after mile.  Then on to the Adirondacks, Lake Placid, Cooperstown, the Finger Lakes, Chautauqua, and Niagara Falls.

And I want to visit Oklahoma (again).

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