from RUMBLE STRIP CANADA 150 “That is a road trip I have always wanted to do.” The young man serving our dinner in the Moncton restaurant was the first person I’d told about our cross-Canada journey since we crossed the border from the U.S. (Actually, I guess, he was the second person because first was the border services agency officer at St. Stephen, New Brunswick, just across the line from Calais, Maine. Technically, though, we hadn’t actually crossed a border until after he waved us through.) Alex was the waiter’s name, and when he came back with our crab cakes, he wanted to hear more. “What’s the route you’re taking?” That’s r-oo-t, not r-owww-t. “We’re going to North Sydney in Nova Scotia to take the ferry across to Newfoundland, then to St. John’s and to Mile Zero. That’s our starting point, and then we drive west till we get to Vancouver Island,” I explained. “Awesome. I’m going to do that someday. How far will that be?” “Almost eight thousand kilometers. In three weeks, give or take.” A little later, after I heard him serving desserts at the next table, using flawless French, I asked Alex if he was from Québec. “No, I’m from right here in Moncton,” he said. “We’re officially bilingual, and if you grow up here you speak French and English.” That was a surprise to me, even though I am a Canadian citizen and, until three years ago, a Canadian resident. It was the first of dozens of surprises I stumbled over during the three weeks on the road—and for my money, exactly the sort of reason you head out on an epic road trip. Find out what you don’t know.
from RUMBLE STRIP USA Off the Interstate I have been living in the U.S. for four years now. As a transplant from Canada, I found many of the customs and ideas familiar, obvious, and easy to adapt to . . . and many others, not so much. Even though the pressure to comment is certainly there, I will be giving politics the mile-wide detour and ten-foot pole they deserve in a travel memoir like this, intended to be as light-hearted as the frame of mind I cultivate. I don’t feel I’ve yet earned the right to pass judgment or offer political opinions about places I’m passing through. I’ll let you know when I’m ready. In the meantime, let’s have fun! Enjoy the thing cover-to- cover, armchair traveler–style, if you like, or sample just the region or state you happen to be passing through yourself. Mostly, the car on these trips was my red BMW 3-series convertible, although there were various rental vehicles in action a few times. The photographs are all mine. You might know that this is the second in the Rumble Strip series. The rumble strip title is a reference to the line of grooves cut into pavement to make sleepy or distracted drivers smarten up and pay attention, as they drift toward the shoulder of the road (or perhaps toward a cliff that will toss them off toward a hideous death). The first book was a cross-country road trip on the Trans-Canada, in honor of that country’s 150th birthday. One of the best parts of doing the first one was compiling a music playlist for readers to use, while daydreaming or actually traveling. I supplied the titles, singers, bands and writers behind 150 Canadian tunes and put it up on the online music-sharing site Spotify. At the end of this book you’ll find songs for you to use as companions during your exploration of each of the twenty-five states featured in Rumble Strip USA off the Interstate. Yes, I know there are fifty and we still have some more driving to do. Actually, not that much driving, just a lot of writing. I have been to forty-nine of the fifty states. The quirkiest part of the numbers is that the forty-ninth one I saw, after this whole project began in 2014, was Alaska—the forty- ninth one to join the United States (in 1959, although the U.S. bought it in 1867). From Russia. For $7,200,000. The book is organized alphabetically, beginning with Alabama and ending with Washington. It covers road trips in precisely half of the United States, with a toe dipped in the water of every region. The exploration began in 2014, but most of the drives took place in 2017 and 2018. Oh—which one is still missing? It’s a trip to Nebraska that is still on the horizon rather than in the bag. So, buckle up, pull out whichever road snacks you like, and put it in gear. You see that next exit sign on the Interstate? We’re pulling off to explore some side roads.
from RUMBLE STRIP EUROPE Could we live here I planned a circle tour that took us from the City of Lights north and west to the Normandy coast; then south to Bordeaux, Provence, and the Côte d’Azur; into Monaco for the race; east to the Italian Riviera, then south and east to Tuscany, Chianti, Siena, Florence; north through the Alps and into Switzerland; then closing the circle back to Paris.The next leg of the journey involved a Eurostar train, a few taxis, a different rental car, and then a transatlantic voyage--to be continued, in the next in the Rumble Strip series: Europe: Benelux and a Boat. On this trip, we drove about five thousand kilometers and asked the question “Could we live here?” about a hundred times. We met many people who were interested in our search. Some of them wondered why anyone would want to leave North America or our family and friends, while others were immediately captivated by the adventure, almost seeming to want to invite themselves along! Choosing a new home is no small mission. Many variables go into the equation that adds up to the “perfect place”, and of course, for every person, there will be a unique set of conditions in the surroundings that makes him or her feel at home. You have to know yourself and what you want, and you have to know your capacity for change. Before setting out on this trip, I did a lot of research, buying books by many expats who’ve made the choice to live in Europe and had much very useful advice to pass along. The Dalai Lama has said that “home is where you receive love”, a definition that brings in the emotional, often indescribable quality that makes you realize you can stop searching. So, while it’s true that I was researching landscapes, people, styles of living, languages, food, culture, art, history, and many other aspects of each country, city, and town, I also had my antennae tuned for that ‘extra something’ that might make a particular place the right choice for our next home. I wasn’t sure that six weeks were enough--on the other hand, maybe the trip would be too long. Time to find out.
from RUMBLE STRIP BENELUX (AND A BOAT) I am writing this introduction, as I mentioned, almost a year after the Benelux trip. It is now May of 2020, and the world has changed, dramatically. In March, two months ago, governments all over the world shut down their countries, closing borders to travelers, ordering businesses to shut their doors, and directing citizens to stay at home except for essential tasks. The coronavirus has spread across the globe, infecting millions with Covid-19 and killing hundreds of thousands of people... It seems so strange to look back less than a year. Now we see the public squares and other places empty of people, but a year ago the streets and airports were packed. The Louvre in Paris, the London Eye, the streets of Amsterdam, the corridors of the ocean liner--I saw travelers and tourists, shoulder to shoulder, every day. What will the future be? Perhaps it will be a new, better world with a slower pace, fewer crowds, less focus on acquisition, and more concern for other people. Perhaps not. Two things are certain: I’m very grateful that I was able to make the trip; and the memories will be precious. This situation now makes my memories of 2019 even more treasured, and my affection for the people in France, England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany and onboard ship, even deeper. A bientot, j’espere. See you soon, I hope.