Today, I set off to retrace my Grandfather’s journey into what is now called “The County” plus Edmundston, New Brunswick. For me, it was as much a journey for me, as it was to retrace his steps as a traveling tobacco salesman. For me, it was the first time I have really undertaken a solo trip. While, I spent one night alone in Newburyport before my doctoral defense, this was really going to push myself out of my comfort zone. I think the longest I have ever driven by myself was a couple of hours, so undertaking these set of road trips this summer was a way for me to become more comfortable with being solo on the road.
I had carefully planned out my trip, since I would be using “back roads” like my Grandfather did in 1929 (there was no Route 95 and if you know me well, you know that highways are another thing for me to get used to doing). I have AAA design a Trip Tik but I did not like all the turns, and without a navigator, it would be extremely difficult to figure out. During my trip up to New Hampshire, I had decided that it was really difficult to read Google Maps while driving, so I knew that I would need to use my phone’s GPS. I designed a trip on Google Maps, staying on certain routes, even if it meant that the trip was a little longer. I would travel Route 27 to Route 225, into Westford and Depot Road to Route 3-A North to Route 111 to Route 125 to Route 202 to Route 1A to Route 2 to Route 2A to Route 1, where the hotel was located. Sounded simple in theory…. My first little mess-up was actually in Rochester, New Hampshire, a place where I had spent 27 years visiting. I righted myself and was happily on Route 202, where I thought I would stay until just south of Bangor. My GPS kept trying to get me to go different ways, (which I had downloaded my map onto my phone and I was surprised it was trying to deviate from my plan). After fighting with the GPS, I thought everything was okay until somehow, I veered off Route 202 and the GPS had me going up Route 201/100/11. I felt sure that it was also still 202, until it had me take this really backroad for 5 miles. It was there that I began to understand the loneliness of a traveling salesman in 1929. I went for miles without seeing anyone or anything. At one point, I pulled over to look at the “real” map I had and realized that my GPS had won, that this was similar to what the Trip Tik said to do, so I decided to stay the course, because it seemed like a legitimate route.
However, while it was a legitimate route, I was surprised at how desolate these roads were. I had originally thought of filling up in Bangor, but this route would take me nowhere near Bangor. It was just miles and miles of big sky and open cornfields. While, I still had a lot of gas, I was a little concerned that there may be even less civilization as I got further along. So, when I happened upon the little crossroads of Pittsfield, I pulled over at the gas station/general store. Not knowing when I might happen upon another place, I decided to refuel there and to eat the sandwich I had packed.
Another secret is that I am a princess when it comes to pumping gas. Just last week, my dear friend Johanna gave me a lesson. I remembered her words – take off the gas cap, swipe the card, select the gas type and put the nozzle in the gas tank. Except when I put it in, it didn’t work. She told me if it didn’t work, jiggle it a bit. Nothing. Nervously, I asked the woman pumping gas at the next pump if she was having any problems. “No,” she replied. I then said to her that I had never pumped gas on my own, I had driven from Massachusetts and would she help me. She came right over and my mistake was I hadn’t pushed up a thing on the tank. She told me she was from Massachusetts as well and I asked her where. “Hudson” she said. I told her me too. I asked her name….Jennifer….how coincidental was that I thought. I asked her if she graduated from Hudson High and she had – one year earlier than my sister Jennifer. I felt this was a very good omen, so I thanked her, finished filling my tank, ate my sandwich and kept moving.
As I was driving past endless corn fields, woods, potato fields, big sky, and little else, I thought of the words from one of my Grandfather’s letters:
Tuesday evening. Tina Dear: Here I am at the top of my journey and let me tell you something that to-day I had the worse luck of any one person imaginable. I waited until ten thirty for the mail to come in, expecting to hear from you, well it did not come to my utmost disappointment, second in order to make up for the lost time I started to drive to beat Hades, well I was traveling along about finally when I struck soft road, I skidded around, went into a ditch about three feet deep and was marooned there for fully four hours before I could get her out. I had to walk about two miles before I came to a farm house where I borrowed a shovel, walked back and began working. Well I had to make a wood in the ditch and what a job that was, why I do not believe that I had worked any harder for over three years, finally I got out, it was after three and I hadn’t eaten a bit since breakfast, I certainly was very hungry, tired and dusty – all the roads are dirt through Northern Maine. I got started and about ten minutes from Fort Kent, there is a mountain climb, well I got to about three quarters of the way, when my chariot bucked and stalled, and began rolling down the hill, well, I edged the car over to an embankment and left it there. I looked at my gas and there was just about half a gallon, that was great I thought, well, I waited beside my car until a car came along and asked him for a lift to a gas station, he drove me for about three miles until we came to one, he then went on his way and I got a container filled it with gas and started walking towards my car, after about a half mile and a fellow came along and gave me a lift. I filled my tank and thought that I would get started, well I stepped on my self-starter but there was no response. “Great” I said. I began cranking the darn thing and it kicked, tore the flesh of my hand, so that it was bleeding quite freely before I stopped it. I then cranked for awhile with my left hand and it turned over and began humming. I climbed in and drove over the hill and what a ride it was downhill, I must have gone over fifty-five miles per just coasting. It was just six-thirty when I pulled into Fort Kent, no work done, tired, hungry and worst of all, blue; great combination is it not? ……This will probably reach you Thursday and I will have left for the Eastern part of the State. From my window, I can see Canada and also the first bridge heading there. The boys in this hotel are all feeling happy tonight, I believe it must be some sort of heavy water they must have drank; I have not as yet. Just the same old Joe
As I kept driving towards Presque Isle, I thought about how hard it must had been to travel in 1929. My Grandfather talked about the dirt roads, about walking a long way to get help, and about long days on the road. I kept thinking about why his letters talked about how lonely he was on the road and how he lived for her letters to arrive at his next destination. His job must had been made more difficult by the difficulties of travel in that time period. No GPS, no AAA, no car radios to keep one entertained.
And I guess it was only fitting that when I finally picked up a rock station (versus country and religious), that this song came on:
East of Omaha
You can listen to the engine
moanin’ out his one note song
You can think about the woman
or the girl you knew the night before
But your thoughts will soon be wandering
the way they always do
When you’re ridin’ sixteen hours
and there’s nothin’ much to do
And you don’t feel much like ridin’,
you just wish the trip was through
On the road again
There I am
Up on the stage
Here I go
Playin’ star again
There I go
Turn the page
I think I have turned a page in the journey to push myself out of my comfort zone.
And on the way back, I will push myself again and go back part of the way on Route 95.