Dubbed the Lesbian Jack Kerouac by my BFF Brian for my propensity for long distance romance, “A girl in every port and on the road with a broken heart,” he describes me, I set out on a life-changing adventure in November of 2011. This is my tale of deep heart exfoliation via asphalt. Check out all the tales in this series at the Gay American Road Trip 2011 tag.
I have an inspirational calendar above my desk that has stated for November “Open your arms wide and beautiful moments will come to you.”
After a sudden break-up just two weeks before the end of a two month protracted lay-off experience, I decided to embark on an epic journey. My goals for my Gay American Road Trip were to shift my perspective and my energy. I felt very bogged down in sadness and lacking traction in my life, which was very frustrating. Creatively blocked, I hoped new perspective and big skies would clear things and make way for new blank pages in the chapters of my life.
The decision to go on the trip was solidified quickly, just two weeks prior to leaving. Everything fell into place, and with places to stay popping up from friends it didn’t feel nearly as alone as a solo trip might. I also have a very charming and friendly seven year old Shih Tzu dog who loves to nap in the car. It is hard to feel alone when in the company of a canine companion.
“Macy you can sleep while I drive,” I adulterated classic Melissa Etheridge lyrics as I packed to leave.
I decided to hop out of town right away―literally the day after my last shift at Re/Dress. I was ready for that energy change. Already a difficult nine and a half hour day working retail, adding community sadness and the agita of uncertainty plaguing me and my fellow Shop Girls, I wanted to shed this juju immediately. Since I had a gig go go dancing at Hey Queen on November 19th I knew that my first chance to leave was November 20th. So I did.
The reactions of my friends, advisers and family were similar―overwhelmingly supportive but very concerned for my safety. As a single 32 year old woman traveling through the heartland solo, I need to be vigilant about safety, but strike a balance where safety vigilance did not compromise the feeling of complete and utter freedom the road offers. As a lifelong Girl Scout and devout traveling adventurer I am familiar with both wilderness survival and road survival. I will be offering my safety tips throughout this blog series.
I have hit the road before. When I moved across the country at 21 I departed with my college best friend who decided in Minneapolis to take a train back home. So I had already driven halfway across the country by myself and knew what that was like. I’ve driven the two days to Atlanta, GA from Brooklyn and driven back and forth to Michfest several times. I knew my limits and my preferences and I also knew I liked being alone in the car. I definitely would not have gone cross country on a solo road trip if I hadn’t had experience.
Preparing the Car
*Safety tip.* Prior to leaving I did a few crucial things to ensure my car was ready for the road. I have a Toyota Prius, a dream car I bought myself when I was making $80K a year as an attorney in a small firm before I got laid off and tried my hand at living on less than a third of that per year as a part time Shop Girl and part time solo attorney. The solo business has dwindled to about nothing this year and I am looking for a new full-time gig to replace both of those. I have had to scramble like hell to keep making payments on my car but I love it and couldn’t get out of the loan. So why not celebrate all I’ve sacrificed to keep it by taking off on this trip?
I only go to the dealership to get the Prius serviced. They do safety checks every time I go in and I knew I was due for an emissions service (about $200), which would also help with better gas mileage, and when I was there for the service they surprised me with the need for a brake fluid service (another $200). But making sure it was safe for the road was really important to me.
Preparing the Dog
Macy got her shots updated and a fresh rabies vaccine before we left town (the rabies certificate is packed with us). I also treated her preventatively with Frontline for fleas (who knew what she might get exposed to on the road). I bought extra poop bags, brought a full bag of food, some small tupperware to keep a single portion of food in for our overnights, a couple of extra small tupperware for her water needs, some treats and her favorite lamby toy. I also packed a down blanket to put on the seat next to me, which was something she could dig in and also easier to clean off than my interior.
I also researched pet-friendly hotel chains. I knew we would need to spend a couple of nights in hotels and wanted to prepare for Macy’s welcome. Motel 6 is nationwide and La Quinta is located in most of the cities I might need to stop.
As of this publication I have stayed twice in La Quintas and I find them super comfortable and affordable. ($52 and $62 with my AAA discount plus taxes and fees in Salt Lake City, UT and Ventura, CA, respectively when booked online at La Quinta’s website.)
Planning the Trip
I had about 17 days to spend on the road―with my next gig in Brooklyn being Rebel Cupcake on December 8th. I did a gas estimate on gasbuddy.com to find out if I could afford the gas―hey estimated $450 for round trip to Palm Springs, CA, where my fabulous Grandmother lives. I looked at the route and plotted some places in between where I could stay and where I wanted to visit.
I’ll be honest that the “End of the World” episode of Parks and Recreation that aired in the beginning of November was a great inspiration to me in the conception and the plot of this trip. Characters April and Andy take a spontaneous road trip to watch the sunset in the Grand Canyon. I knew that was a spot I wanted to see― have never been there and it is only a few hours east of my Grandmother. I wanted to visit Austin and Atlanta, Southern cities where I have longtime besties and there are handsome Southern butches to give this freshly single Femme a little hope at the start of a long Winter. (Sometimes even just window shopping is like eating a full meal.)
I also have friends who popped up on Facebook and offered places to stay. My dear fried and co-creator Cam lives about halfway from Chicago to my mom’s place in the Bay Area. I have a lot of friends in Chicago I could count on for a place to rest my weary head.
*Safety Tip.* I am a member of AAA and believe that to be an everyday safety need as a single lady driving around in a city full of potholes late at night. If I need a tow not only are three included in my yearly dues, but it comes with a tow person who is vetted by my auto club. Helpful for peace of mind. And for around $55 a year in Brooklyn, it’s a huge value considering all of the discounts and benefits from membership. I’ve had AAA since I first began driving and my mom added me to her membership and it has saved my ass on many occasions.
To plot the route, I started plugging in addresses on AAA’s online Trip Tik planner. As a member I can save trips on their website when I log in and it was helpful to keep updating it as I confirmed with friends and got their addresses. (I found with google I had to keep updating my route from scratch.)
I copied a calendar from my wall (the inspirational one) to use the grid to fill in travel times and how long I wanted to stay each place. I started working forward from my departure date, filling in the daily hours and miles traveled and writing where I would sleep that night. I knew my comfortable daily travel was 840 miles, but I could do 1,000 if I had some rest the next morning. I also am a big fan of leaving at the crack of dawn so as little night driving happens as possible.
I didn’t intend to reach anywhere specific for Thanksgiving― wanted to take exactly as long as I could safely to get across the country and back. Not setting deadlines was helpful for that. (Had I been accompanied by a willing co-pilot we could have done it in 3 days.) Luckily I was able to make it to California for Thanksgiving, 5 days after setting foot out of my door in Brooklyn, much to the delight of my mother.
After I worked my way out to California on the calendar, I began working my way back from December 8th counting backward the route it would require to get back to Brooklyn. This way I could see exactly how much fudge time I had in the middle of my route to plan my brief layovers and make my plans to see folks.
I planned a time in the mileage for an oil change around 3800 miles when I knew I had a day off from driving.
I had to drop a lot from my itinerary―honestly this trip could have taken me a full month. I wish I could have gone up to the Pacific Northwest to see pals in Portland, Olympia, Seattle and Victoria. I wish I had longer to soak in New Orleans―a town I very desperately want to spend a chunk of time exploring. But that’s the thing about travel and the open road, there is always more to explore. It’s with an abundant spirit I say I know I’ll be back and I will see more.
I also ordered some travel books and maps and a Trip Tik book from my local AAA office. I really haven’t used them much, though they are great to have as back-ups and good driving tips, local speed regulations and whatnot.
*Safety tip.* Other safety items I always have on hand in my car are a flashlight, spare tire, shoes, car manual, cell phone charger.
So that was how I planned the trip. It took several days to plan, but the planning itself was very invigorating. When I’m not on a computer at my Grandmother’s I’ll post a map of my route.
In sum, I plan to be on the road for 7800 miles and 17 days.