Staying In One Place

I have been in St. Louis about 6 months now. 3 or 4 months ago, I adopted a cat. I made this decision that will live into my 40s after reading an article on the Everygirl.com about "A Beauty Editor's Morning Routine" or "How to Perfect Your Morning Routine" or "How to Make the Mundane Details of Your Life Weigh on You" or something like that.

I don't remember much about the article except that it mentioned "feed the cat" as something that happened right after "wake up." That stuck with me. I never imagined I would want a cat, but I was unmoored, and had been for a while -- living out of a suitcase, living out of a car, moving to a new city -- and I wanted to be moored. I wanted to wake up, then feed the cat. I wanted to stop thinking about myself and my personal development and my uncertain future long enough to scoop a little turkey pâté into a dish for a furry, small-brained dependent.

I adopted the first cat I met, a very large, semi-feral creature named "Chewbacca." I changed his name to Chuy, although Will calls him "Chewbac Obama." Chuy had a bit of a biting problem. For a while I worried he wasn't happy, and that he wanted to be back in Florissant, MO next to the Chinese take-out place where they found him. I tossed around the idea of driving into the Missouri countryside to find a nice farmer who would let Chuy roam free and dig rice out of cardboard containers in alleyways, like nature intended.

But slowly Chuy adjusted to his new life of naps and head scratches and regular meals. He has brought us lots of joy. When at rest, he arranges his body in a way that looks exactly like a rotisserie chicken. Let me tell you: it is hilarious. Every morning when I wake up, I scoop a little turkey pâté into his dish while he rubs his head on my feet in a pathetic show of groveling. He still bites a bit, but in a sort of gentle, apologetic way. I feel moored.

Of course, now that I have anchored myself here, with a lease and a job and an animal and a human, I have started to get antsy. I feel my career is starting elsewhere, without me. According to the Internet, all my peers who want to be writers are already, somehow, mid-career. Remember Ruby Tandoh, from the Great British Bake-Off? She is 1. absolutely magical, and 2. the author of 3 cookbooks. She is 24. (She also wrote this article back in 2016 about disordered eating and "wellness" culture that I find so smart.)

I am not comparing myself, per se, which I know is futile and misguided. I am also not a baker, so I don't know why I chose Ruby Tandoh as an example of success except for the fact that she is a person whom I genuinely admire. What I am saying is: am I doing enough? Am I standing still when I should be moving forward? Why did I adopt a cat that does not travel well instead of moving to a big city and succeeding in a more real way? This is a trap I fall into again and again: that clawing feeling that if everything isn't right in my heart and my mind and my life, I should change something. I should move, I should quit my job, I should put on a face mask and lay in my bed and breathe deeply until I'm calm. I have started to suspect that this kind of thinking is a very tricky variety of bullshit.

I have started to think that the next phase in my travels is staying in one place, at least for a little while. I have started to think that I don't need to streamline everything, I just need to look around me and see what is. Do you know what I mean? This kind of thing is especially confusing with all the language floating around right now about "feeling your feelings" and "self care" and "embracing your imperfections." Somehow I internalize those messages as another mode of self-perfection, which is an admirably twisty type of fucked up.

What I am saying is this: at the moment, Nirvana is unavailable to me, and I spend a lot of my week under florescent lights.

But also: I am making enough money to pay for my apartment, which is 2 blocks from this job that I am lucky to have. When I get home, my cat and my boyfriend will be chilling together in a cute manner and I will say "hello boys," like I always do. There's an elliptical and a treadmill in the basement that I can use for free while I listen to "Work, Bitch" by Britney Spears, a song I tell myself I like ironically.

Everything I have done for the past couple of years has been impermanent. I haven't dug in anywhere, and everything has been a stepping stone to the next thing. They have been beautiful, freeing, very fun stepping stones that I wanted. But now I have arrived somewhere, and I adopted a cat, and he doesn't travel well, so I think I'm going to stay in St. Louis long enough to look around me at the life I have here.

Wild Horses in the Badlands

I haven't blogged in a little while, and I regret not being able to write about the amazing things we are seeing every day, on foot and out the car window. If there's anything I've learned about storytelling, though, especially when blogging about a long and winding trip, it's that omission is key. That falls under a category of similarly important life rules such as "Your Mom Doesn't Need To Know Everything" and "You Can Put Salt In But You Can't Take Salt Out."

In that spirit, I am going to tell you about one thing we saw in North Dakota, possibly my favorite experience of the entire trip. 

The morning of this magical happening, Will and I both woke up on the wrong side of the air mattress. The night before, Will had said that he was the kind of tired that "doesn't get better from a good night's sleep," and I had to admit I felt the same. We started the trip with a fire in our bellies to see it all, and the fire was finally dwindling.

We had driven an unimaginable amount of miles, moving every two days or so, rarely knowing where we would sleep that night. A couple of events derailed us - I lost my phone and my driver's license, Yellowstone was incredibly crowded and hot.

One night we ended up in a campsite seven miles up a bumpy and deserted road, scattered with bullet casings and one very sinister amputated hoof. It was windy and cold, the soil was too hard to stake our tent down, and when we opened our can of Manwich meat we discovered it was just the sauce. 

Anyway, by the time we got to our campsite in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota, we were too tired to pretend we weren't tired anymore. 

That is when the God of Travel sent us some wild horses. 

The landscape in Teddy's park is strange and colorful, the striped rocks decorated with shrubs and munching herds of bison, the flat ground spotted with prairie dog "towns" of mounded holes, hundreds of prairie dogs watching you intently from both sides of the road.

We were driving through the park to get into town and run some errands when the little group of wild horses, supposedly descended from long-ago ranch stock, trotted across our path. They were all different colors, so beautiful and sleek-muscled, with one spindly-legged chestnut pony tagging along at the heels of his chestnut-colored mom, casting glances up at the adults before mimicking their movements. 

The horses picked their way down a rocky slope and we watched from above as they drank from a brown pond. Absorbed in my picture-taking, my heart jumped when I heard a loud neigh behind us. We turned and saw, too close for comfort, a huge broad-chested horse with another multi-colored crew following him. 

I, for one, was scared. We had been watching YouTube videos of bison attacking tourists and this horse seemed entirely capable of tossing me into a tree. We hurried, heads down, back to the car and watched in safety as the pack by the pond trotted single-file up a thin ribbon of trail to join the new recruits.

They made quite a sight, surrounded by that striped landscape, all different colors themselves, munching grass by the road. The little one flopped on his side to nap at his mom's feet, occasionally rearing up his head to gnaw at an itchy spot the way dogs do. We watched them for a long time.

Filled with feeling by their beauty and a desire to run my hand along one smooth, muscled side, I signed us up for a morning horseback ride at the stables in town. The experience was not quite the same - I got the wheeziest, fartiest horse in North Dakota. Embarrassingly, I spent the trail ride laughing cruelly at Will because I thought it was his horse that was making all the noise. 

But our spirits were definitely revived by the run-in with the wild horses and our plodding, rhythmic trail ride in that beautiful place. 

Now we are on our way towards Chicago and then on to Ohio, where I will see my dear friend Kelley Russell! 

May the God of Travel send you a pack of wild horses just when you need them the most. 

Love, 

The Mary Traveler

From Sin City to Yosemite

We found a coupon for a hotel in Las Vegas in a Denny's in Arizona, and the next thing we knew we were in Sin City. I had some expectations that this would be a glamorous detour, ignoring the facts that we were staying at a Howard Johnson's for $45, Will doesn't own a tuxedo, and we're the kind of people who would consider eating breakfast at Denny's. 

We bought some $6 beers, I lost $7 at a slot machine, and we watched the Bellagio fountains perform their choreographed water show to Celine Dion. I have to say, it actually did feel a little glamorous. After all the red rocks and RVs and oatmeal by the fire, I was happy to gape at Prada's window display, look around at the lights, drink some rum and coke out of a Howard Johnson's paper cup, and debate which hotel Britney Spears stayed in. 

Will has admitted that some of the National Parks feel like Disney World to him, with long lines of traffic and overpriced food. The "Old West" themed tourist traps outside each park only enhance the feeling. I argue that if the parks were empty we would be griping that Americans don't know what's good, and that they're probably all lined up at Disney World. It is actually encouraging, in my view, that so many people of all different ages want to see the parks enough to make a vacation of it. 

Even so, Las Vegas was a funny sort of relief. It is bright and tacky and crowded and weird, with naked women pictured on passing buses and a homeless person at every corner. It doesn't pretend to be anything else. Everyone knows Las Vegas is vaguely depressing- that is almost part of it's charm. That's why you can stay at a motel and still feel thrilled by the Bellagio. 

But a day or two of Las Vegas is definitely enough for me. The next morning we drove to Yosemite, our favorite place so far. The serenity and scale of the park gave me goosebumps. 

There is so much more to tell, but I don't want to bore you. Just a few more tidbits:

We have been listening to a podcast called "Up and Vanished," which at first I found amateur-ish and now am completely addicted to. We camped in a solitary spot near Yosemite, in a clearing of towering sequoias, and I got good and scared in our tent, in the dark, with an image of missing woman Tara Grinstead in my mind. I made Will come with me when I went to spit my toothpaste. You may know by now that an overactive imagination is both my pride and my folly. I recommend the podcast to anyone with less of a tendency toward childishness. It's definitely scary. 

We are thrilled and amazed to have driven all the way to California from North Carolina, and we are now outside of San Francisco (thanks to our host Marianne!) 

Today, while stopped at a red light, we saw a teenage boy get a paper cut twirling a Mr. Pickles Sandwich Shop cardboard arrow. I'm not sure how to translate the humor of this moment into writing. 

That's all for now. We'll be in California about a week! In the meantime, listen to the podcast so we can talk about it, and be careful with your cardboard arrows. 

Sending my love,

The Mary Traveler

Small Spaces and Big Places

When I was a kid, I liked small spaces and being alone. 

If I am ever framed for murder, the Daily Mail will certainly refer to this blog post - "as a child, suspected killer claimed to like 'small spaces and being alone.'"

But I really did. Sometimes I would pretend I was locked in the downstairs powder room. After I came to terms with my fated solitude, I would take the opportunity to think about my interesting life, examine the decorative soaps, and decide which snacks I would like in my imaginary mini-fridge to sustain me during captivity. 

Camping is a similar pastime. A vast landscape, a small tent, and lots of time. Also, snacks.

And weirdly, the hugeness of the West has the same kind of effect a powder room can. It's the limitlessness, the same infinite possibility I felt as a kid when left completely alone to my imagination. The landscape just seems to go on forever, and every turn in the road surprises you more. 

Our surroundings are Hollywood Mars, the North Pole, and the Promised Land all mushed together. And there is so much space - open, undeveloped land as far as the eye can see. A literal tumbleweed rolled past us. There was a sign that read "Eagles on the Highway." 

Arches and Zion blew us away. Today I will gaze into the red-rock depths of the Grand Canyon and imagine, try to imagine, what I would put in my mini-fridge if I found myself trapped at the bottom. 

After the Grand Canyon will be Yosemite and then on to San Francisco! Also, shout out to my mama who got her Master's degree yesterday.

You go, mama. 

Until next time, 

The Mary Traveler

Pretzel Brain

Last night at the Cardinal's game in St. Louis, Will and I sat behind an adorable family of six - two very nice and tired-looking parents and four kids under the age of 12 with personality to spare. They provided some alternative entertainment for those of us less interested in baseball.

The youngest little girl had her attention fixed on her soft pretzel, which she ate for an hour straight without any of it actually disappearing. Her strategy was not so much to actively chew but rather to let the pretzel dissolve naturally, and her lips and cheeks were speckled with light brown clumps of paste.

At one point, crouched beneath her folding seat with the soggy end of the pretzel in her mouth, the little girl asked her mom if the game was going to start soon. The mom took a long look at her daughter before giving her a smile and a short nod. It was the bottom of the third inning. 

I tell you this story (writing from our adorable Airbnb in St. Louis) to provide you with the clearest possible metaphor for my mindset since graduating college. And to explain why, a year out of school, I have decided to spend the rest of my waitressing/tutoring/babysitting money on a road trip all the way out to California and back as if I too have plans to attend medical school in the fall. 

My parents have given me a slightly worried smile and a short nod - I'll figure it out. My grasp on reality is soggy but at least I'm absorbed. 

The trip has been wonderful so far. We began in Davidson with a walk down memory lane, then went on to Nashville where I bought a Mara Hoffman bikini top for $10 (cue applause) and ate some BBQ. Now we are in St. Louis.

I have fallen in love with St. Louis and its old-fashioned charm, its free zoo and huge green parks.

It's the kind of place where you half expect to see a journalist wearing a hat and wielding one of those large cameras with an exploding flash on top. The kind of person who would say "see here" as a way of interjecting.

I've been describing the city's aesthetic as an Industrial Revolution/World's Fair vibe. 

And we've had a lot of fun. A couple of lovely strangers gave us our baseball tickets for free (amazing seats). We ate Ethiopian food, Will's favorite - spicy, stew-like meat and vegetables that you scoop off your plate with a porous pancake called injera. We found an apartment for Will, and hopefully for me too (job prospects pending).

We have plans to spend the day at Ikea tomorrow, which might seem weird if you've never been to Ikea before. It is a department store of domestic daydreams and delicious meatballs. 

Next it's on to Colorado, and then a string of National Parks.

 My soggy little pretzel-brain is loving every minute of this adventure. The innings of my life cycling by, I am crouched beneath my seat, facing the wrong direction, deeply engaged, and not bothering my mom.

Lots of Love, 

The Mary Traveler

Back At It - Roadtrip Edition

Y'all might remember when I wrote this blog before - once in Florence, Italy, where I took pictures of my pasta and was sometimes afraid to go outside, and once more in Cambridge, England where I discovered the glories of mushy peas and participated in some very calming albeit cult-like meditation. 

The Mary Traveler also experienced a little sputtering start and stop the second semester of my Junior year, when I worried about graduate school and tried to put together Ikea furniture. 

I didn't blog these past few months when my boyfriend Will and I were in Uvita, Costa Rica working in a hostel. I can catch you up on that pretty fast:

I loved the chickens. 

I loved the ocean. 

Will learned to surf, I laid on the beach, and we both did a lot of thinking about the future. 

Now it's on to another adventure for Will and me. We are driving cross country from Charlotte to California over the next month and a half before moving to St. Louis, where Will is planning to go to medical school and I am planning to make a plan. 

Will and I will meet in North Carolina on April 27th to start the drive. I'll be glad to see him again in real life, where if he's upside down he knows he's upside down.

I am excited to share the journey with you and thank you, as always, for following along. 

Love, 

The Mary Traveler