By Michele Bazan Reed
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”
As families begin traveling this summer for the first time since the pandemic began, I’ve been thinking about his words. How true they are.
In my family, we have our own motto: It’s not just the journey, it’s the stops along the way.
Now, I don’t mean those “necessary” stops we all hunt for on a road trip — which seem to be more frequently needed as we age. Our family has a history of seeking out the little detours, off-the-beaten track distractions, roadside attractions.
When the kids were growing up, we’d crisscross the country by car, traveling for fun or to conventions and conferences related to Bill’s hobby of military history. These journeys took us to Baltimore, Milwaukee, Atlanta and Pennsylvania Dutch Country. As our son and daughter grew, there were road trips to soccer tournaments, band performances, academic programs.
Then they headed off to college and longer road trips beckoned. Mike was on the Varsity Blues, the University of Toronto’s football team, and we wouldn’t miss a game.
Katie’s college education took her to Ohio, Missouri and Florida, before getting her first teaching job near Salt Lake City. Since she was studying trombone, the road trips multiplied, as we headed to football games, where she marched with the band, and music recitals. And with each new school, the moving company of Mom and Dad, Inc. was on the job.
Those destinations were important, those journeys, special. But we always managed to sneak in a little detour.
To be honest, the kids and I were the instigators. Bill, tasked with getting us there safely and on time, really didn’t appreciate our pleading for a course diversion. But, being a good sport, he usually gave in.
My personal favorite was the trip moving Katie from Kansas City to Florida. We started our trip with a detour to St. Louis to see the Gateway Arch. At 630 feet, the stainless-steel behemoth is the world’s tallest arch. We enjoyed a magical evening attending a concert with Katie’s favorite band at the time, on the levee of the Mississippi, in the shadow of the arch, then at dawn, we marveled at the beauty of the sunrise glinting off its polished surface.
Then on to Metropolis, Illinois, the home of Superman. In front of the county courthouse there stands at 15-foot-tall bronze statue of Superman, painted in his iconic red, blue and yellow superhero tights and cape. We goofed off, posing in Superman and Supergirl cutouts and enjoying the murals around town with Clark Kent and other characters from the famous comic books.
Katie’s not the only child who inherited my love of turning off the beaten track. In 2012, Bill and I took a “barbecue tour of America” with our son, Mike. We drove out to Kansas City, where we met up with Katie who, being a vegetarian, didn’t really care about the barbecue leg of the tour. We enjoyed Arthur Bryant’s famous barbecue, joining the daily line that snaked down the block. Next, we headed down the Mississippi to Memphis, where we enjoyed Memphis style ribs with white bread and beans on Beale Street. Then on to Nashville with more barbecue and heading to Virginia, then home.
Along the way, Mike and I persuaded Bill to stop at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Mike’s always been an automotive enthusiast, and I can’t resist a good detour. We spent an hour touring the Corvettes on display from original 1952 models to the present day. A few weeks after our visit, a huge sinkhole opened up under the museum, swallowing eight of the rarest Corvettes. The museum declined to restore them, put them on display in their damaged state.
Sans kids, Bill and I continued the tradition, making part of our journey home from one Kansas City visit to Katie on Route 66, just to “get our kicks” there. We were enticed by billboards into going miles out of our way for an Elvis Museum. It turned out to be a gas station, with an attachment displaying some Elvis memorabilia and selling ’50s-themed tchotchkes. A Route 66 fridge magnet and full tank of gas later, we were back on the road. We should have learned our lesson from that, but a similar advertisement for the “Dick and Jane Museum” led us off the beaten track to another gas station, this one adorned with vintage classroom posters from the iconic readers of our grade school days. It was a nice trip down memory lane.
You can do it, too, closer to home. On her recent visits home, Katie and I have sought local roadside attractions — historic markers, monuments to famous Central New York people, haunted sites. We’ve visited the Mary Walker statue at the Oswego Town Hall and further afield, sought out the remnants of the home of the Fox Sisters, 19th century spiritualists who inspired a whole movement before admitting to faking their ghostly visitations. Just west of Oswego in Hydesville, it was a beautiful drive on Route 104 West and twisty country roads, while listening to a spooky podcast detailing their story. At Mexico Point Park, we found a monument to Silas Towne, a Revolutionary War spy, who overheard British General St. Leger discussing plans to attack Fort Stanwix at Oriskany. Silas hurried down to the fort, warning General Herkimer of the planned attack. The approach to Spy Island, where Silas heard the news, was for one fitter than I, but we managed to catch a glimpse of it through the surrounding trees.
Whether near home or afar, the beauty of life’s journey really is in the stops along the way.