Inspired By What’s On The Way

Train at Sunset by Jann Alexander ©2015

The Passing Train at Sunset by Jann Alexander ©2015


“It’s the journey, stupid.”

—Variation on a 1992 campaign phrase attributed to James Carville 


When I was a kid, getting there was the fun part. There were endless road trips made across the country, to Florida, to Ohio, my father always at the wheel, my mother doling out entertainment to the four kids keeping an uneasy truce in the wayback of a Ford Country Squire wagon: she’d hand us paper dolls to cut out, coloring books to test our new Crayolas, driving puzzles with a secret educational mission, scrapbooks to fill with what we’d collected the day before. While these driving trip treats made the start of the journey more tantalizing, they succeeded only so long, until boredom inspired us to make up our own childish games. Our favorite was to plaster hand-drawn signs to the windows that read Trucks Please Honk; when the passing truck drivers seated yards above us benevolently obliged with a double blast from their airhorns, my father invariably faked a startled surprise.

Ready to Hit the Road © Jann Alexander ©2015

Ready to Hit the Road © Jann Alexander ©2015


SecretWhen we tired of that, after a long string of successes or after long dry spells between 18-wheelers, the sibling arguments over whose space was being invaded would begin, and I would turn to my favorite part of the journey: reading. I may have even consumed the entire series of Nancy Drew books in the car, so famous was I for opening my book the moment my father shifted the gear on the wheel over to Drive. My habit provoked some irritated responses from my mother that strike me as comical today, her oft-repeated one being, “Janet, get your nose out of that book and look around.” This as we were passing by the Grand Canyon.

Though I may have missed its grandeur the first time (I can’t really recall), I could tell you how Nancy saved herself from the tarantula let loose in the locked, dark attic where she was tied to a chair by the criminal she was pursuing. These were my early models for learning about how a story builds with tension, suspense and the transformation of the protagonist as she overcomes all obstacles to triumph over her antagonist. As I look back on the series now—purportedly written by “Carolyn Keene” but later revealed to be penned to a successful formula by a whole host of hired, nameless writers—it was a great education in story structure and pacing and character portrayals. Mostly, though, as I was reading my way past the glorious sights of America, I was enjoying the guilty pleasure all readers love: finding yourself in your own special world, inhabited only by you and your story’s characters, with the real people who surround you relegated to mere outsiders.

The guilty pleasure all readers love: Finding yourself in your own special world.  Tweet:

South Dakota Farm by Jann Alexander © 2013

On the Way: South Dakota Farm by Jann Alexander © 2013


This is great preparation for becoming a writer. Losing yourself into your own world stokes your imagination in ways you can never predict, and in ways that may take decades to surface—as they did for me, returning to fiction not just as a reader but also as a writer—for the first time since eighth grade—when I was well into my fifth decade.

I eventually got to the Grand Canyon, when I was much older and a switch had flipped that had me looking around at every passing detail, imagining the stories behind what I was speeding by; a change that made road trips far more entertaining to me for what I observed and conjured on the way. My mother’s frustrated pleas to get my nose out of the book had finally taken hold, and I could hardly keep my eyes off the imagined lives I was whizzing by on the backroads. I rarely stayed at the wheel long enough to get to the next town before stopping for a photograph, all the while imagining the stories behind the small, well-tended farms, or the secrets the abandoned houses held, or what short-order cooks at small town lunch counters had heard.

Abandoned by Jann Alexander © 2014

Abandoned—Why? by Jann Alexander © 2014


And along the way, while I’d been on the way, I had learned that there are discoveries to be made in what seems most mundane, and that what’s on the way there is what stirs our creative pots, and is often what’s most memorable.

Which is why I cannot resist a road trip. Can you? 

How did you fall in love with reading and writing?

I’m frequently shooting things from the past. You’ll find more in my Time TravelsHERE. For more on the art of writing, look HERE.


Click Here to get your free monthly digest of Popular Pairings.

31 replies

  1. Beautiful photos. When I was small my father would put my mother, grandmother and sister on the train to head west from New York to Idaho to visit his sister. I am still very fond of trains and seeing your photo makes me want to jump on Amtrak and head west. Love the station wagon too. My four sisters and I spent a lot of time arguing, pushing and sweating in the back. Thinking of this now makes me feel bad for my parents. Although I didn’t appreciate reading until I was an adult, my sister always had a Nancy Drew book ready to read whenever she had the opportunity. Nice post!

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  2. Ahhh, Jann, your story brings back wonderful memories of crossing the country in our station wagon. I’ve been reading forever and when I was young, knew where every horse or cowboy story was located on the library shelves. We always took books when we traveled, but spend lots of time looking at the beauty of this vast country. Oh, what children today miss when they’re watching videos and playing handheld games, not even seeing what’s in front, beside, and behind them. I’ve also always written and thought that someday I’d write a book. I think now that if I ever do, it will have to be a book of essays, accompanied perhaps by photos. I love mysteries, but doubt that I could write one.

    The photo of the train (lovely colors) brings back good memories of taking the train from Omaha to California to visit relatives. From what my parents have said, our memories were perhaps better than theirs, as we don’t remember things like the AC going off, but just the joys of looking out the dome car and so forth.

    I really also like your abandoned house. I just got back from a trip to Arizona, so I was as close to you as I’ll be for some time. Hope all’s well.

    janet

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    • Your reminiscences are so wonderful. I hated it then, but those station wagon trips with feuding siblings crammed in back are some of my fondest recollections of travel ever. And I got to take a train trip once with just my sister, from Washington DC to Connecticut—that was unsurpassed. Agree that we were the lucky ones, no videos to dull our imaginations. My mother was right. Nice to hear your stories, thank you.

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  3. Your words so much reminded me of similar trips: My mother would buy us crayons, coloring books, weekly readers, books, etc. to keep us occupied in the car. My siblings and I would eventually encroach on one another’s territory as you, too, had experienced with your siblings, and it’s amazing how long my mom’s reach to the back seat could be! Thanks for conjuring memories–great post!

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    • Ha! In our case, our dad somehow managed to reach around for a strategic swat without taking one hand off the wheel and his eyes off the road. And yes, thinking back on it, our mom had a bottomless bag of crafts, tricks and snacks. So glad to hear yours were similar. Thanks for commenting.

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  4. I love road trips! And I have uttered the same thing to my daughter, ‘stop reading, look around!!”
    Gorgeous photos, particularly love the abandoned house. It is so beautiful.

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  5. My father was someone who always wanted to travel, going from point A to point B in the most direct, fastest highway route possible. So when I grew up, I traveled my way: grazing along back roads and finding those hidden treasures like the picture you have of the abandoned house. I remember one trip, I found an old one room schoolhouse – still in use. You really have a lovely eye for capturing the essence in your photography.

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    • Sounds like your father gave you a gift, Kate . . . In my case, how is it that the grazing types always end up married to the point A>B types? What a treat to find the one-room schoolhouse still in use. These are the travel treasures we remember vividly. Disney World, not so much. Thanks for your comments.

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