Picking Up Scraps of Accent & the Allegory of the Badlands

Everyone I meet tries to peg my accent. Personally, I’m not sure what accent they’re talking about. I don’t really think of northern Californians as having accents. If, however, these accent accusers are correct, then where did this voice of mine come from? I think my soul is a vagabond writing songs in all the places to which it wanders, leaving scraps of the lyrics with me. The melodies create a mishmash that then becomes my signature accent. Some of the lands I have physically been to and left my scattered fingerprints and embraces, while others are just holograms waiting to become realities. I get Midwestern a lot as a guess for what I sound like. During my drive east, it all became clear, as I heard my soul’s song ring through Chicago. It had been there before I. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. There was a lot more before Chicago.

Hayden and I set off from San Francisco on July 29 with the goal of resting our heads in Ogden, Utah, about a 770-mile drive away. Those 200 or so miles before we hit Nevada were a whirlwind of happy, melancholy, excited, nervous, and nonchalant. As we climbed the Sierra Nevada mountain range, my car resisted, occasionally flashing its oil pressure light and puttering about. In tune with a joke riff my dad and I had going about a proposed business concerned with positive energy healing for cars, I laid hands on the Chevy outside a high elevation gas station. We channeled each other’s emotions and transposed them into workable energy for a mighty travel. Soon after, the Chevy was back and ready for trucking. With the addition of some healing crystals and a didgeridoo, I think this energy healing for cars business could really take off.

Nevada was beautiful — at first. A few hours later, the middle of nowhere wasn’t quite as romantic, but the sight of a gas station was a blessing. Outside one gas station in little Lovelock, Nevada, I chatted with a Duck alum turned biker about Eugene, Boise, football, and such. Farther down the road, we stopped for pizza in Winnemucca. When we entered the restaurant, every pair of eyes in the place stopped to look us over. We were the antithesis of a needle in a haystack. Eventually, the sun left us and we rolled into a dark Ogden sometime past three in the morning. We vowed to never drive that late again.

This vow turned out to be a joke. A joke that was — on occasion, and more so looking back — rather funny. The next afternoon, we left Ogden and about 600 miles and a lot of pitch black Thunder Basin National Grassland later, we collapsed in a Holiday Inn Express in Custer, South Dakota. The upside was that this put us right in the zone we needed to be for our first day of off-the-interstate fun. On this third day of the trip, I learned that people need to stop picking on South Dakota. It has quite a unique array of beauty to offer its visitors. We started by visiting Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore, both carvings on the sides of large rocks, but with very different meanings. Both were impressive. I greatly appreciated Crazy Horse’s mission to honor the native people in the area and it felt surreal to see Mount Rushmore in person. My favorite part of South Dakota, however, was the Badlands.

We hopped off the interstate to take a scenic road through Badlands National Park and I hadn’t known what to expect, but once I saw it I was in love. It was a stunning juxtaposition of eroded soils and vast prairies. It was impossible to catch on camera, though I tried. Every direction I turned presented a new and thought-provoking panoramic blend of colors and texture. We were driving through the Badlands as the sun was beginning to set and it was one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve seen. Bright, but deep reds and magentas took over the horizon and a distant thunderstorm vertically dripped a powerful indigo blended with smears of black down the scene like a watercolor painting.

badlands2 badlands1

At one of the lookouts we stopped at, I could’ve stayed for hours. To the north of where I stood was an endless field of tall, green grass and to the south were the browns, yellows, and reds of the eroded soil that created the Badlands. There was a wind blowing and it made the grass gently dance about, creating the sound of a rainstorm. If it hadn’t been for the many signs warning of the danger of rattlesnakes, I could have meditated in that grass until the last bit of sun left the earth with no sounds in my mind, but its dancing. Looking back at the Badlands, I find them to be the geographical formation that is closest to the reality of life. One moment you are still, drifting through a plateau of prairie grass, wondering when something exciting will happen, wishing for the next adventure to sweep you off your feet. Then you take one step and you’re tumbling up and down through the low valleys and stunning peaks of the Badlands. If I could have also seen the ocean in the distance, it would have been perfect — for a good metaphor must also have a place to go for cleansing. I guess Bruce Springsteen had it right.

Badlands, you gotta live it everyday.

Let the broken hearts stand

as the price you’ve gotta pay.

We’ll keep pushin’ till it’s understood,

and these badlands start treating us good.

We got into Sioux Falls, South Dakota that night and I had my first real taste of the humidity to come. The woman working reception at the hotel that night told us that just the other week the dew point in Sioux Falls had been the same as that in the Amazon.

twineThe next day was another pretty big one for us. It was time to see America’s truest treasure. It’s often forgotten, often misunderstood, but always faithful, always inviting. We left Sioux Falls bound for the largest ball of twine made by one man. This twine ball calls little Darwin, Minnesota its home. After many miles of farmland, we finally made it to the American Mecca and it was glorious. It was, just as described, a very large ball of twine. Darwin, however, was not as I had pictured. It made me a little melancholy when I faced the reality that having the largest ball of twine was not enough to sustain a local economy during hard times. “Downtown” Darwin was completely shut down and we questioned whether the twine ball museum was even ever open anymore. I thought about little towns and rural poverty and what kind of work I’d be doing in the future as we got back on the road for excitement number two.

My study abroad experience in Greece is one of my favorite memories. I met so many wonderful people whom I still hold near and dear and super close to my heart. I think about them all the time and send them good wishes, waiting for the day we will all meet again. I was lucky enough on this trip to catch one of my all time favorites. Katie was a part of my study abroad program and is such a beautiful soul. I used to call her my little force to be reckoned with because she’s so small and sweet, but with such might and determination to do good in the world. Sometimes I can still feel the endless laughs we shared on ferryboats from Lixouri to Argostoli. To my luck, Katie calls Minnesota her home and so when we passed through Minneapolis, we stopped to see Katie. To me, it felt like the time hadn’t even passed, as we found ourselves in a big hello hug. I knew we couldn’t stay long, so all through dinner I tried to soak up all the goodness my time with Katie poured into my bucket. When we did eventually have to leave, I could feel that Katie and I would see each other again soon. We rested our heads that night in Madison, Wisconsin.

Come morning, we hit the road with the plan to get all the way to Pittsburgh so that we wouldn’t have a very long drive to Maryland the next day. It was on this day that I picked up a piece of my soul that had somehow made its way to Chicago without me. I knew the second we drove into downtown Chicago that it was a place for me. There was an energy, soul, and goodness to it that swept me off my feet. I thought about my love of strutting through New York City and could see myself doing the same thing in Chicago, but with more humility and grace. We could only stay long enough to fill our stomachs with some deep dish Chicago-style pizza, but I told Chicago not to fret, that I’d be back.

In Indiana, we realized we wouldn’t be making it to Pittsburgh. Pulled over next to the end of a toll road in the middle of a thunderstorm, we sat — with a large chunk of metal dug deep into my tire. My car was packed so tightly with my belongings car towthat there was no access to the spare in my trunk, especially in the dark with the sky contemplating whether or not to open up above us. We were towed to a hotel conveniently located next to a tire place for the night. In the morning, after being charged far too much for a single tire that didn’t come close to resembling my other three, we were back on the road for the home stretch. Tollbooth after tollbooth, we inched closer to my new home for the next year, and eventually, we arrived. Waiting for me on my bed was a card from my fabulous friend, Tania, welcoming me to my new place. It gave me just the little pick me up that I needed to not feel quite as freaked out about all of the change. We grabbed just enough out of the car to have something to rest our heads on and then we fell asleep in the next era of my life.

I have been living just outside of D.C. now for about a week and a half and just finished my first week of work. As I stated in my mini-post before this, I am full of thoughts, but concurrently exhausted. However, I do expect to chronicle many of them as I learn my way through this suburban mirage. I think little pieces of my accent are hiding in various little parks and coffee shops here, but I just need to find them first. Let the quest begin. I’ve left the prairie; I’m definitely in the Badlands now.

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