What is an Inner Flaneur ?

The Flaneur is a French word for the stroller of the 19th century who often walked his pet turtle though the streets of Paris, with no agenda. The internet is a Flaneur spot where people metaphorically stroll and link from site to site along the roadways of the web.

As an inner flaneur, I stroll in my thoughts. I use my thoughts to pen my ideas, my worries, my life story and my travels though this lifetime. I welcome all Flaneurs to stroll by my site and stop awhile or simply move along at whatever pace they feel may comfort them in their journey.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Star in the West

A Star in the West.

By: Aley Martin

“He who does not travel does not know the value of men.” – Moorish proverb

I have spent a great deal of my life traveling around the United States. From the time I was ten years old my excursions indoctrinated me in a love of adventure. Traversing the vast American canvas has afforded me the opportunity to learn about life in each corner of our country, and many spaces in between. I have no trepidation when it comes to travel, and have done so via car, recreational vehicle and moving truck many times. Some of my friends cannot believe I am willing to undertake such adventure alone or with my son, and think driving across the country takes some indomitable act of courage. My own mother would have been one of those nay-sayers more than likely, as she never even had a drivers license.

I cannot see where courage would explain my actions. In 1965, when I was ten years old, my family moved from the east to the west coast of this great land. Strangers would shake their heads at our excursion as moving that far was not a 'normal' thing to do during those years. In reflection, going through the deep south in the midst of the Civil Rights movement might have been a dangerous thing. But I garnered my strength from watching the best of them during that time: my dear old dad. Dad inspired me to believe the country was here for us to relish and not to miss during our life on the planet.

It is with all my rich and valuable experiences in mind that I undertook a journey across the United States again, in the winter of 2007 and drove from Massachusetts to Seattle, Washington twice in one months time. My husband and I set out to make the journey in separate vehicles the first time, stopping only to eat, sleep and take an occasional shower at a truck stop. The second time however, my son and I traveled in my car to my new home after we completed the fall semester at our respective colleges.

To know me is to know how I live my life. I embrace change and new and fresh experiences. So when my husband Keith and I were married in November of 2000 we embraced the gypsy traveler in our soul and have traveled and lived in six states, each time seeking the right place to feel at home and settle in. On each trek we hoped would bring us one step closer to his desire to open a chiropractic office, and eventually each attempt was foiled for one reason or another. The move to Seattle, however, was the fulfillment of a dream for us both, as we had always wanted to live in the Pacific Northwest even though neither of us had been there before. The time frame to move was a difficult one, as mother nature during the winter is not overly cooperative when traversing the northern most part of the United States. We had no choice of the time we had to leave however and both decided to make the best of what might be a difficult sojourn.

When you travel by car across the roads during the holiday seasons there are usually dire warnings about drunk drivers, car pileups, road accidents and highway route closures due to resulting weather changes. The first part of our trip, from Massachusetts to Iowa, was relatively uneventful, but once we crossed the Missouri River the ice and freezing rain would conspire to stop us in our tracks. The wind howled fiercely as we pulled into a motel on the side of the highway on the western side of the River and after unloading our belongings, Alex and I stretched our weary bones and settled down for a refreshing rest.

As the morning arrived and beckoned us onward, I listened to the weather channel in our hotel room and then my son Alex and I proceeded to find our car. The ice and freezing rain from the nights fierce precipitation left us scrambling to scrape off thick bricks of ice from the windows and doors. Sealed like a casket, these doors made it impossible for us to enter at first and our gloves and warm hats were lying in the back seat awaiting our procurement. I was not able to start the car engine until I could get the ice from the door off so I could turn on the heater for 20 minutes or more. It was already December 24th, and we still had a long way to travel. I began to wonder where we would end up on Christmas Eve.

Once we got our lightweight vehicle onto the highway I was not able to accelerate my car more than 20 MPH at the risk of an icy spin_out and cars were already off in ditches along the side of the roadway. Gripping the wheel ,I felt the tension in my back start contracting my muscles and soon it felt as though knives were piercing me on either side of my spine. The wind would pick up and toss the little car from side to side and as truckers with chains went past the car shards of ice would fly onto the windshield making crackling sounds on the hood. To say it was a harrowing navigation would be an understatement. Soon, the muscles in my neck screamed from the tension, and sitting so long erect in a position pitched forward made my back contorted and stiff. Mile by mile I drove, each one as slick and treacherous as the next mile until we reached a point in the day when the sun came out and the roads were covered by a sanding truck. By this time I was completely exhausted, but my son indicated if he drove, he would not be able to drive that slow, so I opted for safety and continued to drive as we reached Wyoming.

As we began driving along I_80 through Wyoming and heading uphill through the Rocky Mountains things began looking pretty dry and we finally started making good time on this leg of our journey. I turned on the radio, and my son and I began listening to some Christmas songs, singing along to a few until the stations would eventually be too distant to pick up a signal without static. By this time we were both grateful for arriving in Wyoming after our ordeal in the ice storm in Iowa and mistakenly began to believe we had the worst of the bad weather behind us. The early evening started blissfully clear and the stars reflected onto the highway like a set of sparkling Christmas lights in the sky. I made the decision we would continue onto Salt Lake City which was about 260 miles away and stop there for the night. If we made it that far, we would most certainly make it to Seattle by Christmas Day and enjoy the company of my husband and our friend Ricky who was visiting with him from Mississippi.

About this time, small dots of white started to appear in front of my headlights, and then within ten minutes these darting dots of white not only began to grow they also accelerated in speed corrupting my distance vision and limiting my ability to see the yellow painted highway lines ahead of me on the road. I tried to find a radio station once again to listen to a weather report, but we were too deeply embedded into mountainous terrain and there were no signals again on the radio. As the snow continued at a more rapid pace, the drifts began to accumulate very quickly and blow across the highway. There were no cars to be seen on either side of the roadway, and no tracks on the highway to pave the way or follow. I had no snow tires on my vehicle either making it abundantly clear we needed to find lodging immediately.

Looking up from the roadway a travel sign along the highway could be seen indicating lodging in the next town at a nearby exit. When the exit appeared, I slid ungraciously sideways and nearly missed the turn. The roads were filling with snow so rapidly that my car was not likely to be able to handle the accumulation for much longer. Coming to the end of the ramp the sign indicated to make a turn left turn and the motel was seven miles ahead. Seven miles? How would we make it another seven miles in this white out on a dark roadway we had no experience traversing? The car slid all over the road, and although I honed my skills early by learning to drive in the snows of New England, it had not prepared me to end up stuck on the side of the road in some po_dunk Wyoming town on Christmas Eve!

The windshield wipers were earning their keep, whisk, whisk, whisk, they screamed, as they tried to keep up with the downy white blanket of snow wanting to act like more like a spread on the window. I turned it up to the highest wiping cycle it would allow and it whined: “due_due_due_due_due_due". My nerves were jangled, back tense again reminding me of the tense ride on the icy roads of Iowa. Alex kept reminding me I was doing well and admonishing me to try and relax. On and on the road went, mile after mile we drove as the drive seemed more like thirty or more miles. No lights align the road and worse yet, no other cars, or signs or homes were to be seen along the road either. The lights on my Kia Rio were the only light shining on the roadway, and the wipers briskly whining noise was still the only sound echoing in our car.

Finally, we came to what appeared to be the crossroads of a very small town. On the first corner I spotted the motel advertised on the highway sign, but the motel was dark and there were no cars to be seen in the parking lot. This discovery did not bode well for my son and I. Alex got out of the car and went to the door of the motel office. It was Closed. A handmade sign was posted on the door indicating a telephone number to call for service. Alex pulled out his cell phone and dialed the number, immediately accessing an answering machine on the other end of the line. There is no one available. Looking at each other, we decided it must not be the motel that had been posted on the highway sign and we decided to drive down into the town, which was right down the street. Driving down the road we saw what appeared only to be about 5 blocks of “town” ahead. What shall we do now? It was bitter cold , wind blowing and the snow accumulating rapidly. We each only had one thin blanket and one pillow which were brought along mostly if we decided to stop during the day for a rest. It was beginning to dawn on the both of us that there was no place for us to stay.

Parking the car on the main street of Lyman, Wyoming, I began trying to figure out what we were going to do. The town was completely desolate, save a van parked in front of the post office. It was then that I spied a woman running from the parked van into the Lyman post office. I told Alex I was going to go inside the building and ask her if there were any more motels nearby for us to get a room. I entered the building just as the woman came back from her post office box after retrieving her mail. She is a petite woman, with long blonde hair about 30 years old and she glanced up at me smiling pleasantly as I approached her.

“Hello, I am sorry to bother you, but do you know if there are any motels in town?” I asked her.

She replied gently, “Yes, there is one back at the corner, I believe.”

I shook my head and responded to her quietly, “Yes, we saw that one, but it is closed and I

thought perhaps you may know of another one nearby.”

The woman shook her head in response and asked me with whom I was traveling.

“I am traveling with my son. We are heading to Seattle, and this blizzard just came upon us and

we feel it would be safer to stop for the night.”

The woman indicated that perhaps her husband knew of a place that she did not know of and we headed out the door and up to the parked van in front of the Post office. As we reached the van, she slid open the side door open revealing her four children from ages 1_9 sitting patiently waiting for her to return to the car. Her husband was behind the drivers wheel and she asked him if he knew of any other motels nearby.

“Afraid not,” he said. “The only one is the one on the corner and it looks closed.”

By this time I was really feeling anxious and worried about what we were going to do. I did not think leaving my car running all night was a good idea, but we would freeze to death if we did not have the heater running. The young woman, who indicated her name was Star, asked me if we would come to her house to wait out the blizzard and share a pizza they picked up along the way home from Utah. Because it was Christmas Eve, I felt horrible intruding on her family celebration and coming to her home and interrupting her family plans. Star insisted we come. Still, I hesitated.

“Oh, no...no, no!" I exclaimed.

“We are a nice family.” she said, trying to persuade me to come to the house.

“Of course you are!” I said. “I just did not want to intrude upon your Holiday.”

Star shook her head and told us to follow her. "The kids will love it! We have two couches in the living room and you can stay there if the storm does not let up." C’mon, follow us down the road.”

I went back to the car to tell Alex of this kind woman's invitation and he was as astonished as I was that this woman would invite us to come to her home when we were strangers to her. Later, I learned she invited us because we were mother and son, and although she did not know my son was 23 and not a child, she felt comfortable with her instincts and our situation was dire. We found out Star and her family had only recently moved to this little town in Wyoming from Salt Lake City. They had spent the days prior on a sojourn back to Utah to be with family and made their way back east to their home, having come through the storm driving from the west. She knew the weather was bad all the way back to Salt Lake and did not think it wise for us to continue.

“ Again, please stay the evening. These couches are not luxurious, but you can be warm and get some sleep,”she said.

We unloaded our pillows and blankets and made our way inside her home. The house was warm and pleasant, decorated for the holidays and her children were loving and respectful. We felt blessed by the presence of her family and the children's excited anticipation of Christmas and Santa Claus making his way to their home. Each moment shared in the company of this little family and their welcoming and kind_hearted warmth offered us a respite from the difficult moments as weary travelers.

Alex settled into his spot on the longer couch and appeared to be amazed by the unending kindness of this Wyoming family. He played a bit with the children and warmed up to them as I had never seen him do with anyone before. We found out a bit about our hostess, who had been a child of hippie parents who gave her the birth name that was so unusual. The twinkle in her eye reminded me of the stars I had seen only hours before in the sky before the blizzard clouded my view. Her husband Daniel was the local high school math teacher and tried to convince us to stay for breakfast the following morning, which we graciously turned down in order to make our way west.

As the family began to settle in for the night, Daniel excused himself to read a story to the children. His choice: O. Henry's classic tale: "The Gift of the Magi". His voice, coming from the children's room could be heard by Alex and I out in the living room, and we quietly listened to it, as though Daniel read it for our ears only. The story, of unselfish giving and love and kindness in spite of poverty, brought tears to my eyes. Never again will I ever think of this story without thinking of that Christmas Eve in Wyoming. I fell asleep that night knowing that there were people still remaining in this world who opened their hearts and homes to others. After so many years of heartache and disenchantment with others, my faith in humanity was restored.

We arose in the morning to a partly sunny Christmas morning and clearly plowed roads. Daniel escorted us back to the highway entrance and we resumed our journey westward. But before we left Star handed me a wrapped gift, one wrapped by her children and meant for her to open to take with me on our journey. I protested but Star insisted, not realizing she had already given us the most precious gift any stranger could give to another. Her trust.

The value of man lies not in great deeds or accomplishments. Complete strangers took us into their home and gave us refuge in a storm. This gift was more valuable than any material thing anyone would give another in today's cynical and skeptical world. Their love and kindness helped a traveler along the road of life, a gift more precious because it happened on a Christmas Eve, in a tiny town called Lyman, Wyoming. May God bless them always.

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