More than a dozen years ago, I was in New York City for the first time with my little sister Bethany, who was on a Big Grand Adventure. She’d saved up money after college, and instead of buying a Eurail pass like the other kids were doing, she bought an old Nissan pickup and got on the road to see America.
She drove through 47 states, staying mostly on the backroads, keeping off interstates. She got lost every day, intentionally. She drove to see roadside America—she stalked the great dinosaurs made from tin cans, and the Museum of Porridge (I made that one up, but I bet it exists somewhere out there, probably in North Dakota, where all sorts of weird and awesome things are said to reside).
Bethany would drive until she ran out of money and then she’d get a job (waitressing, hotel front desking, selling stuffed animals in the Great Mall of America which sounds like hell) until she’d made enough money to get herself and her truck back on the road.
She slept in the back of the pickup in Walmart parking lots (they let you do that, did you know that? That’s why all those RVs are parked in Walmart lots overnight!) and truck stops or sometimes out in the woods on side roads (my heart beats faster just thinking of all the times she wasn’t killed by a guy with a hook for a hand).
She saw the country. She literally met the country, taking more than a year to do it.
I blogged about her trip, and I flew east to NYC meet her for a little bit of it (okay, and to go to Maryland Sheep & Wool).
Map in hand. God, I hated that haircut.
While we were in NYC, out of the blue, I got an email from someone I didn’t know. The woman introduced herself as M.J.
“I read your blog. I’m a seventh-generation Nantucketer (my husband is 13th generation), and if you could get to the island, we’d love to put you up.”
I read it to Bethany with a laugh in my voice. As if we’d go stay with someone who seemed to be unsearchable on Google.
“Let’s do it,” she said.
“Is she a knitter?”
“Well, yeah. She says she is.”
“So she won’t kill us. Let’s go.”
We went. We took the ferry, leaving Bethany’s trusty-sidekick pickup in a parking garage. We made our way to the cafe where M.J. said she’d meet us. It was off-season, so the streets were empty. It seemed like we were the only tourists in town. I remember the coffee was good, but my stomach churned.
Then M.J. darted into the cafe. She was radiant, all smiles and hugs. “I’m so glad you’re here. I got caught in a meeting, and I have to get back to work. Come, drive me back and then you can have the car for the afternoon. I’ll tell you where to explore. My husband will pick me up—here’s our address—” she pressed a slip of paper in my hand “—just be at the house by six. Fresh scallops tonight!”
Astonished, we drove her to her workplace and dropped her off.
She grinned. “Have fun! See you later!” She disappeared into the building.
We sat there inside her car. Stunned.
Then, because we could, we drove around the island. Because we were in M.J.’s car, and because everyone knows everyone on Nantucket, we got the one-finger-lifted-from-the-wheel country wave every time we saw another vehicle, which wasn’t often. We were thrilled. We explored. We got a little lost, in the good way.
We took a nap on the beach.
We made faces at the camera (okay, she did).
Bethany on a Nantucket swing
This woman, who didn’t know us except online, trusted us. With her car, and with her island.
We showed up at six at the house. M.J. was in the kitchen, scallops simmering on the stove. Her husband Steve bounded in, and said, “Sunset! Want to go to the beach?”
M.J. whooped and took off her apron. “To the jeep!”
We 4×4’d on the beach, racing through the sand, the wind in our hair, as the sun set but not over the water because we were on the eastern side of the island. (As a west coast girl, this blew my mind.)
We went back and ate dinner. I’ve always hated scallops, rubbery bits of plastic and grit. But M.J.’s scallops? Those scallops were some of the best things I’ve ever eaten, bar none. I still dream about the taste of them, creamy and rich and melty.
After dinner we went into the living room. M.J., Bethany and I knitted, and we all watched Eddie Izzard (including their kid Jake, who was as delightful as they were). We roared with laughter.
Then M.J. put us in our beds. She tucked us up, making sure we were comfy under the eaves of the old house.
We’re still friends to this day.
From this, I learned that Bethany knows how to navigate the world in a way I’m privileged to witness. I’m proud to be her sister.
And while I don’t usually shill anything to this mailing list except books, my own and those I love by other authors, I did want to tell you that she’s doing it again.
She’s going back into weird America to chronicle not only the roadside art and how it changes, but to get a read on how we, as a country, have changed. She’s got interviews lined up with the most fascinating people. She’s going to take the temperature of America and see how it’s feeling, in this day and age of political divide. She’s going to see if we’re still connected.
She’s writing a book about it!
But she needs gas money for the sabbatical she’s taking from work to make this go. Her Kickstarter is half-funded but she won’t be able to go until it’s fully funded, with only 8 days to go!
Give her a little love? Every single tiny bit helps, I can assure you (and then you’ll get the book when it’s done! She’s a wonderful writer, which you can sample at her site if you’d like). If you can’t spare the change, she’d appreciate whatever you’ve got, even if that’s a simple bed (she’s in a small, old station wagon this time, not the more spacious truck) or a hot shower if she comes through your town (see her map).
Thanks, friends, for considering and for being awesome.
PS – if you give her a bed, please don’t be a serial killer with a hook for a hand. If you do have a hook for a hand and use it instead for crocheting or other delightful activities, she’d love to meet you. Click here to go to her Kickstarter.
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