Sean Embarks on Life: 31 Days, 23 States

Sean left his home in Utah and traveled to the east coast of the USA and returned. He went in search of what happiness means in America. He was on-the-road for 31 days. He learned something new about each of the 23 states he visited. He had many opportunities for meaningful dialog with his fellow Americans. Most importantly, he learned what is important to him at age 20 as he moves from “The American Road” to his adulthood on “The Highway of Life.”

The Top of Utah’s Manti-La Sal Mountains Where Sean & Vince Love to Be
  • First, read the background of “Sean’s Story,” available at the menu tab to the left.
  • Then, read the initial blog posts below to share in his homecoming and the “7 + LOVE + 7” summary of some of what he learned.
  • As you scroll further down, you will discover the posts for each of the 31 days. Enjoy the “bookends of wisdom” at the end of each post.
  • Coming in the months ahead will be Sean’s new adventures as he completes his education, continues his relationship with Ellen, and as they both embark on exciting careers and the many other amazing possibilities of life.   

Life’s Connections

SEAN: Hi Vince… There are three connections I knew I needed to make soon after returning home: (1) Visit you and Marie at your home, (2) Travel to Idaho to reconnect with Ellen and to meet her folks, and (3) Create an opportunity for you and Marie to meet Ellen, my father, Aaron, and my sisters.

Down-to-Earth and Lifted-Up. This is how I felt when I recently came to your home and met Marie: down-to-earth and lifted-up. A true friend helps me to feel grounded and simultaneously inspired about my future. Thank you. I know I have a life-long friend in you. Now that I have met Marie, I would like to adopt her as my third grandmother. I hope she’ll be okay with that. The friends who have most helped me to be grounded and lifted-up are my parents and grandparents. I know Marie has this effect with your own children. I look forward to getting to know them. Vince, I want you to meet my family and Ellen in the very near future. Do you have any suggestions?   

VINCE: Sean, Marie and I appreciate your kind words of friendship. We loved your visit. Marie is honored by the title “Grandmother” and would be happy to be an honorary grandma to you. Thanks for asking me for suggestions about expanding our connections with your family and Ellen. I have one. Let’s start with the “being grounded” part.

The Table. When we met high atop the Manti-La Sal mountains near the Skyline Drive, I was cutting sections of a large White Fir tree that had fallen, which I did with a permit from the forest service. You helped me lift these logs into my truck. That was the beginning of our friendship. The 11-inch diameter, three-foot long logs have become the ten pedestals and seat posts of a unique family picnic table set firmly in the ground at our small property in Sanpete County, our beloved “Owl’s Nest.” Here’s a photo of the table that Marie and I built together where our family can dine and converse in the juniper, pine, and piñon grove we love. 

A Plan to Connect. Dear Sean, perhaps you, your family, Ellen, Marie, and I could gather at your home in Juniper. I also know you and Ellen look forward to experiencing the Utah outdoors together. We invite you to visit our Owl’s Nest. We’ll give you a tour of our small barn and the grandkids’ treehouse and outdoor toys. We’ll have a picnic lunch in our juniper grove on that well-grounded picnic able. If you stay the afternoon, we can also have supper and a campfire conversation. Let me know what you think. Looking forward…  –Vince & Marie  

Nationwide Journey: Outcomes for Me

Mission Complete. I accomplished what I set out to do with my plan to travel across much of our great country to discover what happiness means in America. I knew this discovery process would help me identify the “happiness factors” for my own life. I initially expected to spend more time, maybe months, but I realized that I could accomplish a great deal in just one full month on-the-road and that there are important reasons to return to my home in Juniper before the end of summer. I spent time in 23 of the United States. The readers of my journal have two documents that capture the “life philosophy” discoveries I made. Please see “Sean’s Observations” after Day 14 and my “Happiness: 7 + LOVE + 7” summary that I shared with you upon my return. 

Thanks. Here are the key outcomes of my journey that apply directly to me, my family, and my future. Thank you for your interest. And, thanks to my dad, Aaron, and Vince for their consultation and mentorship. There will be periodic journal entries in the months ahead as I travel the longer and more significant “highway of life.”    

Here are the most significant personal outcomes of my 31-day cross-country odyssey…

  • My love and appreciation for my dad and and my sisters has grown. I need to support them now and help my dad put the finishing touches on our new home.
  • I formed a unique friendship with Vince and look forward to meeting Marie and their family.
  • In Nebraska, I met an awesome young woman. She is Ellen. She is from the Twin Falls, Idaho, area. Our friendship will continue.
  • Beyond high school history and geography classes, I personally experienced America the Beautiful and learned so much American history first-hand. I was impressed by the vast natural resources and the diverse human resources of our nation.
  • Education is now a higher priority for me.
  • In Kentucky, I experienced the awakening of a fundamental career interest in all things equine–the world of horses.
  • My inner compass has become more important. I need to cultivate my own philosophy of life, including my religious beliefs.
  • My wanderlust will always be strong. When I experience the great outdoors, I feel such peace of mind and God’s presence there.
  • FAMILY will be the center of my happiness in the years ahead. I want to find a loving partner and create a family of our own. 

Day 31 – Home, Sweet Home

Sean: I had a good night’s rest in Craig, Colorado. I’m on the final approach to my hometown of Juniper through the mountains, valleys, and canyons that are both home and heaven to me. 

My adult life lies ahead of me. What a journey it will be as an extension of this American odyssey I have just completed. I have two awesome mentors: my dad, Aaron, and my travel buddy, Vince. I will always find reasons to be on-the-road across Utah and beyond. I hope you will still follow me as I keep on truckin’ and keep a record of my life’s adventures and what I learn along the way.

Vince and I now bid you a fond and temporary farewell. We offer you a gift of our earnest reflections and the new insight gained that makes the wisdom of the ages ring true for us. May it ring true for you as you enjoy the great journey that life is. Please click on the link below. Thank you.

HAPPINESS: 7 + LOVE + 7

Hooray, I am officially home. I’m just pulling into the driveway of our new home. It’s beautiful. Dad and my sisters are waiting on the front porch. God bless America, land that I love. 

Vince: Welcome home, my friend.

Day 30 – Our American Heritage

Sean’s Journal: I love John Denver’s music, especially his famous Rocky Mountain High. I’ve been taught to be naturally high on life. Nothing helps me get there more quickly than the gorgeous scenery of Utah and Colorado that puts me so close to heaven. God would have to convince me that the actual heaven is any better than this. I think we might be surprised to discover that heaven is about natural beauty—pine trees, snow-covered mountain peaks, with rivers and lakes below. 

Rockies, Colorado River, Elk, Grand Lake. I know that Vince and Marie and their children have traveled extensively throughout Colorado. I’ll let Vince mention some of their favorite destinations and experiences. Today, I traveled up the steep, switchback highway from historic Estes Park to the top of the Rockies. At the Alpine Visitor’s Center, you can see 360 degrees of forever as the wind blows about 80 mph. As you travel through the Rocky Mountain National Park, you will probably set a record for the number of Elk you’ll ever see in one place during your lifetime. At another scenic viewpoint, you can look down on the source of the Colorado River. Eventually, you come down off your Rocky Mountain High to reach Grand Lake. I know the V&M family have stayed here. I stopped for lunch at Grand Lake and ate outside on the expansive board walk and deck that overlook the picturesque lake. I am now traveling through the country I love most. The image below captures the grandeur of both Colorado and Utah.

Are Americans Contrary? During my lunch, I talked with some tourists from back east and others from Europe. Of course, most Europeans know mountain beauty. The east coast folks were awestruck by the wild high country of the Rockies. I asked them what it is about America that makes them happy or not. They told me they are proud to be Americans and love the opportunities available to them, but they feel like our country is somewhat unglued at this moment in time. They asked me this question: “Sean, do you think you could ask twenty Americans what the top priorities for our country are and get agreement?” My response was that I believe we could name the top 5 major issues, but not get ready agreement on the solutions. This is my take after a month of hanging out with Americans across the country. My tourist friends went on to say that Americans seem to enjoy being contrary and argumentative. I was sad to hear this, especially as I was looking down on beautiful Grand Lake. I think America is in transition toward rediscovering our core values as a nation. I certainly hope and pray this is so.   

Down the Mountain. My continuing trek downward and westward eventually took me through Granby and Kremmling. It is probably obvious that I have left Interstate 70 behind. I am taking a favorite State Highway 40 that will return me to the western Colorado border and take me into Utah and through the places I know so well and love to be. My next stop in Colorado was the bustling, charming Alpine ski village of Steamboat Springs. The better-known route across Colorado is I-70 that goes through or near the famous towns of Breckinridge, Leadville, Vail, Aspen, and others. It’s a beautiful, super-busy route, but to visit most of these famous villages does require some short side trips. 

As the afternoon progressed, I knew I had two options to: (a) forge ahead and get home to Juniper by late evening or (b) stop somewhere to get cleaned-up and rested-up, before I showed-up at home. I preferred to arrive by midday–refreshed rather than road weary. So, I decided to stay my last night at the KOA in the small rural town of Craig, Colorado. I checked in advance… The KOA has some nice, recently refurbished bathrooms with the shower facilities I need before I head home. It’s what I call a family campground. It will be a quiet place to put the finishing touches on a special summary of “what I have learned” to share with all of you tomorrow. 

Vince’s Response: Alright, Sean, where do I start? My second eldest son and I stayed in Steamboat Springs one evening early in our author’s research odyssey. Once upon a time, Marie and I took three of our sons to Grand Lake. We all went horseback riding. The boys and I took a raft down the Colorado River while Marie watched us from the shore. We have traversed the state on I-70 multiple times to visit both our youngest daughter and our youngest son when they each lived with their families in the Denver area. I have had client engagements in Alamosa, Colorado Springs, Denver, Littleton, Golden, Boulder, Loveland, Fort Collins, and the western Colorado town of Rifle. 

Some of our fondest mountain travel and camping experiences occurred in the spectacular San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado with visits to Cortez, Durango, Telluride, Silverton, Ouray, and Montrose. Marie and I have been to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  Marie loves the classic musical, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, which is a true story that takes place in the mountain town of Leadville and in Denver. When it comes to Colorado, “I’ve been everywhere, man.” It’s a grand state. If not in Utah, I would live in Colorado or move back to New England.      

Our American Heritage. Sean, your odyssey has been upbeat and positive all the way. As we have both gone in search of what happiness means in America, we have mostly avoided the discussion of politics. Our great nation has issues that must be faced and problems to solve, but it is a great nation. Deep down, I believe most Americans consider themselves to be blessed to live here. It does seem that our society has become busier and very much about “doing your own thing.” Technology has empowered us and yet it has made actual (vs. virtual) person-to-person connections less frequent. Instead of, “Hey, let’s pay the kids a visit,” it is sometimes, “Let’s send them a text or check Facebook.” 

As Americans, we need to elevate the word “heritage” to realize that each of us has a family, community, and national heritage worthy of honor and careful cultivation. What kind of nation do we want America to be? How kind do we want America to be? First, we must be a nation united and not a nation splintered by our special interests and personal agendas. We can be a nation of WE-GO, which transcends EGO.

Bookends: (1) John Denver, we wish you were here to sing to us again. (2) Coloradans, thanks for the mountain peaks that lift us up. (3) Americans, let’s connect, find common ground, forgive each other, and hold a neighborhood block party to proclaim, “America, the Beautiful.” (4) Sean, I can hardly wait to read your latest summary.             

Day 29 – Truck Trouble

Sean’s Journal: Today I traveled across the plains and farmlands of western Kansas and eastern Colorado. The driving was sometimes tedious, but because the road is straight, I had excellent opportunities to (1) speak with my dad about our reunion as a family and (2) succinctly summarize what I have learned on my cross-country journey. I scribbled very rough notes on a yellow notepad, then stopped periodically to summarize what I had written. My goal is to reach the Loveland, Colorado, area before too late in the evening to camp in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Tomorrow, I’ll drive the winding mountain road to the summit point of Rocky Mountain National Park and then back down through the gorgeous mountain country of Colorado and on to my beloved Utah.

Truck Trouble. My older Ford truck has hummed along reliably for many, many miles, but today it happened. I suddenly noticed that the temperature gauge on my instrument panel was showing “hot.” I took the next exit just a few miles east of the small town of Oakley, Kansas. I parked safely on the frontage road. There was steam coming from the driver’s side wheel well. I got out of the truck to stretch and to decide what to do next. There was radiator coolant on the ground under the engine. I checked the radiator and heater hoses, no leaks. I figured the problem was the water pump. Our family has a road assistance contract with the “Good Sam Club” and I knew I could call them. My phone still had bars.

New Citizen – New Friend. Something told me to just take a lunch break and to watch to see if anybody might come along who could help. I munched a sandwich, ate my apple for the day, and had some chocolate. It was probably just ten minutes until a man in a pick-up truck showed up. He slowed down and pulled over just ahead of my truck and walked back to me as I sat on the tailgate. I hopped down as he said hello and offered to shake hands. He was very pleasant and had a mild accent that I recognized as representing some part of Asia, perhaps India. My new friend who arrived from out of nowhere told me that he was originally from Indonesia and is a newly naturalized US citizen. He now lives in another small town nearby where he helps his brother to manage a convenience store. He looked under the hood of my truck and could see the liquid on the ground under the engine. He agreed with my diagnosis about the water pump. He said he had a tow rope and could pull me slowly along the frontage road to Oakley where there is good mechanic. 

Hooray – Rebuilt Water Pump. So, off we went. We arrived at a gas station and convenience store. My friend introduced me to the store manager who is also the mechanic. After examining my truck, he told me that he had good news. Fortunately, as I happen to be driving a “good ole” Ford, he knew he could get a rebuilt water pump quickly and I’d soon be on my way. I was the recipient of some “Good Samaritan-ship” combined with rural Kansas hospitality. About an an hour later, the mechanic produced a rebuilt pump that looked shiny new. The cost was very reasonable, and my truck was soon ready for the road. I thanked the mechanic and my friend, the enthusiastic, new American. He also gave me directions to a couple of tourist sites in the area: the Fick Fossil & History Museum and the Buffalo Bill Sculpture. He insisted that he buy me a Coke. We shook hands and I was on my way.

The rest of my Kansas-Colorado drive was a bit boring, but uneventful and therefore pleasant. Quite frankly, there’s not a lot to see “on the plains.” My truck is running great. I found a cool campground near Loveland as planned. It was later in the evening, but that’s okay. I look forward to my drive up and over the Rockies tomorrow morning.

Chat with Dad. As a final note, my dad and I do have a schedule for my homecoming. I’ll spend time with him and my sisters and reconnect with other special family and friends in Juniper. Next, I am anxious to spend some time with Vince and Marie. After I get re-settled, I’ll ask Ellen to meet me in Salt Lake City or Twin Falls to talk about whatever we feel like talking about. My adult life is underway with many exciting decisions ahead. 

Vince’s Response: I was wondering when your truck might get the hiccups or show signs of arthritis. I’m glad it happened as it did, and I am grateful for those two fellows in Kansas who were so helpful. See you soon.

Bookends: (1) Always pay attention to the temperature gauges of life. (2) The Rockies are great. (3) The plains are mainly plain, but good folks live there, I know. (4) Watch those mountain curves.                 

Day 28 – Kansas and Legendary Brands

Sean’s Journal: I must admit that I’m excited to get home. I have the Great State of Kansas to cross, then I will dawdle a little in Colorado that is my second favorite state next to Utah, and finally re-enter my homeland. Last night, I camped near Wichita. Vince will tell you a story about his unique camping experience here some years ago with his son. As I crossed the state line into Kansas, I couldn’t help but remember a PBS special on the dreadful “Dust Bowl” experiences that Kansans endured early in the 20th Century. It was horribly sad. BTW: The agricultural productivity of Kansas is legendary. 

A Baptist Sunday Service. I attended an early “contemporary worship service” at a Baptist church. I thought about attending the Latter-day Saints service but decided that, the broader my exposure to people of different faiths, the better I would serve the purposes of my journey. I enjoyed the “gospel” style music and the short sermon delivered by the pastor. Everybody was very welcoming. I shared the Bookends4Life URL with many and invited them to join me on the road. 

Thankful, I Am. I am on Interstate 70 and will drive for the remainder of the day with a worshipful attitude and grateful spirit as I review the marvelous experiences that I have been blessed to have over the past four weeks. I thank God for his guidance and protection. I’ll have a long mobile phone conversation with my dad about plans for my return. 

Now, I want to let Vince use the rest of this blog to tell you three of his favorite Kansas stories from his author’s odyssey with his second eldest son some years ago. 

Vince & Marie just chillin’ outside their RV,
sitting on their Coleman camp chairs

Vince’s Response: Our eldest daughter once lived in the Kansas City area with her family. I have traveled to Kansas on business. One of my clients would pick me up at the airport in his single-engine Cessna and fly me to their manufacturing plant in Fort Scott. 

Let me tell you about my author’s research journey with my son. I was gathering anecdotal material for my books, Take Pride in Your Work and Customer Astonishment. My son and I went in search of American pride—to find out what caused Americans to “ride for the brand” and to do their very best at work. All the experiences below occurred in the Wichita area. 

Interesting Campground. We will never forget one campground near Wichita. It was green and inviting. We found a nice camp site. We needed to take showers, but the restroom had no outer doors and no inside doors on the shower stalls. Oh well. My son and I took turns standing guard while one of us showered at a time. We ate dinner. As the sun was going down, about ten Harley-Davidson enthusiasts with their companion riders pulled into the campsite just one site removed from ours. My son and I figured we’d be in for a noisy evening. This was one of those experiences when you learn to “judge not.” We walked over to our new neighbors and introduced ourselves. What a friendly group they were. They sat quietly by their fire, ate, and visited in the most neighborly fashion. Live, learn, and love. It’s a good motto. Besides, my son and I were both jealous that we didn’t have our own Harley. So there.

Beechcraft. These memorable experiences happened over 30 years ago. I can hardly believe it’s been that long, but the stories are unforgettable. At that point in time, Beechcraft, the well-known general aviation company, was working on a new concept airplane called the Starship 1, with rear-facing turbo-prop engines and a fuselage made of a new composite material. I figured there would be lots of pride surrounding such an innovative project. I wanted to interview its designers, engineers, and pilots. The front office sent us to the guard station near the hangar. As an important side note, my son was just 13-years-old, but already an Eagle Scout. He made a good impression on folks. 

In the Pilot’s Seat. I asked the guard if we could see the prototype airplane. I told him I’d love to have my son meet the test pilot. The guard told us this would not be possible. I told him that my son was an Eagle Scout and how much it would mean to him and to his friends back home. He agreed to call the pilot’s office. The chief test pilot answered the phone. The guard said, “I have an author at the gate who would like to meet you and see the Starship. He has his son with him who is an Eagle Scout.” We could hear the pilot’s reply, “Well, I’m an Eagle Scout, too. Send them back to the hangar.” So off we went. The result was that we had an amazing chat with the pilot and a tour of the innovative, cool-looking airplane. My son got to sit in the cockpit in the pilot’s seat. Wow! Ask and ye shall receive, if you’re in the company of an Eagle Scout that is.        

Coleman. Wichita is the home of the famous Coleman Company. On our journey, we were camping out with: Coleman tent, Coleman sleeping bags, Coleman stove, Coleman ice chest, Coleman lantern, Coleman water jug, and more. I knew I had to get a taste of the pride of this legendary American company. We ended up spending several hours with the curator of the company museum who gave us an in-depth history lesson going back to 1900, including the story of the small Coleman stove used by soldiers in World War I. The crowning moment was when the curator presented my son with a black and silver (not green) commemorative lantern that had been created to recognize the production of the 10,000,000th Coleman lantern, if I remember the number correctly.

These are my great memories of Kansas.

Bookends: (1) Love those Harley-Davidson motorcycles. (2) Being an Eagle Scout is about good character and many useful skills. (3) Let a Coleman lantern light your way.  (4) Take pride in your work.  (5) And, God’s speed to you, young Sean, as you journey home. I’m glad those friendly Baptists gave you a reassuring “gospel” send-off.     

Day 27 – Proud to Be an American

Sean’s Journal: When I think of Oklahoma, I remember reading about the early days of America’s oil boom and all the activity that centered around Oklahoma and Texas. I think of grassy plains and fields of grain. I think of cowboys. I also remember the news in recent years about tornadoes and many small earthquakes. (Utahns are currently experiencing many small earthquakes.) Oklahomans have proven themselves to be hearty and resilient people. And, Vince, you can tell us about the big cities and the modern industry that now powers the state.

The Museum. Based on Vince’s travel tales, I had an especially strong interest in visiting what he called the Cowboy Hall of Fame, which is now called National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.  It is home to the famous “The End of the Trail” sculpture by James Earle Fraser. Vince and his son were there and stood at the base of the statue that towers above people in its magnificent glass exhibition hall. This is what Vince raved about. Here’s a link. Go to the “About” menu tab and watch the short video. The initial image is that of the great sculpture: https://nationalcowboymuseum.org/

The End of the Trail. James Earle Fraser grew up in South Dakota where he was exposed to much western frontier culture. He had friends among the Plains People, who historically included the Sioux, Lakota, and many other tribes. Before I left on my trip, I watched “Dances with Wolves” for about the tenth time. Like Dunbar (Kevin Costner), young James Fraser was aware of the enormous dilemma that has continuously faced the indigenous people of America. They have experienced the transition of a proud warrior/hunter culture that possesses a deep sense of spirituality. They have wondered if their future would be somehow bright or bleak as they witnessed the westward movement of white settlers and the expansion of U.S. territory. The Indian warrior sitting atop his weary horse captures these emotions. His shoulders are slouched forward with heaviness—suggesting his weariness and perhaps despair.

You can tell that I have now been to Oklahoma City and I have seen the sculpture and the other wonderful exhibits in the museum. These are inspiring.    

About Cowboys. What is it with them? What is it that we fantasize about? What did they contribute to American history and folklore? I think we see the lone cowboy on his horse as symbolic of freedom, self-reliance, courage, heartiness, and a zest for adventure as new frontiers await. I know the truth is that early American cowboys endured a lonely, hungry, difficult, dusty, and dangerous existence. They ate boiled beans and rabbit, slept on the ground, got soaked to the bone, listened to wolves howl, and sometimes confronted cattle rustlers and fierce Indian warriors. They were lucky to have a bath or two each year. But they loved the land. They loved their horses, saddles, six-shooters, and the sunsets. They “rode for the brand.”   

The modern cowboys I know are cattle ranchers and farmers who have lots of access to the outdoors and to horses. They don’t spend much time in an office. They eat steaks and salads, have warm homes where they can take frequent showers to wash off the dust and sweat, and are not lonely as their families scurry about.

Vince has told me that, while he was a businessman outside, there was always a cowboy inside. And, now he seeks to escape from his desk to get his chain saw and cut timber in the Manti-La Sal Mountains of Utah. I am now preparing to head north on I-35 to Kansas where Vince and his son had some of their most memorable adventures. Vince will reminisce.

Vince’s Response: Very few artistic images have lingered clearer or longer in my mind than The End of the Trail sculpture. My son and I stood there for a long time looking at that Indian on his horse at the end of the trail that he had once known. As I may have mentioned earlier, I had a boyhood friend who was a member of the Navajo Nation in Arizona. He shared with me feelings of pride, sadness, and hope. My youngest son and I have spent time in Chinle and other towns within the Navajo Nation. I always experience a mixture of feelings: warm friendship…an appreciation of a people whose culture is both proud and spiritual in showing great respect for nature and their ancestors…and, a sense of the turmoil and disappointment that these Native Americans have endured.

I have made multiple business trips to Oklahoma. My son and I visited the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City. There is a modern economy, a visitor-friendly central city, and a “culture of family” that I found to be very tangible. There are people with strong faith and a solid work ethic.

Bookends: (1) There is an American cowboy in me. How about you? (2) The term “Native American” implies: natural, home-grown, first, or original American. (3) Just ask any Oklahoman, sooner is generally better than later. (4) Finally, I think I hear Lee Greenwood singing “God Bless the U.S.A.”

Footnote: The photo of the distinguished cowboy on horseback that I have attached here is one of my favorites from a collection of “public domain” images that I purchased years ago. This is also the case with other nostalgic images used in Sean’s earlier journal entries. These often do not include the artist’s name. – Darby Checketts                           

Day 26 – Oh, Arkansas

Sean’s Journal: I think it’s fair to say that Arkansas is one of those quiet states that we don’t hear much about. At the same time, we all shop at Walmart, which is headquartered in Arkansas. Neither Vince nor I know much about the state, so I think a good way to give it credit is to show the lyrics to the Arkansas state song:

It’s the spirit of the mountains and the spirit of the Delta,
   It’s the spirit of the Capitol dome.
   It’s the spirit of the river and the spirit of the lakes,
   It’s the spirit that’s in each and every home.
   It’s the spirit of the people and the spirit of the land,
   It’s the spirit of tomorrow and today.
 
   It’s the spirit of the forest, it’s the spirit of the eagle.
   It’s the spirit of the country that we love.
   It’s the spirit of pride that we all feel deep inside,
   It’s the spirit that shines from above.
   It’s the spirit of our fathers, it’s the spirit of our kids,
   It’s the spirit of the music that we play.
 
   Chorus: [Repeated]
   Oh Arkansas, oh Arkansas, Arkansas U.S.A.
   It’s the spirit of friendship, it’s the spirit of hope.
   It’s the Razorbacks every game they play.
   Oh Arkansas, oh Arkansas, Arkansas U.S.A.

Yesterday, Day 25, Vince provided some additional commentary on the state with references to former U.S. President, Bill Clinton; Walmart founder, Sam Walton; and the important Civil Rights history that played out in Little Rock. I like “the spirit” of their anthem. The name “Ozarks” has always been in my memory bank. Surprising to me is the fact that the Ozarks are part of our country’s most extensive highland region between the Rockies and Appalachians.

I stayed on I-40 and basically drove across the state with a stop in Little Rock for brunch. It’s a nice city with the Arkansas River running through it. My most memorable Arkansas experience was camping near the river last night. I stayed next to two fellows from Muskogee, Oklahoma. I know Vince has been there. I had heard of Okies from Muskogee, with Okies being one nickname for residents of Oklahoma. One of the men went into his tent and emerged with his guitar. He then played and sang the song that Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson made famous. I remembered that I have always enjoyed “Okie from Muskogee.” That sealed the deal, I was ready for Oklahoma. While in Little Rock, I picked up a CD with this and other country songs to expand my on-the-road repertoire of music.

Vince’s Response: One more thing we do know about Arkansas is The Razorbacks. Now there’s a legendary part of the Arkansas state culture. Sean, after your email last night, I listened to Oh, Arkansas. There’s interesting recent history behind the song. I get sentimental when I hear any song about the USA. BTW: Enjoy those Okies. They are good folk. The nickname has some mixed connotations, so I’d start with references to Oklahomans and ask them about their preferences. 

Bookends: (1) I increasingly like Walmart of Bentonville, AR. They are the brick & mortar counterbalance to Amazon.com. I got the best deal on my Coleman camp chairs and lantern there. (2) I love songs that are patriotic and that refer to home, family, the great outdoors, and God up above. 

Day 25 – The Mighty Mississippi

Sean’s Journal: I had originally planned to cross the great river on I-57 at the Illinois-Missouri border and travel across the state, south of St. Louis, through the region of the Ozarks, and just north of the resort town of Branson and the small town of Cassville where I know Vince did training for a manufacturer of electric fan motors. I felt a little sad to miss St. Louis. I know Vince has seen the Gateway Arch. Well, I decided to change my plans and take I-40 south from Nashville to cross the Mississippi at Memphis. This route will take me through Little Rock, Arkansas, and directly on to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where I look forward to visiting the Cowboy Hall of Fame. Yee-haw! 

The Mighty Mississippi. There is no geological feature of the continental United States that more defines the geography of our nation than this river. Otherwise, there are our seacoasts, the Appalachian and Rocky Mountain ranges, and the Great Plains. But, the Mississippi cuts across our nation from its northern to southern borders and has always defined the eastern vs. the western United States. Even though I crossed the river a few weeks ago near Davenport, Iowa, I am more excited to cross at Memphis in “the south.” I’ve always had pictures in my mind of this area during the time of the Civil War—before and after. I see a steamboat paddling along and hear its whistle blowing. Before I crossed the river, I took a detour to visit the ultra-colorful Beale Street, “Home of the Blues.” Then, I visited the National Civil Rights Museum built around the former Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968 just two years after Vince & Marie were married. I have always admired this courageous, eloquent, and visionary man.

The river, the food, the music, the people, the history—I’m glad I came to Memphis. When I chatted with folks on the riverfront and on Beale Street, there was a spirit of fun and frivolity in the air, however there are also melancholy echoes of the old south and the Civil War. Tonight, I stayed at a small campground on the Arkansas River near Little Rock. 

Vince’s Response: Well, young Sean, you’ve just scooped me. I have not been to Memphis. As a business consultant going back over three decades, I still associate Memphis with the headquarters of FedEx. They were a breakthrough company in those days. Of course, there’s the Elvis legacy. As for Arkansas, I have only driven along the northern border of the state and don’t know much about it except for three things: Bill Clinton, Walmart headquarters, and stories of the “Little Rock Crisis” that occurred during the early years of the Civil Rights Movement. Again, I have a business consultant’s perspective of Walmart. Sam Walton, its founder, was an American business hero during the second half of the 20th Century. 

Oklahoma Bound. Soon you’ll be entering the land of the “Sooners.” Sooners was the nickname given to those early American settlers who rushed across the state border to claim their piece of the prairie during the famous land rush of 1889. The University of Oklahoma football team adopted the name. As you get to Oklahoma City and then turn northward through Kansas, you’ll be back on the trail my son and I took, which you initially experienced at the beginning of your nationwide odyssey. 

Bookends: (1) About the Mississippi, I enjoyed watching the early Broadway musical, Showboat, with my mom, and in recent years with Marie. (2) The mighty river has always given me my geographical bearings as a citizen of the USA. (3) The Civil Rights Movement continues. I hope America will one day fulfill Dr. King’s dream.             

Day 24 – Country Music, Kudzu, and Copters

Sean’s Journal: I had a little chat with myself this morning. I remember at the beginning of the summer when I planned my cross-country trip. I thought it might take months or even a year. Those estimates were too long. I will be back in Utah after about one month on the road. It’s a good thing. It has been a marvelous month—educational and inspirational. As the fall approaches, I realize that I want to get serious about my education and other important things that lie ahead for me such as helping my dad finish the new home, getting clear about my career goals, and preparing to get married in the not-too-distant future. So, I’ve got a few interesting states yet to cover and then I’ll be happy to be home again.

Country Music Capital. I’m headed from the Kentucky “Horse Capital of the World” to Nashville, the “Country Music Capital of the World.” Tennessee is also known as “The Volunteer State” for its role in the War of 1812 (worth a history read). Vince had hoped I’d be able to visit the green hills of the Chattanooga area, but it’s too far south for this trip. Vince knows where to get the best pork chops in the world at Knoxville, but I’m sure I’ll find some equivalent in Nashville. I must admit that I am anxious to attend a concert at either the famous Grand Ole Opry or the historic Ryman Auditorium. I’m a fan of many country musicians. Vince and Marie are fans of Johnny Cash, Collin Raye, Shania Twain, and Dolly Parton, among others. I also won’t make it to Memphis, which is a citadel of blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll. Vince is an Elvis fan and would probably encourage me to go to Graceland. Mostly, it’s going to be the Nashville scene for me. And, I want to leave time in this blog for Vince to tell you one of his most adventuresome client connections over all his years of consulting.

Cool Culture. I found some finger-licking, barbecued pork ribs accompanied by fried pickles, sweet potato fries, and corn bread. The catfish here is also great. A favorite dessert is banana pudding, not very exotic, but a door-buster for any kid between the ages of 6 months and 99 years. Folks here are very friendly. I had some great conversations with college students who love the universities in the area. Known as “Music City,” Nashville is a happening place for the college crowd. Older Tennesseans are just what you’d expect: colorful, laid-back, and full of stories. I heard many. The topic of “politics” is all over the place. Some City dwellers are Democrats, but many of the older Tennessee natives and the rural folk were Republican at birth. Reminds me a little of Utah.

Enjoy the Music. I had a great time in Nashville. I attended a matinee concert and ate too much. Tonight, I will camp in the western woods of Tennessee. I’m hoping to find a campground on the banks of the Mississippi River. I look forward to crossing the mighty river early tomorrow morning. To wrap things up, here’s one more taste of this special region of the USA, also known affectionately as “The Bible Belt.” I don’t have a photo for you today, but how about some sweet gospel music by a popular Nashville-grown, American Christian band, Anthem Lights. Here’s the YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48i4l1715uc

Vince’s Response: Hi Sean. We just listened to “How Great Thou Art” by Anthem Lights. I hope we eventually have a wide cross-section of Americans who read our blog, including those of many different faiths and philosophies. Like you, Sean, I have a Christian heritage and love the songs that lift me up beyond the cares of this world to know our Creator and His Son who was sent here to become better acquainted with us and to teach us the principles of faith, love, and service to one another. Thanks to you and to Anthem Lights for the music. 

Tennessee Gas Pipeline. Now, about that adventuresome client connection that took me to the skies above where you have been traveling. This client was a Houston-based conglomerate that managed the Tennessee Gas Pipeline, which stretches from the Gulf Coast to New England. Their stewardship was the protective care of thousands of miles of large-diameter pipe that carries natural gas from the Gulf of Mexico to homes in the northeastern states. Most people know there is a massive maze of underground, unseen pipes that cross through the countryside and the mountains to accomplish this. What they probably don’t know is that every so many miles (30, 50, 100—can’t recall exactly), there is a compressor station nestled in the woods that includes gigantic diesel or newer turbine engines that keep the gas pressurized and moving along toward its ultimate destination. 

My Consulting Assignment. In the 1990’s, it was my assignment to provide motivational training to the teams at these stations. To get there, I traveled in a corporate helicopter with my key client contacts. I have looked down from just hundreds of feet at all the geography you have been seeing from the highway. It is beautiful country. I learned how dedicated and hard-working these pipeline crews are. It’s a 24/7 job and “failure is not an option.” The mechanical skills of these employees are exceptional. The engines and turbines are the size of those that power ships and airplanes. These are intricate pieces of machinery and sometimes temperamental. I enjoyed my many meetings with this important company and their capable employees. 

Helicopters and Kudzu. Now, to conclude, here’s one of those extra adventurous “helicopter” moments. We were headed for one station in the woods when a giant storm started to approach from the southeast. The pilot said we needed to get out of the way or land somewhere. Below were farms and huge swaths of the crazy Kudzu vine. This vine was imported from Asia somehow—perhaps as an erosion-preventing ground cover. It turned out to be terribly invasive. As we looked out of our helicopter cockpit, I could see old farm implements, fences, and barns literally overgrown with the vine. Anyway, the storm got closer and our pilot could not outrun it, so he said, “Hold on, we’re landing in that farmer’s field just below, the one covered in Kudzu. I hope to miss the tractor and the barn—just kidding.” The helicopter descended. We landed safely and sat in the farmer’s field for about 45 minutes until the worst of the storm blew over. I love helicopters.

Bookends: (1) Country music has its sad songs of lonesomeness and heartache, but, generally, it is just good fun. (2) These days, I prefer the healthier diet of catfish and cornbread. (3) Thanks to God for all the natural gas stored under the earth and for the hard-working folks who built and maintain the pipelines that get it to your home and mine.       

Day 23 – An Equine Tipping Point

Sean’s Journal: Okay, I’m at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. If there’s a “mecca” for horse lovers, this has got to be it. The Kentucky Derby is my favorite sporting event—not the Super Bowl. It is thrilling just to be at this racetrack to experience its beauty and to feel the power of horse racing. I can hear those thundering hooves in my mind right now. 

I am having what they call an “epiphany moment.” It’s about horses. I know what I want to do with my life in addition to raising a family. It will probably have to do with quarter horses back in Utah and not thoroughbreds here in Kentucky. Thoroughbreds are inspiring, but quarter horses are the workhorses of cowboys and I am a cowboy at heart not a jockey. So, what’s to do with the remainder of my time in Kentucky? I’m going back to Darby Dan to soak up the horse culture that exists all over this glorious State of Kentucky. 

BTW: Did you know that Louisville is the home of Muhammad Ali, Kentucky Fried Chicken, the Louisville Cardinals, and Louisville Slugger baseball bats. How many kids in the USA have that etched into their baseball bats? Only a zillion, including me.

Darby Dan. The manager agreed to let me hang out at the farm and to meet members of his staff. Most of all, I got to watch the horses in the stables, in the pasture, and during their training. I could go on and on about horses and the love their owners and keepers have for them. I also realize that I need to do something with my career that gives me the business acumen and financial wherewithal to be able to afford my own horses. 

Vince’s Response: Ok, my friend, Sean. First, I LOVE horses. I did grow up on a small horse ranch in Arizona. Secondly, I have a very good friend named Darby. We were boyhood buddies. Third, I enjoyed watching Muhammad Ali in the ring…used to be a regular KFC customer, and I had a Louisville Slugger baseball bat. Isn’t it great!

Careers. Sean, as you are feeling some inspiration about your career, let me discuss epiphanies. Earlier in my consulting career, I was inspired by a best-selling book entitled The Tipping Point written by Malcolm Gladwell. It was at a time when I had been diagnosed with cancer and was enduring one of those battles of life. A tipping point is that moment when something which may be leaning in one direction suddenly moves definitively in that direction. An epiphany might “just occur,” but a “tipping point” can be brought about deliberately—engineered on purpose.

At that tipping point in my life with cancer, I decided to write a book to explore the idea that we need leverage to make whatever it is we want to have happen in life move forward to become reality. I spoke with Mr. Gladwell by phone and asked if I could use the idea of “Tipping Point” in the title of my book. He gave me his blessing. My book became Leverage: How to Create Your Own “Tipping Points” in Business and in Life. As soon as you return, I will give you a copy. It puts forth many principles that will prove powerful for you as you pursue your “equine / equestrian” dream. I will be anxious to learn what you learn from the folks at the Darby Dan Farm—and from their horses. BTW: Three of my and Marie’s favorite all-time movies are: Sea Biscuit, Secretariat, and Hidalgo

Early V&M Family Memory. As for Kentucky, let me tell you of our first major family vacation. When we were living in Detroit, when our first three children were about 4½ , 3, and probably 1½  years of age, we took them to Mammoth Cave National Park. Marie and I enjoyed touring the magnificent cavern. Our little tykes weren’t so sure, but they would periodically leap out of our arms and scamper where they should not have gone. We spent the day holding them closely when in the cave or chasing them around the campground and parking lot. It was a big adventure for such a young family.

I must remember tomorrow, on your Day 24 when you’re in Tennessee, to tell you about one of my most adventuresome client engagements that took me by helicopter across Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The area is spectacular from the air. 

Bookends: (1) Hold onto your dream. (2) Get leverage—professional skills and financial resources, powered by intellectual and spiritual determination. (3) Always include your family.    

Day 22 – The Land of Bluegrass

Sean’s Journal: I am in Lexington, Kentucky. What a great day. For starters, Vince, my dad wants me to thank you for including excerpts of my journal in your blog and for the way you add to these and share the wisdom we’ve both acquired. He tells me that there are people in the Juniper area who are following us day-by-day as we journey together. Thanks, Vince. You are a most excellent traveling partner.

Bluegrass. Why is it called “bluegrass” when it’s actually green? Well, in the spring the grass produces bluish buds that give it a blue cast when seen across a large field or lawn. Travelers would ask how to obtain the bluish grass from Kentucky to take back home to plant in other parts of the country. It is a popular variety of grass enjoyed around the world. In Latin, it is poa pratensis. Kentucky is green! I love it especially when accentuated by the white fences that surround the pastures where magnificent horses are frolicking. Kentucky is known as the “Horse Capital of the World.”

Today, I believe the core purpose of my journey is beginning to be fulfilled. I headed straight for The International Museum of the Horse. I had been inspired by a PBS special entitled “Equus: Story of the Horse.” Then I visited the world-famous Keeneland Racetrack. There are many sites that celebrate the horse. Nothing does this better than a thoroughbred horse farm. I visited the Darby Dan Farm. This is a coincidence. Vince, isn’t a good friend of yours named Darby? Go to: http://www.darbydan.com/

Something Clicking. Back in Utah, I rode my ATV up the canyons, but every chance I had, I would go horseback riding with my friends who had horses of their own. Vince, I know your family raised quarter horses on your small ranch in Phoenix, Arizona. You have told me about your horse, “Flicka,” and how much you enjoyed riding in the South Mountain Park near your home. Well, things are “clicking” for me here in Lexington. I am so excited to visit Louisville tomorrow. Why two days in Kentucky? I want to also spend time at the Churchill Downs where the Kentucky Derby is run. And I want to end up just hanging out for an afternoon at one of the horse farms to witness their operations and to talk with groomers, trainers, jockeys, vets, and everybody who takes care of horses.

A close look-alike for Flicka

Vince’s Response: Hooray for you, my dear young friend. I can tell you are onto something big. You are so right, I had a quarter horse named Flicka. (Yes, there was a TV show by this name.) My Flicka was a buckskin mare with a black mane and tail. She was so loyal and responsive. After school, I would saddle her up and we’d take a ride through the orange groves of South Phoenix and then up into the hills of the South Mountain Park. Back then, there were no ATV’s or OHV’s or side-by-sides—motorcycles, yes. However, I can tell you after riding my man-made zoom-zoom machines in recent years, there is still nothing to compare with the exhilaration that comes from feeling a horse trot, then lope, then gallop at full speed. That muscular, undulating, stretching movement of a horse is pure power and the rider feels it. My dad had a powerful Arabian stallion named “Frey,” who no one dared to ride except my dad. We had other horses and ponies for the younger children. Oh, how I wish I had been able to give my own children an experience with horses. I have a couple of granddaughters who are into horses. This makes me happy. BTW: Our ranch in Phoenix was called “Happy Acres,” and that’s exactly what they were. I was blessed to have such a place to grow up. 

Bookends: (1) Thanks to your dad for his support. Be sure he knows how we both feel about his goodness and determination. (2) Kentucky bluegrass is lovely, except when you have to mow it. (3) Find your own “happy acres.” During our senior years, Marie and I found our “Owl’s Nest.”                

Day 21 – The Flavors of Happiness

Sean’s Journal: Today is Sunday. Yesterday afternoon, I left Charlottesville and got myself onto the Blue Ridge Parkway headed south. I found an awesome campground in the George Washington National Forest. Soon, I’ll be heading across the Appalachians via I-64 along what looks to be an especially scenic route. 

Cool Couples / Campfire Chat. I set up camp last night next to two young couples. They had an awesome fire going. As the fire died down, they invited me to come on over and roast or grill with them. They looked to be in their mid-to-late 20’s. We had quite a chat about their adventures and their idea of what happiness means in America. One thing that was quickly clear to us all is that the diversity of our nation’s population means that the answer is not a simple one. We recalled how in the early days of settling America, most folks would be motivated by faith and happy with The Basic 12: access to water, a store of food in their cupboards and root cellar, a supply of candles, a cow to milk, a few chickens, some fruit trees, a large pile of firewood, some good quilts, a strong horse to pull the plow, someone to love, lively kids willing to help with all the chores, and good books to read together. Life was simpler then or so it seems.    

Modern Times. As last night’s campfire conversation continued, we concluded these things about modern Americans…. Some aren’t happy with less than a million-dollar net worth. Others want some fame: to sing on stage, write a best-selling book, or win a marathon. Some are happiest at “happy hour” just hanging out with friends and drinking beer. Some find deep happiness in their religious faith. A good many “give back” or “pay it forward” and derive their greatest satisfaction from serving others. Some need power—personal power to make things happen or political power to have their way. The list goes on. And, some folks want it all. Life is more complicated. So, what’s the message: Discover what makes you happy and be the best version of who you are. Don’t judge others for their choices as we mutually strive to do no harm and to demonstrate respect for each other. 

Do Your Dream. My campfire companions thought my journey was cool and they could see why I loved my life in Juniper, Utah, near the Manti-La Sal Mountains. One of the couples is very entrepreneurial. They went on about how energized they are to see a business enterprise succeed in order to create wealth and jobs for others. The other couple is into the arts. The one fellow is only in his groove when playing the banjo with his amateur bluegrass band. His partner manages a florist shop and is way into flowers and protecting the environment. People are interesting. Our big conclusion about happiness in America is that our national culture and system of free-enterprise really do allow us each to pursue whatever dream we may have. We are blessed.

My Walk in the Woods. As there was no church meetinghouse readily available, I decided to go for a slow, peaceful walk in the glorious Appalachian woods and have a Sunday conversation with God. The woods are wonderful. The little critters that jump, run, or scurry up trees are fun to watch. This was an opportunity for me to reflect on the road ahead—the road across America and the road to my future. I told God that I would always strive to be a good guy—law-abiding, trustworthy, and kind to others. I let him know what my dreams include–to: (1) find a loving companion, (2) get more education that is appropriate for me, (3) get a job that lets me look forward to going to work each day, (4) have meaningful opportunities to serve others, and (5) regularly enjoy the natural wonders of the world. I found a small grove of trees, looked upward, and thanked God for listening. 

On My Way. The drive on I-64 across the Appalachians was spectacular. The day turned out to be a serene day of driving through the mountains of western Virginia followed by a drive through the woodland hill country and towns of West Virginia. As the day progressed, I became I-64 focused and Kentucky bound. I only stopped for gas and goodies. I enjoyed the soft rumble of my Ford V-8 and the peacefulness of the beautiful scenery that was so appropriate for a Sunday drive.

Vince’s Response: I loved the outcomes of that “couples chat” and your walk in the woods. That’s exactly what I would have done in your situation on a Sunday morning. Sean, I know God loves you, me, and all of His children. And, I am sure He is pleased with your good deeds. Keep it up. About the “good ole days” versus modern times… I do think our ancestors led simpler lives, but not easier. They had to work from dawn to dusk to be sure the fields were plowed, the cow was milked, the butter was churned, and that there was ample firewood to keep the family warm all night long. I do think that having your kids busy working in the garden and then anxious to read books together was a healthier lifestyle than gulping down microwaved pizza bites and playing video games. In modern times, we have plenty of work to do and many technological tools to make our work easier. There is one catch. I heard one wise leader make this observation: “These days, many folks look down (at the apps on a palm-held device) for answers to life’s challenges rather than to regularly look upward for guidance.” Let’s remember our American roots of faith, family, hard work, patriotism, and service.     

Bookends: (1) There are many flavors of happiness. (2) America is a “do your dream” place. (3) God does listen when we give Him the opportunity. (4) Let’s remember our roots as we use our “apps” to invent the future.    

Day 20 – Oh Shenandoah

Sean’s Journal: Whew! My east coast expedition was busy—lots of traffic, lots of people, lots to take in. I must admit that I’m looking forward to heading over the Appalachian Mountains and driving through the green hills and rural countryside of the Virginias, Kentucky, and Tennessee. I’ll be able to save money by camping out. The truck’s running just fine—no leaks and no new squeaks.    

Ellen / College / Future Trips. You may be wondering about my long-distance friendship with Ellen. We talk by phone about every other day. As we both see the summer coming to an end, it means she’s getting ready for her fall semester at Boise State and I’m trying to figure out what’s next. Back to college is the logical thing, but you can be sure that my American odyssey is not over. I think I’ve mentioned to my dad and Vince that I’m planning a trip from San Diego and up the west coast to Vancouver, British Columbia. Then, I’ll follow the footsteps of the V&M family across BC, over the Canadian Rockies to Banff and Calgary in Alberta, then return south through Montana and Idaho, and back to my Utah home once again. I’m not sure what the status of things will be with Ellen and me by then, but she loves the open road and the mountains and wide-open spaces of the western USA just like I do. We have many things in common.

The Westward Plan. As I do the Appalachian trek, I’ll leave the DC area on I-66, then I’ll be switching from state and scenic highways to Interstate 81–and back–as I visit Shenandoah National Park and find my way south along and atop the Appalachians. The scenic highways include the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Finally, I’ll cross over into West Virginia on I-64. Check the map. The Appalachians represent amazing geography and history. The area is worth Googling. Apparently, the name of this region came from the Spanish version of the name for a Native American tribe that lived in the area: The Apalachee. Those of us from the western states fail to realize the immensity of the diagonal swath of land that crosses so many states from south to north. I’d like to recommend a NY Times bestselling book entitled A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson who walked the 2100-mile trail from Georgia to Maine.    

Shenandoah. There is an entire culture tied to the name “Shenandoah.” He was a chief of the Oneida Iroquois people. There is a river, valley, mountain, national park, and even a beloved movie by the same name. The movie was released in 1965. It is a tender-hearted, family-oriented civil war story starring James Stewart. There are multiple international cities with the name, plus a Virginia county. A beloved American folk song is entitled “Oh Shenandoah.” Basically, the region surrounding the Shenandoah National Park is legendary in many ways. Part of the Appalachian Trail runs through the park. Here’s a link: https://www.nps.gov/shen/index.htm

Charlottesville. Is this a cool, genteel name for a city or what? After I left Shenandoah, I took a double-back, side trip to Charlottesville, Virginia. Vince raves about the charm of this city and its setting on the lower slopes of the Appalachians. He said he had never seen so many varieties of trees anywhere and blossoms of many colors everywhere. I’m not sure of the season when Vince visited, but from what I’ve read there are trees blossoming about eight months of the year. Well, I’m here. The area is breathtakingly beautiful with quaint homes and historic plantations everywhere. As much as Utahns love our gorgeous mountain home and our famous red-rock canyons, we’ve got a way to go on the “quaint and charming” scale. These Virginians got a “colonial” head start on us and the weather patterns in this Appalachian region of the country contribute to a garden-green experience everywhere you go.  Another word is “pastoral.” Wow. Ellen would love this place.

I asked the locals what they like about living in this area. Their answers are: the history, the trees, flowers, bluegrass music, horses, and the food. And, out our front door, we’re an hour and a half from Richmond, two and a half hours from Washington DC and the Chesapeake Bay. Out the back door, we have the Shenandoah National Park and the Appalachians Mountains. There is almost nothing ‘not to like.’” Whoa! I’ve got to be careful here. I love Utah, but I could be born again as a Virginian. They say, “Virginia Is for Lovers.” Good grief, we have a BEAUTIFUL country. 

University of Virginia Rotunda, designed by Thomas Jefferson

FYI: My next major destinations are Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky, with an overnight stop in the mountains on the way. Why Lex & Louis? Here’s a clue: T.H. + K.D. Ponder it. 

Vince’s Response: Sean, you have described the Charlottesville I remember. You’re right, no one section of our great country has a patent on cultural interest and scenic beauty. While we’re hooked on our high, snow-peaked mountains of the West covered with pine and aspen trees, the deciduous trees of those eastern low-lying mountains and valleys have an indescribable beauty that Utah can’t match. At this point, I would invite every American to find the lyrics to America the Beautiful. These words so poetically and perfectly describe the many beautiful aspects of our land from sea to shining sea, with amber waves of grain, purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain…and alabaster cities that gleam. To use your word, Wow!

BTW: Your travel itineraries sound awesome. It’s so cool that Ellen might be involved somehow. I wish I could sit by the campfire tonight with you in those Appalachian Mountains as we grill some burgers and chug some root beer.

Bookends: (1) Oh Shenandoah, I hear you calling. (2) Take A Walk in the Woods, there’s nothing like it. (3) Virginia is for lovers and all who journey that way.

Day 19 – Of the Potomac and Chesapeake

Sean’s Journal: Interstate 95 going south just clipped the northern tip of Delaware. Before I knew it, I was in the Baltimore, Maryland, metro area. I drove around the Baltimore waterfront, so historic and colorful. Then, I became a typical tourist, and gratefully so. Vince had advised me to not pass through the Baltimore area on the way to DC without stopping to have a genuine Maryland blue crab meal. These crabs are the legendary products of the Chesapeake Bay. 

Hand-to-Claw. It was an early lunch, but I was anxious to get to DC—to the National Mall. So, I found an authentic local café with knotty-pine decor, tables covered with brown paper, and trophy fish mounted on the walls. The seating was family style, so I asked a group of three people sitting at a large table if I could join them. They were most inviting and quite jovial. Then came the crabs in a galvanized bucket and poured in two piles on our table. There were implements for dissecting the crabs, but mostly it was hand-to-claw combat. There was plenty of drawn butter and other accompaniments to our crab. Wow and double wow! Those sweet crabs are lip-smacking good. I’ll never forget this lunch. I now know why EVERYBODY does it.

District of Columbia. I took the famous I-495 beltway most of the way around the District of Columbia. The traffic was crazy-busy. I crossed the beautiful Potomac River a couple of times.  Before I headed to the National Mall, I wanted to see the Latter-day Saints temple that sits on a hill and looms above the trees at just the right bend in the freeway. Whatever your religious persuasion might be, this beautiful, gleaming-white building is a must-see, at least from the beltway if not up-close. I eventually found my way to a parking lot not too far from the National Mall.

The classicized image of the Washington Monument shown below is a perfect way to convey the spirit of this place. There is no way I can do justice to the National Mall experience by simply sharing photos, Internet links, or my own narrative. I am so glad I came here. I spent the afternoon going from one memorial to another, from one historic building to another, and enjoying occasional park bench conversations with other tourists from everywhere in the world. To the readers of our blog, I strongly suggest that you put a pilgrimage to our nation’s capital on your galvanized bucket list along with the blue crab from Chesapeake Bay. Here is a link to get started: https://www.nps.gov/nama/index.htm

Tomorrow morning, I plan to return to the mall at sunrise, catch a flag-raising ceremony, have breakfast, and then begin my long journey westward.

Vince’s Response: I totally agree, Sean. A visit to our nation’s capital is a pilgrimage. Marie and I took our three youngest sons there. Our four older children were already grown, married, and on their ways through life. In fact, we had gone to visit our eldest daughter and her family who lived near DC in Manassas, Virginia. And, yes, our sons loved the same sights and patriotic spirit that you experienced. As you might expect, they especially enjoyed the Air & Space Museum. On one business trip, I visited DC alone and discovered my favorite building: The Old Post Office Pavilion. You are so right, the list of Internet links would be half-a-page long, if you and I attempted to describe our nation’s capital in this blog. Finally, I agree that the Latter-day Saints temple is so beautiful and serene. Marie and I have special memories of visiting there when we lived on the East Coast.

Of the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay. It is worthy of mention that our readers may want to Google and study the fascinating history of the Potomac River that accentuates the beauty of our nation’s capital. Also, one of the most fascinating geographical features of the east coast is the Chesapeake Bay. It is the largest estuary in the U.S. and the third largest in the world–200 miles long and as much as 35 miles wide. It covers 64,000 square miles with 11,684 miles of shoreline bordering six states and the District of Columbia. It is a source of livelihood and recreation for the 17 million people who live, work, and play within this watershed and its maze of rivers and harbors. It is a natural/ecological wonder of the world.         

Homeward Bound. Enjoy your trip westward to Utah. Your family and mine can now begin to count the days until you return. We’ll have a celebratory, outdoor barbecue dinner as Utahn’s do. No steamed crabs, but we’ll grill whatever you like at our Owl’s Nest and dine upon our now-famous, hand-built White Fir picnic table to which you contributed. We’ll look forward to meeting your dad and sisters.

Bookends: (1) Capture the local culture when you can—whether steamed crabs or patriotic memorials. (2) Homeward bound is good. (3) Enjoy the ride and stop to smell the roses often.

Day 18 – City of Brotherly Love

Sean’s Journal: Today, I drove south on I-95 through New Jersey on my way to Philadelphia. The Newark area is very industrialized and has its inner-city challenges. I saw neighborhoods that looked quite run-down and yet I have recently learned of some outstanding plans for redevelopment in this area. BTW: New Jersey is home to Princeton, Rutgers, and other fine universities. I’m going to let Vince share two of his favorite anecdotes about New Jersey. 

As for Pennsylvania, there is so much that Vince has told me about this great state that I wish I could take my westward journey clear across it. However, with Washington DC as the third must-visit city on the east coast, it will make sense to head west from there across the Appalachian Mountains and to travel south of the Mason-Dixon Line through West Virginia, Kentucky, and “that-away” toward Utah. 

I’m going to let our readers enjoy two websites rather than to attempt to convey the atmosphere surrounding these two marvelous American History sites in Philadelphia (click on these):

Independence Hall:

https://www.nps.gov/inde/planyourvisit/independencehall.htm

Liberty Bell:

https://www.nps.gov/inde/learn/historyculture/stories-libertybell.htm

The painting below is so well-recognized. This is an “antique” version of it. While the painting is only a representation of what happened, it does remind us of the great gathering of our nation’s founders and the magnitude of what they created in that hallowed hall. They declared our nation’s independence and determined how we would govern ourselves as a democracy to become the beacon of liberty and justice for all. My patriotism was elevated. I’m only sad to see, in modern times, how we tend to get off-track from our commitment to stand together as one nation.

Students. Finally, I had the opportunity at Independence Hall to chat with a group of college students. Some were Americans, including those whose families had immigrated here in recent years, and a couple of them were international students. They all highly prized their opportunities to study in the USA and to advance their career opportunities. Some of the international students hope to live here one day while others are planning to return to their native countries to improve conditions there. Here are excerpts from one student’s comments.

Student from South America: “I was born and raised in Latin America. Unfortunately, the education system in my country is broken and I had to learn things by self-study. My parents could not afford to pay for English lessons. My parents became divorced and my mother had to provide for us. We were poor. My friends told me America was the best place in the world to get an education. So, starting when I was 12-years-old, I learned English on my own. At age 21, I received a private scholarship to participate in a special program to increase my English skills to an academic level. I am now enrolled in the Accounting Program at a small Business College and I will eventually transfer to a major university to complete my education. My main goal is to break the cycle of poverty and to help new generations achieve abundance. I am so thankful for the opportunities your country has provided to me.” 

Vince’s Response: Sean, my friend, here are two memorable experiences from my New Jersey travels early in the 1990’s.

Morristown Area. Even though the famous AT&T Corporation is now headquartered in Texas, the company has major operations based in New Jersey. Some time ago, AT&T was my client and I visited their offices in Basking Ridge. I stayed in Morristown just east of Newark. I was astonished by the beauty of the area, the spectacular homes nestled amidst the woodland hills. It’s a classy and very historic area. 

Another Town: In southern New Jersey, there is another town I do remember from the years gone by. When I arrived, I asked one of my clients to recommend a good place for dinner and he did. What resulted is a colorful “road-warrior” journal entry indeed. The restaurant was quite ordinary outside. I remember it was located near a large billboard and some kind of outdoor sports arena. The most distinctive thing about the outside of the restaurant was the parking lot. Every car, it seemed, other than my gray Ford rental car, was either a black Cadillac, black Lincoln, black Mercedes, or black BMW. This was before Audi, Lexus, and Tesla came heavily onto the luxury car scene.    

A Rolex World. Now, I may be exaggerating slightly in telling this story, but not really, I’m not sure. I wore a pair of khaki trousers, an open-neck casual shirt, and a blue blazer. I entered the restaurant lobby and began to look around. I felt out of place. There were many couples, mostly dressed in black suits and black evening gowns. There were lots of pearl necklaces and much gold jewelry, including Rolex watches. The men all seemed to be about 55-60 with dark hair and graying temples. The elegant women looked as if they were mostly 40-45. The restaurant décor was exquisite and accentuated by what looked like original oil paintings from the Renaissance era. The menu offered the finest Italian cuisine.

Judge Ye Not. So, who were these people? Why was I here? Should I stay?  Well, I could only guess the answers to the first question. I thought I should probably leave, but I stayed. I had a marvelous, too-expensive meal, and tried to not stare at anyone in the restaurant. As I left, I felt relieved that no one had tried to recruit me for something that perhaps I shouldn’t do. Looking back, I was probably wrong to presume anything about those handsome, dignified couples. They may have included all of America’s top CEO’s or all the foreign ambassadors from Europe. Who am I to say? Don’t ask me. BTW: The only strange look I received from anyone that night was from the waiter who came to take my wine order only to discover that I preferred just San Pellegrino sparkling mineral water in a chilled glass, no ice.

Philadelphia. As a footnote, I have always been traveling through Philadelphia. I’ve had the best onion rings in the world at a “pub” in the south end of the city. I’ve traveled west to the cities of Lancaster and Harrisburg. I’ve passed through a town named, Hershey, where there’s something delicious in the air. I’ve done business in Pittsburg, the city with so many bridges and excellent restaurants. All this, but I have not been to Independence Hall or seen the Liberty Bell. Shame on me. I was usually too busy getting from one client engagement to another to stop and be a genuine tourist. I do love Philly’s other distinct moniker that is of Greek origin: City of Brotherly Love.

Bookends: (1) Stop and smell the roses. (2) When in a restaurant with lots of black luxury cars, just enjoy the meal. (3) God bless America, and all those who lived and died to make us free! (4) Education is the key to so many things.   

Days 16 & 17 – The Big Apple

Sean’s Journal: I’m headed down Interstate 95, which must be one of the most important and busy highways in the country, if not the world. My three major destinations are New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. I know it sounds trite to call New York City “The Big Apple,” but it’s clever. So, how did this nickname come about? There are many theories and much folklore surrounding this nickname.  After much research on the Internet and elsewhere, I find it hard to pin down one source of “The Big Apple.” The one that sticks in my mind has to do with horse racing that has held such prominence in New York City over the years. Apparently, jockeys and stable hands saw the opportunity to compete in the city’s races as a gleaming, tempting, and delicious prize—perhaps even a literal prize that their thoroughbreds would relish. Anyway, it’s a friendly nickname for such an intimidating (and magnificent) metropolis. 

See It to Believe It. How can someone possibly describe a place like New York City with all its colorful and complex boroughs and neighborhoods. I invite every reader of this blog to get a Rand McNally Road Atlas like the one I’m using and to sit and study the two-page map of the city. Doing so makes me feel puny. I live in small rural town in Utah. There are more people in the vicinity of Queens Center Mall than there are in our entire county. How can I say I know the United States or New York City or Queens? There are a hundred cultural enclaves in Queens. I visited the mall today and had lunch at a small delicatessen nearby. I paid a visit to the Queens Botanical Gardens. The park benches are such great spots for connecting with people. The people of Queens are so diverse, so interesting, so busy. I loved it.  To do justice to this part of our nation, I’d have to live here for the rest of the summer and do nothing but stroll about, sit in the parks, and chat with people from every corner of the world. 

A Grand Metro Adventure. My general NYC itinerary has been this…. I came down I-95, crossed the Bronx Whitestone Bridge, and spent the afternoon in Queens. On my second day, I got up early and headed to Manhattan. (Unfortunately, I didn’t do Brooklyn—it’s about too much to see in just two days.) I took the Queensboro Bridge across the East River to drive by the United Nations headquarters, then find my way to Central Park for a late morning stroll. I’ve seen so many TV specials about this amazing park. It took such vision to commit to such an oasis in such a densely populated metropolis–exactly why the park was needed. Late in the afternoon, I made it to the September 11 Memorial. (I saved my most eagerly anticipated visit to The Statue of Liberty for the morning of Day 18 as I will then take the tunnel under the Hudson River into New Jersey to reconnect with I-95.) These few days did a number on my budget, but this is “metro living.” The cost of everything here is why I’m not staying longer. I will come back in 10-15 years when I can spend a week. Okay, here are the highlights in a nutshell…

1) The City / The Memorial. The bridges here are crazy-cool. I drove past the Brooklyn Bridge. What a landmark. What a history. Read about it. As for the September 11 Memorial, I was just a toddler when those terrorists destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center. My sense of this national tragedy comes from my dad and Vince. I watched the news videos. The memorial and museum are magnificent works of architectural art, truly a fitting remembrance of the many lives lost. I walked to the shiny new World Trade Center—magnificent. 

2) The Statue of Liberty. I finished my day where Vince and his youngest son had such a memorable experience: The Statue of Liberty, which must bring a lump to the throat of any American who sees it for the first time and to those who lives were changed as they initially sailed into New York Harbor over the many years. 

3) New Yorkers. What can I say about two days in Queens and Manhattan? My head was nodding, rocking, and swaying as I looked up at the skyscrapers, into the windows of restaurants and neighborhood shops, and as I attempted to determine where a thousand sounds were coming from. There was the vroom-vroom of traffic, the regular sirens, a constant mix of languages being spoken, and the background noise of a million feet shuffling along the sidewalk. It was a unique experience for me. There are two words: “human energy”–echoing off man-made canyon walls. I compared this to my solitary echo bouncing off the red canyon walls of Utah where I love to hike. …two extremes of the grandeur of America. 

American Minestrone. And, finally, what did I learn from the dozens of New Yorkers I met briefly or with whom I had such awesome conversations? I learned this, we nobly strive to be one nation, but we are a complex blended family. It is a colorful, beautiful family whose members have such diverse backgrounds, perspectives, needs, and goals. We can seek to be indivisible, but we must seek to be tolerant as well. All of us have heard of America as a “melting pot.” This would imply that we will somehow melt down into one common element of Americana. Perhaps a better analogy would be that we are a “stewing pot” where many delectable ingredients are mixed and simmering together to create a delicious minestrone broth with a rich, common flavor that binds us together, but where each individual slice of carrot, potato, tomato, or onion; and each vital herbal nugget is appreciated. God bless us all.    

Vince’s Response: I have traveled across NYC by car and by taxi. Wow! My favorite sandwiches in the entire world are only available at Jewish delicatessens on Manhattan’s East Side. I have not been to the September 11 Memorial. I can tell you that seeing that horrific event “live” on TV was the most emotionally jarring thing Marie and I have ever witnessed. I wrote a small book entitled Patriot Dream to help me and my clients cope with the aftermath of this event. It was eerie to stand in our back yard and to not see or hear a single airplane passing overhead for about a week. I know that all Americans felt the deep loss. Both our nation and its citizens had been violated. We came back together magnificently. Such tragedies are too vivid reminders of our need as fellow citizens to unite to protect our homeland and preserve our liberty. And, then we tend to forget.    

The Crowning Experience. About 25 years ago, I took my youngest son with me on a business trip back east. We ended up in New York City. We stood near the former World Trade Center towers and looked up. The cloud cover prevented us from seeing the very tops of the buildings, but we were awestruck by their immensity. We took the ferry across the harbor to Liberty Island. In those days, visitors were allowed to climb up into Lady Liberty’s crown and torch. Those last stairs and ladders were intimidating, but my son and I seized a once-in-a-lifetime experience to reach the top of the statue and view America’s harbor. I believe he is the only one of our children to visit the statue and be able to look back across the harbor at the original World Trade Center towers.     

Bookends: (1) Ours is a grand land. (2) The Statue of Liberty is a testament to the fortitude of so many who have come here from all the nations of the earth to cherish liberty as Americans do. (3) Our national brand of minestrone soup is rich with a multi-cultural flavor and the nourishing qualities of a land that is free.   

Day 15 – Harvard, Pilgrims, and Sailboats

Sean’s Journal: I found a cool hostel in the Cambridge area where I stayed last night. There were backpackers passing through the area and students staying there until they could find other housing. It was a lively dinner crowd. I enjoyed learning the backgrounds of such a diverse group of mostly young people. There were Harvard and MIT students along with those who were simply cruisin’ and in search of themselves. I guess I’m sort of one of them, but I think I’ve found myself. I simply need to find the best path ahead to make good use of my talents and to make a difference for others. 

I Went to Harvard. Wow! I strolled, chatted with students, ate my breakfast on the lawn, and felt a little overwhelmed as a community college student from Utah. The history of the place and the campus buildings are awesome. This is another world for me. It makes me wonder if my goals are shortsighted. Perhaps I could get myself into Harvard, get a law degree, and one day become a U.S. Senator. Nah. I’d rather help my dad grow his business while I finish college. I’m learning basic business skills that will allow me to be financially secure so I can provide for a family and afford to keep horses. I want to ride with my kids in the Manti-La Sal Mountains.       

The Atlantic Coast. Today was a whirlwind of coastal scenery and historic spots. My first major destination was Plymouth Rock. Who can come to Massachusetts without visiting the rock? Not I. I decided to not drive out along Cape Cod. I’ll probably regret it, but my goal is less about checking out the tourist destinations and more about connecting with the general population. The drive south through New Bedford and Fall River was fascinating. Then, I dropped down the peninsula toward Newport, Rhode Island, one of Vince’s recommendations. As I drove along the coast and among the various waterways, I could picture the fishermen and sailors of years gone by. It was cool to drive from Newport across the Newport Bridge to Conanicut Island, all within the famous and picturesque Narragansett Bay, and then back to the mainland of Rhode Island proper.

Here are the highlights…

  • Plymouth Rock: The link below provides a good introduction to Plymouth County. As the locals will point out, there is much more to see and do than to visit the famous rock. There was a blur of tourists, lots of families scurrying about trying to take in the sights and gobble up the scrumptious food. Enjoy: https://www.seeplymouth.com/
  • New Bedford / Fall River: As I mentioned above, there is a constant awareness of the maritime history that is the central theme of New Bedford, Fall River, and the surrounding towns. As I talked with folks along the way, there were three classes of people I met: (a) those enjoying the good life on the Atlantic seaboard (they ate lobster and had sailboats), (b) a few who proudly claimed to be descendants of early pilgrims, and (c) those ordinary citizens who were simply busy making a living and raising their families. These distinctions became more evident as I headed further south to Newport.
  • Newport, Rhode Island: Vince was right, there are more grand, old mansions on one street than in the whole Intermountain West; I mean real mansions, early residences of America’s earliest class of the rich and elite. They got a head start on building wealth while folks in my part of the country had either fled from poverty in Europe or from religious persecution to build their log cabins and plant crops or to work in the mines. Newport is also a major Naval installation that includes the Naval War College and Naval Justice School. There are plenty of cool ships to gawk at. I loved it.

The bottom line: I could live back here until the hurricane season and winter blizzards hit the area as they are more and more prone to do these days. Many homes are truly oceanside. They’re so charming, but seem so vulnerable, from what the weather reports seem to show. I guess I’m a mountain boy who loves to sit on a hilltop amidst juniper and pine trees to watch the sheep grazing in the meadows below. Still, I love to travel along the ocean and count the sailboats. And, I do love crab and lobster almost as much as a good Black Angus steak. Okay, I am now New York City bound.

Vince’s Response: Sean, you are doing such a great job summarizing your major destinations that I don’t have much to add except a few “V&M” family responses. 

We had a very enjoyable time at Plymouth Rock. We even saw “the rock.” I know we barely comprehend what it meant for the pilgrims to leave homes in England and Holland to travel for so long upon the sea only to reach a wilderness full of unknowns. These were brave, inspired people who first came to Plymouth.

We enjoyed the drive along the seacoast, both to the north and south of Boston. Newport was an eye-opener for the same reasons you mentioned: immense, stately mansions, and Navy ships. We who live in the mountains and deserts of the western USA barely comprehend a lifestyle that is so interconnected with oceans, harbors, inlets, peninsulas, rivers, bridges, boats and ships. 

As you head to NYC, you will bring back a HUGE memory that I share with my youngest son. Then, as you end up in Washington DC, you’ll bring back recollections of a great trip that Marie and I made with three of our sons. These cities are about history, architecture, the diversity of humanity, and America’s current place in the world. Soak it up.

Bookends: (1) It’s great to “find oneself.” (2) It’s nice to go to Harvard, even if for a day. (3) The rock at Plymouth is exactly that “a rock—a landmark of hope, freedom, and destiny” for American pilgrims. (4) The ocean is mighty, and the sailboats are cool.                        

The Middleness of the Road

I have traveled for more than 14 days upon the open road, and you with me in your mind’s eye. Yesterday, I shared my midpoint observations of people striving to be happy. Now, as I head briefly south, then west across our vast nation to my Utah home, I would share a morning discovery from my beloved book, The Poetry of Robert Frost. It is so relevant to me as I journey forth. Let me share…

The Middleness of the Road

The road at the top of the rise
Seems to come to an end
And take off into the skies.
So at the distant bend

It seems to go into a wood,
The place of standing still
As long the trees have stood.
But say what Fancy will,

The mineral drops that explode
To drive my ton of car
Are limited to the road.
They deal with near and far,

But have almost nothing to do 
With the absolute flight and rest
The universal blue
And the local green suggest.

Sean’s Observations

My “virtual traveling companion,” Vince, and I have been on the road for over two weeks. The journey is going faster than I had expected. My guess is that it will take me another three weeks to get back home. I was anxious to get to Vince’s old stomping grounds in New England. Now, as I head briefly south, then west, I may take a little more time to hang out with folks along the way and to appreciate the various lifestyles of my fellow Americans. I also plan to enjoy other journeys across other regions of the USA in the future. 

As Promised. My travels have taken me from the Intermountain West to the Eastern Seacoast of the USA. I have shared many observations about the beauty of our country and some of the challenges we face as a nation. My objective is to learn what happiness means to my fellow Americans. What makes them happy? Here is a summary of my initial observations of and conversations with those I have met along my way. This list is what I work on during my quiet time as I’m sitting at a picnic table with my iPad and listening to iTunes. Please Note: Vince and I have collaborated on this. The list may grow or simply become further validated (and perhaps consolidated somehow) in the weeks ahead. To our readers, I say, “Thanks for your interest.” Now, for the list. It appears here to save space in the blog and to be read only as you wish. Here is: “Sean’s List.”

Day 14 – Boston Bound

Sean’s Journal: As a quick summary of last evening and this morning… I have one observation from last night’s campground experience. I was really intrigued as I watched a group of teenagers who were camping next to me as they sat at their picnic table playing video games on their notepad computers. I wondered if they also had frisbees, ball gloves, and fishing poles. This morning, I had breakfast at Friendly’s on the Boston Post Road, not far from Longfellow’s Wayside Inn. Then, I attended church at the Latter-day Saints meetinghouse nestled within the beautiful woods of Marlboro. It was great to experience the Sunday fellowship. A few individuals remembered your young family from some years back. Vince, I’ll text you their names. 

Welcome Words from Ellen. Also, on this Sunday morning, I received a longer-than-usual email from Ellen. She’s making plans to continue her education at Boise State in the fall. She has been reading our blog and has become intrigued by the idea of some cross-country travel in the years ahead. I told her how much you and Marie enjoy traveling together in your motorhome. She said, “That sounds so enjoyable.” I heartily agreed and mentioned how I looked forward to having a traveling companion like Marie to join me on future journeys. 

Wayside Inn. Okay, Vince, I stopped and lingered just a while at the Wayside Inn. I’m hooked on New England, the wooded hills, the colonial buildings, and the tangible sense of the history that was made here. As I sat on an old wooden bench, I wished I had brought one of your and my favorite books, The Poetry of Robert Frost. Vince, we must have more in common than we realize. It’s great. There’s still a twenty-something kid in me and yet I can picture myself as older and as one who enjoys nature, literature, and history more and more. I think God, himself, must stroll through the woods and read poetry. Go to Wayside online at: http://www.wayside.org/

As I left Wayside Inn, it was late morning, so I figured I could take Route 20 eastward and probably experience less traffic than earlier or later in the day. I have three destinations in mind based on your recommendations, Vince: (1) Downtown Boston with The Freedom Trail and Quincy Market, (2) Gloucester with the twin lighthouses, and (3) the famous village of Rockport. I’ll provide some links along with a few highlights. Also, some of my conversations with people along the way are recorded in my notebook. I plan to summarize some of the most interesting things I’m learning in an upcoming journal entry. 

Downtown Boston. Okay, here are the highlights of my experience in the marvelous City of Boston. Besides the people watching and all the historical buildings, I walked The Freedom Trail to immerse myself in the history (see links below). Then I went to hang out at the Quincy Market where Vince’s family loved to stroll about and to eat. I wish we had a Quincy Market in Utah—that sums it up. Besides the buzz of people, there are so many scrumptious local and international foods to choose from. Take a quick historic tour at: https://www.thefreedomtrail.org/

Coastal Town of Rockport, Massachusetts

Up the Coastline. Next, I drove around Boston harbor and up the coast through the historic villages (now suburbs) of Revere, Saugus, Salem, and on to Gloucester, then Rockport. Wow–what beautiful coastal scenery and quaint neighborhoods along with the really-old and other modern buildings. Vince will comment on his experiences at the Twin-light Manor Inn. Please check a map to see the little peninsula at Cape Ann where Rockport is located. Enjoy, enjoy: https://www.rockportusa.com/

Oh, what a great day this has been. I’m going to head back to Cambridge to stay for the night unless I can’t keep the cost low. I’d like to see the Harvard campus before I head south of Boston to Plymouth Rock and then on to Newport to see the grand mansions of years gone by along with the Naval shipyards. There is so very much to see and do in this part of the country. Wow, double wow!

Vince’s Response: Sean, you almost leave me speechless, which is a rare thing. You are bringing back such fantastic and sublime memories of the places our family visited and the people we met along the way. I just pulled my Robert Frost book to a more prominent position on my desk. I am so happy you are having a good exchange with Ellen. I am anxious to meet her. She must add to your incentive to travel efficiently as well as joyfully, and to not linger for too, too long on the road. There is much for you to do here in Utah as you consider continuing your education and whatever lies beyond that. 

Gloucester. BTW: Thanks for sending the names of those special Sunday morning connections you made. You’ll help to renew some old friendships. And, now let me tell you and our readers about my experiences at Gloucester. At the time, I was the Manager of Corporate Quality Services for a great company, Digital Equipment Corporation. They created the mini-computer revolution that challenged IBM’s supremacy in the computer industry. DEC was my favorite employer owing somewhat to the mentorship of my favorite “boss” ever. He knows who he is. He truly unleashed my teaching and consulting talents by letting me take teams of DEC employees to a retreat at what was then the Twin-light Manor Inn. Those were the days of flipcharts before PowerPoint. I would help these teams accomplish “Team Effectiveness” and “Customer Astonishment.” We would sit in the restaurant at lunchtime enjoying the original water color paintings on the walls as we looked out the window at the beaches of Cape Ann and the two distinctive lighthouses standing in the distance. I still remember a couple of early evening clam bakes on the beach. Where’s Scotty (Star Trek)? I want him to beam me back. 

Bookends: (1) Sitting in the New England woods on an old wooden bench with Robert Frost’s book in your hands is heaven, especially if you hear your children giggling in the distance as they chase each other around the old Grist Mill. (2) Stay in touch with the ones you love. (3) Recognize great mentors and keep them in your life.     

Day 13 – Lovely, Livable New England

Sean’s Journal: I’m on the road again and love it. I’ve been on the New York State Thruway (I-90) and now I’m headed across western Massachusetts. I’m glad it’s still summertime. Upstate New York and Massachusetts are beautiful with dense woodlands, rolling hills, quaint towns, beautiful farms, etc. I spent last evening in Albany, the capital of New York State. It is a beautiful city with many historic and modern structures. This morning, I visited the Empire State Plaza. There are beautiful reflecting pools, The Egg performing arts center with the historic New York State Capitol and museums nearby. I strolled about for a while and realized I should probably spend a full day in Albany just being a tourist. The city is situated on the Hudson River. Albany and Boston are truly historic cities. Please read up on Albany.

Awesome Albany. I had breakfast at a quaint colonial style restaurant. The Albany restaurant options are endless. I sat at a counter next to a couple of businessmen. We chatted. One was visiting from out of town. The other fellow was a local entrepreneur. The “out-of-towner” said that one of his favorite business trips was to make multiple New York stops in the fall starting in NYC with a super-scenic drive up I-87 to Albany. If I wasn’t planning to visit Newport, Rhode Island, after Boston, I’d love to take that route south. Next trip. The other fellow, who was local, raved on about the quality of life in Albany with its easy access to New England. These guys were upbeat about the U.S. economy.

Old Sturbridge Village. My route is taking me through Springfield, Massachusetts, then on to Old Sturbridge Village (OSV), a living history museum recommended by Vince. From what I’ve read, OSV is one of the best places to get a feel for early 19th Century colonial life in New England. Marie told Vince to tell me to go directly to the bakery for fresh-baked cookies. This is what V&M’s children most remember. It was their first stop once inside the village. This is one of those places where life gets back to basics with live exposure to farmers, artisans, bakers, blacksmiths; and to the livestock that sustains the local families. I know that life back then wasn’t easy, but there is a homeyness and warmth about such an early village that isn’t often found in today’s modern villages and certainly not in the city suburbs. Here is the must-study link: https://www.osv.org/

My journal includes many handwritten notes with brochures and other info stuffed inside. My mobile phone holds priceless photos. It was so fun today to talk with families who had come to soak up the OSV history and charm. Many were so happy to get away from the city to smell the roses literally and to get away from the television barrage of worrisome news and worldly stuff. 

Beloved Marlboro Home. Next, I came to Marlborough (or Marlboro), Massachusetts, where Vince & Marie and their family lived from 1973 to 1981. Vince mentioned earlier that “he left his heart in New England.” Yes, he and I love the rugged beauty of Utah, but there is a pastoral quality to New England that is hard to beat with the super-dense woodlands draped across the hills with ribbons of small and large rivers everywhere, plus the colonial style homes and community buildings. It looks like a Masterpiece Theater movie set. No wonder they call it New England.

Where Vince, Marie, and children lived happily in the woods of New England.

As I arrived in Marlboro, I was starved. I stopped at Vince & Marie’s favorite Italian restaurant right on Route 20 in Marlboro. The name’s changed, but I think it was the right one because the pizza is almost as good as Chicago pizza. I found a campground for the night and then drove straight to Vince and Marie’s old neighborhood that is called Miles Standish Estates. Here is a photo of the last home where they lived in the late 1970s, where they learned to love New England. The yard is filled with large trees. They tell me that the yard backed up to the state forest where their children could roam the woods and explore nature. I can certainly see why they loved this area. Tomorrow, I’m headed toward Boston via one of the V&M family’s all-time favorite places, Longfellow’s Wayside Inn on the historic Boston Post Road. Tomorrow, I’ll attend church and then head to Boston and the coastal areas to the north.   

Vince’s Response: Well, Sean, you bring tears to my eyes. When we lived in New England, we had six children under the age of 12. They were lively yet well-behaved youngsters. Marie and I were blessed to be their parents. They didn’t yet have teenage distractions, so they were quick to jump in our Ford Country Squire station wagon and go wherever Marie and I chose to go. They would troop along behind us, except for the youngest who was in Marie’s arms or on my shoulders. Our favorite place to eat out that was family-affordable and also near the Wayside Inn was Friendly’s ice cream parlor. We still remember a favorite flavor, “Burnt-Almond Fudge” or something close. Yum, yum. Sometimes when we entered the restaurant, one of the clerks would remark, “Are these all yours?” I think some of them still thought we should be part of the ZPG (Zero Population Growth) movement back then. We were proud to declare that every one of the six good-looking and well-mannered children were ours.

Dear Friends. I would also mention one special neighbor family (they’ll know who they are) who just happened to be from Utah and came to live next door to us at one point. They were a mighty special bunch. One vivid memory is of our two families canoeing together down the famous Concord River. I believe we even saw a re-enactment of the Battles of Lexington and Concord or at least there was a group of Redcoats marching along the river bank. We have treasured memories of our activities with this family.      

Oh, Wayside Inn. After ice cream, we’d go to the Wayside Inn. I’d sit amidst the mighty oak trees on an old bench with one or more of the children, where Mr. Longfellow and his occasional visitor, George Washington, might have sat. The children would romp around the old Grist Mill. Marie would usually be keeping an eye on things as I soaked up the history of the place. This is where I left my heart.

Bookends: (1) The colonial history of our nation’s beginnings is full of struggles and triumphs that we should all learn to appreciate. As one marvelous lesson in American history, watch the HBO mini-series, John Adams. (2) Home is where the heart is and where it once was as you savored life and enjoyed your loved ones. 

Day 12 – True North

Sean’s Journal: KOA at Erie, Pennsylvania. What a fun campground. I didn’t want to leave this morning. Shady tent site. Nice showers and swimming pool. As I prepared breakfast, I said good morning to the busy family in the next campsite. They appeared to be mom, dad, a teenage son, and a 20-something daughter. As I loaded my plate with pancakes and sausage links, they invited me to bring my food and come share their picnic table. I was very appreciative. They are headed east to Albany, New York, where they live, so they helped to fill me in on the sight-seeing options that lie ahead. The young woman was eager to engage me in conversation as she posed a surprisingly deep question. She asked, “Do you believe we should rely on technology or God to save the world?” She went on, “My techie brother here believes that God is a myth and that everything he needs to get through life is in the apps on his mobile phone. Since you’re headed to a religious site in Palmyra, what do you think?” Wow! What a question. 

The Profound Question: This was my simple and spontaneous answer to the young woman’s profound question: “I wonder who inspired those who created the apps? Perhaps it was the same great intelligence behind the winged-flight of birds and the colors of wildflowers and the sublime power of an elephant. As awesome as a mobile phone is, it would not be ‘mobile’ or work at all if it didn’t have a lithium battery. I wonder who stored all the lithium under the altiplano of Bolivia and helped humans to discover it. Personally, I choose to just wonder in awe at the world and everything in it.” Finally, the mom spoke up and said, “Sean, I’m glad we met you. We don’t have a clear answer to my daughter’s question, but you have given us a new perspective that will be helpful as we travel on together.” I thanked them and returned to my campsite to get ready to hit the road.          

I stopped briefly at Presque Isle State Park with a beach on Lake Erie. I had to at least see the big lake. This area has a very colorful history going back to the War of 1812, and way back if you include the history of Native Americans. One thing I’m discovering is that there are beautiful lakes, woodlands, and campgrounds clear across our great country. Watching the kids playing on the beach was fun.

Niagara Falls Coming Up. As I continue my journey, I realize that I’m getting farther along faster than I thought I would. I either need to slow down and stay at some spots longer or accept that I am accomplishing what I set out to do rather efficiently. The people, wherever I meet them, are more important than the tourist attractions. Instead of describing Niagara Falls and Palmyra in detail, I’m going to rely on you, Vince, to post a photo of the falls and perhaps a link to the websites for both the falls and Palmyra, so our readers can go there and soak up the details as they wish. After Palmyra, I’ll drive through beautiful countryside on my way to Albany where I plan to spend the night. I’ll have time to reflect on the “technology vs. faith in God” question.

Although not the biggest or highest waterfalls in the world, the Niagara Falls are one of the most famous! Please note the double-deck tour boat with tourists in orange life vests.

Niagara Falls. The falls are spectacular. There is an amazing human buzz all around these, so meet the international tourists, especially. Here is the link. In the menu, first click on “Niagara Falls State Park,” then click on “Amazing Niagara Facts” and “History.” Enjoy and learn: https://www.niagarafallsstatepark.com/.    

Palmyra, New York. This is a religious site of great importance to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (formerly known by the nickname “Mormons.”). Those of all faiths recognize spiritually-gifted leaders and prophets. Christians rely heavily on the words of many prophets as found in the Holy Bible. Latter-day Saints believe in the Bible. After all, the New Testament is the closest thing we have to a biography of Jesus Christ. What makes the Latter-day Saints unique is that we simply believe in continuing revelation directly from God. In Palmyra, the latter-day prophet, Joseph Smith, was an instrument of God to restore many precious truths to the earth and to expand upon these as further guidance for God’s children in these modern times. Here is an initial link to LDS sites in New York: https://history.lds.org/article/historic-sites/new-york?lang=eng.

The Question. I think that most humans probably consider whether there is a “true north” for life, a source of wisdom greater than our own with guiding principles to help us feel safe and satisfied as we travel along. I learned in Scouting how potentially life-threatening it can be to travel through the Utah wilderness without a compass. While the high-tech capabilities of GPS are powerful, these may sometimes be less reliable than to use an old-fashioned compass that does clearly point to true north. I believe there is a greater true north that is meant to guide and comfort humankind. It is the knowledge that we are each more than a collection of protoplasm with a brain. We are spiritual beings. As William Wordsworth wrote, we came “trailing clouds of glory…from God, who is our home”—our true north.

Vince’s Response: Sean, I don’t have much to add. You have communicated deeply significant things in your heartfelt journal entry. Let me say, “Amen.” BTW: What is the meaning of “Amen?” I heard the story of one little girl kneeling beside her grandfather as she said her prayers. When she finished, she looked up and asked, “Grandpa, why do we say amen?” With his spiritual insight and some high-tech wisdom, he answered, “My dear, I’ve helped you write an email on the computer. You remember that, when it’s done, we hit “send” using a special button on the keyboard. When we say a prayer to God, saying “amen” is like hitting the “send” button so that it goes on its way to Heaven.”

Bookends: (1) Camping out is a great opportunity to meet cool people, and to check out their high-tech camping gear. (2) The Niagara Falls are a heavenly wonder right there in New York. (3) Life is better and more successful with a compass. (4) We thank God for the lithium stored up for our mobile phones. 

Day 11 – Light, Despair, Hope

Sean’s Journal: Hello Dad & Vince. Dad, I appreciate our phone conversations. I’m glad to hear the new home is coming along and my sisters are doing well. As an FYI, I keep some rough notes of the routine happenings of the day, but this blog forces me to identify the highlights of my journey and to write these down more coherently.  I hope it’s working. BTW: Ellen and I are staying in touch via text and a couple of phone calls. I like her philosophy of life. 

University of Notre Dame. As I head across Ohio, I realized that I had missed something in my hurry to cross Indiana. On I-80/90, I was just a little north of the South Bend area where the University of Notre Dame is located. Utah football fans and teams know The Fighting Irish. I thought about my mom and wish I had stopped to acknowledge her and this great Christian institution. Anyway, at a rest stop, I visited UND online. It is a great school.

Northeastern Ohio. With the Cleveland area on my horizon, I remember two things about northeastern Ohio. Vince, you told me about the tough times many communities have experienced since the 1980’s in what was then called the “Rust Belt.” I’m sure these folks hate the term as the same area was once America’s manufacturing heartland. However, there are plenty of old factories that are closed and rusting away. Secondly, I have also done some reading about Ohio’s serious problems with drug addiction. I decided that, if I want to know what happiness means to Americans, I’d better do a reality check on one of the areas of the country where folks are struggling with multiple socio-economic factors. 

I took a detour from I-90, south via I-77, and eventually headed back north via State Highway 44 to get to the Kirtland area. This proved to be a true heartland tour. I drove down to Akron, then Canton, and through the small towns along my way there and back. I stopped and ate at a couple of local cafes, not the fast-food spots. The crowds were very diverse, both culturally and economically. I heard everything from emerging optimism to downright despair. The saddest thing was to sit with a couple who had lost two children to drug overdoses. Some folks were angry at Washington politicians. Others hold out hope that a better America is on the horizon. The older folks do feel left behind considering the great jobs many of them once had. The global, high-tech, economic transition is truly difficult for some communities. These circumstances remind me of many rural counties in Utah. It makes me sad. The drug situation is to me “the enemy within.” It appears to be as great, if not a greater threat, to our national health and even “homeland security” as are the issues of border control and immigration.               

Kirtland Temple. I got to the temple late in the afternoon. It is such an important historical site for Latter-day Saints. I’ve always known of the great events and the struggles that took place at Kirtland during the founding of our church. It is still a puzzle to me that we don’t own the temple, but I understand that The Community of Christ who own the temple do share our reverence for this special place. The temple grounds are beautiful. It is a conservative building architecturally speaking, but its simplicity is inspiring. When inside the various temple rooms, I could feel the Spirit of the Lord whispering to me that I was standing in a holy place where the Prophet Joseph Smith and others had conversed with the Savior and the prophets of old. The visions described in Doctrine & Covenants, Section 110 are amazing.

I had some dinner in Kirtland and then drove further eastward to find a campground for the night. I found a nice, family-oriented KOA at Erie, Pennsylvania. It was late. I wanted to stop just short of Niagara Falls where I’ll spend a good part of tomorrow. Then, as you might guess, I’ll head to Palmyra, New York. I’m certainly looking forward to this and to the drive across upstate New York.

Vince’s Response:  I have always admired the University of Notre Dame based on what many people have told me about it over the years. It’s great that you took note of its location in Indiana. Our family has never been to the Kirtland Temple or to Palmyra. You are about to do two key items on our “yet-to-do” travel list. I have often meditated on the sacred visitations at the Kirtland Temple. These make it one of the most hallowed spots in modern times in all the world. Your plans to visit Niagara Falls sound great. Our young family stopped there as part of our eastward move from Southfield, Michigan, to Marlboro, Massachusetts. It was a very cold spring day. Our four little tykes were restless. We saw the great falls and the famous mist rising above them, but we didn’t do the tours. BTW: My business travels took me to Canton, Ohio, in the early 1990’s. I could keenly sense the economic transition going on back then. God bless those folks who have gone through sort of a time warp. I’m sure the Ohio state education system is working hard to help folks find new paths forward.    

Sean, the Chronicler. By the way, so I don’t forget…. I think you’re doing a great job of reporting on your fantastic journey. As I am the author of the blog, you have allowed me to bring my writing skills to the process and to make some changes to the record, if needed. I rarely do more than to add a comma or perhaps shorten a sentence here and there. You have obviously taken your studies of the King’s English seriously. Good job. And, whew, you covered a lot of territory today. 

Bookends: (1) Congratulations to the University of Notre Dame for the great institution they are. (2) God bless those who live in the former manufacturing towns of the Midwest, Northeast, and elsewhere across the country. (3) The Kirtland Temple reminds me of the scripture in Amos 3:7: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” We certainly live in a time when we need the heavens to be open to humanity.   

Day 10 – Mustangs and Mashed Potatoes

Sean’s Journal: I decided to drive straight through from Chicago to Detroit to get there in the late afternoon. This gives me more time today, plus tomorrow to check out some of the Detroit area spots that are memorable for you, Vince. I appreciate your text last night with some general descriptions and details. I will count this all as Day 10.

As I was driving along, I heard a news story about a sad confrontation in northern Kentucky, just south of where I’m at. It occurred between some high school students and a Native American elder, and some other agitators who joined in. It makes me wonder what causes this divisiveness and hateful behavior. It seems that some of our fellow citizens have forgotten that we are all Americans.   

Vince, here’s my experience with your top two destinations. I know your kids loved the Detroit Zoo. I didn’t stop there. And, I wish I had time to travel north to the Oscoda area and the Au Sable River region where you said your family liked to vacation.

This is Vince’s 2007 Ford Explorer Sport-Trac. It’s got just 67,000 miles. It’s a smaller yet mighty truck (small V8) for hauling what I need to the back country that I love.

Ford Motor Company. As I drove into the Detroit area, I knew you began your post-college career at Ford. All I could think of was Mustangs. I think every generation loves that car. I first drove through Dearborn where I visited the Ford Product Development Center and the Henry Ford Museum. I talked with several Ford employees and asked them about living in Michigan and what made them happy. They told me that a clear day with blue skies was always welcomed and that Ford was still legendary for some of them even though the innovations of Henry Ford were so far distant in the past. 

I found a small motel in Dearborn for the night. Vince, I remember you telling me about your initial visit to the former River Rouge assembly plant in 1969; and that it was the largest manufacturing operation in the world back in the late 1920’s. I went there and took the tour. They reminded me that, in the beginning, the plant was a mile long with steel, glass, rubber, and other raw materials deposited on the river dock at one end of the plant as shiny new cars drove out the other end. Wow, that’s one-stop-car-making.

Southfield, Michigan. I drove through the neighborhood to which your family moved 50 years ago. From what you told me, I expected it to now be a modernized area with high-rise apartment buildings. It is still a quaint, homey neighborhood and all the beautiful trees live up to the street’s name. Generally, the Southfield area is a collection of industrial parks and shopping centers, but I can envision your little son and daughter walking down that sidewalk in front of your home as big sister tried to protect her little brother from the scary blackbirds. I saw a couple of people sitting on the front porch, so I pulled over to say hello. I told them I had a friend who used to live in the neighborhood, and I asked for their thoughts about life in Michigan. The couple I met are Michiganders and grew up in the inner-city of Detroit and then moved to Shagbark to raise their kids. They love the neighborhood even though the homes are now getting older.

Sign of the Beefcarver. At the end of my full day in the northern suburbs of Detroit, I went to find the restaurant you and Marie used to visit regularly, located on historic Woodward Avenue in the City of Royal Oak. It’s still there. Here’s the opening line on their menu: “Began in 1957, Sign of the Beefcarver is an Early American-themed cafeteria restaurant with waitress service.” And, Vince, the sliced roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy are out of this world. It makes you feel like you’re having dinner with early American settlers as they gathered for a neighborhood feast after a hard day’s work. The interior brick walls, the fireplace, the cast-iron cooking and gardening implements hanging high on the walls all add to the atmosphere. What a great dinner recommendation. What’s more, a group of twenty-something couples saw me all alone and asked me to sit down with them to eat. We talked for a long time. They enjoyed their favorite beer and I went through several rounds of ginger ale. They told me what makes them happy, from A to Z. They all love to travel. They went on about northern Michigan, including the Traverse City area and the Upper Peninsula. These are regions unknown to most non-Michiganders. I wish I had more time to go there. These young people were mostly involved in the high-tech companies that thrive in Southfield. They convinced me to nearly double the number of apps on my phone. I guess eating out, cool apps, and visiting the north country are their prime motivators. This ended a very good day in southern Michigan. Thanks, Vince.

Vince’s Response: Wow! Sean, you brought back memories. The Ford Mustang was introduced in 1964 just five years before we arrived in Michigan. I worked in what was then the Design Center where the earliest drawings and clay models of new cars were showcased for Ford VIP’s. I saw new Mustangs 3-4 years in advance of their public availability. Way cool!

Marie and I just Googled our old home on Shagbark Drive. We have very fond memories of that home as you know. We lived near the cities of Royal Oak and Birmingham where many of our church friends lived. That’s the area where former Michigan Governor, George Romney, and his family lived; where, now U.S. Senator, Mitt Romney, grew up. It was a great area to raise kids, which surprised some of our relatives who were worried when we first announced that we’d be moving to Detroit, which was known primarily for its large car factories and inner-city crime. We enjoyed our four years there. At Ford, I sometimes got teased about being “one of Romney’s boys.” He was the governor just before we moved there; and a good governor I would add. Thanks for your report, Sean.

Bookends: (1) Let’s pray that we get beyond being divided Americans and back to being united as fellow citizens of the USA. (2) The name Henry Ford should remind us of the importance of our country’s early industrialists and the economic foundation they laid. (3) Never judge a city or a state or any other place until you’ve lived there. (4) It’s hard to beat lean roast beef and mashed potatoes with gravy, as healthy as kale and quinoa certainly are.               

Day 9 – Chicago, Chicago

Sean’s Journal: Good morning, Dad and Vince. I have been excited to see Chicago. It’s the third largest U.S. city. I know something of its history, which is why I’m surprised that we don’t hear as much about it compared to San Francisco, Houston, and Atlanta for instance. What we hear are stories of urban poverty and crime. I found a good place to park my truck for the day outside the city limits. I grabbed my day pack and took the train into the city so I could skip the traffic and enjoy just walking around the downtown area and lake front. From my studies, I know that Chicago is a world within a city. I’m glad it’s summer and good weather. It is warm and a little humid here, given the proximity of the lake I’m sure. However, the nice breeze coming off the lake does compensate.

Chicago: The Chicago River, the DuSable Bridge, Wacker Drive, and Lake Michigan

The Chicago suburbs are “the suburbs.” It would take weeks to explore these. My impression of downtown is two words: stunning and grand. The old skyscrapers are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen and there’s the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) that everybody recognizes. Then, there’s the Chicago River that runs right through the middle of the city and connects with Lake Michigan. It’s spectacular. The lake front is a great place to stroll and people watch. I think the most serious interviewing of my journey will have started here. I’d need an addendum to Day 9 to report on everything. I’ll just keep handwritten notes and not burden the blog with all the details.  Here are some general highlights of today’s interviews with Chicagoans:

Presidents: They are proud of two presidents, in particular, who were “from Illinois” when elected president: Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama. Interesting coincidence, I think. President and First Lady Obama’s former residence in Chicago is significant for them. They are also proud to acknowledge that Ronald Reagan was born in Illinois. Other presidents lived here at some time in their lives.  

The Food and Much More: Most Chicagoans are very proud of their city and love the access to Lake Michigan and the downtown area. They love their legendary food. I couldn’t afford most of it, but I did get pizza and a Chicago dog. Both are “to die for.” The dog is a salad on a bun. Chicago pizza makes that of fast food chains seem like a gastronomic rip-off.

The City’s Image: The local people echoed my puzzlement about how Chicago is often portrayed these days. They’re tired of hearing news stories that focus on the city’s politics and the crime. The city’s parks, museums, theatrical venues, and waterfront attractions are remarkable. They point to the importance of Chicago during the westward settlement of North America. From the cowboy movies I’ve watched, I figured that all the beef cattle raised in America ended up here. Chicago is the continental midpoint for many things. It is historically America’s most important railway hub and a strategic port for Great Lakes shipping. It is a mighty city.    

Vince’s Response: I had the same reaction the first time I visited downtown Chicago. My work with three very important clients took me there: one of America’s prominent pharmaceutical companies and two major departments of the Illinois state government. I would need an addendum of my own to tell these stories. What sticks most in my mind is our family’s brief stop at the awesome Union Station.

I mentioned earlier that we had been living in Massachusetts from 1973 to 1981 when we ultimately decided it was time to take our family back to Utah to be near family and the wide-open spaces that I love. We bid a fond farewell to New England. If the famous singer, Tony Bennett, left his heart in San Francisco, I have discovered that I left my heart in New England. We had a most family-friendly home on top of a hill in Marlboro, Massachusetts. The yard was filled with large oak trees and backed up to the state forest. It was a magical place for our kids and a great home for our favorite pet dog, Smokey. Leaving him behind to head for the Amtrak station in Framingham, Massachusetts, in 1981 was a tearful experience.

Each of our children put a week’s worth of clothing and a few precious personal items in a backpack. We hopped into our dear friend, Pat’s, car and headed for the railway station. I remember our six (the first of eight) young children standing in line on the platform getting ready to board the train and spend the next three days whizzing and rumbling across our beautiful country. I remember three things about the train ride itself. It was a challenge to get six young children to sleep each night in their reclining seats. During the day, they loved to run up and down the aisle to the snack bar, with our permission mostly. And, what a cultural experience it was at each train stop along the way to see the doors open and a sea of humanity pour through. It was a delightful education for our suburban, Anglo kids to have people of such diverse backgrounds join and mingle with us as fellow travelers. It is important for me to note how friendly nearly everyone was back in those early 1980’s.

Then came the moment when we arrived in downtown Chicago. We got off the train and wandered through the impressive central hall of the Union Station. Our children were awestruck. We went outside and took a family stroll to the Willis Tower so the children could look up, up, up at the tallest building they had ever seen. I remember we had a good lunch somewhere and the children enjoyed stretching their legs. What a wonderful moment. 

Sean, I love your positive reactions to Chicago and the summary of your interviews. Most of us know very little about our fellow Americans who come from such varied backgrounds and who live in such diverse circumstances. From the rich in their downtown Chicago penthouses to the poor in the older neighborhoods, there is such a contrast of human conditions. Life’s an adventure. God bless us all. Sean, I know your next major destination is the Detroit area where our young family lived right after college. That’ll be exciting for us both. I might have to convince you to spend a couple of days in Michigan. Our interim texts help us coordinate. Thanks. And, hello to your dad. “Hi Aaron.”     

Bookends: (1) Take the train when you can—local or Amtrak. (2) I think Lincoln and Obama would agree that the availability of great pizza is an egalitarian thing. (3)  Everybody, put a trip to Chicago on your bucket list.                 

Day 8 – True Love

Sean’s Journal: Wow! The Midwest is the place where you can set your car on cruise control and drive a straight line for 6-700 miles. I get a little sleepy. Thank goodness for music, apples, sunflower seeds, and a Pepsi or a Coke. A friend of mine once told me that he had the best steak dinner in his life in Davenport, Iowa. I can’t remember the name of the restaurant, but I’m sure the locals will tell me which one it is. It must be the wholesome grain they feed the cattle on those Iowa farms. So, a steak in Davenport has been my first target for the day. I probably won’t do justice to Des Moines.

One short memorable incident: I have reminded myself to “do at least one good turn daily.” I saw an older couple on the side of the highway in their vintage Subaru Outback. The trunk was open with a spare tire leaned up against the bumper. It turns out that the old fellow knew what he was doing, but he had misplaced the hand crank for the jack. I looked under the carpet in a far corner of the rear compartment and found it for him. He went right to work and didn’t seem to have any other problems. His wife thanked me.    

Vince, during the church services yesterday, I kept thinking about my Mom. It suddenly occurred to me that you’ve probably been wondering why I often refer to my dad, but I have not said very much about my mother. I think when we first met in the forest about ten days ago, we really didn’t discuss the true nature of my journey in much detail. You accepted my plan on good faith and I did the same about your involvement. I think we both agree that some cool conversation has occurred.

About my dear mother, we both remember the terrible wild fires that swept through the forests near Juniper and surrounding towns at the end of summer. Well, our family home was destroyed, and my mother and little brother were trapped inside and died. The firefighters couldn’t get to them in time. I guess I’m dealing with the great sadness I have felt by just moving on with life, including to do this cross-country journey.      

So, I ended my day by finding a Motel 6 in a western suburb of Chicago. It’s way cheap and it’ll do for the night. I didn’t think it would be safe to camp in the city park I passed. There were lots of homeless people there. I’m sure they would have shared some colorful experiences, but, “tough guy” that I am (smile), I think I would have been just a little vulnerable. My high-tech camping gear would have been very conspicuous. My heart goes out to those who have so little. I struggle to know the appropriate way to help. 

Vince, I hope to find a companion as loving and devoted as my mom. This is probably a good time to get back to my earlier question to you: How do I find the right one? I know you and Marie have been married for more than 50 years. You must have done something right.

Vince’s Response: You and I have been friends for just a matter of days. I even made some naive assumptions about how involved your journey would become or not. It’s turning out great. I feel that I know you, Sean, the kind of young man you are. I didn’t want to pry about your mom. I sort of figured that either something unfortunate had happened to her or, for some reason, your parents weren’t together. I am so sad to hear of her passing. During that wicked fire season, I was driving to and from the Juniper area, sometimes taking the long southerly way around to get to Juniper. From Interstate 15, I often saw red flames licking the skies from the mountain ridges in the distance. It was horrifying. I always hoped that no one died. At one point, the fires were raging about two miles south of our beloved Owl’s Nest. God bless you in the loss of your dear mom.

Sean, let me comment on just two things. First, your heading into Chicago reminds me of one of our grandest family adventures. When our six children were all under 12-years-old, we moved from our home in Massachusetts (where you’re eventually headed) back to Utah. We spent nearly three days on an Amtrak train with our kids as we traveled across the USA. I’ll tell you more tomorrow. 

Secondly, about finding the right one…. I met Marie at a church youth activity.  She was pretty and somewhat shy. I soon detected what a kind heart she had. Three days later at a college-sponsored dance, I fell in love with her. We knew very soon that our relationship was meant to be. The only way I could tell you that I knew for sure is that nothing ever seriously dissuaded me from loving her. Friends scoffed at our young age. I had a church mission yet to serve. She waited. We were married soon after I returned. We never doubted each other or the dreams we held for our future together.

Once when I was a teenager, I told my dear mother how I yearned to find an awesome girlfriend who would become my wife. She told me it was worthwhile to be patient and that she had a vision in her mind of a 5’5” brunette with a very sweet countenance who was waiting for me. I believed my mother and I recognized this young woman when we first met. Call it “love at first sight” or destiny or something that had its beginning earlier somehow. Let me take a familiar yet powerful excerpt from the poetry of William Wordsworth (1770-1850):

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar...
But trailing clouds of Glory do we come,
From God, who is our home....

Perhaps I knew Marie in that home. Obviously, this is not a checklist for finding the right one. It is a message of the spirit, because it is only your spirit that will know the right one when you meet her, not merely your palpitating heart or your mind’s eye will know. I’m sure you’ve asked your dear dad about falling in love with his angel.

Bookends: (1) Do a good turn daily. (2) Wildfires remind us that life is fragile. (3) Trailing clouds of Glory do we come.          

Day 7 – The Connection

Sean’s Journal: It says in Genesis that God rested on the seventh day. On Sunday, my family would usually go to church and then we’d either take a quiet hike in the forest or we’d take a nap. Often, we read the scriptures together and, if there were some neighbors who needed help or friendship, we would drop by to check on them. My mom loved to take everybody bread or muffins. 

This Sunday was a quiet day. I enjoyed the Lutheran “Divine Service,” which is what I think it’s called. I sensed some similarities with Catholic Mass. Of course, it is a more formal worship service than that of the Latter-day Saints. After the service, the Taylor family, took me to lunch. Our family generally does not shop or go to restaurants on Sunday, unless we’re traveling. So, I reckoned that I was a hungry traveler and could use the services of a dedicated cook to give me the energy to continue my journey. I said goodbye to the Taylors. Their son thanked me for telling him more about laminated auto glass and duct tape, which his folks may have already told him.

I decided that a restful thing to do for the rest of the day would be to go hang out at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) campus to meet some young people my age. Of course, anyone who follows college football and other sports knows the Huskers. The UNL campus is like most college campuses—impressive buildings and lots of trees with shady places to eat lunch outdoors. What I like most is the energy. Vince, this isn’t a thing about young versus older people, but it is cool to hang out with young people who are eager to learn and get ready for life. Except, I mentioned earlier the hang-ups some college kids do have these days. The campus was relatively quiet, but there were still plenty of young men and women to meet. Here are a couple of highlights.

I met a group of Air Force ROTC cadets. I love their blue uniforms. I told them about my great-granddad who was an Army Air Corps (later Air Force) pilot in World War II. I’ve always heard stories about his service in what was called the CBI, China-Burma-India theater. He was stationed in Burma (now Myanmar) and flew cargo missions over the Himalayan Mountains to deliver diesel fuel for the Chinese army tanks in China. The guys I met were very enthusiastic about their ROTC program.

Air Force ROTC cadets on their way to a base visit.

Toward the end of the afternoon, I met and chatted with different groups of college women. There was one who I really liked–maybe because she was from the Intermountain area. She lives in a small town near Twin Falls, Idaho. She was attending some special program at UNL and is regularly a student at Boise State University. She is very pleasant, smart, and attractive. We hit it off. Her name is Ellen. I told her about my cross-country journey and she said it could be the basis of a cool master’s thesis, if I planned to continue my college education. I showed her our Bookends blog. She loves it and is going to follow us, Vince, and tell her friends. She asked if she could text me some of her comments. Of course, I am happy to include her. 

Anyway, great day. I’m ready to move on. My next big destination is Chicago. I’m excited. I’ll be crossing Iowa and I’m sure there will be some cool encounters with my fellow Americans along the way. Dad, please give hugs to my sisters. Vince, say “hi” to Marie. I’m anxious to meet her when I return.

Vince’s Response: It sounds like our families both approach Sunday in the same way. Yours was a good day. That Taylor family will remember you and you them. UNL has a good reputation. One of my grandsons has spent some time in the Lincoln area. Apparently, the highlight of your day was meeting Ellen. Keep me up to date on your friendship. I’ve been to Twin Falls on business. I’ll tell you about it sometime. 

As for the Air Force, I have a son who is an officer and Air Force dentist and is enjoying his experience very much. Another son is a Navy Corpsman who provides medical support to the U.S. Marines. He has a good career going. The military is a great option for young men and women. As a business consultant, I have always been impressed with those who have served our country. My major clients hired veterans not only because they deserved the opportunity, but they came to the job with a sense of organization and self-determination that was often exceptional. Well, you’ll have pleasant dreams tonight of a Boise State coed and shiny jets flying off into that “wild blue yonder.” Have a safe trip. Don’t get drowsy on those long stretches of Iowa and be ready for the traffic in Chicago.

Bookends: (1) Sunday is a good day to rest from the hustle-bustle of life. (2) Go Huskers. (3) God bless the men and women in uniform who bravely serve our communities and our nation. (4) Last but not least, the right connection with a fine young woman can turn into something very important. I know.

Day 6b – Family Faith

Sean’s Journal: Well, my instincts told me that this day of connecting with people in meaningful ways was not over. I found a good campground with lots of nice trees. I parked, pitched my tent, and got out my Coleman stove. I fried a couple of Polish sausages with onions and heated up some Bush’s Baked Beans. Of course, I topped things off with an apple, some Oreos, and a pint of cold milk from my ice chest. As I cleaned up and began unrolling my sleeping bag, a family pulled into the camping spot next me. They got out of their van and we introduced ourselves. There was mom, dad, older sister, and a younger brother about 12 or 13.  Nice family.

The dad got back in the van to reposition it and, as he nudged up close to one tree, there was a loud crunch. The van stopped. Dad got out. I walked over as he and his family looked at a dented bumper and a shattered rear window. Not happy. The young boy immediately expressed concern that the window would easily fall out. I explained the laminated nature of automobile glass. The glass was shattered and looked like an intricate spider’s web, but it would hold together. The dad reassured the family that they would get the window replaced in Lincoln in the morning. Then, he stopped himself and said, “Oops, tomorrow’s Sunday, so the repair might have to wait until Monday.” My mind clicked. I offered to get my roll of duct tape and put some ribbons of tape across the window to help it stay in place. The young boy and I worked together to patch up the window. The family thanked me and then the mom turned to me and said, “We’re going to church together tomorrow morning, would you like to join us and afterwards we can buy you lunch as a thank you?” I said, sure.” They asked me if I belonged to a church.

(Vince, you and I haven’t talked about religion. Folks might automatically think that, being from rural Utah, I am a Mormon. I could assume the same about you with your large family and all. I’d like your thoughts on religion.) Anyway, I told my new friends that I usually attended The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They smiled and said, “Cool, a Mormon.” I smiled. They said, “We’re Lutheran. Can you attend church there?” I said, “Sure.” We all proceeded to get ready for bed. The older sister had started a campfire and the family stayed up a little longer to roast some marshmallows.    

Vince, here’s my situation. My dad was born and raised as a “Mormon” in central Utah. My mom, Angelica, grew up in Mexico and was raised as a Catholic. Her father was an American who worked for the U.S. government there. Her mother was of Spanish and Native Mexican heritage. Interestingly, my mom met my dad when he was on an LDS mission in her country. She and my dad always held a mutual respect for each other’s religions. She remained Catholic after they got married. Most Sundays, we would go as a family to the LDS church meetings in Juniper. About once a month, we would support my mom and attend Catholic mass at the St. Jude Mission in Ephraim, not far from Juniper. Every few months, if the weather was good, we’d drive over the mountains to Price, Utah, and attend the Notre Dame de Lourdes Catholic Church. I consider myself to be a Christian. In a world that seems to worship mythical, comic book “super heroes,” I consider Jesus Christ to be the supreme hero. I follow Him and his teachings. What about you and your family, Vince?

Vince’s Response: Well, Sean, this conversation is growing longer, but it’s an important one. By the way, the Lutheran religion is probably the second most prominent in Nebraska, next to Catholicism. Sean, I am a Latter-day Saint. I’m quick to clarify with others that the use of the word “saint” does not imply that those formerly called “Mormons” are perfect. As you know, the term “saint” is used to designate devoted followers of Jesus Christ. We do have saintly ambitions to be more like Him. I’ve got a ways to go, but I’m headed in the right direction. My family are mostly of the LDS faith, but not all. Our lives have been blessed by the teachings of our church and our fellowship with other Latter-day Saints over many years.    

Sean, as I have traveled extensively, I have gained great respect for people of many different faiths and philosophies. I believe that, while our religions may divide us, our faith should unite us. I have traveled in five countries where the people are primarily Muslim. I have studied the “Five Pillars of Islam” and find that these principles are helpful and not inconsistent with the principles I was taught as a Mormon boy. BTW: speaking of the Catholic faith, I am one who cheers on Pope Francis in his efforts to make the world a kinder and safer place for all God’s children to dwell; within what he has recently called a great “fraternity”—a brotherhood and sisterhood of which we are all a part. I do echo the proclamation of the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth….” Outside the realm of Christianity, there are many great and good souls whose ideologies are intended to enlighten and to uplift humankind. I am inspired by all those who walk by faith in concert with their own wisdom. I simply advocate that we all strive to keep God in the conversation. I’m sure you’ll report tomorrow that you enjoyed your Christian worship service with those devout Lutherans. Have a great day!

Bookends: (1) An apple helps the Polish sausages go down. (2) Always carry a roll of duct tape. (3) While our religions may divide us, our faith should unite us.

Day 6a – Heartland

Sean’s Journal: Hi, Dad. Thanks for your update on my sweet sisters and the new house. I look forward to helping you put the finishing touches on our new home when I return. Vince, thanks for your perspective on the extremes of our American society. I hope things simmer down and our national leaders can reduce the divisiveness we feel. 

This morning, I traveled through Badlands National Park. I can see why they call it Badlands. The mountains look like a coarse saw blade, all jagged and pointy. The government shutdown has cramped my style a little, but the scenery is great. Some of my favorite movies have had segments filmed here: Armageddon, Dances with Wolves, How the West Was Won, and Thunderheart with Val Kilmer. Thunderheart is a fictionalized account of the Wounded Knee incident that occurred in 1973. It is one of those movies that seems all-too-real and not “Hollywoodized.” I am often saddened as I learn more about the historical struggles of Native Americans. If I recall, you’ve had some positive experiences with the Navajo Nation in Arizona where you grew up. Tell me more. 

The Not-so-Badlands

I’m taking Highway 83 south through Nebraska to get back to I80. I passed through a couple of cool Nebraska towns: Valentine and North Platte. In North Platte, I drove past the fire station where some firefighters were standing outside taking a coffee break. Thankfully, there were no fires to put out. I hung out with them briefly and asked what motivated them and how they felt about America. They felt committed to the safety of their community, but they are really frustrated by the government shutdown that is affecting local families. They think Congress should be able to disassociate the country’s routine operating budget from the building of a wall.    

This is going to be a long day of driving. I got some snacks along the way. I passed one large open area where there was a radio-controlled model airplane show going on. Apparently, this is a big thing in Nebraska. It’s a good way for Americans to get happy. I watched for a while. Very cool. It was getting late in the day when I decided to pull off the highway and into the town of Holdrege, NE. As I looked for a place to eat, I saw a family on the front lawn of their home all working to plant little pine trees. I had to stop. I asked them about what makes Americans happy. In unison, they replied, “Trees.” These were my kind of people. They went on to say that they had plenty of cornfields (which was obvious), but that Nebraskans needed to add their own trees. This was their family project for the evening. There was one of those cool, red, Nebraska barns behind their house.

This is Vince & Marie’s small barn at their Owl’s Nest among the pine and juniper trees they love.

So, this long day is making my journal entry long, but hopefully meaningful for you as it has been for me. This may turn into a Day 6a and a Day 6b, depending on what lies ahead this evening. My destination is Lincoln, NE. I’m going to stay at a convenient campground between here and there. So, goodnight dear family and my traveling buddy, Vince.

Vince’s Response: Wow! What a day. You’re “on the road” and doing your thing by learning what makes Americans happy. As you know, my son and I traveled that I80 route through Nebraska about three decades ago. It sounds like many things are the same—in a good way. The one thing I will comment on this evening is your curiosity about my experiences with Arizona’s Navajo Nation. 

I feel that I have a real affinity for Native Americans owing to three interactions I’ve had with the Navajo people and their culture. First, my maternal grandma loved everything Navajo: rugs, pottery, and especially turquoise jewelry. She was a beautiful lady who had a great Arizona suntan and very dark hair that she often wore in a long braid hanging down her back. I think she looked like a Navajo chief’s wife. She loved the Navajo people.

Secondly, during the summers, my dad hired a cool Navajo man named Don to help with the big summer projects on our small 20-acre ranch in Phoenix. He was about 40 years old and had experienced some challenging situations back home on the reservation. I was just a teenager, but he and I would talk about life. I would cheer him up and he’d do the same for me as I struggled with being a teenager. We formed a true man-to-man friendship.

Later in my life, after Marie and I moved back to Arizona for a time, my youngest son and I would travel to Chinle on the reservation to do community service projects sponsored by our church congregation there. We had many positive shoulder-to-shoulder interactions with the Navajo people. The highlight of one trip to Chinle was to have one of our friends give us a personal, official Native American tour of Canyon De Chelly National Monument. Google it. This is one of the most beautiful, serene, and spiritual places I have ever visited. So, thus my affinity for the Navajo people. We’ll share some more about your evening and the new day ahead. That’ll be Sunday.

Bookends: (1) Pray for our government leaders. (2) Discover Native American cultural treasures. (3) Plant trees!        ­­­­               

Day 5 – Intergenerational

Sean’s Journal: I am enjoying a second day at Mt. Rushmore. Dad, thanks for last night’s phone call. There are so many historical exhibits here and good snack foods, especially the ice cream. The place is a gold mine for chatting with tourists and National Park Service employees. Vince, I had an especially good chat with one older couple, about your and Marie’s age. They had just bought a small motor home. The older gentleman said he’d been to Mt. Rushmore years before on a business trip, but that his first goal with their new RV was to bring his wife here. They were really enjoying the views and the ice cream. I asked them what made them happy as Americans beside the ice cream. They told me that they longed to see our nation become more unified. They are proud to be Americans, but they see too many special interest groups each trying to reshape the country in their own image rather than to help Americans find common ground. They said the word “extreme” seems to explain everything going on—extreme sports, extreme reality shows, extreme political ideologies, and extreme lifestyle preferences of many kinds.

Apparently, some group is now rallying against “abusive language” that might offend animals like saying, “That guy’s as dumb as a mule.” I would think the guy might be offended, but apparently mules are also offended. It seems to me that the whole idea of “political correctness” has gone to the extreme. 

Extreme can be awesome
or over the edge.

Vince’s Response: [A few of my blogs are a little longer than others, but hopefully worthwhile.] About “political correctness” and those “extremes” of our society… We Americans have a real balancing act to do. We want everybody to have equal opportunities and for no one to get offended by anything. We also want everybody to be allowed to express their own unique points of view whether these are offensive to others or not. Sort of contradictory.        

Let me talk about things that are “inter-generational,” about finding the balance between that which is modern and that which is old-fashioned. It is important to note that each human gets to be young once and, if she or he is blessed to stay healthy, each person gets to be old once. Each older generation hopes the younger generation will still understand where they’ve been. Each younger generation wants to be “free to be me” and to reinvent everything. To address that older couple’s concerns about “extremes,” let’s talk about food and being polite to animals. Let’s go fishing.

Remember: The Andy Griffith Show, one of the highest rated of the 1960’s. There are two TV personalities whose names will eventually fade into oblivion sometime in this new millennium. And yet, the father and son duo of “Andy Taylor” (played by Andy Griffith) and his son “Opie” (played by Ron Howard) can warm our hearts as we appreciate the simple things of years gone by. Andy, Opie, and beloved Aunt Bee live together in the delightful yet mythical town of Mayberry, North Carolina, (sort of resembles Juniper, Utah, once upon a time). One of the most lovable scenes is to see Sheriff Taylor and his young son whistling and walking down the trail carrying their fishing poles on their way to the river to go fishing. 

As a boy, I used to love to go fishing with my dad in the Montezuma Creek on the Mogollon Rim near Payson, Arizona. I loved to find little sand-crusted grubs under the river rocks. The fish love these and one of them on a fishing line, with hook and sinker, placed in the right dark fishing hole in the otherwise bubbling creek was sure to land a beautiful rainbow trout. As I fished, I had visions of that trout cleaned-up, salted, and frying in a pool of real butter over our campfire. It would be accompanied by cottage fries smothered in ketchup, coleslaw, and some A&W Root Beer. Yum, yum. Nowadays, the salt and butter have come to symbolize high blood pressure and cholesterol. BTW: It’s now Diet Root Beer. And, as times changed, I began to hear of “catch and release” fishing, which helps to preserve fish populations and yet is still a sporting opportunity for avid anglers.  Ultimately, modernism has crept in with another new extreme… I should probably be concerned to not prematurely traumatize the fish by talking about hooks, sinkers, and frying pans in their presence. Thus, I no longer go fishing. It has become too complicated. BTW: I don’t think I’ve ever insulted a mule and I think trout is downright healthy to eat just like salmon where many Eskimos live, since they don’t have easy access to a Whole Foods grocery store to buy plant-based protein alternatives.

I think we need to pursue worthwhile causes to protect our world, each other’s constitutional rights, and our health while also recognizing the rights we each do have to choose alternate lifestyles and to live according to our own values and family traditions. There is an old saying: “Live and let live.” This would seem to be a valid variation on The Golden Rule.    

Finally, it’s a fact, real ice cream is probably not good for your physical health, but it sure contributes to my emotional health. Enjoy that ice cream. Those lovely milk cows feel self-actualized as they provide us with such delicious, protein-rich cream. And, certainly, be nice to cows. They truly are smarter and more sensitive creatures than we often recognize. One cow probably looks at another, as they both watch us eating ice cream, and says, “Hey Bessie, we made that.”      

Bookends: (1) Extreme is exactly that, extreme. Taking extreme positions on political and social issues can be polarizing and divisive. It often precludes the benefits of teamwork. (2) The philosophy of “live and let live” may result in fewer wars abroad and at the dinner table. (3) Finally, ice cream is magic.

Day 4 – National Shrine

Sean’s Journal: Vince, I must say that your views on marriage and family sound a little old fashioned, but then I read about the low birthrate problem in Japan and how their population is aging so rapidly with serious consequences. It certainly seems that love, marriage, and making babies have made the world go around since the beginning.

The South Dakota barbecue is delicious, and the loaded baked potatoes are to die for. I met some great down-home folks and some Asian tourists. The local Dakotans wanted to know the details of my journey and I was happy to tell them my plans, but that the adventure had only just begun. The Asian tourists wanted to know why Americans no longer like immigrants when we used to welcome them. And, they asked me why our president has started international trade wars. I did not have good answers for them except to say that we still like immigrants, but we prefer that they come into the country legally. These tourists seemed to be enjoying America, especially our ice cream. They were friendly to me. I enjoyed asking them about their countries, China, Japan, and South Korea mostly. I was proud of our four presidents and told them my reasons. They were very interested.

And, I do love the giant rock sculptures of the four presidents. I’m awed by the sheer effort it took to create these. This place is not only a tribute to some of our greatest presidents, but it is a national shrine that is worthy of a pilgrimage by all Americans. I’m glad I came here. Vince, I think I’ll be spending part of tomorrow here in the Custer City area. Then I’ve got quite a journey through the Badlands and beyond. I plan to head south and east to reconnect with I-80.  I have one other thing to discuss with you.  I’ll send a separate journal entry in the morning before I hit the road.

Vince’s Response: About Rushmore, patriotism, tourists, and ice cream.  I love them all. Marie and I enjoyed that magnificent monument to great American leaders. It is about patriotism and love of country. We appreciate the tourists who come along to boost our economy, providing we have reservations in advance at the campgrounds (smile). Tourism is the coolest of industries. As we travel, we learn so much about the traditions and customs of other cultures, most of which are more advanced in years than our own. In some cases, these cultures may seem outdated, but in other subtle ways these may be more sophisticated than ours. For example, I’ve got some arthritis. Aspirin is a relatively modern western invention used to treat arthritic pain. But, lately, I’ve experienced more benefits from turmeric that has been in use in Asia for millennia.

Marie and I are keen to learn more about Asian cultures. Many of our grandchildren are learning the Chinese language at school. After I “retired,” I spent four years as a substitute K-12 teacher. One of my favorite classes was a roomful of third graders who were being taught in a total Chinese immersion environment. They spoke and sang in Chinese throughout the day. One young boy was my “teacher’s assistant” to translate my conversations with the children. I was utterly amazed at how beautiful the Chinese language sounds when sung softly.    

Bookends: (1) Patriotism is gratitude. (2) Tourism is awesome. (3) Turmeric is worth a try. 

Day 3 – Ribbon of Love

Sean’s Journal: Dad/Vince, this morning on my way to Mt. Rushmore, I got to thinking about family. Dad, you and the girls are always in my prayers. This all makes me think about my plans for marriage. I do want to find the right woman and get married. I know my parents had a good relationship.  And, Vince, you need to tell me more about Marie and your life together.    

BTW: The pick-up has been running well. Midday, I stopped for a meal at Burger King. I know it’s “fast food,” but I love the smoked taste of a Whopper and they’re cheap. I got that new sandwich with double meat, cheese, bacon, and jalapeños. Oh yeah! I’ll get a salad for lunch tomorrow, I promise. The restaurant was crowded, and a young couple invited me to sit down with them. It’s quite interesting that, after my thoughts about marriage this morning, our lunch conversation turned to a discussion of their plans and a struggle they’re having with “being in a relationship” versus the idea of getting married. We had a good chat. They sound a lot like the couples back at college. It seems that their biggest concerns are: how much money should they have in the bank before they settle down and, if they have kids, just how much will parenting detract from achieving their personal goals. I look forward to getting Vince’s wisdom on this. I think he has quite a few kids and grandkids.

I decided to spend the night in Custer City, near Mt. Rushmore. I found an old motel that is clean and cheap. I feel like I need a mattress and TV tonight, so I’m livin’ the good life. I’ll be heading into town for some South Dakota barbecue, could be buffalo. I’m sure there’ll be some potential journal entries, but I can’t promise these will all get written down. It will be fun to just hang out with the locals—cowboys and tourists, I presume. Not to worry. You know that I know how to have some good clean fun and when it’s time to leave the party, I do. 

About geography and the countryside, southern Wyoming was rather stark. And, I already know what to expect in Nebraska: farm houses, red barns, and corn fields. I’ve never been to southwestern South Dakota. It’s beautiful…mountains and lots of pine trees–my kind of country. I’m proud to be an American.

Vince’s Response: Howdy, pardner. I read your journal entry last night. It was succinct and straightforward, and I’d like to include most of it in my blog post. Yes, southwestern South Dakota is beautiful, and Custer City is the perfect stop on the way to Rushmore. 

About those young couples struggling with the idea of getting married or not, my thoughts will probably seem old-fashioned, but that’s what my bookend represents—the older voice of tradition and perhaps some wisdom. You know, I married a young woman I met my first year at college. As you know her name is Marie. When your young friends said they were worried that parenting might interfere with meeting their personal goals, I was intrigued. Wouldn’t it be a great personal goal to get married and have kids? That was my and Marie’s first agenda item as we fell in love and contemplated a future together. Our so-called personal goals would be to achieve fulfillment in life all wrapped around the dream of the family we hoped to have. We waited a couple of years before we “tied the knot.” Now, there’s a bad old metaphor. No wonder marriage sometimes gets a bad rap. I should say: “We waited a couple of years before we tied the ribbon of love, with our marriage vows.” 

As for the concern about money. Marie and I each had good scholarships. I had a job at the local Texaco gas station making $1.00/hour. Of course, the rent on our studio apartment was just $60/month. A year after we were married, a baby girl came to join us. There was no better incentive for me to be both frugal and ambitious than to hold my baby daughter in my arms. Marie and I, we two, were just a “couple.” With our daughter, our threesome was a family. I think, if Marie and I had waited to get pregnant until I finished grad school, got that first good-paying job, leased a BMW or a Tesla, and put $50K in the bank, we’d have a better financial portfolio today, but we would be poorer in ways money can’t measure.

I’ll be interested to know how your night with the South Dakotans and tourists turned out.

Bookends: (1) Marriage is potentially a most-worthy personal goal and not a distraction from your personal goals. (2) Have some good clean fun and leave the party when it’s time to leave. (3) Let’s all work to make our American pride a reality.      

Day 2 – The Pride Truck

Sean’s Journal: I spent most of the morning on I-80; mentally planning my trip as I drove along. I managed to cross southern Wyoming, which we both know can be a tedious trip. I should probably have been counting the windmills. Here’s the event of the day. I made a pit stop. As I was sitting on a bench relaxing, a big rig pulls up. The driver got out, came over, and sat down. We chatted—cool guy; obsessed with the name of his trucking company, Pride Transport. It’s a family business started about 40 years ago by Jeff England. I learned that the England family and the companies they have built are legendary in the transportation industry with a history dating back to the early 20th Century. Their success is a source of pride for Utahns. There is a deep commitment to customer service excellence that inspired the founders to choose the company’s name. I asked the driver if it is “for real” or just a slogan and what this “pride” commitment means to him. He replied, “Young man, you want to know about Pride? Step up and look inside the cab of my truck.” Dad, Vince, I have never seen a shinier, cleaner truck in my life. The driver told me of the expectations his management has for how he takes care of his equipment and cargo and the customers themselves. They are serious about taking pride in their work and I was inspired. 

Dad, I’m on I-80 near Kimball, Nebraska. There’s a campground just ahead where I plan to spend the night. I’ll text you when I’ve got my camp set up. After studying my map, I realized that I’m almost due south of Rapid City, South Dakota, and Mount Rushmore. I can’t pass that by. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to take a detour north via Highway 385 and pay a visit to those four famous presidents. Then, I’ll head east again through the Badlands and connect with I-90 and eventually head south and then east again along whichever Interstate or highway I feel inspired to take.   

Vince’s Response:  About that Pride truck driver, you won’t believe this, but in 1987 not long after Pride Transport was established here in Utah, my thirteen-year-old son and I were traveling across an eight-state region of the Midwest doing research on a book I was preparing to publish entitled Customer Astonishment. We pulled into a truck stop on I-80 and met the driver of a Pride truck who proclaimed his commitment to the company and its customers. I’m not kidding. These days, Pride trucks must cross Nebraska on I-80 by the hundreds and thousands. Call this déjà vu or whatever you’d like. Just like you, my son and I encountered a Pride truck nearly 31 years ago. The experience was providential to me considering the book I was writing. The Pride driver invited my son and me to take a closer look at his truck. We walked around its perimeter and then went back to the cab. He opened the door. I stepped up and looked in and then he asked my son to climb up and sit in his seat as he said, “Take a look at the floor. You could set your lunch on it and not worry. Next to my wife and kids, my country, and God, there’s nothing more important to me than the impression my truck gives to our customers.”

Sean, I’ve been on a journey very similar to the one you’re on now. The truth of things often becomes more certain when two or more of us have witnessed the same things. By the way, as you would imagine, I’m a big advocate of taking pride in your work. As a consultant, I’ve helped many organizations make the journey to world-class customer service. Sean, you’re already getting some input about your career decisions in terms of what kind of work people learn to love and what motivates them to do their best. And, BTW, sounds like a great plan to make that detour to Rushmore.  You’ll be glad you did. Marie and I have been there. I’ll tell you more after you’ve been there. Have a good evening and a great Day 3.  –Vince

Bookends: (1) Learn to love the work you do. (2) Take pride in your work and in the excellent service you provide to others.

Day 1 – On the Road

Sean’s First Journal Entry:  Hi Dad. Hi Vince. Today I felt that freedom we all feel when driving down the open road in Utah. I took a side trip up Juniper Canyon where I met a former business consultant named Vince. He was cutting logs from a White Fir tree to use as the base of a large picnic table he’s building for his grandkids. I helped put these in his pick-up truck.  He’s into solitude and loves the mountains and valleys of Utah. We agreed that being in the great outdoors can be a cure for just about anything. I think he’ll become an imaginary traveling companion along my way. Dad, you’ll always be with me—you and God. Vince is an author and is starting a blog. He asked if I would be willing to share excerpts of my journal to help illustrate what he calls the landmarks and lessons of life as viewed from both my early stage of life and from his old-timer’s perspective. He asked that I get your permission to do so. I trust him and perhaps our two-person dialogue might be a colorful way for the world to share what I’ll be learning in the months ahead. Dad, I am feeling happy.     

Vince’s Response to Sean:  Hi Sean. Thanks for exchanging texts last night. My blog has been launched and, as agreed, I’ll include entries from your journal and mine. Check out the blog at www.bookends4life.org. Let me know what you think. And, please thank your dad for his support. Before I forget, thanks for your help with the logs. You saved my back. I wish I could have hopped in your pick-up truck and journeyed with you. As I post our two blog entries, I will tie our perspectives together to represent the two bookends of life, with you energetically pushing forward in life and me providing some stability at the other end of life. Your sense of purpose combined with my wisdom could be downright powerful. I am looking forward to my conversations with you. Please keep at least one eye on the road and the other on your horizon. You’ve got a bright future ahead.

Bookends: (a) Identify your Life’s Landmarks & Lessons, (b) Develop your Sense of Purpose & Wisdom, (c) Remember: Being in the great outdoors can be a cure for just about anything.