Looking Back And Hopefully Moving Forward

I haven’t been around these parts much since the start of the year. The day job has in its own way been pretty busy, and while that’s a good thing on several different levels, it’s not so good for posting here on CC. I miss doing that.

Speaking of the day job, there’s something that I miss about that too, and in an effort to fight the old ennui, I figured I might share that with the CC readership…for whom I suspect this might resonate.

I hope.

A bit of background. For much of the past quarter century, I’ve worked as a sort of itinerant consultant. In my case that involves engaging in an ongoing portfolio of projects where my time has been spent visiting various far-flung work sites and then writing about them. These jobs largely relate to working with public school districts, colleges, and other educational organizations where I observe and evaluate their work related to various programs and initiatives. This work has taken me and my colleagues (I operate a small independent business that does this work) all over the U.S.. I’ve had projects in settings as varied as school districts in the greater NYC area, Indian reservations in Arizona and North Dakota, in schools virtually outdoors in the Caribbean, in learning spaces literally outdoors in Boston, and in secured NASA facilities in the deep south. To the present and most relevant point, nearly all of these projects involve some amount of driving. In many cases, a lot of driving in some really far-flung parts of the U.S.. As Johnny Cash said, I’ve Been Everywhere.

Until recently, that is. The past two, going on three, years I’ve pretty much been no where. For a variety of reasons, some obvious some not (and all wrapped up in the specific nature of this work and how it’s funded), I’ve spent just about all of the pandemic working from behind a computer at a desk. Fact is, this has been just about as gainful as when I was traveling to sites in-person; but of course it’s not the same. What I miss is seeing the places where I work as actual places and not just as faces of clients in windows on a screen.

Most of all, I miss the travel — mostly the driving — related to getting to all of those places.

Take for example a trip almost exactly five years ago to the place where Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee come together. This was a classic itinerary for me. Fly into Little Rock, rent a car, and spend four or five days driving around three states visiting schools. Return the car to Little Rock and fly home.

In this case, the car was a 2016 Mazda 3. Over the years I’ve come to love the randomness involved in never quite knowing what one is going to wind up with in terms of a rental car at the airport. Often there’s choice, and if so I’ll select something more interesting fron the live tank. This time, the rental lot (the big red one…it’s always that or the big yellow one) was lousy with Mazdas, and well I’ve always had a thing for their somewhat sporty small hatchbacks.

Yeah, “Forrest”…as in Gump. But not like in “National Forest Service”. And I wonder why spelling is a challenge for me.


What can I say? I love rental cars, in the same way that I love hotels. Both give you a perfectly legitimate opportunity to experience something different from your day to day life for a little bit of time without any of the real-world baggage of having to own the thing. As I’ve covered elsewhere on CC in my COAL series, I am solidly in love with my daily driver and am willing to spend endless knuckle-busting days keeping that heap of Bavarian steel resolutely on the road. But I equally love frequent three or four day stints throughout the year driving whatever sweet mysteries are dished up by the rental car lot.

I tend to feel that those two things are mutually reinforcing.

I am also well aware that many do not share my love of serendipity when it comes to cars and hotels. In fact, I seem to exist at the opposite end of a spectrum from those who hate travel precisely due to the need to drive and sleep in unfamiliar things. I get that.

No, actually, I don’t get that at all. But maybe that should be a different post in an altogether different place.

So there you go.

And so I went on that last most memorable trip back before nearly everything changed. Starting with…

It was my intention to head from the Ozarks into the upper reaches of the Mississippi Delta before looping back to Little Rock and the flight home. This itinerary would allow me to visit four different middle schools in Arkansas and Tennessee. All in all a very typical work trip for me.

As is often the case, my destinations require me to stray pretty far from the Interstate system. I’ve been blessed with work that generally requires travel to rural and small-city school districts. In this case, my first appointment was in Mountain Home, AR – a town that I’ve actually had more than one occasion to visit. Nevertheless, what’s Mountain Home, when signs point to an opportunity to visit…

Flippin! Surely there would be time to explore, and maybe make some connections at the

I might have chosen The Dolphins as a mascot. Fortunately, no one asked me.


Or perhaps to check out the

I’m sure they actually meant “Happy FLIPPIN Mother’s Day!”


As you might guess, I have a whole folder of Flippin sign pictures.  Just about filled up my flippin USB drive.  And so on.

Pressing on…with this trip as with most others, there’s always another back road.

Along which I will discover another national treasure such as the Trout Capital (presumably of the USA, although I suppose it would still be notable if it were “only” the Trout Capital of Arkansas).  Big state with a lot of water.  Kind of makes sense.

I love these trips not only because I’d never otherwise have stumbled into Trout Capital USA – not to mention the Trout Capital of Arkansas…I mean what are the chances of that? – but for the crazy variety of scenery and road conditions always waiting to be discovered just down the road.

New England has its share of interesting driving conditions, but I can pretty much drive the rest of my life here and be guaranteed not to run into a 10 mile long dust storm. So I can now check that experience off the list. This was when it had almost cleared and visibility seemed safe enough to take a picture without plowing into the suddenly appearing tail lights of an 18 wheeler dump truck carrying cotton or catfish (sure, why not?) or something like that.

Of course, that brings to mind the local cuisine.

Yeah, if you want soft serve and burgers, go see the Queen. Here at the King, we’re having steaks. And catfish. Dammit.

I wonder what they’re serving here.

On some trips, I focus pretty much entirely on capturing signs.

Old favorites.

Anything painted on a brick wall.

The nearly hidden and almost gone symbols of what was once commonplace.

The highly informative. (No, I didn’t. But now I’m a bit concerned as why I should be looking for SNAKE…PROOF….BUILDINGS!!….said in my best Samuel L. Jackson voice.)

The no-nonsense yet still somewhat mysterious.

The deeply historically significant.

This trip really did have it all. The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel was a surprise find once I got to Memphis.

I’m not sure how I feel about the 1959 Dodge (a Royal Lancer with lime green fins!) and 1968 Cadillac (with a kind of oddly puffy vinyl roof) that have been parked below the balcony where Dr. King died. I suppose the cars do good service evoking the exact scene captured in the famous news photo of that day in 1968 (when similar cars were parked in those same two spots).  But I’m not sure the cars do much to amplify the gravity and significance of the spot. Plus, they’re not holding up that well just being parked out there in the weather.

I don’t remember where I stayed that last night, after the work and the museum-going and the barbeque dinner (there’s always that or something equally local) was done; but there’s a good chance it was along some strip that looked like this. Where Mr. Fast Lube shares a sign with God and the corporate trademarks are familiar to every American who’s ever been in a car.

The next day it was another long and winding drive back to Arkansas and soon enough back home before hitting the road again.

Until that stopped 2.5 years ago. Like dead in the water stopped. Which is quite the thing. A thing that I’m sure many of you have experienced.

Fortunately, I have a million (well, several hundred at least) of these to remember, and so if this is all there is, because change happens to us all, so be it.

Except…does anyone here know anything about Norfolk, NE? It seems about 70 miles from the nearest Interstate, and if things progress so that I actually get out there to visit those fine folks before the year is out, I can’t decide whether it makes sense to fly into Sioux City or Omaha…

Yeah, things might just be looking up.