A few weeks ago at this time, I had just settled in to sleep on my concrete-slab-of-a-mattress at the Super 8 Motel in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh (or the ‘Burgh, as it’s so affectionately called by locals). This was the beginning of my Eastern U.S. road trip adventure – a weeklong work trip where I was following around musician Matt Wertz to work our Mocha Club table at 5 of his concerts, where he would be promoting the organization I work for, African Leadership, and talking about his trip to Africa last year.
I left my husband in Dallas and flew to Pittsburgh. Seven days later, I had driven 1200 miles in my trusty silver Chevy Impala, from Pittsburgh…to Philadelphia…to Washington, DC…to Boston…to the grand finale moment in New York City: driving in midtown Manhattan traffic in a rain storm. Having survived this, I’ve decided that I am now invincible.
My little road trip was nothing less than eventful. By day, I clung to my Mapquest printouts, fumbled for money for yet another $5 toll (why didn’t anyone tell me you have to sell your firstborn to afford to travel the roads in the northeast?), downed Grande Lattes and huge bottles of Aquafina, and hunted for the rest stop that had anything to eat besides Nathan’s hotdogs or Bob’s Big Boy. By night, I dashed to the venue, and did my “thing,” which usually went like this: arrive 30 minutes before doors open, shove a quick bite in my mouth and set up the Mocha Club table to beat the incoming flow of concert attendees, listen to Josh Hoge, Mat Kearney, and Matt Wertz rock the freakin’ house down for a few hours, and then meet the precious people after the show who decided to sign up at our booth to donate $7 a month to help orphans in Africa. I had a conversation with Mat Kearney a few days into the trip, and he said that whenever he brings friends out on the road, they usually “hit the wall” after about 4 days. Sadly, for me, that occurred on day 2. How these guys constantly rush from city to city, not knowing what day it is or how to get around, completely disconnected from home, and then manage to sound genuine in front of a sea of yearning 20-somethings cheering their name is beyond me. I have no idea how they do it, but it’s amazing. But, every night as I felt like I had “hit the wall,” I was encouraged again as I shook the hands of these strangers who approached our booth, ready to sacrifice the cost of 2 coffees a month that will now feed a family of four for a month in Africa. Some of them had been to Africa…some have always wanted to go…some are going soon…and some will never go. But this common thread of sacrifice ran deep as these strangers turned into friends.
I made about a thousand memories on this trip, but listing all of them would make this post even longer than it's already going to be…so I’ll list my top 12 ☺.
1. In Pittsburgh, meeting the friendly waiter at Max & Erma’s, where I stopped to get a quick salad before hitting the road for Philly. This wonderful guy not only had a very realistic-looking toupee and the whitest teeth I’ve ever seen, but turns out he’s also a Christian, a theater actor, and an Africa enthusiast. Wow.
2. Spending hours of quality time with my long-lost friend, Lauren Gauthier, in her adorable quaint town of Barrington, NJ, just across the river from Philadelphia. Lauren and I lived in Houston together back in 2001 (which seems like a lifetime ago…) and then again in Nashville, but I hadn’t seen her in 4 years. One of my favorite memories of Lauren is that her apartment always smelled like Gevalia coffee and looked like a mini IKEA showroom. I’m glad to announce that, 5 years later, things haven’t changed ☺. I was awakened in the bright orange and red IKEA-decked guest room each morning by the scent of strong French Roast brewing and then spent priceless moments with Lauren discussing life over a few cups of that caffeinated goodness. I stayed 2 nights with Lauren, her husband Robert, and their adorable Ella (what a cutie!), reminiscing and talking about hopes, dreams, theology, and organic/natural living. What a treasure. Lauren and I also talked a lot about her method of natural mothering, which I would like to model one day. She gave me the link to this really cool website where you can enter in the health & beauty products you use to see if it’s a low, medium, or high risk for toxins. Very handy.
3. Being reunited with my second long-lost friend, Heather McCann, who went all the way from elementary school through high school with me in Madison, NJ. “Heather-Weather-Tough-As-Leather,” as my mom always called her, now lives in Philly, is in law school, and is engaged to a man named Steve. Ironically, Heather was not really “tough” at all - she was a beautiful dancer who always stole the show at Miss Myra’s yearly dance recitals growing up (where my mom was in the mothers’ class tap dancing performance). My fondest memories of Heather are playing Barbies together at our sleepovers until the wee hours of the morning (which once included butchering Skipper’s hair so she looked like a Marine – tell me, who didn’t do that?), stuffing ourselves with Doritos, Oreos, and real Coca-Cola, going ding-dong-ditching, and spending every New Year’s Eve together in high school…not drinking heavily, but instead giving each other makeovers that were so scary, we could have starred in Nightmare on Elm Street. Heather’s family also had this pop-up camper in their backyard, and for some reason that is still unknown to me today, we would often bake a cake, decorate it with some Duncan Hines vanilla icing, and then go back to the camper and eat it in its entirety. How about that for strange? But I can’t talk about Heather and not mention the most embarrassing memory of our friendship, which happened in 7th grade: our endless evenings writing stories for each other of what each of our lives would be like with our teenybop “fantasy men”: hers was Fred Savage, and mine was the blue-eyed, curly-haired member of NKOTB….Mr. Joe McIntyre, himself. There, I said it. Heather helped me out at the Mocha Club booth at the Philly show, and we had some nice bonding time. I wish it had been longer though! I love you, Heather!
4. Driving through Delaware and asking myself the question, “What IS in Delaware, anyway?” And realizing that the answer is: nothing. Absolutely nothing.
5. Visiting the colossal Whole Foods in Philly, where I found Energee Nuggets in various flavors, like Vanilla Almond, Mixed Berry, and Carob Banana. I got several of each and stowed them in my backpack to be savored one by one. Steven is lucky I had some left to share with him when I got home ☺. It was a gloriously beautiful afternoon in Philly, so I took a walk around this old neighborhood and found a “local” coffeeshop with free wireless called Mugshots, which was across the street from an old town jail. This wonderful place served organic food and drink, so I got a strawberry banana smoothie with organic milk. Yum.
6. Realizing about 30 minutes outside of Vienna, VA (the venue near Washington, DC), that I had to pee badly. Of course I kept passing the rest stops, thinking surely I could make it to the next one…and the next one…and the next one…until there weren’t any more coming up. So I sidetracked into the adorable town of Kensington, Maryland and marveled at the beautiful cherry blossoms! That was after I barraged the nearest Shell station’s bathroom, of course!
7. Staying with my third long-lost friend, Lisa Marie Adamo, in her Alexandria, VA apartment after the Vienna, VA show. She lives in one of those neato urban high-rise apartment buildings that I’ve always seen but never actually been inside of, and she graciously gave up her “space-foam” bed for the evening so I could have a good night’s rest! Sweet Lisa Marie. We talked till 2am, catching up and viewing her very impressive scrapbook of family genealogy. Turns out we both have grandparents who came to New York through Ellis Island from Sicily. Italian girls unite. And that leads perfectly into memory #8…
8. Realizing I was back in my home state of Jersey when I saw a very large Italian man at the rest stop on the Turnpike wearing a maroon velour sweatsuit with the top completely unzipped and hanging open and nothing…no, not even a shirt…underneath.
9. Getting lost during morning rush hour in an utterly confusing maze of signs that led nowhere and streets that made zero sense whatsoever...otherwise known as our nation’s capital, Washington, DC. In the movie The American President, they say that DC was built to be confusing so people invading the city would get lost, and only locals would know the way. Well, I’ve got news for you, DC: I’m harmless. But I did have to ask 3 cops 3 separate times how to get back to the interstate, and after 1.5 hours of wandering in circles, I finally found it. Sweet victory.
10. In stark contrast, let’s talk about Boston, my new favorite city in the entire U.S. of A. ☺. Before this trip, my only previous experience with Beantown was a written vow that my friend Kristin and I made in 9th grade to drive there one day with the purpose of meeting Joe McIntyre (yes, yes, I was obsessed). My first few moments in the city, and what an introduction it was….the concert venue was literally 10 steps across the street from Fenway Park! It was glorious, shining in the evening sun. But please don’t tell my diehard Yankees fan brother, or he might never speak to me again.
11. The other major highlight of my time in Bahh-ston (besides being fascinated by the accents) was my lovely night’s stay in Beacon Hill with Susan’s sweet cousin Farrah. Farrah lives in a charming studio apartment in this historic neighborhood, and I simply fell in LOVE with the area. We had so much fun. It started off a little rocky that night after the concert, as we had to drive in circles for 30 minutes to find a parking spot for my rental car. You see, in Beacon Hill, if you don’t secure your street-side parking spot by 6pm, you’re out of luck. And there aren’t any alleyways or other little spots you can steal. The streets are narrow, extremely steep, and the cars belonging to people who live in the brownstones are literally parked a few inches apart. In other words, you ain’t findin’ a place to park…and anyone who owns a stick shift needs God’s special blessing. I’m so thankful Farrah was in the car with me, or I would have gotten towed for sure. Me: “OOOH, Farrah, I think I finally found a spot here.” Farrah: “Uh…no…you can’t park here. This is Senator John Kerry’s house.” Woops. That would have been bad. (So that’s why there were guys in black suits standing outside...) Well, we finally found a parking garage near her street that allowed me to park overnight for the lovely cost of $32. Yes, you heard me right. $32 for 12 hours – that’s enough money to provide malaria medication for 90 children. We were thankful for the spot though, and after pulling my suitcase and backpack across the 4-lane-road and up a hill that would have made San Francisco proud, our midnight cardio workout entitled us to some delicious Chinese food delivered by Speedy Wong’s.
The next morning, Farrah gave me an amazing whirlwind tour of her neighborhood in the crisp jacket-weather that was more reminiscent of fall than early spring. With coffee in hand, we strolled past all the lovely brownstones, each with a different door, window after window of adorable boutiques, flower shops, outdoor cafes, the Public Gardens that Farrah gets to pass through every morning on the way to work, and the picture-perfect Beacon Hill Chocolates shop that was not yet open, but the sight of which immediately turned Farrah into a 4-year-old girl. “OOOOOOH, I’ve always wanted to look inside this place,” she said as she hoisted herself up on the doorjamb to see inside the window. I took a pic through the window as a keepsake. Farrah, I sure hope you’ve enjoyed a luscious dark chocolate truffle from this shop by now! Needless to say, I left Boston reluctantly.
12. My last and final stop was good ole’ NYC, where I stayed with my dear friend, Tara Leigh Cobble. Love me some TLC, and this was my first time to see her life in New York City since she moved from Nashville. New York suits you, Tara Leigh! I mentioned previously that I drove all the way through Manhattan in a rain storm to her quaint apartment in Greenwich Village. Tara Leigh was excited to see that I was wearing her “Trees Are Cool” t-shirt to the concert that night, which we’re demonstrating in this pic…ahem. The next morning before my flight back home to Dallas, Tara Leigh put on her galoshes so we could walk to the brunch place, an eclectic Ukraininan diner called Veselka, which was strangely decorated with painted wooden eggs lining the shelves along the walls. Here’s her adorable sad face because I’m taking a picture of her in this crazy outfit. After brunch, we returned to Tara Leigh’s apartment to grab my luggage. As I stood there in her 4-square-foot kitchen, I was admittedly weary and ready to return home to my life of familiarity. Although I’d gathered some great memories (and lots and lots of Mocha Club signup forms to process!), I had been a vagabond, completely self-sufficient for 7 days straight. I had complained to myself time and time again about the lack of sleep, about the rain, about the hard bed. Yet, the point of this trip was not for my own pleasure or comfort, but for the children in Africa who would love just one meal and any kind of bed to sleep in. I paused for a moment and thought of all the moments when I was driving and felt pretty scared and alone. And then I thought of all the blessed people God had put in my path who reminded me that I was not alone. Just then my eyes glanced at a magnet on Tara Leigh’s refrigerator, and I got a little teary-eyed. It said…