John DeDakis is the author of the Lark Chadwick series of mystery thrillers. You can find out more about him on his website www.johndedakis.com, or by clicking here, read his last post here, and buy his books here.
As I write this, I’m sitting at a makeshift desk (actually, a rickety table) somewhere in the boonies of southern Oregon. I’m 2,843 miles from my home in Baltimore, Maryland. My wife and I drove here.
This trip to see our son James is a work in progress. We’re making it up as we go, and still don’t know when we’ll be getting back home, or even the route we’re going to take.
My wife and I love to meander. We consider it a successful trip whenever we stumble onto an unpaved road. Don’t get me wrong: the Interstate Highway System is a blessing if you want to get somewhere fast.
As a young Army officer, Dwight D. Eisenhower first saw the need for such a system in 1919 when he was part of a cross-country military expedition from D.C. to San Francisco to assess the quality of roads in America.
Ike judged the highways to be a “succession of dust, ruts, pits, and holes.”
Fast forward to 1956 when, as president, Eisenhower signed into law the Federal-Aid Highway Act that paved the way for what would become a 48-thousand-mile concrete ribbon of controlled access roads throughout America.
For those of you with Interstate wanderlust in your heart, you can read more about Ike’s Interstate System here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_Highway_System
To me, however, nothing beats getting off the beaten path.
John Steinbeck did just that with his poodle in 1960, chronicling the experience in Travels with Charley: In Search of America.
Steinbeck’s influence on me goes back to an American History class I took at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1969. We read his 1939 Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath about the Joad family’s trek from Oklahoma to California along Route 66. The Joads represented more than three million people displaced by the disastrous dust storms that wiped out many farmers during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Not only did history come alive for me after reading that book, but so did fiction and the prospect of one day becoming a novelist.
Years later, I would also adopt Steinbeck’s practice of keeping a journal when writing a novel.
But I digress.
Come to think of it, though, that’s the point: it’s the detours that make the road of life interesting.
On this trip, my traveling companion isn’t a poodle named Charley; it’s my wife of forty-five years named Cindy.
If I were to do this trip on my own, I’d probably make it a point to get the pulse of the populace. Instead, Cindy and I talk with each other and listen at length to audio books (Michael Connelly’s Resurrection Walk; Fascism: A Warning, by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; and Ann Patchett’s Tom Lake—narratedby Meryl Streep).
Our travel strategy is simple: hit the road shortly after sun-up looking for a route that’s scenic and uncrowded. We end the travel day at sundown.
The United States is an amazing country. It’s vast and varied. Even the flat parts aren’t monotonous (at least to me).
In Kansas, Cindy and I found The Road to Oz. (Spoiler alert: it’s asphalt, not yellow, or brick).
In Colorado, we detoured off I-70 at Loma and went north along state road 139 to Douglas Pass near Rangely in the Roan Plateau of the Rockies. Each turn in the road revealed vistas more breath-taking than the last.
In Nevada, we spent an entire day on U.S. 50 nicknamed “The Loneliest Road.” The flat setting of the Great Basin never changed, but the mountains in the distance were always enticing.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this country as I’ve been traveling through it.
Just before we left Baltimore, my agent informed me that my sixth novel will be published in the summer of 2024.
It’s a political thriller. It begins as my long-time protagonist, Lark Chadwick, is facing the White House press corps on her first day as presidential press secretary. Lark is pregnant and the first question she’s asked on live television comes from a reporter with an agenda: “Are you, or are you not, planning to abort your unborn child?”
And so begins Enemies Domestic—a tale of murder and intrigue that will tackle not only abortion, but QAnon, White Christian Nationalism, and mental illness.
The book comes at a time when the U.S. is hurtling toward an election in which we’ll decide whether to preserve Democracy, or tilt toward Authoritarianism.
Yes. This blog post is like my road trip: a series of detours, meanders, and sharp turns.
The trip itself is also a metaphor: Roads connect and unite our nation. But, as drivers, are we navigating our life journeys in ways that also connect and unite?
We shall see.