That familiar old American road


[Flashback to ten years ago: Based out of a Volkswagen Vanagon, Rolf takes some journal notes during his first vagabonding journey — eight months around North America — in 1994.]

After a couple months of living and writing on the American West Coast, I took to the road again last week to visit my family in Kansas (and deliver a 1984 Chevy Celebrity — my ride for the last couple months — to my sister). Starting in San Diego, I took I-8, I-40 (which covers the route of the famous and defunct US 66), and US 54 to Wichita. It was great to drive across the American West — a journey I always enjoy. In fact, the drive brought back a lot of memories, most notably of my original vagabonding journey — eight months around the USA and Canada — exactly ten years ago (see photo above — that’s a 1985 Volkswagen Vanagon, lovingly dubbed Taco Grande Con Queso, that a friend and I modified for the journey). I’ve covered a lot of ground since then, but I never tire of the open spaces of the United States.

I’ve enjoyed my time in Kansas, though the sweltering humidity here reminds me why I enjoyed San Diego so much. I’ve been staying in the same neighborhood where I grew up, and I’m surprised by how little it’s changed. It’s still populated by older working-class families and young middle-class families. Neighbors bring by vegetables from their gardens, the kids are polite, and lots of people fly American flags. Not a very hip place, by coastal standards, but I enjoy visiting.

Later this week I plan on visiting my farm in northern Kansas, which I co-own with my sister and her family. As is always the case when I visit, I will be confronted with the question: Should I build a house there? And, if so, when? I’m still addicted to my peripatetic life, of course, but I’ve always enjoyed the idea of having a home-base — at least for seasonal stays. Of course, building a house might require more time and money than I’m willing to spare right now, but I enjoy the fact that the option is there.

Though I’m only in Kansas till the end of the month, I have no solid plans for what comes next. In all likelihood I’ll return to San Diego and Baja for the rest of the summer and fall, with an eye to heading back to South America by winter. A lot of this decision hangs on what publishers think of my latest book (it’s vacation time in publishing-land, so I might not have a definite game-plan for a couple more months). I’ll make an announcement here when I know what’s up with that. In the meantime, give me a holler if you find yourself in Kansas!

Posted by | Comments (9)  | July 15, 2004
Category: Rolf's News and Updates

9 Responses to “That familiar old American road”

  1. Jeremy Corn Says:

    My wife and I just moved back to Kansas from the coast of North Carolina and I know what you mean about the lack of “coastal hip”–but I do have to say it is great to be near family as our little daughter is now seven months old. I first came in contact with your writings through the anthology, ‘A House Somewhere’ , and have enjoyed reading your stories on the website. Where in Kansas are you staying?

  2. Rolf Says:

    Thanks for the good words, Jeremy — here’s hoping you’re enjoying things back here in the Sunflower State. As for me, I’m splitting my time here between Wichita and Saline County up north.

  3. Jeremy Says:

    I will be in Wichita visiting family next weekend (7/24 – 7/26) and if you are interested, maybe we could meet for lunch? There is a great Lebanese restaurant that I have been going to for years over by Southeast High School called N & J. Let me know — Monday the 26th works best for me.


  4. Rolf Says:

    I’ve never heard of N & J, but it sounds good; since my family lives on the west side, I’ve always gone to Byblos (on 13th St.) for Lebanese food. Whatever the case, I’ll send you an email when I get back to my laptop early next week and we can work out details…

  5. Jen Leo Says:

    Thanks for the update. I hope you will consider a pit stop mid August up in the Bay Area for the Book Passage Travel Writers Conference.
    If you get here Aug Wed August 11 you can come to the launch of Michael Shapiro’s Sense of Place.

    BTW, have you reported on the homesteading stuff that was in National Geographic? I tried to look it up online but couldn’t get in. I’ll have to go to the library now.

  6. Rolf Says:

    Hey Jen — Sorry I’ve been out of touch of late. I’ll check into options for August and keep you posted. Email me with the exact dates of Book Passage and what kind of social events you have in mind. I might be able to fit it all in when (in all likelihood) I road-trip back to the West Coast next month.

  7. Tonya Says:

    The Vanagon — what are your thoughts on it, experiences with it? Did it work well as a rudamentary mobile office (if applicable)?

  8. Rolf Says:

    I’m not sure how the Vanagon worked as a mobile office, since my ’94 journey went down years before I owned a laptop. I did most of my journaling in college libraries and Waffle Houses, though (as you can see in the photo) I occasionally jotted in my notebook from the shotgun seat.

    As for its performance, I thought it ran great. And, once we took out the back seats and built in a fold-out bench for sleeping at night (pictured folded shut and covered with a blanket above), I thought it was just as (or more) functional as a Westfalia for a long-term journey.

  9. Tonya Says:

    Thanks for the information – we’re comparing various camper-vans and gathering some opinions. I appreciate it.