I drove about 9200 miles since leaving New Jersey on July 25th until I returned home on August 31st. That’s nothing compared to what Wendy Crockett did when she rode her motorcycle 11,000 miles in 11 days and became the first woman to win the Iron Butt Motorcycle Rally in 2019.
I traveled across America in my “safe and self-contained pod” keeping myself healthy as well as others who I encountered along the way. I found a way to get my film, Like A Woman out there along with it’s positive message about possibilities for women in the workforce. And I was able to do that at a very uncertain time. Along the way I created a little hope and inspired a few minds. This trip and journey has also renewed my own spirit.
Maybe I was looking for another lifetime. A life that felt safe and secure and predictable – kind of like my early childhood. Even as a young child I was a storyteller and a future explorer. One of my favorite things to do to amuse myself when we’d go for ice cream at the counter at Walgreen’s was to spin myself around on the stool and wherever the stool stopped was where I would travel to. I would assign destinations like Disneyland or Paris to different places the stool may stop spinning and of course I would favor some one destination over the other and I would drag my foot to slow the stool down to land exactly where I wanted to go.
As a freelancer photographer my entire life, I can’t really say that I felt my life was predictable. I have led a life that was traditional in some ways yet very flexible and extremely rewarding. So, when the pandemic hit hard in NJ last March, and everything stopped and we went into quarantine, I went into a depression like a lot of people I know. On top of that I had already been self-sequestered for 3 months prior, editing my latest film and was ready to release it when the world changed with no end in sight. After a few weeks of gloom and doom, I decided to do what I could do and took the film on the road in a safe and unique way.
The socially distanced outdoor screenings and tour of my film has been my motivation throughout this time and this journey. But I think I was looking for something more, maybe some sense of security and a little hope in going forward. And I thought that I wasn’t the only one seeking those things. I wanted to go back to a time when things seemed simple, away from the news 24/7, the social media platforms and other distractions. I drove across America at an unusual and unique time in history because I felt that is what I needed to do. It was a simple quest but I think the impact will live on.
I made a couple side trips along the way and one was to revisit Arthur, NE. I had shot a story about Arthur, exactly thirty years ago this August for Smithsonian Magazine. At the time Arthur County was the smallest county (population wise) in the United States. I believe it is the 5th smallest county today in 2020. At that time in my career, I was a people shooter and city specialist and almost turned the assignment down because I didn’t know what I would do or what I would shoot. I didn’t turn it down and it turned out to be one of the most gratifying stories I have ever worked on.
I finally did return to Arthur as I made my way across America, exactly 30 years ago from the date on the manuscript, which I had kept. When I drove into town on a lazy Sunday afternoon in August, it was like time had stopped and had been at a stand still for three decades. The town and the buildings all looked the same as they did in 1999 - the little bank branch, the café, grocery store, saddle shop - everything looked the same. But, there wasn’t a soul around, no pedestrians or vehicles in sight, all the shops were locked up tight and there was an eerie silence.
I felt like I had been immersed in a Twilight Zone episode.
As I walked down the main street in town and peeked into store windows, I could see that the shops were just closed for the day, because it was Sunday, traditionally a day of rest. It didn’t have the look like the shops and restaurants near me have after being closed for over six months. It felt like it was a typical Sunday afternoon in Arthur, NE. It also felt like Sundays used to feel during my childhood. In an odd way, I found what I had been looking for – a little calm and a sense of normalcy at a time of uncertainty.
In a way I was looking for another lifetime. It was there all the time.
I think we need to be the change that we want to see happen. That’s different for all of us. For me, I need hope. I can be very flexible like a feather in the wind – but I have to have something to look forward to. I will be forever grateful for this summer and the adventures that it brought to my life. The best part though was planting a few seeds of hope along the way. I think we need to dare to dream again.