Mom and I graduated on the same day in December 2011, so naturally, we got to planning. Culinary school sliced and diced her hands, while an undergraduate degree sliced and diced my brain. The scene looked like this: sunlight shining through three kitchen windows, coffee wafting, dad reading five holistic health news articles as well as The Week simultaneously, Mom and I sitting across from each other with iPads open to Google maps of the world talking at light speed of potential locations to explore.
Mom mentioned her burning need to visit Graceland in Memphis and a light bulb exploded over my head; the good ol United S of A. Of course.
As Dad sipped his black coffee, I migrated to Mom’s side of the table to look at a zoomed in map of the states. It was clear that NY to SF might be the most boring route imaginable, so we each took the day to mull our itinerary views over. This route ensued:
NYC -> Cleveland, OH (Cudi, anyone?) -> Gary, IN (MJ) -> Chi Town, IL -> Indianapolis, IN -> St. Louis, MO (toasted ravioli) -> Nashville, TN -> Memphis, TN -> Natchez, MS (antebellum) -> New Orleans, LA (satanic action) -> Mobile, AL -> Tuskegee, AL (peculiar oil change) -> Auburn (had to see the U) -> Atlanta, GA -> Charleston, SC (mad history) -> Charlottesville, VA (Monticello) -> Hershey, PA -> home.
We waved to Dad as we pulled out of the driveway and headed straight to Cleveland, where I really thought I might bump in to Kid Cudi per chance on a street corner. #lawOfattraction. *Still holding my breath for my boo.*
Gary | IN
Conveniently, Michael Jackson’s childhood home was on the way to Chicago from Cleveland and since we were on a typical yet also, atypical USA road trip, we had to make the usual stops. Biggest hot dog weener in America, super Walmarts in the middle of the prairie, Michael Jackson’s kiddie home. We drove into the dilapidation that is called Gary, Indiana at midday and rolled around the streets slowly to get a feel. We locked the doors at a red light enveloped between barred liquor stores and absolutely dejected humans.
We got to Michael’s itty-bitty home that was essentially underneath a set of high school cement bleachers (strange, but urban planning is questionable even on a good day). We looked askance at each other thinking, are we missing something here? The neighborhood was made up of well-kept homes, but the visceral feeling of absence was striking. No one was outside, no cars sped by, no sounds of kids at the nearby high school — it was vacant. Were we in a parallel universe?
The obelisk-type structure sat on the front lawn of Michael’s house with kind words engraved from fans. We took obligatory photos that we later felt awkward about and deleted. Then, we scrammed! Didn’t even open the GPS,but instead just followed all the immense signs to Chicago.
Final note on Gary: Take a Peek & Keep it Chuckin
I get it, this doesn’t seem like a cool stop on a fun-filled trip. But if you’re like me, I prefer immersive travel to touristy hot spots. Gary is an expose of how much of America lives and has lived since the 1960s.
Let’s face it, Gary is one of the many midwestern cities that started as a result of the steel boom, about a century or so ago. As with most of these cities, white flight was rampant and left working-class, socioeconomically disenfranchised people of color in its wake. Unfortunately, Gary reminded me of what it must feel like to be kissed by a dementor.