William Least Heat-Moon starts off Blue Highways talking about February 17th, “a day of canceled expectations”. It was the day that he learned that his job teaching college English was coming to an end. A month later, he set out on the road, using the Interstate to put distance between him and his experiences in Columbia, MO. Perhaps I should stop and spend a little time in Columbia. I don’t believe I’ve ever been there.
I believe that the closest I got to Columbia was in 2000 when I flew into Kansas City, and then drove west to the Association of Internet Researchers conference in Lawrence, KS. September, 2000. I was still working full time for a large hedge fund. Kim and I were finalizing the details for our nuptials to take place in November. I don’t remember much about Kansas City, other than getting in the car and driving.
I don’t know if Least Heat-Moon spent much time in St. Louis, but I chose the city as my the first stop of my virtual trip. There are a lot of good websites to help find places to explore in a city, and I started with Yelp. Yelp describes itself as a “fun and easy way to find, review and talk about what's great (and not so great) in your world.” Their tagline is “Real People. Real Reviews”. It is the sort of site that I would expect travel writers to use as a resource.
At the top of the list was their write-up about Crown Candy Kitchen. Crown Candy Kitchen at 1401 St. Louis Avenue has been “A St. Louis Tradition since 1913”. The review that caught my attention simply said, “I had a butterscotch malt and it was awesome.” Another person pointed to pictures of Crown Candy Kitchen on Flickr. Roadfood, a site that Kim likes to check had a similar review.
From there, I checked Placeblogger. The idea of Placeblogger is to provide a good listing of citizen media on a hyperlocal scale. I read through several listings for St. Louis, but many links were dead, or not really relevant. Then, I stumbled across a very interesting link.
Four blocks south of Crown Candy Kitchen, the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group was having Rehabbers and Developers Fair. A block or so away in the other direction, the vacant, yet historic Fourth Baptist Church was destroyed by fire.
Another blog post led me to the North City Farmers’ Market. The farmer’s market is in its second year. It has a recipe of the week, when I visited the website, it was for collard greens. The website also describes how they accept Food Stamps.
I checked the list of vendors, which included The Burning Kumquat, “a low-impact, intensive garden on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis” and New Roots Urban Farm. They say, “On the most local level, we think each block or each neighborhood should have a localized food system that they create to meet their community food needs.” They are a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm.
With that, my virtual visit to North St. Louis comes to an end. I didn’t visit the Gateway Arch, the Budweiser World Headquarters, the St. Louis Cardinals, the St. Louis Zoo, or the Missouri Botanical Garden. I’m sure all of them would be interesting, but I felt that this small visit to North St. Louis was more in keeping with Blue Highways and the other great travel writing I love so much.
From here, I’ll try to wander in a pattern that somewhat follows the Blue Highways. I might backtrack to Columbia, or stop down in Lebanon, MO, pass through Mark Twain National Forest, or just head straight on over to Grayville, IL, depending on what I can find for good websites and stories along the way.
If you stumble across this story and you have some suggestions, be sure to let me know.
“Beware thoughts that come in the night.” That admonition starts off William Least Heat-Moon’s book, Blue Highways. He wrote those words a little over a quarter of a century ago as he set up on a 13,000 mile journey across America after separating from his wife and losing his job. I read Blue Highways years ago. It, together with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, On The Road with Charles Kurault, and Then Came Bronson, weave together into a dream I’ve had of going on the road myself, in finding out a little bit more about me, about the people around me, and maybe, just maybe, being able to say a word here or there that might help someone.
Ten years ago, my first marriage ended, yet unlike the great travelers I so admired, I had kids to be concerned about. It is hard to hit the road with an eight year old and a five year old. So I stuck it out at my job for another few years. I remarried and we had a daughter of our own.
My second wife and I met online and as I look back over the past ten years, while I haven’t had the opportunity to write the next great American Travelogue, I have traveled extensively online. I sit in a small office in a rented house just outside of New Haven, CT reading what people around the country write, writing my own blog posts and doing consulting here and there.
At night, I toss and turn, looking for that path which will set things right. I continue to dream of travels, but Fiona is now turning seven and my responsibilities keep me tied to this town. Then, one night, came one of those ideas that Least Heat-Moon warns about, The Long Blue Trail. I could trace Least Heat-Moon’s travels, perhaps mix in a little Kerouac, Pirzig, Kurault and others into a journey into cyberspace.
I could find pictures, videos and blog posts, following, as closely as I can make out, Least Heat-Moon’s trip. I could include some Google Maps or other content to help tie it together in a mix of hyperlocal citizen media, placeblogging, and simple posts from regular people.
I would follow the Blue Highways of Cyberspace, not the Interstates. DailyKos and Huffington Post, these are cyberspace’s Interstates. Everyone goes there. You know what you get when you stop there. No, I’ll search out the websites with no page rank, the millions of bent and narrow rural American cyberroads.
There is where the Blue comes from. The Long Tail part comes from Chris Anderson where he talks about all those websites that aren’t on the A-List, that don’t have high page rankings, yet make up the majority of cyberspace.
William Least Heat-Moon hit the road in 1978 in a Ford Econoline van that he had outfitted for the trip. The book didn’t come out until 1982. Things are a little different these days and so I’m starting off my journey a little bit differently. I’m writing it as I go and posting it online. It may be harder to monetize this way. It may turn out to be another one of those grand adventures where I make it to the edge of the virtual town, and after a few posts, lose steam and abandon it. We shall see.
So, I’ll start off by posting it as entries on my blog, Orient Lodge. If I get past a few entries, it will become its own category, then its own website and we’ll see where it goes after that. Wish me luck.