Editor's note: Illinois writer Doug Kamholz promised us travel gems, like this vessel from heaven at the Antique Boat Museum on the St. Lawrence at Clayton, NY. What we didn't expect was a primer on keeping your spouse happy on the highway while traversing swaths of America.
by Doug Kamholz
Of course you know the phrase “singing a different tune.” Well, that stuff’s about to get real. Fortunately you will not be subjected to my caterwauling; my lovely wife Sheila Walk cannot say the same.
OK, let’s say your traveling companion is less than thrilled at a multi-day car trip. What to do? This was the riddle I had to solve. My first attempt was heading southwest from our Illinois home to Henderson, Nevada, just outside Las Vegas. (For some unfathomable reason we thought Fourth of July would be a dandy time to go to a desert).
This trip would cross five state lines: Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and then the state of inescapable blistering heat. So with a couple days of sharp-eyed shopping, I assembled five appropriate gifts including an Eric Clapton CD (long before his COVID nuttiness) and a bubble gum baseball card featuring pitcher Bob Walk who may or may not be her relative. Each time we entered a new state Sheila got a gift. Sometimes it was only a couple hours until the next gifting; sometimes it was the next day. But it worked!
A few years later we were heading to California (or for our purposes, eight states away). By this point in our marriage, Sheila had found the command “NO presents!” to issue previous to all my gallivanting. So I needed a new tact. When we crossed into Iowa she received the first of eight envelopes. Each one had a state’s name on the outside. Each one contained a piece of prose or a poem with our new state as a theme. Our last crossing, for example, brought forth a bit of history on the ill-fated 1846 Donner Party in part because it stepped off from Springfield, as had we. (Both wealthy Donner brothers, George and Jacob, farmed near here.)
Going west worked well, too. I recommend this for traveling companions who are not the principle drivers and who tend to repetitions of “Are we there yet?”
Last fall was going to be a challenge. The destination was Acadia National Park on the coast of Maine. Now we are up to nine state lines plus a bonus to be revealed later. What to do? What to do?
Well, as you can deduce from the opening paragraph and my theme for this month’s Moxie, it was going to be a new song for every new state. Not just any song, but one that used the name of the state we were entering. I was off to the internet when Sheila was not around.
Here goes. (With some exceptions, I felt obligated only to sing enough of these tunes to get to the name of the state. I do love her, after all. And the sooner that state name appeared, the better.)
Cruising east out of Illinois into the Hoosier State, I had the quickest way to deliver my first mini-concert: “Gary, Indiana, Gary Indiana, Gary, Indiana,” I warbled in my best Professor Harold Hill Music Man/con man voice. Three Indianas in the first six words.
Later in the day, Sheila heard, “Why, oh why, oh why oh / Why did I ever leave Ohio / Why did I wander / To find what lies yonder” though in fact we had just gotten there. It’s from a movie with Rosalind Russell and Edie Adams, but I remember it best sung by Doris Day, a Cincinnati native.
The next day we cut to the northeast, hugging the Keystone State’s 40 miles of Lake Erie coastline. Crossing the border an hour or so out of Cleveland, Sheila heard, “Strike up the music the band has begun / The Pennsylvania Polka /Pick out your partner and join in the fun / The Pennsylvania Polka.” And I kept going long enough to include my favorite line: “Everybody has a mania / To do the polka from Pennsylvania.”
After overnighting near Erie, PA, and venturing to beaches on the far reaches of Presque Isle in the Great Lake, we pushed on to my one and only deceit. All these songs of all the other states were about a whole one fiftieth of the country, for example Indiana or Ohio. Certainly The Empire State offers such tunes. Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” comes to mind. But I cheated. This number’s New York really refers to our largest city. I cheated for a chance to sing the very first adult secular song I remember (and one appropriate from me to my audience of one):
Around the world I’ve searched for you
I’ve traveled on, when hope was gone, to keep a rendezvous
I knew somewhere, sometime, somehow
You’d look at me, and I would see the smile your smiling now