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On the Road

Author: Wendy Wayt
Date of Trip: July 2012

Jeronimo and I met in Paris when we were 18. I was doing the backpacking-through-Europe-after-high-school-graduation thing that was popular in the 70s. Jeronimo is Spanish and I’m American. We both spoke some French. We traded addresses and kept in touch.

When I was studying at UT Austin, Jero came to visit me a couple of times. Then I spent two whole summers in Spain, visiting him, his family, his friends. In the 80s we both married (other people) and had kids. But we kept in touch through letters, then email, then phone calls. In 2005, after about 20 years, I went to Madrid, and stayed with his mother for a month. Almost every day I had dinner with Jero, his wife, and two teenage kids. It was great to reconnect after so may years.

Last Spring Jero separated from his wife. I suggested he come to visit me and take a road trip with me. I was thrilled when he agreed to fly to San Antonio, Texas where I now live.

I wanted to plan a wonderful American experience for my friend. In San Antonio I always enjoy playing tour guide. And it’s extra cool that San Antonio history is also Spanish history, with our Spanish missions and other landmarks left from the days of the conquistadores. We visited all those places and attended a mariachi mass at Mission San Jose.

Later we went to see “Asleep at the Wheel”, a Texas swing band, at Gruene Hall, one of the oldest Texas dance halls still standing. We danced on the wooden floor (and sweated a bit because the place still has no air conditioning.). The band was great as always and it was a very memorable evening.

Our road trip started out in Texas, of course, which is so big (roughly the size of all of Spain), it takes a whole day to drive through it. We had Texas barbecue for dinner in Texarkana. Jero wanted his picture taken between two photographs of John Wayne.

The first night we stayed near Hot Springs, Ark, so walked around Hot Springs the next day. The whole country was experiencing a heat wave. Hot Springs was 107 that day. But we enjoyed the Promenade path and climbed up the mountain to the lookout tower for the views. Hot Springs is in the middle of a National Park. Then walked the main street and went through one of the old bath houses that is now a museum.

That evening we drove up to the little town of Mountain View, Ark and heard local musicians play their version of country/bluegrass in the town square – a uniquely Ozarkian experience.

We made our way up to Chicago, a city both of us had been through, but had never spent time getting to know. Through airbnb we rented a room from a couple who lived near a train station. The train system in Chicago is called the “el”, short for “elevated train”. So after finding ourselves saying “el el” (the el, in Spanish ), we had fun playing with other phrases around that: “Estamos paralelo al el”. Say that fast five times.

In Chicago we heard a free concert in the park downtown next to Lake Michigan. Jero got to hear “Carmina Burana” live for the first time. Later we walked over to the lake and watched fireworks. It’s very easy to get around Chicago without a car, something I love in a big city. So we took buses and trains and walked everywhere we went for three days. We walked through different neighborhoods and to one of the many beautiful Lake Michigan beaches that are right in the city.

We took the archectural river tour with a professor of architecture as our guide – well worth the cost. Downtown Chicago is a forest a buildings of many different architectural styles, including some very unique specimens, such as the Marina City twin towers.

Leaving Chicago, we went around the bottom of Lake Michigan, and up toward Traverse City, Michigan. My mom has a cottage on Lake Leelanau on the lovely Leelanau Peninsula. Our stay in Michigan would take up another whole review. Let me just say that northwestern Michigan is beautiful and full of things to see and do. One of the things Jero and I did up there was to attend a Native American powwow of the ottawan tribes.

So I hope my friend Jeronimo feels he had a unique and uniquely American trip this summer. I sure did!

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