Thursday, August 09, 2007

Arnie, the Darling Starling and the Great American Road Trip

As I have mentioned, I'm going on vacation very soon and I am most excited to have the opportunity to lounge in the Mediterranean sunshine with an Effes and a book or three. So, I'm having a hard time focusing on the three articles I have due tomorrow, and in an effort to get the writerly juices flowing, I'm going to chronicle my last thirty minutes for you. A winding, information-filled trip down memory lane thanks to that wonderful thing we call The Interwebs.

I'm writing a story about healthcare. So, it's hard to focus. So, in between takes I start reading the Frugal Traveler's latest update on NYTimes.com. How this had gotten past me for the last three months is another matter, but I clicked through to read the initial story - the departure from New York, and writer Matt Gross talked about the great American road-trip authors: Kerouak, Steinbeck, William Least-Heat Moon. Who? Who's that last one?

William Least-Heat Moon wrote a book called "Blue Highways" that tells of his cross-country odyssey in his van along the back roads of America.

It had been assigned to my 11th grade honors English class "back in the day", and I remember everyone bitching and moaning about reading this old man's book about driving around in a big van. My teacher seemed to think it was the greatest thing ever. Brilliant! Authentically American! A Tour-de-Force!

To be honest, I had little appreciation for the thing. I read it because I had to, and recall thinking it was "stupid" and "lame," but for some reason, it's been popping up in my life in various places lately.

Thinking about "Blue Highways" got me thinking about high school English, which made me wonder if it would be hard to find the email address of my AP English teacher using Google. So, I Google her name and our high school, and what comes up? A chart on a web site promoting open information flow in government pops up with the salaries of every teach and administrator in the school district! Weird! I felt oddly compelled to read the whole thing, feeling somehow shameful and dirty knowing how much our teachers made. Granted, that was more than 12 years ago, so they're doing pretty well across the board. But it felt like an odd intrusion into the privacy of people who I'd known.

Which got me to thinking about teachers and reading, as I had google-stalked an English teacher. In first grade, a student teacher read "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" out loud to the class. I can still remember her mousy brown hair and the look of the small book in her hand as we sat around her feet.

In fifth grade, we had another reading-aloud, but that time, it was a book called "Arnie, the Darling Starling," a memoir about raising a tiny bird that had fallen from its nest, and the life-long journey they took together. I don't remember much about that book, except that during that year the Keds that had comics that you colored in yourself were all the rage. (Like Crocs, according to the gap company's shoe outlet Piperlime.com. When an e-tailer tells you something is "all the rage", run.)

Arnie is out of print these days, but I do think I'm going to pick up a copy of "Blue Highways" this evening on my way home from work and give it another go. Perhaps with grown-up eyes, I'll finally learn to see what my teacher saw.

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