Swimming Upstream

05 Alex Jack sleepingLinda Burton posting from Albany, New York – The cats are snoozing but I’m busy. Today I’m wrapping up 80% of the Journey Across America as we end our stay in the 40th capital city. For the last two months, I feel like I’ve been a salmon swimming upstream, going backwards in history. In Saint Paul, I learned about Pigs Eye Parrant and Lucien Galtier, two names that are part of the city’s beginnings. Pigs Eye moved west from Michigan; Father Galtier came from France by order of Rome and only stayed long enough to establish a church and push for the city name of Saint Paul instead of Pigs Eye. Remember them? In Madison, I learned about James Doty, who came from New York; he lived in Detroit before he bought the land that he platted into the city of Madison; then he 05 sailboats madisonworked for Wisconsin statehood. (Wisconsin is still miffed over the fact that a huge chunk of land to the north belongs to Michigan, even though it is not connected to Michigan, but is a part of Wisconsin’s geography.) From there I continued east to Michigan, and Lansing, (where that huge chunk of land is justified in the land divvy-up because “Ohio got the Toledo Strip, so we got the Upper Peninsula!”). Lansing was settled because in 1835 two slick-talkers scammed some folks in Lansing, New York, who then came and settled that part of Michigan and named their new city Lansing. Meanwhile, down in Ohio, 05 Schuyler houseColumbus was settled by miners and farmers and entrepreneurs coming in via the National Road from Maryland, and a lot of former New Yorkers. Now I’m in New York; here everybody talks about Henry Hudson; Dutch names such as Van Rensselaer and Schuyler are on every post; and events of the 1600s are common conversation. History is a long-running soap opera. And I love it!

05 Lori MapBut the Journey isn’t just about “As the World Turned,” it’s a “Today” show too, a “Good Morning America.” I haven’t focused on the old stuff alone; I’m also looking at what is there now, and listening to the people I meet along the way. “Why do you live here?” is my most frequent question, followed by, “Tell me what you like best.” Lori Lanspeary had plenty to say on that subject. Lori is “family” – she is a Board Member of Capital Cities USA who lives in Lansing, Michigan; her official work title is “Leisure Marketing Manager” of the Greater Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau. We had lunch together, of course, and a nice long visit catching up on our families and the Journey and everything else. But the best part of our get-together was watching her glow as she talked about Lansing. She chose to come to Lansing to live; she raised her sons in 05 Lori Linda LansingLansing; she works in Lansing and volunteers her time in Lansing. She supports the Spartans, helps out with events at the RE Olds Museum, and devotes time to Downtown Lansing Inc (Lansing is a Michigan Main Street Community). And of course in her job, she is on top of everything happening in Lansing on a daily basis. “A love affair with Lansing” is how she describes her relationship with her adopted hometown.

05 Sallie Dessert ColumbusSallie Johnson doesn’t work for the Visitors Bureau in Columbus, Ohio, but she’s in love with her adopted hometown too. My meeting with Sallie was a freaky coincidence last February; we both were traveling with cats. She was lugging Thurman to the car after an overnight in Columbia, South Carolina as she traveled from Ohio to Florida for some warm winter time; I was there for my two-week stay. We compared “cat notes” then, and promised to meet again when the Journey brought me to Columbus in the summer. And so we did, over a nice long lunch and some shared white chocolate raspberry cheesecake. I got her insights as to what it’s like to live in Columbus, which she loves because “it feels like home;” she got my insights on traveling. “Do you ever get lonely on your Journey?” she asked. “Never!” I replied. “I’m always meeting nice people like you.”

05 KilgoresThe nice-people list is adding up; people who live in a city, or maybe are just passing through. “Why did you come here to visit?” I ask. Beverly and Melvin Kilgore were sitting at an adjoining table at an outdoor restaurant in Lansing. I heard them speak when they asked for sugar for their tea and I knew right away they were southerners! Yes, they were from Alabama, recently moved to Lansing; and lo and behold, we decided we’re likely related somewhere back along those genealogical lines. Now, that was a nice afternoon. Remember Bettyann and Lisa I met on the tour bus in Saint Paul? They were cousins; one from Connecticut and one from Tennessee; they wanted to spend some time together and picked Saint Paul and the Mall of America for a visit. I met Tina and her husband Raymond on the Mississippi River cruise; they live in Saint Paul and the cruise was a Christmas gift from their children. Different insights; visitors, and residents. I met Kyle and his mother-in-law Judy on the Hudson River cruise; she lives in Albany but he was visiting from Georgia. Different insights; a visitor, and a resident. I never imagined I’d be talking SEC football on the Hudson River in New York with someone who lived in the small southern town where my second son was born. What are the odds?

There are the hometown folks I’ve met, who made me feel a part of the territory; like Jason, who owns Hometown Pharmacy in Madison (actually Sun Prairie, a suburb). He spent countless hours helping me resolve the issues about kitty-cat Alex’s medication changes; he called to see how the new dosage was working; my trust in his interest, and his skills, is 100%. Like Michael, at the hotel in Madison, and James, at the hotel in Albany, (the two nicest hotels on the entire Journey by the way, LaQuinta Inns, and I shamelessly brag on them both), and all the staff, doing everything they could to make kitty-cats and me feel welcome and at home, and taking care of everything we needed. And, of course, telling me all about life in their hometowns.

There are the visitors I’ve met, on journeys like mine; like Ken and Connie from Houston and Bruce and Gail from Atlanta. I met the couples on different days in the Albany capitol; in for a tour. Both couples had just been to Columbus and both were headed for Montpelier, Augusta, Concord, and Boston next, just like me. What are the odds? Great discussions about traveling, and why we love seeing new places, especially capitols, and what our favorite places have been. So far. We agreed we were clever travelers, scheduling New England for the fall; enjoying the Great Lakes states in the summer.

Great Lakes states. Minnesota has a Lake Superior shoreline; Wisconsin does too, plus miles and miles of Lake Michigan’s shores. Michigan borders Lake Superior (thanks to that Upper Peninsula chunk!), Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Erie; hence the well-deserved claim to more lighthouses than just about anywhere. Ohio borders Lake Erie; New York borders Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Two Trivia Questions for you: which of those states does not border Canada? And, what other states touch a Great Lake? Look on your map, or, at the end of this post.

05 Niagara FallsI’ve been on the road for 556 days now, with nary a lonely time; I’ve traveled 27,763 miles; 2,466 of them on this Great Lakes jaunt. The Scion is still going strong; Alex and Jack are now 38-state cats, and new friends and new experiences are stacking up as I finish my stay in this 40th capital city. I’ve cruised two major rivers of the USA, and gotten thoroughly doused by the waters of Niagara Falls. I’ve made it to live shows put on by two of my favorite radio personalities – Garrison Keillor (of Saint Paul) and Michael Feldman (of Madison). I’ve discovered two types of “family” eateries in this part of the world – Culvers clean and welcoming blue and white restaurants in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio http://www.culvers.com/ ; and the ubiquitous 05 76 DinerYankee diners of New York; the 76 Diner in Latham http://latham76diner.com/ (354 menu items, open 24/7) quickly became a favorite, where conversations overheard were as much fun as those I was in. Two older gentlemen two booths away: “How did you do at the track today?” “Oh, I just took off my shirt and gave it to them.” (Saratoga Racetrack is just 20 miles away.) This far north I’m called “Dear” instead of “Miss Linda” and the iced tea isn’t sweet but the cornbread is. I’ll adjust. I love it!

Here’s what else I’ve loved about the capital cities of the Great Lakes states:

05 Linda Capitol Saint PaulSaint Paul (left) – I loved the Minnehaha-Hiawatha Story, fabled as it may be; the incredible architecture of the place and the miles of skyways connecting downtown; the vision of the Cass Gilberts and the preservationists; the Charlie Brown statues; the Mississippi River and Lock #1.

05 Linda Capitol MadisonMadison (right) – I loved the user-friendly town square and the Saturday Farmers Market; Wisconsin cave-aged cheese; the hillsides overflowing with summer crops; the capitol open to all, showing off its glamour yet sporting a tomato patch on the lawn; the sense of abundance, and fun.

05 Linda Capitol LansingLansing (left) – I loved the old catalpa tree on the capitol grounds and the inspirational capitol building that pulled off beauty without overspending; the traditional Michigan State Campus and the diagonally striking Broad Art Museum; the legacy of RE Olds and all those cars; Lori Lanspeary.

05 Linda Capitol ColumbusColumbus (right) – I loved the highrise condos soaring riverside; Germantown’s row houses and quaint brick-paved streets; the creaky floors in the Thurber house, where staff planned writing programs as visitors browsed, imagining; the engaging interactive exhibits at the Statehouse.

05 Linda Capitol AlbanyAlbany (left) – I loved the history, thick and rich; the hills that define the Hudson River, and the river itself; the architecture of every church and rowhouse and the stunning Empire State Plaza; the capitol that is beyond compare; the diners; the hamlets; the soaking-in view from the Corning Tower.

It looks like I’m an east coaster now. Summer is winding down; I’ll spend autumn in New England; by the first day of winter I’ll be in Annapolis, and the Journey will be drawing to a close. Watch for the final summary about four months from now. I won’t be swimming at all, just floating on air.

Answers to Trivia Questions:

  • Wisconsin does not border Canada.
  • Illinois and Indiana touch Lake Michigan; Pennsylvania touches Lake Erie.