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FREDTalk: Road to Ruscha- A Summer Later

Travel writer Tim Cahill said, “a journey is best measured in friends, rather than in miles.”

I whole-heartedly believe that. For me, and for many young adults in my generation, the journey is not about the destination, the goal, or the end point. Don’t get me wrong, getting to Los Angeles and meeting Ed Ruscha was a truly amazing experience, and I appreciate all the leg work these professors did to make that happen, but it wasn’t why I joined this journey. I believe a journey is about people; the connections you make, what you learn, how you help them and how they forever change your life.

Honestly though, I just initially wanted to go somewhere. I have always loved traveling and it just seemed like a good time, I thought “I don’t know any of these people, I’ll just keep to myself and enjoy this practically free vacation!” Before we set sail we went and visited two of the gasoline stations that were in Oklahoma City. I recall walking aimlessly around thinking “…I guess I could just take some pretty pictures… or write about… something…” But after we officially left Norman, woke up early and piled in the vans, I decided what I really wanted and needed to do on this journey was get out of my comfort zone and study something meaningful. I remember milling around the Lloyd Noble parking lot as we waited for everyone to arrive, Gary was joking around loudly, lost comrades were being given emergency wake up calls, and a very nice boy offered me a cookie and I thought, “Maybe I shouldn’t just keep to myself on this trip.”

One of the first big stops took place in the tiny town of Shamrock, TX. After I saw a little boy pushing a truck outside this ratty old motel while his proud father and grandfather watched I immediately knew what theme I was going to follow, “What Makes a Family – How Landscape Shapes a Home.” After a few nervous walk bys I swallowed by butterflies, told myself that just ten seconds of courage was all I needed and walked up to them. And so it began. Every town, another family, another interview, another unique story. Ten seconds of courage changed the entire trip for me, made it more than just a fun adventure and 3 credit hours.

Next stop: Groom, TX, where family has always been this small chunk of the Texas panhandle, where we found our gasoline station and were directed to a little old house where the granddaughter of the original station owner lived. This complete stranger let me and another student into her house and answered every question we had for the next hour. Gary eventually had to come in on a rescue mission for two people that didn’t even want to be rescued for this old ladies strange and wondrous conversation about family and history.

After that was a girl living in Amarillo, Texas, where family was so so far away. I sat with her in a Wendy’s dining room while she spilled intimate details about her heartache over her mother, father and siblings in Istanbul.

Finally, the desert and Holbrook Arizona where family is truly shaped and inspired by the landscape. “My mother and I watch the sunset every night from our porch and there isn’t anything more beautiful.” A woman told me after I wondered away from the group at a gas station stop and ended up interviewing a mother and daughter at their mid morning garage sale.

Jackrabbit, AZ, where family is memories that haunt a wilderness like ghosts. We found the original gas station and it was still run by the very same family as it was when Ruscha photographed it. Even the building was almost exactly the same.

Then Flagstaff where family is tourism and comes in multiples, then Williams, then Milan, then Yellowhorse. Every place another absolutely successful and fulfilling experience with complete strangers that forever will shape my view of the family unit and it’s function in different landscapes and sub-cultues. It made me want that ‘family’ so badly and realize people feel the same and that it was in reach regardless of what crazed adventures I go on after graduation. Showing me that the world isn’t full of daunting strangers, but friendly folk who want to help, who want to share their stories and are just waiting for the right people to inquire about it.

And the folks I traveled with, the fondness I feel for them all is just overwhelming. There is no better way to get to know someone then taking on every big bump in the back of Todd’s twelve passenger van and laughing about it, or climbing up desert hills together and looking out over the city, or staying up all night talking on a motel patio, or looking at the stars in a cloudless sky and throwing rocks next to trains at three in the morning. There is this special thing that happens when you travel with people. Friendship, admiration, love, any positive emotion flies into warp speed and stress falls back, sadness is left on the side of the road, and depression goes in the trunk. I remember every detail about these quick and flawless relationships; running into the waves with you, his hand gripping mine as we fell through the desert to the light of your phone, how we all looked on the mountain top, when you screamed into the wind, when she fell asleep on the truck bed, how we all took pictures of one another, when they swam in the chilled river, our conversations over dinner, the very precise way you smiled, how we wandered the streets, how we all took such patient and perfect care of one another in that faultless and ideal nomadic world.

So really, that trip was amazing. I am so astonished it even was a real thing that happened. I think back on talking to all those beautiful human beings, and meeting Ed Ruscha, and it all just seems like a dream. I give so many thanks to the generous support of the museum, Ghislain and the Kirkpatrick Foundation, and especially to Todd Stewart, Gary Gress, and Jessica Farling. Gary, in Williams, AZ I asked you how you did it, how you talked to people so easily. This guy set up all the meetings with wonderful, knowledgeable people in every single town! He told me his secrets! I’ve used them and they work! Thank you for that Gary! Jessica! What planning you did, it was so impressive! Thank you for being so inspiration! A young lady just rocking life and being wildly successful, that’s always great to see.  And Todd, you’re the best. This trip was the best. I’m so forever glad you thought of it, and I hope you realize how much it meant to everyone who went.

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