Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Joys of traveling on the cheap

Some of my fellow residents at the Econolodge here in East Rensselaer, who previously were sitting in their doorways drinking beer while looking out at their pickup trucks, have now reversed direction completely and are sitting on their pickup truck tailgates drinking beer while watching TV through their open doorways. The human mind, so adaptable, so inventive.

I love traveling on the cheap. It's a nature-and-nurture thing, my Pennsylvania Dutch father instilled a contempt of luxury in me. Further, I don't want to spend a lot of money while indulging in the hobby that occasionally impels me hither and yon.

What hobby? I'll call it "historic research" because I'm embarrassed to admit I enjoy genealogy, and also because I don't think I'm going to find any more of my lost ancestors. I'll have to be content with reading about the places they used to hang out.

This is a good traveling hobby. For one thing, I like librarians a lot. They remind me of my mom, who was a librarian. For another thing, it's something a single person can enjoy. For a third, it's very quiet and peaceful.

Anyway, I tend to stay in seedy hotels/motels. Well, I like them. They're near sights I enjoy very much:
  • Crumbling bridges over railroad tracks;

  • Old deserted buildings with names like ALBANY HYDRAULIC which remind me that, once upon a time, Americans built things;

  • Wannabe historic sites with official-looking signs erected by hopeful Chambers of Commerce. For instance, on one crumbling railroad bridge this evening, while on my pedestrian excursion to find dinner, I saw this sign: "2500 feet from Fort Crailo. Yankee Doodle was written here in 1758;"

  • Mysterious activities and edifices. The "Pollution Control Facility at East Greenbush" is surrounded by a chainlink fence topped with barbed wire (this is in case somebody wants to sneak in and steal polluted things); strapped to the top of the fence, around the perimeter, is a narrow pipe and every ten feet there is an outlet nozzle which is spewing steam or smoke or ???? into the air. I walked RIGHT BY these nozzles. What, exactly, was I breathing?
Then there's:
  • A profusion of wonderful plants growing lustily in cracked pavement;

  • A wonderful assortment of people of all ages sitting, leaning, lounging in doorways (I wish I had a photo album of these scenes).
I also go on hunting-and-gathering sorties in down-at-the-heels stores I don't frequent at home. I prowled BIG LOTS tonight and found a flat loofah for 79 cents. I can't wait to rehydrate it and see if it turns back to its proper shape.

I see signs and portents everywhere when I travel alone. I think about my life with calm perspective. And when I travel I like my fellow humans, almost all of them. I remember that all people, by and large, are doing the best they can.

I liked, very much, the guy with no teeth who was bicycling up the sidewalk towards me an hour ago. When I smiled and got out of his way (there was a weed-patch narrowing our path), he said generously: "there's loads of room for both of us."

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