What a Difference the Internet Makes

The past week has been the laziest one of this trip. Except for a few excursions — going to a cultural festival, getting my car tuned up, buying a few items at the grocery store, taking a walk or two — I computerhaven’t done anything. There has been almost no new input, and what input there is, such as being in a new place, has been muffled by the frequent rain. If I lived in such a rainy climate, I would probably go about my life as if the skies weren’t weeping on me, but coming from the desert, I am used to spending rainy days inside.

And so, that is what I am doing. Staying inside. Being lazy.

These mostly empty days are giving me an opportunity to process the past three months on the road, but to be honest, I still don’t know what to make of it all. What I had originally planned — spending most nights in a tent and most days hiking — didn’t happen. There were some such days, of course, but weather, spring break (it seemed someone was on spring break from the middle of March to the end of April, so camp grounds were often full before I got there), and going where the wind blew (or do I mean “didn’t blow”?) took me on a different path. Mostly I have been visiting people I know online, sometimes staying with them, sometimes making a stop just for lunch.

The one thought that sticks out in my mind as I try to make sense of it all is how different this trip would have been without the internet. I would have followed my own path, struggling with maps and trying to figure out places I would like to go, but with Google Maps, whenever I couldn’t figure out a fun drive, I set the destination on my phone, and let Google Maps direct my journey. This made the driving much more fun — I could just sit back, hold the car steady, and gaze out the windows at the passing scenery. 9,000 miles is a LOT of scenery!

And I probably wouldn’t have visited many people. Of all the people I have visited, I only knew three people pre-internet days, two of which I reconnected with through the internet or email. (Well, there was that one woman I visited after meeting her at a campground, but I don’t exactly know how to classify that visit.) All the rest are internet connections, and because of them, I have seen extraordinary things, had wonderful conversations, found reasons to visit places I would never have considered.

People often talk about how the internet is destroying communication and relationships, but that is not at all my experience. The internet has allowed me, a rather hermit-y woman, to meet people and make friends that would never have entered my life otherwise. In not a single case was meeting them in person a letdown, but a continuation of the friendship we had established online.

But what does it all mean? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps this trip is exactly what I had in mind, even if the path I took and the logistics of getting to my various destinations did not follow my original vision of the trip — a way to keep me from stagnating.

And I certainly have not been stagnating. Even when seemingly doing nothing — driving for many hours a time or staying put in an empty apartment — the adventure continues.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

 

No Blues at the Blue Belle Inn

I went from one mostly consonant-free state to another. Ohio. Iowa. A measly two consonants between them. No wonder I got them mixed up when I was very young!

Jeff and I had been to Iowa once a long time ago. We often reminisced about a motel near Ames, the quiet location, the pond our windows overlooked (though it could have been a rain puddle considering all the rain we’d driven through). We always wanted to go back through the state, and now we never will go together. But I went back by myself and this time, I didn’t stay at a motel. I stayed at a bed and breakfast, one I’d known about for many years: The Blue Belle Inn in St. Ansgar, owned by fellow writer Sherrie Hansen, author of the wildflowers of Scotland romances. (One is named Blue Belle. Hmmm. I wonder where she got that title!)

When Sherrie bought the house twenty-five years ago, it was in terrible condition, but she restored the building, upgraded it, and decorated each of the bedrooms to reflect a story. I stayed in Plum Creek, named after a Laura Ingalls Wilder book.

Talk about being steeped in luxury! Lovely and very comfortable room room. Gourmet breakfast — egg and ham strata, cranberry scone, fresh fruit cup. Delicious lunch — chicken salad on a croissant with a salad. Fabulous dinner — cottage pie with a thatched roof (her version of shepherd’s pie) and coconut cake for desert.

As you probably figured out, although the inn is a bed and breakfast, Sherrie provides other meals for guests who stay more than a night or two.

I also had the luxury of meeting Sherrie, a long-time internet friend. We met at Gather.com, a now defunct social network site for writers and photographers. Sherrie moderated one of my favorite groups — a photography group for all things color. She would choose a color, and group members submitted photos of something depicting that color. Such fun!

Sherrie is as wise and as intelligent as she appears online, making my stay at the Blue Belle Inn a real joy.

And so another online friend has become a friend for real.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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Adventure in Quartzsite, Arizona

Almost six years ago I met a woman online who had lost her husband a month and a day before Jeff died. For all these years, we’ve helped each other try to make sense of the senseless. When we first came in contact, she was living in Vermont and I was living in Colorado. And now life, that champion and at times demented chess player, has brought us together in Arizona, in a most peculiar town called Quartzsite. Quartzsite is a quintessential mobile community. Midwestern snow birds and other RV nomads winter here, increasing the population from 3,000 permanent residents to well over a million folks. BLM land sprouts RV camps like weeds, and even the permanent dwellings have a temporary air, as if at any moment the owners will pack up the building and move.

RVing is an interesting lifestyle, and apparently millions love it, but I have no interest in joining the RV community. It seems . . . No. I won’t go there. Even though the lifestyle seems a bit inane to me, people who live it love it, so I should keep my opinions to myself. (But did you notice how I slipped my opinion in there anyway?)

Besides being an RV community, having the best inland fish and chips, and hosting perhaps the world’s largest gem and mineral show, Quartzsite has one other claim to fame: Hi Jolly. Haiji Ali, a Greek born in Syria, was hired by the US Army as a camel herder for it’s Camel Corps. When the Camel Corps was abandoned, Hi Jolly moved to Quartzsite and engaged in a variety of enterprises.

Anyway, this movable and memorable town is where Holly and I finally met. Although friends back in California worry about my meeting people I’ve only known online, I wasn’t worried. You can’t share the most painful emotions of your lives without coming to some sort of truthful understanding of each other, and so it was with the two of us. We simply segued from typing our words to each other to speaking them aloud.

A wonderful woman. A wonderful visit. And she graciously agreed to let me take a photo of her with my VW.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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