Passing Through This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   "I don't want to go."

I must have said that a thousand times, but I was still going. My parents said it would be a great experience for my sister Kate and me. I didn't believe them.

Cross-country - traveling in a van over three thousand miles of America. For at least three weeks, I would be isolated in that van and a camper, alone with my parents and sister, the distance between me and my friends growing daily.

We left Clarence a few days after my thirteenth birthday, just before June turned into July. I took over the far back seat of the van, settling in with my books and tapes, determined to be sullen the entire trip.

For several days we drove over mercilessly empty land. By the fourth day, the far edge of Chicago was a fast-fading memory. All we could see for miles was nothing but sky, the flat plains and a thin snake of black highway. We spent a night at a crummy campground named Camp MacKen-Z, right on the edge of two time zones. The Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone National Park - I saw them all. But still:

"I don't want to go."

After Yellowstone we drove through forests that gave way to yellow desert, down through Utah and Nevada until we saw the cool blue signs reading, "Sacramento." I felt a little excitement - California! Three thousand miles away were New York and Clarence. I had crossed an entire continent. It dazzled my mind, making me sit up and stare at everything, navigating the streets of San Francisco and reading maps with new interest.

For three days I saw San Francisco: the real Chinatown, the glass and black marble of the business district, low-key apartments near the water, Alcatraz, restaurants, tacky little gift shops and high class art galleries. There was something there for everyone, and I loved it.

By the middle of the second week of July, we were continuing down the edge of California, amazed at the Impressionist painting that is the coast of the Pacific Ocean, until we came to palm trees and Los Angeles. It was as unlike San Francisco as anything else; yet I found it just as incredible. The buildings, the climate, the people - everything was so different from Clarence and anything I'd ever seen.

It was in the southern portion of the state that we turned back east. First, however, we had to experience the Grand Canyon (I found it kind of boring) and Mesa Verde, an ancient Native American cliff dwelling, which was fascinating. But Arizona also depressed me with its roadside stands where Native American women sold beautiful beads and jewelry for a tenth of what they were worth. It was indescribably sad to see the poverty in which some of these people lived,

and the dried-up scrub land they lived on.

By now July was winding down. We had been gone for over three weeks. It would be another week before we arrived back home, a prospect which was both paling and getting better in my mind.

Between Mesa Verde and New York, however, there was much left to see and do, even in the flats of Kansas, where we watched a lightning storm thirty miles away. Passing through a town with a population of nineteen really brought home to me the meaning of small-town America.

St. Louis was the last real stop of the trip; it was my first foray into the south. Finally, I was seeing the Mississippi River, muddy, full of logs, branches and other debris, and commercialized beyond belief, but still there. The river that had so inspired everyone from Mark Twain to Jack Kerouac was running along slowly only a few yards away from where I stood.

Like all other good things, this trip would also end. We pulled into our driveway thirty-two days after leaving it. I was delighted to be home; I had been wishing to be there for so long I couldn't believe we were actually there. I wanted to call all my friends and get together, find out what had been happening, and tell them what I'd seen and done.

The more I talked about it, and thought about it, the trip seemed better and better. As I got older, reading more and learning more, that trip became to me one of the most important things I'd ever done. I realized I had seen and experienced things other people could only dream about, and it expanded my knowledge of the world, of the country and of myself. It dawned on me also that this trip was a once in a lifetime experience; I would never be that impressionable, or open to new ideas, again. c


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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