download.jpeg

Roadtrip With Grandma Story

 
 
 
 
 

 

In March 2015 I drove my Grandmother from Los Angeles to her home in northwestern Wisconsin. I come from a long line of men who like to drive 15 hours straight to get to their destination. 

 
 

I'm the oldest of 15 her grandkids. She was a surgical nurse at the hospital where I was born and was one of the first people to hold me immediately after my birth as she had already been in scrubs that day ready for work. My parents and I lived with her and my grandfather Eugene the first 2 months of my life thereafter. Needless to reiterate, but I will anyway, we've been pretty close. 

Despite a deep affection for both my grandparents, throughout my twenties I saw my them only an average of every year and a half. That innate sense of immortality that afflicts all youth tends to bleed into how we see everyone else in our life as well. It wasn’t until my grandfather passed away in 2011 that I realized the fragility, the lack of guarantee that anyone, least of all your nearly octogenarian grandparents, will remain in your life indefinitely.

The year after my grandfather passed I went and stayed with her for a couple weeks. The following year she reconnected with a childhood friends and spent the following two winters in Santa Ana, California. With only 50 miles of greater Los Angeles freeways separating us, it was the closest we've lived to each other since I was 4 years old. 

I told her, "whenever you need to get back home just tell me and wherever I am in the world I will fly you, drive you, etc..."

In mid-March of 2015 she told me she needed to get home.

I come from a long line of men who will drive 15 hours straight to their destination, stopping only for gas (and hopefully you align your bathroom needs to that of the fuel tank.) Fuel tank empties the bladders fill.) In my life I've been learning the fine art of the roadtrip. So i agreed to drive Grandma home on the condition that we could take our time and explore. She gave me an emphatic yes. 

 

 
 

Day 1

Los Angeles, CA to La Quinta, CA

picking grandma up
 

Day 1

Today was Marina del Rey to Santa Ana to pick up Grandma and drop off 2 prints for a group art show at F+ Gallery. Then back to Marina del Rey to pick up my stuff but can't get down my street cos a guy is threatening to jump off a roof. Then to Culver City to pick up one way rental car. They don't have any available yet so we get lunch with the inestimable @bobbybailey and wait for one. Finally they pull a brand new luxe car off the lot with only 264 miles on it for us, free upgrade. Then to DTLA to pick up rad shades from @neilbardon whose own grandma Rita is the inspiration for his brand @saintritaparlor (thanks Neil), then fight every bit of Friday rush hour traffic to hit Redlands and say a quick hello to @traindailywithbailey who is 6 days into his trek across America. Now in Palm Springs/La Quinta where we're crashing with my great uncle Roger/Grandma's brother and his old tennis-watching buddy Jack. Tmrw, maybe Grand Canyon? or scalp tickets to watch Roger Federer? so many possibilities

 

Day 2

Three years ago I was on a roadtrip with @npdemember - she bought a plant at our first stop and it was a little companion that filled the car with life. I bought one for this trip just before picking up Grandma and it has been our own travel buddy sitting in the cup holder between us. They say that being in nature improves your memory retention by 20% and even just looking at a picture of a plant can improve it by something like 9%. so having this little guy tag along seems to be appropriate as part of a journey that both Grandma and I hope to remember for the rest of our lives AND as Grandma shares old memories with me (and my voice memo recorder) from her 81yrs of wisdom, sorrows and joys.

 
 

Day 2

 
 
 
 
Today I took a detour I found via Google Maps. I wanted to get off the Interstate and back onto Route 66. What’s the point of rushing a road trip if you don’t get to see anything interesting?



Grandma was pretty sure we were going to die out there - a fate determined by having no cell phone service.
Somewhere in western Arizona  

Day 3

The windblown sun-scorched hills of the painted desert

The windblown sun-scorched hills of the painted desert

 

Day 3

Day 2 we found an abandoned house along CA 99, which runs parallel north along the Coloroda river dividing California and Arizona.

 
She puts the "GRAND" in Grand canyon
Makin' friends

Makin' friends

 

Day 4


Day 5


 
Painted Desert, NM

Painted Desert, NM

Day 5

 

In this pic this morning from Santa Fe she’s covering her mouth because we both have super chapped lips from a couple days in the high altitude desert and have now been slathering coconut oil on them nonstop in an attempt to restore some moisture... Yesterday we started our day writing postcards to family at a diner in Flagstaff telling them of our experiences the day prior at the Grand Canyon (my “near death” one being almost charged by an elk, and the otherwise “I could die now having seen majesty such as this” experience that is both calming and slightly unnerving but without a doubt inspiring- from the very root of the word inspire meaning to inhale, I left feeling like there was a giant expanse in my chest) and then headed east. A few miles down the road got sucked into the tourist trap of the Meteor Crater, pretty epic in its own right but its overpriced and limited access leave a bit to be desired (especially less than 24hrs after the GC.) Nonetheless it seemed to compliment our growing theme of driving around to see giant holes in the ground. Further east we passed through the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert- neither of us had high epectations, but it took us by surprise with its muted yet still grand expanses. Throughout the trip Grandma has on occasion bemoaned the physical decay and loss that accompanies aging (“getting old is for the birds,” she says) yet everything we’d seen in the desert and especially the Grand Canyon was a result of decay and age (even impact/tragedy in the case of the Crater.) Our culture values the flawless features of youth when it comes to people, but in landscapes it’s the prehistoric petrification and the giant cracks & crevasses (the earth’s wrinkles?) formed by erosion and the affects of time that attract humanity’s interest- I wonder what we could gain if we sought out and regarded our elderly with the same curiosity that we view our national points of interest with? To regard with awe their beautiful erosion, the marks that time and tragedy have wrought upon them, both internally and externally - and for them to see that beauty in themselves rather than mourning the loss of what once was?

 
Santa Fe, NM

Santa Fe, NM

 

 

Day 6

 
 

Day 7

Branson, MO

 
NORMAN, Oklahoma
After the owner of the hotel took our photo Grandma clarified, “He’s not my boyfriend you know. He’s my grandson.”
 
 
Something goes here?
 
 
 

 

Day 8

 

Branson, MO


Day 9

Branson, MO to Minneapolis MN
 
 
 

Day 10


Minong, WI
 
She’s home!
 
 

Epilogue

 

Well, after 15 straight days together Grandma and I finally parted paths last Saturday. It's nice to be home but I'm already starting to miss her laugh and quiet yet caring presence. Thank you everybody who followed along our adventure (though you've seriously only seen a small fraction of it, I'm just now starting to go through the thousands of images I shot on my DSLR.) I never thought that my #roadtripwithgrandma would become as largely received as it has - thank you for your notes of gratitude, inspiration, and memories (or quiet regrets) of your experiences with your own grandparents. Right when Grandma and I went our separate ways at the airport I received an email from a friend telling me that she had just lost her grandmother that day and thanking me for sharing my adventures with mine. I'm really so grateful for these past two weeks and not only do I hope to have many more adventures with her in the future but that you all will find time to spend time with your elder loved ones as well. I'm not sure what I'm going to create with these photos just yet but if you are inspired to do anything similar with a grandparent I would love to hear what you do with them. Send me an email: dan@danieljohnson.is

Thank you!