Saturday, March 23, 2013

Postcards from Charlottesville

"I am constantly roving about, to see what I have never seen before and shall never see again."
-Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was an incredibly well-traveled man. His travels are reflected in his writings, his home, and his beliefs all manner of things from governing and liberty to architecture and gardening. When he traveled he often took the following with him:
  • ivory leaf notebooks 
  • a lap desk
  • a small telescope
  • a compass
  • a thermometer
  • drafting instruments
  • an architect's scale
  • a pocket knife
While my random knowledge of American history is pretty vast, I didn't just know this about Thomas Jefferson. I learned it at Monticello, the first stop on my most recent road trip. I like to think that I was as prepared as Jefferson with my cell phone (also my GPS and camera-multiple purposes! Jefferson would have loved it.), a notebook and pens, a book just in case I stopped somewhere for coffee, a car charger, and an iPod filled with an epic mix/playlist entitled "Postcards from Charlottesville."

I had to take some time off this month (it's use it or lose it time for PTO) so I decided that I would do a bunch of random things with my time including a day trip...somewhere. I usually go to Baltimore but I wasn't really feeling Baltimore this time around. Instead, I decided to take the 2-ish hour drive south to Charlottesville - home of Monticello and the University of Virginia. It's also the setting for one of my favorite books, Love is a Mix Tape. I've talked about this book before and will now admit something a little crazy: I have read this book 12 times. I can't help myself - it's just that amazing. And sad - you know how I like sad things. I sort of idolize Rob and Renee so this trip was a bit of a homage to them. The playlist (100 songs, 6 hours of music) was inspired by Love is a Mix Tape and includes songs referenced in the book as well as my own takes on the artists and songs I thought that Rob and Renee would love. It began with Frankie Valli, Liz Phair, and Martha & the Vandellas - always a good way to start a day.

I decided to start at Monticello because Thomas Jefferson is my favorite Founding Father and he's certainly my favorite part of the musical 1776. He wrote the Declaration of Independence (which is amongst my favorite government/historical documents). Yes, I have a favorite Founding Father and favorite historical documents. That's perfectly normal.
I like the tone of the Declaration of Independence and the boldness of its statements. I haven't been to Monticello since high school so it felt like time to visit again. There are several ways to get to Monticello from Arlington. I opted for the route that goes through Chancellorsville and the Wilderness battlefields and connects to the Constitution Route (VA-20). As I entered the Chancellorsville battlefield, the first Big Star song played on my iPod. Big Star is the band that brought Rob and Renee together (and they happen to be responsible for one of my top five songs). I took this as a sign of a good day ahead - Big Star would be sprinkled throughout the day but for my favorite song to be so early in the trip just felt right. If I had been so inclined, I could have stopped and seen the place where Stonewall Jackson's arm was shot off by his own men during the Battle of Chancellorsville (it was an accident). There's a white historical marker on the side of the highway so you can stop. I was not so inclined today. I also did not stop at the Battle of the Wilderness historical shelter but I did enjoy "Ring of Fire" as I drove through.

One of the things I love most about road trips is organizing the music (in some cases this is the absolute best part of a road trip). I'll be honest, I may have taken this trip just to organize this playlist. I sang along to "I Am...I Said" (not realizing just how sad this song really is until today), belted out "Stand By Your Man" as I turned toward Monticello, realized that Steven Tyler sounds nothing like Steven Tyler anymore, and came to terms with my complicated feelings towards Sir Mix-a-Lot's opus "Baby Got Back". I also finally decided that I am Kate Pierson (if I have to pick a B-52) and that both "Dance the Night Away" and "My Little Corner of the World" would be excellent first dance songs (for a wedding) despite the fact that they are probably really terrible to dance to in real life. I don't think Thomas Jefferson would have been offended that Missy Elliott's fantastic "Get Ur Freak On" was the song playing as I drove up Monticello Loop to the visitor center. I thought it amusing when "I Feel Like Going Home" came on as I kept getting turned around trying to leave downtown Charlottesville (stupid phone navigation). Even more amusing was the fact that "Supermodel (You Better Work)" came on just as I was passing by the exit for Stafford on my way home (amusing because this weekend I go back to Stafford to try on clothes for a "fashion show" that I'm in later in April). I think I'll just keep RuPaul in the back of my head while trying clothes on tomorrow (something I dislike doing) and while I actually participate in the show. It'll keep me amused.

I made it through 87 of the 100 songs before I got home (and I didn't skip or repeat any songs). Had I actually hit traffic either way, I might have made it through the whole list. Roxy Music's "More Than This" was the last song I played and it ended almost exactly as I pulled into a parking space at home. I turned the iPod off so as not to start a new song. I didn't get to the Notorious B.I.G. ("Hypnotize") or Tom Cochrane or Lou Reed or the last Big Star song or the saddest Matthew Sweet song I've ever heard ("Your Sweet Voice" - I think it's sad although it's probably not). And that's okay. The remaining 13 songs will be played before the end of the weekend.

I have a friend who doesn't see the point in road trips. For him, travel is about a destination not how you get there. I don't agree - I think that's a simplified argument and leaves out a lot of what goes into traveling: the nuances and navigation of travel, the need to communicate to fellow passengers (if there are any), getting lost. Every travel writer I've read or have heard speak doesn't ever just focus on the destination - they'd have no story to tell if they did. Interesting things can happen along the way to somewhere. Or to nowhere. That's really the point that my friend is missing - sometimes there isn't a destination at all. Sometimes it's just a journey. You might stop at places along the way but it's really about being out in the world and not really worrying about where it is you'll end up at the end of the day or road or whatever.

As long as you have one more song to listen to, you'll be fine.


  1. When Rob reviewed our book for Rolling Stone, we were over the moon, because we both love LOVE IS A MIX TAPE. We get it.

  2. I thought Renee would be proud of the Tammy Wynette album I bought in Charlottesville. The guy who waited on me looked at my pile of music (also included: Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Velvet Underground, Johnny Cash, and Pavement) and said, "This is eclectic." I told him that I thought that was what music was all about and he agreed. Totally LOVE IS A MIX TAPE worthy.

    I would feel the same way if he ever reviewed anything I did. :)