Thursday, March 11, 2010

Roads and Settings

Roads – we've been driving on a lot of them. Through major cities, around major cities, and out in the middle of nowhere.

When we started, as I mentioned earlier, we took the 'meet at a designated rest stop' option. Throughout Florida and Mississippi, they tended to be about 30-50 miles apart, which worked out well, giving us frequent opportunities to touch base and make sure everything was going well.

When we hit Louisiana, we discovered that the signage didn't always live up to what it advertised. At one point, a sign said there was a stop in one mile, and the next would be about 39 miles farther down the road. I was in the lead at that point and called to see if hubby wanted to stop or wait. We'd decided to stop, even though it hadn't been that long since our lunch break. Glad we did, because that next stop which was supposed to be 39 miles away never materialized. At that point, we decided we'd stop at ALL official rest stops.

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Some highways didn't offer official rest stops, which meant leaving the highway at gas stations or restaurants (like all those Waffle House stops!). This meant a little more coordination, which would have been easier had cell phone reception worked better. Although we were normally not more than half a mile apart, the phones kept dropping calls before we could answer. Sometimes the calls would go straight to voice mail without even ringing.

In Texas, we were on US 287 for a long, long time. Rest stops were about 75-100 miles apart. However, there were picnic areas about every 30 miles. These were simply a couple of picnic tables under cover, with grills. No facilities of any kind. I guess these folks like to stop to eat at frequent intervals.

Other things of note. In some areas, driving in the left lane was not permitted except to pass. Of course, on these roads, the right lane was in miserable condition while the 'illegal' left lane was smooth.

The other day, I mentioned how Lori Wilde talked about giving characters different world views. When hubby and I would meet up, we'd compare what we'd seen, and many times we didn't "see" the same things. Of course, at 70+ mph, it's easy to be looking the other way at the instant something catches the other driver's eye, but there are also things that he'll zero in on that I might not notice.

He's much more likely to notice birds (and to identify them). I see some of them, but since I'm not as well versed in ornithology, I see many of them as generic 'birds'. He also knows that the aggregation of big white things was a wind farm. We both notice trains (hard to miss), but he's much more excited about them. And the John Deere dealerships.

Once we got into central Texas, the roads went on and on. Long, straight, with rolling hills. As expected, there were lots of cows. Lots of horses. What wasn't expected: llamas, which I saw but hubby didn't. He saw coyotes, but I didn't. But the kicker was the field with a herd of camels. Those were definitely unexpected. We also saw pronghorn antelope. And despite the warning signs at rest stops, we didn't see any snakes, poisonous or otherwise.

Lots of roadkill as well. Skunks. Armadillo. Deer. Flat stuff.

Weather was another factor. One day, we started in a gray drizzle. Although the weather wasn't really bad, the spray from the cars ahead (and worse from the semis) made visibility an issue. Then, fog rolled in, and visibility became more of an issue. Instead of 60 mph, in order to see, it was more like 30 mph. We pulled off at a rest stop and when we came out, the rain began in earnest. Thunderstorms. Luckily, we were on the edge of the storm, so we emerged into the sunshine within about half an hour, giving us the best view of the entire trip so far. Bright golden light, the bare, wet trees standing out in dark relief against the clear blue sky.

And then the wind picked up. Hubby noticed his pickup being pushed around, so you can imagine what was going on with my little Fit.

On Monday, our route took us down even smaller roads, where there was nothing but ranch and farm land. No traffic on that road, but if I hadn't had a GPS saying that I was only 45 minutes away from our destination, I might have been concerned that I was totally lost.

We pulled into our last "on the road motel" after a relatively short driving day. This is a small town—population 7237, and judging from the smell, most of them are cows. But it's interesting. The sense of smell is tied to memories, and for hubby, it smelled like where he grew up. I don't find it quite so appealing, although I get the same reaction to birdseed, because my great uncle had an egg ranch, and I remember visiting and being allowed to help feed the chickens. The smell of birdseed always takes me back.

When you're writing, setting is important. And even the same setting won't elicit the same reactions from all your characters. If your story is set in one locale, changing the weather can change the setting. Character viewpoints will make the setting richer as they will have different perceptions of the same thing. And don't forget to use all the senses.

And make sure you come back tomorrow - some fantastic wildlife shots from Jason!


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

No rest stops?! What? That's a little crazy. Oh well, lots of Waffle Houses in the South. :)

Good reminder to use all our senses as we're writing, Terry.


Carol Kilgore said...

Great post, Terry. You'll be using memories from this trip in a lot of books, I think. Maybe some of them turned around a little bit.

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth - I assumed that the highway folks or whoever has to pay to build and maintain rest stops figured that there were enough tiny towns with gas stations (or Waffle Houses, although I'm not enamored of their rest rooms). But there were also huge long stretches through open fields. I cut way, way back on fluid intake for the trip.

Carol - thanks. And yes, not only the visuals, but also the emotions, which are just as important. How does a character feel on a strange road when the fog is so thick she can't see more than 10 feet ahead. Or coaxing a car up a mountain road after a storm, while semis send tsunami-sized waves as they go by in the other direction.

Terry said...

Camels? Now that alone could inspire a story. Keep on trucking.

Jemi Fraser said...

Our Canadian highways have very few rest stops compared to the ones in the States. I always find "yours" to be clean, bright and nicely spaced.

It's interesting how you each saw such different things on the same highway :)

Terry Odell said...

Yep, camels. Definitely did a triple take on that one. Of course, about 30 years ago, also driving through Texas, we saw an elephant. But only one, and there had been signs about a small circus in the area, so we assumed that was why.

Jemi - Haven't done much driving through Canada other than on tours, so I wouldn't know.