I’m on the road!

I’m driving from San Francisco to New York with my dog, because, well, that’s what you do when you have a dog

Published April 6, 2013 3:32PM (EDT)

I'm driving cross-country with my dog, Sadie.
I'm driving cross-country with my dog, Sadie.

“A dog is a tragedy,” a maudlin New Yorker growled at me over drinks after I first arrived in the city last August with my dog, Sadie. “You get them knowing they’ll die before you do. Unless they don’t.” Buzz kill, huh?

I never meant to be a crazy dog lady, partly for that reason – I didn’t want to love someone I was pretty much guaranteed to lose -- but I have become a dog lady anyway. It turned out, after my daughter left for college, that I am a person who needs the tether of caretaking. I liked the cooking and cleaning up, the dressing and the driving to school, the daily bustle of family, where someone else has to come first. For the first time in 24 years I lived alone and I didn’t like it. So I moped for a while, and then I got a puppy. Now, at the time of life I’m supposed to be grateful for my freedom, the capacity to travel the world and come and go as I please, I can’t. And it turns out that’s fine with me.

I reached a new level of eccentricity this year, though, when I decided to move to New York for a few months when my book came out. After United’s poorly named PetSafe program screwed up every aspect of ferrying Sadie from San Francisco to New York (you can read the details here; I never got a reply from United -- classy, huh?), I realized I would never put her in cargo again. I paid some wonderful people to drive her back to San Francisco when I came home at Christmas time (yes, I’m aware of how crazy that sounds as I type it.) So when I decided to return to New York and spend a few more months there this spring, timed to when my paperback comes out from Touchstone/Simon and Schuster April 16, I saw only one choice: I would drive, with Sadie, myself.

So I’m getting in my little Honda this morning with a dog bed in the back with a new safety-belt harness that she’ll probably wear only a few hundred miles. I’m reversing a journey I made 28 years ago, a young person, moving from Chicago to Oakland to become the California Bureau chief of In These Times, a job I made up and sold to my boss. I was pretty pleased with myself zooming across Interstate 80. Now I’m a not-young person figuring out what comes next, shuttling between coasts.

It will also be the first time in 28 years I'll visit some of the bright red states I write about with disappointment, but have no real experience of. I’ve lived in only blue states with a purplish tinge: New York, California, Wisconsin, Illinois. I’m not going to pretend I’ll understand exactly why Nevada Sen. Harry Reid is still so beholden to the NRA by getting outside Clark County; or why there’s only one abortion clinic in Wyoming by driving through the bottom of the state; or why Nebraska replaced the most conservative Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson with conservative Republican Deb Fischer. But I’ll talk to people and read local papers and listen to local radio and I’m sure to learn something I don’t know as I sit writing this morning. There is nothing more American than driving across country and having to take in how big this land is, how diverse it is, in every way.

And I wouldn’t be doing it, in all likelihood, if not for Sadie. Talk about being tethered: No take-off, no suspension of disbelief, no floating in the air and trying to sleep while a pilot does all the work. I’m doing the work, with Sadie’s help. She’s my road dog.

I’ll be looking for places to stop along I-80, with planned visits to friends in Boulder and Chicago. If there’s something nearby you think I should see – the best dog park in Elko, an active Democratic Party headquarters in Cheyenne, a dog-friendly outdoor cafe in Lincoln, something I can’t even imagine – leave suggestions in comments. And I’ll be posting about my journey several times this week. I might have to break down and write about politics, but the point isn’t to stay tethered to television and the Beltway noise, it’s to see and hear beyond it. Wish me luck. If you see us, say hello.



By Joan Walsh

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Dogs Driving Miss Sadie Sadie Travel