Beyond FUN: QUEEN OF THE ROAD by Doreen Orion
A resident of Boulder, Doreen copes with multiple anxieties regarding the potential disasters of a year-long trek through 47 states (including Alaska but skipping Rhode Island, Kentucky, and—logically enough—Hawaii) as she takes her place as chief navigator beside her bus-enamored husband, who can’t imagine why she doesn’t want to drive. Not only does Doreen prefer a life of ease and near-solitude when she grudgingly sets out on this journey, she doesn’t hesitate to whine and whimper when her inner princess feels the least uneasy. And she REALLY lets everyone know how she feels when the Princess from the Island of Long (and yes, her East Coast Jewish humor shines through every smart-ass comment she makes!) is really, really upset.
Luckily, her patient and ever-kind husband, Tim (a.k.a. Project Nerd due to his preference for DIY projects) proves himself as her perfect match again and again before, during, and after their year on the road, despite Doreen’s over-arching concerns regarding shoes (she scooted behind the bus to retrieve a lost sandal while Tim was backing up the bus at home, practically giving him a heart attack and ending the whole trip before it had even begun; at least the shoe—an Anne Klein, after all—was saved), overpasses, deer or moose or anything else that might wander onto a highway, one-lane bridges, overhead electrical wires, and all the CAREENING she’s sure they’ll do over the next 22,000 miles.
Doreen hangs in there (or just hangs on) through a number of surprise developments along the way, ultimately graduating to Queen of the Road status, winning for herself not only her husband’s gratitude and appreciation, but her own. And her appreciation extends well beyond the personal growth she’s experienced: “When our living space was downsized,” she notes, “everything…was magnified because our horizons were endless.” But this kind of understanding is achieved only after some extreme phobias have been faced and reconciled during more than one unforeseen drama.
Queen of the Road is a memoir that reads like a personal travelogue, like a series of letters from a friend on the road who wants to point out every absurd, don’t-miss sight she’s had the pleasure to experience, every amazing restaurant and view—as well as each misdirected detour no one else should ever have to endure. While most are fun and many are silly and some are awe-inspiring, one of the stops Doreen and Tim made that I found most intriguing was to the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum in Memphis. Founded by sisters Joan Nelson and Elaine Turner, this museum features things like a “Wanted: Dead or Alive” poster for Harriet Tubman, a whip next to a picture of “a slave’s ravaged back,” a “nine-foot burlap sack which had to be filled with cotton, then emptied, then repeated all over again several times each day.” As Doreen notes, however, “It was Joan’s sharing her own story of marching for civil rights in the 1960s with Martin Luther King, Jr., her arrest as a teenager, and her friendship with Emitt Till’s mother which gave it all a tragic continuity, an unbroken time line of hate and prejudice that, as unbelievable as it seemed when surrounded by those very artifacts of hate and prejudice, continues to today.
“Joan made us realize that there is such a thing as a grand obsession,” Doreen continues, “that there are some things worth developing a passion for and zealously pursuing.” By the end of Queen of the Road, Doreen reveals exactly what she’s come to realize no longer deserves her passion and zeal, and what most certainly does. As she quotes her thoughtful agent, Mollie Glick, “This isn’t a travel memoir, it’s a love story.” A love story to the wonders travel can reveal, to the loved ones who make our lives rich and rewarding, to the strength and fortitude each of us harbors. Plus, it’s a hell of a fun ride. Enjoy!
Photo of my two princesses with Doreen at the queen’s very fun book launch party.