By now, you may be wondering what happened to that crazy girl, her dog and their RV.

After 39 states, hundreds of interesting characters and thousands of cities and towns, I’d like to tell you we rode off happily into the sunset… which wouldn’t be too far from the truth.

I made it back to Washington at the end of December in time to surprise my mom on Christmas morning.

I have since moved to a small city in an area of the country that I love.

Please visit my archives to get the full story behind this blog.

Four years after the storm


In Bay St. Louis, Miss. – 20 minutes west of Biloxi and an hour northeast of New Orleans – a woman living with her dog in an RV is not that out of the ordinary.

This is where the eye of Hurricane Katrina touched down in August 2005, causing more devastation than any recorded before her in the country.

Miles of sandy beaches and nary a tourist greet me in early November. Posts from decimated houses sit like forgotten bones.

For every grocery store, restaurant, bait stand and gas station, two or three are closed indefinitely.

The quiet is a vacation after Florida's coast line, Boston, Manhattan.

It's a sad quiet, though, like a ghost town.

Locals still talk about the aftermath.

Bodies, vehicles, and people's belongings were strewn like litter.

People slept wherever they could. The street lights were out and you could see the stars.

The insects were terrible. It was hot and humid.

Pet dogs roamed the city in packs.

Men reverted to instinct, too.

In New Orleans, where the levees broke, there was violence and looting. But here crime was kept mostly in check by the National Guard.

Store employees gave away food and toiletries.

A.J. Sconza, 59, and his wife Patricia, 68, were working the closing shift at Wal-Mart the afternoon before the hurricane.

Aj A.J. waited for Patricia to check out the final customers, so they could drive to a relative's home further inland. By the time she finished, they realized there wasn't time.

They drove to their small one-story home in Bay St. Louis to ride out the storm.

"The wind was so loud, we had to yell to each other to talk. And then the water came in," says A.J., tears forming in his eyes.

In less than an hour, it went from a tiny pool he tried to sweep away to 4 1/2 feet above the living room floor.

"And my wife can't swim. She's tiny. I hugged her and I kissed her and I said, 'Good bye. We ain't gonna make it. I love you and I'll see you in Heaven.'"

But the water stopped.

It wasn't their time.

Days later A.J. dedicated his life to God and more than four years later is an

active member of Calvary Chapel, where he helps whoever and whenever he can.

"I dont have no regrets, I'm just full of joy. I've been in and out of jobs, but

I'm not worried about it because the Lord gonna take care of me," he says.

"I've heard of so much death since we've been here,” says Andrea Langham, Andrea who moved to the area with her husband Kris from Huntington Beach, Calif. a couple years ago. Kris is the church's pastor.

“And it's not just older people. It's drugs and suicide,” she continues. “So, there's still a lot of hurt here."

The Langhams were among those who came in teams organized by a group of Calvary Chapel pastors. They fed people three meals a day under a circus tent set up in a Bay St. Louis ball field.

The meals and sermons went on for about a year after the storm. Then restaurants began to reopen and the city asked the church to stop.

Church member Stephanie Luxich, 52, a lifelong resident of Bay St. Louis, population 6,000, remembers those days.Stephanie

She lost her apartment in the hurricane and has lived in transitional settings, doing a variety of temporary work.

She also recalls how a decade before the storm, the now quiet city had started to boom. People bought property sight unseen. With its small-town charm and uncluttered beaches, Bay St. Louis was the new place to be. Real estate prices skyrocked.

Since then, about a third of the population has left.

"I always thought I was going to die here,” says Luxich. “But then Katrina changed everything. Nothing is forever.”

Luxich has learned to appreciate blessings amid the chaos – such as the year she spent in a 450-square-foot FEMA-issue cottage with sea green interior and crown molding.

She had it placed at the edge of her niece's property, near the water.

“I'd always wanted to live on the beach,” she says. “I couldn't afford it.”

"When you've been through a lot of stuff, it's just too much effort to stress about things," she adds. "He (God) has provided me with exactly what I need."

A decision life made for me

After enough years wondering where I belong, life made the decision for me.

That's not to say I won't someday change my mind. But for now, it's fair to label me a west coast girl.

I like to wear belly dancing tops with cowboy boots to the grocery store and not attract stares.

I prefer dryness to humidity; rattle snakes to deer ticks; would rather work on cars and take camping trips than go to the theater or talk politics. And I crave wide open spaces.

A "city" to me can consist 8,000 residents in the middle of "nowhere."

Parting images of Pittsburgh…


I was sad to say goodbye to Steel City, though I caught some major highlights during my visit, including the Smithfield Street Bridge, which has crossed the Monongahela River in one form or another for almost 100 years.


Here it is again, viewed from the vantage point of another mill artifact…


A pedestrian walkway on the bridge is industrially practical and yet so imbued with the history of the people who built it, that it is undeniably poetic.


It enabled several Crayola-happy images for me.


But I  said my goodbyes in the midst of the G20 Summit, an international economic thinktank that for two days pitted protesters against police and turned downtown into some sort of Orwellian seeming ghost town, since all the bridges in and out of the city were closed to regular traffic.


Here's one of several troupes of patrolling officers in the South Side neighborhood, the eve before the event.


The South Side is a colorful, eclectic district. I got Mahalia Jackson and Wumpscut CDs at an awesome used music store, saw draft beers advertised for as little as 86 cents on game days and pitied the owner of this RV and trailer combo, after experiencing my own harrowing driving experiences on Pittsburgh's crazy side streets.


My great aunt, Ann Donoghue, left, and Irene Toma (Sam Toma's wife) shared a wonderful Lebanese dinner with me in the South Side.


Earlier, I'd had my first ever taste of Lebanese food on Squirrel Hill with Kevin and Krista Mallon, who lead a vibrant Calvary Chapel just outside the city.

Kevin and krista

When I got to Pittsburgh, my hair was blue. When I left, it was back to boring brown. Think I'll blend in better this way.


“And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile. And you may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?'”


I saw Dwayne for the first time in a Wal-Mart parking lot when he walked to the door of his RV and patiently let his dog, Buddy, jump in.

That ritual is oh so familiar.

Ours were the only RVs in a giant mall complex in Steubenville, Ohio.

His was pulling a trailer and looked more beat up than Rocinante. Buddy has about two dozen dog years on Armani.

"Uh oh, that's us in a few years," I jokingly told her.

Like truckers, RVers have an unspoken community.

Dwayne saw me and came over to say hi.

We traded stories of life on the road. He no longer has a water holding tank after blowing a tire. A bad generator fried his house battery. 

I joked about the constant water spills I deal with carrying around jugs and bottles for my dog and I, and how Armani jumped on my toilet seat and broke it.

Dwayne is in his fifth year living on the road. This is his third RV.

He sometimes "waves cardboard," or holds a sign asking for money, to get by.

I didn't ask his age or how many times he's been married or if he has a criminal record.

I asked for tips and he gave me some decent ones: get a gym membership so you can work out and shower; bring other stores' advertisements to Wal-Mart for the lowest price; stay legal.

Dwayne used to oversee and train a sales force. He had a business five years and a lifetime ago.

When I met him he was headed to Las Vegas to pursue an opportunity that may lead him back into the fixed world.

Maybe he'll wake up in the same place every morning while my foot is on the gas pedal.

Our brief interaction made me wonder what separates us on the proverbial road. Am I a journeyer? Is he a wanderer? Is that a distinction worth making?

Another American icon was from Indiana, too


Guess what other famous love of mine is from Indiana?

At the Fairmount Historical Musuem I browsed a mind blowing display of James Dean's personal belongings, which included school report cards, clothing, letters, and art work, along with awards, contracts and other memorabilia.

I talked to people who knew his family. They told me great stories about Dean's high school past times, interests and personality. He was never really a rebel, like Hollywood made him out to be. In fact, Dean was an only child who lost his mother to breast cancer when he was nine. He was raised for the most part by relatives. He grew up a sensitive, artistic soul, who would visit Fairmount from Hollywood and act no different toward friends and family than before.

He was killed in a car crash at the age of 24.

Here's a letter Dean wrote to cousin Marcus Winslow, who is 12 years his junior. Dean was in his early twenties at the time and was working in New York. The letter was regarding some drawings Winslow had sent him and reflects Dean's Quaker beliefs.

Clicking on the photo will open it in a separate window, where it should be large enough to read.


It's interesting there is so much more left of James Dean's life in Fairmount than there is in Lafayette of either Shannon Hoon or Axl Rose, though they were born much later.

Fairmont, population 3,000, is still a small town.


"Around here you IMG_3407 walk up and down the street and people say hello to you and you answer them back," says museum volunteer Phil Zeigler (right), a U.S. Navy veteran.

IMG_3394 "'Happy days' are gone, but it is still very Americana," fellow volunteer and Army veteran Mike Davis (left), 67, who attended high school with Marcus Winslow, concurs. "People are still happy and friendly."

Continuing on my personal trail of ‘heroes’

Axl Rose and Shannon Hoon are both my musical loves. Rose sings for Guns N Roses, and Hoon, who died at age 28 of a drug overdose, sang for Blind Melon. Both are from Lafayette, Indiana. They knew each other, too, though Rose was older.

The lyrics from a song he wrote called "Change" are carved into Hoon's tomb stone in nearby Dayton, Ohio.


At the grocery store in Lafayette, I met one of Hoon's old friends, who told me "If things were getting boring, Shannon would liven them up real quick."
He says after the drugs started, Hoon changed from the fun-loving, sweet athletic guy he'd partied with and served in high school detentions with to someone distant and unkempt he barely recognized.
Today, Hoon is definitely more loved than Rose is in his hometown. Perhaps because he never dissed it, like Rose, did. (Though Rose dissed everything at one time or another, so I don't know why that's significant.)
Not much is left of either of their stomping grounds.
Rose reportedly spent a lot of time playing music in his grandmother's garage, which was located behind this frozen custard shop on the outskirts of a large park.


Indiana is all mine…

About half a dozen people along my route told me I may as well skip Indiana.
"There's nothing there."
"Just a bunch of corn fields."
"Nothing important to see."
By the time I made it over the Kentucky border, I was burnt out.
My lap top battery had officially died; I'd weathered my share of mechanical and technical problems, battled bugs and heat and humidity, tossed multiple notebooks full of interviews and been on the road roughing it long enough to qualify as a gypsy.
So when I drove into that blessed mid-70 degree state, I thought, "I don't care if there is nothing here. Indiana will be my vacation. Indiana belongs to me."
The change from the south to the Midwest is oddly instantaneous. Not just in the weather, but the culture, too.
In the small city of Scottsburg, several dozen ball-tossing, corn-fed-looking high school boys converged in the Wal-Mart parking lot on Friday night and and held a raucous outdoor party, complete with fast cars, rap music and two or three flirtatious girls.
I spent an hour or so in Indianapolis and a neighborhood a few miles north called Broad Ripple, which is pleasantly artistic and diverse.
Even just a few miles past the border, people have way different accents than those in Kentucky do. For whatever reason, they were a lot less reactive to my bright turquoise hair.
And for the record, the corn fields are beautiful.
I've got plenty of sunsets, old buildings and scenic panoramas preserved in my mind.
You guys will have to imagine.

Couchsurfing – my first experience

Before I left for my trip I joined an online travelers' community called Couchsurfing, where members can look for places to stay or offer to host others in their homes.

My first 'hookup' so-to-speak was at Noah Porch's home in Nashville.


Porch, 29, drives around this cool 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle. He works as a program analyst and has been "doing the couch surfing thing" since 2005. During that time, he's graciously played host to a large number of travelers, but has yet to be a surfer, himself.

"I backpacked through the UK when I was 18. I wish I'd have had it
then. I'm sure I'll use it (as a surfer, not a host) at one point," he

He lives in a house about three miles from downtown with two of his brothers, also in their late twenties. The guys all have girlfriends and the girlfriends have dogs. Noah and his girlfriend, Mary Beth, recently rescued a 2-week-old Rottweiler puppy they found on their doorstep, in fact.

The night I arrived, they hosted a dinner with fresh fruit and Indian food. They let me bring Armani in and offered lots of great 'backdoor' Nashville suggestions.

It seems counterintuitive that professional people with busy lives would open their worlds to strangers, but that is the beauty of the Couchsurfing philosophy.

Says Noah: "Everyone is totally different, but everyone has the thing where they love to travel and love to see new things."

"The Nashville community is really cool," he adds. "They'll get together and have potlucks every second Sunday of the month."

He says those who crash with him are "usually people that are not very materialistic. Really, anyone who is a traveler isn't very materialistic because you can't be. You can't have a bunch of crap holding you down."

"I haven't had a bad experience," he adds. "Everyone is on their way somewhere, so no one's really imposing."

I loved meeting him and his friends and learning from them. It was also a much needed oasis for Armani and I to recoup and catch up on cleaning and posting, as we'd been feeling pretty ravaged by the unabated heat.

‘Don’t fret’ and Memphis nightlife

IMG_2740 Keon Cooper, 23, was my personal Memphis tour guide one Saturday night. He is a firefighter and cooks at at The Pier Restaurant downtown, where we met when he helped guide my RV into an alley so I could plug in and have AC.

(I overloaded my system and had to unplug for the night at 7:30, but that's another story).

I hadn't planned to spend the hottest weeks of the year in the South, but I'm trying to hit a tier of states I wanted to see and would have otherwise missed via my planned coastal itinerary. Unfortunately, the heat and humidity are merciless. More for Armani than me. Humans can escape for dinner into air conditioned restaurants. Humans can sweat. But she has to weather this out in her giant, metal dog house.

Thankfully, in the crazy scavenger hunt that is now my world, there are messengers sent to help me.

Anthony Gales (who I met when I mistakenly pulled into his gas station from yesteryear) was one of those. He told me about The Pier.

And when I got there, manager David McCain (right) was surprisinglyIMG_2744 OK with the idea of donating electricity to me.

He claims he's gotten stranger requests — like a group of 17 filing in at once to use the restroom.

McCain actually spent much of his childhood in the Ozarks where I'd just come from.

"Don't fret," he said to me, while I was thanking him excessively.

"Ha, I must me in the South," I responded. "I could use a little less fretting.'

Outside of the tourist draw on Beale Street, Memphis was surprisingly less lively than I thought it would be. It almost seems this city had it's musical moment in the sun and now that creative energy is hovering some place different.

It is still incredibly historic.


Keon and I had a good time walking around and talking about life.

In fact, I think we made a kickass team – this 115-pound blond girl and the 260-pound black guy. If only because the world reacts to us so differently.

He got searched at the entrance to Beale Street and they waved me on through.


"Wow," I said. "They hardly even looked in my purse. I guess they don't think I'm much of a threat."

"Yeah," he said with a laugh. "People usually get out of my way."