The Kindness of Strangers — and Friends and Family

There is much to love about road trips. Seeing towns, cities, and landscapes for the first time; that sense of being in control of your own fate; sampling local cuisines and cocktails.

But for people like me, who think they like adventure but are actually not super-adventurous, road trips can also be stressful. The complicated logistics of lodging and meals; the constant fear of the car breaking down (a fear that hums at a high frequency when one is driving through vast stretches of desert); the almost complete reliance on your communications technology, of which you are blissfully unaware until there’s some sort of glitch or failure (the iPhone dying, a patchy WiFi connection); the loneliness of itinerancy.

I was on the road for almost three months, from early August to late October. Not all of that time was spent researching my new book project on the Civil War in the desert Southwest. Some of it was vacation (bicycling in Aspen and hiking in Telluride with my husband), some of it was R&R (a lovely two-day break in Marfa, Texas), and some of it was devoted to academic conferences. The rest of the time, however, I was driving from one place to another, stopping for a few days every now and again to do research in archives or to visit national and state historic sites. It was an exhilarating and a crazy time.

All of this was made much more enjoyable by family and friends—and one case, the family of a friend—who housed and fed me and showed me around their towns, and by strangers who did me favors for no reason, or welcomed me into their communities.

The following people (in chronological order) showed me various kindnesses, and helped me get there and back again:


Joe Beilein, Jr.                                                      Erie, Pennsylvania

Sara Sukalich and Matt Mingione                   Columbus, Ohio

Amy Wood                                                           Bloomington, Illinois

Brian Craig Miller and Nick Messing              Wichita, Kansas

John and Lynn Fritschel                                    Centennial, Colorado

Elise and Ken Davis                                            Santa Fe, New Mexico

Frances Jay and Rob Regehr                            Santa Fe, New Mexico

Nancy Castelli                                                     Santa Fe, New Mexico

Randy Egan                                                         Santa Fe, New Mexico

Sam Truett                                                           Albuquerque, New Mexico

Virginia Scharff and Christopher Wilson        Albuquerque, New Mexico


The members of the Las Cruces cycling

group who welcomed me to their ride

through the pecan groves of Mesilla

and beyond                                                            Las Cruces, New Mexico


The young man at the Radio Shack

who calmed me down and sold me a

burner phone after my iPhone died in

the middle of White Sands Missile

Range* **                                                              Las Cruces, New Mexico


Anne and Jerry Moore                                          Tucson, Arizona

Rebecca Cohen                                                      Tucson, Arizona

Ben Irvin                                                                 Tucson, Arizona


The NPS ranger at Fort Bowie National

Historic Site, who gave me a ride back to

my car so I would not have to hike back on

the trail with a backpack loaded down with

books about Apache history                                Bowie, Arizona


The security guard at the main gate at UTEP,

who took pity upon me and gave me a one-day

parking pass so I would not have to drive

around for another hour, looking in vain for a

parking space                                                          El Paso, Texas


Lonn and Dedie Taylor, who welcomed a

complete stranger into their home, told me

stories about the area, and then took me

to lunch                                                                   Fort Davis, Texas


Catherine Clinton                                                   San Antonio, Texas

Greg Chico                                                               Austin, Texas

Natalie Ring and Jon Daniel                                  Dallas, Texas

Jeanne Lopiparo                                                      Memphis, Tennessee

Rebecca Conard                                                      Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Gib Backlund                                                           Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Juliet Wagner                                                           Nashville, Tennessee

Nancy, Trey, Alex, and Kate Grayson

(and Oliver)                                                              Walton, Kentucky

Dave Kieran                                                              Saratoga Springs, New York


* Don’t worry, I managed to resuscitate it

** Don’t think I’m not suspicious about this

6 thoughts on “The Kindness of Strangers — and Friends and Family”

  1. Here’s a story for you about encountering the kindness of strangers on a road trip. My wife-to-be and I made a cross country trip in the early 1970s—either 1971 or 1972. We put the back seat down in our Volvo station wagon and fit a four-inch-thick sheet of foam rubber in the bed. We had a large cooler and a five-gallon container for water. We took off from Providence, Rhode Island and spent a month meandering to Seattle and Vancouver Island and another month coming back, living in the car. Often we spent the night in state parks; sometimes just on the side of a road. I wish I had kept a journal so I could accurately reconstruct the trip. But I’ll never forget one memorable occasion. Our car broke down in Dodge City, Kansas. We learned it would it take a week for a new water pump to arrive from out of state and be installed. We figured we would continue to live in the car during the wait. But a local family insisted on taking us in. We lived with them for the week and had a most enjoyable time. It was the city’s centennial and a lot of the men in town had grown mustaches and beards for the occasion. The local movie house was playing “Dodge City” starring Errol Flynn over and over. In addition to the movie, we took in the sights—Boot Hill and the stockyards. Our host told us that as a teenage hobo during the Great Depression he had relied on the kindness of strangers to survive, so he was “paying it forward” (although that expression had yet to be coined). We didn’t realize it at the time, but our interlude in Dodge City was a highlight of the trip. We stayed in touch with the family for several years afterward. Incidentally, years later a carload of kids from Maine broke down in Providence and we took them in. We told them about our experience in Dodge City, and suggested they might have a similar opportunity someday.

  2. Actually, Megan, I was the beneficiary of a fun and memorable day spent being able to put on my tour guide/commentator persona at the Glorieta Pass Battlefield, beautiful weather, stimulating company and conversation, and the real bonus was that of making a new friend! I hope – and look forward to – our paths crossing again in the future.
    – Randy

  3. This sounds like just the kind of nerdy adventure I’d love to take, because it involves research, visits with old friends, making new ones, seeing new landscapes, and tasting new cuisines. I’m a little envious and thrilled to hear about your new project all at the same time.

    1. Karen, you should definitely embark on a research adventure! And once you start looking around, you’ll discover you have friends in the most amazing and random places — a nice byproduct of what is otherwise a totally insane academic hiring system …

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