What’s that buzzing sound? – Breaking my silence part II

Dont envy me #antibes

This is only my fourth attempt to put down in a coherent order the events and new feelings of the past three months.  

And I can’t really complain of not having time or space to think it over:

Antibes beach view Alden Olmsted
Bonjour from Le Coté d’ Azur!

Reactions were common:
“You went where? The south of France?  I’d like to go to the south of France!
For how long – 10 Days?
I’ve never taken a 10 day vacation!”

Well maybe you should.

Red Cross Real Hero Award Alden Olmsted

“And you won an award?  From the Red Cross?”

I guess I did.  A ‘real hero’ award – for my efforts of carrying on Dad’s Across California Trail.  It was a great event and a very meaningful bookend to the past few years of tying up some of dads loose ends and hopefully better securing his legacy.

A video of each hero can be seen here:



And then my brother.

If you’ve been reading along you’ll recall how good it felt to see my brother working again and happy, and to feel that I was helping someone with a very real need, as well as rebuilding my own life too.  The feeling was long coming, it was real and it was deeper than could be expressed in a few sentences.

That feeling lasted about one month.


It’s not as much a downer as it might sound, and maybe that’s why I hesitated to share, it was just a huge roller coaster – this overwhelming feeling of fulfillment and purpose and then in the space of a few weeks going back to just taking care of me. Actually it wasn’t a roller coaster at all, it was more like the mining cart chase in Indiana jones, and I felt like that one that hit the dead stop and the cart goes caterwauling end over end into the abyss.


And then came the sledgehammer.

March 17. I know it because I wrote it down.  Yes on my hand but still. 

I was hitting a few stops on my small business route, on a gorgeous green pre spring day in Sonoma and west west Marin counties.  It should have been a great day, having a break from the day job, driving past rows of eucalyptus trees and over green hills, listening to music and feeling good about my business, and other things as well.  Oops I said it.

What other things?

That’s when it hit me like the mike tyson punch from the hangover.  There are no other things.


I walk into one of the retailers to refill products and they say hi but don’t even really talk to me anymore.  I’ve gotten it established to the point where it seems silly and even pointless for the artist to continue driving around filling racks.  Not beneath me, just not necessary.  They know it as well as I do – anyone can do this part.

My day job is the same – grateful to have it but anyone can do it.  

Understand, this is very unlike me. I’ve got a history of doing things only I could, or at least in a way that only I would. 

Chrysler Newport no door Alden Olmsted

And what “other things” you say?  Well not to put too fine a point on it but when you’re not providing for a wife, or working so your kids can play little league, learn an instrument or go to college – heck maybe just so they’ll be able to eat every day and be clothed – when it’s just taking care of number one, it can be a pretty empty existence.


But still. France.

Ferry ride wide

Our good friends Jeremiah and Betty had gotten married last year and like many new couples doubled down on the whole adventure part of a new life together. Jeremiah had gotten an engineering job in Toulouse, then a few months ago got transferred to another plant near Nice, between Cannes and the I-talian border. A rough spot indeed.

Le Righi France restaurant

So we got ten days on the Coté d’ Azur.  Ten days to roll out of bed around 9:30, to wake up with an espresso and a fresh croissant, maybe head down to the beach around 2 and look over the girls, hit up a nice dinner spot or have drinks with J when he got home from work.

And it was great.  Really.

Alden antibes plate view

Alden Mini Cooper France

Alden mediterranean arms wide

I even thought about staying longer.  Like a month or even more.  Maybe hike parts of the Cinque Terre and make it down to Sicily where I’ve got a friend who’s working with Syrian refugees and maybe…



I can’t even finish the sentence it’s so empty.


My favorite line from any movie in a long time is still the one from the shawshank redemption.  You know what it is before I even say it.

"I guess it comes down to a simple choice really, get busy living, or get busy dying."
“I guess it comes down to a simple choice really, get busy living, or get busy dying.”

I could amend it – as I’m wont to do – “get busy living [for something or someone], because living for yourself just ain’t gonna cut it.”

I can hear the attempts at encouragement – and I don’t begrudge anyone the effort – I’d probably say the same things to myself.  “You’ve got a job, somewhere to live, you’ve been able to do some great work with state parks and your dad’s legacy and…”

And what?  What else?

Maybe since dad’s legacy is better secured, maybe since my brother is over the hump, planning for his wife and daughter’s return, maybe I am feeling released – or at least more free than I’d expected.

Designing your life book

Timing is way more important than I used to realize.  So it was that just two weeks after this sinking, empty feeling a friend recommended the above book and I didn’t hesitate, I bought it and dove in – I’m trying to learn to think less and just answer the call.

I haven’t finished it but so far it’s working.



Sonoma Honey
Photo credit Sonoma Magazine

So in conclusion no – I’m not interested in a life of servicing myself, taking vacations and posting gorgeous pictures, fun as it may be in the short term.  

It’s not time to meditate –
not time to hesitate –
not even time to educate.

It’s time to polinate.  

It’s time to put the same effort I’ve put into having adventures as into finding someone to share them with.  Hopefully she’s still out there.

I know Red, hope is a dangerous thing.

Kiss from France

Well if hope were poker chips I’m going all in.

Buzz buzz buzz


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Life is a Highway – Now it’s a book

Well it only took six months and tapped out at a mere 240 pages, but my road trip account Life is A Highway, an Olmsted Journey’ is done.  Available in magazine format and full color by Blurb Books I think it turned out great.  Hopefully it captures what it was like to be on the road for almost four months, traveling over 10,000 miles in a 50 year old convertible.


Thanks of course to the many who housed and fed me, and enjoyed this adventure alongside.  I have a feeling it’s not done just yet.



Alden Olmsted

Life is a Highway Blurb Books 2017


Monument Valley Life is a Highway Blurb Books 2017
Monument Valley Life is a Highway Blurb Books 2017
Nashville Friends - From Life is a Highway Blurb Books 2017
Nashville Friends – From Life is a Highway Blurb Books 2017
Alden Olmsted Seneca Lake
Alden Olmsted at Seneca Lake
Watkins Glen SP from Life is a Highway Blurb Books 2017
Watkins Glen SP from Life is a Highway Blurb Books 2017


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Yes, Life is *still* a Highway: Breaking my silence part I

Impending /imˈpend’ing/
Assumed, imminent, expected, certain, unalterable

Doom /do͞om/
Destruction, ruin, death, or some other terrible fate (like sleeping on a friend’s floor AGAIN) – Alden’s abridged dictionary

The end of my epic, soul-searching, amazing trip of summer/ fall 2016 was in most ways just that, an end.  But something happened while I was in Chicago just a few weeks prior, that my friends noticed, and that I touched on briefly in the wrap-up, that knocked me down pretty good.

I knew what was coming.  And I was toast.  Defeated.  In fact I was – if I’m completely honest – terrified.  Many of the places I had been to in the four months of June – October were new, at least in a car.  And most were separated from California by vast deserts, majestic mountain ranges, criss-crossed highways, or just a ton of miles and 24-hour Waffle Houses.  But Chicago..  Chicago is on I-80.  The same I-80 that goes from Oakland to San Francisco.  The same I-80 you take to get to Ikea, or an A’s game.  The same road I started on.

Screenshot map home

DAMMIT ALL to H-E- Double hockey sticks


The fear was strange – after all it’s still 2000 miles.  TWO-THOUSAND MILES.  2000 miles still driving the old boat in which anything could happen.  I could break down in Iowa – in Davenport say and become a davenport salesman (thats a couch to the layperson).  Or in Lodgepole Nebraska and become an Antelope horn sharpener.  Or maybe join the hipster California transplants and make a home in Salt Lake City, or Provo.  Sell insurance and… Nope.  You can tell by reading and I know before even thinking, fate doesn’t allow a way out when the mountains are in front of us.  When Vader is waiting on the escarpment (so what if I just wanted to say ‘escarpment’).  When the mines of Moria and the Balrog beckon to us there really is




Lodgepole B/W

LIAH Iowa hood reflect
I can, at times, go about my day and make the best of many situations, while underneath the surface I steam and scheme and twist and ponder.  However – when things have boiled to a frothing mess, and I can no longer hide it, I can wear my emotions on my sleeve with the best dissatisfied wide receiver in the game.  They knew.  I was not ok.

I was faced with the reality that I was coming back to the EXACT.  SAME.  CRAP.  That after saving my money, prepping the old car for an epic trip, surviving 95 degree traffic in Austin, TX – in a convertible – making it safely through 23 states and meeting old friends and new characters, getting some amazing photos and sleeping under the stars and next to gator-infested swamps, that after this huge, awesome, amazing trip, that “home” was going to be right there where I’d left it – completely unchanged – and the situations that were attached to it.  Now. Obviously this isn’t really news to anyone paying attention, heck it wasn’t news to me.  I had at least hoped however, that if my situation was the same, that maybe I would come back different.  That I would somehow come back with a different mindset, renewed ambition, re-centered philosophy, etc..  Or maybe, that I’d find what the majority of heroes find in stories new and old – that I had it in me all along, I just had to believe.

Tread lightly

Sounds great, but how does that floor feel?

So what should I do?  Get up, start my day, get some coffee and post my resume for the millionth *&#@! time?

I guess the answer was yes, yes I should.

Erik Alden Camera spring lake

Because then the unexpected happened.  An unlikely event occurred, in fact two unlikely things.  First I got a job.  *GASP*  Ok fine, I “accepted” a job – but a job I previously would probably have turned down.  Not because it was beneath me, or too much work, or too corporate (ok that last one might be true), but because it’s the type of job that I wouldn’t think would lead to anything else.

What do I know.

Just three weeks – not three months, or three years, but three weeks after accepting said job and putting on the corporate polyester shirt and magnetic name tag, my brother called.  Let’s pause.

Yes I have a brother.

His name is Erik.

He has a family.

He lives in Brazil.

Having a brother that many of my friends have never seen reminds me of that Three’s Company episode where Jack told Mr. Furley that his brother Austin was visiting from Austin, but he could never seem to get them in the same room.

Alden and Erik in Sonoma

So my brother, for a variety of reasons, was ready to come back to the states, a few months ahead of his wife and daughter, and would need a place to live, a roommate, maybe even a car. Since he hadn’t lived here for five years he might need someone already here to find a place to live, someone with credit history, local references, a current job, maybe even an extra car that he could use to get to work.

Not to put too fine a point on it but sheesh God I get it.  I get it.

On his first day as a substitute math teacher at the local middle school – yes the same one our mother went to as a little girl – they begged him to stay for the rest of the school year.  He wouldn’t even have to do the substitute thing, checking messages, hoping for work.  Nope.  Easy.

Erik and Alden at Spring Lake

He leaves each morning before I do, with a smile on his face I haven’t seen in years.  He gets in my Honda and drives to work.  He pays 1/2 of the utilities and the rent and makes dinner.  Sometimes he makes a little extra for me.  I drive my old car, the same one that went 10,000 miles around the country, to sell cars yet again.  I found a sales rep for my side business.  He drives around the state in my place and emails orders from new stores that want to carry my cards.  I reopened my savings account.


All because I did what?  Try harder? No.  Try smarter?  Maybe.  Not give up.  Probably.

Or maybe it’s just that life is like a mountain, some mountains can be climbed, some can be tunneled through, some can have a new trail blazed over a pass, but mountains never disappear.


Maybe I did come back a little different after all.  Or a little more like…



Baby I’ll be there to shake your hand, baby I’ll be there to Share the Land, that they’ll be givin’ away, when we all live together…

I’m talkin’ bout together now





Next week – So this is normal: Breaking my silence part II


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Road Trip Rule #10 – Know when to…

Road Trip Rule 10

As you may have guessed, the ‘road’ part of the road trip is done.  However in the week or so that I’ve been “home,” and seeing how where I’m at still doesn’t feel like a home, I think the mental and spiritual part of the trip is not done.  At least not done like toast is done, where it can’t be put back in.  So I’m not closing the books just yet.

I hope you’ve enjoyed following along as I’ve enjoyed have some structure in which to record these thoughts.  I’ll remain vigilant and with open eyes and ears will continue to record and share.  I’ve learned enough to know it’s one thing I’m here for.


Alden (old-friend) John (from my father) Olmsted
November 2016

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10,000 miles, 4 months, 22 states… yes wow is in order

Ok but did I

Bookends.  Even before I learned about screenplays from the master Blake Snyder himself, I recognized as well as many have, how many movies ended in the same spot where they began, with one basic question.  So what?  Did this guy or girl change?  What did we get on that roller coaster for?  Was it really just for the ride?

Bonneville Salt Flats 2016
Beginnings just look different.. Bonneville in June


My time in Chicago was aptly placed.  At the end of an amazing, exhausting, emotional, soul-searching, at times lonesome, at times crowded trip, I ended up in the city of cool buildings, surrounded by fans of a certain team that had over 100 years of pent up frustration and tragic curses to power through.

Sheesh.  Try not to glean any similarities from THAT.

LIAH Lion cubs hat

I saw Chicago as I have before, with very good friends from California K and B, through eyes old and young.

LIAH Becca looks up

LIAH Willis T up

LIAH K and B fam

LIAH Go cubs go

The night before the big game I managed to connect with some good Cubs fans who invited me to brave the wilds of Wrigleyville for the first World Series game played there in 108 years – if I was up for it.

LIAH Roadhouse grill


Yes I was.

I won’t go into all the details but after a three hour wait to get in to the bar, a great game but one-run loss for the cubs, a long conversation with a cute Chicago DA (Samantha if you’re reading this look me up when you’re in SF), a dead phone and a late night memory exercise on Chicago’s transit system that resulted in a police ride home, my head hit the pillow, knowing I too left it all on the field.


See what I mean with these darn metaphors.


My insightful friends in Chicago had mentioned, “are you alright?” a few days before, as I sometimes have too much boiling up to hide, and on this particular day I was failing big.  Why?  Because I wasn’t ok. Because the road home was clear, and reality was settling in – after all these miles, all the great places I’d been, all the new and old people I’d met and visited, I knew what I knew at the beginning: the problems back home were waiting for me and didn’t give a rat’s a** how much fun I’d had.  And I knew it.  I knew it.

But money was running out, weather was changing, and I had to make the call.


So I did what I know how to do.  I drove.  I drove all through the night.  I stopped when I wanted to see something I hadn’t seen before.  Like a forest in Iowa.

LIAH Iowa tree stump busted
I played my ukulele on the banks of the Mississippi River.  I stopped at rest areas.  I slapped my face until I heard the tires hitting the bumps on the side of the freeway then I stopped again. I woke up at 4am and kept driving.  I ate pancakes and hash browns in North Platte.  I watched football in Wyoming in an old saloon where the bartenders still smoke.  I stopped once the landscape began to change and just stood there.

LIAH Nevada pan chrysler

Taking it all in.


Then I thought about the statement at the top.  If this is it, if this is the end of the ‘road’ part of the trip, what did I learn?  What was I reminded of?

Well fortunately I had many miles to think it over:

I was reminded how big this country is (duh).
I was reminded how many chain stores we have.
I was reminded how cheap lawn chairs are at Walmart.
I was reminded that might be the only thing I will buy at Walmart.
I was reminded how beautiful the west is.
I was reminded how different the heat feels in Arizona than it does in Austin.  And Charlotte.


I learned how good it is to just go.  To just take off and not know every stop.
I learned how good the food is in Nashville, the roads in Louisiana, the corn fields in Virginia, and how cheap the beer is – pretty much everywhere outside of California.

I learned I like the South.
I learned that though it’s a cliche you really can’t take the California out of the boy.
I learned that the Chrysler ran faster than it had in years, though I never learned why.
I was reminded how many people love to talk to someone who is on a journey.
Whether or not that person is in the mood to talk is irrelevant.

I was reminded how many friends I have, strewn all about, and what kind of people they are.

hint – The really good kind.

I was reminded how much I love the smell of gas, and of the land as you breathe it in.
I was reminded that my choice to fly to Indiana 17 years ago and buy a certain gold convertible was a really,
good one.

I learned that the one thing rich or poor, old or young, that we all fall under, is time.
I was reminded of how important it is to spend it well.  And I still don’t know what to do about that girl.

Walking on water - harder than it looks

Appropriately enough a full-blown snow storm was my test to re-enter California:

LIAH I 80 snow

The Chrysler stayed the course.  Sandwiched between semi trucks on three sides this 50-year old car that few think might make it to LA let alone around the U.S. was as solid as the day I bought it almost 17 years ago.  Before Obama, before 9/11, before y2k.  When Britney was still queen.
And I made it.

And man that Welcome to California sign still looks good.


It really does.

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Road Trip Rule #9:

Oh the stars
Oh the stars

I did it in California, I did it in Arizona, same for Utah and New Mexico.  Texas?  Nope I tried but the threat of an agitated gator kept me inside my (I’m sure) impervious nylon tent.  No matter – I had my fill.  If you want a good road trip, gotta brave the elements at least once and let your mind wander up to the constellations.  Are aliens out there?  What about satellites?  What are the people on the space station doing right now?  Probably watching Law and Order.  What about the cute girls two tents over?  You’ll drift off around 12 or 1 but maybe you’ll wake up around 4 to pee and be so glad you did.  Enjoy it while you can.

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On the road since June.. and the weirdest part? It doesn’t feel weird

EXT. Mid-morning – A random street in middle America 

A huge boat of a car, gold, floats over patched streets in the town of Kent, Ohio.
The driver remarks to himself that despite the signs he really doesn’t know where
he is, or it could be said, there’s nothing on a per street basis that makes Kent
all that different from New Jersey, upstate New York, from parts of Virginia,
or Maryland, or even Sacramento.  What’s interesting to the driver is how
little unease he feels, that this “out-of-city” transcendental experience is
beginning to feel… well,


Anytown, USA
Anytown, USA


I first noticed this phenomenon I think in Louisiana, but it could have been Mississippi.. heck who even knows anymore.  I was at a diner where the locals were piling in for just another midday lunch.  Their conversations gave it away, if their clothes hadn’t already.  Construction guys, office workers, a few nurses.. they lined up at the first of many “meat and three’s” I would visit throughout the southern U.S.  I realized that unless I broke the fourth wall and spoke to someone, which I did about 1/3 of the time, that I was, for the most part.. invisible.  I was a fly. A passerby, a sojourner, whatever other descriptive label might cause a romantic view of “life on the road.”

LIAH Brocatos 2
LIAH Brocato's


This I think is something very strange, something that only happens when certain circumstances are present, or missing.  A deadline. A schedule. A partner with an opinion. If you want to disappear, hit the road – with no firm destination.. You’ll find it actually not that difficult to disappear.

Even to yourself.

Floating on White Lake, NC

*       *       *

But it wasn’t just that the towns looked or felt similar, it was that the strangeness of being on the road for this long of a period faded away – possibly somewhere around North Carolina.  Maybe it was leaving a friends’ house work-project in Charlotte that had me excited and actually aching for the road.  On the road things made sense.  On the road I could stop or go, fast or slow, sleep or not as the mood struck me.  But it’s more than just some kind of bachelor – freedom thing, I think it happened when the adventure outweighed the fear.

It wasn’t that I was nervous, so much as I was hoping against hope that everything would be fine.  That this thing I so needed and had thought about and planned for so long was actually going to happen, and not just barely happen but happen well.    And it did.  It really did.

The Narrows in Zion - All images ©2016 Alden Olmsted
The Narrows in Zion – All images ©2016 Alden Olmsted

Maybe getting over the hump of driving a 50 year old car from coast to coast and ending up in one piece gave me the confidence I needed.  Not the just the confidence to travel in an old car, but the confidence to do what I was there to do, talk to people, enjoy the land, discover things and share them.

Tony and A zion narrows


Anything but blend in.

Of course my car doesn’t really allow the blending in part, and that’s probably a good thing.

LIAH Monument and Indians

After all even flies need friends.

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The Search for Identity… My final companion

Tom petty was well into his amazing 40+ year career when he hit his first big identity crisis.  As Warren Zanes documents in his book Petty: The Biography, though the first two albums had solidified Tom and Co.’s byrds-brit-southern sound as solid radio staple, and the singles and touring had brought a modicum of success to both Petty and the members of the Heartbreakers, Petty was faced with one of the harsher realities of success.

He had become a brand.

And as a brand he had to clear up some blurred financial lines, cut a few ties, and draw up a new contract that would both give him more control, as well as reward him for the large part he’d built in creating this engine – an engine that now employed many people and had gotten more than a little… messy.  

He had to break with the heartbreakers.



What he had to grapple with personally though was losing his identity – or at least seeing it change dramatically. The determinedly independent kid from north Florida who wanted to be Elvis – and stick a big middle finger to anyone who said he couldn’t – especially his dad, now had to be wary of becoming one of the things rock musicians, and artists in general, all agree to despise: just another big, bloated company cranking out singles, leaving friends and relationships in their wake. Who would this new person be?  Could he be all things to all people, his fans, the band, his family?


Answer: a little bit yes a little bit no. Though forced to adapt and learn to handle the business side of rock, a person like Tom Petty at his core will never change.

*        *        *

I was reading this particular chapter on a bus from Nashville to Atlanta, on the way to get my car in Maryland and get on with my soul-searching trip.  I’d just written a post on how I was finally happy.  I was flying high, or at least as high as a jobless artist and rambling purpose – seeker can.  I was finally able to let go – like I wanted – of the last four years’ frustrations and stuttered starts, financial dry heaves that though they appeared to be working only really resulted in.. exhaustion.


I was thinking of all this when the bus pulled off in Chattanooga.  Calling it a bus stop would be a stretch, it was really just a patch of sidewalk where the weeds were winning and no businesses dared enter.  It was a quick stop, just enough time for a few people to jump on board.  I’d gone down the stairs to stand up a bit and use the restroom, when a desperate passenger caught my ear. Apparently he hadn’t purchased a ticket in time and the way this bus works they don’t accept cash – you can’t just hop on.  Maybe it keeps the riff raff off, though it’s probably just how they vary pricing and availability.  With just a few minutes to spare before the bus would leave, he pleaded with someone, anyone, to help, offering cash if someone would buy his ticket online and get him on board.

You can probably guess what happened.   Eric said thanks, handed me the cash and sat down.

“C’mon!” I thought,
“I’m reading, I’m into my book,
I’m exploring tom petty’s career and thinking about identity,
I’m feeling close to a breakthrough, I had my own bench seat,
blah blah blah…”

*        *        *

Eric is a nice enough dude, was just trying to get to a concert in Atlanta.  A French metal band.  I thought they were all Norse or Gaelic but it’s been a while.  He works at a bar in Chattanooga and dreams of starting his own someday. He rides bikes, doesn’t own a car, has a hipster beard but clearly had it before it was cool, and yep, you guessed it, has a big, ugly past involving a dad who left the whole family in the lurch.  Not just left but  stopped wanting to be a dad.  A real low life.

highvelocity-bar Atlanta GA

So it was that I found myself inside the JW Marriott in Atlanta Georgia, having dinner with Eric the bicyclist in a packed sports bar on a typical nfl Sunday, surrounded by business travelers and wedding parties, with lots of coors light and shiner bock flowing from the bar.  I wasn’t even one day into leg II, heck I hadn’t even got to my car yet, and there we were, two guys raised on bikes, skateboards, and rebellion, talking about fathers.  When I left him I could tell the tears were coming.

The funny part obviously,
is this isn’t exactly news to any of my long term friends.

*        *        *

So if this is who I am then, why don’t I just embrace it?  Why don’t I seek out these conversations and connections, head out on the road for good, become a modern day Paul or Barnabas, spreading my own gospel of fathers, forgiveness, sunshine, and California?

Alden at Sutter Buttes - Heres to ya
Probably because I’m human.  Because I still need to be reminded of why I’m here, even when it’s staring me in the face, surrounding me on all sides, a penchant for connecting with those in the margins as well as those who just like to hear stories, and are willing to share their own.

Red Cross friends in Jasper, TX 2005
Red Cross friends in Jasper, TX 2005


*        *        *

I arrived in DC the next morning.  An overnight bus ride with a packed population doesn’t exactly result in a wide awake and joyous attitude going into the new day. Nevertheless and not surprisingly, I got talking to a Doctor from Massachusetts who was in town visiting his son, one son is doing well and one son he’s a little concerned about.  We talked for hours over coffee at Ebenezer’s near union station, a place that now feels like home, though I’ve never spent more than a couple days in DC.  

We left the same way as Eric and I did, exchanging e-mails and me promising to send links to watch the film about dad, and both Eric and the doctor responding almost identically: 

“great talking to you, good luck and safe travels,
sounds like you’re on an amazing journey.”

Yes, I guess I am.

From Eric in Chattanooga, to Dr. Dobrow in DC, to Len and his wife on the airplane at the halfway point,  to many, many folks along the way, I keep being asked to share my story at unsuspecting times when I think I’m just here for this experience, for me.

Obviously it’s clear I’m not here for just me.. not even close.


*        *        *



As a kid my identity was simple, it was my bike. All day, everyday, my bike was my life. Fixing it, jumping it, customizing it. It was who I was, a troubled kid who had found an outlet.  Ok and channeling the karate kid on the schoolyard was a close second, just to be honest.

*        *        *

As an adult my identity has been a hodgepodge of long term friendships, road trips and adventures, film and photography, endless attempts at stability.  In fact way too many to count.

South Yuba River Waterfall 1999

But I know it’s also connecting people – to each other and to all of our stories and common ties.

Annadel donates
Saving Annadel in 2011
Giving directions in Vicksburg, MS
Dill California shot one
Shooting my first film! Dill, California (2007)


*        *        *

Maybe that’s why questions about my Olmsted family emerged as I planned this trip.  Finding out who dad, grandfather, great grandfather and others were in the past, I’m hoping can offer great insight to the present.


So I continue.  Visiting Cornell University today to research Great Grandfather Faye Deveaux Olmsted, Chief engineer at the Olmsted power plant that I visited way back in June  – at the beginning of this amazing trip – for those following along.

Parking at Cornell University

Cornell Library Rare Books and Research

What will I find?

I don’t know, but I said I needed this, and I think I was onto something..  so forward I go.

Following – what exactly?  An instinct?  A calling?  My heart?

“And isn’t it lonely?”
– said a man in upstate NY

Yes it can get lonely, but not as lonely as I’ve been before.  Something I’m supposed to do is my companion.  Someone I have yet to meet – maybe purpose?  I honestly don’t have a word for it just yet.

Maybe next week.




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So now you’re happy huh? Get ready for the Smackdown

It’s an old rule of storytelling, or at least it’s evident in the storytelling of modern motion pictures: when everything seems to going great…

*         *         *

So I should have known.  I should’ve been aware when I exclaimed from the rooftops “I’m happy again!”  Someone was listening.

“Oh really.. You’re happy?  You’re content?
What’s your name again – It starts with a ‘J’ right?”

Only two days from leaving California, ready and eager to begin chapter two of my trip, to dive in and meet people and keep seeing and keep discovering, I get one of those phone calls.  My car is gone.  Not towed, gone.  Not the car, not the road tripper, but the commuter car, the old but durable and very useful Honda back in California.  In the car were card samples and products, receipts and personal info, but mainly, my guitar.  My Taylor guitar.. yes worth more than the car.  Man.


The next day the company I’d signed a long sought-after licensing deal with sends me a cold email terminating the whole deal – before any products have been made, any royalties have been earned.  Just like that I went from bursting with fruit flavor on the mountain to slipping and sliding through east bay mud at sea level.


My maybe place to stay in NY turned into a no, the campsite I was excited about closed for the season two days early, and though I couldn’t believe it was happening again, some of my retailers were actually asking for more cards – after I’d just spent a month restocking them!

And I had a bus ride from Atlanta to DC to think about it.


*         *         *

And then – and since we’re on a movie track – I remembered Luke.   

We were all so excited – Luke had found his mentor! He’d found yoda. Rigorous training began, new outlooks were presented, new challenges, and of course, new solutions, ones he’d never thought of. 

Like belief. Belief that things aren’t always what they seem, that the impossible doesn’t have to be.

And then, just like that, he must go.  his friends are in trouble.  

The real world wasn’t waiting for his training like some snooty general on a civilized battlefield.

[in a British accent circa 1600]

“Shoot your arrows sir, then I’ll shoot mine!” What’s that – you’re reloading?  We’ll wait.”

No.  Time waits for no man, and all that relief we felt as he’d found his teacher was gone, and though Luke promised to return, Yoda’s face and our own instincts assured us he wouldn’t.  He was desperately needed, and whatever formal training he’d gotten, would be enough. It would have to.

*         *         *

So what do you do?

Me ? I took inventory.  Like it or not I still had to either continue the trip or drive home, and my car was waiting for me in Maryland – and with a nice new top after all these years.  I had at least three friends I wanted to see and who were waiting to see me.  I had a business meeting in Brooklyn that I had to try and make.  My business now had clear challenges, and if I wanted to make it this might be as good a crossroad scenario as any.

But most importantly, was I done?  Was I done seeing.  Was I done being on a trip before the 2nd half even got underway?  I didn’t know.  At the bus stop in Chattanooga there was a guy who only had cash and the driver didn’t take cash, so I paid for his spot online and he gladly reimbursed me.  We got talking and since there was a 3 hour break in Atlanta we went to a sports bar at the Marriott and watched football surrounded by an odd but hilarious mix of business travelers, a wedding party, and lots of people drinking too much.  At the end he was in tears hearing about dad’s story, and he shared his own struggles with a dad who was present and then left in his teenage years who he definitely wasn’t planning on forgiving.  I left him with links to watch the film and was encouraged to at least keep paying attention – these types of connections have become more common.


I picked up my car in Maryland.  Income from the work I’d done in August started to come in.  I saw old friend Joe Sell and his wife and newborn in PA.  I made it to an Olmsted legacy event in NJ and found a place to stay for a couple nights, and even tried Airbnb for the first time – on Staten Island no less.  Yes it was rainy.  Yes NY is 1000% different when you’re not being shown around by a local as I had in the past, but still.  The trip had changed, and very quickly, but so does life.

*         *         *

I’m not sure when the trip will end, or when I’ll feel *done,* possibly a little sooner than I’d hoped, but I’m here.  I’m going to show up and be ready.   There’s still more to see.  The car has a nice new snug top, the heater still kicks a**, there’s still a place waiting for me upstate, and the business has challenges but they’re the good kind, the kind that involve how to handle growing demand.

Rahway River Parkfort-wadsworthStaten Island Ferry

Staten Island was a little strange, Fort Wadsworth was really cool, and I’ve never been upstate.  This is what I came for – the unexpected.   And that’s not a bad thing.


YESSS!!! Tight new top in time for part II of the trip! Boo yah!! #1966chrysler #lifeisahighway #mopar #roadtrippin

A video posted by Alden Olmsted (@aldenolms) on

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