A little night magic

by Jenna Schnuer on May 4, 2013

magicmartyThe only open seat at Wiley’s Championship Barbecue was at the end of the counter, sandwiched between a three-, six, and eight-year-old allowed the momentary freedom of sitting almost on their own, and their parents, at a table behind it.

Before I could take my spot on the tall director’s chair, I had to wait out the magic. A customer named Marty–Magic Marty, that is–was working to plant a permanent look of wonder on the six-year-old’s face. With most of the customers either watching the show or immersed in their meals, several staff members also gathered around. He was a sight himself, in a wide-brimmed hat with magenta fabric woven through with flowers around the base of the crown. A bushy white moustache sprawled across his face. He looked like a cross between Albert Einstein and Wyatt Earp.

Marty was doing coin tricks. He made a coin disappear into the girl’s ear and pulled it out of her nose. That coin appeared and disappeared so many times, I was half expecting to see it show up in one of the capped beers in the refrigerated display case.

It’s rare that I think a magician a good addition to a night. Marty provided an exception to my rather strict rule. His magic was as clean as I’ve ever seen—there were no oh, I see how you did that’s because, really, nobody in the place could figure out how he did any of it. The adults were all caught up in permagrins, too.

Marty headed back to his table. It was clear that his dinner companions were used to him popping up to perform during nights out. They went right back to their conversation.

The spur-of-the-moment show kicked off something at Wiley’s, housed in a far-from-magical strip mall on 80, between Savannah and Tybee Island. The kids agreed. “Marty is magic,” the six-year-old crowed. “It’s good that his first name is magic because he is magic.”

“Marty is a magician!” the three-year-old added.

A few minutes later, one of the waitresses asked three-year-old where he was from.

“New Jersey!”

As much as I tried to deny my Jersey upbringing when I was a kid—and on into my late 30s—I’ve come around on it. Jersey roots can’t be denied.

Resisting the urge to yell “You from Jersey? I’m from Jersey. What exit?”—it would have been lost on the three-year-old–I turned and asked his mom where they were from.


“Oh, I grew up in Teaneck.”

“My husband is from Ridgewood.”

Then, each of us with a smile: “Oh.”

Jersey credentials established, I turned back to my ribs (which, by the way, had a certain magic of their own).

A few minutes (and, I’d guess, a few bites of sweet potato casserole) later, Marty was back. We were joined by one of the wait staff’s daughters—three months away from finishing up training at the police academy, she’d run over from her shift at the liquor store next door. He decided I looked like the big tipper in the room (Marty’s one misstep) and focused his card tricks on me.

“Choose a card,” he told me as he flipped through the stack.

“You from the Bronx?” I asked.


My mother grew up in the Bronx. The Georgia BBQ restaurant had taken on a northeastern flavor. That happens a lot.

After Marty returned to his table again, the conversation with my counter companions went into high gear. Magic. Disney World. The magic of Disney World. My age. More Disney World. Is Walt Disney a real person? “No.” “Yes.” “He made the first Mickey Mouse,” the eight-year-old contributed. “Oh,” said the six-year-old. More on Magic Marty’s magic.

On and on. We built a mountain of conversation as the piles of food in front of us shrank.

The wait staff kept a close eye on my unsweet tea, filling it whenever the plastic go cup was anywhere near half empty.

The kids’ meals done, their mom came over to chat before they headed out.

The dad was in real estate—“I’m the one who caused the collapse,” he joked, before adding, “No, I’m not one of those guys”—and they had moved to the Savannah area two years ago.

“Your kids are great dinner companions. And they seem to look out for each other,” I told her.

“With all the moving, they’re each other’s constants,” she replied. “Tonight will go down in history for them as one of their best nights. A magic show and they got to sit at the counter without us, and talk to adults they don’t know. They’ll remember this forever.”

“Well,” I told her, “so will I.”


Final tally

by Jenna Schnuer on November 11, 2012

The roundtrip of it all: at the start on April 15, 2012 and at the end on November 9, 2012. (And there were so many stories in between. The drive may be over but the stories will continue here on RoundTripAmerica.com. First: time to get the car washed, inside and out. So smudgy.)


During this brief intermission…

by Jenna Schnuer on October 13, 2012

So, I’ve fallen behind on my posts. (Hmmm. Bad behavior, I know.) Lots to tell you about from Washington and Oregon and Utah and Arizona and Alaska and Nevada and and and but…while I’m getting my writing kiester back in gear, please visit the RoundTrip America photo tumblr or the Facebook page (or both!) for updates. Oh, Twitter, too. Thanks–and more here soon. I promise. Really.


A Ferry Good Summer

by Jenna Schnuer on September 14, 2012

Within the first hour aboard the M/V Matanuska from Juneau to Wrangell, my fourth ferry of the summer and the second on the way back “Outside” after three months in Alaska, I saw a familiar face.

“Weren’t you on the Kennicott in May? In the gift shop?”

“Yeah, and I’m working in the gift shop here, too.”

On the cross-gulf trip from Bellingham to Kodiak, I’d bought a bumper sticker and a jacket from Landra. There may have been a bag and a book, too. That’s what happens when you spend just shy of a week on a ferry. You shop, read, eat dinner at 6, nap several times a day, make fast friends of people you’d never come across any other way, and, after the first 30 whale sightings, hesitate before hopping up when the purser announces a humpback off the port side of the ship.

After all, somebody probably just ordered another pitcher in the bar. Or started telling a good (or not so good) joke. Those things are important, too.

During the five-and-a-half day ferry trip that kicked off my summer layover in Alaska, everybody on the ship ended up, if not friends, at least familiar with each other. And with the family of excellent misfits that sprung up in the ship’s bar on that first night, there was frequent bantering about the people who purposely avoided your gaze when you passed them in the ship’s hallways and bits of insider info gathered from the crew members.

And the crew members became family, too. They were the wise older cousins who understood how life on the ship worked.

So when I saw Landra walking toward me on the Matanuska’s deck and, later in the cafeteria, the Kennicott’s pizza and sandwich lady, some of the antsy I was feeling about leaving Alaska eased up a bit. Though I’ve been on many Alaska Marine Highway ferries over the last 10 years, they’d always felt like a novelty, like a fun way to get from one adventure to the next. This summer, they became so much more.



by Jenna Schnuer on September 8, 2012

Alaska’s a big show off—and rightly so. Her grand landscapes demand attention. But, a tip: now and again, shun her demands. Snag time to take in the tiny details. (Yes, a decent rule for nearly any landscape but some are easier to ignore than others.)

Take, for example, the Dyea Flats. A short drive from Skagway, Dyea was a Gold Rush boomtown. Now, it’s quieter. Much quieter. Since I had just one day to spend in Skagway this go around, I headed straight out to Dyea, stopped at the Slide Cemetery to give my regards to Walter “Chappey” Chapper, a New Yorker who died in the April 3, 1898 avalanche on the Chilkoot Trail, drove down to the flats, and went wandering around. The place never gets tired. I could visit the flats every day and remain head over heels in love.

Since I was at least an hour away from needing more coffee, I decided to take a winding walk along the trails to the campground. (Now that camping is part of my life, checking out campgrounds for future visits has become a favorite hobby.) With my back to the flats and any remnants of the grand view cut off by trees along the trail, I started focusing on the ground beneath my boots. That’s when I noticed the mushrooms. The hunt was on. (Though the hunt was a camera-only affair: some of those fungi looked like they could kill you just by looking at you.)

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Overload and the Antidote

by Jenna Schnuer on June 15, 2012

On the ground in Alaska again

The map lies. But I blame it on the wall.

After six weeks of driving and a week on the Alaska Marine Highway’s M/V Kennicott, I drove off the ship onto Kodiak and logged my first Alaska driving miles of Round-Trip America. And I stopped writing. Stopped updating this site. Left the site’s map untouched (nope, not in South Dakota anymore).

Takeaway from a long road trip: a constant state of look-what-you-get-to-see joy and paying attention can lead to exhaustion. A big ugly wall of exhaustion. (I expected it but not to the degree it struck.) After getting to Alaska, a state I’ve considered my other home for several years now, I started napping about an hour for every hour of doing things. My brain could relax. I, in ways, know this place. Or at least, my version of Alaska (like NYC, everybody who comes here ends up with his or her own Alaska). There was no need to figure things out every single day. No need to look at maps to find the best route to my next wherever or to sift through reviews of hotels or campgrounds in order to figure out where I could get a budget-friendly bed for the night or set up my tent. [click to continue…]


The Other Badlands

by Jenna Schnuer on May 29, 2012

Miles of prairie stretched on either side of the highway on the drive from South Dakota up to its lesser-visited sibling up north. Blue skies backed golden grasses and, with oil trucks as my main companions on the route, I found myself crying over the area’s stark beauty. South Dakota had already captured me far more than I thought it would. Three nights in North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park hit hard, too. I have a feeling my love affair with the place will go on for a good long time. North Dakota’s badlands are grittier than those of South Dakota. Thick veins of coal make the landscape look less polished than those of the better-known Badlands. And then there are the bison. And the wild horses. The park deserves a lot more visitors but, then again, there’s a lot to be said for taking it all in on your own. TRNP offers the intimacy of a state park but the grandeur of a national one. (Photos were shot from May 11-14, 2012.)

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In Place

by Jenna Schnuer on May 25, 2012

When you move from place to place every night or two, three at the most, there’s a chance you’ll start to feel untethered, like no place is home. Untethered is fine for a short time but it can become exhausting. I’ve lived untethered—though it wasn’t travel-related—and it’s not a state I enjoy. When planning this trip, which will likely stretch to five or six months, I knew I would need anchors to keep the untethered from coming on too strong. I figured it would be phone calls and emails to friends and family, and my favorite nearly-shredded sweatshirt and the quilt from home that would ground me, that would keep me from floating away. They’re just part of the story. [click to continue…]


The Foal Monty: A Montana Tale

by Jenna Schnuer on May 19, 2012

He had an itch. He found relief.

(Click on a photo to see all the action take place as though you were right there.)

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The Botanist and the Missing Map

by Jenna Schnuer on May 16, 2012

The map but not THE map

One knee on the pavement, one foot on the ground, the man leaned forward, flipping through papers in a blue cardboard boot box. The corners of the box top were frayed; it was clear he’d been in and out of the box a lot. He was a thin grey-haired professor type, dapper in an outdoorsy way. Maybe a birder. As I walked past him on the campground loop road, I said hello to him and another man who was standing at his side. They said hello back. I continued on, filled out the next night’s camping permit and paid my $10 fee, and walked back to my tent site.

About 20 minutes later, while sitting at my picnic table deciding, slowly, on the day’s activities–Saturday in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, no rushing–the professor stopped his car on the road and got out.

“Did you see a map? I lost my map.” [click to continue…]