Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Observing—A Learned Behavior

A decade ago this summer, we took a car trip through the northeast to the Maritimes, where we spent the better part of two weeks. We drove through Maine to New Brunswick, took a ferry to Nova Scotia, took another ferry from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland, then retraced our steps. One thing that helped pass the long days on the road was a 'BOLO' list: a checklist of items to 'Be On The Look Out' for. The list included:
A horse-drawn buggy; a rocking chair on a front porch; an old lady with a dog in her lap; an Amish star on a barn; a crustacean over a restaurant; a hot-air balloon; a penguin; a sign saying 'Gotham City;' an antique car; a motorcycle rider wearing goggles; an igloo; a boarded up factory; a guy on a tractor wearing a straw hat; someone wearing a yellow jogging suit; a snowmobile on a porch; a wishing well; a moose; a name of a town put on a hillside; a porcupine; a fire hydrant painted green; a Statue of Liberty; a larger-than-life roadside statue; a musical/singing group performing; an orange car; a four-masted sailing ship; a whale; a house with Christmas lights up; a field of a yellow plant; a tanker ship; a cat on a porch; a classic New England white church with steeple; a biplane in flight, and a Ferris wheel.
None of these items were further qualified—except the orange car, which had the stipulation it 'could not be a taxi'—and everything was subjective: a singing moose in a yellow jogging suit dangling a larger-than-life crustacean from a hot-air balloon would have been a home run. The penguin could have been live, stuffed, on a sign, on the menu, or in a cartoon.

What was truly interesting was how many of these fanciful items we actually scored over the sixteen days—and not always what you might consider the 'easy' ones. Rocking chair, old lady with dog? Not a one in over four thousand miles. The motorcyclist with goggles? A dog, in a sidecar, in a campground on the island of Newfoundland. Boarded up factories? Sadly a dime-a-dozen, no further from home than Baltimore.

By the time we got home, we had added a dozen more new items we had spotted that were so fanciful they demanded inclusion on our list: a covered bridge, a seaplane in flight, lighthouse, submarine, teepee, man in a kilt, monstrous truck, molasses storage tanks...

It was a great exercise, one that kept all of our eyes out the window, focused on the new world we were seeing for the first time. I highly recommend it as a way to keep the road alive. Feel free to crib our list—and please let us know if you ever spot that elusive 'snowmobile on the front porch.'

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