legoland (24)

Anyone remember Little Big Man, the comic novel by Thomas Berger that debuted 50 years ago in 1964 and became a celebrated film starring Dustin Hoffman six years later. Well, this post is about Little Big Cities.

I’m not a city person. Although I’ve resided in two of the biggest (in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood and Manhattan’s Greenwich Village), I prefer the wide open spaces. In fact, even the photo above wasn’t actually taken in a city. It’s a Lego skyscraper from Legoland in Carlsbad, California. That’s my preferred pace.

I live in what many would describe as a small town on California’s Central Coast. I’ve written three travel memoirs, all of them about some of the tiniest dots on the map. A house on wheels has taken me to some of the more remote places in the country — from Promontory (Utah) to Plaquemines Parish (Louisiana). I like it that way.

It’s not that I stay away from cities, by any means. They still form the backbone of every summer trip for us—and this summer we went everywhere from New York to Philadelphia to Boston. But I always prefer a place where quiet is the rule, not the exception, and where the view isn’t obscured by concrete and glass.

That being the case, I think I’ve come up with a way to reference some of America’s most populous places without necessarily having to become part of the population. The following are nine communities with familiar names, but they’re in less familiar places. And there’s something worth seeing in each of them. Tour them in this order, and it could constitute a viable RV itinerary:

Read More


Looking back on an eight-week summer RV excursion through 15 states, the grand encounters aren’t necessarily what remain most vivid in my memory. To be sure, for the two of us over the course of two months, there were many of those. We marveled at our nation’s natural wonders (Sleeping Bear Dunes, Pictured Rocks, Niagara Falls). We embraced our inner child (the Crayola Experience, Hershey Chocolate World). We explored various subcultures (Amish villages, coal-mining hamlets, the streets of Manhattan, the mansions of Newport). We visited a few halls of fame (basketball, tennis, rock and roll). We saw Fenway Park and Saratoga Race Course and the Norman Rockwell Museum and the September 11th Memorial.

But mostly I’ll remember the moments. The little moments. The ones that encapsulate what the best of the RV experience is all about.

Like WONDER. We live in an absolutely wondrous part of the country—California’s Monterey Peninsula. We see seals and whales and dolphins, but we don’t get fireflies. So when we returned from a hard day tasting chocolate in Hershey (somebody has to do it), the most delicious moment was watching my young niece and nephew chase fireflies as night descended on a campground in Elizabethtown, PA. There were THOUSANDS of them, lighting up the dusk like twinkling stars. Travel’s wonders come in all sizes. Awesome.

Read More


Maybe the best way to start a summary of our visit to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is to begin at the beginning. According to some anonymous scribe from the U.P. (and embracing local dialect and lingo), the following is “Da Creation of Da Upper Peninsula”:

In the beginning dere was nuttin’.

Den on da FIRST Day, God created da U.P. On da SECOND day, He created da partridge, da deer, da bear, da fish, and da ducks. On da THIRD day, He said, “Let dere by Yoopers to roam da Upper Peninsula.” 

On da FOURTH day, God created da udder world down below. On da FIFTH day, He said, “Let dere be trolls to live in da udder world down below.” On da SIXTH day, He created da bridge, so da trolls would have a way to get to heaven.

God saw it was good, and on da SEVENTH day, He went huntin’.

Well, here’s my troll’s version of a trip to the U.P. It started with a trip over that bridge, the remarkable, 5-mile-long Mackinac Bridge, with Lake Michigan on one side of us and Lake Huron on the other.

First stop: Sault Ste. Marie, the uppermost U.P., a stone’s throw from Canada, and famous for another man-made wonder—the Soo Locks. It’s one of the world’s busiest lock systems, operating 24 hours a day and seven days a week and completing over 7,000 lockages during the 42-week-long navigation season. More than 11,000 vessels carrying some 90 million tons of cargo pass through the locks each year, some of them as much as 1,000 feet long.

We happened to time our arrival perfectly—nearly matching the arrival of a massive Dutch cargo ship called the Fortunagracht. Along with scores of other viewers, we watched a fascinating marvel of engineering that allows vessels to traverse the 21-foot drop in elevation of the St. Marys River between Lake Superior and Lakes Michigan and Huron.

Read More


I rank everything. Top TV characters (I say Archie Bunker and Hawkeye Pierce). Best road trip songs (“Me and Bobby McGee” heads my list). Paragons of cool (I’m going with Bruce Springsteen and Paul Newman). And, of course, American places.

I know I’m enchanted by a particular swath of the American scene when I’m driving through the region RV-style and I’m thinking to myself: This has to rank WAY up there. The thought always comes to mind while cruising through California’s redwood country and beneath Montana’s big sky and alongside the horse farms of Kentucky and past the charming hamlets of Vermont.

And northwestern Michigan, too. Every time.

What was the best part this time around? Well, maybe it was the stroll around the almost unfathomably charming yet unexpectedly bustling town of Glen Arbor, just north of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. As an author, my favorite business establishment was the Cottage Book Shop, housed in a 96-year-old log cabin. They even had a couple of my picture books facing out. Or did I do that?

Read More


Rock has been accompanying our roll for 45 days now. We’ve been calling our epic summer RV excursion the Summer of Love 2.0. We’re driving a retro-design RV known as the Tribute, an homage to the Winnebago of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. We bought a throw rug depicting the peace symbol. We’ve been lugging around a Fifth Dimension record album, for crying out loud.

Read More