On the road with Mark Cawood

Betty BeanKarns/Hardin Valley, Knox Scene

A week ago Monday, Mark Cawood was cruising around LaFollette when he got the itch to keep on driving. This is not an unusual thing for the former Knox County commissioner and No. 1 Mayberry USA fan in Knoxville, so he went home and grabbed his Mountain Dew and one of the three suitcases he keeps packed and ready for such times (a weekender, a one-weeker and a two-week kit) and threw it all into his 2019 Ford Escape.

He left his trademark Mayberry Squad Car and his red ’65 Mustang in the garage and headed west.

By the time he got home to Karns nine days later, he’d rolled up 6,287 miles rambling through Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, Nevada, Utah and Colorado, made a bunch of new friends, renewed old acquaintances, handed out Mayberry calendars, taken scores of pictures, was the guest speaker at the May meeting of the Winslow, Arizona, Rotary Club and nearly doubled his goal of seeing five new sights.

This was his 70-somethingith western road trip. His mother, Joyce, used to ride shotgun, and kept journals with the details of their travels. She did it right up until she died at the age of 96, and he has carried on her tradition.

“She could tell you everything that happened on the road, down to the minutest little details – Where we stopped to eat, where we stopped to pee, what we paid for gas…

Joyce Cawood’s son can tell you where gas is the most expensive (Arcada in Northern California) and what the weather was like at every stop along the way – everything from desert heat to Colorado snow. May’s a crazy month out West.

He usually stops in Winslow, Arizona, to stand on the corner in tribute to his favorite Eagles song. Last year he made a friend on that corner, chiropractor Greg Hackler, who happened to be at a Rotary Club meeting the day Cawood came by on this year’s trip. Cawood crashed the meeting after being directed to the hotel where it was being held and got a warm welcome.

“Greg said, ‘We don’t have a speaker today,’ so I spoke for a minute or two,” Cawood said. I forgot to ask, but he probably left them with a Mayberry calendar or two.

The most important thing he brings home with him are memories of the friends he’s made along the way – and the thrill of learning new things.

“I don’t plan these trips out; I just drive till I see something I want to stop at. I try to do five new things ever trip. Found seven things this time,” he said.

Actually, he found nine:

An old gas station in Amboy, California, on Route 66 in the middle of the Mojave desert; another old gas station in Two Guns, Arizona, that was once attached to a mountain lion amusement park; the Toy Motel in Amboy; the Caesar Chavez grave site and National Monument in California; Trees of Mystery in California (a bunch of funny-looking redwoods); Weed, California, the town with the best highway signs of the trip; the Railroad Museum in Ely, Nevada; an old mining town in Ouray, Colorado; and the Aztec Ruins in Austin, Nevada.

The Carson Mansion is a large Victorian house located in Old Town, Eureka, California. Regarded as one of the premier examples of Queen Anne style architecture in the United States, the house is considered the most grand Victorian home in America, per Wikipedia. It was built by 100 carpenters over two years for William and Sarah Carson at a cost of $80,000 (equivalent to $2.4 million in 2021). It contains more than 16,200 square feet on three floors plus a 103-foot tower. It has 18 rooms, is owned by a private club and is not open for public tours.

This trip’s funniest encounter was with a young man in Battle Mountain, Nevada, who was working checkout at a Maverick Travel Center.

“I asked him what in the world brought him to Battle Mountain, and he said, ‘My sister got pregnant.’ I let that one go without asking any further questions.”

His favorite pictures were the signage near Weed, California; the one that says “Weed, Next Three Exits.”

Cawood was already thinking about his next trip before he got unpacked from his latest one. The notion just bubbles up when he’s not expecting it, so he tries to be ready to go when the spirit moves him. He keeps his yard mowed, his hair cut and his finger- and toenails trimmed so he’ll be ready to go.

“And then I’ll just drive till I see something I want to stop at.”

He absolutely agrees with Mark Twain about the importance of getting away from one’s comfort zone.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Nobody, Cawood says, ever said it better.

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for KnoxTNToday.com.


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