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Life After Millicent -- Road Trips

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Once you've written a biography about someone, immersed yourself in their life for some years, it's hard to shake them. They keep knocking around in your head. Millicent Rogers, my subject, led a life very different from mine, yet everything I do now, from shopping for a dress to taking a car trip reminds me of her. Yes, even a car trip.

Not all road trips are alike. Take the famous one Jack Kerouc made across the U.S. and Mexico with Neal Cassady in his book On the Road and the one that Tom Wolfe immortalized in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Who can forget the Merry Pranksters making love in the luggage racks of their bus. My own experience with road trips has been less frolicksome.

Each year my husband and I, who now live mostly in Taos, New Mexico, load up our car and drive across country to Nantucket. The chief reason for driving is to bring our dog, an Australian cattle dog, with us, and have a second car on hand during the summer. It is a long trip, and after the second or third year of making it the romance of crossing America's heartland starts to pale. You see very little of the country or much else when driving on interstates trying to make time. The interchanges all look the same with their truck stops, motel chains and fast food restaurants. This past summer our trip was made during a heat wave of 100 degree temperatures across the northeast and Kansas. I thought a bit longingly of Millicent's grand tours with maids and chauffeurs. One trip that Millicent made in 1948 from Taos to Jamaica came vividly to mind.

Rogers, a beautiful American heiress, set out to make her way across the American South in a two-car caravan with three Indians, a Hispanic, a black woman, and a British aristocrat, her friend the Lady Dorothy Brett. It took two cars to carry her, Brett, her cook Ethel, her ranch foreman, and two Indian men from Taos Pueblo. One of them, Benito, was Millicent's lover and wore a neck brace following a car accident in Taos. Millicent, Brett, and Benito rode in her Chrysler driven by the foreman. Her cook, the luggage and the others went in a station wagon driven by a young Indian chauffeur. Her favorite dachshund, Fanny, was along, too. They also carried Millicent's many suitcases (she typically traveled with 35) and an Indian drum.

In Dallas the two cars lost each other and when they finally got to their hotel, local cowboys heckled the Indians over their long hair. Because Ethel was black the hotel would only allow her to stay if she slept on a cot in Millicent's room. In Arkansas an innkeeper made the Indians feel unwelcome when she told them that if she'd known they were Indians before they checked in, she wouldn't have let rooms to them. Rogers, in her unflappable manner, confronted the bigotry and aggravation by ordering dinner to be served for the entire traveling party in her sitting room.

Eventually the group made its flight to Jamaica from Florida, but even in a time before Homeland Security, customs in Montego Bay confiscated the revolver that Millicent carried. Yet more antics and capers met with this traveling party in Jamaica, but that's another story. It just goes to show that money doesn't solve everything, and that car travel is an adventure on every income level.

I tried to keep that in mind as I looked for dog friendly motels to fit my budget in Kansas.