chance-based American roadtrip, best viewed on smileasyougoby.com
detail of a hand-sewn digital mural print on rice paper, graphite
reverse side of zine
We flipped coins; heads or tails, East or West, North or South. Total surrender to arbitrary instruction. If we planned accordingly, the project would make itself. It wasn’t about making beautiful images, but sticking to a methodology and taking responsibility for what we’d done.

We drove three hundred miles a day and navigated by Michelin road map but otherwise vowed not to indulge in nostalgia that was not our own. We just passed through, stopped when we had to. On the first day, we listened to local radio. Every day after, we sat silent. Though it had not mattered where we were going, the sentiment was something other than indifferent. Our agitation in the moment translates into a certain somberness.

One way of going nowhere is to remain within Corporate America, where everything looks the same. You can drive halfway across the country or more before beginning to feel something new. A veil of familiarity. We assured ourselves that if we didn’t get what we needed out of the trip to make a compelling work, we could walk our cameras down Brownsville Road and fill in the gaps.
There were no whims. We pulled the car over only twice. For five days we drove in a particular but arbitrary direction. Artifacts of satellite television. Clusters of black balloons lurking at the end of hidden driveways. A thousand golden arches. Two people who have never gone on vacations. Under the guise of leisure we have labored over the amorphous journey. We decided that, for us, stillness was an additive process. We were neither the Dorothea Lange nor the Migrant Worker. What started as a critical engagement with the bonafide American Road Trip now looks and sounds a lot like the last love song for a different way of travel.

We returned to Pittsburgh after midnight, tipping into the 7th of July. The drive home always feels longer. The hangover of wanderlust. We fell into that thick, rich, deep sleep and stayed in bed for all the next day, because we were home and for a time it would feel new again.

Jacquelyn Johnson | Andy Daub

graphite rubbings

sun-bleached construction paper
gesso and graphite on Michelin map
300mi radiuses from our starting location each day, per our appox. daily mileage

6x7 photography, digital scans 
journal and directions, July 1, 2019
Recreational Fire

It always felt like stealing to watch another town’s fireworks—on accident, in passing, on the long, dark drive home from my grandparents’ house. The rural Pennsylvania sky asserted itself for miles. Between staggered Fourth of July celebrations, fairground programming, and back-woods exercises of freedom, fireworks seasoned and seared the sky all summer long.

As soon as the weather turned, Phantom Fireworks would pitch retail tents on the Ohio state line and prey on the patriotism of Pennsylvanians. Beaver County heads-of-household made the forty minute drive to spend a couple hundred dollars on novelty aerial packs. They make a day out of it: stopping in Rogers for the seasonal flea market, bringing home a sick puppy or a pocket knife for each of the kids. Carton cigarettes in East Liverpool.

Every year my mom would load a couple packs of sparklers into her cart at the Big Lots for us to launder our signatures and bad words in their smoke trails at dusk. It was enough to tide us over until the show put on by the Rochester Borough.

The evening of the fireworks, families slowly got drawn out of their homes. Overcome by some shared American sentimentality, we made like moths toward the light. Uncle Sam puppeted mothers and fathers through their homes, gathering bug spray, the soiled afghan that was kept around for moments like these, and a light jacket for everyone. It was never a rush. Everyone left home at dusk to wait another forty minutes in place. The atmosphere of the evening inextricably characterized by a sweater that you’d slip your arms through without pulling it over your head. Nothing to do but make the acquaintance of the lightning bugs. I know the smell of hands that have been catching bugs in the summer so well that I cannot brush the hair out from my face after working outside without being struck by the distinct, antagonistic boredom of waiting for the fireworks to begin.

All of the adults came back into their human condition from the lesser species they were when they left home. Their irritability and impatience always caught up to them, but nobody ever moved. The long, polite monosyllables shared between neighbors who hadn’t seen another since ‘this time last year’ created a buzz enough to make you think the cicadas came out--if it weren’t for the silence that came with the first plume in the sky. Just a test. It was always another twenty minutes before the next. A period of time fertile unlike any other for a child to ask a parent the largest, most difficult questions of their life. Questions about God, race, or infinite spans of time and space. If you didn’t stay to enjoy it, you’d still have to hear it, so you might as well have seen what the racket was all about. It’s a liberating cacophony, like pouring twenty pounds of LEGOs onto the floor and not the broken starter on your dad’s car.

Fireworks drug our senses. The incongruous speeds of light and sound take you out of time. There was always a peripheral knowledge of men and women setting them off from the river, when the show started late or there was a misfire. But once the spectacle built like a glacier that was calving, and you became overwhelmed by the particular way a firework travels through your esophagus before revealing itself in front of your eyes, it felt truer to say that fireworks materialize out of the stars than from off a barge. You can look for people and patterns in fireworks much like you can with clouds, but I always chose to be bewildered by them.

We always watched the fireworks from the end of our street that was closed to traffic because it wasn’t worth it to the town to maintain. My mother speculated that there were pretty good views from the Giant Eagle lot, or at the old Saint Cecelia’s. When a house up the block got condemned and demolished, the empty lot like a missing tooth in the sneer of Rochester’s borough over the Ohio River, she said, “That would have been such a good place to watch the fireworks.”

Rochester stopped being able to afford fireworks celebrations of its own, and the town over didn’t have a show nearly as good--not least of all because it was a hassle. We would have to get into the car and find a vantage point on the other side of the river, in some place that we’d pass through everyday without ever thinking whether here or there would be a good spot for watching the sky spit fire. A good, democratic fireworks display is one where nobody has to leave their neighborhood.

When the fireworks are not your own, they’re no more than heat lightning. The phenomenon depends on pretense, a dedication to superstition, and the narrative arc of the performance itself. A firework not meant for you is no more than the surface ripples of a stone somebody else skipped across the sky.

Fireworks from afar do not fill the whole sky. A firework is anemic without the accompanying, dangerous illusion of fire raining down onto your family and neighbors, without the taste of ash in your gasp.

When the fireworks were over, I would stand—trusting that my feet were making contact with the pavement—though my whole body was numb from how I’ve been sitting, and the fireworks stopped telling my heart how to beat. At home, I’d talk my dogs off the ledge, who would remain there for hours, because I raised my voice just like anyone whose ears were ringing.

Neighbors would set off their loot for weeks to come, having learned that fireworks don’t keep well in unfinished basements. Unlike those on the long, dark drives home from my grandparents’ house, I would be able to hear but not see them. They sounded like the broken starter on my dad’s car. Nothing to do but grit my teeth and make some noise of my own. It would be my first lesson in how the most ecstatic of things can be so tedious.