It has been brought to my attention by my mother that she is the author of the e-mail referenced in the previous post. Why she was corresponding to me from my dad’s e-mail account and speaking of herself in the third person, I do not know. Suffice it to say, she echoes my father’s sentiments … and I’m not the only member of my family who’s a little crazy.

Scott

It will take a lot of music to get us through a yearlong road trip. Thankfully, thoughtful friends and family gave us plenty of iTunes gift cards this Christmas. So, if you’ve got some musical suggestions for us, by all means pass them on via our “Contact Us” page.

We’ll also be sharing some of our favorite music from time to time—just some stuff we’re listening to on the road. Our inaugural offering is from Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. It’s a soulful cover of the Woody Guthrie classic “This Land is Your Land.”

With the country laid out before us on the first day of a new decade, I can think of no better theme song for the trip.

Scott


So we have a letter. Our next mission: find out whom to send it to. Jill pounces on that one by e-mailing a former coworker — the recently laid-off automotive editor at The Arizona Republic. Within a day we have a contact and an e-mail address. And within two days, we have a reply from Honda:

Hi Scott & Jill,

I was  forwarded your lovely note, as my department (Honda Automobiles PR) is taking all requests and ideas re: the Dog Friendly Element.

At this time, we are only collecting all inquiries and requests – we simply do not yet know when we’ll have anything to work with – even prototypes.  Once we understand further about timing and actual product, we will begin to further evaluate the abundance of opportunities that have come our way.

People love their pets! We knew this going into the Dog Friendly Element’s development, and that’s been validated ten-fold after our New York press conference where we debuted this vehicle.

Times are … challenging, and Honda is in the same boat as others where our resources are very slim.  I really can’t comment on your proposal at this time, but please know that we will consider within about a month.

In the meantime, feel free to write/call me with any questions.  Thank you so much for reaching out.

Not a yes … but not a no. Obviously, we don’t have Steinbeck’s clout. But we do have hope. Our fingers (and paws) remain crossed.

In the meantime, I’m sizing up the old CRV for a new rooftop gear box. Rocinante or no Rocinante, our trip must go on.

Scott

The best way to casually browse new cars is lying in bed, on your belly, with a laptop perched in front of you. This is the position Jill and I are in when we discover Honda’s Dog Friendly Element.

It’s a mid-sized SUV with a built-in dog bed, a spill-resistant water bowl, a cargo-area fan and rubber floors you can hose clean. It gets 25 miles per gallon on the highway and has 75 feet of cargo space.

Jill rises to her elbows, deepening the arch of her back. “This car is made for us,” she says. We click deeper into the Dog Friendly Element’s web page. We view every photo from every angle. We download the fact sheet.

Jill is right. This car is made for our trip. But I’m thinking the reverse also holds true: Our trip is made for this car.

So, inspired by a book I read in college and PR savvy I gained during my recently vacated job, I carry my laptop into the office and write the following letter:

Dear Honda,

Fifty years ago, in the autumn as his life, American author John Steinbeck set out on a yearlong road trip to rediscover his own country. His only companion was his dog, a standard poodle named Charley, and they set forth from the New York coast in a truck specially outfitted for the journey. Steinbeck christened his vehicle “Rocinante” in honor of Don Quixote’s horse, and he painted those letters across the truck’s side in sixteenth-century Spanish script.

On January 1, 2010, my soon-to-be wife and I will embark on a journey similar to Steinbeck’s, only our mission, in our relative youth, will be to discover parts of our country that have so far eluded us. We, too, will travel for an entire year, and, like Steinbeck, we will bring along cherished canine companionship in the form of our two dogs, Jack and Isabel. We have everything we need for this epic journey — passion, insouciance and commitment. All we lack is our own Rocinante.

That brings me to the reason behind this letter. We are both loyal Honda owners, and we cannot imagine a more suitable vehicle for our journey that the Dog Friendly Element. We want to load up our mutts and put one to the test. For a year.

Some background about us: This road trip will constitute our honeymoon, but it will be a working one. I am a professional writer, and my fiancée is a professional photographer. Throughout our travels we will be crafting articles for magazines and websites, maintaining a blog dedicated to our journey, and updating followers (and soliciting destination ideas) via Twitter and Facebook.

After working more than a decade as a newspaper reporter and editor I have spent the past the three years in the media relations department of the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau. In the latter role I have learned much about the public-relations value of well-placed media content, and developed relationships with editors at national and international travel publications. My fiancée, meanwhile, has conceived and produced several freelance photography projects, including the national marketing campaign for one of Phoenix’s best-known resorts. We would not think of making this request were we not certain we could give a degree of editorial value and online exposure to the Dog Friendly Element that would far exceed Honda’s investment in our journey.

As you may know, Steinbeck’s cross-country journey with his dog 50 years ago resulted in the classic piece of nonfiction “Travels With Charley: In Search of America.” In that book he wrote, “A dog is a bond between strangers. Many conversations en route began with ‘What degree of dog is that?’ ” For a year, we will be traveling to places where dog owners congregate. National parks, state parks and dog parks. Dog-friendly campgrounds, hotels and resorts. I can only imagine that the paw-print emblem on the Dog Friendly Element would engender as much conversation among our like-minded travelers as the dogs themselves.

Steinbeck also writes in the early passages of “Travels With Charley” about how he came to select the truck he named Rocinante: He mailed a letter to the “head office of a great corporation which manufactures trucks” to specify the purpose and needs of his trip. So I guess we are following in his footsteps in more ways than one. Steinbeck got his Rocinante. We hope you will loan us one of our own. We cannot promise you an American literary classic at our journey’s end, but we can promise you that the Dog Friendly Element would be a full-fledged character in our story. (We also promise to not defile its paint job with sixteenth-century Spanish script … you know, unless you’re into that.)

Sincerely,

Scott Dunn and Jill Richards

Scott

The first step in cleaning the garage is backing out the vehicle that occupies it. The vehicle that occupies our garage is a 2003 Honda CRV. It belongs to Jill, and it serves as her roving office.

And let’s just say Jill does not keep a tidy office.

Pompeii. Oscar Madison’s closet. The Collyer brothers’ apartment. These are places less cluttered than the interior of Jill’s car, which on any given day is a panorama of paper scraps, business cards, stray pennies, Taco Bell bags, gum wrappers, AA batteries, uncapped Sharpies, melted lip balm and half-full Nalgene bottles.

Also strewn about are clothes — sweaters, scarves, socks, boots, the occasional bra — and jewelry — hoop earrings, bracelets, twisted chains of unprecious metal — all of which seemingly starts the morning on Jill’s person only to be shed during the course of her peripatetic workday.

Then there is the photo gear. Sweet Jesus, the photo gear. Monopods, tripods, light stands. Reflectors, diffusers, strobes. Tangled cords, orphaned lens caps, crinkled gels.

And everything covered in dog hair.

I sit in the driver’s seat and survey this mess. Then I look at the odometer: 129,571 miles. The keyless entry doesn’t work. Recently the transmission has been issuing a loud clunk between reverse and first gear. Hard turns at parking-lot speed have long generated vibrations in the front wheels — little seizures that we’ve grown accustomed to over the years but now, sitting alone in the garage, suddenly give me a pang of worry.

Can we really take this thing across the country?

Later in the day, driving this trusty yet disheveled steed home from lunch, Jill and I pass the corridor of car dealerships along Camelback Road. I see the big blue Honda sign and hang a hard right. The front wheels vibrate.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

“Let’s just look around,” I say. “This is purely exploratory.”

Of course, the last thing we need as jobless wayfarers is a new car payment. But maybe we could sell the CRV and my car and buy a used van or a bigger SUV. Something that better fits our crazy quest. It’s not like we haven’t talked about it.

As soon as our shoes touch the car-lot pavement, a salesman materializes from the rows of glinting sheet metal. He is 150 pounds of desperation wrapped in a baggy Men’s Wearhouse suit. This is before Cash for Clunkers. The lot is full of cars and devoid of shoppers. The hunger in the salesman’s eyes betrays a capacity for not just duplicity but raw evil. He reminds me of the roving flesh hunters in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. He makes me uncomfortable. I look at Jill; she is downright scared.

We circle a car. The salesman stalks us, three steps behind and gaining. The car is called the Element. We are clearly out of ours.

“Let’s get out of here,” Jill mutters to me. But I’m not leaving until the flesh hunter shows me how the front seats unfold. I’m curious as to whether they fold flat, merging with the rear seats to create a sleepable surface. Turns out they do.

In his desperation, the flesh hunter mistakes my mild intrigue for something more. He leaps straight from folding seats to financing, like a deluded rattlesnake striking at prey a mile away. I snap back to my senses. “We’re just looking today,” I tell him.

The flesh hunter follows us back to our CRV, proffering business cards and talking about trade-in values. I repeatedly click the “unlock” button on the key fob, to no avail. Jill opens the passenger-side door the old-fashioned way and reaches across to let me in. When I shut the door, the flesh hunter lingers outside it, a little too close, his eyes dead and his hand raised in a languid goodbye wave.

“We really need to get that key thing fixed,” Jill says. I make a mental note to look into that and a whole lot more.

Scott