I didn’t used to love postcards this much. They were messages of obligation, like ‘thank you’ letters to the relatives. ‘Dear so-and-so, We’re having a wonderful time at blah-dee-blah.’ Now I write them all the time. I write them when I’m happy. I write them when I’m lonely. I write them when I’m bored.
See, I’m on the road. I left April 1 for a five-month roadtrip around the country by myself—heading west from my home in Austin, Texas, in a big sloppy circle that runs along both coasts. The worst part about traveling alone is not being able to share things, good or bad. And so that’s what postcards allow me to do. Every one a sliver of this trip—the place I went, the thing I saw, the money I spent, the thought I had—shared with somewhere else. I like to think of them as highly successful messages in a bottle.
I’ve got a million of these things. Here, have a few:
The Postcard of Rhetorical Questions
Did you know that Hancock, Michigan, is the most Finnish city in America? All the street signs are in Finnish and people speak Finnish to each other—isn’t that weird? And did you know that the Finns invented the sauna, or that Nokia is Finnish, or that the classical composer Sibelius is Finnish, or that I, too, am Finnish? Who knew? And did you know that whenever I see a sign for the signature Finnish dish ‘the pasty’ I always think of the signature strippers’ item ‘the pastie’ and so I am forever blushing when I read that some humble Finnish store sells ‘Fresh Hot Pasties’? And so anyway: How are you? Love, Sarah
The Postcard of Brevity
Here I am at Mount Rushmore. Four Presidents’ heads carved in a rock. Jesus, whose dumb idea was that?
Postcard of Anthropomorphology (Light)In which I write in the voice of the furry animal on the front of the postcard.
Hi friend. I’m a brown bear from Alaska. Brr, I’m freezing! Haha—a joke. Actually, it is a common misconception that Alaska is very cold and we all live in igloos. Fairbanks, for instance, is 95 degrees right now and as for the igloo thing, well, that’s just silly. Another common misconception is that you should not feed the bears. You should feed the bears. I, for one, like a little salmon with the cream cheese and the bagel. Don’t get me started. Well, I’m running out of room, so I better wrap this up. Grrr! Now I’m going to eat you, you stupid human! Haha—a joke. Write soon! Love, the bear
Postcard of Anthopomorphology (Dark)In which I write in the voice of the furry animal on the front of the postcard, only the animal is in some sort of peril.
Hey there! I’m a cute little brown bear from Yellowstone National Park! How are you? I am fine. Look at my cute fuzzy pink nose, dappled with fresh snow! So cute! Okay, now let’s cut the crap: This place is hell!!!! HEEEELLLLLL! I gotta bust out of here pronto. Meet me behind the Indian Bubbling Pot at midnight with a crowbar and some pickled herring. You won’t regret this. Love, the bear
P.S. If anyone asks, you’re German!
Postcard of Folksy Historical NarrationIn which I have quite obviously been reading too many guidebooks.
Why hellloo! This is John F. Kennedy, our nation’s 35th president, writing you from Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts. Don’t let the name fool you: There’s only one vineyard, and I never knew Martha! Instead, the island was named for the daughter of a sea captain inspired by the wild grapes to dub it ‘vineyard.’ And ever since the mid-19th century, when the Methodist revival movement brought thousands to their summer retreats, people have flocked to Martha’s Vineyard for its temperate climate and diverse landscape—painted cliffs and rocky shore, sloping green hills and farmland. I remember watching my children run their hands across those high grasses, dip their toes in the cold ocean and squeal. We built them tiny boats to learn to sail, and as they wobbled out into the waters, Jackie and I waved from shore and crossed our fingers. Sadly, I lost my youngest boy off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard a few years ago. Wow. This postcard suddenly got really, really sad. But I talked to Sarah, and she’s doing fine. All my best, John F. Kennedy
The Postcard of Obvious InsanityIn which, for no apparent reason, I speak in the voice of a pirate despite knowing very little about what a pirate sounds like.
Ahoy, matey! I’ve docked me vessel in the waters of Bar Harbor, Maine! More specifically the parking lot of Golden Anchor Inn & Pier, where I’m sleeping in the back of me car. Had to happen sometime, right? Ran afoul of some pirates in Ottawa, Canada, who plundered me laptop. Shiver me timbers, matey, this hurts! It’s giving me the scurvy, it’s leading me back to the grog! Land, ho—it’s a bitch.
The Thank You Postcard (Friend)
Hey BLANK. Thank you so much for letting me stay in your BLANK. I know I left that BLANK in your bathroom. Oops! And I am really sorry about the peanut butter, but you did say I could eat whatever I wanted. (So hungry!) I wish I could have stayed longer. I wanted to stay longer. I will stay longer next time. But please please please: Next time, no more than 15 beers and 500 cigarettes. We’re not as young as we used to be. Love, Sarah
The Thank You Postcard (Friend of Friend)
Dear BLANK. You know how people are always saying that the world isn’t safe anymore—like you can’t pick up hitchhikers because they’ll slit your throat and you can’t meet people online because they’ll slit your throat and you can’t nap on the side of the road because they’ll slit your throat. Well, think about this: We were once strangers to each other, and I stayed in your BLANK, and we didn’t slit each others’ throats—we became friends! Kind of nice, don’t you think? Love, Sarah
Postcard of Real-Time Conversation
I sit on the banks of the Charles River in Boston beside an Italian woman. She breathes heavy, pats her chest.
‘Where-uh you from?’
I say Texas. She readjusts the placement of a crucifix hanging around her neck and sighs. ‘Tex-ahhs. Is beautiful, no?’
It’s big, more than anything.
‘You-uh good girl.’
I thank her.
She pats my shoulder. ‘What-uh you writing?’
‘To your moth-ah, no?’
She pats my head. ‘She miss you.’
Postcard of Gimmick-less Prose
Hi. I’m in San Francisco, I’m in Seattle, I’m in Montana, I’m in Maine. Things are good, things are hard, things are always more expensive than I want them to be. This country is so big. It just keeps going. Sometimes, I think of you, and I want to tell you something. Like this.