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  • Writer's pictureEric Spitz

National Parks - Badlands, South Dakota

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

For the past ten years, my brother Joel Spitz has worked at General Motors, and has had very limited time being able to travel and explore. While GM workers were a bit excited to have two weeks off for a special shutdown period in the late spring of 2016, I don’t think anyone was more excited than Joel. Joel was counting down the days until the shutdown started ever since the rumors were first formulating.

What did Joel want to do with his two weeks off? See as much of the United States as physically possible from the interior windows of a silver 2009 Saab (which he bought special for the trip.) Since I was working part-time when the shutdown was taking place, it wasn’t a question whether if I wanted to go, rather, more of a “figure out how to make it happen.”

Despite working part-time, coordinating getting two weeks off from three different organizations was still quite the task to accomplish. In particular, coordinating the time off at the video store I worked at, was among the most difficult, as my manager was taking one of the weeks off to visit family and have her own adventures. Bless her heart, after some negotiations and lengthy conversations, she moved around her own vacation so I was able to take part in mine. While a bulk of my other positions allow me the freedom to work remotely or get extensive time off if needed, the light was finally beginning to shine at the end of the tunnel.

Despite having two weeks off for a shutdown period, Joel experienced hiccups of his own within the workplace. When rumors were first circulating about the shutdown, the period was a whopping five weeks for all workers! Since Joel recently accepted a new job as a Team Leader, his shutdown period was constrained to two weeks, with the other three weeks consisting of retooling, classes and other odds and ends that don’t get accomplished while the line runs on an average day. Joel accepted the Team Leader position in hopes of landing a Foreman position within the plant, and used the Team Leader position as a stepping stone. After multiple interviews and countless submissions of resumes (party on my end when he couldn’t access a computer), he was offered the job as a Foreman! He was excited to take on the new role and take the trip of a lifetime, which he found out, posed a problem upon accepting the new position.

While the shutdown was considered a layoff for the workforce, Joel soon found out he would have to come into GM for the entirety of the five weeks in order to take care of business that can’t happen during traditional times of operation. Upon finding this out, Joel turned down the position he was striving for the past three years. The fact that he turned down advancement within the company he’d spent the last ten years at for a somewhat aimless journey out west was incredibly admiring to me, and really conveyed the weight of how much this trip meant to him.

After having the shutdown altered multiple times, Joel and I were finally able to map out our euphoric western adventure at our favorite local coffee shop – Strange Matter. We both couldn’t help smiling from ear to ear as we thought about all of the new states we’d witness, people we’d visit and landscapes we’d take in for the first time. What started as “I’ve always wanted to go to Boise, Idaho,” snowballed into “we have a friend we can stay with in Bozeman, Montana,” and helped map out five National Parks and nine states all within a single fortnight (the numbers ended up being higher on both ends, but that’s what makes journeys fun.)  After doing countless research, and coordinating with friends and family who moved out west, our adventures were about ready to unfold.

What made me especially excited about the western adventure came from an experience I had a few months prior having my palm read. While many interesting ideas and concepts were mentioned, what stuck in my head among the most was the fact that my palm reader told me to make this year about discovery and adventure. He said “if someone invites you to Cedar Point, you go,” speaking metaphorically. All that came to mind was the trip out west we were already planning, which made me all the more excited to embark on the journey. My palm reader also mentioned that I have travel lines, which explains why I’m always excited for the next adventure.

Flash forward to the date of our departure: Friday, May 6, 2016. Joel was working day shift that week as opposed to second shift, which left me in charge of making sure everything was packed and ready to go by the time he got home. A task which I completed about 80%, and got an ear-full from Joel for it not being 100% taken care of, since he was doing everything within his power at work to get done with his class as soon as he could. Either way, after wrapping our heads around exactly what will be needed for two weeks essentially living out of the silver Saab and the couches of friends and family, we were finally ready to depart to our first destination: Badlands National Park in South Dakota.

Joel took the first leg driving and we merged onto  US-127 Southbound. As excited as we both were, I don’t think we could fully fathom the landscapes we were going to encounter, and the wonderful people and stories that were to make up our euphoric western adventure. The couch cushions from our childhood sofa were carefully laid in the back of the Saab to act as a bed, a bed which we were both to become well acquainted with for the next two weeks.

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