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Summer Correspondents

Summer Correspondents
Report from the Road: Randi & Jesse

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A few weeks ago we met Randi Somers and her grandson Jesse Lee, who left Alaska to follow the highways and back roads of the U.S. You may remember that Randi and Jesse were chosen to be The Savvy Traveler's "roving correspondents" this summer, so they've been checking in with us along the way. Randi's a seasoned traveler, but this is Jesse's first time really seeing the country. We wondered how a sixty-something grandma and her 11-year-old grandson would get along, so when Randi called us from Nevada, we asked how Jesse was adjusting to life on the road.

Randi: "It's working beautifully so far, not a mention of screams. This cell phone has been a life-saver, from the standpoint of he can call his mom, he can call his buddies, so he's had unlimited contact. He talked to his buddy while he was munching on hot dogs and sitting in the rain last night at the campfire. And he's talked to his mom half a dozen times, but it's just like, 'Hey mom, we're just having a great time' and he's been most helpful and cooperative, he's taken over the navigation, and just doing -- doing great!"

We caught up with them again after they checked into the Excalibur in Las Vegas. It was their first night in a hotel after a couple of weeks of camping their way down the West Coast. They'd just finished riding the Manhattan Express roller coaster, that one that winds all around the outside of the New York, New York hotel and casino. But Jesse wanted to talk about another great ride he'd had earlier in the trip.

Jesse: "Oh yeah, I was driving the dune buggies."

Rudy: "Tell me about that I've never done that."

Jesse: "Okay, well, first of all, they're big huge vehicles. Well, sort of."

Rudy: "Are they like Jeeps?"

Jesse: "Sort of. And you sit in them with your legs outstretched, and they have a steering wheel that looks like a steering wheel off of an airplane only: it has two triggers on it, one is the acceleration and one is the breaks."

Rudy: "Did you drive this?"

Jesse: "Yeah."

Rudy: "You're 11 years old."

Jesse: "I know. They let kids younger, like, six drive these."

Rudy: "And what are you driving over--a beach or actual sand dunes?"

Jesse: "Sand dunes."

Rudy: "Can you go fast?"

Jesse: "Yeah. You have to to get up the hills."

Not a bad start to a summer of adventure, and Randi says they're showing up all of the naysayers -- like Jesse's brothers and sisters -- who thought the trip wouldn't last.

Rudy: "Why did they think he wouldn't last?"

Randi: "Well, because it's a whole different thing being away from home, being away from Mom, you know, all of the things he's used to having around him, his own bed, his own cat, his own dog."

Rudy: "Yeah, but I don't think he had his own dune buggy or his own Manhattan roller coaster."

Randi: "That's the thing. He's having a lot of brand new experiences."

Rudy: "You having any brand new experiences?"

Randi: "Yes, riding a dune buggy, riding a roller coaster..."

Rudy: "So did you do it this time out of solidarity with Jesse?"

Randi: "Oh yeah, we're doing everything together. And he's leading me into a lot of experiences I would not do on my own."

Despite all the adventure, 11-year-olds aren't known for their patience. I asked Jesse what he and Randi do to keep themselves occupied while they're driving.

Jesse: "Hang man, tic-tac-toe and I play mind games -- they're kind of like miniature mysteries. You have to read a story and try to figure out the ending, and sometimes they have clues to 'em or why what happened happened or what happened."

Rudy: "And do you play that with your grandmother?"

Randi: "Sometimes he cheats and looks at the ending."

Jesse: "When I'm quizzing you!"

Rudy: "Now, Jesse how have you liked being the navigator?"

Jesse: "It's fun. I'm getting a lot better at it. I used to just look at the map and say it's a map, it has roads, there it is."

Rudy: "Right. It's sort of interesting, isn't it, once you understand maps and once you see how it coordinates with reality, isn't it?"

Savvy Summer Correspondent Update: Al Stern

    Soon we'll check in with Al Stern, our other savvy correspondent, who decided to leave a safe, secure life in New Jersey and move to the jungles of Peru. He sent us a note earlier this month saying things were "weird" in the Amazon and that he wasn't even sure what time zone he was in. We'll track him down and hear more about all of our summer travelers' adventures in the next few weeks.

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