I’ve returned from the road trip. Our daughter is in her new apartment and I’ve now seen Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell (albeit the latter through a window because I would not stand in a two-block long line in 90 degree temperatures), and—perhaps most amazing—an Ikea that was nearly deserted on a Saturday.

The cat was an exemplary traveler, except for one harrowing moment in a motel parking lot in Carlisle, PA when he escaped and cowered under the car. Maybe he knew before we did that we’d be eating sushi that night and would not be bringing leftovers back to him, and so he wanted to create a brief flurry of trouble.

I packed a couple of books but for the most part my reading was restricted to a road atlas. This was no hardship as I love maps. Maps are terrific writing catalysts. One of my standard exercises is matching place names and then conjuring biographies for the resulting person. Imagining life stories for Virgil Drydan, Tully Preble, and Amber Spafford kept me occupied as we drove north through New York, and I kept my cool during a very long and slow Ontario-US border crossing by thinking about Varna Kippen, Florence Bothwell and Forest Kerwood.

This sort of playing around might not generate the material that revisiting humiliation and thinking about the antagonists in your life will, but the result will be useful all the same. So open an atlas and have some fun.