Guest Blog Series: “Travel Memories” #3 Tomato Road Goes on Forever, and the Party Never Ends

Attention everyone, like a vibrant and spicy jambalaya, you’re in for a special treat!

Today’s guest blogger is my dear friend Joey Bunch.  Former CNN colleague and current Denver Post reporter extraordinaire – he is, in fact, a man much more compelling than any collection of biographical factoids can tell. 

Joey Bunch, Denver Post Reporter Extraordinaire
Joey Bunch, Denver Post Reporter Extraordinaire

His story of childhood in American’s deep south juxtaposed with his travels now as a reporter for a major daily is vividly funny, thought-provoking and poignant. 

Joey may be a professional writer, but he’s also a natural-born story-teller. 

Take it away! – Joey Bunch. Wandering shepherd, journalist, bon vivant – friend.

“Don’t put all the good ones in one basket,” my grandfather said as
the summer night fell on Alabama when I was 7 years old. “Give
everybody some.” The old man raised an eyebrow and smiled with one
corner of his mouth, winking with his entire face as we stocked the
truck to sell tomatoes in nearby towns the next morning. Five big
tomatoes fit the small wooden baskets that cost a dollar apiece, and
10 in the $2 baskets. I turned blemishes and flat spots toward the
bottom, the neater, the rosier, the better. I think of that planning
sometimes today when I’m packing a bag for work trip as a newspaper
reporter or my latest expedition in life.

Joey, Granny and Pop,  And yes, the dog was named "Lassie"
Joey, Granny and Pop, And yes, the dog was named “Lassie”

Sand Mountain tomatoes were regionally famous — grown on hot days and
cool nights in the rich sandy soil left by glaciers as they plowed
toward the Gulf of Mexico 300 million years ago, a journey from the
time reptiles first slithered onto land to that night, when the fruit
was readied to leave.  Our route took us to stores, curb markets and
restaurants in larger towns that had those businesses. Ours didn’t. We
had one traffic light, and it blinked continuously yellow at the
crossroads of Alabama Highway 75 and the nameless two-lane blacktop
that connected farms and people I knew like the string in a popcorn
garland at Christmas.

These were the trips that made me a vagabond soul. Going somewhere —
anywhere — to meet strangers and do business was adventure come to
life for a boy who only knew the world through a black-and-white
television screen. We left before dawn. Pop said daylight was his
favorite part of the day. The schedule put the working man ahead —
the early bird and the worm — with a lagniappe of a colored sky most
of the world chose to sleep through. We knew things about the day that
other people didn’t.

Pop had a favorite ritual. He would cut off the engine at the crest of
Sand Mountain. “Saving gas,” he would announce, pitching his voice
like a sideshow barker, as the powerless pickup coasted down the
mountainside. “We’re saving so much money we’ll be rich by supper.”
Sometimes he’d switch off the headlights, too. I clutched the
dashboard’s padding and pretended to be terrified as we sailed through
the darkness. We giggled louder and stretched out the “whoa” in
harmony around the deadly hairpin curve of Snake Gap Road.

I was endlessly curious about the people we met on the route. Where
did they go after we left? What did they do with our tomatoes? Did
they get different cartoons on their TV, and if so could I watch their

Traveling, to me, has always been about the people in small pockets of
the world and how they live – not the commuters in airplanes. Freeways
seem anything but free.  We climb inside a four-door rented rocket
ship and fire ourselves through strange lands, crossing what might as
well be empty space. We hope for satellite radio, so we won’t get
bored with AM stations with its Swap Shop or Eleanor’s weekly report
about what’s new at the library, too bored with the towns to learn
what’s the same, what’s different, or which cartoons are on their TVs.

Once on a Navajo reservation in Arizona, I stopped at a Tom Thumb
convenience store.  The  air-conditioning kissed my face as I swung
open the glass door to go inside. A B major chord thumped out
Hollaback Girl” on the store’s muzak. Everyone was Native American
with raven hair and dark skin, except for me, a twangy Southerner with
fine brown hair and a sunburned nose. The store looked exactly like
the Tom Thumb near my old house in Pensacola, Florida. The Navajo
clerk wore the same green smock as the guy from Gulf Breeze who had
sold me coffee on the way to work. I pulled a Diet Coke from the
cooler, turned around and realized, “My God, we are one world.”

Joey at the Grand Canyon
Joey at the Grand Canyon

Still today, I try to start trips before sunrise, wherever I am in the
world. It was tough that summer in Alaska, when the sun was up for 20
hours a day. In Mexico, on a long trip down the Baja Peninsula to
punctuate turning 40, I decided on a whim to turn around to go home
one morning outside Guerrero Negro. The rising sun warmed my back on a
vast white beach, as I gazed on the bluest Pacific I can imagine still
today. The surf both thundered and whispered in the tug-of-war with
the sea. I imagined it was the voice of God. I imagined it said a new
day had risen and my life was headed down a different road. The people
in town were friendly. A man asked five pesos, about 50 cents, for a
small watermelon he sold from his truck. I was bearded and a dazed
from a few days outdoors. I cracked open the melon by smashing it on
my knee. The juice hardened on my shin while I gobbled breakfast from
my hands a few feet from its provider. I wondered if he wondered about
me the way I wondered about those people in Alabama. I thought, “My
God, we are one world.”

Joey at the base of Mt. McKinley, Alaska
Joey at the base of Mt. McKinley, Alaska

I don’t believe in this “trip of a lifetime” nonsense. Your lifetime
is the sum of your trips –  people we meet near and far, and the
things we go through. Every trip we leave a little of ourselves and we
take away more. “Don’t put all the good ones in one basket,” my Pop
said. “Give everybody some.”

 Thanks, so much, Joey.  I couldn’t agree more. We all are a sum of our travels, our experiences. I often describe my life as one big patch-work quilt that (hopefully!) just keeps on getting bigger and more colorful!  If you’re out there reading this, and would like to share a travel memory and/or what traveling means to you: please write to me at 

As my new book, “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me” illustrates – we’re all travelers – no matter where we go!  

Love to all of us travelers,




3 thoughts on “Guest Blog Series: “Travel Memories” #3 Tomato Road Goes on Forever, and the Party Never Ends

  1. Great blog, Joey. Love the old pic. Nice Ford Pickup. You guys were pretty high falutin – walking in high cotton – living high on the hog – maybe just high. lol .Love me some Sand Mountain maters.


  2. Most of the Billys, Johnnys and Jimmys I have known have insisted, at some point in their life, on reverting to their real names. Call me Bill or William. James to you. Not Joey Bunch. Even after he climbed into the big leagues at CNN and the Denver Post, his name, his byline, remained Joey. Not Joe. Never Joseph. When a grown man keeps his childhood name, he reflects a measure of hard-won maturity, of self-confidence that implies authenticity. That’s Joey Bunch. When he talks a story, you hear the authenticity. When he writes a story, you hear it. When he writes about the lunchroom ladies and free lunches in school, you don’t just feel his self-consciousness; you feel self-conscious. That’s how close to the bone Joey cuts. All that to say, what a pleasant surprise to find Joey Bunch and Tomato Road. The boy Joey can tell a story.


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