“We didn’t know who we were, we didn’t know what we did…we were just on the road.” – from “On The Road” by John Denver
It seems like these days it’s easier and easier to get caught up in the day-to-day struggle of keeping up with the speed of life. We have the demands of work, the demands of family, the demands of our community/civic participation, and that’s before we even think about keeping up with our friends or maybe taking a deep breath and just being for a few minutes.
The truth is that life is evolving to place many different demands on our attention in a fairly constant flow from the time we get up – check the time, weather, headlines, texts, emails, 17 social media apps – to the time we go to bed. How many steps did we get in? Did we take time to meditate? How many likes did that TikTok video get? Which celebrities have identified as a different sex or species today? What the hell is QANON??? Do I need to buy a gun to protect myself form the other crazy people who can open carry in Texas now? What is “woke?”
I’ve been feeling so much of this lately, having plopped down in my chair to write this blog post at least a dozen times in the last week only to walk away an hour later with it still unwritten. There seems to be a conspiracy being perpetrated by phone calls, emails and people needing my help to prevent me from exercising my writing muscle.
You know what I need? A road trip!
My choice-mom’s 80th birthday was a couple of weeks ago, and with my family’s schedule being what it is I took the 11-hour road trip to Kentucky all by my onesie. I’ve made the trip so many times that my Rogue will almost get me there without any direct participation from me, so I have plenty of time to explore the inner workings of my mind – something that is largely neglected in my daily routine.
I wonder about the lives of the people who live in the little towns I pass through at warp speed. I see run down mobile homes that look abandoned, but with an equally run down car parked in the driveway. Who lives there? What could have happened to those people to put them in that desperate situation? Why do so many people live in situations just as desperate or worse? What could I do to help homeless/poor/destitute people like those?
A billboard – a local bar and grill boasting live country music on Friday nights. Is this the center of life for the locals on weekends? I’ve seen movies and read books about such small town hangouts, and in my mind I picture a country version of Cheers, maybe something out of The Dukes of Hazzard, or perhaps The Red Pony from the wonderful show Longmire. Are those overly romanticized? Does this actual small town bar in the middle of nowhere actually have a sad collection of people who are just trying to scrounge a living out of the dust? Is it, like so many of the houses around it, actually an abandoned husk of dead memories?
I especially love the open fields with the collapsing barns in the middle. I think about a time when that barn was brand new, fresh red paint dripping down the sides, kids no doubt jumping from the loft into the huge piles of hay below. Slightly older kids probably made out in that hay. Maybe children were conceived there on steamy summer nights, crickets singing in the background and a country band on the boombox. Where are those kids now? Did they grow up, move away and become part of the rat race. Did they stay and work the farm until economic factors drove them away? I think about the adventures they must have had in an age where the internet, cell phones and social media notifications were all in the unimaginable future.
I also get lost in the scenery. Crossing the Mississippi River I think about the indigenous people of this incredible land, who roamed freely in a land unblemished by freeways and cities. The river brought life, transportation and food to those long-forgotten, once-proud people. Sometimes I think about the riverboat culture from Mark Twain’s books, imagining I’m a gambler stepping on board for the big game. Then I can’t help but notice the factories and their pollution – is it even safe to swim in the Mississippi River any more? Would drinking the water make me sick? I grieve for the earth and the way we have raped it.
Driving East I often run across historical locations, like Civil War battlefields or forts left over from Westward Expansion, the Revolutionary War or Civil War. Of course, movies I’ve seen run through my head, but as I’ve read biographies of people like George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln I have come to realize that it was pretty much nothing like the movies. Those were rough times with a few intelligent/visionary people trying to lead a lot of rough, uneducated men who didn’t always understand the big picture. I also think about Dances With Wolves….it almost always comes back to that. I have often driven through the area depicted in the film and I wonder what it must have been like for natives to see strangers with strange ways systematically kill off their culture and destroy the ecosystem in the process.
Of course, I pass through cities….endless cities. They all look the same, with the same franchises for everything from food and gas to retail outlets. Another Walmart. 15 more McDonald’s. Another GameStop. Another Home Depot. Another Shell station. I actually plan my road trips so that I can eat and drink things I can’t get back home. Welcome to Moe’s, where I can roll my burrito and enjoy the best queso ever! Here and there I can get a Diet Sun-Drop, the nectar of the gods! Each year it gets harder, though. As a kid I remember going on road trips and eating at local places to sample the local culture, but our culture seems to be more and more generic with each passing road trip. I grieve for that, as well.
A road trip offers all kinds of adventure, but most of all it offers a chance to get a brief respite from the constant onslaught of things that need your immediate attention. “I can’t, I’ve got a road trip” gets you out of all kinds of things. “Sorry, I’m out of town that weekend,” also works quite well. Don’t cop out by taking a plane; that only piles on even more crap to keep track of, defeating the purpose. Get your tunes, hit the road, and set your mind free.