Friday, November 20, 2009
Life is a road trip
Life is a road trip. Now that the statue of limitations has run, it might be time to get out the blackmail photos I have of Bryon, Tim, and Claude clinging to a light pole in the middle of a truck stop parking lot in North Platte, Nebraska in a gale wind in the middle of the night. Tim has a bandana – tied like a scarf on his head, Byron is holding on to a cowboy hat for dear life – a sight his Manhattan friends may not be familiar with, and Claude is straddling the light pole, as if it is a horse, and also wearing a cowboy hat. I can’t for the life of me figure out why I didn’t submit it to the college yearbook. While I'm at it, you had might as well know about the 110 mph sprint across the Nebraska Challenge. Denver to Chicago in about 11 hours. Don't tell. All night road trips take me back to college. The back window littered with debris from every junk food known to man: Doritos, Oreos, HoHo's, Ding Dong's, Cheetos, Butterfingers, Snickers, and not one apple core in the bunch. Whirlwind trips to get home for Thanksgiving. To Florida for Spring Break. To New York for a weekend. All nighters in the car, through sleet and ice and fog and, once, past a manure truck that lost its load on our rental car on the Pennsylvania Turnpike that was closed but nobody told us. Kind of a surprise when we came out from a pre-dawn breakfast in Hagerstown to the fragrance of the melting sludge caking the car. Do you know how hard it is to get frozen-on manure off of a car? Do you know how humiliating it is to drive a shitty (yes, literally) car up to Capitol Hill in D.C. for a 10 a.m. appointment? Am I too old for this? I did just get the senior special at Perkins in Lakeland, Minnesota where I’ve stopped at 4:34 a.m. local time, simply to get out of the car and make the move from Diet Coke to coffee. So perhaps I am too old to pull all-nighters anymore but not too dumb to profit from it. America is about moving. Not staying put. Traveling across this stretch of empty space that says nothing so much as "Siberia." No wonder so many Volga Germans and Russians settled here on the steppes of South Dakota. To understand this country you have to move through this empty space. I drive it tonight in six hours. The Lakota roamed it for centuries. My grandmother crossed in a wagon that took, oh, weeks. To understand the mythos that is this America, you must roam. Become unsettled, at least for a time, for a week, a day, a night. To ponder the raw untamed space -- not just land but space. To ponder its ancient emptiness. The roamers, the unsettled who used this space so very differently than we do now. To have a relationship to land and space that is all about humility and stewardship and possibility and, again, humility. Not owning, not possessing, not even occupying but moving, moving through, moving on, always moving, moving, moving. It is wrenching to leave Denver on days like this morning – or yesterday morning it is now. Sun glistening on snow drenched peaks, glinting pink in the dawn. Okay, it wasn’t dawn. It was 10. But still, it was gorgeous. Seeing mountains in the rear view mirror is not something I like. The reward this time is seeing my oldest daughter, Kaia, at college in a few hours. And as we’ve done this trip before, I just kept going. And going. Cruise control set on 79. Seven hours from Denver to Rapid City. Seven hours more to Sioux Falls. Who wants to give in then? Truth is; I hate hotels. I especially hate the hassle of stopping in a hotel for seven hours, schlepping in my backpack. Sleeping in a sketch bed. Bad shower pressure. I’d rather save my $75 for a good bottle of wine. Or the roller coaster at Camp Snoopy. (Yes, I know it’s not Camp Snoopy anymore but it will always be Camp Snoopy in my heart.) Life is like this. Life is a road trip. Improvisation. Surprise. Shit stuck, frozen, to your car. Watching the cows come home. Investigating the bull for sale in Chugwater, Wyoming. Normally, bull comes free. All nighters. That bleary time of early morning between about 3:30 and, well, bedtime the next night. Good coffee. Senior discounts. Kind strangers. Amazing tattoos. Friends being silly, city slickers in cowboy hats and bandanas. Singing along to the Carpenters when no one else has to listen. Not possessing, not owning. Not even occupying. But moving through, And, especially for me today: Kaia, a great reward for my labors. The coffee pot is drained. The baker has arrived. The night shift waiters have gone home. My cell phone battery is charged and there are still 237 CD’s in the car I haven’t listened to yet. My sister-in-law should be up in an hour. Won’t she be happy to see me, lounging on her porch, six hours ahead of schedule. Then again, she knows better than to be surprised. Life is a road trip. You never know quite what is up ahead. Enjoy the ride. And maybe get a cowboy hat.