“Henceforth, I ask not good fortune, I myself am good fortune,
Henceforth, I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, librarians, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.”
Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road
Back in the early 1970’s, I did a lot of driving around. I was reading Alan Watts and Suzuki and Krishnamurti. It was a period of thinking and evaluating, rejecting old ways of thought and searching for the miraculous. I think of those times as my Kerouac years.
In those days my kids were little and every summer there would be the annual pilgrimage to Virginia where they would spend some time bonding with their father’s family. It was a ten hour drive each way and I would sometimes see my ex-husband. The long drive home over the Pennsylvania mountains would be partly spent in review and regrets of what would never be while the boys slept in the back seat.
Then, for a year or two there was a boyfriend named Dan who lived a couple hours away and the weekends were spent going to and fro. Dan was a surveyor for the highways and in love with long distances. We used to drive around the little towns of western Pennsylvania and drop in on Elks Clubs, Moose Clubs, the Vets or just about any place that would serve drinks on a Sunday. We would make up names and histories and pretend we were somebody else for a while – which we were.
When we finally broke up, I took my first trip alone. I packed my dog Bo into the car and for the next five days drove through New England crying over my lost love. That seemed to let the proverbial cat out of the bag and after that I had no qualms about travelling alone.
One of my classic memories was driving from Pennsylvania to California in my little red ‘76 Chevette. I was moving to California where the sun always shines and life was good. This is a marked contrast to Pennsylvania where it was always cloudy and unemployment near 20%. The farther I got from home, the freer I felt.
Finally, somewhere along Interstate #40 between Albuquerque and Flagstaff, where the road is flat and you can see for miles, something snapped and I took off my t-shirt. To drive down an open highway at 80 mph in shorts and sandals with the wind rushing in and the sun beating down and the radio playing ZZ Top is one of life’s high moments. I wasn’t about to let it pass by without a Howdy. It must be almost as good as getting a tattoo.
On another trip I remember driving through western Colorado and down through Utah in a blue 1980 Ford Fairmont station wagon and wondering if that sucker was going to make it over the next rise and if it didn’t I was going to be shit out of luck in the middle of Nowhere. There’s nothing like the desert to make you realize how insignificant you are in the bigger scheme of things; and nothing like pulling up in front of the family home to make you realize that although it is unchanged, you are not.
When was the last time you took a trip? Hit the highway, hopped a freight, tripped the lights fantastic? There’s probably no better way to get your life in perspective than to leave it for a while.