May 2017- The road trip is my salvation. I live a typical West Coast life, with long work days peppered by emails or filled with meetings. Every day I commute for a long time on a slow train, having long ago tuned out the automatic announcements about feet on the seats and unattended packages. There is always something undone at work or at home.
Driving a big, lonely interstate across three states means a chance to unwind in the continuim of big scenery winding by. I can mull over my life, let the daily chores go, shed the herky jerky of everyday life.
Of course it would be quicker to fly, and maybe more sustainable, in the parlance of green guilt. But the airport experience would mirror my everyday life and I would arrive too quickly, as preoccupied as when I left home.
And if I flew, I would miss humanity’s roadside expressions. Displays catch the eyes of passing travelers, whether to declare a position, share history, prompt a laugh, send a greeting, or mourn a tragically departed loved one. You may be just a make, model, color, and license plate passing by, but everyone knows that for the near future, there is still a human being in that vehicle.
So I drive for two days each way to visit Montana and Wyoming. For some distance, I take Interstate 90 to cruise through spacious, sunny Eastern Washington, unraveling. By the time I hit Idaho, I’m gone. I’m just an anonymous person with no real concerns except good tires, a reasonably full tank, and a place to sleep that night. I have food and camping gear if the last part of the equation falls apart.
On the first day of my May road trip, hardware worked into one of my dealer tires on their last jaunt before an upgrade to better tread. I ended up at an Osburn, Idaho gas station on a Saturday evening by the air hose, listening to a faint hiss. A nice gentleman in a worn truck, worn coveralls, and beatup work boots kindly offered to show me how my can of fix-a-flat worked. He said he would drive on the stuff for weeks and I believed him.
Within 1/3 mile rolling forward, the gel expanded, the low tire light turned off, and I was back on my way 100 miles at 70 mph to Missoula. At Walmart on Mothers’ Day, I cooled my heels over an atrociously salty and fatty breakfast while the tire shop repaired the breach. I wondered which rocket scientist though biscuit gravy went well with eggs, brilliant orange cheese, and tater tots. I wondered why I ordered it.
The repair cost me $10, I never got to meet the tire center manager- apparently Johnny Depp.
Real life intruded once more on a remote gravel road in Montana. My cell phone started ringing, a surprise considering my location; apparently cell phone towers really are everywhere. I answered it because the area code was home, hoping my horse was not in trouble. Instead, I found myself on the side of the road talking to my county’s prosecuting attorneys office about the upcoming trial for the young woman who, inebriated and traveling at high speed, clipped the plastic bumper cover off my car. The accident was a lucky miss- if she tried to navigate the corner I would likely be dead, not parked among curious cows in open range country discussing trials and restitution.
I finally got back on my way to daydream and to get used to being a human being again. I had two weeks to be that way before the long drive home, and re-entry to the universe.
When I re-enter, I am not the same person who rocketed away. The road trip shapes and shifts me a little bit each time, and I come back subtly transformed. One day, maybe, that transformation will be a complete shift into another universe. Forever on the road, thoughtful and watching humanity reach out from the roadside.