WRITER’S NOTE: My intention was to write every day I was on the road to California some of the things I thought about while on the road that day, then post them sequentially. Sadly, after the first day I was not able to keep up. Here are some thoughts from over a week ago, written after my first day of driving from Oklahoma.
The road stretches on ahead, reaching for an endless hundreds of miles, disappearing into the distance. The road reaches from hundreds of miles ago. I-40, an East-West interstate highway in the United States connects California to South Carolina. This is the route I am taking from Oklahoma back to my home state.
Yesterday I started later than planned – leaving around 1pm. I arrived at a hotel in Grants, NM around 10:30 local time. My drive across 700 miles was filled with thoughts, music, and the occasional tweet.
For years I have been trying to read Kerouac’s “On the Road” – the story of Sal, a hipster (in the original sense of the word – the sense that he likes jazz and lives on the edge) just trying to make his way in the world. He takes to the road, travelling from place to place. Sometimes he’s on the back of some pickup truck or another, chatting with strangers, sometimes he hitchhikes with friends.
As I drove yesterday, I remembered advice constantly given to me when I was growing up, when I learned how to drive and even the night before I left by a friend in my grad program; “don’t pick up hitchhikers.” How sad that we live in an era where people are vile enough to be dangerous. An era where hitchhikers are the dangerous individuals that don’t meld with society.
And how much I wish I could be like them. How I wish I could be like Sal and throw all my possessions in a bag and set out to this place or that. Because the thing about not having money is that it doesn’t matter where you are. The thing about not having stuff is that it opens up the world.
In high school, every English teacher I had asked us to write about the American Dream as it related to this book or that book. For every character, for every story, the American dream was always different. Yet for every chracter, for every story, the American dream is always the same; Freedom. What’s my American dream? Travel. To see places, to do things. To be away from where I was.
Over the past year, I’ve wrestled with so much. I have fought against difficult classes, lack of motivation, exploding radiators, hoses that don’t work, tires that need rotating, commuting to work everyday, trying to balance life and school and work and sleep, gaining competence at what I do, gaining competence in who I am. I’ve wrestled with understanding my life. And one question stands out; “Why?”
On Tuesday I got coffee with a friend (I had an Americano, she had water) who lent me the book “Through Painted Deserts” by Don Miller. About a year ago, another friend lent me “Blue like Jazz” by Miller and I read it through in a single plane ride as I was headed to my interviews in Oklahoma. I started reading it Tuesday evening as I procrastinated on either packing or sleep (depending on how one views the world). In his prologue, Miller talks about the importance of leaving, of getting away.
“Everybody has to leave, everybody has to leave their home and come back so they can love it again for all new reasons” (Miller, 2005). After a year away, as I get closer to my home, the place I am from, the place I someday will live again, I feel myself get more and more excited. More excited and more relieved. Because that year away has taught me the importance of family, the importance of slowly down and appreciating moments, the importance of not taking a picture every two seconds.
Anyways, those are just some thoughts from day one on the road.