After beginning in Washington, DC, spending nearly 3 hours in Houston and barely 20 minutes in Las Vegas, I arrived in Sacramento last Wednesday evening. After three take-offs, three landings, and three time zones I actually found solace in the fact that I would be driving back starting the next morning. Such was the advent of a great adventure initiated by my father-in-law’s gratuitous bequeathing of a 1994 Silverado, barely broken in at 73,000 miles and change. Retirement in his case did not present much use for a half-ton V-8. By contrast I burn wood in the winter, mulch flowerbeds in the spring, haul bicycles all summer, collect leaves in the fall…and run to the dump pretty much weekly. Thus the offer, “Come and get it and it’s yours.” This is about as close as I ever figure to come to winning the lottery. Combined with the prospect of a coast to coast road trip it was downright irresistible. Over the course of 3,000 miles one is afforded some time to reflect, thus the following are some thoughts from the open road.
America is real big. My brother-in-law Billy and I hit I-5 south at 6:30 Thursday morning. Seventeen hours later we pulled into a Super 8 in Albuquerque and crashed on cotton sheets of questionable repute for about 6 hours. Friday morning we experienced fine dining at the local Waffle House and then hit the road on a virtually nonstop run to Virginia. After brief stints in eastern New Mexico and western Oklahoma I manned the cockpit from 12:30 a.m. to sunrise, spanning almost the entire length of Tennessee, which I find beautiful even at night. The whole trek was about 48 hours of actual driving time, almost 34 of which were spent west of the Mississippi River. In the midst of those 34 hours, much of it in the throes of a vast desert where dialing 9-1-1 only gets you a recording if you’re lucky, it’s easy to feel small.
Thus apparently it really does pay to conform, if you’re a business at least. One of the more disappointing revelations of the drive, contributing to a sense of insignificance, is that for all the interesting places along the way Americans have a penchant for paving diverse landscapes and making them all look the same. For example, with the conspicuous exception of Death Valley there appears to be a Home Depot conveniently spaced every 25 miles or so along the entire span of I-40. Ronald McDonald, Target, and that creepy Walmart smiley face are omnipresent, all beckoning us to get in line, swipe a card, and walk out with something we don’t really need, especially considering that if we are patient it will all be available again in a few miles! But this is how we roll in America because…
Obviously non-conformity can have disastrous consequences. When you don’t fit in life becomes exponentially more difficult. Unfortunately one of the more lasting images from the trip came at a stoplight in Albuquerque well after midnight. There we witnessed an obviously disturbed man pick up a stick and engage in a swordfight with a cactus. Below freezing, empty streets, and there’s a man shouting profanity at a cactus. Clearly circumstances prohibited him from blending into the mainstream. As such everything he owned appeared to be in a basket mounted on his bicycle. We do well to remember he is still no less a person created in the image of God.
Blending in is not without its perils. Just ask these lovely steers from somewhere west of Amarillo. Of course you can’t ask them anything now because, well…you know. This herd stretched fence post to fence post for about a mile. Their whole life following the herd, never branching out, never questioning the wisdom of where they were headed, had brought them no further than the feed lot. It was a scene eerily reminiscent of a northern Virginia Metro station in early morning.
Sure, life is about the journey. Bound by conformity I could not write a blog about a road trip without including this miserable cliché. But when we are so fortunate as to be allowed to navigate our own unique sets of trials and temptations with reasonable success, and most of us are, we tend to look back on those challenges with at least some miniscule amount of gratitude for what they taught us. That being the case shouldn’t Billy and I have set a little more leisurely pace, perhaps taking in the Grand Canyon, driving a stretch of Route 66, and visiting Graceland? Maybe, but I will question the wisdom of this statement, at least in this case because it just so happens…
I miss the wife and kids. The destination can be pretty good too. Life on the open road may be thrilling, and Uncle Billy was good company, but ultimately the high speed interstate is a lonely place. It is nice to come home to at least one adult, two little people, and a slobbering dog, three of the four whom you have convinced you are the most amazing person ever and the fourth knowing better but most of the time not caring.
There you have it. Life on the road boiled down to six semi-philosophical bullet points. Lest we spend our entire lives thoughtlessly following the herd it can be good to get out there and play in different parts of the American meadow from time to time, giving consideration to what it may be exactly that God has called each of us to and how we interact with one another. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go take a nap.