Dear Journal: Open Road

The_open_road,_the_B3224_across_the_Brendon_Hills._-_geograph.org.uk_-_182332Dear Journal,

I’m on the edge of another road trip, and I can’t even explain how good it feels to get out on the open road, to feel the wind on my face, to see the dark tinge of the world through my sunglasses, and to have the cacophonous sound of my children in the back seat. Oh yeah, and the best part of the whole trip — my wife by my side as she has been for so many of these trips in the past 13 years. Sure, I’ve made the trip several times by myself during that same time period, and it’s just not the same.

I guess I’m just one of those guys who needs to have the noises of family around him all the time. Sure, Lexi screaming the same thing over and over again, or Maddie wailing because she fell over another cliff in Temple Run, can get annoying, but more often than not it’s those sounds that keep me going. Occasionally I catch myself looking in the rearview mirror at them, oblivious, deep in some battle with whatever digital demons are around, or intent on coloring Hello Kitty black and green regardless of her original colors. Just knowing that I have them around soothes me.

And the road stretches on in front of me, wide and clear, even if I’m sandwiched between multiple 18-wheelers, or if I’m trying to merge into traffic going 80 miles an hour. How I wish I could bottle up that feeling so I could pull it out, whip off the top, and just take a whiff of it when I’m feeling down, or trapped in a cage. I want to take a picture of that “Welcome to Pennsylvania” sign and slap it down in a photo album to commemorate that feeling, in order to feel it again. It’s the road, and getting somewhere, and taking my kids back to the place I grew up, it all just blends together and makes me hum in anticipation. I assume the feeling is probably akin to a blind person getting to finally see.

Then it will be over, and we’ll be “somewhere,” and we’ll be sedentary, but there will be some more open road somewhere out there, in our near future, and I’ll anticipate it just as eagerly as before. It doesn’t matter where we go either, just that we ease the pedal down and slide out into the flow of traffic going SOMEWHERE on the open road, with good music and good company. That’s all I can ask.

Sam

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All the Way to Mexico

rear-view-mirrorWe drove down from Maine. Just hopped in the car and hit the interstate, spur of the moment. Headed south. It was mid-winter and the snow was falling down in sheets as we drove. The car stereo played 90s on 9, one of the perks of having XM radio, and we pretended it was 20 years ago, Melinda and me. We rocked out to Sugar Ray’s “Every Morning” as the mile markers blew past in a blur.

“Where are we even going?” I asked over the noise of the car and the song.

“All the way to Mexico,” she replied without looking over.

“But I don’t have my passport,” I said, like a kid who doesn’t want to eat his spinach.

“Neither do I,” said Melinda, laughing.

“So how are we going to make it into Mexico?” I asked, confused.

“We’re not,” she answered with a twinkle in her eye.

And the conversation was closed, like what usually happened with her. She was spontaneous and exciting, but when she didn’t want to continue a discussion it died a quick death, stinking like sulfur when it was done. The road stretched out behind us for miles while ahead was a mystery wrapped in 90s nostalgia and blank space. Melinda hummed as she drove further into it.

The landscape changed from white to gray as we kept heading south, and night fell like a curtain in the distance. We seemed to be getting closer to Mexico with every rotation of the car’s wheels, but what that really meant eluded me. Melinda’s white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel reminded me that she hadn’t been the same since Leah left, not as sure of herself as she used to be.

“You know it wasn’t your fault,” I told her while we drove through Tennessee in the early morning hours on the second day.

“That doesn’t make it any easier,” she said in a voice barely above a whisper.

“And it shouldn’t. She’s still gone, but you can’t go on blaming yourself,” I insisted.

In the background Shanice was singing “Smile” even though neither of us had that expression on our faces. Instead it was like we had just fought a war and were reluctant winners. The silence between us had the finality of a dirge and the weight of five years behind it. That night we slept in the same motel room but in separate beds as we had done before, but in the middle of the night I heard the sound of wracking sobs across the empty space. Instead of ignoring them to preserve her dignity I got up and crawled under her covers. We fashioned ourselves into a seamless spoon with no words, and I awoke alone in her bed.

Then it was back on the road with no discussion of the night before. That was her way. It had become our way, and I found some solace in the familiarity of it all. And I noticed there was something different about the mood in the car, that it was somehow lighter than it had been the previous two days. While Young MC rapped about busting a move I tried to place my finger on it, but it still didn’t hit me until I saw the next road sign.

“Hold up. We’re going north again,” I told my mercurial driver, astonished at our trajectory.

“I know,” she replied, eyes firmly fixed on the road.

“But we’ll never get to Mexico,” I almost said, but it hit me before I opened my mouth. The trip had never been about Mexico at all. Maybe it just took a change of scenery for her to really open up in a way she never would have if we had stayed in Maine.

All the way to Mexico indeed, I thought, as Depeche Mode told me to “Enjoy the Silence.” And I did.

Sam

Dear Journal: Solitary

long-road-tripDear Journal,

It was quite an experience driving home today from Philadelphia by myself. The car is usually so full of noise on that trip — the sounds of iPad games, of videos, of music through the stereo speakers, and of off-and-on conversation — that I can’t hear myself think while I drive, but this time was different. Yes, there was still the noise of the stereo (this time the football game on a spotty station), and occasionally the sound of my own singing to the music in my head, but no conversation, which made all the difference.

Time dragged on, even though I made the journey in record time, so I had to entertain myself with pictures in my head, and by imagining the lives of the people I passed, and of the people who passed me on the road. I even imagined picking up a hitchhiker and the stories we would have told each other in that scenario. I realized that people just weren’t meant to be alone, that in the grand scheme of things, that’s why we’re social creatures, to avoid that feeling of being alone that can suffocate and make us hallucinate. It’s sad but true.

It got me to thinking about how many people do go through their lives alone, for whom a trip of that length by themselvesĀ  would have been normal, even natural, and of all the things they would be missing out on by doing that all the time by themselves. Of course if they had never known the noise of community, I guess it wouldn’t be so bad. If we don’t know what we’re missing, how can we possibly miss it? And yet I guess it’s possible, if we see enough the way it’s supposed to be, or how the “other half” lives. We could pine for those things we wish we had.

When I pulled back into our driveway after the trip I let out a pent-up sigh of relief, because no matter how loud and crazy my family can be, they’re my family, and I feel a comfort being ensconced in their noise. I grabbed them and held them close as they chattered away, and I couldn’t help but smile. Of course, though, after a few days of this noise I’ll be ready to pull my hair out, but for now it sounds like angels’ voices.

Sam

Road Tripping

I’m going on a picnic, and I’m taking asparagus, broccoli, carrots…

Yeah, right.

You know I’m really taking angel food cake, Bacardi, candy…

But usually I’m playing the game with my kids, and I want to make sure I’m leaving a good impression about vegetables instead of candy and other things I would ordinarily bring on an adult-type picnic. These are the types of games we play in the car on road trips, or at least they were until technology interfered. Or, I should say, until I let technology interfere. That’s the glory of road trips. We can go old school if we want, just to remind ourselves of how the days of yore went by. Continue reading “Road Tripping”

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