I have arrived home and had a couple days to think about this whole experience. So here are my impressions…
First, one needs to like being on the road. I was gone about five weeks and logged almost 7000 miles. I’m sure there are others who look at that number and scoff…I mean, the math suggests an average of only 200 miles per day. But the point was not to see how far you could drive…Rather, the driving led to sights seen, thoughts generated, and secrets revealed. Still, it is essential to have the desire to travel, and it is nice to have a good traveling companion. Mine was BB, short for Big Boris, a three year old Mercedes with new shoes, all wheel drive, and a construction for this sort of touring. He has a great sound system, reliable GPS, and decent gas mileage. BB never complained and handled all the various terrains and driving conditions we experienced…And all he asked for was a magnetic car magnet from Route 66 !!!
While cleaning out the back seat and trunk, BB revealed his favorite roads along the way. His favorite Interstate was no surprise…The section of I-40 from Knoxville to Asheville, NC. This road, for the most part, has a max speed of 55 mph and a twisty road that BB was designed for. I let him enjoy the touring while I enjoyed the mountain views as we skirted around Smoky Mountain National Park.
BB also reminded me of the state highway we encountered, CA Route 62, after driving through Joshua Tree National Park. The road was well maintained, straight for miles, quick, and stayed just outside the Park boundaries. It was like a ribbon of road bisecting endless reddish rock and green cacti. Route 62 led us towards Phoenix within visual range of the Mohave Desert hills…No towns, no billboars, no Native American casinos, and almost no other vehicles…But all good things end. We had to merge back onto I-10 and share the road with travelers who had no idea what they were missing.
I mentioned this early on but it is worth repeating…Drive About is better in the summer when snow and ice are not part of the equation. We had to abort the plan to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway because of snow in the Appalachians.
There are two ways of driving…One can either drive quickly to where you are going…OR, one can relax and stop at things that are encountered along the road. I did a combination…There were times when I faced deadlines, like picking up family at DEN International Airport. There were other times when I saw something interesting and investigated. If I could go back, I would have diverted to Shiloh…I got off the road when I saw the sign, but decided not to drive the 120 miles down and back to visit the battlefield…Too much of a schedule in my head that particular day…But now, I regret not standing on the hallowed ground of more fatalities than any other single day during the Civil War.
I also came to understand that a Drive About is much better when you have a HOME waiting for you at the end…You can venture out onto the road with the understanding that you will eventually return. Mary Chapin Carpenter wrote a song about having “Your Place in the World,” and I have since understood that this is a developmental quest. When you have found your place to live, loved ones to share it with, and meaningful activities to engage your time, you have found your place in the world. A sense of belonging makes the ventures outward that much sweeter.
It is also good to not overdo the length of your Drive About…Crocodile Dundee could not understand why his woman didn’t feel comfortable waiting five years for the end of his Walk About. Mrs Bear let me know I was missed early on…Then I sensed that she was starting to get frustrated trying to do my responsibilities as well as her own. That was my signal to make it back home.
One of my kids asked me what my favorite experiences were…Initially I mentioned the Buckhorn Grill, but with some lingering contemplation, I think it was feeling a sense of historical perspective…From the eternity of dinosaurs roaming petrified forests, to the struggle of the Okies on Route 66, to my personal deja vu of recreating a journey, and mindset, across our continent…I felt spirits with and within me. I’m sure it won’t be too long until they haunt me again.
And so I leave you with one more essay about this quest to discover the spirit…John Stewart’s THE ROAD:
Where is the road??? Cyrus Avery’s ribbon of dreams that ran away from Chicago to the Pacific Ocean to connect the Mid-West and the Promised Land.. A concrete artery for the American Dream, for the automobile of the restless traveler…Where is the road that wouldn’t die in 1977 when they took the last highway sign down and thought it would just go away??? But it wouldn’t just go away…It wasn’t just a road, Cyrus Avery’s ribbon of dreams…It was Pop Hicks Diner in Clinton, Oklahoma, where the heartbeat of what John Steinbeck called the Mother Road was heard over the sound of coffee cups knocking against plates of Spanish Omelettes and home fries…Where is the road that Tom Joad traveled west from Oklahoma with his family with tethered mattresses in the Grapes of Wrath??? Where Ernest Hemingway sat and sipped wine in the Villa Cuberto in Albuqerque, New Mexico where he wrote The Old Man and the Sea??? Where is the road that refused to die as the signs saying Route 66 began to reappear on the sides of the buildings, shops, and sheds, as if by magic??? As if Route 66 signs that appeared painted on the very concrete itself were a kind of stigmata of the American dream…Where Will Rogers once stood in the Coleman Theatre in Miami, Oklahoma and re-defined the image of a country with a reality check that long outlived even Rogers himself as the road became known as the Will Rogers Highway. And the Coleman Theatre still stands beside 66 with an ornate style that screams “I am alive,” against the Oklahoma horizon. Where is the road that Stanley Marsh planted ten Cadillacs in the ground outside Amarillo, Texas and Cadillac Ranch became visual rock and roll??? The road runs from Tucumcari to Flagstaff, through Meteor City and Winslow, Arizona with the line of a spider vein on the thigh of a runway dancer. The road cuts through the Mojave Desert where sidewinders find the shade in the shadows of abandoned Oldsmobiles, bleached into rusted skeletons like those that lie beneath the white hot sand of America’s highway. Then it’s Azusa, Pasadena, and Pomona, where harness horses walk under wool blankets at the L.A. County Fairgrounds and the solid air of Los Angeles hangs like the smoke of a Hollywood Hills pot party over the fading walls of the Miracle Mile. Where is the road that stops at the Santa Monica Pier where Crips and Bloods strut their territory over weathered boards that still shake the feet of tourists and the sound of a carousel spinning its innocence in what’s left of the Promised Land??? Where is the road ??? I must find out. J.S., 1997