We didn’t do the Willie Nelson “On the Road Again” thing that might have taken us on the back-country roads of West Virginia, Kentucky, or their equivalent. Nor did we go anywhere as exotic as Mandalay (in Myanmar, aka Burma) about which Frank Sinatra sang in “On the Road to Mandalay.” But we did drive to Scranton, PA, Bill’s hometown, this past weekend to spend time with family and old friends – a combination package, more or less. Not exotic, not even what one might call exciting. But its nostalgic quotient brought to mind pleasant memories and funny stories of Bill’s youth. I’d heard most of them before, but each time we go, there’s one more thing exposed that I didn’t know. Or maybe forgot; who can say for sure?
We took my car, a Honda Accord, because the manual transmission is easier on fuel than his Acura. And the Accord has, at the moment, much lower mileage because it’s newer, a 2016, though if we keep taking it on these excursions, my numbers will rival the Acura’s quicker than I would hope.
Plus we’d had a navigation system installed (Bill’s car, of course, has had one in his) though it’s not as if we didn’t know where we were going. But its operation has offered somewhat of a learning curve, and I was using this trip to get better acquainted with its gazillion components. An overstatement, perhaps, but I’ve been left in the dust and on the side of the road like sagebrush in a desert as far as technology is concerned, so any opportunity to better the prospects of not getting lost or dying of hunger because I can’t locate a restaurant – with a navigation system, no less – are welcomed.
Frustrating, to the max, but welcomed. A challenge, so to speak.
On my system, street signs pop up at the top of the screen and blink out of existence when they near the bottom. That’s where our doppelgänger – the arrow – remains fairly constant. When the last one disappeared, there was nothing left but two pale orange strips indicating a divided highway endlessly threading a path through what appeared to be a vacuous “Beyond.”
I felt like I did when I drove through big ranch country in Wyoming. Or through Utah, in another world on another planet. Even in Kansas one sees the occasional silo off in the distance, or the intermittent Stuckey’s pit stop shop that pops up occasionally in this two-dimensional world.
If you’ve never gotten excited at the prospect of what looks like a building off in the distance, then you’ve never driven through Kansas on Interstate 70 and been thrilled at the prospect of stopping at a Stuckey’s. Looked forward to it with anticipation. Snacks, trinkets, souvenirs, gas, restrooms – what’s not to love about the place? Answer: Everything, unless you happen to be driving across Kansas.
If you’re in luck, or having a bad day depending on your point of view, the ennui that develops on this stretch of highway might also be broken by the tornados for which Kansas is well-known. At least they serve to keep your eyes from glazing over due to the sameness of it all. But if you’re driving, and getting into a center hall, a bathtub, or a basement is not in the cards for you, look for a ditch you can lie down in. When my granddaughter, Kearsti, and I drove to California once instead of flying, there were five tornados in our general area, but no ditches, not that I could have seen one in that blinding downpour. Kansas was anything but boring that day.
My first, and only, trip across that portion of The Great Plains, referred to as The Dust Bowl in the 1930s for good reason, was in 1975 with my then husband, Dick and our three children. To relieve the monotony, we made a game out of identifying license plates – could we get all 50 states? And who could win by spotting the most? We rated rest area restrooms – some interesting comments there. We didn’t have seat belts then and the kids would either hang over the back of the front seats, argue, or take naps: one took the floor (with pillows for “the hump” that accommodated the rear wheel drive shaft, one got the seat, the third got the back window sill – more accurately known as the parcel tray or package shelf (though I like “ledge” better). They rotated positions regularly to keep the peace.
If traffic and drivers’ attitudes had been then what they are now, none of us would likely have made it beyond the age of 40.
Stuckey’s was, by far, the highlight of that day, and it took all day to get across it.
Our avatar, the arrow, indicates movement. We go here. We go there. And where do we get? According to our nav map – nowhere.
But things are not always what they appear to be on the surface. Not always what they look like or what you expect.
It looked like we were going nowhere, but here’s where nowhere led us.
It led to Bill’s youngest brother, Mark, and his wife, Tina, who live in Dunmore, a Scranton suburb. It led to Sibio’s where we joined their sister, Elizabeth, and her husband, Roger for a fabulous Italian dinner and spent a wonderful family-centered evening together.
It led to, as Proust phrased it, “A Remembrance of Things Past.” Driving through old-style neighborhoods where it’s still safe for kids to walk at night. Where big old homes are close together in compact neighborhoods that allow neighbors to look in your windows and talk to each other over fences or yards that seamlessly grow into one another. Everyone knows virtually everyone else’s business and if they don’t, they have no qualms about asking – they’ve all known each other for years, watched each other’s kids grow up, shared the joys of marriages and births, and grieved together over deaths. These neighborhoods comprise large extended families. So unlike the divisive, sprawling neighborhoods of today where you’re lucky if you’ve even met the person who’s lived next to you for the last five or ten years.
Sometimes we think we’re getting nowhere, but if we keep to the road long enough, we do get somewhere. Maybe not where we’d planned to go, but isn’t half the fun of going anywhere to be found in the journey itself? If we make the most of our time – and the ways of contributing to our own or someone else’s well-being are numerous and can be enlightening, fun, cathartic – it will be time well-spent. What it takes is making a commitment to put something into or get something out of the moment we find ourselves in.
To do that, to be a positive contributor to the path we are on, we must understand that what we see in the mirror (of our bathroom or our car, though not while we’re driving, – or on the map screen itself) doesn’t necessarily reflect what it appears to. There’s always more one cannot, or perhaps refuses to, see. We must look further, dig deeper.
Clear your mind of the garbage accumulated over a lifetime. Look with fresh eyes and keep those eyes open, and give whatever moment you are in your best self.
A good thing to keep in mind, and not just when you’re traveling.