by Rita Leydon ©1997
“I want you to know I’ve driven four days to get to this exit.” A bored toll clerk looks up into my eyes.
“Four days. Left Albuquerque on Tuesday.” Today is Friday. A smile slowly spreads across the dark stranger’s face as my words sink in.
“Well, welcome back!”
Four days indeed. Two thousand road miles overtaken each in turn, one by one. I’ve driven back and forth between Bucks County, Pennsylvania and various western states more times than I can reliably account for. Various reasons. With children and without. Solo this time.
The last delicious moments of such a marathon drive tend to pass in slow motion. After cruising at eighty, mile upon mile, hour after hour, day in and day out, there is a pleasant highway buzz in my whole body that needs space to gradually release and dissipate. Like a well balanced flywheel that keeps spinning a long time, slowing down ever so gradually, preferring to keep moving. Momentum giving way to stillness only with measured and cautious deliberation.
So here I am again. At exit 2—Willow Grove. Almost home. I take a deep breath. Stretch. Smile. It’s still here, looks the same. I’ve only been away maybe three weeks this time. Adventuring. Partaking of life. Savoring encounters. Relishing nuances. Marveling at the vastness and enormity of just about everything beyond my own personal skin.
Driving is a visceral and sensual activity. An exercise in communion between chariot, road bed and pilot. I refer to my automotive extension, my tool of locomotion, as “Cat.” She and I become as one on the road. Each understands and anticipates what the other needs and wants. Water. Fuel and oil. Silence. Coffee and maybe a candy bar. Agility. Comfort and security. Traction. French fries. A new light bulb. We agree that in the mid-afternoon nothing beats tearing into and consuming a slab of hard dry beef jerky.
Four days of solitude on the highway is an unspeakably wonderful luxury. No intrusions. No disturbance. I am unreachable. No cellular telephone. No connections to the wired world. Just Cat, fueled by lubricants and octane, and me, fueled by calories, caffeine and an insatiable hunger for free contemplation. Cat is my well loved 1987 Jaguar XJ6 with almost 150,000 miles under her steel-belted paws. I am a middle aged creative mother of two grown boys. “Mother of two” covers a lot of territory. Many miles. Ups and downs. Highs and lows. We are not spring chickens any more. I press the pedal deeper into the carpet, open the sunroof, release my hair to cavort in the sweeping air. A smile on my face acknowledges the unmistakable song of protest offered by the wind’s moaning over the commotion my passing causes.
Cat and I have favorite haunts. Grooves worn into the roads of our journeys. Place names that delight. Pride in astronauts and Miss Americas born here and there. Rivers that welcome yet another crossing. A bookstore in Amarillo. My Swedish fix in Lindsborg. The museum in Zanesville. Cinnamon rolls in Leadville. My mother’s ashes on Mt. Lindsey. My aging father in Ft. Garland. Colorado’s fragrant sagebrush. The plaza in Taos. Red rocks in Wyoming. The simplicity of Kansas. Crisp barbecued beef in Hotchkiss. Specific treasures of experiential memory. Milestones. Motoring memorabilia.
“Why don’t you just fly? My God, it takes four days each way! What a waste of precious time!” Whose time? Should I care what you think? It’s my decision, isn’t it? I do occasionally fly if I truly must. For instance, if I need to be in Sweden, I make an arrangement with SAS that gets me there; but then I have no journey, only an arrival. I pine for the journey. Long for the missing center. I need a solid middle for my beginnings and endings.
I drive so I can know how far away I am. How far I have gone. I drive so I don’t loose connection with how enormous the earth’s surface is. I drive to keep relative perspective of my own physical scale to that of the landscape I find myself in. I am a terrestrial being. I drive because I love the solitude of the open road. The degree of mental release it affords me. The temporary removal of ordinary encumbrances and expectations. The infinite array of contemplative directions that beckon me as I shoot straight as an arrow for the goal beyond my horizon.
Reaching the end of any journey carries with it a mixed feeling of mourning and relief. The journey, in and of itself, is a delight—nothing extraordinary needs to happen. Simply the act of moving along the thin thread that defines the path is enough. Watching sky and geography. Reading weather. Sniffing air. Squinting at the bright sun. Musing with amusement as my mind plays crack-the-whip with my thoughts. Past, present, and future bouncing around without respect for traditional time lines or decorum. No respect for order. None. One moment elbowing its way past another moment to get to my conscious level ahead of the moment of lesser pluckishness. It can get pretty raucous in there. Meanwhile, Cat is content to purr along smoothly and quietly, propelling us in the direction we are going. At the end of each day, parting company for the night, we admire each other’s prowess. Agreeing that a brief respite will reignite our shared passion for speed and progress on the morrow. I stroke Cat’s sleek lines, trace her sensuous form with a lingering finger. Her spoked wheels sparkle in the moon light, eager for the next day to dawn so she can stretch those sinewy legs on the asphalt ribbon again.
It takes time to savor. Doesn’t matter what it is that needs savoring. Cheese. The landscape. Words. Music. A blade of grass. The wind. Creation itself. It all takes time. Time to notice. To pause. Reflect. Time to internalize. And then, to move on. On the last leg of my journey home, I choose to savor my arrival. Savor my exhaustion. Thankfulness. My wonderment that I wasn’t missed in the slightest by the space that parts as I pass and immediately closes up behind me, surrounding me, once again, in familiarity. It delights me to feel totally unimportant. Void. Having no consequence. I feel as if I am watching a movie of a place I’m familiar with, but not part of. I am only a witness.
I follow the remaining thread of my path. Stopping, going, turning as directed by the automatic pilot. The rubber band effect has taken over. It always does close to home. Pulls me the last little bit. I just sit in the car and observe. There’s Nonesuch Farms. I wonder, do they still have fresh corn? My dentist's office—yes, yes, I floss on Thursdays! At last, we climb the Lahaska hill. Bear left at the top, at Buckingham Friends—the school that nurtured both my husband and our sons. Ah, Peddlers’ Village is still full of the same folks it was full of when I left three weeks ago. Good. All’s as it should be. Commerce doing fine without me. There’s the House of Coffee, purveyors of the best coffee on the planet. Mmmm, I can smell it as I pass by. One more turn. A right into the farm. Home. The big blue heron settles onto the pond. Beautiful sight. We are old friends. A few leaves have yellowed and fallen. Zinnias and marigolds have peaked. Sirius, our aged golden retriever, a vestige of young familyhood, waddles up wagging her matted tail, patiently waiting for me to disengage myself. A cold wet nose bestows a sincere kiss. Christopher, my safe haven, appears as I unfurl my long self, brushing off crumbs and other debris that the day has deposited in my lap. His solid embrace tells me I am once again home. Terra Firma.