This is written in response to this week's Dare to Share Linkup: For the Love of Country from The Lightning and The Lightning-Bug.
In 1997, I made one of the smartest moves of my life. I quit my job and drove cross country with my friend Carla in my Toyota Tercel. The car barely survived the journey, our friendship didn't, but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
There's no better way to change the direction of your life than to go on a good long trip, or so the theory went. So, Carla and I armed ourselves with some AAA triptiks and a brand new Atlas, loaded the car with clothing appropriate for every climate and an unhealthy selection of snacks and drove out of the freezing Upstate New York winter in search of warmer climes and new adventures.
What we found was a sense of Freedom that I will never forget. Highway after highway, we ran the roads from New York to New Orleans, from San Antonio to San Diego, north to San Francisco and back around via Vegas and the Grand Canyon.
Me, hanging out at the Audubon Zoo.We drank Hurricanes at Mardi Gras, and ate some of the worst Mexican food ever prepared in El Paso, Texas. We attended amateur strip night at a gay bar in San Francisco, and watched an old woman feed the birds in Seaport Village in San Diego. We saw leucistic alligators at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans and took a tour of the Alamo. We visited a giant redwood forest, and some old friends we hadn't seen in years.
All directions in Marietta, GA are given in relation to The Big Chicken.
There are a few moments that stand out, even better than all the rest. I remember driving on I-10 across Texas and the euphoria that came over me. The long, flat road and open sky stretched out before me like a world of possibility. In that moment, I could feel how limitless my future was, how much there was in the world worth exploring. I think of that moment and I catch a wisp of that feeling again, enough to put a smile on my face all these years later.
Somewhere in Southern California, we were stopped and asked if we were transporting any fruit or illegal immigrants.
Another highlight was our visit to the Grand Canyon. We approached the canyon through a late February Arizona snowstorm. As we walked along the snow-covered pathways, the fog rising up from the quickly melting snow was so thick we couldn't see more than the dark outlines of trees ahead of us. Suddenly, I realized that the dark shadows were gone. We stopped and squinted into the wall of white as a light wind came through and blew a hole in the fog. There, not ten feet in front of us, was the edge of the Grand Canyon.
Watch out for that first step...it's a doozy!
The Grand Canyon is big. Really friggin big. Big like you can't imagine unless you've seen it for yourself. I looked down into that giant hole and saw the snow at the top gradually disappear into the desert landscape at the bottom, a mile below where I stood. I saw tiny figures moving slowly along narrow paths and realized they were people riding donkeys. There is a sense of awe and majesty that takes over me looking at natural beauty on such a, well, grand scale... I could stare at it all day, with the same ridiculous smile plastered to my face. I wish I could say I had some kind of epiphany, realized something huge about myself, but I didn't. I just stood there in the snow, smiling as the fog lifted and the true expanse of the Canyon became evident. That was enough.
Oh, the stories I could tell you about San Francisco...
It wasn't all good. Carla and I bickered more and more as time went by. I guess it's only natural, spending that much time together. I wanted to keep going, be spontaneous, chase after silly adventures along the way. Carla got tired of the road. She wanted to go home, resume a normal life. I could have lived like that forever, just wandering the world.
Holly Springs, Mississippi earns the dubious distinction of being the worst place we stayed. It was after an exhausting fourteen hours of driving that we saw the sign for the Holly Springs Inn. Sounds nice, doesn't it? We stumbled into our room, hardly able to keep our eyes open any longer. Carla immediately pulled the blanket back on her bed and found blood stains spattered across the sheets. The locks on the doors had obviously been broken and replaced many times and a red sticker bearing the phone number of the local police department was affixed conspicuously next to the dead bolt.
Turning off the lights was not an option as we sensed the scurrying of cockroaches waiting for the cover of darkness. I pulled my car up as close to the window as I could and lay on top of the blankets fully dressed, holding the curtain open just a smidge so I could keep an eye on everything we had in the world. Over and over, all night long, we were treated to the booming bass of a car's stereo as it circled the parking lot. Over and over, all night long, we heard knocking on the door of the next room, followed by a woman's slowly drawled, "Come on in". A short time later, the door would open and close again. Water would run. And then there would be another knock. After a few hours of unrestful laying about, we got back on the road.
Our very last day, we were leaving my friend Barb's place in Martinsburg West Virginia when the car wouldn't start. We had to call for a jump, and then keep the car running all day, afraid it wouldn't start again if we cut the engine. All day, we took turns, one of us running into a rest area to eat or use the bathroom while the other stayed in the running car. Finally, we got in an argument over how much the toll was going to be when we got off the Thruway in Albany and that did it. We didn't speak for the rest of the trip, not even as Carla unloaded her luggage at her house and I drove off.
Two girls + one Toyota = Trouble
Carla and I have run into each other a few times since then, and we've been friendly, but we've never been friends like we were before that trip. I guess we used up our lifetime's allotted friendship in that month and a half on the road.
Still, I feel the good far outweighed the bad and I'm glad to have experienced it...all of it. Even the Holly Springs Inn. I have so many amazing memories and crazy stories to tell because of that trip. I also have a sense of confidence I might never have had if I hadn't undertaken a journey like that. I mean, really, I'm pretty sure I can find my way around just about anywhere, having once managed to find my way all the way across the country and back again.
That trip is one of the few times in my life that I have gone for it, completely and utterly, holding nothing back and, consequently, it was one of the best experiences of my life. Someday, I still hold out hope that I will have a similar trip around the northern part of the country. There are still plenty of states left to explore.