This summer, Farmer Brown and I had the mile long gravel road on our farm blacktopped. After looking at the costs involved in repeatedly replacing and spreading the gravel several times a year, coupled with the enormous amount of The Sheriff’s time and energy to do so, it was decided that blacktopping the road was a worthwhile investment.
I have to admit, it’s a beauty. The new road weaves its way from the front gate of the farm, past two barns, two homes (those of The Sheriff and The Mayor), a garage and several fields of bucolic pastureland full of happy, contented horses. Walking on our gleaming, new, blacktop road I think of the distinctly American penchant for road trips, taking off in a car, heading west or south or wherever to clear one’s mind, roll down the windows, crank up the tunes and find oneself. It’s the stuff car commercials, movies, and novels are made of.
While I, too, have romantic notions of road tripping, I have a bad history of leaving a little too much of myself behind on trips. All throughout my youth I would get motion sickness and end up puking on car trips. I puked on the way to and from West Virginia every summer. I puked on the way home from Cedar Point every summer (thank you, Tilt-a-Whirl, or rather, Tilt-a-Hurl). I puked in the back of the tour bus on Big Sur in California and my two older brothers had to clean it up (sorry, boys … and everyone at the back of that bus). I puked in my mother’s purse on a bus during a family trip to Ireland (giving new meaning to “the wearing of the green”). Even now, when I am traveling by bus or car, I insist on sitting up front, popping Dramamine, so that I can keep an eye on the horizon.
My dad used to co-own a motorhome when I was little and he would take my brothers on excellent adventures out west to see the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and The Grand Canyon. I was so envious of their great stories of camping, getting lost, and seeing amazing sights. Funny, I never got invited. I guess between my hurling and my bedwetting, I wasn’t a desirable travel companion. I would love to have seen my father, a sensible man who lived in wing tip shoes, “roughing it” with a bunch of knucklehead young men in close quarters, and squeezing his 6’4” frame into that motorhome’s Lilliputian sized bathroom.
When I was a stay-at-home mom years ago, I would occasionally get an irrational urge to just hit the road. Those were challenging years: three little girls who had various issues (eating disorders, learning disabilities, dietary allergies, anxiety, power struggles, math homework, mean girl drama), an entrepreneur husband with crazy long work hours, and a mother slowly succumbing to Alzheimer’s. Out running errands, alone on I-90, with nothing but road in front of me … I would fantasize about blowing past my exit and heading west to California to … I don’t know. Reinvent myself? Become a soap opera actress? Take up surfing? Get some sleep? “See ya, suckas!” I would say in my imagination, flipping my finger through the car’s moon roof.
Of course, that never happened. Thank God. The road of life eventually got smoother, for a while. Mom’s suffering finally ended, the kids grew up and conquered their challenges, and I got some sleep … for a while.
Last summer I took a road trip with my daughters to bring our youngest back to school in Maine. It’s a fourteen-hour drive, so we decided to break it up into two days. The first day we stopped at a kooky little place in New York State called Lilydale. It is kind of a mystic version of Chautauqua (a cultural retreat also in New York State). We had heard that every year since 1879, droves of people descend upon this little village that reportedly is in a vortex of some kind, to commune with spirits, contact dead relatives, have revelations. So we were all in. Turns out, after spending a fortune on parking and lunch, we didn’t get much. We went to a group “reading” in the woods where a panel of mystics read the crowd for free … and we got what we paid for … a whole lot of vague generalities.
“I’m getting something for an Ann. Is there an Ann in the crowd?” Silence. “No … not Ann … Mary. Is there a Mary here?” (Well, hell, of course there’s a Mary or an Ann in the crowd full of women aged 50+ . Doesn’t take a fortuneteller to figure that out.) My favorite “reading” was when one of the mystics asked if a woman had any connection to Bob Seger. When she shook her head, “no,” the mystic pressed on. “Did your person ride a motor cycle?” No. “Is his name Bob? Robert?” No. “Did he wear a leather jacket?” No. “Are you sure his name isn’t Bob?” No. “Well, I’m still getting Bob Seger,” she insisted as she moved on, as if this poor woman was either lying or slow. She must have the Night Moves CD playing on repeat in her car or something.
The rest of that trip was great, though. We had two cars, so I took turns with different combinations of daughters, singing songs from Hamilton, The Drowsy Chaperone, Feist, Billy Joel, listening to podcasts, talking about plans for the future, and telling stories, recounting our ridiculous Lilydale visit. Is there anything better than being a little punchy from a road trip and laughing at something stupid until you cry? Especially with my now adult daughters. It was worth the sore back and frozen hips I got by the end of fourteen hours in the car to have extended time with my girls who are now scattered to the wind, traveling their own roads, finding their own adventures.
These days, I keep thinking of that great Pretenders song, Middle of the Road. Chrissie Hynde says, “I’m standing in the middle of life, with my plans behind me.” I feel you, Chrissie. Except she wrote that song when she was 33 (“I'm not the cat I used to be. I got a kid, I'm thirty-three.”) and I’m in my 50’s. Even still, the gift of being in my 50’s is that, increasingly, I could give a flying fart what people think of me. With Alzheimer’s Disease back in my life ravaging my mother-in-law and sister, I’m all about finding joy, hitting the road, or, my new mantra, “Seize the day, mothafucka!” I have to fight back an uncharacteristically manic drive to DO IT ALL NOW, though, as if I’m racing against time. I do love travel and going on actual road trips, but I also know that part of “seizing the day” is simply relishing walking on a newly paved blacktop road through a gorgeous stand of tall trees, listening to the wind through the leaves, and counting the blessings that got me to the middle of this road. Because, life is about the journey, right?