The Road

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Out on the road, driving for hours, strange things seem to happen in your brain as it takes in the landscape, road conditions, temperature, sounds and smells. I spent so many hours driving to get to a new place, but if I wanted to just get there, I could have taken a plane. But it was more about experiencing the journey. Sometimes I was scared. Sometimes I really had to pee. Sometimes I felt I was going insane.  Sometimes the sun burnt my driver arm raw. Here are some choice snippets from the journey:

1) Driving in Montana on a straight road, a mountain range stretched tantalizing in front of me. But I would never get there because I am forced to drive THIRTY miles per hour through a construction zone! Since the speed limit is 75 in Montana and the road was long and wide, I felt like I was driving a little putt-putt golf cart!!! Highly hysterical in a surreal way!

2) The high desert in Eastern Washington totally bewildered me. And went on and on until I wondered if I somehow drove off the Earth’s surface and landed on the moon! The grass was dry and tan and the desert swelled on either side of the road like mounds. Very alien to me!  The heat made me feel like I was on the sun! The smell of something sweet – sagebrush? wheatgrass? – reminded me of my grandfather on my mother’s side and the pipe he smoked. So at least there was something familiar there! Finally, I stopped at Tokio, a diner and gas station. The weary traveler needed a break from the endless highway! I was sure it was my kind of place when both the waitress and the cook were left-handed! The menu told some history of the name and landscape. Something about Asian workers on the railroad giving it the Japanese name…I ordered the shrimp basket and soaked in the cozy coolness. It was an oasis in the desert to me.

3) Guess the one state I got pulled over by a police officer? Arizona! Big surprise, huh? I was driving back to Flagstaff from the Grand Canyon, it was after dark, I didn’t want to miss the entrance to the campground and this car was driving just behind me in the left lane. I waited for the car to speed up and pass or fall back, but it kept on like this. The lights shone into my car and I was getting discombobulated and a bit freaked out. Suddenly, the lights on top of the cruiser lit up and started whirling. Ah! It was a cop! Was I driving too fast or what? No, turns out he was concerned about my swerving off the road and thought I might have been at a party outside of town. I told him no, I was looking for my campsite and the lights on a car diagonally behind me were freaking me out. “Oh, I guess that was you,” I said. No comment from the officer but he let me go after I signed his paperwork without a ticket. Whew!

4) Nicest folks who helped me with directions? First place was St. Peter, MN. No big surprise for me. It was like my brother in heaven putting in a good word for me. A woman and an older gentleman in a supermarket were uncertain but very friendly and sent me on to other folks. The plaid shirt wearing younger guy at a printing place jumped into action, pulling out an atlas from under the counter and an older customer leaped to help me as well although the first guy basically told him “I got this!” As if it were a chivalry competition! Hee hee! It was nice to be fought over for a change!

Second place was Texas, which was a pleasant shock for me. My directions had me crisscrossing the state on small roads to get to Austin and I was afraid of getting lost. It was a long enough drive as I was – 11 hours – so I didn’t want to get too far off the mark! I stopped about three or four times and every time the folks steered me right in an exceptionally civil manner. So much gratitude!

5) Shall I confess to some of my not so safe driving experiences? There were just two. Once in Seattle, I went to cross a highway and was paused at the median when I realized it was not wide enough to actually be a crossing point! Cars were coming from both sides, so I just went really quick, probably going up over a curb in the process! Yee haw! I felt like a badass!

In San Francisco, I was heading from the Bay Bridge back into town and almost exited the highway that I needed to stay on. Since I was meeting a friend and didn’t want to get terribly lost, I veered from the far right exiting lane over into one of the further left lanes. Cars were coming up behind me really fast and started honking as I made my move! My passenger who hitched with me from Northern Cali was highly impressed with my successful maneuvering! (Sorry Mom!)

6) I was quite concerned on long empty roads about my vehicle breaking down and felt quite lucky that this never happen! There was however, an occasion where my engine light came on. This was three quarters of the way through my trip in Virginia. When I pulled off and into a gas station and dug out the manual from my glove compartment, I was nervous when it said it could be a major problem and to take it to the dealer! But then after all that drama, it said it could also mean the gas cap was not on properly. So, I got out and went around to take a look at my tank. Not only was my cap not on, but the lid was also open! I had driven the last half hour or so with the gas door ajar and the cap dangling out! At the last station, I had been in a hurry to get to the restroom before a family did and neglected my final duties at the pump! Turned out I had to wait some time to pee anyway!

The road taught me a lot about this country but also about myself. About my worries, fears, strengths and impatience. After driving long painful stretches, you would think I’d be unwilling to make another such trip! But nope. It’s like they say about birthing a baby: afterwards, you just want to have another!

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