Posted on March 6th, 2018

The Geography of My Mind – Endless Highways

The freedom to plan, the freedom to travel, the commitments I make, the miles I’ll drive. Oh, how it sounds like a good idea now, but when the day arrives, I’ll wonder, “WTF was I thinking???”

Based on my job I have some flexibility during the summer months to work from wherever suits me, which is quite nice. I enjoy that freedom greatly. But I’ve been known to bite off more than I can chew, especially when it comes to travel. Sometimes I’ll string together three out-of-state trips in one month, which really erodes my stamina, productivity and finances, and greatly enhances my self-awareness of my personal misconception of what it means to have common sense. Well, this impending summer I have a few events on the calendar, of course nowhere near me, that I must be out and about at, plus a few others that I’m trying to squeeze in. Add to that all the travel (flights or driving), and I’m trying to make this easy on myself – somehow. But in my attempts to do that, and to honor all the things I want to do, and feel I should do as I travel for work, I may add on a little extra driving to shave off a little extra flying, something I abhor. The friendly skies my bum. I hate flying. But you’ve heard this before if you read this column…

There’s 3,000 miles between me and the West Coast, I’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and I’m wearing sunglasses. Hit it!

So what’s on the docket, you ask? Well, I have a very close friend getting married in late June in Chicago, and another friend getting married in downstate Illinois in late July. My folks live in Illinois as well, and I’d like to see them for 4-5 days or so, meaning that I’m going to be in Illinois a lot. I had already made standing plans to be in Colorado for ten days to two weeks, likely at the end of June and beginning of July, and I also am planning on attending a music festival in Oregon in mid-July. So what it is shaping up to look like is: drive from the east coast to Illinois, go to a wedding, briefly see the folks, drive to Colorado for a couple weeks, then drive out to Oregon and crash with friends for ten days to two weeks, camping along the way en route, go to the music festival, then make my way back to Illinois, seeing my folks again briefly and attending this other wedding, finally heading back to the East Coast. Ugh. Sigh.

So I’m looking at being away from home for about six weeks, and driving roughly 6,000 miles during that time. Oh yea, I’ll be working all throughout that trek as well. Gonna be busy. I’ve often kidded that I should’ve been a long haul trucker; I’ve become quite comfortable on the open road; well, comfortable probably isn’t the right word, perhaps accepting of the open road is better, but I think my butt is too boney, my patience too thin, and my tolerance of being cooped up too low. Other than that I missed my calling… It seems that as much as I say I don’t want to travel anymore, I always end up traveling – more. But the way I’m looking at it now is that I’m on an extended farewell tour; kind of like the old 80s hair metal band that is doing its 5th iteration of saying goodbye before hanging up their spandex and Aqua Net. So I don’t know when this one will end, but I feel like I’ve built to the plateau and am in a temporary holding pattern of extended and intense travel, but before you know it, that plateau will become a cliff, and I’ll steamroll down it, coming to a grinding halt in the land of never-to-travel-again.

But for now, I’m looking at an endless highway. Many see this as romantic in some way, a story told in the backroads and interstates of our country. The places I’ll see, or more accurately, the places I won’t pay attention to that dot the map between the places I’m at and the places I’m going too. I’ll be traveling from one engagement to the next, coloring it with my own designs along the way. As I think abstractly about where I’ll go, I remind myself to find the hidden gems off the beaten path, to make the struggle of the transcontinental voyage worth it as much as possible. There will be an immense amount of time for thought and reflection; I need to fill it with things worth thinking about. And I will. I’ve already started poking around at a decent camera, something better than a cell phone has to offer in terms of capturing nature, but nothing too over-the-top in that it costs an arm and a leg or gets in the way. I’ll capture this trek and maybe later tell the story, somehow. Because even though I’ve driven large chunks of land in small chucks of days numerous times before, already having once crossed the country in a straight shot, this one might be the one that reminds me I’m getting too old for this. Just the same it might be the one that sparks the fire, suggesting to me that this is my calling: crisscrossing the nation, finding a small tale to turn into a big one. I imagine you’ll hear something about this down the line at some point.

I told a buddy about this trip, in fact, the one who is getting married in June. I made clear that his wedding was one of the original points of plotting for my summer journey, and then I bitched about what I was getting myself into. He said, softly and honestly, “I don’t know. It sounds pretty cool to me. I wish I could do it.” I have an embarrassing lack of international travel under my belt, having not left the country (aside from Tijuana and Toronto) in over 15 years. But in its place I’ve covered most of the states; 45/50 to be exact. And in between I’ve driven tens of thousands of miles, sometimes to see the same people and do the same things, but always to be in the thick of the American landscape in a different way. Typically I’m an interstate guy; let’s get to where I’m going as quickly as possible. But when my brother used to do this kind of stuff, he was a backroads guy, following in my dad’s footsteps. As cliché as it sounds, for them, the destination wasn’t the point; the stories were in the journey and points in between. So, while I know I won’t embrace that wholeheartedly this trip, I do expect to wander off the main arteries a bit more. I might just find that this trip teaches me something, not only about myself, but the country. This is important, especially at a time like this when not too many people agree on too much and we don’t know whether we’re coming or going.

I like to watch Steve Hartman’s On the Road on the CBS Evening News on Fridays (which he took over from Charles Kuralt). It sure ain’t news, so that is something I should complain about (and maybe I will, someday), but it does remind me that there is a lot going on out there, and some of it is good. Maybe I’ll stumble onto one or two of those stories to tell myself, and find a little good that I didn’t know existed out on the endless highways that shape the veins of our American landscape.

Marco Esquandoles
Full Tank

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