I’ve been thinking a lot lately about stories, and about journeys, and about how really, they’re exactly the same thing. What is a book if not a journey of the mind? And in stories and journeys, as in all things, different people prefer different things.
When I was in high school, my friend Jon and I spent a stupid amount of time in his car, driving. Just driving. It didn’t matter where. Whether we went west into the mountains, or east into the farmlands, we were always sure there something we needed to see just around the next bend. If given a choice between a paved highway and a dirt road, we’d take the dirt road every time (even though it had to be hell on his old Mustang). Some of our friends didn’t get it. What was the point of driving around aimlessly? They wanted to know where we were going. After all, what was the point of driving if you weren’t going to actually get anywhere?
For us, the point was the journey: the hours we spent in the car, eating red vines and corn nuts, talking about school and love and what we thought we knew of politics. If I had to name the one place that most epitomizes the glorious optimistic freedom of my youth, it would be the passenger seat of Jon’s car.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We got into a fuckload of trouble this way. We missed curfews. We got lost. We got his car stuck on the dam in the middle of winter, even though we’d specifically been told not to even think about going up there. We had to hitchhike back to town and call the parental units. Once, we spent hours driving into the mountains only to realize we’d used all of our gas. We were at least forty miles from town. We scraped together every cent we had – and believe me, we combed every inch of that Mustang! In the end, we bought $2.37 in gas – mostly in pennies – and coasted down every hill. (We made it home!)
We discovered a place just past the edge of town: a strange collection of houses in the middle of a field of high grass. A road led in, but didn’t seem to lead back out. There were huge, unfenced barking dogs and derelict cars. There were never any lights on. There was no sign of life at all except those angry mutts. The crazy thing is, we couldn’t ever find it in the light of day. We spun stories of the horrors going on in that crazy, scary little place. (Incidentally, it’s since been paved, and is now practically in the middle of town.)
One weekend, we took Jon’s Mustang up into ski country for the sole purpose of finding the town of Climax, Colorado. Why, you ask? Why the hell not? With a name like Climax, it had to be good, right?
Wrong. We never found Climax. It was snowing in the mountains and the roads were icy. The sun went down and visibility was bad. And to top it all off, Jon’s Mustang broke down on the highway. We had to hitch a ride into the nearest town, which happened to be a ski town, right in the middle of prime ski season. The only hotel we could find with vacancies at all was unbelievably expensive. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure I still owe Jon money for that trip. (Jon, would you prefer cash or check?)
This same sense of finding adventure is something I now share with my husband. For our honeymoon (fifteen years ago!), we filled the back of the pick-up with camping gear and spent three weeks with no plan at all – nothing but topographical maps of both Colorado and Utah, and a surety that there must be something we needed to see.
Once, my husband and I thought we’d take a shortcut through a military reserve. Word to the wise: don’t try this! It was a maze of unmarked roads. We were lost for hours. We could see the highway we were trying to get to, but the road we were on just kept turning and turning. We eventually found what seemed to be the military base, except it was completely deserted. As we tried to backtrack our steps, we finally saw signs of life: a truck full of people on the side of the road. Our relief at finding evidence of habitation was quickly dispelled though, as we drew closer.
Each and every one of them was wearing bright yellow full-body Hazmat gear, hoods and all.
It was a scene straight out of an X-Files episode. Their masked faces all turned in unison to watch us drive past. We waved at them and waited for the men in black to pull us over and haul us away. (Luckily, that last part didn’t happen, and we did indeed make it off of the reserve.)
I love the adventure. I love the uncertainty. I love people who are willing to jump into a car just to see how the road will unwind. In my early days in college, I had to drive back to my hometown in Wyoming for my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary. While working my shift at Taco Bell, I tossed out an invitation: “Anybody want to go to Wyoming with me?” And a girl named Mary, who I barely knew at the time, said, “I will!”
I can’t even tell you how much fun we had on that trip. We drove all the way across I-80 and back, singing along to the Grease soundtrack and eating more Cheetos than anybody ever should. Later, we were roommates, and we were bridesmaids in each other’s weddings. I still have There Are Worse Things I Could Do on my iPod, and I think of Mary every time it plays. (Mary, if you’re reading this, all I can say is, “Person! Person! Person!” And although the rest of you are thinking I’m nuts, I guarantee Mary’s laughing her ass off right now.)
Well, I’m older now, and maybe a bit wiser. I at least don’t have to worry about running out of gas money. But if given a choice, this is still the type of trip I prefer – the kind where you wing it, and hope for the best. Sometimes you end up hitchhiking home in blizzard. Sometimes you get lost and have to pull over and pee in a ditch (exactly Day 2 of HaMEMA). But sometimes you end up discovering some crazy little gem. (Like the Fort Sumner Billy the Kid Museum – seriously, the most random collection of crap ever, but god damn did we have fun there!)
I respect the fact that not everybody can handle this kind of journey. My mother-in-law Judy would go batshit crazy if she even tried! She plans her trips start to finish, each step of the way. She needs to know ahead of time which National Monuments she’ll be seeing and whether or not they have a senior discount. She needs to know which hotels she’ll be staying at and whether or not they have continental breakfast. She wants to know of there’s going to be a toll road on the way. She leaves nothing to chance, because uncertainty ruins her fun. She likes surety. And it works for her. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing things her way. My point is not to say that one kind of journey is better than another. It is only to point out that in journeys, as in all things, there are differences.
I think the best thing we can do, really, is to know which kind of journeyer we are, and plan appropriately. Because if you put a woman like Judy in the car with me, she’ll probably have a nervous breakdown. And if you put me in the car with her… well, I’ll certainly make the best of it, but I’ll be staring longingly down every dirt road we pass, wondering what might have been.
So if you’re the type of journeyer who prefers to know the destination ahead of time, we might not be the best of traveling partners. If you need to know that $20 will cover your expenses and you’ll be home in time for curfew, you’re better off finding another car. But if you’re willing to roll the dice, then hop in! All you need is an open mind, and a sense of adventure. And maybe a bottle of wine. There’s a corkscrew in the glove compartment, because honey, I’ve done this before! I don’t even care if you roll the windows down when the AC is going full-blast. Name your destination. I might get us there, or I might get us lost on a cornfield in Kansas. Either way, I hope it’s a journey you never forget.
Marie’s Latest release is Between Sinners and Saints from Amber Allure on May 29