Day One: Monday.
It’s 74 degrees and 7:54 in upstate New York. I’m not really upstate; I’m in the western part, but that’s what everything outside of New York City is called. There’s only NYC and upstate.
7:55. At least that’s what the bank sign on the corner is alternately telling me at this ridiculously long light with no one else around. The sign also tells me I can open a free checking account at a bank I’ve never heard of before and will never see again. I’ll pass.
About forty-five seconds ago, I briefly thought about running the light, but knowing my luck, there’s a cop hiding in the bank parking lot. I decided to wait.
On my side of the intersection is a First Presbyterian Church. You mostly find banks and churches at these intersections to the point where all the little towns look the same after a while. I wonder why churches always bother with the “first” part seeing as I’ve never seen a “second” Presbyterian Church or any other second church for that matter. I’d like to see a Fourth Presbyterian Church.
The church is dark. I can only read the sign by the street light. It’s 7:55 at night, but it might as well be the wee hours of the morning for all the activity I see around here.
7: 56. It feels longer than two minutes. I’ve been sitting at this intersection for two minutes in bank sign time, though I’m not sure how far along into 7:54 it was when I got here. The cross walk sign has just changed from the white walking man to a flashing yellow palm, so the light should change soon. 7:57 and I’m already outside town on one of the two-lane roads that I’ve been on all day. Every now and then, I enter another one-light town with a ridiculously long traffic light.
This morning, I decided to take free roads instead of paying for the Mass Turnpike and New York State Thruway. With this huge trailer on the back of my car, it would be an absolute fortune since they charge by axle and I have at least three of them. It’s ten hours from Boston to Detroit, cutting through Canada on the toll roads. It also costs a fortune and I’m in no real rush. At least, that’s how I felt at the beginning of this trip when three extra hours didn’t seem like that long. I should have known that three hours would turn into five. After driving through Podunk towns all day, I’m regretting my desire to save a few bucks.
Once you get out of the cities, New York state is positively lousy with small towns. Driving along in the darkness, it always amazes me how many people leave their curtains open. I guess that’s the difference between city and small town living. Through the curtains in the little towns, you can see warm living rooms with recliners, sofas, lamps and the familiar glow of television. Sometimes, you can even see people in those rooms sitting on the couches or washing dishes at the kitchen sink. They just leave their curtains open. I guess they realize that most people on this road only have a split second to glimpse their worlds and it’s not worth closing curtains for that.
Snatching glances of people living their lives in these tiny towns makes you feel very isolated. You’re on the outside; they’re on the inside. Living in the city, you forget sometimes that there are a lot of people out here in the boonies. I always wonder what they do for a living. At this moment, I would like to be one of them. I’d like to have one of these windows belong to me. I would like to sit in a warm living room after eating a hot meal, but the light changes and I keep moving west.
I had hoped to make it through Canada before I stopped to sleep, but this trip is taking longer than it should. I should have sucked it up and taken the toll roads. I’d be much farther along by now, but what’s done is done.
I’d at least like to make it close to Buffalo before I call it quits and check into some random motor lodge in another one-light town. I have a hundred more miles or so. Another bank tells me it’s 8:13 and 71 degrees. I can make it a few more hours. I turn on the radio and try not to peek into any more windows.
Day Two: Tuesday
I’m in Canada somewhere. I’m not sure where since this part of Canada all looks the same and the highway doesn’t go anywhere near the cities. Canada was smart in the sense that they built the main thoroughfare from Buffalo to Detroit outside of the cities so you can avoid any unnecessary city-related traffic, but it also means that your trip looks entirely the same no matter where you are. Every once in a while, you’ll notice a mirage of a city off on the horizon with a wistful, undefined yearning. I’ve had to convince myself that it’s not worth driving out of the way just for some variance of landscape. Instead, I stop at one of the three thousand Tim Horton’s along the way.
I check my phone. There’s a text message from last night that I missed. “Lonely, come cuddle. You could make it in 20 hours if you pushed…” Leave it to him to want affection when he knows I’m a time zone away.
I thought about pushing through Canada last night. It’s about four hours from Buffalo to Detroit by car, but I remembered the time I was driving through this corridor with a friend and I asked when we were going to stop going uphill. “We’ve been going uphill for a half an hour already!” He made me pull over right there and then, because that part of Canada is as flat as can be. I decided not to overdo it and stayed in a crappy roadside hotel near Buffalo. It was $49 a night, but clean.
Let’s do this. Back on the road. I still have to make it through customs before I get to Detroit. It won’t be hard. Canada took a picture of my license plate when I entered. They know how long it takes to drive from one side to the other, even stopping at Tim Horton’s. As long as I don’t go out of that time range, it shouldn’t be a problem. That means no detours to the city.
Day Three: Wednesday
I’m in Detroit and have been all day. I’ve decided to leave tomorrow morning instead. Had I known I would stay here, I would have pushed through Canada the first night. I should have known that I couldn’t just drive through my hometown like it was any other unfamiliar stop along the way. Oh well.
This is my hometown, though it doesn’t much look like it. So much is different now. So many buildings are gone that it’s hard to get your bearings. Some things stay the same though, like the street names… Michigan Ave, Trumbull, Woodward, Grand River, Eight Mile, Bagley. I lived on or right off of all of those streets at one point or another. I’ve taken a tour of most of my old haunts and now I’m at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
When I was a teenager, I lived at Grand River and Woodward. It was such a hot summer that I spent a lot of my time at the Detroit Institute of Arts simply because it had excellent air conditioning and a “suggested donation,” in other words, free. I wonder how many hours I spent in here taking in world-famous art. Days, even. Better than a movie.
At that time, I wanted to be an artist. I didn’t just want to be an artist, I wanted to be a famous artist. I wanted to be a Diego Rivera or an Andy Warhol. I had delusions of grandeur like every teenager. What a silly child I was. Still, I’ll give myself credit that, of all the places I could have spent time that summer, I spent it at the DIA, bathing in some of the most beautiful art in the world. Good job, kid.
Day Four: Thursday
Nashville. I took I-75 most of the way down. It’s funny to think that the same freeway I spent my early life hopping on and off to get around Detroit connects all the way to Nashville. There is a generation of teenagers growing up in Detroit and a generation in Nashville with a freeway as the center of their universe, yet neither of them really think about the fact that that center goes all the way north, south, east and west to the end of the states. At least, I didn’t when I-75 was my nucleus. These tendrils of interstate twining around the country go for hundreds of miles, meet up here and there and diverge again. Sometimes, they change numbers or just dead-end somewhere. Is there anything sadder than a “freeway ends in one mile” sign?
Anyway, Nashville. Since this might be the only time I’ll ever be here, I’ve decided to detour on over to Elvis Presley’s house, Graceland. The house is very garish and speaks to its era. You don’t walk through Elvis’ house and think he had excellent taste in home decor. You think, here’s a man who has too much of everything.
What struck me most about the house was the kitchen. It’s just an ordinary kitchen, not unlike the one I grew up in–a little bigger, sure, but essentially the same down to the dark cabinets, mustard yellow and avocado-colored appliances. 1970s kitchens were mostly all the same. They wouldn’t let me look in the refrigerator; it’s probably empty and unplugged now anyway, but I bet at one point, it had a host of condiments–mustard, ketchup, mayo–just like mine.
On the wall, there was a Slimline telephone with the long, tangled phone cord. I spent so much of my time on a phone just like that one. I’d take the handset and run it around the corner from the kitchen to the dining room and talk to my friends under the dining room table in a version of a tween fort. I wonder if Lisa Marie ever did that in this kitchen that looks surprisingly like the one I grew up in. The Graceland kitchen is yet another unexpectedly familiar tendril reaching into my past from a place that’s far from where I was raised. I suppose that the farther you get from home, the more you look for the familiar in everything.
I bought a shot glass.
Day Five: Friday
It’s evening in Arkansas. Not to disparage Arkansas, but it’s a very strange state. Immediately after crossing the border, I noticed that, well, to put it delicately, this state smells. I’m not sure what the smell is and I can’t exactly describe it properly. It’s kind of like a combination of ketchup, cigarette butts and fire.
Speaking of fire, there have been small fires every so often along the side of the road for no reason I can see. They seem to be intentional since they’re all roughly the same size and at regular intervals. Why is Arkansas setting fire to its freeway shoulder? It’s a mystery.
And, speaking of mysteries, I hit something. Again, I’m not sure what it was and I can’t exactly describe it properly. Whatever it was looked like a lot like a pinker version of Gollum or whatever that thing’s name was from Lord Of The Rings.
I hit Gollum, but I didn’t kill him. I pulled over to the side of the road and looked for him, but he was nowhere to be found. I checked out my bumper and the plastic part is cracked. I hope Gollum is alright. So far, in Arkansas, I’ve experienced strange smells, strange fires and I may have killed something. I’m not stopping here. I think it’s best if the state of Arkansas and I part ways as soon as possible.
I’m past Little Rock. Norwegian Wood is on the radio. I’m nowhere near Norway nor woods for that matter. There’s another small fire on the side of the road. I’m over halfway to California and pushing on through to Oklahoma. Fingers crossed that I don’t hit anything else.
This post was written over the course of five days for the Weekly Writing Challenge: Telephone. It’s a mash-up of several real road trips I’ve taken over the years.
- Day One: start your post.
- I had no idea where I was going with this as I started, but the randomness of the rest of the items on this list led me to a road trip.
- Day Two: add a quote from a conversation you had with someone today (an email, instant message, or text conversation is fine, too).
- Word for word text message from Male. Even my reaction was the same as above.
- Word for word text message from Male. Even my reaction was the same as above.
- Day Three: add something related to what your childhood self wanted to be when you grew up, or a dream you have for your future.
- I did drive from Boston to LA with a trailer, but I didn’t drive through Detroit. I had to for this story since that’s where all my early aspirations live.
- Day Four: add a reference to something currently in your refrigerator.
- Refrigerators made me think of Graceland for some reason.
- Day Five: add something inspired by a song you heard today. If you didn’t hear any music, use something you read (and turn on the radio!).
- Norwegian Wood by The Beatles was playing in iTunes as I wrote this section.