Posted by Frum Hiker on November 23, 2008
Edited by my new fan and inspiration Eli Perlow
My hand is out the window making waves in the afternoon sunlight, the free flowing air moving about my fingers as if they were stuck in the white sand along the Mexican coast, swishing and swooshing and enjoying the warmth. It’s so warm; I have shorts and a t-shirt on and it’s November. I am in my happy place, Grateful Dead blaring from my speakers as I meander on some forgotten byway, lost in time, devoid of other travelers because they prefer the sing-song of concrete and the fast windows-closed-motion of their box of steel hitting super sonic speeds that make all the fast food billboards look like a picket fence.
In Missouri it sure seemed that way, the picket fence scenario played out at 72 miles per hour on Interstate 44. I cruised along, paid no attention to much besides for the current song on the Ipod shuffle, another invention of the laziness permeating our society, the instant gratification reflective of the “I want it now not later” factions who control everything.
I don’t want to skip songs I don’t like, nor do I want to appreciate LPs or imports and random tracks at the end of albums which the album cover doesn’t reveal to even be in existence. Nope, I want it now, just like my picket fence of billboards mostly advertising truck stops that have all the amenities of a small city, including showers, casinos, cheap prostitutes and loads of food containing things like xanathan gum and hydroemaciatedemancipatedsomething with weird extracts ending in sucrose or gum. Can someone please tell me why potato chips need to have 89 ingredients – those being the plain ones?
And so I zip past these horrible neon cities in the night with their 40 gas pumps (pay at the pump laziness to boot). I see the moths hovering around these glowing towers of progress, these robots filling their steel behemoths to transport more big box items to the steel structures that hog the strip malls of their once charming facades. I am past that, thank God; I am out of Missouri and Indiana and Ohio. These places make me sick, a tribute to the fatness and uncaring aspects of our society. Even the back roads contain it; hop onto any US highway in the Midwest and they’re not accoutered by the old neon flashing motor court signs and abandoned gas stations with names like Jim’s Service offering full lubrication and tire fixings, or old beautiful forgotten homes on the verge of collapse with some little old lady watering her petunias – nope – the old US highway in the Midwest and mostly wherever you go has become a service road.
I can almost guarantee that if the brakes in cars become good enough or auto pilot in sedans ever comes to light, the Interstate highway system will become one mile after mile choice of strip plazas. You will merely tell your car how fat you want to get that day, or how much life you want to lose and – walla – you will arrive at the fast food destination of your choice. Brilliant, another way to keep the gas guzzling American automobile makers in business – they should have fizzled out 30 years ago. I almost feel as if the big 3 in Detroit are a symbol of everything we don’t want America to be; big ugly pigs who never change, a bunch of liberal hogwash you may say – but seriously, who wants to buy American?
But that’s all past me, I am in the Ozarks, passing by stately looking mobile home parks with names like Breezy Corners or Spring Gardens, it’s great to see nice looking trailer parks. Growing up in NY you hear about trailer park trash, although the only place you see them is on Jerry Springer when you’re home sick from school because before the Price Is Right came on it was Jerry Springer or Montel or Rikki Lake. Jerry was best with his southern drawl trailer park trash, Mandy was fighting with Rick or someone named Ashley, those names that people in the East just don’t have. Then suddenly you see the real thing and there are regular people mowing their small lawns and flower pots hang next to those gun toting cowboy silhouettes that have mailboxes attached to them. It’s kind of odd to think that you can lie down and that’s your whole house, but then again, people in the cities; the cosmopolitan, artsy, cultured, and intellectual humans have even smaller places to call their own, and they don’t even own them.
The smell of fresh cut grass comes wafting through my window and I just want to stop and run around in the small patch of fresh cut grass between the road and the property line marked by a barbed wire fence with posted no hunting signs scattered about; it’s not like the East, in the East posted signs are every 10 feet, here it may be every 10 miles. I love fresh cut grass though, and I ease off the gas to slow down to wallow in its path.
I pass the state highway mowers and give a little nod. That’s another thing about country roads – everyone nods. It’s interesting, maybe it’s just to acknowledge their existence; or is it something more? It brings a personal aspect to the place, something people have lost. Don’t even get me started on the lack of general knowledge people have about their places of existence. Most people run from one place to another without taking the time to enjoy the journey, the road trips of today are destination trips. “Were going to California” brings epic visions of orange deserts in Utah and Arizona, Indian reservations, shimmering sunlight mirages blowing around in the distance. Swimming holes, weird truck stops, rock formations and mountain climbing, snow capped mountains and old broken down abandoned cars buried in the earth next to an old mine. But nowadays going to California means going to Los Angeles with a side trip to Las Vegas, all on blistering fast highways ignoring the beauty around them – not even a trip to Joshua Tree or Kings Canyon is in store and a trip down the PCH brings people to Malibu or something with a stop immortalized by digital pictures in front of the Pacific Coast Highway for proof to say they were there.
Talk about saying they were there – memories mean nothing as long as they are tagged on Facebook in their photoshopped glory, oh how I miss the days of the winding mechanized manual camera. The loud snap to acknowledge you actually photographed something. Setting up the picture, putting in the flash; how I long for days when people cared about the little things. Seems like everyone is lost in the views, views of their Blackberry while they do anything: it must be documented, I am going here or there or feel like this. This is probably because no one spends any time alone, they are always connected, connected to electrical devices or networks.
The Ozarks remind me of West Virginia, they are rounded hills dotted with houses and quarries, I haven’t been here since 2001 when I took my first wandering trip. I remember it quite well, I decided to head west and regrettably (I am not sure why) turned around once I hit the prairies; I know what you’re thinking – I think the exact same thing. Why would anyone put themselves through the hell of the Midwest only to turn around? I was in Nebraska and Kansas for Godsakes and I went down…I think I was scared, that was my first time out of the damned time zone, west would have meant the Rockies, I would wait another summer, but still I look back and wonder why I turned south towards Oklahoma and Texas.
I do remember coming out of Topeka and seeing the most beautiful and amazing site ever. I had entered the prairies and it was unlike anything I had ever seen, until I went to the Rockies for the first time. The grasslands outside of Topeka are endless, you can see for 50 miles based on the highway being above the prairie. I was shocked and awed and just stood there watching the blowing green grass with thousands of cattle dotting the horizon.
I also remember that it was the start of a lifetime of insatiable wanderlust, that’s what John Steinbeck calls it in Travels with Charley, he is absolutely right and it’s something of a curse. You see, I cannot sit still; I always need to be seeing and experiencing new places and people. I am like a professional wanderer, although I like to be in America mostly, I have found I like to experience this country like no other. I enjoy that it’s all the same country, same language – yet so vast and different. I want to experience it all and of course it contradicts my society, my community, my religion, all saying to settle down build a family and wander around your tiny back yard and local grocery store- I sometimes think marriage would be a nightmare for me, literally, homebound, I mean I could grab the car on a Sunday and drive 1000 miles and come back- I have been known for things like that- but it wouldn’t be the same.
I am on a one way road trip, although I just got a call from my dad announcing he was getting married and he needs me back in NY on December 14th. I am not happy about it, he’s been dating the same girl for 8 years and finally I leave for the West to fulfill my dreams and I am told to come right back. But still, I am headed west and it’s a dream come true – although I am not sure if it’s what I truly want or need. You see those truths always evade me, I get carried with the wind, it’s always been like that. I just kind of go with the flow, no plans really. I see my friends settled down or trying to settle down against their wills and I don’t want it – maybe I do, maybe I can handle it – but if my life is anything to go on, it doesn’t appear so. It appears that marriage will drive me insane. I have fallen in love before, but even that was scary, the settling down aspect scared the crap out of me – people always say “its time to settle down” but I just don’t think they understand. They try to and then they say stupid things like “once you get married you will have no time to travel or wander or ride your bike or hitchhike, etc…” and those words – although said with a kind smirk – have the exact opposite effect they are meant to have. Why would I ever want to get married or settle down then?
I am out of the mountains and into rolling farmland and then flatlands with scraggly bushes and dark flowing streams. I am nearing Oklahoma, another state that is interesting because it connects two different worlds, the Plains and the Rockies; it also borders so many states that it makes it interesting. I could probably walk through the panhandle and around so that I have walked through a bunch of states in a matter of a week or so, I think about this sort of thing all the time, just walking, for no purpose except to see or go. I drive, but when the money runs out I can imagine myself walking, kind of like Peter Jenkins in A Walk Across America, one look at my book collection and you could figure me out. My book collection would tell you that I am a solo journeyman with a mind of a businessman and entrepreneur, its true, all I tend to read is social history books on items like coal, gunpowder, cotton and steel. I also tend to read about great American businessmen and their lives, Carnegie, Rockefeller, Watson, Walton. Then I want to read about adventurers, anything really, give me books about polar expeditions, Hudson Bay Company stuff, frontier stories and the general hitchhiking and rail riding fantasies that I may have but never come to fruition. You may even call me a professional American Romantic, almost like a Jack Kerouac minus all the drugs and partying.
The air is even warmer now and the road is empty and flat and lined with strange looking bushes and trees, the brush is thick and the sun is slanting almost to the point where the land becomes orange, my favorite part of the day. I am thrust into Oklahoma and the speed limit becomes 70 miles per hour, this is on a 2 lane byway mind you, the type that has backed up traffic on the east coast going to some tourist destination like Gatlinburg, Tennessee or Watkins Glenn in New York. I am just cruising along windows down – drivers tan beginning to creep up my window arm and thinking about Texas my new temporary home.
Oklahoma slips away and I am in Texas, I stop for evening prayers and notice the sweet smells, I love Texas I proclaim, rural Texas at least. I already know I don’t like Texas cities, but I can’t judge from being in Dallas twice and Houston once, everyone says the same thing, why Dallas, you have to go to Austin. My job is in Dallas I tell them, although I know I will not be there long, all I remember about Dallas was that it is big.
So I hop onto US highway 82 going west towards Paris, Texas and I hit cruise control. My car is running smooth and it feels good because I just hit 309,000 miles in the darned thing. I love reaction of the oil change guys, they hoot and howl for the other greased up guys to over and have a look, swinging their greasy rags they say wow wee, insane man. I am proud of my miles, those miles spent driving up the Alaska highway or down the up to Mount Rainier or across the flatlands of South Dakota, its all there in those cracked leather seats and that noisy engine, miles of a wanderer.
The transition happens all too quickly, kind of like in the East when you get that first snowstorm and everyone talks about how it was 80 degrees a week ago. I hit Paris and my world of rural back roads and trailer parks and abandoned hotels and gas stations ends. It ends with the first neon lighted gas station sign and continues to dwindle with Wal Mart, Home Depot and Sears, it continues to dwindle until I realize I am in the West with WataBurger and Jack in the Box, classic western burger joints. I am spit out onto Route 75 south towards Dallas and already I am wishing for the quaint roads of upstate New York lined with huge old growth sugar maples and ornate Victorian mansions with the beautiful wood carved railings.
Why did I ever come here, I begin to wonder as I pass strip mall after strip mall of continuous never changing offerings, I mean how many CVS pharmacies can you have already? It gets to a point where Missouri and its picket fence of billboards is nothing like this. Nothing I tell you, the whole craziness of the situation makes it a little interesting. Here I am driving 70 mph down a highway with service roads on either side packed with stores. It reminds me of New Jersey, except in NJ the service road is the highway.
I must say the highways are smooth and built for speed, but 50 miles before my new home I hit Dallas – random office buildings with shiny glass and huge parking behemoths, so people shouldn’t walk too far. I almost feel as if walkers are banned from Texas, it is not a walking state, it’s built for drivers. I pass under a huge interchange, in the East space is limited because the highways were built after the cities, not so in the West. The highway interchange I just passed under must have been a mile wide with ramps going everywhere.
I come to my exit and get off, but I am not off the highway, the service road is a highway with stores on it, welcome to Texas I proclaim as I get off and am thankful that at least gas is very cheap at $1.75 a gallon. I drive along another highway with slower speed limits and more stores to reach a side street finally, but once you leave the sanctuary of your newly built tree filled neighborhood you will have to go onto another highway just to get there.
Dallas is stifling and I haven’t even been here in their summer. Not stifling in a heat sort of way – as of yet at least – stifling in a “I need to escape this suburban hellhole but can’t” way. If you want to leave the city, leave the pull of the city or experience rural openness, you must drive and then keep driving on a superhighway until you finally reach farmland at which point it will have gotten dark and you must turn around. It’s already hurting my psyche, you see I find the wandering and I need to get out of this place – but don’t worry – Colorado is next and should provide for endless hours and days of wandering action.