October 22, 2012

The Great American Road Trip, Part 3: The Road and Lake Erie, Ohio

This summer after graduating college, I took a road trip from New York City to Austin, and back again. It was the Great American Road Trip. That is, I think that all American road trips have an element of greatness to them, and this trip was no exception. Read up on the New York City, the Shanghai Mermaids and a very hungry Will Levitt in Part 1, then  check out Pennsylvania pastries and motel-gas stations in Part 2

Part 3: June 12

I can't stand when people say, "Live every day like it's your last." 
Seriously, who can live like that? 

Live now, tomorrow will always be. 
-Drummer in the NYC subway.

We are playing music and it is mid afternoon, the time of afternoon when you begin to forget how many hours you've been on the road and how many hours you have left to go. When you're traveling on the road, nothing seems too long, too far, too close, too short. Eight hour days seem not so different from three hour days. Often the three hour days seem longer. Then again, nothing seems so long, nothing seems so short. Only when you have a final destination does anything seem long. Only when you drive through the entire state of Ohio in a few hours does anything seem short.

I'm playing Ho Hey by The Lumineers, a song I'd become attached to in the way a toddler clutches a new blankie. DJing from the passenger's seat as Damiano drove along Route 2 in Ohio on our way from Pennsylvania to Detroit, I'd play the song as often as I could slip it in. I love the way the song starts out with that strong, addictive drum beat. I'm a sucker for music with a catchy beat.

"HO! HEY!"

"Didn't we just listen to this song like an hour ago?" Damiano turned to me and asked.

"Um, I don't think so," I'd replied to Damiano, eyeing me doubtfully. "Not sure though, everything looks the same out here. Hard to keep track of time. Can't say, really."

We'd been driving since early morning and besides a break for lunch in the kind of town Obama and Romney reference when they talk about "a middle-class, working town in Ohio," we had been winding between highway and interstate and highway for some hours, trading scenery for speed for scenery with each switch. We weren't far from Lake Erie -- The Great Lake -- so as any two twenty two year olds with no particular agenda would do, we headed towards it.

Lake Erie is far and long, far and long like the road before us and the road that was yet to come. It was clean and clear and stable, and we did not know where it ended. It offered us welcome, anonymity, and silence.

We'd ended up in a small, lakeside town, void of any human activity when we drove up except for a babysitter with two kids playing in a public green next to a stone walkway along the lake. The water was blue and grey and a steady wind blew in from all directions, carrying like-colored clouds along with it. The lake seemed endlessly deep and impossibly far.

We walked along the water and took off our shoes to feel the large, smooth, round stones along the beach beneath our feet. We walked along the stone walkway out into the midst of the lake. We dipped our toes into the water. It was refreshingly cold.

We watched the sky stew until the wind seemed to blow us back towards the car, back towards the road.

"HO! HEY!"

"Turn this off! You're going to ruin the song," blurted Damiano.

"It's a great song though, right?" I replied.

"It was until about 30 seconds ago when you decided to ruin it."

"It just kinda feels like the right moment for this song, though," I replied to Damiano, eyeing me again and this time with more force.

"It just 'kinda feels like it' does it?"

I switched the music to local radio stations and the Beatles came on. Hard to argue with the Beatles.

"You say Yes, I say No. You say Stop and I say Go, go, go. Oh no."

We wound our way back through the streets of the sleepy town. From streets to Main Street. From Main Street to the highway. Back to the America's endless avenue of gas stations and exit signs and speed limits and tractor trailers and, smooth, solid yellow lines.

"You say Goodbye and I say Hello, hello, hello."

The thing about the highway, about driving through America, about the endless roads and interstates and ubiquitous Jesus billboards and Motel 8 signs and long, endless fields - corn fields and wheat fields, pastures and fields with cows or hay bales, some field with nothing at all - is that it's all kind of the same, and yet at the same time each mile is so wonderfully unique, so totally different and so completely unrepeatable, that driving through it all makes time stop. The road seems endlessly deep and impossibly far.

Which makes road trips -- which makes the road -- an endlessly fulfilling experience. It blurs yesterday and today and tomorrow. It makes obsolete the goal of "living like today is your last," because each day is somehow, wonderfully, equal.

At 65 miles per hour, surrounded by fields and a song with a good beat, equal feels a lot like forever. And forever, for that moment, feels real good.