I’ve realized I’m a migratory person. I’m continually obsessing over where I should run off to next. I think if I was completely unburdened (i.e., not under a mountain of student loan debt), I would just wander around ’til the end of my days, stopping in various places for a few weeks or months at a time to work for a bit, long enough to accumulate the cash needed to launch me off in a new direction. And while Europe and the rest of the world fascinates and lures me, I would be content with this continent for many years; there’s still so much of it I haven’t seen, speaking both on the large scale but noting also that there are so many nooks and crannies to get lost in here, and it’s worth getting lost in them…
When I was 19, during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college, I embarked on what was intended to be a cross-country bicycle ride. We opted for the northern route, sticking around US 20, a quiet highway that stretches through miles of farmland and rural areas from Boston to Oregon’s part of the Pacific Coast. It took us two days to get out of upstate New York, where our trip began. The night we crossed the border into the narrow strip of Pennsylvania that separates the Empire State from Ohio, we wound up camping in a cornfield across the street from a diner that seemed too stereotypically backwoodsy to truly exist: a haggard waitress with a pound of makeup on her face, coffeepot never not in hand as she asked us “Wanna refill, hun?” over and over again; a clientele that consisted of truckers and farmers, all clad in the same mesh hats and flannel; vehicles idling outside at the town’s one intersection with a traffic light.
Was this our journey’s defining experience? Would I do it all over again just to relive this surreal small town scene? Of course not. But the trip (which, alas, terminated in Chicago, and not in Newport, now a 2 hour and 45 minute drive from where I live) was full of experiences like this: pit stops in the country’s varied nooks and crannies. As I plan for my escape to Austin at the end of the summer, I find myself relishing the thought of the three days or so we’ll spend in the car on the way down from Portland. Where will we stop to eat? What will we see, and what of it can’t be expressed on a map (last time I checked, Google’s street view had a lot more ground to cover)?
Maybe it’s the enduring rural suburbanite in me, but I’m eager to see the Nothing that awaits us in between the metropolitan areas we’re sure to drive through as we make our way to Texas. Having spent the last few years of my life in burgeoning, bustling urban areas like Somerville and Portland (and, to those of you who’d accuse me of shortsightedness, also being aware that the world’s population is well over seven billion), it’s comforting to me to know there’s still open space left in this world, and so much of it, too.