Highway by More Altitude
Have you ever been behind the wheel of your car, perhaps stuck in traffic or on your way to an unpleasant, maybe somewhat tedious appointment and thought, “I wonder what would happen if I just kept driving…?” In my mind, I envision rolling down the window, tossing out things like responsibility and sanity and then watching in my rear view mirror as they bounce several times on the pavement before settling in with the rest of the roadside debris. My exit comes…and in a flash of impetuosity and rebellion, I refuse to acknowledge it. Instead, I break free from the daily routine and drive off into the unknown.
There are miles and miles of open road calling to me. Golden wheat fields waving, purple mountains majesty…coastal highways, desert highways…country roads…no, wait…those have a tendency to take you home. And thanks to my state of the art CD player and amazing sound system, the experience can be accompanied by the perfect soundtrack. I even have a CD that I burned solely for the purpose of having happy driving music. It’s labeled “Happy Driving Music.”
Hub Mood Music
The fantasy unfolds in my mind, a montage of scenic moments accompanied by this upbeat soundtrack…sort of like a never-ending car commercial. The destiny isn’t important, just the trip itself. I might end up near the Arctic Circle, perhaps a backwater town in the middle of Nowhere, U.S.A. or deep in the heart of the Amazonian rain forest. I will drive until I run out of money…and only then will I stop long enough to find a job to make just enough money so I can keep going. It worked for that guy with the dog named Boo…why not me?
And then…just as I hit fantasy cruising speed with the top down on the convertible, alternately extracting wind-tossed hair from my mouth or attempting to tuck it behind my ear as it whips across my field of vision…the reality police show up. With lights flashing, the highway patrol car quickly closes the distance, reinforcing the futility of trying to outrun my responsibilities. Pulling over, I sit with my marriage license, house mortgage and current car payment in my lap waiting for the officer to swagger over and ask the inevitable question…
“Ma’am, do you know how FAR you were going?”
Defeated, I answer truthfully. “No, sir…I don’t.”
There’s no ticket…not this time. Instead, I sit through a soul-numbing lecture on proper adult behavior that is designed to snuff out the flame of rebellion once and for all. My attitude is remorseful as I find myself reluctantly agreeing to the rational arguments.
“I guess it was rather irresponsible of me, tossing my personal, professional and financial burdens out the window to clutter our nation’s roadways and yes, sir, I can only imagine the mess it would make of our lovely planet if everyone started doing just that. Of course, I understand that this is for my own good. At my age, health and dental benefits, not to mention accrued vacation time shouldn’t be taken so lightly. I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to seem ungrateful. I know I’m fortunate to still have a job, a home and a family that loves me. Thank you for reminding me.”
Wistfully, I look to the horizon and the vanishing point of the highway before me…perhaps another time. For now, I make a mental U-turn and head back home.
I just can’t help it. It’s in my blood. Although my genetic heritage has been homogenized to a point where I can’t really call myself anything but American, the roots of my nomadic ancestors still run deep.
My first bid for freedom came at the age of two. My family was stationed at the time in Biloxi, Mississippi and preparing for my father’s next assignment which entailed traveling north to the lovely and exotic destination of Newburgh, New York. My mother, being the forward thinking parent that she was, decided it would be a great idea to take advantage of the advance notice and began teaching her children the information that she believed to be pertinent. Each and every day, as my mother cooked, cleaned and did laundry, she would take a few moments to review with us the following:
“What’s your name?”
“My name is Laurie!”
“And where are you from?
“Newburgh, New York!”
“Very good! Your grandmother is going to be so proud of you when we see her! Do you remember where your grandmother lives?”
My mother would clap her hands together and smile at me as I did my little Snoopy dance of joy. Two years old and I was already a budding genius at regurgitating information.
On the day of my emancipation, I was playing in the backyard with my younger sister under the watchful eye of our mother. As she was often prone to doing at the time, my adorable sibling “made a stinky” in her diaper and without hesitation, my mother scooped her up and brought her into the house for a quick change after reminding me that I was to stay in the back yard. That was all the time I needed…
When my mother returned, I was long gone. Judging by pictures of myself at that age, I must have been a lot faster on those chubby little legs than I looked. Search parties were gathered and the neighborhood was combed...all in vain. They must have severely underestimated my abilities because while they were searching back yards and bushes, I’d managed to cross two major freeways.
As luck would have it, a nice couple was driving by and spied me toddling down the highway, obviously looking to hitch a ride. They pulled over…and since this was a nicer, gentler period of Americana, they actually had my best interest at heart. The woman bent over and scooped me up. “What’s your name little girl?” she asked me.
Dutifully I responded, “My name is Laurie!”
“Ahh,” she replied with an approving smile on her face and even though she didn’t clap her hands the way my mother did, I knew that I’d given the correct response.
“And…do you know where you are from, Laurie?” she inquired further.
“I’m from Newburgh, New York!” I cheerfully volunteered.
Instead of the expected approval, the couple furrowed their collective brows in puzzlement and frowned. Hmm…this wasn’t going well. Had I gotten the answer wrong? I was pretty sure I’d gotten it right…but perhaps I could make them happy again with a little clarification.
“I’m going to New Jersey to visit my grandmother,” I blurted out.
Sorta makes Bugs Bunny’s issue with the wrong turn at Albuquerque look rather uncomplicated, huh?
Deciding that I’d left them no choice but to find my home, the couple began to bundle me into their car with the intention of taking me to the nearest radio station. However, before I could make my broadcasting debut, a neighbor happened to be driving by and recognized me. To this day, I’m bitterly disappointed that my career in entertainment was cut short by fate. I’m sure it would have been an interesting radio program…
Well, after such a busy day trekking around the countryside and meeting interesting people, I arrived back home completely famished. My mother has always been fond of remembering that moment when I came through the front door in the arms of our neighbor, kissed her on the cheek and asked, “What’s for dinner?” Evidently, what worked for my father didn’t set well coming from a two year old runaway toddler. I’ve been informed that I neither had dinner nor sat down comfortably for a very long while.
I truly have no memory of this event, but I’ve enjoyed it vicariously through the stories that my mother has told me. There are times when I wonder where I was going on that day or why I had even thought to begin such a daunting journey. The only answer I can come up with is that even then the open road called to me and I simply couldn’t resist it.