The miles wind by, New Orleans to Knoxville. Until a restless need for slumber draws us into a roadside hotel.
“Rise n’ shine baby!” Fill the gas tank and the coffee cups… Central Pennsylvania is calling.
With each mile, the landscape reveals its own unique beauty. The bayous in Louisiana threaten to overtake the highway with every falling raindrop. The power of the surging rivers and creeks overflowing their banks in Mississippi. The homes are faces of poverty in rural Alabama. The interstate hugging the bend of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga. The sweet feeling of homesickness as we wind our through the Blue Ridge Mountains. (Oh, how blue the mountains are on this bright, sunny day!) The tension and traffic as we skirt around the suburbs of Washington DC and make our way into Maryland. The haunting gloom as we pass through Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, reminding us that our nation is but a fragile union of 50 independent states. The broad, muddy expanse of Susquehanna River, and the matte black, horse-drawn buggies with reflective warning triangles on the back, as if they are signaling that our destination is near.
Visions of life in America as we travel the interstates, highways, and byways. Glimpses of life that pass by at 60 miles per hour. Mere seconds form lasting impressions. The new multi-story hotels, and busy gas stations with stores offering everything from candy bars and soda, to fancy chargers for our electronics. The defunct roadside motels that now sit abandoned, tagged with a kindergarten-like scribble formed by an aerosol can. Farmhouses and livestock dotting the hillsides. Planned communities of cookie cutter homes turning their backs to the highway, the patio furniture abandoned for the winter. Designer outlet centers seeking to lure cars from the highway with the promise of unbeatable deals. Billboards advertise gasoline prices, fast food, and accidental injury lawyers who don’t get paid until you get paid.
Tractor trailers bearing the names of nondescript logistic companies, an exhausted driver at the wheel. A steady stream of crossover utility vehicles jockeying for position in the left lane to pass them. Police cars in the median reminding drivers to slow down and be safe, causing abrupt lane changes and streams of brake lights. Construction zones standing vacant while signs warn “Stay alert motorists. Fines doubled”. Vehicles precariously perch on the shoulder with hazard lights flashing, inches separating them from the swift ribbon of impatient drivers. Bumpers and rear windows announcing liberal and conservative political leanings, preaching religious beliefs, exalting the favorite sports teams, colleges and universities of stick figure families in minivans.
These are glimpses of America from the passenger seat on a holiday road trip. It’s a form of mindfulness, a reminder to “notice what you notice”. It’s a reminder that we’re a mosaic of people, of places, of cultures. And, despite our differences, we all yearn to be with those we love for the holidays, even if that means long road trips.
Sharon and the (sleeping) Hero Dog