The Long Road Home
Twenty years ago today we moved in to our house with sleeping bags, a single lamp and a bottle of champagne. We slept on the floor in the living room, all of our stuff still in our apartment across town. I wrote this piece in 1997 about Home:
I am haunted by a desire to drive across the country. Maybe “haunted” is a little strong.
I am infrequently spooked by a desire to drive across the country. And I mean across the country. It’s not like I live in Nashville and I have a burning desire to load the fambly in to the Aerostar and haul ‘em to Atlanta for a weekend. I want to get on the New York State Thruway at Exit 36 and drive and drive and drive until I get to Seattle. Then I am going to turn around and come back because there really isn’t any reason to go to Seattle. It just happens to be at the other end of I-90.
I know what you are thinking; but, heck, you wouldn’t be reading my weekly epistle if you didn’t already think that I was crazy (though I prefer to think of it as being “misunderstood”). Crazy or not, I want to get in a car and drive eight to twelve hours each day at highway speeds (especially in Montana) until the damn road stops. I want to go, not for the sake of arriving, but for the sake of going.
I can’t help it. I was born on the road.
My father spent twenty years of his life in the service of this country as a member of the United States Air Force. I went along for the ride in my first fourteen years. Most of the bases we were stationed at have been closed (Griffiss in New York, Loring and Dow in Maine), been wiped off the planet by a hurricane (Homestead in Florida) or become sexual playgrounds for bomber pilots (Minot in North Dakota). Viewed in that way they are no different than a lot of the small towns in America (minus the bomber pilots, of course).
Each of these forgotten bastions of the Cold War served as the hometown du jour for me and my siblings. We sometimes lived on base and when we didn’t we were living in a town that would dry up and blow away if (they said if in those days, not when) the base ever closed. Every couple of years we re-lived an accelerated life cycle of a small town, making friends, making enemies, getting in trouble and getting along. About the time you figured out who you could get along with and who would beat you just for fun Dad would get his orders.
From 1964 to 1978 my body traveled the following route completely by automobile : Florida to Maine to California to Maine to New York to North Dakota to Wisconsin to New York. I’ll save you the trouble of looking it up: it’s 12174 miles. Every mile in a station wagon, from a Country Squire to a Vista Cruiser to a Rambler to a Chevelle. Drive and drive and drive.
And for what?
At the end of every journey was another base with a school full of new classmates, some of them (Air Force) brats like me, some of them not. Make friends or make enemies, it didn’t really matter because in about two years either your old man or their old man would get orders. See ya. Or, more accurately, not gonna see ya. Ever again.
So, we’re back on the road heading for another base. Back on the highway, driving in storms and deserts, mountains and sunshine. But always driving. In the end the destination didn’t matter because it was just a starting point for the next journey. And, so, the journey became more important. The road was more interesting than the wide spots in it that many people called home.
Now I am 33 and I have spent more than half of my life not on the road. For a while I had a hard time adjusting. I traded in my first car with two and a half years left on the loan and 98,000+ miles on the odometer. Syracuse to Detroit to West Lafayette to Columbus - and back - in one long holiday weekend? Done it. Not recently, though, and I am starting to get The Itch.
A couple of miles from my front door Interstate 90 swaggers through New York State under the moniker of The Thruway. Heading west I-90 carries you through the shoulder of Pennsylvania, the breadth of Ohio and Indiana, through Chicago and on to Madison before hopping the Mississippi in to Minnesota. From eastern border to western border it covers Minnesota and South Dakota then it slips through the north east corner of Wyoming before making the big climb through The Rockies in Montana and the panhandle of Idaho. The last leg connects Spokane to Seattle and there it just stops.
In 1978 my father retired from the Air Force and I said good bye to my good friend Pat. He’s living in Seattle now and we talk on the phone once a year or so. When the road finally takes me there I will look him up, we’ll have a beer and nineteen years of laughs. Then I’ll grab my keys and go.
I am still infrequently spooked by the call of the road, but now the journey has a new importance. Now the road brings me home.
Postscript : I met up with Pat in Seattle in 2001. We laughed and drank and laughed for hours.