Friday, September 19, 2008

X country

Four days in the car can give perspective on a country.

Jon, Tony and I drove from Dearborn, Michigan to Seattle, Washington, in Jon’s car with a Uhaul trailer and a bike rack. I was allowed only to bring as many of my material possessions (for the next two years) as would fit in the trailer, thereby forcing me to choose what I truly needed, what I could live without, and what I would have to buy once we reached our destination. It was an efficient way to sort out my life at such a crucial moment: when I would finally live on my own, away from the comfort of my parents’ home.

My car mates and I scaled mountains, breezed through plains, admired crops and forests, and actually passed three or four other vehicles on the way. We were constantly surprised by the seemingly immediate transitions from one landscape to the next; particularly in Washington, where the east side was a barren world of yellow-brown field teeming with wispy dust devils, and the west was a breath-taking combination of craggy mountains and lush vegetation.

We stopped briefly at Wall Drug, a true badlands icon. What started as a modest, small-town drug store has mutated into a block-long tourist trap with every tchotchke imaginable; from postcards to cowboy boots to fools gold. They have it all.

Our pilgrimage to Mt. Rushmore was completely fulfilling; a bright, sunny morning, clean, crisp mountain air, and the four most beloved American presidents was the perfect way to start the third day of our travels.

Not only that, there was the human element; ten to twelve hours in the car with people, even if you love them, can get old. But there was really only one moment when my comrades and I butted heads, and those 200 miles were quickly forgotten with a greasy meal of eggs, hashbrowns and toast. We listened to radiolab episodes about mortality and sang along to Usher and R. Kelley. We played in the pool and rode the water slide at our hotel near Mt. Rushmore. We also had really good snacks; teddy grahams, twizzlers, cookies and pretzels.

It was a successful drive, on all accounts. I sleepily contemplated the countryside and reservations, and I shifted the car into second gear to drag the trailer up a mountain. I was a real pioneer; heading for the west with a wagon, my man and dreams of a new life. A new destiny.


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