Choosing Road

Long story short, Kansas tried to kill my memories. These photos are a handful of the survivors. Nearly all of them were taken from the driver’s seat, while driving. They represent every minute of the months on the road, the tens of thousands of miles and the affectionate relationship that formed between human and car. Photographing while driving is not advised but it wholly encapsulates the feeling of the road. The windshield is a novelty-sized viewfinder. A way of distorting perception. On my travels I saw things clearly and I glimpsed things in passing. But in those hours behind the wheel, fatigued and dazed, I was always looking ahead to the next stop and next experience. 

The desert is cold and time chases midnight. We are still hours outside Roswell, New Mexico and nothing has ever seemed so black. But sometimes each other’s gleam lights the darkness. The energy cans rolling along the van floor ask me how long I’ve been driving. I don’t know and I can’t remember the last time I saw another car. I pull over and kill the headlights and climb up onto the roof of my van, Eileen. Chris follows. The night is a new word for nothingness. We feel like villains waiting for deserved misfortune. The crescent moon all but waxes away. Earthshine and a becoming-blue dawn allow cacti figures in the distance. “There’s no such thing as silence,” Chris says. I listen for my cigarette. A gentle bonfire with each breath. We feel the ground rumble and hear a truck coming toward us. Miles away, its sound several miles ahead. We compare it to the Chesapeake peace we left behind. 

The desire to drive around America manifested around the time of young adulthood. Once in the States I got my hands on a Dodge Ram and spelled out the name Eileen in duct tape after the Dexy’s Midnight Runners song. ‘Come On Eileen’ was the mantra to aid Eileen in the ascent of hills or the departure of civility for the middle of nowhere. Despite the rationale, friends joked that I’d misspelt candy. 

Jack, my childhood friend, joined me in teaching kids to sail in those summer months. It put enough fuel money in our pockets to venture north in the spring. We’d sometimes miss the proving ground across the bay and its Apocalypse Now imitations. The channel marker now a home to ospreys. Our summer camp beneath the sassafras. The whorls of cordgrass on the cliffs like starling murmurations in the wind. That feeling of being nothing but men floating on the sea. It didn’t matter which direction or at what speed we drifted. Moving is travelling. We hadn’t chosen any roads yet but we knew they had the same calm feeling as the sea. 

We hit the road. North. We didn’t make it cross-country. We barely made it back into the country after officials at the Niagara Falls border gave us a hard time because we couldn’t walk in a straight line from Canada to America. We saw the reflections of our friends’ faces in their college cocaine mirrors. 

We left whatever U and wound up in a Miami nightclub on a budget. Our skate shoes weren’t made from snake but the bouncers still let us in. Maybe it was pity. Jack and I jived up to a few Miami-music-video-women. We were given a hand to the face before opening our mouths. They didn’t need to talk to us. We didn’t look like Pitbull. They could smell our pleather wallets from across the club. Those pleather wallets spent whatever pennies were left in them trying to turn our night around. Then Jack left.

I meet Chris the next summer at camp. Eileen is there waiting. We hit the road before the winter hits the bay. I never see the oak-lined driveway covered in snow or the paper-white ice sheeting the water where boats use to sail. It worries me that seeing it all isn’t possible. But in the months on the road, Chris and I see a lot and experience more. The hay bail silhouettes across the Texas plains. Halloween and drinking hand grenades on Bourbon Street with Cajun carrying the wind. Everything and sometimes nothing. The road is the best thing we see. We don’t take the trip to take photos of ourselves on Sunset Boulevard or to wear Forrest’s unlaced shoes at any Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. The journey is about the moments in between. 

San Francisco’s coming. I know I’ll have to say goodbye to Chris. I know I’ll have to say goodbye to Jack, Eileen and our American Dreams. Somewhere in Nevada rain curtains sway a momentary sunset into one more afternoon shine. We stand with our backs to the east and watch black and blue shawls drape yesterday’s sun. Lake Tahoe comes before the west coast on our very own Manifest Destiny. With night we drive against the grain of the earth, thieving the road of endless miles alongside crucifix power lines. The road home has begun. The highways always roll on.