Roadtrips offer magic. They give you permission to keep moving, to not settle into your life, any life, and to believe as you pull in and out of hotels or the homes of friends that you are fulfilling exactly what is being asked of you.
It makes it hard to go home.
I’ve been struggling with whether or not to accept an editing job on a documentary film. My heart knows I don’t want the job, but my head toys with the idea as it imagines a short cut to validation, the ability to whip out anecdotes at social gatherings, to not disappear into the confusing anonymity of directionless career abandonment.
I’ve fled home to find clarity, to be able to confront the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ of ‘Do I sacrifice my life and sanity once again to pursue someone else’s dream to completion?’
A five-hour drive allows escape from the gridlock of L.A., a chance to encounter the forgotten feeling of racing down an open highway, the speed limit mocked by jovial drivers passing one another as they glance to speedometers hitting numbers far above the legal limit. It’s a kind of safe fuck you to authority, and it feels damn good.
The convertible down, I position my hair beneath a hat to avoid a wind-swept beehive, to shade my face to please my dermatologist, a woman who believes you can go through life without a drop of sun hitting your skin.
Like I would want such a perfectly careful life.
While I would welcome skin where spots of brown and white haven’t replaced the proud tans of youth, I need the outdoors, the twenty minutes each day where I parade my dog past his friends, letting him sniff and socialize and find the perfect place to pee. I need my runs where my head is free to wander, a roadtrip of the feet. I need the top down on the car to remember that motion expands beyond necessity and practicality, that sometimes it’s just for fun.
So I accept the call of the roadtrip, and now, on day three with one to go, I wonder how I’ll return home, how I’ll go back to the idle inertia where I must create movement within a stagnant building, where I must look at my life parked.
On the road, all that matters is a place to sleep and a few stops to eat, a gas tank that never hits empty, and the fresh visions that appear outside the window. All that matters are the spontaneous exchanges of ideas with people you were lucky enough to encounter, with the friends who answered the phone when you called before pulling into their town, where a night on their couch after the exhaustion of driving always feels like the most comfortable of beds.
You realize how adaptable you are and how few comforts you need, how the chance to live other people’s lives for a night offers you a new lens to examine your own. Sometimes the view makes you feel behind and sometimes you feel ahead, but mostly you’re startled by all the grand and subtle differences of choice – how we each set up our homes, which teas we buy and how we make our coffee, what freedoms your friends allow their children, and how everyone feels a little guilty and apologetic for turning to the TV as babysitter until you tell them that they deserve the time to look away and to sit with you or themselves and just be.
And after one night on the strange couch, you really are ready to move on, how one night is enough rest, but beyond that you settle into life again and get a little restless and the road calls, and you explain why you must go even though it’s not that you must but that you want to. And you have the freedom to shower or not, to turn left or right, to get lost because you’ve left a rigid relationship with time back home. And tripping over friends’ training potties for their children, you feel glad you’re far past that phase even if it means your kid is now happier with his friends than in your hugs.
On the road, you discover your life isn’t so bad, that you know how to navigate the world with just a map and your common sense, that you really can’t worry about the next paycheck because when you’re in motion there’s no way the money could find you. So you keep moving to avoid all the questions that bottle up inside when you remain still.
And you’re not sure how you’ll take the highway back towards home where you’ll have to call that film director and say, “No, I can’t take the job, but thanks for the offer,” when you really want to say, “You’re not paying me enough to abandon my dreams for yours,” that the pitiful paycheck can’t lure you away from conversations about dating and girls with your near-teen, that the few extra dollars and a possible chance to attend a film festival and act all cool and casual is not as exciting as it once was, that you’ve discovered that life is better than that, the simple living, that is, and that the promises of maybe do nothing for you now, that uncertainty is damn scary but better than the horror of living in what you know you don’t like.
Yes, I need the money, but not at those costs. I’ll choose to believe that it’ll come some another way, and if necessary, I’ll hit the road again to find that safe place of denial. If you don’t bring in the mail, you can’t get the bills. If you’re not at home, you can’t see the house getting dirty. If you’re always sleeping on a tiny couch, hugged on one side by the back cushions, you don’t feel alone, you don’t expect a partner because there’s no room for one, and you go to sleep and wake up happy knowing you have choices.
And finding these moments make all the rest bearable.
So, if you’re anything like me and you sometimes feel stuck, hit the road. Stock up with travel snacks and a huge mug of coffee, the same mug you’ll drink for five hours not caring that it’s taken on the temperature of the air. Leave your comfort zone that is really more familiar than comfortable, and seek something new. And when it’s time to come home, adorn a little roadtrip armor of memories and awareness. Then it’ll be safe to bring in the mail.