An ode to the feeling of forever being on the road.
Road trips are quite simply when I feel most myself, most alive. Some of my earliest memories are of trips with my parents from our home on the Jersey Shore down into the deep South. There was new food, accents, crushing humidity, alligators, the newly-opened Disneyland. I lost a toy out an open window and our Plymouth Duster broke down in Lebanon, Tennessee. Recently, I watched grainy old movies from those trips in the early ’70s with my parents—the graininess made them seem so far lost in the past and, yet, I could still taste the salt air and the feeling of being very young and held by my mom.
I only wanted more travel, more wandering, more discovery. I wanted that best part of a road trip—being nowhere and in motion, listening to music, feeling the rush of air though the windows. By the time I was 20, my friend Jonathan and I headed out on a classic coming-of-age trip across the country, from our college in Boston to the tattoo shops and glitz of West Hollywood, California. We had vague ideas of becoming rock stars (and Jonathan did in a way, working on soundtracks in the film industry and always creating his own music). We bought a car for $300 and a stereo for $350 and headed through the vastness of Wyoming listening to Mick Taylor, Jane’s Addiction, and the Replacements. I will never feel that unfettered again.
In the words of Jack Kerouac, whom we, of course, saw as our patron saint, “I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future.”
But Hollywood didn’t call to me—the Rockies and vast deserts of the West did. The destination didn’t resonate in that deep part of the heart that knows where it belongs, but wide-open spaces and wildness did. We stopped somewhere in the nothingness of NM64 and felt the heat and listened to silence. We slept in the car outside Moorcroft, Wyoming. I was home in this aimlessness on the road in the West and I have never looked back.
My life has been simply waiting for the next road trip. I moved from Boston to Montana, savoring stops in the Badlands during an all-night lightning storm that lit our tent, and at the Mint Bar in Sheridan, Wyoming. I learned to love even the small road trips we take for granted living out here: jaunts from Bozeman, Montana, to the Beartooth Highway to ski the steeps when the road first opened in early summer or headed out to grad school in Seattle and driving past the city to park on the ferry and reach the edge of the continent at Neah Bay. I wanted to follow every highway, fill in every section of map I had not seen.
My wife and I have passed this love of travel, of being in transit, to our kids, too. They pack into the back of the car for long drives with playlists and podcasts and no complaints at all. Last summer, as the pandemic continued to eat at our collective sense of community, and with my kids in their teens, we headed out from Boulder to San Francisco, blazing through the burning salt flats of western Utah and letting out primal screams on Route 50, the famed “Loneliest Highway in America,” because loneliness is, after all, a basic need in a world where we feel crushed by bad news and violence and too much technology. Just like I will never forget my earliest trips with my parents, this one will stick with me for a long time. And no matter how we grow or change or move forward, there is some place where we are always on the road together.