It goes in two directions, separated by painted lines or, in the case of American interstate highways, steel and shrubbery. The two directions are named "coming" and "going," two fluid concepts that depend a lot on which side of the road you happen to be on.
Another key travel duality is order and chaos. Every traveller faces both when away from home. The chaos isn't necessarily a negative thing -- chaos is the surprise of a new discovery, the sweet shock of an unfamiliar experience that will be remembered far longer than ten thousand carbon-copy workdays. "Chaos" is just another name for "adventure."
But the chaos and disorder is what exhausts, overextends and prematurely ages the traveller when not kept within the checks of moderation. To process a new thing taxes brain and body and spirit; the only casualty of the old and familiar is the memory of individual moments. Travel is a game of managing order and chaos, the attempt to fine-tune what percentage of which is experienced over the length of the journey.
Many of the road's services are designed to restore order, to kill chaos, to comfort and soothe. For some, order and comfort means golden arches, or the red, green or yellow logo of a familiar hotel chain. For others, it's an interlocked T and A, or an italic J with wings. Out here on the road, the successful franchises are the ones that do the best job of keeping surprises to a minimum, the ones that consistently fulfill travelers' expectations that the next experience will be exactly the same as the last one.
And what is "home" but the place where things are always the same? Is that not its defining characteristic? When you return home at night and square your back against the inside of your door, is it not chaos you're locking out? And when chaos does invade the home, do we not draw inward to search for a calm and tranquil place within ourselves that our stone and wood walls have failed to provide?
Home is rhythm, home is perpetual sameness, home is order without the chaos. And, if one wants, those are all things that are available out here.***
I'm actually surprised this doesn't happen more often.
Sometimes when the truck stop gets too noisy, or the repetitious audio from the arcade games makes it difficult to work, or the fluorescent lights are too bright, I'll go back out to the car and get some work done. I'll turn the key two slots to activate the electric system, plug the laptop into the industrial strength AC/DC converter, turn the air conditioning on a little.
And sometimes, when I'm in the middle of working on a longer feature story, or if I just get too focused on whatever it is I'm doing, I forget to turn the engine on every so often so the alternator can refresh the battery. And on Tuesday, I got more than a little too focused.
One hour before a tip-off of a game 40 minutes away, I tried to start the car, and... nothing. The instrument panel clicked and whirred as a giant battery designed to handle 12 volts of electricity barely had enough left to power a TV remote.
"I need a jump out in the parking lot," I said to the lady behind the desk at the Flying J. "Do you know of a garage around here that I could call?"
"Don't you have Triple-A?" she asked sweetly.
Renewing my Triple-A was on my list of things to do last week before I left. It's still there on the list, without a line through it.
"I don't know this area too well," the counter-clerk continued. "But you can ask our manager. She's over there near the Christmas decorations."
"I'll pay for it," I told the manager when she told me that the Flying J maintenance truck could come and help me. "I don't mind."
"That's okay," she said, hanging shiny metal ornaments on a rack. "Just buy one of our Christmas decorations. It's coming up, you know. Here, this Santa is cute... look, it jingles."
And so for $6.41, I got both a jump-start and a Santa Claus ornament made out of twisted and pounded metal plate, coils and a jingle-ball for a belly. The Official Wife of the Mid-Majority™ will hate it, and she'll try to take it off the tree, and I'll continually state my case for inclusion. This Santa may be a cheap piece of truck-stop chintz, but this is one Chinese-made, Canadian-distributed tschochke with a story. Santa helped me get back on the road and into the Value City Arena with two minutes to spare, and allowed me to see a Delaware State-Wisconsin Green Bay game in its absolute entirety. Which, right there, already makes it the Best Christmas Ever.
But please, please remind me to fill out that Triple-A renewal card when I get back home. This is going to happen again, I just know it.***
The clothing racks were clean at the Zanesville Love's, cruel and heartbreaking nearer to Columbus. I couldn't justify the purchase of a Radford windbreaker two sizes too small, no matter how cool the sewn-in "RU" logo on the sleeve was -- it was one of those in-between sizes between myself and TOW. We're also still a ways off from needing a child's t-shirt that reads "University of New Hampshire."
But late Tuesday outside Cincinnati, all of that disappointment was forgotten.
There have been several key moments, fragments of moments, in my travels so far that have indicated that my path is truly the right and righteous one. And these moments are specifically designed for me and me only, messages from the cosmos that I am in the right place and moving in the right direction. Gifts from a benevolent universe, carefully laid in my path like gold nuggets on a road of hard pebbles.
These moments, free of context and explanation, mean little to those around me. If I audibly gasp, they'll just stare or flee. They'd never even begin to understand unless I started the story from the beginning. And at 1:34 am Eastern Time, the four-year-long journey was blessed again, anew, and the only cost to me was a mere ten dollars.
Perhaps most importantly, however, now I have something to wear when I go to visit my aunt, the one who went to Michigan State
Before I left Pittsburgh on Sunday night, I stopped in to visit my good buddy Tony Montana. That's his real, honest-to-goodness birth-given name, and he's in no mood for your "little friend" jokes. Tony just started a new job in Pittsburgh, so he's staying at a hotel suite near the airport while his wife works on getting the house sold back in Cleveland. The building looks a bit like a ski lodge.
Tony is a hero of this movement if ever there was one. I stayed at his house during the late stages of the < A HREF=/season-1>100 Games Project three seasons ago, banging out stories in the basement office between trips out to Quicken Loans Arena to watch MAC Tournament games. We've gone to the 2006 and 2007 MAC Tournaments too, but it's been a little less fun because I had to sit on press row. Now that he's in Pittsburgh, that particular tradition is likely finished.
For a couple of short hours before I pushed through to Columbus, Tony and I kicked back and sat around the hotel suite, eating Twizzlers and good domestic cheese, talking about the good times. After a while, he brought out the guitar and we launched into a few old Silver Jews favorites. The ones we didn't know all the words to, we grabbed the tabs off the Corduroy Suit
website and fumbled through.
"We should totally start a Silver Jews cover band," Tony said. "Although I don't think many people would really 'get' us."
"Hey, play that one," I replied, pointing to the screen. "Tennessee
. That's gotta be all-time favorite."
"Awww, yes! Mine too."Punk rock died when the first kid said:
"Punk's not dead... punk's not dead!"
You know Louisville is death, we've got to up and... move
Because the dead do not improve.
Goodbye users and suckers, and steady bad luckers
We're off to the land of club soda unbridled
We're off to the land of hot middle-aged women
We're off to the land whose blood runneth orange.
Marry me, leave Kentucky and come to Tennessee...
Cause you're the only ten I see, you're the only ten I see.Games: 9Miles: 1,211