Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Siren Song of the Open Road

A new adventure is afoot. This weekend one of my closest friends will be tying the knot in San Diego, and I got one of the backstage passes. But instead of score a quickie flight in and out of SoCal, I've opted to take advantage of my "permissive" work schedule and make a road trip out of the affair. The tentative plan? Down I-15 to San Diego, up the coast to San Francisco, back across I-80 to Home Base.

For the most part, the trip will be my own personal auto-walkabout, though I will be visiting a number of friends along the way. The whole production is kind of a red-headed stepchild to the plan BretO and I hatched years ago through a rash of idealistic missionary letters mailed between Chicago and London, a meandering voyage that was to take us throughout the continental United States on a Kerouacian vagabond tour without any scheduling restraints to contain our adventurous spirits. The closest we ever got was a spin out to Chi-Town and back that saw us stranded twice in Heaps' 1989 Pontiac 6000--the radiator was already leaking in the driveway before we left--but these days BretO has three kids and a wife to take care of, so Han Solo will be traveling one Wookiee short.

Whether it's blazing through the endless seas of corn that flank the highways of the Midwest or spitting cherry pits out the window as I weave along scenic Highway 32 in southeastern Idaho while the Teton range stands sentry in the distance, I've always favored a little quality time with the open road. My upcoming trip won't be quite as iconic as Hunter Thompson's race to Las Vegas in his gas-guzzling convertible Great Red Shark, though we will be covering the same ground. (For one thing, I won't have a trunkful of hallucinogenic drugs weighing down the back wheels.) As much as I'd like to make the run in a Mazda Miata or a classic '68 Mustang, the same flexibility that is allowing me to make the trip is also preventing any exorbitant spending sprees.

The trip will cover some ground I missed on another previous expedition. Back in the summer of 2002 my buddy Zach and I cruised a generous length of the Pacific Coast Highway between southern Oregon and San Francisco. That winding journey favored us with one of my most memorable driving moments when we emerged from a 20-mile weave through the depths of the Redwood Forest to see the Pacific Ocean stretch open before our gaping landlocked eyes. In order to make it to Huntington Beach in time to meet another friend of mine for the 4th of July, we had to detour onto the I-5 from the Bay Area down to Los Angeles, leaving the south end of the PCH for another attempt. Seven years later, Zach is managing a family of his own, too. His closure will have to wait.

There is one thing I'm looking forward to more than the scenic vistas and photographic opportunities of a West Coast road trip, even more than meeting up with the friends I plan to visit for the first time in several years. What I'm looking forward to most is perspective. On that first trip down through Northern California, not long after emerging from the forest into that first scenic horizon, I remember looking out over the ocean and thinking about all of the drama I'd left back home, all the fallout from the social and professional purgatory I was swamped in, and how completely irrelevant it all seemed now that I was hundreds of miles away. The headaches of 2002 feel distant and harmless next to the offerings of 2009, but I expect a few miles of highway will do the same trick now as it did then. Someday I hope to feel that perspective wherever I go, without having to drive across state lines or have the gift of a friend's distant marriage as an excuse to find it.

But for now, I'll take what I can get.