First proper road trip in nearly two years. One thousand miles from Ohio to Florida for a three-day game of mahjong with the in-laws. I’d almost forgotten how it feels, the rattle and throb of the long drive. The road-ragers and elderly drifters. The truck shudder, rumble strips, and windshield splatter. The landscape of mattresses, exploded tires, and orphaned vehicles along the shoulder. The overwhelm of America all at once.

Billboards asked us where we would spend eternity. They advertised steaks, skin-care routines, and swap meets. They told us hell was real. Along the Big Sandy River where West Virginia faces Kentucky, we ate fast food at an exhausted picnic table while petroleum freighters drifted through the dusk. A crowd of recreational vehicles gathered behind us, stringing up lanterns and preparing a bonfire. We listened to syrup-voiced singers from a half-century ago, the lullabies of fictional Americana. Tight lanes and heavy truck traffic through Tennessee. We paused to admire an empty swimming pool in front of an aluminum shed that said Dreamland. A small car appeared out of nowhere, and the driver’s door swung open. “Did you order a pizza?”

So many billboards for Jesus: he saves, he heals, he delivers. But maybe Jesus is having a hard time these days. None of us looked particularly saved or healed. We were wandering in the shadow of a pandemic, half of us masked, half with naked mouths, all of us wondering how to behave. The parking lot of the adult video store was packed; the Presbyterian church next door was empty. A man vomited behind his car at the travel plaza. Another wept in the courtyard of our motel next to a Waffle House.

Somewhere between Knoxville and Chattanooga, we ate bún xào in a parking lot. Then we hacked our way through Atlanta traffic, its tailgaters and stunt drivers declaring their political opinions on their bumpers. On a sleepy Sunday street in Macon, I ate an artisanal shade-grown burger the size of a toddler. In Florida, we got stuck behind a van with decals that advertised the latest conspiracy theory. Good to know the person in front of you is profoundly insane, the one who’s operating six tons of steel at eighty miles per hour. An oncoming car flashed its headlights to warn us there was a cop ahead. This gives me faith in the human experiment. The highway logic, the conversations between cars: all of us speeding through the night, each with our own theories and points of view. I’ve missed this.

Bobby Vinton – Sealed with a Kiss

Epic, 1972 | More