Do you ever have moments while driving when the music’s just right and you think, Wow, this is just like a movie sequence?
Alright. Maybe I watch too many movies, and bitterly know that I’ll never be in one. So instead of stardom, I just inflate those moments and revel in a kind of narcissistic, starlet-centric projection.
Hey, at least I’m honest.
Regardless, there were so many moments like that during the course of our trip that I thought it was all a dream. Like I’d wake up and still be stuck in my horrible basement apartment from several years’ past, smacking roaches with rolled up Cottage Living and scrubbing off my bedroom closet wall’s black mold with equal parts Clorox and tears.
Thankfully, it was more dream-like than nightmarish.
Still, since we both have extreme commutes, it took us a minute to realize that, no, this isn’t another drive to the office.
But when we passed the exit Andy normally takes for work, it started to hit us: We’re really doing this.
It was high time for an adventure of the Thelma & Louise sort. Minus the whole murder-suicide bit. (Although I would’ve shot that barfly bastard, too.)
It was time to rediscover and unlock those neglected parts of our personalities through roadside experiences, local food, good and horrible hotels, scenic vistas, exhaustion-induced spats, the warming sun. Dust them off. Rejuvenate them.
So we set the tone with Brandi Carlile’s hauntingly beautiful voice.
Because, really, when your hands are numbed by a random cold snap, you’re excited, sleep-deprived mind can only think about coffee, and a plane ride back to Raleigh from a business trip leaves you exhausted, Brandi is your only recourse.
Only she can knock that frost off your hands, get you through a few miles before the coffee sets in, and soothe you to sleep. (Well, maybe not the driver.)
We add a few Neko Case songs to the playlist for good measure.
By the time we get down to Atlanta, the sun is setting beyond the gridlocked traffic. So we occupy our time entertaining thoughts about what we’ll do if Rick Grimes sidles up next to us on that poor, doomed Clydesdale, warning us that “Atlanta belongs to the dead now.”
Alright, so I should probably cut back on The Walking Dead. (Still, there could be much more worse looking zombie-killers, right? Right.)
As we wind our way through the rest of Georgia and cross the Chattahoochee into Alabama, I clarify where exactly my parents live.
“Basically in the middle of nowhere. Partially underground.”
Meh, clarity is overrated. Before long, we turn onto county roads, then onto back country roads. I slow at the unimposing mailbox and pull onto the gravel access road.
“Here we are!”
“Wow. Okay. This is a little creepy.”
“Oh, it’s not that scary, ” I reassure, walking into the surrounding darkness, rattling padlock chains against the metal access gate.
Andy inches closer to the open car door.
Tammy the Prius putters down the narrow, mile-long road. On either side: dark woods. Above: a beautifully clear night sky studded with stars.
Along the way, I point out the family dog’s grave and a historic house site, then motion down the road to a partially illuminated hillside.
“There it is.”
We pull up to the stone and glass façade and are soon greeted by my parents and Petey, the hyperactive Jack Russell (then again, “hyperactive Jack Russell” is redundant).
My parents usher us and our ridiculously overpacked luggage inside (hey, we really needed ten pairs of shoes between us). After the requisite reunion with my feathery brother–the every curmudgeonly 25 year-old African Grey, Scooby–we give Andy the tour of the hobbit house before settling in for the night.
It may have been the driving. But I think it was the unfamiliar pitch black silence replacing the usual ambient streetlight-fratastic ruckus that drove me into a deep sleep.
Waking up to sweet potato muffins and pancakes the next morning reminds me how lucky I am to have the family I do.
As does hiking with my sister, talking about life and the future, all the while crunching leaves and branches under our feet on the way down to the creek.
About an hour or so later, we walk back in and find our dad watching The Walking Dead Season One finale.
“Wait, didn’t you start watching that before we left?”
“Well, yeah, but this damn TV is busted, so I had to watch the whole disc to get to the last episode.”
He turns back around, hunches toward the TV, and continues watching, letting loose the occasional “Ewwgah!” as Andy and I prep to leave for my hometown, Opelika.
Conjuring stories from my childhood and teen years while driving past my parents’ former historic home, and through a newly revitalized downtown, makes me nostalgic for the little things that made my childhood exactly that. But most of the stores I remember have long since moved, the streets have been reoriented, and the town where I grew up has an even more foreign air to it than when I visited during graduate school. Still, I watch Andy take in the places I cherish and dovetail them with our personal history, gaining a greater understanding of where I come from and how I’ve changed.
And I do the same thing as we peruse an antique mall, pick up things, assess their appeal, and, in most cases, laugh before putting them back.
Over dinner that night, the family eats well, drinks fully, and reminisces about past times and future times, exuding a certain glow—one that’s a mixture of pride and longing.
In the morning, syrup-soaked French toast and black coffee fuels us to continue our trek. (After family photos, of course.)
And then my hometown becomes a check off the list as we head to Little Rock.
But not before we log away more memories–to push us on when we get frustrated and wonder why in the hell we ever thought this was a good idea.
While delicious, heavy carbs can only fuel you so far when you tire at the wheel. New memories, though, are like jolts of caffeine. Reminding us that this is what it’s all about: figuring out this crazy life on our own terms.
And reveling in the journey.