It does not take very long to drive the length of this country. There are several highways that will do you for a straight shot almost totally through it; the I-40 was how we did it but there are others.
We did about five or six hundred miles a day, and we could have done more but that’s a long time to be in the car, a long time sitting, a long time watching the road stretch on, and the plains drift on, and after a while the world doesn’t look right unless it’s disappearing and rolling like a painted conveyor belt, rolling from under the next hill fourteen miles of clear green meadow away, churning by some abysmal gears way down in the Earth, the Earth that is both smaller and wider than I could imagine on my own.
If we’d wanted to, it would have taken even less time. If we didn’t mind blowing out the engine, cramps in our legs. You were never the problem, though. I knew so many classless jokes (you, my captive audience member). You were content to murmur on about whatever we were passing. “Oh, look, everybody wears hats here. That cow is alone on the hill. I don’t like tacos, but I want a taco.” Somehow, in the variable storm of talk radio and country tunes, these idle observations were calming. They made the distance breathable.
And yet, today, when a plane ticket is not an inconceivable expense, when the car can be garaged, hours rationed from the job (the job that was not waiting for me on the far side of the highway); in other words, now that there is time; the far side of the highway is another Earth away.
I like to think that time wanders in waves, that it has its own seasons, that in certain places it neglects its passengers. Perhaps it is vengeful, maybe it listens, maybe it is deaf. Its reasons are abysmal. But we found a way, an opening in the loom, so many years ago I can count them on my fingers and squint. And of course these days all that time catches up, like a headwind on a cockpit window, blowing back both ways.
I have a suspicion, too, that when we ask what went wrong we all really wonder where the time went and how it slipped past us, us unthinking, ready to deal with the places and people who took us through it. It’s not really what went wrong that we’re wondering, but give it to me again – give it to me again and I will nourish the things I know are true, I will be tender to the tender time. And if there is softness missing in my short life now, but give it to me again and I will not press so hard, I will not drive so fast, I will believe time is smooth and I will obey the speed limit and I will stop in the town of hats and chase the lonely cow, and find the perfect taco.
If time has seasons, I have seasons. And in autumn I’m harboring a wistful summer. You wouldn’t be there anymore, if I drove the other way on the I-40, so I don’t hurry when the light changes. There is nowhere else I’d rather go, but of course you are in the springtime of your life, and our winter is fast approaching.