It was too big. A whole map laid out in front of him. He saw it all; mountains, highways, oceans, lakes, major cities and small towns, hamlets. There were interstates running north and south, east and west; follow the blue lines.
He wanted to see it all. America in his rear view mirror. Deserts in the west stretched out forever. Pick wild blueberries in Maine. Live the romantic life. Sleeping under trees on cool autumn mornings. Walking on beaches as the sun goes down. Longed to listen to jazz in Washington Square Park while eating fried egg sandwiches on kaiser rolls. Drinking beer wrapped in brown paper. This is the life he wanted; nomadic life.
The middle aged man left his old life behind. Took off in a Dodge in the middle of the night. Saw lights of metropolitan areas. Sprawling suburbia from one end to next.
Crossed the Mississippi at sunrise. Watching colors bounce off brown muddy water. Eating a piece of watermellon at a truck stop in Tennessee. Drinking coffee in a diner with a piece of cherry pie. Listening to locals complain about Indian summer. Looking outside at leaves floating to the ground.
He later would cross the Ohio River. Walk across a bridge that separates Ohio from Kentucky. Mingled with bums in Cincinnatti. Hearing tales of men who’d traveled all their lives. Running from something, but , never avoiding it. The past was always close. Addiction, children they’d fathered, women left. These stories sounded familliar.
The man wondered if he’d done the right thing. Leaving his old life; a wife that loved him. A child playing peewee football on Saturday mornings. He decided to call home. His former home. Did he even have a home anymore? He wondered.
Hey, he said into the pay phone.
Where are you?
I’m in Pennsylvania. Around Pittsburgh. Going north to Philly. I want to see the Liberty Bell. Have a steak sandwich. I like Cheese Whiz.
I know you do, she paused. Why are you doing this?
Don’t know. Just got a wild hair up my ass to get moving. Go out and see America.
Now’s not the time for that, she said. You’ve got responsibilities. You just gonna run all your life? What are we gonna do? Wait for you?
He paused. Began to speak, but, nothing came out. Just stood there in silence with his finger in the coin slot. I’m sorry, he said. I’m sorry. And he hung up the phone.
Some men take forever to face themselves. Some never do. We just run. Whether that’s far away, or, stationary. We’re not at all there. Part of us in Albany and the other part in New Orleans; stretched too far. We never come around the bend to completion. And that is what makes the man.