Years ago when I was a kid.
I’ve always loved the highways of the U. S. As a kid I remember traveling on them in the back of a station wagon my dad was driving. I had my soda pop and my salami sandwich on white bread my mom had made me and a clear view of the road ahead of us. I kept one eye on the yellow lines and the other on bilboards, trailer parks, fast food places, Howard Johnson, mileage signs.
My dad would have on country radio. Some drunk singing about how a woman had broken his heart. Or, a woman telling a story of how she stood by her man. It was the perfect soundtrack for the road. Even at that young age I understood what they were talking about; that is, I thought I did.
We’d take the road across America. Switching from highways to toll roads to back roads and freeways. Crossing over lakes and rivers where men fished and power boats kicked up water. We’d drive from Indiana to Texas in one clear shot. Never did my father stop for the night. Driving under stars and the moon; mom snoring and Hank Williams singing into the morning. I stayed awake for every hour of it. Watched the sun come up in Texas in the early morning hours. Pulling into my grandparents driveway in Dallas just in time for breakfast. I never looked forward to seeing my grandparents, but, I always loved taking the road.
Standing on Route 66 outside of Joplin with my thumb out, I thought about my travels as a kid. Thought about where my love for the road came from. I think it came from my dad. He was always on the road. He and my mother would have a fight and he’d take off in the middle of the night. Not come back for days. He’d return and she’d ask him where he went to? Just driving, he’d say. Just driving. And she believed him. Had no reason no to. She knew he wasn’t cheating on her. Knew he wasn’t drinking. He just drove to clear his head.
Sometimes she’d get calls in the middle of the night from him. Telling her he was in Iowa, or, Nebraska, or, Colorado. Saying he’d be home when he felt like it. That’s what I’d become. A kid who’d come home when he felt like it. Hitchhiking across America, taking busses, getting rides from truckers, walking miles till I couldn’t walk anymore. The life of a nomad. And, I was surprised to see how many nomads there were in America. Men running from something, or, to something; a job, a woman, new beginning, fresh start, ending it all. Maybe I was always getting rides from the old man in spirit. Maybe it was always his ghost that picked me up and gave me a ride. Something was protecting me. Should’ve been gone long ago.