“To me–a blank fortune is…an open sky on the horizon. Fill in the blank. A fortune no one’s ever written up ahead of time, because no one could imagine a life as strange and as beautiful as the horse you’re about to jump on.” -Sarah Ruhl, Late: A Cowboy Song
There is something beautiful and exhilarating about constant motion, something powerful. Motion accomplishes something that stillness cannot. Perspective changes: physically, and then psychologically.
Such were my thoughts as I pushed through the West, then the Midwest, changing landscapes falling behind me and looming before me, one after one after one, the blue hood of my Dodge pickup pressing on in front of me like the prow of a ship.
January was full of time in the car, most of it alone. I didn’t mind: in fact, I had been looking forward to the trip for weeks.
I get excited when I drive. Sometimes a good song comes on the radio, or a prayer rises in my heart, and I laugh. It bubbles up, and I roll down my window and lean out up to my waist, feeling the wind and the tears running out of the sides of my eyes, and I yell at the world in happiness.
This was my first drive from my home in Western Montana to Nebraska in the winter or alone. I have made this same trip eight times before, but always with someone else, and always sometime between April and August (although we still hit white-out blizzards even in that time frame). I needed to get my truck and my college belongings back to Nebraska for the upcoming semester.
I looked around for a driving buddy for a while but I wasn’t too disheartened when none surfaced. Every brain needs a rest from constant interaction.
I began my journey January 2, and that first day on the road was glorious. I missed being behind the wheel while I was in Italy. I spent 14 hours flying across beautiful Montana and south through Wyoming, leaving my beloved mountains in my rearview mirror for seven months. I had heard there was a storm on my tail, but I had a good chance of outrunning it for the first day.
I always make a few calls while I drive, catching up with old friends. Some people tell me it’s dangerous, but if you have ever driven alone across eastern Montana and all of Wyoming in one day, you know it’s much safer to be on the phone: otherwise you risk falling asleep out of sheer boredom (although as long as you keep the steering wheel straight you may still stay on the road at least until you run out of gas, probably 30 miles from the nearest gas station).
I found a tiny motel in Cheyenne for only $55. I could hear the man snoring next door, and there was a wind (not draft) coming in through both the rotting wood around the window in the bathroom and the 3/4-inch gap around the front door; but all I really needed was sleep, and I can sleep through anything. I just used an extra blanket or three.
The second day was a white-out blizzard. I spent six hours gripping the wheel as the wind whipped white sheets across the road, erasing any remains of asphalt to my view. I arrived at my apartment in Nebraska exhausted.
But the next morning, I was up early and out on the road for another 10-hour adventure: I wanted to visit a friend from Italy before the semester got started.
I spent four delightful days roaming around Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It was in the single digits all week, and the wind chill put us deep in the negs. However my friend Anthony, who had also studied in Florence last semester, still managed to give me a grand tour of downtown Oshkosh during my stay.
We hit up Peabody’s where they offer live jazz every Sunday night, and we attended The Traveling Suitcase’s debut concert for their new album. Anthony knew the lead singer/drummer Nicole Rae (he knows everyone in that city).
I also stopped for a night to see my brother Kevin at his school in Mequon, and he treated us to Panera. We don’t have those in the West. I also hung out with his college buddies, some of whom I remembered from my visit last March.
Over the week, as I socialized with Wisconsinites, one thought pervaded my mind:
Wisconsin is the South of the North.
I am always struck by Wisconsinites’ superb hospitality. I know the Midwest is known for this trait in general, but Wisconsinites’ love for their Home and their Guests is a thing to behold.
The drive to Nebraska was blessed by good weather, although I counted over three dozen cars and six semi trucks off the road in mangled fashions, a result of the storm the previous day. I heard about a 190-car pile-up in Illinois just east of where I passed through.
I was home for only one weekend before I piled into a car with six other people and drove through the night to Louisville, Kentucky, for a travel conference (ironic, I know).
There is not much to say about this weekend except that I experienced my first two all-night drives, and that I got to spend a Saturday evening in downtown Louisville. We all grabbed a few drinks at Sully’s downtown. There were so many lights in the walking district that it reminded me of what I imagine New York City to look like (a future bucket list location).
In true college-student fashion, we managed to fit 14 people into two hotel rooms, 10 in one and four in the other. Thankfully I had a sleeping bag with me: the gypsy life, my friends, and the beauty of constant motion.