The Freedom of an Open Road

Independence Day 2016 (2)

Amongst my favorite memories are the family road trips I took as a kid. We traveled through the deserts and mountains of New Mexico, the redwood forests of California, the canyons of Utah, passed rivers and lakes through to New Hampshire.  What a sense of freedom!  Historically and in our contemporary times, one’s ability to move freely has been a prized luxury. The American right to drive from coast to coast, unimpeded, has been a signal feature of our country. Our truckers, then, are emblematic of our independence; the solitary figures of unrestrained liberty.

A blur of rest stops, brief calls at pay phones to check in with family and mix tapes was broken up with the occasional terrifying downpour. There! On the horizon! Is that speck a semi? We kept a beady eye on the ever enlarging form, hoping for another opportunity to signal a road warrior to honk the horn by hanging out of the windows and pumping our arms up and down. And there it was…that skull-rattling, heart-racing, thrilling-like-nothing-else semi-truck horn!!!

I realize now that mom and dad weren’t active, eager participants in our stalking of the road warrior riding a many-wheeled beast. In retrospect, the most important element of those road trips was how, unbeknownst to us children, our parents kept us safe on the road at night. This might be an unusual thing to say, but it’s true: we would look for a Flying J to get gas, stretch our legs and grab a bite to eat. I loved sidling up to a trucker on a bar stool. These guys would nearly always make me feel like a road comrade, talking with us about our journey and theirs, the food, the weather. After probably hundreds of truck stops, the thought of becoming a trucker when I “grew up” had settled in my mind as a possibility- it was my version of a cowboy riding out into the sunset.

I learned about the world and stopped romanticizing that lifestyle and group of people as I had. Still, they are their own breed: in my mind, it’s Americana. I miss those road trips and, especially, that certain feeling of pulling up to a Flying J and nestling in amongst 18-wheeled beasts waiting for their feed of diesel fuel. And every time I glance out my window and into the cab of a semi thundering down the highway beside me, I still feel the distinct urge to signal that trucker to blow their horn.

Thanks to all those truckers who were consistently kind to us kids. Thanks for indulging us and keeping it fun. Just another reason to cherish our independence and our open roads.

Destination: Otherwise

The silver lining to living on this planet is that we can always find Summer – and my calendar says it’s officially here.

This is a time when we take to our chariots, which faithfully transport us to familiar and foreign parts.  That seems to be what Summer is for — explorations of our outer world, leading us back to explorations of our inner one.  We’re looking beyond our Googlemaps hoping to find a route to our wise inner child: fun, relaxation, friends, naps and snacks.

Summer’s greatest legacy is the way it brings us together – with nature, with family, with friends.  And when SummerTravels Otherwise (2) marries with art, we’ve a recipe for “how to turn strangers into friends” from all corners of the world.

 

Recently, I went through an extended period of time when I was working long hours between two jobs.  Travels OtherwiseMy ability to move myself through life’s events was adequate – and I am really grateful for that; however, I was aware that others had traveled to a different place in their lives.  This meant they were able to choose destinations near and far but always with fun as the focus.  By the time I was finally able to afford to work one full-time job, I needed friends and loved ones to remind me that Summer is the dessert to the meat and potatoes of life.  Luckily, Summer is synonymous with change.

Packing joy intoTravels Otherwise Summer’s outings, we’re brought back to our sense of fun and daring! With events ranging from the music and flashing lights of Belgium’s Tomorrowland and Nevada’s Burning Man, to Japan’s world-renown spas, as well as soaring cliffs we’ve a need to climb, summer travels take us, not only physically to geographical points previously unexperienced, but on life’s most wonderful and soul-essential journeys via ‘Destination: Otherwise’.

With Summer allowing us life within his visage once more, I’d like to share with you, dear friend, one of my very favorite quotes from another who undertook journeys to free himself from a life too heavy with the stuff of meat and potatoes:

When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote                

 

Flag Day

Flag Day

~ Piotr Mlodozeniec
http://coexistcampaign.com/pages/coexist-faq

In response to the mass shooting in Orlando early this morning, President Obama asked us to consider: “And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.” Let’s consider this.

This Tuesday the 14th will be Flag Day. I don’t worry that we’ll ever have to contend with one global (monstrous) governing body – human beings are too diverse for that.  And, with humans being as we are, we speak up about our differences.  Throughout history, we’ve spoken out about our differences, verbally and through our actions, even with our lives on the line.  It would be like expecting South America’s Amazon to suddenly be another Wulingyuan National Park of China or a New Zealand Tongariro National Park.  Each of these naturally beautiful and distinct places are their own, unique selves.  And so are we.  In America’s national recognition of the importance of a unified identity, I think also of the fifty states and five (inhabited) territories that fly a flag of individual identity under Old Glory.

Our differences range along many lines and our flags speak for us as a visual representation of our national / ethnic pride and in protest.  donetsk-ukraine-23rd-apr-2014-about-20-cars-paraded-today-in-donetsk-DYP3AM (Donetsk, Ukraine 2014)

We paint images of our flags in a whimsical reflection of identity:

14333412-italian-vintage-car (Italian vintage car)

We use our flags to show our recreational allegiances while trying to play nice with others:

Taxi Drivers flying St. George's Cross (football)(Taxis & St. George’s Cross-football)

We’re not fools wearing rose-colored glasses of denial in hope of peaceful coexistence.  We’re just a species with a knack for persistence.  We like going against the odds and championing the underdog of Peaceful Coexistence.  This is the most fundamental difference within the species of homo sapiens:  Some of us want exclusionary gain (i.e., most-to-all for me and little-to-none for you) while some of us don’t mind sharing. A few days ago, Leo Babauta of the ZenHabits blog wrote, “We can’t solve all of these ills alone, of course, but if we do our best to help others as much as possible, perhaps we can contribute towards the betterment of the lives of all beings.”

American Flag for Flag Day

Under my own national flag, I’m content to live with consensus.  I feel safe in the fact that, within that consensus, it isn’t necessary to have an across-the-board, absolutely unanimous agreement about anything.  Has a mandated agreement ever really happened in the minds and hearts of human beings within our recorded history?  No.  Consensus?  It’s a millennia old parable of the way to live.

Here’s to the fabric of consensus that’s been woven into the history of nations, side-to-side with the human will toward freedom and a longing to co-exist.

Perspectives

Perspectives

Our lives are busy and, being a social species, we regularly come to intersections of comings and goings with others. Every encounter presents an opportunity for reflection, is a chance encounter with some part of ourselves.

A blue SUV from the northbound lanes transitions into the right turn lane and is now facing east. Almost simultaneously a black sedan slips from a southbound lane into the left turn lane and is now also facing east. So, two drivers from opposing points are choosing to go in the same direction. There are three common lanes of separation between them.

From the perspective of myself and other patrons of a bistro patio, the sedan is crossing over two of the nearest lanes, clearly aiming to broadside the SUV, who is proceeding along the nearest right lane. The sedan has chosen to morph into righteously indignant. And, as we’ve witnessed all too often, righteous indignation means a distorted perspective – an entitlement to become aggressive.

The rest of us get the fallout. Having selfishly made a point (I have the right of way and all of these lanes are mine), the sedan swerves its nose eastward into the middle lane, accelerates and cuts just ahead of the SUV (forcing the SUV to slam on the brakes) and thus forces the SUV to go 15 mph in a 45 mph zone. Righteously indignant has followed an unnecessary act of aggression with bullying and has meted out punishment for a simple act of turning into the nearest lane, which was free of any oncoming traffic.

Here’s my perspective: there’s nothing “righteous” about unnecessary aggression – verbal or physical. There’s nothing that justifies deliberately aiming a car at another. Once on the road, we’ve all made a choice to take part in a communal act along communally owned paths. No one’s fooled when an overly pampered ego is clothed in a supposedly “righteous” act of teaching another driver “a lesson”.

The SUV chose not to escalate in its encounter with random violence. From that perspective, it’s a blessing that no gun was fired. No actual contact was made that necessitated police or medical intervention. Perhaps the perspective of the children in the car was never even switched from an unaware state. I prefer to think it wasn’t.

We bystanders thank the SUV. Late on a Sunday morning, “righteous” left us with an ugly reminder that violence is everywhere; that any one of us can be targeted at any point along our way. SUV, however, demonstrated that we can all choose a perspective that shows true strength (an inner restraint, rather than an outward show of power through aggression). Every day, with every action we take, we choose our perspective. We can support, protect and strengthen one another. We can choose a perspective of peace.

There’s still hope for our species.

Blind Spots

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I remember riding in the backseat of an antique Chevy with a family friend.  Ol’ Blue was in the process of loving renovation by its proud owner.  Even though a pre-teen, I felt swallowed up by its dimensions, its solidity.  It was a true metal mass to be reckoned with, in comparison with the composite molding that makes up so much of our modern chariots.  But I still think of the car as an ugly beast.  I just don’t understand the attraction.  That’s a blind spot for me.

A friend of the family is in a well-earned, mid-management position.  So, he’s in conservative dress and wears a tie. Last summer, he invited us to an event celebrating his Hispanic heritage and a line-up of prized low-rider cars.  I saw the beauty of the culture and understood the fierce pride behind the symbolism of his tattoos (which are usually covered with his long-sleeved shirts)… not the low-rider vehicles, though.  Who would spend the money on hydraulics to bounce a car?  Sooo many other things I value more and would rather spend my money on.  Another blind spot.

Blind Spots

Not seeing the other guy seems to be the cause of so many of the needless conflicts we encounter on the road.  I’ve never seen so many blind spots as I experienced in an exquisite, very small and very expensive red convertible with a black soft top.  Besides the fact that the design of the car made me feel like my bottom and the road were one, I never worked so hard in my life to swivel my head this way and that.  I bet I craned my neck fairly close to a 360-degree radius in that pretty little lady.  I knew I was too, too small to make it out of any conflict alive – or free of intubation.  ‘You go your way, and I’ll go mine in peace’ was my mantra.  How could anyone drive something that left the driver so defenseless?  In my mind’s eye, I clearly recall the huge smile on my friend’s face, driving with the top down, the sun shining and a favorite line-up of music playing.  Heck, I remember my own huge grin.  Good times!  But, still…maybe my friend’s a closet adrenaline junkie and a chance meeting with sure mangling is part of the thrill.  I don’t know.  My list of blind spots is likely a long one.

The wonder of our age is that the majority of us can travel together, daily, without impeding one another.  We can just be who we are when we leave our front doors and then return to those respective front doors, without serious incident – even with our blind spots in tow.

My 2016+ goal?  I want to see you, value you as you are, with all of the differences I am lucky enough to encounter – both in the car and, especially, in the driver.