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.

In Memoriam and Gratitude

In Memoriam

My family is a military one – has been for generations. At one time, my grandfather (an inveterate veteran) declared, “If you’re from Texas and you’ve served your country, you’re an American, for sure!” He wasn’t from Texas, ‘nope, siree’ (as he would’ve said). But he did end up retiring in that great state. Sure he’d found God’s country, he adopted it.

For generations of our family, the terms “soldier” and “military” have never been equated with “anonymous.” It’s my shy and slender aunt who proudly sent back photos of her slight, feminine frame next to the towering military vehicles she drives. Inspired to join by stories of the patriotic WASPs, you can see how proud she is to be in charge of a vehicle so large a stepladder is required just to climb the huge tires to the driver’s seat. It’s Uncle Roy, who faithfully sent back his WWII paychecks to his orphaned siblings, who survived off his service. It’s our dear friend Dave, who is manning the local Buddy Poppy station in memory of all of our country’s fallen veterans this Memorial Day weekend, despite the physical and emotional scars he brought back from deployment.

Because it’s inherent in the very makeup of our genome, each culture has a tradition around the passing of life. Time is in the driver’s seat and Death is the passenger. So, the saying It’s not the destination so much as the journey has always rung true for me. We’re all travelers on a profound quest for experience and knowledge. And, while we don’t actively move ourselves toward that final destination, Death is one of only two shared primal commonalities – the other primal commonality being Life.

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Life is the supremely awesome journey. To that serviceman and that servicewoman who has given life up so that others might continue with theirs – or begin it – our inexpressible gratitude. To those whose own lives were forcibly shunted toward that final destination, even if your name isn’t on a tribute to your service, you live through us. Without you, the rest of us around the globe, of different nationalities and creeds, those of us who hold faithfully to the concepts of free will and the freedom of self expression, we might have ended up living only the basest of lives – one of bodily survival – if it weren’t for you.

We worry about where nations’ elected leaders are steering us to.  We worry that humans around the globe continue to be used as pawns for narrow-minded and selfish ends having so little to do, really, with self-defense.  So, on this Memorial Day, may the rest of us, world-wide, remember our own most basic duty to fight as civilians against any government’s abuse of its most precious resource: our loved ones.