September 16, 2019,

Summer is coming to an end and fall is approaching. That alone symbolizes many things both spiritual and practical.

If you haven’t gone on your road trip yet, you should do it now.

Fall can be so beautiful and calm., Quintin Gellar photo credit

America is a very quiet and serene place when you travel the Interstates, highways and back roads on your personal road trip.

A spiritual sojourn is an understatement.

The wide open spaces are far broader and wider than you imagined and they stretch endlessly making you wonder, how in the world every inch of this beautiful earth, called the United States, is owned by someone.

Why are you traveling out there by car alone when you could have reached your destination much faster by plane?

Many reasons really.

For some of us, there is nothing that helps you take stock of your life much better than being out alone on the highway as the sun is setting behind the mountains symbolically imitating certain aspects of your own life.

Especially at middle age.

There are things that you have done before, no matter what age, that will never be done again.

Especially if some of your childhood road trips involved family, when you were all together and now, some of whom are no longer here.

Other things should be done as soon as possible.

What connects the long stretches of highway that you are on, like a simple tapestry, are the rest areas.

There was a time, especially before the 1960’s where you would travel steaming hot roads, no air conditioning, car windows rolled down and the only place that you can rest for the night is if you pulled into a town gas station and asked the owner if you could spend the night.

That was then. No legal issues. Little to no crime.

Usually he said yes.

There you were, as a child in the back seat, while your parents were in the front seat, sleeping away. Waking up every hour or two and peeking to see if mom and dad were still sleep. Usually they were.

The town was quiet and often you were not alone. There were other families who could not afford a hotel sleeping there too.

Soon the sun comes up and you’re back on the road again.

The modernization of travel and the widespread addition of rest stops changed so much of that.

For the better.

We loved the rest stops.

They were very clean, nicely organized and gave you a chance to meet strangers from other states.

Some of our most serene and quietly impacting memories were found inside of America’s rest stops.

You stand outside of your car, camper or motor home, stand on the grass and say out loud, “So this is Nebraska”.

Or, this is what Nevada feels like.

Name your state.

This, our friends, is something that you have to experience for yourself.

You certainly can’t go by the movies. Usually what you will find in virtually every short description is the word comedy included.

To keep things moving, besides the car, you have the motley crew of eccentric passengers, bad joke tellers, crude fools, tons of diners, shady mechanics who will soak you for what your desperation is worth, roadside sexy townies with low aspirations, small time saloons, lonely motels and side roads to nowhere.

Literally and figuratively.

Living in Northern California, to imitate our earlier road trip experiences, we take Highway 5 for about 5 hours to Los Angeles. No rush. We love the open farmland and how the scenery slowly changes along the way.

We stop at rest stops along the asphalt pathway. Of course., Johannes Plenio photo credit

“Moon river, wider than a mile
I’m crossing you in style some day
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker
Wherever you’re goin’, I’m goin’ your way

Two drifters, off to see the world
There’s such a lot of world to see
We’re after the same rainbow’s end, waitin’ ’round the bend
My huckleberry friend, moon river, and me.”

Now that is our road trip, rest stop experience and all. No comedy in sight.

We often look to film for examples that might give a sense of what we speak of, and as we often do, we turn to Europe. Film making is just different there.

From the opening scene, we know that this road film will not be a comedy.

Vagabond is a 1985 French drama film directed by Agnès Varda, featuring Sandrine Bonnaire.

It describes the story of a young woman, a vagabond, who wanders through the Languedoc-Roussillon wine country one winter.

The film begins with the contorted body of the woman, covered in frost.

From this image, an unseen and unheard interviewer (the voice of Varda herself) puts the camera on the last men to see her and the ones who found her.

The action then flashes back to the woman, Mona (Sandrine Bonnaire) walking along the roadside, hiding from the police and trying to get a ride.

Along her journey she meets and takes up with other vagabonds such as herself as well as a Tunisian vineyard worker, a family of goat farmers, a professor researching trees, and a maid who envies what she perceives to be a beautiful and passionate lifestyle.

Throughout the film, Mona’s condition seems to become progressively worse until she finally falls where we first saw her, frozen and entrenched in her misery in a ditch.

But oh does so much happen in between.

We turn to the insightful reviewers at for, well, insight. “Like all good fiction, it is able to imply much more than it knows. We learn that she was born of middle-class parents, that she took secretarial training, that she worked in an office but hated it, that eventually she went on the road, carrying her possessions and a tent in a knapsack on her back, begging food and shelter, sometimes doing a little work for a little money.

Only gradually do we realize that she contains a great passivity. She is utterly de void of ambition. She has gone on the road, not to make her fortune, but to drop out completely from all striving.”

Sadly, Mona went on a road trip from which she would not return.

We have returned from every road trip, thus far.

One thing that we have consistently experienced when we are traveling across America’s beautiful, soul stirring vast lands of isolation is that no matter our age, the trip forces us to access where we are at in our life.

At home, on a day to day basis, filled with routines, sometimes it is just too hard to access where you are. You’re swimming in water up to your neck.

Hopefully not alligators.

But out alone on that open road, taking a break at those rest stop watering holes, they slowly whisper to you.

If you weren’t sure where you were at before you left…

You will know when you get back.

~ ~ ~

opening photo, Engin Akyurt photo credit