Last week I visited the Detroit Institute of Art to check out The Open Road exhibition, a fantastic collection of photography road trips by some of the great photographers. It was right up my alley (so much so that I bought the accompanying book).
It got me thinking: What if I had been into photography, like I am now, back when I took my country-crossing road trips?
Surely I could have made some sort of project or publication out of my Route 66 trip, or my New England trip, or any of the other big road trips I took in my 20s and early 30s. I went on some pretty great adventures, and I took lots of photos, but I wasn’t into photography. I didn’t have the eye I do today.
It’s always been that way, for as far back as I can remember. When I feel pressed down, or stressed, or worried, I hit the road and I’m made whole. Maybe it’s the self-induced isolation, or maybe it’s giving myself time to think and unwind and enjoy the scenery. I don’t know enough to explain it, but I know that it works.
So it was this weekend, when I left town to see my good college friends Andrea and Keith. On the way to see Andrea in Harrisburg, PA, I took a small section of the old Lincoln Highway – what is now US-30. I’ve been to Pennsylvania twice, and driven through it twice, and have never seen much of the state because it was always dark when I drove through. It’s a beautiful Commonwealth, full of hills and trees and old American farms, and traveling down an old highway reminded me of the Route 66 trip, if only briefly.
My visit to Keith’s was an exploration in the truly unknown. Nobody thinks of Columbus, OH when they think of big American cities, but I do now. It’s a fine town, complete with a fully-operational Apple Store and a (ahem) major American university. Keith made an excellent host and tour guide, and gave me a whole-day’s respite from the road. I like driving, but I also like not moving for a while.
Monday, my birthday, had me hitting the road once again, knowing that when I got back home things would go back to normal. Sure, it’s nice to return home from a long trip, but I dread the part of me that feels like I never left in the first place. The road’s romance is short-lived, it seems, and I only get the benefit in the doing. And maybe the remembering, days and weeks and years later.
I drive to escape, mostly. To get out of town, to Go Somewhere, and leave the everyday behind. I surely can’t drink and eat like I do when I’m on vacation. And I can’t suspend life’s rules like I do when I’m on the road. All I can do is take a little piece of the road home with me. See this big, beautiful country we live in. Perhaps take some pictures, too.