When I’m troubled, a good drive alone can help. It combines seclusion and roaming free. The road is a comfort at times, even though it holds dangers.
I have no desire for a motorcycle. There are too many bad things that can happen. I’ve hit three deer in my life, with one slamming into my windshield. And I shudder to think of that collision on a two-wheeler. But I can understand the attraction of cruising the countryside, lost in thought with just the wind and asphalt.
As the pastures pass, I think of what I should have said, or reflect on things long gone, like actually sliding into a base. I can drive for many miles not really noticing the details of the land around me. I’m too wrapped up in 1986 to count how many chicken houses I just passed.
But other times I make a point of looking at the world. And it’s sort of a mental exercise to me, riding the road, considering all the ways different people view the same things.
I know the golfer sees that bend in the trees as a dogleg suited for his slice. He imagines the pond as a formidable par-3 water hazard. The fisherman sees that same pond and can feel that familiar tug on the line, while performing a mental checklist of what’s in his tackle box. He thinks of his own spots to cast the line.
The real estate man passes that empty house, thinking of the market, what it is and what it was. The utility men look at the power lines, noticing where the trees need to be cut back, remembering the aches of the snowstorm. The engineer thinks of how the road wasn’t properly graded, leaving a dangerous blind spot. The lawnmower man looks for that shaggy yard. The vandal looks for the sign he can shoot. His eyes dart for the law.
The new parents ride with their baby through the intersection on their way home from the hospital, believing they should be allowed a personal siren to clear everyone out of the way, just this once.
The good-hearted sort notices a pained expression on a stranger by the road. The eye contact sparks that need to do something for someone. The person who lacks something inside sees that same pained face and laughs, the inner voice repeating, “better you than me, buddy.”
Some consider the land before their time, how they occupy just a brief sneeze in its long history. They consider how it looked when there were no roads, how long it might take to turn to rubble after people quit driving them.
But we do keep driving them. We’re in our own little bubbles, our own little universes, passing each other along the way, maybe throwing up a finger wave if we feel it.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.