Whenever an astronomical lottery jackpot is sprawled across the evening news, people always have the same reaction.
A handful of change is spent at a gas station, and that colorful sheet of receipt paper they get in return is stuffed in their wallet, like a golden ticket to financial nirvana. It serves as a reminder at restaurants and bars that a conversation has to start via, “What would you do if you won?” The first idea that someone almost always throws on the table is getting out of debt for themselves, their family, friends, or people they want to see naked. Past that, many take it upon themselves to spread their new wealth around in the form of contributions to charities, reliefs, and gifts to other people they might want to see naked.
That’s all well and good, I’m the same way. But after those basics are covered, the descriptions of pleasure spending start. Every material fantasy they've spent time formulating gets described down to every minute detail. Superfluous cars, mansions, expensive clothes and extended stays in luxurious hotels on tropical islands are the popular choices, but that’s where I tend to stray from the group.
Granted, it would be fun to drive around in a Lamborghini, but what would be the point? Utilizing half a million dollars’ worth of machinery and engineering, only to garage it for eight months out of the year? Sorry, no. I don’t see why I would buy a mansion either, I’m single and in my twenties. I don’t need eight bedrooms or a foyer with an echo. Though, a small library with a secret passage would be nice. Would I buy expensive clothes? I seriously doubt it. Over time, I've narrowed my wardrobe down to a bunch of t-shirts, some black button-downs, a few pairs of jeans, a wool coat and a pair of boots that I’m pretty sure doesn't belong to me. I used to obsess over the seemingly unattainable treasures, though. I had it in my head that they were the benchmark of refinement. But after a while, I no longer did. I grew beyond it. I still understand why one would like to have nice things, but a car with the price tag higher than most homes in a well-to-do suburb feels ostentatious to me now. When it comes to wealth, if someone takes the route of subtlety when gross excess is within reach, I think it shows real class. To me, true refinement is in the understatement.
|Unless you're this guy.|
But what about the exotic destinations? The tropical islands? Now that’s an idea closer to my liking. Sure, if I won the lottery I might spend a few days or weeks on a beach with nothing but booze and solitude, or if I were fortunate enough, the company of a woman - but I wouldn't want to stay there. I'd get bored after two weeks, guaranteed. I’d want to keep moving. Roaming around is what I crave. Travel. Freedom. I want to disappear into the world. The other stuff that people talk about buying is just that: stuff. It’s just a collection of things to occupy one’s living area… stuff to keep one marginally entertained between mandatory engagements. Now I’m not saying that I’m some smug, bare-bones douche that believes they're above having possessions, no. I own my fair share of trivial shit. But success in the form of material excess is a concept that is beyond me. When I think of winning the lottery, I immediately imagine dropping my trivial shit in favor of open roads, desert sunsets, roadside diners, run-down hotels, and nothing to keep me company but my unfamiliar surroundings.
I know that before I have mentioned the idea of a Route 66 road trip, but my solace of freedom is so much more than taking a rented Chevy sedan down one stretch of road for a week and a half. What I’m getting at is a roaming residence. PO Box: Everywhere. If I had the option to, the majority of my time would be invested in absence.
There’s a reason why one of my favorite books is Kerouac's “On the Road”, why I often drive to a truck stop 30 minutes due north to have a cup of coffee, and why I drove an hour to and from work for a full year. I have a strong wanderlust, but without the ability to wander too far - I’m cursed with the combination of a restless spirit and a restful environment. But this isn't a new concept. In fact, it’s a pretty big cliché these days, thanks to Tumblr and all of the “empty freeway” pictures being passed around, like the one at the top of this post. The difference between me and many others is that I didn't learn this feeling from watching Easy Rider or Into the Wild. My comfort with solitary travel has been in me for a very long time.
|...and for the record, don't do what this guy did.|
Since I hit my teenage years, I had always been a bit of a loner. Sure, I had friends and went to the occasional party, but I often had no problem not hearing the phone ring or rarely seeing someone make their way up to my door. Sure, it wasn't the healthiest way to go through young adulthood, but it ultimately worked out for the best, because it was then that I discovered creative writing and those awkward puberty-infused poetry phases were kept private. Since then though, I seldom feel the need to surround myself with people, just to get by.
You could call it social anxiety, but I have a tendency to engage total strangers when I’m out and about. You could call it depression, but anyone who has known me for more than thirty-eight seconds will tell you that I am often a happy fucking guy. You might refrain from describing it again because you already have two strikes… but please, keep swinging. The truth is I don’t even know how to define it, other than “Content-With-Solitude-Other-Than-The-Occasional-Lonely-Bug-That-I-Remedy-With-Friendly-Social-Interactions-itis”. It is that condition I have, combined with the need to roam, that fills me with enough confidence to believe I’ll eventually end up on the road and on my own.
Recently, I attempted to take a road trip from Milwaukee to Boston, to visit Big Sis. It was long-overdue and I was very much looking forward to hanging out with her. I could have flown, but I saw it as an opportunity to drive, as a way of reconnecting with something I was missing. Though it may not look like it, this essay has taken quite a while to put together. Other endeavors have come up during its creation, but the real reason for the delay is that I lost my passion for what was driving its theme. After a while, I simply couldn't remember why I wanted to roam throughout the country. So, I took to the freeways thinking that on the way to Boston, I might also fill the void that had been the source of so much frustration.
|Is it just me, or does Stock Photo Guy look a lot like Val Kilmer?|
Sadly though, the unforgiving rain, ice and snowstorms that engulfed the northeastern part of the country that week made it impossible for me to reach my destination, and I was forced to turn around and drive westbound for six hundred miles with my tail between my legs. After I made that U-turn in a Pennsylvania Burger King parking lot, I knew that the 8+ hours of driving would be an unpleasant retreat. To say that I was angry would have been an understatement. I was a ball of fury feeding on a steady diet of nicotine, caffeine, gasoline and cursing. That is, until whatever god of travel I was blaspheming took pity on me, if only for a moment.
I was on the Ohio turnpike, somewhere west of Toledo. It was around ten o'clock at night, and the sky had been filled with a constant, yet gentle, rainstorm since the sun went down. On that particular stretch of road, there are no lights to speak of. Vast fields were on either side, and light poles were only present when a junction with another freeway was coming up. I had been cruising in the left lane, passing up truckers for some time, but then, I stopped seeing their approaching taillights. Soon, the headlights from approaching eastbound traffic stopped as well. Then the rain stopped. Using that as an opportunity to get some fresh air without soaking up any windshield runoff, I put my window down and turned the heat and music up. Ahead of me, behind, all around, there was nothing. All I saw was the light from my car reflecting off of the freeway lines. I lit a cigarette, and the icing of the cake came in the form of a song on the radio, "A Horse with No Name" by America.
I swear to you, I couldn't have written it better myself. There I was, by myself on a road cutting through nowhere, in the middle of a clear night, listening to a peaceful song and finally recapturing what I thought I had lost sight of for what seemed like half of a lifetime. Amidst the overwhelming feelings of defeat, anger and all of the reflections that came along with them... I somehow felt at peace. It was a truly surreal moment that reminded me why I decided to write this piece in the first place. It was those moments of absolute solitude... from everything, even myself. I wasn't who I normally am: a creature of mental and emotional peaks and valleys. I was just there, existing. Nothing more, nothing less. It was very real separation from a conventional reality. In those few precious seconds, my entire world was limited to the fifty or so feet I could see in front of me.
Then the wondrous feeling ended. The rainfall resumed, along with the eastbound traffic, and a sign saying "Chicago - 232" pulled me off of the Road to Nowhere and set me back on the Ohio turnpike, west of Toledo. That harsh geographical awakening also reminded me of the principle idea behind wanderlust: the wandering. Having a destination gave finality to the trip. Having a destination gave me a goal to work for, and that goes against the whole idea of wandering. It's the pure joy of not having to be confined by time or distance, but only by one's own tolerance for sitting down. To quote the old adage, "It's not the destination, it's the journey."
I don’t want to end up being one of those poor saps that always talks about life, but never gets around to living it. That ominously vague fear and being stuck with many daily routines drives me crazy inside. That anxious insanity in the pit of my stomach comes to a head and every once in a while, out of nowhere, I get a fleeting urge to depart. No note, no warning… I just want to grab whatever is within arm's reach and leave. Then, as quickly as the feeling arrives, it dissipates and I'm left with the aftermath - a rush of adrenaline, similar to what one feels when they almost get into a car crash. All I know is that I was inches away from a major event in my life, but now I'm not... as if it never happened, as if it was never going to happen.
But I hope to one day get to a point where I can act on these urges. It may seem selfish to pick up and leave like that, and maybe it is, especially if I have a girlfriend or wife at the time. But do you know what? Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to have a woman who would hop in the car with me, point ahead and say, “Jeffy, bring me that horizon.” But until then… the passenger seat of my car will be reserved for toll change, road snacks, empty coffee cups… and the occasional spent lottery ticket.
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