When I was a kid, my parents would load us into the car on a Sunday afternoon and then take a Sunday drive. Do people still do this? I can’t imagine. All of us, the young and the old and those in between, are so programmed now. Who can imagine ever find the time to get into the car and just … drive?
We had no destination, no roadside attraction where we would eventually arrive and do something. We just sat in the car while my father drove. He would meander on secondary roads through the little towns and villages of Connecticut. One of his goals, I think, was to purposely get lost and then figure out how to get back home (I know, the metaphors are so overdetermined here that I can’t even begin to explore them now – I’ll save that for another essay…)
Within 20 minutes of getting into the car, everyone but me was asleep: my mother, riding shotgun, my sisters in the backseat. And I was as far away from my father as I could be, rolling around in the wayback of our Studebaker Lark station wagon.
He had nothing to say to me, and I had nothing I could say to him that felt safe. So we sat in silence as the rest of the family dozed off. I don’t remember listening to the radio. I just remember the hum of the wheels on the uneven pavement.
This worked for him, driving along in silence. As for me, it felt odd, this aimless, directionless winding through New England. I appreciated the quiet. But there was always some anxiety associated with this trip to nowhere. What if we got lost? What if he really didn’t know where he was going and how we were going to get back? (Yet another essay…)
To this day, the notion of just taking a walk with no destination in mind and with no goal makes me a little crazy. I’m ok to say we’ll walk 25 minutes and then turn around. That’s fine. But when someone says, “let’s go exploring!” my imagination hyperventilates. I start to worry. I think, “How long will we be gone? When will I be back in my familiar setting, in my space?”
I don’t know how Magellan and Columbus and the Vikings and all those History Channel people did it. Just setting out, as Tom Petty sings, “into the great wide open”? Perhaps it’s my existential vertigo acting up? I know for sure that I would never sign up to be crew on the Nina, the Pinta, or even on the Santa Maria.
I would wave from the shore, cheering the brave souls on. That night, I’d crawl into my own bed and fall asleep, knowing the next morning, I would be right where I belong. It’s not very brave or courageous of me, I know.
Some people were borne to push themselves to the outer limits. They are the ones who listened to all the flat earth stories, and then said, “What the heck!? Let’s see what happens.” They are the ones like Theodor Herzl, who said, “Let’s create a Jewish State!” and then set about doing it because, well, why not?
Sometimes we’re the driver, mapping it out; or not. There may be a destination. Or not. But we are the drivers. And other times? We’re in the wayback, awake while others sleep, looking out the back where we’ve just been. I was just there for the ride. And sometimes, that’s the best place to be.