The car is packed to the gills. Pillows are stuffed into corners, suitcases stacked in the trunk. Every available inch of space is home to something: toiletries, skis, oversized coats, Xbox and games, actuarial exam manuals, bubble-wrapped frames.
It’s just my youngest son and me. Oh, and the dog. Can’t forget the grandpuppy, no. She’s an integral yowling, licking, sniffing, barking part of this journey.
By the time we are done — in three days — we will have crossed six states and traveled 1,300 miles on winding two-lane roads and busy interstates, over hills and rivers, through prairies and forests, past countless silos and endless acres of farmland, cheek-to-jowl (or is it door-to-door?) with massive 18-wheelers and bus-sized recreational vehicles. We will be amused by bumper stickers, nose-picking drivers and billboards selling Jesus on one side and adult entertainment on the other.
This isn’t a trek for fun, though in many ways it turns out to be. And it isn’t a trip to discover parts of America we’ve never seen, though it becomes that too. It’s simply a way of moving him to another city, another beginning, another life.
Normally I prefer the efficiency of air travel. It’s fast, convenient and generally reliable. If I’m not behind the steering wheel or dashboard, I need not worry about nodding off at the controls. Yet a long car ride has much to recommend it, and I would’ve never thought that. Then again, last time I took to the road for more than six hours we used an AAA TripTik, not Google maps.
The navigation device is inconsequential, though. When you’re trapped in a moving vehicle, hypnotized by the road and managing the many hours to go before the next stop, you find out a lot about people you love; the kind of stuff you miss in the hurly burly of daily life, when rushing is as much a verb as a lifestyle. In the car, with few demands on our time, there’s a richness and depth to the unguarded bursts of conversation that follow companionable silences.
When he plays John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” I learn that his music preferences tend to the eclectic. He likes rock-and-roll but also rap and what I call “down home,” from Billy Joel to J. Cole. He preempts any complaint about the songs blasting through his speakers by explaining the lyrics I can’t make out. He talks about the what and the why. About the biography of the songwriter and the inspiration behind the song. At one point, he relents (with a fleeting grimace) to the YouTube version of Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb,” which I think is quite appropriate for our desire to achieve, conquer, improve.
“There’s always gonna be another mountain
I’m always gonna wanna make it move…”
Sometimes, however, there’s no music, no talk, just the purr and hum of four tires on the highway. Cocooned in this particular rhythm and staring straight ahead, we marvel at the vastness of the land we call home. There’s a certain beauty to greening cornfields. A certain beauty, too, to the brown-gray waters of the Ohio and the Tennessee rivers, the Missouri. But it is the rugged terrain of Tennessee that we, who have lived near the ocean most of our lives, like best.
Somewhere deep into Georgia, I check the news. Big mistake. My feed is flooded with stories about President Donald Trump’s racist tweets. I glance over at my son and consider the world we are leaving his generation: the divisiveness tearing apart the country, the identity politics abused by too many in Washington; but primarily I think about the challenges he will face as a brown man in a place where his allegiance will always be questioned. No matter his education or achievement, no matter his birthplace, his loyalty and motives will remain suspect for those who think of America in a limited backward way.
Suddenly my heart hurts. I turn back to the wooded slopes and the indigo sky — the kind of majesty only God can create — and hold my worries close.
Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.