When they find out why I'm 2000 miles from home and heading further away, some people have the sharp presence of mind to ask why the hell anyone would want to drive so much. Like the Lotus PR guy who called yesterday and was surprised when I picked up somewhere outside Van Horn, Texas. The irony here isn't that I had cell signal in the west Texas dustbowl, but that you're actually more likely to get me on the phone when I'm driving than when I'm sitting at my desk. (It's not me, it's T-Mobile. I swear.)
In the car industry, like it is in your profession, driving is more a chore than anything else. Think about the PR people and engineers who work desk jobs and use their cars to navigate rush hour and worse, the parking lot at Panera. Even on the writing side, it can be a task to juggle press vehicles and get a sense of the 150-plus new vehicles on the market each year, much less to experience the best of them in ideal circumstances.
I make a point of doing it for fun. You can't be an enthusiast without enjoying a car for extended periods of time; you can't be a car writer without spending a good amount of time in the best of them; and for my money, you can't be an American until you've experienced the emptiness of the vast interior along with the dense thickets of people and places and things along the coasts.
I thought this trip might be played out when I began. After all, I've crisscrossed the country at least five or six times. I've driven every mile of I-40, I-10, I-5 and I-95. But when the first shooting star of a dozen shot towards the earth outside Deming, New Mexico, last night, I realized there will always be a new sight to see. And that even the most jaded among us can still make a wish when we see one.
In a day, I saw lightning stroke across the Austin sky and avoided washing my car because nature did it for me. I centerpunched a tumbleweed and carried it with me well into Arizona. I stopped to backhandedly admire all the new stores and malls in El Paso, how it's still basically a truckstop with local government. I flirted with the counter help at the Kerrville Exxon station; discussed the merits of Hondas versus Fords at the German bakery in Fredericksburg, Texas; and watched Hurricane Dennis mimic my AP test scores from high school, from the lofty levels of a Category Four (English, History) to the let's-forget-about it Ones and Twos (computer science, calculus). And I discovered things on my iPod that I barely knew had been transferred - and remembered the redemptive power of big, stupid rock and roll.
I see it all better from the road.