Since I was a freshman at Elon, I’ve always said, I don’t need a car, I don’t want a car. Granted, I said that even before I managed to get my license. I got my license at age 19, after six months of having a permit – which, considering I was in Germany for a few of those months, meant I didn’t really practice a lot. How did I learn how to drive? Coach Rose of Burlington Driving School picked me up twice a week in front of my freshman dorm and taught me some basic rules of the road. Blind spots. Defensive driving. What all these buttons mean.. okay, what a few of them mean.
Fast forward to spring break sophomore year, in which good friend Peter Cooper and I take off for a road trip. God, that notion of that beckoning road grips you at shoulders and makes it impossible not to get out there, doesn’t it?
On the old highway maps of America, the main routes were red and the back roads blue. Now even the colors are changing. But in those brevities just before dawn and a little after dusk – times neither day or night – the old roads return to the sky some of its color. Then, in truth, they carry a mysterious cast of blues and it’s that time when the pull of the blue highway is strongest, when the open road is a beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself. -William Least Heat-Moon
Exactly. And that’s what we were after. Driving from Maryland to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we stopped in Chicago to visit Maggie and her family on our first night. We drove through Green Bay, Wisconsin, took pictures with cheese hats, stopped at a snowy outdoor zoo, bought ornaments in Christmas, Michigan. We explored the Soo locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and traipsed across the border to play in a playground in Ontario for a half-hour. Whitefish Point Lighthouse was my favorite place of our trip, a twenty-minute drive outside Paradise, Michigan (population around 30, I think) and also one of the more dangerous shipping areas in the Great Lakes. A guy named Eddie who was working construction gave us a little tour of the lighthouse, which is usually closed in the middle of March because it’s dead up there – and so much more interesting.
And at sunset on that incredible day, we walked on the blue ice and marveled at how empty the world can be (check out the photo at the top of this blog).
I could go on and on about that trip (I wish I had a blog back then)! In between driving and exploring side roads, we stopped at old bookstores, got lost, played guitar, argued, and met the most interesting people. On our way back south, we stopped at my best friend Julie’s parents house outside Detroit for a night, then decided to make a detour to Philly to surprise Julie at her school the next day. Okay, so it was a really big detour. But SO worth it to see that look on her face!
Anyway, when I used to think about driving, I thought about that trip. It’s been the only real time I’ve driven for long periods of time, and early in the morning, late at night, adventuring with a good friend at my side. I miss it.
Now, though, driving and I have a new thing going on. I began senior year with that familiar mantra: don’t need a car, don’t want a car. Except.. something changed. Being out of the U.S. for eight months will do that to you, in ways you never expected – go figure. While public transportation in Ghana was far from reliable, my friends and I could still set out to go wherever we wanted whenever we wanted by just getting on a tro-tro. And, being in Europe for the most of the summer – and especially going all around Vienna during my internship – I immediately fell back in love with trains and the subway and the freedom and independence that all go along with that delightful mode of transport.
It’s been a hard transition back to life on the East Coast and to this often blissful bubble that is Elon, North Carolina. I love it here, but… you simply need a car to get anywhere your legs can’t take you – and that’s pretty frustrating, both on a personal level and on a bigger level that brings up all sorts of opinions about young driving ages, infrastructure in the U.S., etc. Bikes definitely work, and roller blades are fun – I bought a pink-laced pair for $2 at Goodwill last weekend, and they’re just fabulous. They’ll take me to where a few of my off-campus friends live.. but blading to Harris Teeter would take up more of my Sunday than I would like.
These past few days have been fall break at Elon, and Maggie left me her car. I have finally found that same freedom and independence of transportation that I miss so much about Europe. Now, nothing beats that kind of infrastructure, but… it’s a chilly fall night and my friends are hanging out on their stoop at their house across the train tracks. All I need are slippers, something to write with, and the keys on the kitchen table. Sliding into the cold driver’s seat is more than liberating. I love my independence and I love just going, and driving is one way of embracing both.
From what I gather talking about this with my friends, I think what I’m describing here is something most people experience at the age of sixteen or eighteen. At twenty-one, I’m still growing in little parts of American culture – I get a kick out of that. Driving is an outlet, a means to a destination but a means in and of itself, a way to see and move and get away. Driving rocks.
Due to fortunate, unforeseen, and unrelated circumstances, I will be having a car of my own to use soon! Ben is driving my dad’s car down this coming weekend from D.C. and I’ll be able to use that for the rest of this semester and next spring. Dad’s at home in Germany almost all the time now, and his wheels sit in a garage in Northern V.A. when he’s not there. They’re about to find a new home in N.C., though, and maybe after I graduate, will be adopted by the littlest Lampert in Philadelphia (still has her permit, working on her license…)! Katrina, if you’re reading, I’ll say this: it’s a fun, fun journey. And worth the wait.