Longing, Appetite, and The Road Trip

Penumbra/Almost. That time of day between dusk and dark, when the shadows are gone and the light slowly wraps arms around radio voices that get quieter, even without noticing.

Last night friends told me of their here-to-there trip in France, Spain, Greece. They rented a car and had each stop organized. As I listened to the story of the one night they didn’t have a room reserved I was taken back to the driving I did between home and college, North Dakota and Arizona, for those years in my late teens, early twenties. I thought of how these trips weren’t only about the miles between the plains and the desert but also how the hours added up into leaving home. This slow static current of leaving became lower and lower as the Badland Hills challenged my Ford Pinto’s 4-cylinder engine and the pile of cassette tapes grew staler.

That almost dark time of day reminds me of longing, a feeling that is similar to appetite. It can be truly felt somewhere in the body but never a place one can point directly to. Driving in the penumbra was the time when I wanted to be somewhere that counted, somewhere familiar or if not, then at least somewhere inspiring as a distraction of being alone in this in between distance of home and another home.

I traveled with an electric egg poacher my mom gave me. (To question if this is simply practical vs. maybe weird comes to mind only now.) Whatever the intention of this gift, it allowed me to make my hotel evenings private and contained with a familiar ritual. It even came with a tiny pin to poke the top of each egg’s shell before cooking and a perfect place for this pin to rest inside of the lid.

On the first day I’d get to Valentine, Nebraska after heading South on 29 from Grand Forks then West on 90 through South Dakota then South on 83 towards North Platt. Valentine was just over the border into Nebraska and the room was $16.00 a night in the mid 70s. I learned never to count on staying in North Platt because of the Rodeo Days in the fall and there wasn’t a room for miles. I don’t remember details of the rest of this trip that I made a dozen times over those years, only how I wanted to be at the goal I’d set for the day by the time the sun set though I still tried to get just beyond that goal so that the next day could be easier. The trip took three nights, maybe four if I didn’t want to push the last day which usually ended me in Payson, Arizona, where it was too close given how far I’d already driven to justify a hotel. So dead tired, sometimes I’d pull into Tempe at 2am, laying awake in my familiar bed still feeling the car vibrate.

One fall I left from my parent’s cottage on Lake Melissa in Minnesota. That probably made the trip longer but it was worth it. As I buckled the seatbelt across my lap my mom reached in and handed me a container of raspberries. When I think now of my own kids driving across the country alone and the worry I’d muster, this green paper carton of raspberries told me that I wasn’t totally alone or dismissed as a confident traveler. On the seat next to me, the raspberries and the egg cooker took me from one home that slowly turned into another. Over thousands of miles at probably about sixty in a hour, always avoiding driving after the penumbra I left home sometimes heading North, sometimes South.

p.s. Someone just turned the lights on, I hadn’t noticed it was dark out. No Lie.