I always possessed a bit of envy for people who had a passion since childhood that swept them into the future much like a strong wave powers a surfer towards the beach. Marv Albert always wanted to be a sportscaster. Since childhood, Neil Armstrong looked to the heavens for his future. Diving before he was a teenager, Jacques Cousteau yearned to explore the ocean’s depths. For me, no powerful plan or compelling dream drove me towards a future already being shaped in my fertile imagination. At best I relied on a process. If an idea seemed to make sense and connected enough dots, I yielded to its influence and allowed it to carry me for a time until its force dissipated. Each force urging my life into the future, rather than a powerful wave, was more like an available current that helped me drift towards a better tomorrow.
Over the years as my process matured it gave birth to a simple self test when faced with dots in need of connection. I would ask myself, “if not this, what? If not now, when?”
With the arrival of 2022, I find myself facing a constellation of dots seeking order.
Blue highways, back roads – If not now, when?
Materially I have what I need in life. Some have more. Some have less. I am blessed. What I fear lurks in the rear hall of my consciousness. Its form takes shape as a lazy sameness where my soul succumbs to the dulling inertia of mind numbing predictability. No way! Figuratively and literally connecting the dots for 2022 will begin by taking Drivin’ News on the road.
As the new year dawns, my life partner and co-conspirator Elaine and I find ourselves blessed with good health and a clear schedule. I have come to fully appreciate that my friends are my family. I derive great joy from the community that has grown around the “Collectible automobiles as a passion” class that I team teach with Bob Austin and Fred Hammond. More than anything else I hunger to keep these relationships and activities fresh and populated with the uplifting and unexpected. Over the years Elaine and I have found some of our most meaningful experiences take place as happenstance encounters along “blue highways.” For those unfamiliar with the term, “blue highways,” it represents the spider web of two-lane back roads that serve the expansive countryside bypassed by major high speed interstate traffic arteries. Unlike the hypnotically dull interstates that made blue highways obsolete for high speed transit, blue highways, with the power of an evocative piece of slower paced music, re-calibrate a driver’s mood and expectations to a rhythm more in sync with the life, energy and surroundings to which this serpentine ribbon of black top belongs. Time spent attending to the dips and curves of blue highways actually engages a driver with real life experience rather than blowing though a countryside like the blur between subway stops.
Elaine and I have come to be forever bettered when time allows us to avoid interstates by stitching together a journey on blue highways. No interstate leads to a weathered country store that stands strong, proud and alone while projecting a gritty confidence that it belongs to be exactly where it is. Such structures remind me of a bricks and mortar version of a role mastered by an aged Clint Eastwood.
Often encountering a proprietor worthy of a Norman Rockwell illustration, my first question pretty much cuts to the chase, “What’s your story? I’ll ask. If not a general store, then a gas station with a rust trimmed Dad’s Root Beer sign or a hillside of sixty and seventy-year old Cadillacs with trees the size of schooner masts sprouting from hoodless engine bays. Regardless, there always seems to await a story ready to be shared.
Drawn by the magnetism of the rough hewn authenticity of the man or woman who calls our roadside discovery his or hers, Elaine and I with palpably honest fascination tease out personal histories. Often little known tales enrich references and characters that larger histories have already introduced. The tellers at their best weave color, character and detail into the fabric of what should be proudly celebrated as true Americana.
A late 1940’s pickup truck caught my attention while heading north towards Panguitch, Utah. Panguitch is a native American word for “big fish.” Despite my best fishing efforts, I had to take their word for it. He stood in the foreground of a vast field of deteriorating Detroit iron. As I walked up, he had his attention focused on a 1963 409 Chevy that he later informed me that he had once owned in high school. On the downhill side of 60 he claimed to be Jeremiah Johnson’s fourth great grandson. With a countenance worthy of a Dorothea Lange portrait, his sun bleached saddle leather skin framed a large and proud smile. Shy, yet deliberate in manner and presentation, he wove a great story of his life and the lives of family members that came before him.
At a farm stand off the Blue Ridge Parkway, we met Bill. Genial and engaging, after introducing himself, he whisked Elaine out onto the dance floor. A terrific band of mountain musicians had just fired up their instruments and before my eyes transformed a roomful of people pleasantly chatting into a gyrating bluegrass flash mob.
Later, with band members now packing up their instruments, Bill explained how he had spent many years as a NASA engineer working on projects of some renown including Apollo 11 and a system that would later become known as GPS (Yes, that Global Positioning System). Once retired he, together with his sister, decided to buy an orchard near the Blue Ridge Parkway, make it a not-for-profit 501c3, and use it to preserve and promote the culture of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Bill explained how each year spring through fall the Historic Orchard at Alta Pass put on over 160 shows. Bill just smiled as the crowd that had packed the old red farm stand/dance hall filed out, many carrying with them fresh baked goods and all holding happy memories.
Blue highways are rich with delightful people possessing great stories that eagerly await discovery like diamonds in a DeBeers mine.
Interestingly sometimes a blue highway leads to a treasure trove of profoundly moving stories with the strength to stand on their own without benefit of a storyteller. Atop a sand dune poking above a sea of beach grass at the end of a two lane that terminates on a North Carolina island stands a mailbox. Written on its supporting post are the words “THE NOTEBOOK.”
Opening the mailbox reveals a stack of neat note books where people have left their stories to be shared with strangers. On these pages raw, honest, heartfelt feelings find a home. Page after hand written page reveals the depth of human emotion in stories of love lost and found, of children who passed far too young, of friends never forgotten, of joy found, of faith renewed.
Possibly the isolation and anonymity of “THE NOTEBOOK” empowers its story telling ability. Left behind by tellers who have been swept on to the future by the tide of life, each story possesses the strength to stand on its own.
I remember from geography class in grammar school (yes I know there are no more geography classes and, yes, that makes me crazy too. But I digress.) I learned that each year the Nile River would overflow its banks. In so doing it replenished the fertility of the soil and promoted a cycle of renewed vitality. And so I now seek the same for myself.
Elaine and I intend to pack light and hit the road. With faith in serendipity and happenstance, we will set out with the goal of missing every mile of interstate possible in an effort to flood our banks.
I hope you will find the time to join us as I take Drivin’ News on the road.