When I close my eyes, I still see the lane markers extending to the distant horizon. The road is mostly flat and fairly empty. On either side are lush green terraced fields like Zen gardens; blueish green corn stalks, precisely spaced, curving rows of soybeans. Tall wind turbines and red barns punctuate the view. We’ve spent all day driving west out of Chicago and entered a foreign land.
Due to construction, the highway was reduced to one lane, seemingly a tactic to slow our escape from Illinois. Exits touting food-lodging-gas had unfamiliar names and we even saw a relic of the 60’s: a Sinclair gas sign with the green dinosaur. I heard a joke once about New Yorkers who tried to take a drive to the country and turned back when they realized they’d hadn’t seen a deli for miles. I’ll admit, it’s surprising when you learn the whole country isn’t like where you’re from. It’s all America, right? But when you live in a big city, the wide open spaces between require an adjustment.
The road goes on and on, there are no stop lights, no traffic jams, no honking. If I’m not careful, it can be downright hypnotizing. Instead of childhood road-trip games of looking for certain makes of cars, or license plates from all 50 states, we catch up on our podcasts. Gone are the paper maps and spiffy trip-tiks from AAA. We consult the GPS and are reminded that we stay on this same road for 300 miles.
Just off the highway is a giant convenience store / fast food restaurant / gas station / clothing store. They have everything you may have forgotten at home, and many things you didn’t know you needed. That jumbo bag of flaming hot Cheetos seems like just the thing for a long drive, but we get coffee instead.
Road trips with our kids felt like the fuse had been lit. There was an undetermined amount of time we could expect them to put up with being restrained in their car seats. We’d try to postpone the inevitable with books, music, games and food. With the realization that eating an entire Stuckey’s pecan log roll was a bad choice, and cries of “are we there yet?” we’d have to stop and give them a chance to run around. Back in the car, if we were lucky, they’d finally fall asleep so we could drive in peace.
After all day in the car, we took a long walk to remind ourselves that we can move those limbs. But tomorrow we’re going to do it all again. Westward ho!