Everyone should road trip across the country, both to evaluate whether your anti-stress techniques or medications are working and to experience firsthand all the charmingly weird shit sprinkled around the country (Nebraska: “Come see the world’s largest ball of stamps!”). Drivers in Kansas are honorary graduates of Seattle’s Ballard School of Driving (motto: “you pay taxes on the whole road, get your money’s worth”), so it’s not uncommon to see cars straddling both lanes on major interstates. Thankfully they only stayed for the first week’s lessons and usually travel at least 13 miles over the 75-mph speed limit.
The prevalence of this kind of attempted vehicular homicide made more sense to me after more than one friend related tales of giving or receiving road head for literally hundreds of miles of barren highway (make-your-own geyser practice through Yellowstone won gold in this storytelling competition). Orgasms while driving—mine or someone else’s—are strongly incompatible with my hyperconservative grandma-driving crash-avoiding ethos; besides, I’ve seen firsthand the (best possible) negative ramifications, when a carful of randy friends arrived four hours late to a campout after getting the directions garbled either somewhere in the telling (“Dake ettttthit thixtee nun”) or in the understanding (“got it, exit in two miles…oh, oh ohohohoooooooooohhhhhhhh mmmmm yeah oh don’t stop don’t stop YASSSSSSSSS…..wait, where the fuck are we? Are those wolves?”).
On my last two cross-country adventures, I’ve visited dear family, old friends, new friends, and complete-stranger friends-of-friends who have opened their couches and coffee pots (but regrettably, none of their legs, despite onlookers’ hopes for a lesbian pillow fight in St. Louis). The current journey has been a peculiar juxtaposition of revisiting and renewing connections that have lasted decades (or a lifetime) at the same time as I’m living out of my trusty but very impermanent Subaru TARDIS, Shirley (she’s bigger on the inside).
After more than two decades, the region of my youth appears to be preserved like Sean Connery (Red Lobster landmark, check), but reminiscing with my high school BFF about friends, loves, and grudges demonstrates how noticeably I have aged (although I like to think more deliciously, like cheese, than datedly, like questionable chicken). HSBFF is happy, healthy, and cheerfully settled in with two fucktrophies and a nice dude; my high school boyfriend (the doomed Romeo-and-Juliet-style fuckup I got suspended with for smoking dope in the boys’ locker room) was brained with an I-beam, changed his name to an Oasis brother, and more fervently than ever believes he’s the second coming of Christ (or Jim Morrison, same same), but is also settled in for the long haul in Northeast Ohio. Meanwhile, I move around so much I can’t even remember what state I’m in, and “it’s complicated” is an unnecessarily dramatic answer to “where ya from?”
Turns out I’m surprisingly well-suited to the transient life of a military adjunct, growing up with a nutbag of a mother who compulsively jerked us around the country in search of whatever grail she believed would make the lambs stop screaming. I spent a few futile and miserable years in early adulthood “nesting” into a sequence of what I hoped would be permanent homes before realizing that settling wasn’t my style, tattooing my knees, and moving every year since. The Army “pack and pray” method of relocation is only the culmination of years of intensive indoctrination into the Marie Kondo cult of minimalism, allowing me to fully embrace letting beloved possessions (and people) drift away like a mislabeled moving crate.
We’re eagerly awaiting the delivery of our worldly goods, although this is mostly a pipe dream since we are still 1200 miles and 9 days apart and have about as much certainty into our ongoing living arrangements as green card holders from Syria. Some part of me hopes that we wind up unpacking someone’s weirdly fascinating collection of SPAM-flavored sex toys and ancient Chinese pornographic opium bottles; the romantic in me hopes they will then be happily-ever-after reunited thanks to the forest elves or movers with an unusually Midwestern work ethic rather than dumped into inventory for Storage Wars. (Between our selection of sex toys and our costume closet, I’m sure our movers will enjoy unpacking us every bit as much as that C-list reality show.) We’re also curious what we will spend the next seven months looking for and eventually acknowledge is gone forever. (It’s never the wagon wheel coffee table, is it? It’s always the scuba gear or the bundt pan or something similarly unitasking and necessary for Tuesday’s shenanigans.)
One highlight of embracing the attitude of viewing life as a Japanese movie—with no sense of strictly linear time and no particular attachment to characters or settings—is the freedom to go back and replay parts I didn’t get quite right on the first take. Replacing the co-star in some climactic life scenes has certainly made the second takes play better; re-shooting scenes after years of personal growth and progress has both allowed me to take advantage of Easter eggs I now have the cheat codes for and disappointed me with quest levels that are much more predictable and boring the second time around. (Exploring the Oregon Caves was definitely better without having to yell “don’t touch that!!” at the whiny man-child escort every thirty-nine seconds, but renting a car to explore the countryside in greater depth proved so white-knuckle terrifying that I returned it a week early and reprised my enjoyment of England’s wonderful train system—a decision that cost me thousands in airline fees when a fallen tree delayed my return trip, but which I still believe was a solid choice.)
No matter how much you enjoy sending the drama queens in your ensemble packing, it turns out the world is a small and tightly interconnected place, so you should refrain from literally or figuratively burning your relationship to embers. A friend broke up with one arrogant twatsicle when he tried to mansplain how to play her World of Warcraft character. Specifically, when she told him to fuck off and let her play the way she enjoyed, he sneered, “THERE’S NO CRYING IN AZEROTH!!!” (which I think is nerd for “you’re such a snowflake, go back to your safe space”); she responded by handing him his Zorbing papers or whatever the WoW equivalent of pounding his ass to the grass and stealing his Camaro is called. A few years later, he was treated to a John Hughes level of awkward when she and her husband ran into him in a Chiefs Club in Okinawa; turns out, both gentlemen are now Navy chiefs. Because she is a much nicer human than most, she refrained from subsequently telling his peers (or underlings) how she made their esteemed coworker/respected boss cry like a bitch over video games.
What the journey has taught me as I flash back to earlier episodes, welcome previous series regulars back for cameos (to varying degrees of success), and introduce new, hopefully some-day-beloved cast members, is that the show needs both continuity in the main character roles and regular changes to refresh the supporting cast and locations. When the writers get lazy, complacent, or afraid, the stories stay safe—and become stale. We keep things—and people—because we don’t want to lose them and start over rather than because they are still enriching our travels. We fear we will be lonely; we fear others will pity us for being broken, or look down on us for having failed.
But it really is all about the journey…there isn’t any destination, and the success of the show depends on how well you commit to making each episode humorous, touching, and memorable. You’d best pull off and see the world’s largest butter sculpture now, because that shit melts fast.