I lived a monetarily sheltered life for a long time. In the 1980’s our family still had a black and white TV. I had not been on airplane until I was 21. Later that same break out year I traveled across the country by car seeking to find a cinematic American road trip like in Easy Rider. I wore a brown suede jacket with mangled fringe, thrift shop mini skirts, and beat up steel-toed motorcycle boots. I had saved up $200 for the trip, which I carried in my pocket. It was 1987, but I didn’t care.
The trip opened up my whole world. I had never really been out of the urban tri-state area, other than a few days in Minneapolis and 2 weeks in a rural New Jersey campground one summer. America was stunning to me, the purple mountain majesty and the amber waves of grain. The sights were so rich, the endless stretch of flat fields and road and sky, happening upon a meadow of thousands of sunflowers, bison walking along the highway, unpopulated space. I was in awe. Oh the space the space the space. American was beautiful.
Living and sleeping in a small Korean car, I would bathe in rivers, places all over the map where there were no other people around for as far as the eye could see, only goats looking on. How wonderful and strange and life changing. My hair and skin were so healthy and beautiful, understanding the joy and freedom of nature. My spirit soared with joy and adventure. The land proved to be everything I had hoped for.
Every once in a while we would hit a major city and we would be reminded that this was not the cool Americana of 1960’s road trips. The cities were modern and the cars were ugly, unlike in a William Eggleston photograph. The romantic characters I had hoped to meet were nowhere to be found. We would struggle to find space and privacy and a safe spot to park and sleep.
The first thing we would do in every city was visit the supermarket and stock up on food. One afternoon, as we left a Winn Dixie in the heart of the south, an African American teenager walked up to me, got real close and said, “need to come?” It blew my mind that this kids hustled in the Winn Dixie parking lot in the broad daylight. I was too shocked to answer him. I wish that I had stopped to talk. I’d ask him how business was, who were his customers, tell me all about your life young man. He seemed to be the last remaining character from a bygone era.
After getting the feel of a city, checking out the sights and sounds, we would get back onto the open road. It always felt so much better outside the city limits, in the car, out in the big, free world. We would roll down the windows and turn up the stooges, and drive into the unknown night. Here is where it still felt like I imagined it did in days gone by, in my romantic notions about road tripping in America.
(songs don't post here anymore for some reason but if you feel like hearing what i thought of listening to when i wrote this, check out darkness on the edge of town