Thursday, June 15, 2006

Route 66: The road less traveled

A co-worker let me borrow "Route 66: A road to remember" - a documentary made in 1996 of a guy and his wife traveling the route and videotaping the trip. I took it over to grandma's last night to share (and to let her remember what the trip is like), and it was the first real thinking I've done about the trip since I returned.

I thought it was neat how I could point to a place during the video and say, "Hey, I was there," or "I ate lunch at that place" or "I got lost in that town."

The guy (Gary? Lee? Gary Lee? It doesn't matter) stopped at a few places I didn't, and buzzed by some stops I actually visited, but overall it was a good documentation of the route as it stood...Jesus...10 years ago.

What got me most, though, is just the thought that - about three weeks ago - I was there. Three weeks ago tonight I was zooming through the Los Angeles freeway system, risking life and rental trying to get the hell out of California. I slept in my car in Baker, got up to eat dinner at Denny's, and drove like hell through Nevada, Utah, and a bit of Colorado.

Three weeks ago. But it feels like forever.

Before I left, Suzanne asked if I would come back a different person. I remember telling her no, I would still be me, but maybe I would have a different perspective on things. Maybe the world would be a little bigger, a little roomier, but it would still be the world.

As the weeks have passed, I've found that I had it right. I'm no different, really, but my perspective sure has changed.

I remember that Sunday afternoon, when I drove across the Michigan state line, and thinking, "Yes, I'm home." That sense of familiarity - of knowing, of recognizing - was overwhelming. And when I pulled off I-94 and turned left on Airport Rd. to come back into Jackson, it was like my hands took over. Habit could find my way home for me. It was like I never left.

But now I know that there's a lot more out there than our wet, humid, green state. I've looked across the Mojave, I stopped to pee in the mesas of New Mexico, I've seen a roadrunner prance down a small canyon in the Panhandle.

It's made me appreciate what we have here. The only state that kind of reminded me of home was Missouri, and that's only because it was so green and lush and hilly. Most of the rest, except for parts of Illinois, were totally alien to me. And I saw them.

Just last night, on a walk through Cascades Park, I was almost attacked by a snapping turtle. He had dragged himself out of the pond and was trying to cross Kibby Road, a pretty busy street. Luckily me, some hippie, and a cop prodded the big dinosaur bastard back into the pond. He sure put up a fight.

It got me thinking that snapping turtles are pretty common up here, and in the Midwest, but a few miles away they encounter a whole different group of wildlife. I saw armadillos along side the road in Oklahoma - tons of them - and it reminded me of raccoons or opposums here at home. They were just different.

I guess I've gained a new appreciation of what I see and hear and experience in Michigan. Going away taught me to look at things closer right here at home.

That's the first thing I notice when I go away to somewhere I've never been: what's different? What makes it NOT Michigan?

I traveled a road less and less traveled. And maybe it did change me, just a bit. I think it's more likely that my experience just gave me a fresh set of eyes.

So far, they fit me just fine.

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