I know why people take to the open road. I know why they grab their keys, their manhood, and schisms to bolt through congested traffic until they hit the long stretch where the cars thin out and the road turns quiet like butter under the wheels. They do it to create a buffer between themselves and everything static. They do it to think in the moment where everything is raw but moving with the landscape.
I do it because it’s like flying. Every summer I take the Vespa out to Bernards Farm. I pack up a collection of nasty bags and boxes and anything I can load produce into and it almost doesn’t matter what it is I’m going to pick – I’d go out there to pick the chamomile dotting the tomato fields if there were no tomatoes left just to go. Just to break loose, to race down Old Sheridan Road with insects hitting me like tiny rockets, the drifts of changing scents; warm wild dusky charlatan blackberries grown over-ripe in the heat of August, hot dry sage browning in the fringe of the scythed fields reminding me of origin – a fine cross between the sweat of summer and the antiseptic that cleans it before fall, barnyard where the cattle come to watch me speeding by, interrupting their milky sweet ruminations.
I am the insect bomb in their quiet and it makes me want to laugh into the wind that sucks up my voice and gives loft to my spirit instead. I cut the cricket calls in half as I pick up speed on the straight and narrow flat stretches between ripe apples on the air and the pervasive scent of empty hay-fields still reaching for lost seed. Cut down, they glow sharply all around me, acres of rough gold fringed with the wild grasses of no interest to anyone but me who salutes them with my unpeeled elation. They respond with prehistoric whispers that just barely brush my wheels. Slowing down to turn down onto Oldsville road where a body was found in an old oil drum, I smell the rich manure, and it’s as it should be. As it always is. Every summer. Continuity in flight creates a safe canvass for color.
Passing an old apple tree grown rusticated with neglect I can smell the small dropped smashed fruit fermenting in the hot air before I actually see them scattered into the road under my wheels and as I pass the tree I hear it calling out, making wishes on the loose straw carried on my back draft and mourning so much more than I am. I toss a handful of my own wishes behind me hoping the tree knows what’s in my heart even if it can’t follow.
I could shout now. I could shout here. I want to yell into the wind. Instead I prepare my mind for meditation. I do this by doing nothing at all. Nothing. When I reach Highway 18 I have to stop, shake out my right hand to dispel the numbness which insidiously takes over whenever it is least convenient. I pull my helmet buckle on tighter because I’m about to go even faster and everything must be battened down for speed. It’s only a quarter of a mile to the farm from here. Nothing much. But the Vespa has a lot to prove among the arrogant vehicles already thrumming with noisy hunger down the highway, eating miles like candy. It is my secret joy that the Vespa goes as fast as they are allowed to, it pulls out and in seconds it is pulling at the road like a racehorse.
It exhilarates me. I like speed. I like the road. I – who am terrified of cars and could not ride in them at all today if I wasn’t medicated – I love the feel of the asphalt reeling out behind me. It makes little sense and I don’t bother trying to sort it out because I don’t have time to dig for inconsequential answers like that when there’s this great ride to enjoy.
When I’m on that stretch of highway all thought disappear. I am aware only of the cars behind me, ahead of me, and to the side of me. I perceive nothing beyond the impact of back drafts and speed and distance. My mind completely empties of anything extraneous. It’s a gorgeous meditation. All my focus is on the pressing and urgent need to know exactly where I am in the universe right now. There is no other point in my life that will be this simple. This is how death is when you strip it of all the things you think you’re supposed to feel and do. This is how being born is when you strip it of the weight of being, and of the expectations that await you as a human being. You can’t get simplicity like this with a candle or a mantra or a bottle of beer or a self help book or a life coach or even an epiphany.
It’s so simple there’s nothing outside of it.
It’s so simple. You’re either alive, or you’re dead.
Sometimes it takes the open road to notice.
There is no choice to make.
You either are, or you aren’t.
Today I’m alive.