On this past Wednesday, I drove up to Vermont in a borrowed stick-shift station wagon. The bulk of the four hour drive from NYC is on the Taconic Parkway, a scenic stretch of blacktop that runs over 100 miles north and south along the eastern edge of the state. The drive – which I did solo – put me in the state of mind that often happens during extended car trips: contemplative silence. During the trip I thought of many things: people both close and distant, places near and far, and times recent and past. The drive, like many I’ve done before, served as a kind of escape – a lapse of thinking about day-to-day worries which inevitably leaves the mind open to wander.
I tend to immensely enjoy these rare moments and the drive on the Taconic was no exception. Although on the first stretch of the parkway I started with more immediate moments, I quickly started to work backwards in time on trips that I had just taken. I thought of a recent anxiety filled impulsive train trip south, and sun-soaked cross-brooklyn sweaty bike rides. Somewhat morbidly, I thought of the different kinds of close encounters that I had within these modes of transportation. On bike, I ride without a helmet and often dodge taxis that make sudden turns into my lane without looking. The train, however, held more physiological dangers. Due to an intense depression, I desperately thought I needed to get away in a hurry, but realized I didn’t know where I was going. These different trips and their flavors of recklessness made me think of how I’d never been in a serious car wreck. My luck in this regard made me recollect the many people I know who have be victims of unfortunate accidents.
Luckily I didn’t dwell on these morose thoughts, and instead moved on to other, more fond, memories. The drive on this winding, fairly narrow, and often cracked two-lane road reminded me of car trips I would take as a child with my family to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. Although the Skyline was designated a National Scenic Parkway (unlike the Taconic), the atmosphere of the Blue Ridge mountains could be felt in the foothills of the Berkshires. The long, old, rolling hills that the Taconic winds through took me back to the time when I sat in the backseat with my brother listening to cassette tapes of Elton John. We would play car games and do madlibs – a tradition in my family that still lives on during holidays.
Those trips, and the hills that surrounded me on this drive, reminded me of other automotive adventures across the country. I thought of driving through Nebraska on my way toward the continental divide. I remembered the first time I approached the staggering cliff faces of the “fourteen-ers” and how different the mountains of the east coast are from the craggy Rockies. Those mountains always felt oppressive to me, like daggers of rock cleaving the earth. My experience of the bare flatirons was always uninviting, as if the force of their protrusions had created a barrier for greenery to blossom. I tend to think The reason why these jagged stones are called cliff faces is because they stare at you from all directions, like a haunted portrait of an elder statesmen. The only was to escape their glare is to turn away, but even still you can feel the chilling breeze coming off of them on your back, like a glacial whisper calling you a coward.
My sourness for that terrain turned to more pleasant reminders of the people I got to know during my two and half years I spent in the Denver/Boulder area. I thought of the people that still lived out there, and the friends that had recently moved to New York. I thought of how life in that part of the world moved a bit slower. I distinctly remember in the first week moving there being asked “what’s your hurry?” over a dozen times. The pace grew on me, though, as I settled into life amongst the flatirons. As I drove onwards upstate, I thought about the ways that time and distance operated on such strange and different scales depending on where you lived. For instance, I thought about how getting to Denver from Boulder would take roughly 45 minuets and how the same amount of time could be taken by just getting to Midtown on the M Train. This same increment of time would be spent getting to and from work when I lived in Chicago – though at that time I would be taking the bus and not the subway. Strangely enough, as I was thinking about this the GPS told me I had 45 minuets left until I arrived at my destination. It struck me in that moment, particularly since I was eager to get off the road and how 45 minuets seemed like a long time.
But prior to that moment and throughout my trip thoughts of people floated into focus. I thought of emails and postcards that I wanted to send to friends, or correspondences that I had neglected and wanted to rekindle. While remembering old faces or distance acquaintances, I recalled the places where I had made formidable relationships. There were houses and hovels, living rooms and backyards, bedrooms and rooftops that all fumbled around in my mind while I sat behind the steering wheel. I remembered parties and meet ups, formal gatherings and bar crawls, all-nighters and quiet mornings. A myriad of emotions also came with these past encounters: embarrassment and intimacy, pride and loss, affection and hostility, worry and calm. The drive, though physically isolated along the patchwork pavement of the Taconic, mentally took me on another journey way off the highway – guiding me aimlessly along a road I had traveled over the course of many years. As I ventured along this mental roadway, some guardrails and signposts could’ve been built, but then the overall view would’ve been distorted and obscured. Instead, the road lent itself to vistas and reflections, at times precarious, but for the most part rewarding.
Thus the drive went on, and I continued to ruminate on a variety of things as I got off the Taconic around Hoosick. As I neared my temporary home for the next week, I came back to the present, to the thoughts of the work that lay ahead and the projects I hoped to see through. Upon my arrival, I gathered my bags from the car and noticed that – although my body was tired from the drive – the weight of their burden seemed lighter than when I had left that morning.