Thoughts from the road
Yesterday, I took a break from my day job as a technical writer for a large corporation, a corporation with many technical writers on three continents, so I am really just a small cog in a large technical writing wheel. But I took a day off to drive for two and a half hours down the Florida peninsula to visit my dentist in the leafy, family-friendly (their words, not mine), Ft. Lauderdale bedroom community of Coral Springs. I have always been averse to the term ‘bedroom community’ as it infers that little else happens in those communities, other than that which occurs in the bedroom, and I find that very restrictive and narrow. I have never heard of a community described as a ‘kitchen community’ or a ‘garage community’, or God forbid ‘bathroom community’. So, I cosign ‘bedroom community’ to the list of words and phrases that I dislike (‘bucket list’ being another that comes immediately to mind, but that’s another blog).
But I digress, and it’s not the trip to Coral Springs, Florida, nor the expensive dental work that I will soon require that I am thinking about today, but rather the journey on the highway, Interstate 95, an especially neutered stretch of road that strays just far enough from both the Atlantic Ocean on one side, and Florida’s Everglades on the other, so as to give the traveler a taste of neither. The great New York to Miami artery pumps commerce in both directions (north and south); there are big trucks, little trucks, Lexus, Hyundai, Fords, Silverado trucks, and ninja bikes all on their way to everywhere, and to nowhere.
There are no named rest areas on I-95 either, just numbers – MM 302 St. Augustine; MM225 Mims; MM133 Ft. Pierce. No need for snack bars or fuel. Take care of yourself fellow traveler. This is America, learn to fend for yourself. Look for your bootstraps cowboy, they’re right where you left them. Check the names of the missing teenagers on the bulletin board by the restroom and move along. Do your business. Say your piece and get out. South Beach waits at the end of the road. The mouse is an hour to the west. A couple of hours past that, sultry Tampa Bay hoists a subtle middle finger, asking us not so politely to stay away.
The particular journey that I was on yesterday was only a couple of hundred miles, but it was enough to remind me of longer road trips I have taken, and the therapeutic benefits that I have achieved while on such journeys. And there is therapeutic value, believe me. Try driving from Spokane to St. Paul and you’ll see what I mean. Nothing can connect you with the voice inside your head like the high desert. The current buzzword, ‘mindfulness’, or being extremely aware of the moment and focusing on it and living in it is a close description but does not do the experience justice. Hearing yourself can be achieved through use of a number of relaxation techniques, but actually paying attention to what you are hearing is quite another matter and becoming excited about what you are hearing is still another.
Frederic Will, in his classic 1992 book, “Big Rig Souls” explores this phenomenon among America’s long-haul truck drivers. In this book, which is a short, but scholarly look at the American truck driver, Will strips away the media conjured myth of the truck driver as the last American cowboy and explores their relationship with their jobs, their families, their machines, the trucking industry, and more importantly, their personal journey both in and out of the trucking world.
In one chapter, Will interviews a driver who says that it is not unusual for drivers to stop at a coffee shop after a long run on the road and begin to unload with a plethora of ideas to anyone who will listen. ‘Foolishness’, this talk is described as being, and the driver will often continue to unload his thoughts for several minutes until realizing he has made no sense at all.
But what if this phenomenon is not nearly as foolish as it first appears. Maybe these long-haul drivers have simply tapped into a source of creativity that is lying just beneath the surface ready to be revealed. Maybe this type of mental brainstorming is not detrimental at all and may in fact be more transformative than it first appears?
I have always found writing and long-distance driving to be compatible partners and I have felt some of my greatest bursts of creativity while ‘on the road’. So, don’t go out and push yourself on a nonstop Seattle to Atlanta cannonball run just to finish the last chapter of your novel, but if you have had similar experiences with this type of focus and clarity coming to you while driving, I would like to hear from you. Disclaimer: Of course, obey all traffic laws, don’t drive when you are too tired, buckle up and most importantly — no drinking (until you are safely back at the keyboard).