You spread the map out on your lap, running your fingers over the fine lines and disintegrating folds. So many roads crisscrossing the continent, red arteries and blue veins and violet capillaries and dotted lines indicating roads not yet constructed but planned. You want to try them all. High or low, paved or dirt, smooth or rutted, one lane or four lane. Roads crossing rivers, roads crossing state lines, roads crossing national borders. Endless roads!
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood. There’s always a road you didn't take, and another, and another, and it all makes a difference, or maybe none of it does, for who’s to say what directions life might have taken and which detours were maybe not detours at all but part of the plan, that is if there is a plan, and probably there’s not.
You take the high road and I'll take the low road. You speed down country roads in Germany and France on the back of your BMW motorcycles, five of you, the sun kissing your shoulders, breeze in your faces. You sprawl in a cornfield eating sweet raw corn, swigging red wine out of bottles. Stop in Toulouse to send postcards to your friends. You're headed south to Morocco, but you break up with him in Spain. Huddled in the back of some German couple’s BMW sedan, sobbing for hours while they bicker over the radio dial, you return to where you started.
Where, no wiser, you laugh and take him back. It's several years before the two of you cross the ocean again with your dog and boxes of books. Several more years and two infidelities before you say, Hit the road, Jack, and don't you come back. No more, no more.
You drum your fingers on the steering wheel, turn up the volume to sing along with the radio. On the road again, Willie croons with a nasal twang, and you pick it up from there. Just can't wait to get on the road again. Movement is your mantra. Destination nowhere, destination everywhere, destination here. You sign a temporary lease, walk the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan in ever widening circles, then move upstate. Waterfalls, hiking trails. You're in grad school, you're in love again. Confined to the library, you become restless. You read Whitman, loaf in the grass.
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms, the bard writes, Strong and content I travel the open road. You drive east to west, the two of you perched high in the seats of a yellow U-Haul truck, route 80 unspooling like a silver ribbon across the continent to California. You detour to Indianapolis to send postcards of the Speedway to your friends. Hills become plains, green shades into yellows and silver browns, the sky becomes larger, mountains loom, and you are breathless with anticipation.
The road must eventually lead to the whole world, the greatest roadmeister of the Beat Generation wrote. On the Road, one continuous roll of paper, 120 feet long unfurled, sold in 2001 for 2.43 million dollars. Which would have paid for a lot of drinks. But you're not thinking about the price you're paying for alcohol, not yet.
The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, or the hovel of goddamned ignorance, or the dark wood where you lose your bearings, faced with detour after detour, one road not taken, and then another and another. "I'm lost," you write to a friend. "I'm lost," you whisper to your husband. And maybe you stop, why not, cut back on the excesses, turn in circles like a cat and then settle in, tail tucked under your chin. Home. And that has made all the difference