When I started this journey across the country, I had grand plans to “rush slowly,” controlling the impulse to push the speed limit and trying to appreciate even the boring aspects of the drive.
This went very nicely until driving from Texas to Baton Rouge. I got halfway across the country without even a desire to push the speed limit, and the two minutes that I do, I get pulled over. The bitterness was slightly mitigated by the officer’s very charming accent and the humorous fact that I was passing through a small town that translates to “Fat Head, Louisiana.”
I wasn’t the only one speeding, but I was the one in a red convertible with out-of-state plates. I’ve had to repeat incessantly to myself lately, “Just because they were wrong, too, doesn’t mean you weren’t.”
After the ticket, I could remind myself that slowing down takes dedicated moments of reflection and humility. If you speed, you will get a ticket. If you mess up, there will be consequences. Saying that I needed a little bit of humble pie would be an understatement (but more on humble pie later).
Once that was out of the way, I really enjoyed driving through the bayou, over long bridges, surrounded by fern and moss and other lush greenery. I loved watching the change from dry lands to wetlands, and I loved the fact that gas was almost a dollar cheaper in middle-of-nowhere Louisiana than anywhere else I had been ($2.98/gal!).
This 4th of July in Baton Rouge was the first Independence Day of the last five that I’ve spent in America. Last year I was docked in Marseille. The year before, I was floating on the Pacific. The two before that, I was in Moldova as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The holiday also harbors emotional memories as turning points in two major relationships.
I was, thus, incredibly grateful that my delightful host was more than willing to let me tag along for the ride. Not just any ride at that, but a ride down a river.
As we floated lazily down in our inner-tubes, I shouted “Fourth of July in America!” at every moment that felt right. It was perfectly lazy, sunny, wet, and surprisingly American. It also made me wish I had grown up spending more time on rivers.
Passing through Biloxi and Mobile was amusing, partly because I didn’t realize how old the towns would feel or that there is a Prince of Peace Embassy in Alabama. I didn’t even realize I had stereotypes of Mobile in my head, but obviously my surprise at its charm implies that I did.
And then I got to Florida. The “Welcome” sign caught me off guard, as did my feeling of relief. Except, the journey definitely wasn’t over, literally or metaphorically. Florida is a long state. The last two legs were the hardest, and the final one into West Palm Beach was by far the most difficult, even though it was only a fraction of the length of the others before it.
As I pulled into my apartment building, I had forgotten which parking spot was mine.
No single entry can express the roller coaster of emotions that predominated this trip. Regardless of the fact that I did not want to be reflective or introspective, it was inevitable, of course.
Before embarking on this adventure, I expected to grow a little bit, to return with more faith in my independent ability. Little did I know exactly how minor that accomplishment would be compared to everything else I’ve learned. I have broken one pair of earphones and a tagine and injured one friendship along the way. But I have also regained a sense of self-confidence, a heap of humility, and a more solidified appreciation for those who love me for who I am rather than who I should be.
I have not only seen more of America over this last month, but I’ve seen deeper into myself and more intimately into the hearts of others. And for that, I am infinitely grateful. Three cheers for road trips.