I am going to take on another book that involves a trip around America. This time, the author is William Least-Heat Moon, also known as William Trogdon. Blue Highways chronicles his circular 13,000 mile journey around the United States on local and back roads. Wherever his journey coincides with Jack Kerouac, I will certainly point out connections, if any, as well as put my own feelings and thoughts down. I also plan to map a less journey-oriented and more place-oriented book, so I'll eventually be doing two sets of entries. But for this journey, click on the map to see where we will start, and follow along!
"Beware thoughts that come in the night...
"That night, as I lay wondering whether I would get sleep...I got the idea instead. A man who couldn't make things go right could at least go. He could quit trying to get out of the way of life....Live the real jeopardy of circumstance.
"The result: on March 19, the last night of winter, I again lay awake in the tangled bed, this time doubting the madness of just walking out on things, doubting the whole plan would begin at daybreak - to set out on a long (equivalent to half the circumference of the earth), circular trip over the back roads of the United States. Following a circle would have a purpose - to come around again - where taking a straight line would not. And I was going to do it by living out of the back end of a truck.
"Accompanied only by a small, gray spider crawling the dashboard (kill a spider and it will rain), I drove into the street, around the corner, through the intersection, over the bridge, onto the highway. I was heading toward those little towns that get on the map - if they get on at all - only because some cartographer has a blank space to fill: Remote, Oregon; Simplicity, Virginia; New Freedom, Pennsylvania; New Hope, Tennessee; Why, Arizona; Whynot, Mississippi. Igo, California (just down the road from Ono), here I come."
Blue Highways: Part1, Chapter 1
The call of the open road starts out this travelogue adventure, precipitated by life change. In the brief first chapter, Least-Heat Moon describes how, in the space of one day, he learns that his position as an English professor was terminated because of declining enrollment, and that the wife from whom he was separated had been seeing someone new.
Unlike Kerouac, who went off across America in search of his friend Dean Moriarty, in essence running after adventure that he perceives is out there, Least-Heat Moon is running from something. He sets off because he wants to escape his life, which has turned sad and difficult, and hopefully by coming full-circle back to the beginning, be able to pick up and begin anew. He's afraid that if he doesn't complete a circle, he might not come back, at least that's how I read it.
This past year has been one of those years for me. I finished a PhD, supposedly the crowning achievement in academia, only to enter the job market in the worst possible economy for academics. I did a stint for a year in Lubbock, Texas as a visiting professor, and could have gone back for a second year, but I was lonely and missed my wife and friends back in Albuquerque. Upon getting back to Albuquerque, I found that the loneliness did not dissipate. At least I had a reason for loneliness in Lubbock, but I didn't in Albuquerque in the middle of a city I knew. I began a relationship with a person that I thought might become a friend, but which veered into dangerous territory. She now hates me, not only because our relationship went sour, but paradoxically because I was so positive about her. So, I'm still in Albuquerque, with a dearth of friendships (I have 2-3 here who are close, but besides my wife, nobody else), with a job that I didn't intend to have that is not in my chosen field, still dealing with some emotional fallout over the relationship gone bad, and wondering where my life will go. If anyone wanted to get into a vehicle and just travel, it was me.
However, my life is not as desperate as Least-Heat Moon's was at that time. I have a job, I have a wife, and though I don't have the numbers of friends I would like, I have some who care about me. In other words, I don't have the clean slate that is needed to just chuck everything and head out into the unknown. I think that one must create that clean slate, or let life make it happen, before the space and freedom can be made to undertake such a journey and be open to the possibilities it brings. I have obligations that must be satisfied, deadlines that must be met. Being unhappy or less-than-satisfied doesn't free one up to make, what in essence, amounts to a spiritual journey. There's something extra, a real desire to just leave it all behind. I have not reached that point, and while it is romantic to fantasize about the road, a piece of me hopes that at my age, I don't ever get to such a place in my life.
But I certainly enjoy reading this process in others' lives, especially if they write as well as Least-Heat Moon. He starts from Columbia, Missouri so I'll put some links below about the town.
If you want to know more about Columbia
Capturing CoMo (blog)
Co Mo Whine and Dine (blog)
Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau
Columbia Daily Tribune (Newspaper)
The Columbia Heartbeat (blog)
Columbia Missourian (Newspaper)
Show Me Eats (blog)
Slow Food Katy Trail (blog)
University of Missouri
Next up: High Hill, Missouri