TIME ON MY HANDS"
by Jessica Kuzmier
Once again, the miles and miles of highway took up my horizon, both mentally and in actuality. The corridor of Interstate 40 sliced its way through Tennessee like a knife cutting off a piece of cheese. Fast food restaurants beckoned to us in such mind numbing regularity that it became nothing more than background. Hotel signs again tried to lure the three of us -I, my husband and my trusty dog- from the hardships of the road with the promise of clean sheets and comfortable rooms. They were hard for me to ignore. One of the things that I loved about travel was hotel rooms, the whole allure of a comfortable room where all I had to do was be a good guest. Fluffy pillows, swimming in a pool, and the promise of good Southern cooking was hard to put out of my mind.
So I didn't. I watched the signs and let myself salivate. Why not wallow these kinds of indulgences? To me, this is what travel was about. Letting myself create some kind of fantasy and staying there, without having to be sensible and practical to get some bottom line going on. Besides the fact that there was reams of open road to go, there was no reason for me not to let my mind wander and imagine. There was no where that it had to go, no appointment or configuration. The highway passed by as a dream, and even as I registered the mountains getting smaller and turning into small towns, farms and cities, my mind wandered. It was as though the rushing scenery acted like hypnosis, putting me into a dream state that was too cozy for me to want to ever get out of. Why fight gravity when it felt so good to indulge it?
This having time to indulge all kinds of thinking was one reason why I traveled. It felt like there were less decisions to make, even though reality dictated differently through driving and setting up the van for the night. Maybe because the decisions I made here felt like they were so outside the confines of what my supposed real life was that they weren't really decisions. When I sat here as a passenger in the van with no crisis to contain me, the decisions to think of this or that seemed nearly invisible when pressures of a result were melted away, and even the process of thinking felt like its own fantasy.
The only other people who shared my space, besides my traveling companions, were total strangers. Not only were they unknown to me, they disappeared almost as soon as I saw them. Such as it was traveling by highway. There were other people doing the same as us, traveling far into the horizon, but which of the people here were doing what, I had no idea. If we were sitting around a café or a counter at a diner, maybe the conversation would come up and I would know through eavesdropping or dialogue. But the anonymity of the highway left everything up to the imagination. Everyone who I saw here, everything that we drove by, I could imagine it to be something else or someone else. Each person had a story, and I was completely free to make it up as I saw fit, because I would never see them again. For that matter, I had never really seen them to begin with, so I was left to define things within the familiarity of my own thinking.
There were women in trucks, there were men in minivans, there were old people in sports cars and there were younger people in sedans. But mostly, who I saw was the truckers. These people were the people I saw the most frequently as they wended in front of us going downhill and dropped behind us going uphill. Though our van had a small engine for such a large bulk, it was still young enough to maintain its speed on cruise control. We were still reveling in the fact that we could go sixty-five miles per hour and not speed. In New York, the speed limit was fifty-five miles per hour, and in some places by the city, a driver would be lucky to see anything like that fast with the stop and go traffic that cluttered its asphalt arteries like a premature coronary.
As the hills tempered down like dying waves and we followed the sun to its bedtime destination in the west, the traffic became more subtle. It was less a caricature and more the shadow that I was becoming used to be greeted with every evening. We pulled into a truck stop for the night, walked the dog, and got supplies from the local store there. Our fellow truckers fell asleep to the rhythm of running diesel, and for a considerable time we also stayed awake. Here, on the road, there was a lot of time to just sit and reflect, and without the highway rolling past me, there was a lot of time for me to do that. It felt good to have time on my hands. By noticing it, to me, I felt it wasn't wasted at all in the least, even though there were no paper accomplishments to go along with me. To me, watching the last of the light in the sky pass and the lights of man become an orange hue, this was the best way I could have spent the time in front of me. And the highway was there waiting for me; tomorrow I would meet it again,
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