There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.
he long stretches of driving that permeate life on the road make for a combination of dull routine and a sort of van-induced claustrophobia.
As a professional, one understands and tolerates this well enough to savor the special moments, and spending all that time rolling around the country does yield some good ones. One of the occupation's grand perks is the opportunity to visit a rich variety of beautiful places.
Like a roulette wheel offering random opportunity every few moments, the constant change of the road affords the chance that the doldrums will be interrupted, when you least expect it, by such beauty you have to shake yourself out of your trance and take it in.
The true perk is that by embracing these moments, one acquires the essence of experiences that transcend thousands of boring miles and thousands of no count, no consequence moments: 7-11 stops, late-night motel check-ins, flat tires, rest stops, gas stations. Would I trade my experiences to have been spared the hours, days, weeks of boredom? Not a chance.
My memories fit in tiered categories. The low tier is a raft of glimpses from practically every state in the U.S. A personal America the Beautiful deck of cards, from sea to shining sea: dawn over the New Mexico desert or New York City skyline, the hypnotic causeways of Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana or the Seven Mile Bridge (as in, seven miles long) at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys, the mountains and valleys of Virginia and North Carolina, swamps of South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana, the soft, ancient Blue Ridge Mountains or the awesome jutting spectacle of the Canadian Rockies.
As images go, it's a large pile. But (before you start singing "O Beautiful, for Spacious...") it's only fair to mention these moments aren't all the stuff of grandiose song and fireworks. In fact, some of my special memories aren't beautiful at all. No doubt the state of Nebraska is a beautiful state with a host of incredible places and things. But my 'Nebraska moment,' preserved in the amber of my recollection in the middle of an August night, is of our windshield befouled almost beyond visibility by hundreds of large flying insects, sticky, gooey splatters coming every few seconds. It was gross; it made an impression.
As long as I'm straying, I might as well admit the glimpses aren't all about nature. When I think of Bristol Virginia/Tennesee (the single town is actually in both states, a dividing line down the middle of Broad Street), what comes to mind is not the mountainous, gorgeous region, steeped in Appalachian tradition, but rather a contentious argument in the Assassins' van while driving through the small town:
A cool, rainy morning. We drove by a marquee sign on a doughnut shop, which read simply:
I was convinced that the simple marketing message was posted in the spirit of the local vernacular:
"We have them ice cream cakes. Order now."
Pianist Bruce Harrison would have none of it. He insisted what was meant was this clipped message:
"We have them. Ice Cream Cakes. Order Now."
The argument was heated; there was no resolution. Onward we drove... (What do you think?)
Some driving memories are a combination of nature's beauty and humor. Cowboy Jazz sometimes toured Montana, a stunning state memorable in a thousand ways. One crystal clear, cold winter day (Please don't ask what we were doing driving through Montana during one of their world-famous winters. That's a whole 'nother story...) we were leaving West Yellowstone, headed for Big Sky.
In February, it is not unusual, in fact it is normal, for those roads that are still open to be flanked by 6-8 foot-high, solid walls of snow. What is unusual in Montana are traffic jams. That's why we were surprised to find ourselves stuck in a slow-moving line of traffic, inching along like a big city rush hour snarl.
The problem? An adult moose, himself about eight feet high, decided traversing all that snow was just too much work and instead took to the highway. Much easier. For him.
Montana residents are used to this kind of stuff. But for us, it was an amusing scene: the multi-point buck, its large antlers bobbing up and down in a steady, lumbering rhythm, trotting at its own pace smack down the middle of the road. The helpless humans in their dozen-or-so cars, trailing behind, keeping a respecful distance.
Suddenly, in a display of formidable power and grace, he veered right, hurtled the frozen wall and galloped swiftly away through the deep, heavy snow.
Onward we drove...