I spent five days of the past week in a car. By myself. I was driving from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California — just over 2,000 miles. I made this drive in the opposite direction almost exactly two years ago, when I moved to Chicago with the boy I was dating at the time.
Guys, it is terrifying to be in a car by yourself on an unmarked highway in the middle of Kansas one day after a blizzard, when the roads haven’t yet been plowed. It is also terrifying to be sitting in a car by yourself on a one-lane highway in the middle of the desert in Arizona after the sun has set, when it is so dark that you can’t see anything except the small triangle of pavement your headlights are hitting, and when you’re apparently driving so slowly (you say slowly, I say safely and wisely) that any car that comes up behind you immediately drives into the oncoming traffic’s lane to pass you, while the occasional oncoming traffic blinds you with their headlights every time they approach, so that you can see even less when you try to look ahead into the night. Also, no cell phone reception.
Less terrifying but equally notable are the times your “Maintenance Required” light flashes on mere hours after you’ve begun the five day journey, and the time your windshield wiper fluid is frozen when you try to use it to clean off the snow and salt on your windshield from the day before, meaning that the dry windshield wipers only smear the snow and salt so that you can no longer see out of your windshield at all — all of this while going 80 miles per hour without a gas station in sight.
I’d thought I’d been adequately prepared for this drive. I’d gotten an audiobook, downloaded podcasts, made playlists, bought snacks, found instructions on how to change a flat tire, checked the weather. I’d had my windshield and brakes repaired. I’d looked up places I wanted to stop.
The shitty thing about preparation is that it doesn’t always take into account the fact that things can go wrong. I guess it should — that’s what preparation should mean — but it doesn’t always work. As much as we like to think that we can try to “expect the unexpected,” I’m not sure that we always can. There are some people who always seem to be prepared for anything — you need a needle and thread, they whip one out of their purse. You lose your keys, they know how to pick a lock. You need to know how many doses of aspirin you can take without dying, and they “once had a friend who took this much and nothing bad happened so you should be able to take that much, too.”
But I wonder what that person would have said about the pitch black one-lane highway, or about the fact that I had to change my driving route because of a blizzard. You can’t “fix” something like a blizzard. You can’t just go through it. I guess you could, but why? The only thing you can really do is change your plans. Go around it. There is no other choice. When something as big as a blizzard happens, you need to get the hell out of its way, no matter what your original plans were. You do not have any say.
A few months before this drive, I came across a quote that was designated “American proverb,” though in my 24 years of being American I’d never heard it before. It said, ”Let go or be dragged.” That was sort of my mantra for this trip. There were a lot of things that I just needed to stop freaking out about, things that were completely out of my control. I needed to let them go.
Was it the right thing to leave Chicago and move all the way back to Los Angeles? Was it childish to be angry at the person who was supposed to make the drive with me, but who backed out of it at the last minute? Why did this blizzard have to happen right when I was starting to feel less anxious about making this road trip by myself? Why did I have to be driving past those signs along the highway that read, “Scenic Viewpoint!” when it was already pitch black outside, making it impossible to see anything at all, let alone anything scenic? What was I supposed to do about the unplowed highway?
These blizzard-sized things were not problems that I could talk my way out of, or reason with, or yell at, or ignore. Maybe it hadn’t been the right thing to leave Chicago, but I’d already left. Maybe it wasn’t fair that my traveling companion backed out at the last minute, but so what? People don’t always follow through. Maybe I couldn’t see the scenic viewpoints right then in the middle of the night, but wouldn’t there probably be more scenic viewpoints in the morning? And are you seriously getting angry at the blizzard, at weather itself, Jack?
I want to be the type of person who can genuinely, completely let things go. I still believe in getting angry or sad or putting up a fight when a fight is worth having — it wouldn’t be healthy to just let things roll off of you all the time, and it certainly wouldn’t be honest. I want to be able to feel things, to react to them, and then let them go. I want to be able to sit with myself in a car for 8 to 10 hours a day, for five days, and genuinely enjoy my own company without holding on to any negative, unproductive thoughts.
I want to be the person who knows that even if she can’t quite see them right now, there are scenic viewpoints waiting for her just up ahead, if only she is patient enough — and brave enough — to wait.
In the meantime, I also need to be content with the person I already am: someone who is terrible at driving on one-lane highways in the desert at night, who forgets that things like windshield wiper fluid can actually freeze, who puts up a fight more often than she probably should, and who will always, ALWAYS get angry at the weather — but at least I can blame the last one on my parents. This is what happens when you raise a child in Los Angeles, mom and dad.