Two things I remember hearing a lot when I was growing up were, “It’s a small world” and “travel, travel, travel”. Shortly after I turned 17, I started taking short road trips with friends. I quickly realized that the whole world wasn’t like Houston; skyscrapers didn’t outline every horizon, people weren’t crowding me with every step I took, concrete wasn’t underneath my feet everywhere I walked. I instantly understood “travel, travel, travel”; however, “it’s a small world” always sat in the back of my mind.
Initially, I didn’t want to travel to other countries. America, in itself, had tons to see and I thought I could see it all. After all, “it’s a small world”. The more road trips I took with friends, the more I saw. Soon, it wasn’t enough just to drive to New Orleans to walk down Bourbon Street or over to New Braunfels to float down the Guadalupe River. I wanted to see everything that this “small world” had to offer. I figured I’d start with the United States, first and then branch out to foreign countries.
When I was 18, I took a road trip with some friends from Nashville to Los Angeles up to Seattle over to Chicago and back to Nashville. Some 6,000 miles and 18 states later, I felt accomplished. Like I’d seen everything America had to offer. Unfortunately, the whole trip took less than four days. We drove. We took turns driving. We drove at night and we drove when the sun was up. We drove. We loved every minute of it. The laughing, the music, the wind, the talking, the conspiring, the complaining, the togetherness. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. And I regret it.
We didn’t take time to visit any sites. We didn’t really meet anyone new. We didn’t take pictures. We didn’t truly experience the trip. But the trip counted. 18 states out of 50. 32 more to go. With other road trips and vacations I’d taken with family or friends, I only had 27 more states to visit before I could say that I saw all of America. That was almost 20 years ago. Since then, I’ve yet to visit Alaska or Hawaii. 2 more states to go. 48 states and and I’ve yet to truly see any of America. I lived in Indiana, but never went to an Indy 500. I lived in Arizona, but never visited the Grand Canyon. I’ve driven through Missouri, but have never seen the Gateway Arch. I’ve been to Las Vegas, but never gambled at a casino. I’ve been to so many cities and towns in America that I can’t count them all, but I can count on one hand how many national monuments I’ve visited. I was always in too big of a hurry to see another state that I never saw any of them.
I have kids now and I got caught up in the rat race that is known as the American Dream Nightmare, so I don’t take road trips or get to travel as much as I used to or as often as I’d like. However, I’ve made it a point that whenever I have the opportunity to go somewhere, I try to take the backroads and schedule twice as much time as I think I’ll need. I look for places to stop and for interesting signs to guide me to new experiences. Since then, I’ve enjoyed my trips so much more.
I once met a veteran of the Vietnam War in Beaumont that was hitchhiking to Jacksonville to say good-bye to his mother on her deathbed. I was approached by a pimp in Memphis and asked if I’d like to “rent one of his hoes”. I stood on the soil of battlefields where soldiers have died. I changed a tire for a woman who was running away from her abusive husband. The funniest man I’ve ever met sat on a barstool and played a guitar on the streets of Nashville. I fell in love with a woman in Louisville and never got to speak a word to each other. I saw a sign in Arkansas for a person giving away free live kittens and selling dead ones. I’ve met celebrities and war heroes and homeless bums and kids running away to get married.
I’ve yet to travel overseas, but since I’ve decided to take life more slowly, I’ve seen more of the world than I ever imagined was possible. Just with a short drive from my own front porch, I can experience foods from around the globe, meet people with amazing stories and Zen-like wisdom, see nature in its most divine state, and visit landmarks of forgotten history. As Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”.