For the first five years of my professional life I lived and worked in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Lancasteris a 2-3 hour ride from my hometown.
I went home pretty frequently when I lived in Lancaster. Too frequently my older, wiser self thinks, probably as a way to cling to a past that my older, wiser self would come to learn no longer aligns with who I’ve become, but that my friends, is something I’ll probably work through with a therapist someday. Hopefully sooner than later. But, I digress. I’m going to estimate I drove from Lancaster to Northeast PA and back an average of 12 times a year, which means I did that drive approximately 120 times.
There was this homemade ice cream shop I’d pass in the Lehigh Valley that I told myself I’d stop at over the course of five years, but never did. There was also a flea market. And the city of Reading. Now, Reading is widely regarded as a shithole, but I still sometimes think it’s weird how often I drove past it yet never stopped to see what it’s all about. The ice cream place bugs me the most though because it wouldn’t have required that I get off an exit. I literally drove right past the entrance over a hundred times. I was always rushing on these drives, trying to make it to my final destination under self-imposed deadlines. I never metaphorically stopped to smell the roses.
I’ve now driven the Northeastern Pennsylvania to Asheville drive along interstate 81 fives times. The first time was with my parents and a moving van. The only stop we had time to make on that trip was a Holiday Inn and Applebee’s pitstop to sleep, shower, and consume some reasonably priced steak and a 32 oz Coors Light. I’ve had no parents, moving vans, or deadlines on the subsequent four rides. I remember telling myself when I moved down here that I wouldn’t repeat the mistakes of my past. I wouldn’t let Natural Bridge, Virginia; Johnson City, Tennessee; or this cool little farm brewery I once read about online outside of Harrisonburg, Virginia become my Lehigh Valley ice cream shop. I told myself I’d live a little and not be overly consumed with getting to my destination in a self-imposed timeframe.
You know what happened on my ways to and from home on both Thanksgiving and Christmas? I only stopped at roadside gas stations to use the facilities and spend way too much money on bottled water. I passed out all the places I swore I’d stop in order to get where I was going on a self-imposed deadline.
Did you think there was going to be some life lesson at the end of this piece? There isn’t. I wish there was. Then maybe I’d feel like I was a better writer. On the other hand, I spent an hour of my last drive back to Asheville listening to a podcast interview with Jia Tolentino, who’s my favorite New Yorker writer since I’ve unfortunately morphed into someone who has a favorite New Yorker writer.
Tolentino said she fights against wrapping her articles and essays up neatly because that’s contrived and life doesn’t always provide you neatly wrapped lessons. Tolentino is widely regarded as a literary wunderkind. So I’m going to use the fact that Tolentino doesn’t make neatly wrapped points in her writing and is still widely regarded as a literary wunderkind to my advantage since I thoroughly enjoy rambling with no real endgame in mind. To once again quote the always insightful Michael Gary Scott: