You know those intersections that you’ve driven through countless times? The ones you take for granted because you go through them every day, and you always turn the same direction? Do you ever wonder what’s there if you take the other turn?
Driving has always been meditative to me.
I used to have a job that required me to drive all over New York State, promoting a public health program. I would purposely schedule lots of meetings in tiny, far flung towns up North-- Saranac, Watertown, Ogdensburg, Potsdam. I must have visited nearly every medical office in the town of Malone. And while there is a route mostly on the highway to get there, I always took the back roads through the mountains. Sometimes I’d drive practically the whole day— it takes almost 4 hours to get to Canton from Albany by route 30. Just me and the trees on those meandering, lonely roads. It drove my mother crazy, being alone and completely unreachable by cellphone.
It was usually warm when I left my apartment in the morning, but the air had a sharp edge to it up north-- winter is always breathing down the neck of spring and fall. I’d listen to books and podcasts and terrible music and get lost in my own head and come up with brilliant ideas that I’d scribble on post-it notes against the steering wheel. I’d marvel at the beauty of the panoramic views and wonder if anyone else knew what was hiding just a few hours north. The mountains called to me, though I hadn't yet realized how much sweeter it is to climb them. To truly be enveloped in their beauty, to feel in your bones you're in the best little place in the world, you have to get out of the car. It would take me a couple years to get there.
Eventually, I’d run low on gas and get hungry. I stopped and refueled, and got some watery gas station coffee. Sometimes I stopped at a certain cafe in Saranac Lake, where I felt like a regular and ate the same sandwich every time.
On my way back, I'd try to get lost, though I always found my way home dismaying easily. I would remember each intersection in odd details—a misshapen boulder or a faded garage sale sign—and I’d always remember which turn would take to get home.
Eventually, the monotony of presenting the same 1 hour presentation and the grant-funded salary pay took its toll, and I took a higher paying corporate job. But every now and then, when I'm restless and bored, I’ll drive. With no destination in mind, I let me road pull me in. Down dark empty stretches of highway and neglected back roads and through valleys and up mountains. And when I get to that fork in the road where I’ve always turned right, I’ll take a left.