On The Road
By Jerry Gray
I always associate being on the road with escape, with going some distance or journeying to an unusual destination. I don’t think of going to a local place as being on the road.
But I enjoyed the experience in a certain way when I was younger—not now. Part of the reason is that I never liked to drive, but loved to hitchhike, or if I had to be in a vehicle, it should be a train or a boat. Now, no one can hitchhike—it has been lost in a slowly rising feeling of lost safety.
The feeling of “ being on the road” remains, but I actually recall few memories of hitchhiking. The most vivid was a time, in my late teens or early 20s—I don’t remember where I was going—when I was let out of a car or truck somewhere on old highway 40 before reaching Davis, or maybe Sacramento. It was summer and very hot—and very still once I was alone, with no traffic up or down the two-lane road. Only field crickets made noise. Or perhaps it was the heat, making grasses expand and pop.
I found shade under the overpass. Nothing went over that overpass, either. But my mind was working—I suddenly felt an odd elation—it came to me in that moment—that no one knew where I was. I felt totally free of human obligation, no work, no study, no telephone, no meetings. I have spent hours and days in the mountains with one person, sailed alone in the Bay lined with houses, been alone happily as a child exploring the Santa Ana River near Corona—but always mindful of having to be home for dinner or fulfilling some other the obligation that would end my aloneness — no, nothing was ever like this, under the overpass, a moment that may have lasted only an hour.
I do not try now to re-create the moment in some constructed way, and the occasional moments of isolation that now come to me are not the same—hiking a long hill to paint on a remote promontory, lying on my back at night on the porch watching stars. I don’t need or want that very peculiar sense of freedom now. I wonder if it was based on how I was living at the time, but whatever that was I don’t now recall. That moment, that hour, glows in memory as if I were there—in the heat, in the hot shade, only the grasses making noise, the road empty and long—there was a bubble in time that was calm, and beautiful where beauty did not exist, brightly visible still.
Now, when I contemplate the road, or what is frightening in the country, or how mankind is finally unlikely to save itself, I ponder how to come to rest. The quiet of Canada appeals. I’ve left instructions saying that half my ashes must be placed in the hubcap of my car and I must be smuggled across the border. Then, a fake change of a tire under an overpass, and I will be on the road.
On the road again!