Alright, it’s time I fessed up, came clean and leveled with you guys and gals that have been reading this blog. I’ve taken to the road under false pretense, claiming a grudge against melanoma and a desire to build, with your help, the best fishing magazine you’ll ever read. But there’s more to it…
I left out a key component: The Road. Since I turned 16, nothing has given me more joy, relaxation, hope, inspiration and faith than the American open road. My best memories are behind the wheel, I’ve dealt with the hardest times in my life by just putting the key in the ignition, and when it seemed like there was little else, there was always something on four wheels with at least a little gas in the tank, an invitation to everywhere.
My first vehicle was a 1996 Chevy Beretta. For those of you who think this is either a gun, or a car that doesn’t exist, I’ll give you a brief primer on the now-extinct Beretta: It was a sports car for people who couldn’t afford sports cars. Mine was a hand-me-down from an Uncle, and while it was a two-door with a V6, it wasn’t exactly a Corvette. But at the time, it felt like one.
When it became apparent that all my fishing gear would never fit in a coupe, my parents helped me upgrade to a used regular-cab Dakota. Here again, if you’re new on the road, you might be going… “Wha…?”
Because, you guessed it, Dodge has stopped producing its mid-sized Dakota. It was a great little truck, but it has gone the way of the Beretta.
Finally, realizing that I needed a vehicle that I could live in, if I was going to fish the entire country without paying for motel rooms, I became a Jeep guy, which I remain to this day.
I’ve tried on numerous occasions to contact Jeep, hoping to enlist their support for my effort, but haven’t had any luck. Still, I can’t help but be a walking Jeep commercial. These vehicles are everything they claim to be, and I’ve tested them to the limit. I’ve had my Wrangler buried in snow in Wyoming, mud on things you’d only call “roads,” to be nice in Florida and Alabama, and most importantly, I lived in one for more than 200 nights from Maine to Montana.
I have never been able to articulate what it is about the open road that calms me down and makes everything in life seem, if not ideal, then at least manageable, but I know when I meet a person who “gets it.” My uncle, Charlie Jones, drives an 18-wheeler back and forth from Upstate New York to Harlem several times a week, and used to drive all over the country before opting for a more local route, and his father before him was a truck-driver. All we need is a road map for hours of mutual amusement. You can try to describe the beauty of the Oregon Coast, the strange feeling of staring into Mexico that you can get in some parts of Texas or the sheer Majesty of the Florida Keys to someone who has never been, but it’s much more rewarding to just talk with someone who has, to just point to a map, nod, smile and say some guy-thing like: “Oh, unbelievably beautiful, for sure…”
Being born on the East Coast, the 3,000-mile expanse to another ocean always seemed to me like a dare, a challenge or an invitation. It seemed as though we were born on the starting line, and a gun went off when we were handed our license for the first time.
But if driving across the United States, or down the beautiful East Coast, has an exact antithesis, it’s a race. There are more beautiful small towns, amazing beaches, breathtaking views and unique communities in America than you could visit if you had a lifetime and spent only a minute in each.
The truth about the road, or what I’ve found, has nothing to do with America and everything to do with you and who you are. When you’re traveling from place to place, town to town, from Maine’s rocky shoreline to San Diego’s beautiful harbor, you discover something that most of us search for our whole lives: Yourself.
The road allows you to be anything and anyone, and at the same time forces you to be something, someone. You cannot hide unnoticed in a cubicle on the road, you cannot lock a door and stare at a television: you move, interact, introduce and become.
At the same time you are introducing yourself to the amazing people of each huge city and small town, they are introducing yourself to you, by forcing you to become just that. Behind the wheel, on the road, you are not an employee or a boss, you are not a son or a nephew, you are not a neighbor or a tenant: You are, and you only are, yourself.
You choose when and how to define yourself with each interaction, introduction and discussion and while the beauty of our country defies description and should be something everyone tries to see all of at least once, the best, most liberating and beautiful thing about the American open road is that it allows you to become who you are, who you’ve been underneath all along, and who you were always meant to become.