driving across the country in roughly a week means that i don’t get a whole lot of time in cities. i usually arrive in the early evening, after it’s already dark (which is something i hate), and i’m pretty spent from driving, so there isn’t all that much exploring i get to do.
i saw roughly half-a-mile of new orleans — and all of it in the very touristy part of the french quarter because i wanted beignets, and apparently that was priority number one. it’s an interesting city — beautiful, as these old cities go — and my two main thoughts my time there were: my parents would hate it here, and, god damn, i wish i were here with a partner.
i don’t know what it was specifically about new orleans that brought that wish to the forefront, though it’s a thought that’s been on my mind this whole drive because a cross-country road trip was something i wanted to do with a partner. a cross-country road trip wasn’t supposed to be me on my own, hauling my life in a minivan, traveling from the city that will always be home back to the place i’d fled as soon as i could. this trip was supposed to be something else altogether — i’d laughed about it once with my best friend, how, if i were in a relationship, once things started getting really serious, i’d go on an extended cross-country road trip with my partner as a test. twenty-four hours a day, x-number of days in close quarters — i felt like, if we could survive that, we could survive a lot.
instead, i’m on the road alone, just me and my solitude.
i’m no stranger to traveling alone; in 2012, i set off for five weeks in east asia by myself, three weeks backpacking through japan, ten days hanging out in seoul. when i was planning the trip, i didn’t think about solitude, about how difficult it might be to be by myself in a foreign country — and, to take it further, to be by myself in a foreign country whose language i didn’t speak. japan is not the most english-friendly country, though it is accessible and very easy to travel, despite not knowing japanese. i knew this about the country, the lack of english, but i never stopped to think of what it might feel like not to be able to communicate at all.
it meant no small talk, no brief interactions with strangers, no casual chatting. sure, i’d meet some people in the common areas of hostels, but i don’t have that knack of just striking up conversations with people. i didn’t think about the silence of traveling alone, of being inside my head with my own thoughts for so long, because, having traveled around the states alone plenty, i didn’t stop to think about how much of a difference daily casual interactions with strangers make. being able to say hi, hello, how are you, i’m good, the weather’s shit today, isn’t it — it’s not deep human connection, but it’s still something. and i’m glad to have at least that while on the road this time, that i can chat with the bartender/waiter during dinner, have a brief conversation with the barista while getting coffee, ask people, what should i see, where should i go?
i’m not making deep lifelong relationships here, but they’re still something. being able to communicate is still something.
these days, driving seven, eight hours a day, i fill the space with music. i think it’s a damn good thing that i have a hyperactive imagination because i don’t get bored. i take photos of the sky because the sky is stunning, changes by region. i record voice memos on my iphone for essays i’m working on, essays i want to pitch. i try to think about my book, but i’m still too broken, too much in pieces to think about fiction right now.
i don’t think about what’s going to happen once i get to california. i don’t think about having to grapple with my grief and trying to piece my life back together. i don’t think about what scares me about going back to a space that is so treacherous for me.
and i hope — i try to hope — that things will be okay, even if i still don’t actually believe that.
i’m a huge supporter of traveling alone; i think everyone should do it at least once because you learn a lot about yourself. i think i’ve hit my limits on traveling alone, though.
driving in and out of new orleans on the 10 W has thus far been my favorite part of this drive. i love crossing water, and, y’know, louisiana (or that area of louisiana) is pretty stunning country.