This has been a troubling week of news in a troubled year–Struggling with the horrific, incomprehensible reality of yet another mass shooting and the devastation in Puerto Rico and other places, one has to take comfort where one can. I’ve been increasingly “taking the long way” on my various road trips around the state. I still use highways and freeways, and let Siri tell me the fastest route to where I need to go; but mostly I’ve been taking the long way home, shunning the stress and danger of the big busy highways for the relative peace of back roads. Not an easy thing to do here in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area, but I’ve got my favored routes. This is the driving version of knitting or baking a pie: calming, heartening, and usually with at least one meaningful, or delightfully meaningless, diversion along the way.
I think it harkens back to when I was a kid, and we’d take “the long way” home from the Connecticut shore (don’t remember the exact route but it involved Salem Four Corners and Colchester) or from the Cape (almost always Route 6, getting lost in Providence every time). This way home was always full of tantalizing possibilities: Ice cream parlors or clam stands, interesting scenery and best of all, Dad behind the wheel in a good mood, joking and making up little ditties and songs to entertain the horde of kids in the back seat. There’s no rural lanes in mid-town Manhattan, but when in the city, I often opt for one of the city buses over the subway as ‘the long way.” The M104, which starts out from Port Authority Bus Terminal and goes way up into Harlem via the West Side, is my favorite.
Years ago, I read a wonderful book by William Least-Heat Moon, Blue Highways, all about taking the roads less traveled and what there was to discover on some of them. To me, a long stretch of one-lane road through, say, the Southern Tier of New York State or the Northern Kingdom of Vermont is better than watching television, even if nothing much happens along the way. There’s always the possibility of opportunity, maybe lurking just beyond the next curve.
I was thinking of all this on my way to teaching this morning, taking the long way because I was leaving during the morning rush hour. My favorite road on this route is the one that pierces through the Great Swamp of North-Central Jersey, because you never know what interesting critter will make an appearance. Unhappily, it is becoming a popular cut-through with workers traveling from North to central NJ; and I’m thinking I and all the other drivers should leave it (and all the creatures of the swamp) alone for awhile, before it becomes bumper-to-bumper. But it is a lovely place at sunrise, even with the landscape trucks and Joe-the-Bikers to swerve around, even with the idiot on your tail who has to beep if he thinks you’re driving too slow (and sometimes it’s a she). And I was thinking about ‘the long way home’ as the perfect metaphor for a persistent writer—as in, I’m certainly taking the long road toward fame and recognition. Even if I never reach that particular destination, it’s all been interesting. Indeed, it’s a great metaphor for a long, sometimes diverted, but fully engaged lifetime. And what a great title for a book! Hands off, other writers! If I ever write a memoir, (unlikely, but never say never), that’s what I’m going to call it.
I will not, however, be taking the long way to England three weeks hence, although I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of taking a ship across the Atlantic, always enraptured by movies and books in which such a voyage takes place. Yes, even Titanic. But I am hoping to have a few ‘long way’ adventures somewhere, somehow, across the big pond.