The night outside is inky, dense, and the only signs of life are the lines of red lights and white lights of other drivers, and we are all going somewhere, points east and west, maybe stopping en route to rest at the blazing billboards, The Red Roof Inn, perhaps, uncountable travel centers.
I have spent a great deal of time on I-80.
I grew up in a minute riverside town called White Haven that hugs the interstate’s 273rd exit, and the view from the wide white highway is of bridges, the Lehigh, a water tower (newly painted), and the roofs of buildings most familiar. Somewhere, tucked into the trees, is my family in the wooden house we’ve lived in for all time.
On a foggy morning in the autumn of my eighteenth year, my family drove me 150 miles west of White Haven to a (slightly larger) town called Huntingdon, where I would spend the next five years finding cats, taking photographs, crying in public, and meeting one bearded gentleman in particular, an individual who rode bikes in circles, lived in a dome, and camped with me in a leaf pile one frosty November morning. Ferrying between Huntingdon and White Haven, I logged a lot of time on 80 (it accounts for over two hours of the trip), sharing rides with Ryan Johnson, Ken, the people going my way.
Now I live in Brooklyn. Last summer Jake and I packed up our U-Haul with the red panda on the side and drove to greet our new life as small town people faking it as urbanites. We pulled out of my parents’ driveway and headed east on 80, the smog and the skyline greeting us on the other side. Since that move, I have dedicated many bus rides and road trips to travel from New York to White Haven and to Huntingdon, where Jake has been living since May. I write this from the window of a bus hustling in the dark toward New York. I am here again.
These are my places, the big ones at least, the locations that hold significance, memory, and obligation. I am strung across 250 miles of route 80, which crosses the Deleware and the Susquehanna, which has seen me crying with my face pressed against the car window, laughing in a way that is true, seeing the sun shine, watching the sun set, the road whose lights (or lack thereof) have guided me through night-drives, whose banal scenery watched Jake streak toward my parents’ house for the first time in his foolish, awesome black car. I-80 spans the width of the country. How many of us are on this road? And where are we all going?
When I was a teenager, on one of my annual visits to New Orleans, I stood with my camera and the hot summer wind on the roof of a museum watching the layers of cars and roads and drivers careening with purposes in more directions than I could have thought possible. I remember feeling so concerned that everyone I could see was isolated, sealed in their cars and driving to where they were driving as quickly as possible and that no one could see each other and that no one was taking time to enjoy that space, that moment. However, then I remembered the purpose with which I would drive to my boyfriend’s house, through the summer rain wet leaves with music blaring and my heart just alive inside of me and I realized that everyone is going somewhere, everyone is on their way to something and highways are so strange because they bring us all together for these reasons. I am on my way back to Brooklyn, where our cat with few legs will greet me and she’ll sleep next to me on Jake’s pillow, the one he had when we met, and soon Jake will come home for good but our time on I-80 will not be diminished.
Huntingdon, for example, will still be there. And I will always return.
A slower way of getting somewhere is by purple tandem bicycle, and this is how Jake and I visited Standing Stone on Friday morning. En route, we met Jake’s cat friend in the alley between Mifflin and Washington. An alley most fine.