Most of the time when I write I am inspired to put a voice to insight learned through simple things. This is how I process and make sense of the noise that is chronically in my head. I value that part of my brain but sometimes I think a story just needs to be told for what it is, a short snippet of life that weaves itself into the fabric of memory. It becomes something that we look back on and smile at every now and then just because. My move to Oregon in the summer of 2008 is just that. I packed what I could fit into a pickup truck and headed north to Oregon from Arizona to figure out how to pick up the pieces of a broken dream. It’s ironic that in a period of so much pain, I look back on this trip as one of my fondest memories. For the 1300 miles that span between Phoenix, Arizona and Medford, Oregon it was me, my truck, a Stevie Nicks CD and miles of open highway. With each passing mile my soul found solace and I at last felt free.
I think in a lot of ways that stretch of highway north represented a significant direction change in my life. Looking back on it now it was the beginning of a huge directional shift in who I would become both personally and professionally. I recognized at the time that things would never be the same and that I risked both huge success and heartbreaking failure as I stared toward the future through my windshield. I remember poignantly some of the people I met during that trip as they made impressionable memories that I carry with me to this day. I came across an old handwritten journal page I had stuffed in my Bible at some point during this time. From my notes, the memories of these people jumped out at me from the page. Each one of them held a piece of a lesson that I hope someday will fill in an amazing landscape for my life.
One of the first people I met was Sheila, a local from Wickenburg, AZ. Standing on the sidewalk in a neon pink, zebra striped cowboy hat and black alligator boots I assumed she was one of the tourists passing through. I had pulled into a spot along Main Street to tighten some cords that had come loose on my load. She crushed her cigarette and offered me a hand. Sheila bred and showed quarter horses on a ranch outside of town. She laughed at my handiwork and taught me the finer points of securing a load to a pickup-truck bed. I remember her comment when I complimented her hat. “Why not have some fun and make a statement?” She lit another cigarette and waved me on as I caught Hwy 93 toward Interstate 40.
Catching Hwy 58 on my way towards Bakersfield, CA I found myself fascinated by the tiny little towns along the way in this arid, nearly desolate landscape that the monsoon rains had clearly forgotten. Boron, Mojave, Tehachapai. They seemed as roughshod and toughened as the people that lived there. How different these lives were from the hustle and spread of the greater Phoenix area! In many ways life must seem simpler, but in other ways I wondered about the burden of living so seemingly off the grid.
Finally making my way north off of 58 to Interstate 5 I stopped in a little down about a mile south of Sacramento. Santa Nella, California is a farming town tucked in the spread of the San Joaquin valley. It’s most distinctive feature was the musty smell of farm land and cattle that hung heavy in the July heat. I stopped at a truck stop to fill up and found myself wandering into the attached diner and sitting down at a horseshoe shaped counter along with a group of truckers. I glanced at the woman behind the bar. The woman’s name was Bess. I came to learn that she had worked there nearly two years and the San Joaquin valley had always been her home. There was a sort of unspoken bond between her and the men sitting there as she bounced back and forth filling coffee and handing out plates of onion rings. Their conversation was friendly and familiar like I had taken a seat at the family table, not a nearly empty truck stop in the middle of the night. They bantered back and forth about places they had been, close calls encountered, and perceived injustices suffered via permits, scales and state troopers. In the midst of it was Bess, laughing and scolding, in a motherly way, this group of rough- and- tumble men. She smiled at me and said “what will you have?” My instinct was to say “all of it” but at the late hour coffee and a bowl of fruit seemed more reasonable. In my fatigue my memory serves a poor record of most of the conversation I had there. I do distinctly remember one thing Bess said and I carry it with me in my patchwork of lessons learned. “I love the highway” she commented “if you’re ever in the wrong spot, pick up and keep going, there’s always a new direction to be had.”
I made it to Medford, Oregon tired, confused, and feeling like I had lived 100 years in the span of 48 hours. The memories I have play back in my head like an old film reel, patchy and skipping at times. The lasting impressions remain with me and from them I have learned this:
- Have fun and make a statement.
- Sometimes it’s just necessary and appropriate to wear a zebra striped hat.
- Even in the most desolate of places, life moves on.
- Most importantly, when you find yourself in the wrong spot, coffee gets you going until you find the right direction.
As I write this I am well on my way. To where, I’m still not sure. That’s life for you though, isn’t it? Lessons learned through the wisdom of truck stops until we finally arrive home.