I’ve driven all across the USA. When I was young and brash, I preferred the interstates. Straight, direct affairs that got to the point without any messing around. Get the drive done with and get me to where I need to be, I didn’t need anything else back then. I’d even dread the offramp a bit, as it meant getting into the traffic and maze of local roads that I saw as just slowing me down.
I was like that with people, too. I used to say, “I’m in the habit of being right,” as I ran across other people’s ideas with my own. When they agreed somewhat with me, there was a friendly sort of uncomfortable silence that went with that. When they didn’t agree with me, there was a hostile sort of uncomfortable noise that followed. “My way or the highway!” Agree with me or get out of here, I had no time for the indirect, for the intricacies.
I became a lonely person.
You know, the most barren landscapes I’ve seen are those long, flat stretches of interstates that just plow through nothingness, getting as fast as possible to the middle of nowhere. And once I got there, there’d be another straight shot through nothingness to get somewhere interesting.
But that somewhere interesting, well… it tended to have those local roads, those twists and turns. Intricacies and switchbacks, up and down the varied terrain. And those roads… those roads are beautiful roads.
My way was the highway, and it left me alone and desolate like I-40 going through New Mexico. Being alone is quiet. Sometimes we need that quiet. Sometimes, we need people. Thing is, if all you do is things that lead to quiet, you won’t have people available when you need them.
I started to listen, to slow down my mind to where I didn’t have to talk all the time. I found out that people could be boring. But I also found out that people can turn interesting at the oddest moments, like driving through a dense forest where you can’t see nothing and then suddenly coming around a curve to see a magnificent scenic view open right there in front of you. And then you’ve got a gem, a diamond, someone who will one day be an old friend.
Interstates aren’t bad things, in and of themselves. When we wish everything was an interstate, we miss out on the beauty we can see off those well-worn tracks. We miss out on time with people who have something to offer us if we’re patient enough to give ’em a good listen. We might even find out that we don’t disagree with others as much as we used to, if we don’t demand that our way is the only way.
I used to hate taking US 550 through the Rockies in Western Colorado. It’s a slow and winding road, can’t make money fast rolling on it. But now, I set aside my cares when I head up that road and ready myself for a slow roll with a beautiful world opening before me. Allowing myself to not have exactly what I want right now permits me to have what I need when I need it.
Old folks need old friends, and we can’t get old friends if we waste our youth on just ourselves. Take those back roads, don’t worry about the fastest way to get somewhere, and one day… when we’re old… we’ll find that we’ve got some old friends along with some beautiful memories of country we just can’t see from the interstate.
I’ll tell you this, I much prefer the quiet of a mountain overlook to the silence of being a loner. Like I said, I’ve driven all across the USA. I’m an old-timer, now, and I’m glad I found my way wasn’t the highway.