Familiar ground: The drive home
Five thousand, four hundred forty-nine-point-nine miles later, I’m home, and sitting at my own desk again, looking out the window at trees and houses and a particular color of morning that’s practically part of my DNA.
Yesterday’s drive home began at 4:50 a.m., after packing up camp by the glow of my battery-powered lamp/flashlight and taking a shower. (I was pleased to remember from my first stop at this campground that to get the hot water running, you have to turn the dial in the opposite direction from what the labeling would seem to indicate. Two weeks ago, this was a lesson learned while I waited 10 minutes for the shower to warm up, when a simple shift of the dial was all that was needed for almost instant-hot water.)
When I pulled onto Interstate 44 eastbound, sunup was still a ways off, and this was the first “dark” highway driving I’d done since day one. It wouldn’t last long, but as I sipped my Circle K coffee and ate my morning breakfast bar, for a moment it felt like one of our straight-through overnight drives to or from Florida.
The sky slowly brightened as I passed St. Louis and crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois. I listened to Morning Edition for awhile, and then another This American Life podcast.
When I reached Indiana right around 8 a.m., the Time Gods of Traveling Westward took back the last hour they’d loaned me, and though I was sad to see it go, it at least meant that I’d be hitting Indianapolis at 10 a.m. rather than during the morning rush hour.
Two Star Wars Celebrations have earned Indianapolis a special place in my heart, so while seeing the downtown skyline this trip struck nostalgic chords both times through, I was thrown a bit by the sight of Lucas Oil Stadium, which replaced the RCA Dome and actually occupies the former spot of the hotel where Jim and I stayed to cover Celebration III. I get that the new building is a throwback fieldhouse-style architecture, but there’s something odd about the way it looks against the skyline: Because it’s a gigantic structure but isn’t built to look like a massive stadium, it seem out of proportion with the rest of the city, like someone took a one-quarter-scale model and placed it in a one-tenth-scale skyline. I’m sure I’d get used to it if I saw it regularly, but it was jarring this time around.
The remaining five hours home were filled with some radio listening, a phone conversation with my brother Nick, and reflections on this two-week odyssey and settling back into work and life at home. My mom met me at the rental car agency in Canton, where we unloaded Serenity – in all seriousness, this Versa was an excellent car for this trip, and I will miss her and hope she’s treated to an oil change and a good bath to remove 5,400-plus miles worth of bug goo from her front bumper and side mirrors – and not long after, I was back in my own driveway and Kelsey and Jenn were coming out the front door, and one of our cats escaped into the bushes, and things were just the way they should be.
There remain a lot of small moments and other things from the trip that I’ve been saving in note form, and I took more than 300 pictures, and all of these will take some complete narrative shape eventually, although this is my last dedicated vacation blog post for now.
Many sincere thanks yet again to the several new friends I met for the first time in real life, and in particular to the fantastic people who helped me along and shared their homes and company and friendship: Kirk Demarais, Jim Rafferty, Ramona Nash, George Krstic, Jenny Williams, and Jonathan Liu and their families are all just plain super-nice and generous people and the universe is a better place for their presence in it.
I’ve been inspired and refreshed and energized in many ways, and while I’m almost overwhelmed right now with things I need and want to accomplish, this trip was absolutely worth the time and effort and planning and budgeting in every way, and I’m so glad I did it.
My parents, Pam & Jeff Caldwell, get their own thank-you for all their support and for coming all the way to San Diego to cheer Kelsey on and share a few great days together in southern California. And my brother Adam never hesitates to keep an eye on the house and our pets while we’re gone, which, since he’s got a super-busy family and home of his own, is greatly appreciated.
And to my wife Jenn and daughter Kelsey, who supported me in this whole effort in every way and never stopped encouraging me even if you thought I was a little bit off my rocker; you also never failed to understand why I did it and how much it meant to me: You two are always my home, wherever we are.
And it’s good to be home.