Finding a Community  — While on the Road

I recently went on a cross-country road trip with my oldest daughter. I was helping her move from Florida back to the West coast. Like many, I’ve been dreaming of taking this kind of trip, but have never been able to figure out the timing or decide on the route (it’s a big country). This time, the parameters were more or less set and it was just a matter of doing it. We had four days to make it from Tampa, Florida to San Diego, California. We packed up the car early one morning and headed out on our big adventure. It was fun. It was also a bit of a surprising experience.

We developed a “road-routine” almost immediately. We discovered that 2.5 hours was a pretty good driving interval. After that, it was time to stretch our legs and switch it up. By the second day, we had both come to the conclusion that we preferred eating on the go. We had a cooler with some basics and that was all we really needed. By now we had also learned which was the best rest stop chain along the way: Love’s. They had clean bathrooms, our favorite beverages, and friendly staff — all crucial ingredients for a successful road trip.

What I hadn’t counted on was that we would start looking for something to identify ourselves with so quickly. It was as if we needed some kind of an anchor while moving through the ever-changing landscape — before long we considered ourselves as part of a traveling tribe. The “Interstate 10-tribe”, I suppose you could say. (Interstate 10 is the southernmost cross-country interstate highway in the US and it is the fourth-longest at roughly 2,460 miles.)

I find it interesting that just like that, we were thinking in terms of “community”, even though we were just travelers, passing through towns, logging mile after mile on long stretches of open highway. But perhaps that’s exactly why, because, when driving for hours on end in more or less deserted areas, it’s hard not to consider who your fellow travelers are. Notice the word choice: “fellow travelers”, as if we were on a common mission (I know, we weren’t). 

One of our favorite pastimes while driving was imagining who these fellow travelers were. We would look at license plates, and if we got a chance, peek in the car, and then make up stories about where they came from and where they were going, their lives and their families. It certainly was a good way to keep ourselves entertained. 

I guess it’s just human nature to try to build a world where you belong in a larger context — even when just zipping by each other on the freeway at 80 miles an hour. After all, that’s how we typically make sense of the unfamiliar — we try to find the things we recognize or can relate to.

Stopping to fill up gas, we would sometimes chat with our “pump neighbor”. Often, we would commiserate about the weather, or more specifically, the heat (at one stretch through Texas our thermometer hit 114 degrees Fahrenheit), and exchange little tidbits about our travels. One mom we talked with was driving in a caravan of several cars with her kids, dropping them off at different colleges. They had a couple of days left on the road, we had a couple of days left. We may not have had the same destination, but we were in the same “boat” — it felt nice! 

I was sad when my daughter dropped me off at the San Diego airport on our last day together. I was flying back to my place while she was continuing the journey up the coast to Portland. I wished then that I could have finished the whole trip with her. I felt like I was missing out — I wasn’t just sad to leave my daughter, but my community of fellow travelers as well — I think we had bonded.

By: Felicia Shermis

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