When I graduated from high school, I got a Capricorn symbol tattooed on my left breast, packed my car with a few things, cashed a check for two-hundred dollars and drove to the Smoky Mountains to find something I was looking for. I wasn’t looking for anything.
I stopped at a motel in southern Ohio. I turned on a lamp, rolled a cigarette and drank two beers. Outside, the sound of freedom buzzed down from orange street-lights. I fell asleep to the sound of cars whizzing up and down Interstate-75. I fell asleep to the sound of that river which would take me anywhere. I let it.
I woke up and drove the rest of the way to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I stood in front of a convenience-store for 4 hours, trying to find someone to buy me a case of beer. I met a guy from Roscommon, Michigan, also looking for something not available in Michigan yet unbeknownst to both of us. He bought us beer. He had beer and wood, I had a tent and some doobies. His name was Brent. We learned very little or nothing at all from each other.
I drove back to Michigan after a week roaming the northern edge of the Smokies. I can’t think of a single thing I learned. I can imagine the foggy treetops and the woodpeckers and the bear-tracks and the clear water but I cannot remember a life-lesson that came out of it. Well, I couldn’t until now.
American society has my guts such in a bunch that if I had an 18 year-old son who said he was taking his Honda CRX to the Smoky Mountains, alone, with 300 bucks, I’d ask him to leave the room and walk back in with a different idea. Luckily, I didn’t have to learn any hard lessons on that trip, but if I had, I would’ve had my mother to thank for allowing me to learn the lesson on my own.
I have my mother to thank for letting me go on that trip because while I didn’t learn any life-lessons, I was free to experience what a free America is like. In one way or another, so many aspects of that journey are historical.
- Honda CRX
- Interstate travel sans checkpoints
- Gasoline at $1.30 a gallon (at $3.00 per gallon, that paycheck would have gotten me there, but not back.)
- A pre-sensationalist-media: If I were born in 1990, it’s likely my mother, having been stricken numb with paranoia by the mainstream media’s glorification of irrational fear, would not have let me leave the county let alone the state. On top of this, I may have also been afraid to venture alone.
I’m sure I could add more comparisons here, but these stand out.
I will never forget entering the park on winding switchbacks and listening to “Buffalo Nickel” by Bela Fleck, the verdant sweetness of warm fog, the feeling that I am far away from home with only a rice-burner and my wits – the feeling that I was alone in the world but the world was also alone in me. I could get in my car and go there now, but it’s not the same. I had to be young.