Open Roads Open Everything

Driving gives me time for podcasts and perspective

“While it’s you who leaves a place, and you who arrives in a place— right? – it isn’t necessarily you in between. The you who sits on the road is a different you. . . One whose choices have been narrowed down to which exit to stop at, what music to listen to for the next 100 miles. It’s freeing, being taken out of yourself and replaced by this road version.” – Excerpt from the podcast Alice Isn’t Dead

Lately on road trips, I’ve been listening to Alice Isn’t Dead. Time on the road has always meant something important to me, alleviating anxiety and opening doors to new possibilities. I savored even the short drive to school every day as soon as I was old enough to take myself. The next frontier was road trips. I was always mapping out routes, asking pen pals about meeting halfway between our homes, and dreaming of places I could visit if I ever hit the road.

I grew up in Dallas, Texas, often passing close enough to downtown that skyscrapers obstructed the view. But depending on which way you point your car, soon there are nothing but open roads and endless sky. These days, I live in Jackson, Mississippi, a much smaller city than Dallas. Since the relatively small airport here can make flying expensive, the best way to leave town is by car, and over the miles I’ve driven, I’ve had time to listen, to think, and to reflect on the landscape.

Alice Isn’t Dead is the perfect podcast for a long drive, because it’s a sprawling story that takes place on an epic road trip. With ambient noises and an atmospheric tone, you’re pulled in immediately. Keeping the volume up on the unfolding story, I watch the wide expanse of grassy plains and traffic on concrete and nothing else for miles. 

This is the America I know. This is the American South. 

From Jackson to Dallas, to Austin, to Memphis, I ride along with the story. The podcast’s narrator, Keisha, and I are sharing a journey. We’re both caught in a liminal space between somewhere and the next place. Keisha and I, we must keep our eyes on the road, and keep on driving. 

For hours, I have listened to only my engine and Alice isn’t Dead. Calm settles over me throughout those hours. As Keisha puts it, this “is how a person becomes good at long road trips… they sit and are transported. They take the world as it comes.”

In the rest of life, buzzing with energy and anxiety, I am still working on finding the freedom I feel when out on the open road. It doesn’t come so easily as it does when all my worries float out the car window with miles to stretch out. In the quote I shared to open this essay, Keisha’s wife Alice notes that “it’s you who leaves a place, and you who arrives in a place…it isn’t necessarily you in between.” I have tasted this myself, but in my experience, Alice misses one thing: the you who arrives can be a different you, too. Time on the open road can change you.

On the other side of a road trip, with anxiety released and diluted by the miles, I step out of my car. I am the me who found solitude and stories. I am the me who has accepted the way the world speeds by, like the scenery just beyond reach on the other side of my windshield.  Time will always go by—but now, the hours feel a little less intimidating. After finding physical and emotional space on the highway, I am ready to truly be there when I arrive at my destination.

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