Jessie Raymond: Road trip offers fresh prospective

When I was little, I got impatient on family road trips. Like most kids, I’d start asking, “Are we almost there?” about two minutes after the car left the driveway.
My attitude toward long drives has evolved since then. An avowed homebody, I don’t do many solo road trips. But I like them. It feels good just to strike out on my own, rock out to some tunes (or listen to an audiobook, which sounds less rad but is nonetheless an entertaining diversion) and have an adventure.
Of course, I wear my seatbelt and follow the speed limit. But in my heart, I’m a wild mustang.
Last Friday, I took a road trip to my hometown in the Berkshires. It’s a straight shot south on the big highway (Route 7) to just before the Connecticut border, and it takes a little over three hours.
I was looking forward to not just the weekend — I was meeting up with a childhood friend I had only seen once since elementary school — but also the ride.
Before I leave Middlebury on a trip like this, I fill up the tank and grab a coffee and a snack at the gas station. I vow not to touch the snack until Manchester, but I always wolf it down before I’ve reached East Middlebury. 
Once I hit the road, I have three hours and 15 minutes of glorious “me” time. I don’t have to compromise on the A/C setting. I don’t have to make small talk. I can just enjoy the scenery and listen to a good mystery. And on this particular trip, the ride gave me time to mentally prepare for the upcoming reunion.
What do you say to the first friend you ever had, your bestie before they were called besties, whom you haven’t seen since she moved to California in the ’80s?
We met when I was three and Leila was four, at what was then known as “nursery school.” We hit it off despite our different upbringings. 
My parents, who were a decade older than hers, wore polyester clothes. Her parents drove a powder-blue VW bus. My parents listened to Frank Sinatra and watched The Carol Burnett Show. Hers listened to sitar music; they didn’t own a TV. My mother made Kraft macaroni and cheese. Hers made whole-grain bread from scratch.
Still, we managed to find shared interests, such as a love of swings, crayons and clapping games.
I motored along, the audiobook droning on beneath my memories. Someone’s nosy aunt got murdered behind the vicarage, I think, but I had missed it. I rewound the story and tried to focus. 
In a photo taken at my fourth birthday party, in 1972, I’m wearing a pinstriped sailor dress and Mary Janes with lace-trimmed ankle socks. Leila is wearing a midi dress and clogs, with wooden beads strung around her neck. Arms around each other, we’re convulsed with giggles; we knew how to party back then. 
As the odometer ticked off the miles, my mind wandered back to the zany times we used to have, coloring and whatnot. I now have grandkids who are older than I was when Leila and I first met. Would she and I instantly connect again, or had we changed too much over the years? 
The road hummed under my wheels as I passed farms and fields. My mind drifted. Again, I reached the point in the audiobook where the chief inspector arrives on the scene. Wait, was it the nosy aunt who had been murdered, or was she the one who discovered the body? I rewound once more.
I couldn’t keep my attention on the story. This is how it works when you’re alone in a car for an extended period of time. The physical freedom you feel as you zoom down the road brings with it mental openness. Your brain flits between past and present, real and remembered.
I tried to embrace this rare sense of boundlessness. But my legs were starting to ache, and I needed to find a gas station with an indoor restroom. My stomach growled; I knew I should have waited to eat that power bar.
As fatigue set in, my initial Jack Kerouac spirit began yielding to my entrenched Emily Dickinson. I always forget how tiring long drives can be. 
Squirming in my seat, I came back to that old familiar whine: “Are we almost there?”
Just then, a green sign whizzed by. It said, “PITTSFORD. Rutland, 8 miles.”
On the bright side, I could stop worrying about seeing my old friend. Turns out I haven’t changed that much after all.

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