Approaching our seventh hour of Wyoming driving, the sun melting the ice in our Taco John's cups and scorching the dashboard, I turned to my brother and asked, 'Do you think there are more toenails or trees in the world?'
A valid question, but one that seems quite absurd if you don't have any heartland road trippin' under your belt. My brother, ever the earnest poet, didn't blink an eye and responded, 'Trees, I think trees, but let me think more about this. Wait, what about cows or toenails?' I was stumped.
These are the kinds of revelries that fill hours in a real American road trip. Pondering the un-urgent questions becomes standard. Wondering about the minutiae of life, dwelling on old memories you never considered memorable, mining topics until they're exhausted -- this is the stuff of spending hours and hours in a car with people you love.
As we make our way around Wyoming, then into South Dakota and Minnesota, my brother and I have plenty of time to remember our forgottens. Born and raised in geographically expansive but politically narrow Colorado Springs, we both rushed to the metropolis as soon as we could (New York for me, San Francisco for him), hungry for the city's claustrophobic terrain and open mind. But at this moment, amongst the infinite yellow fields of Wyoming and the occasional Star Wars-esque power plant, we are remembering what is so good about nowhere.
Nowhere is actually where everything is. Your mind is here. Unlike a spring break in Barcelona with friends, drinking and dancing your consciousness away (trust me, I've been there), this is where your perspective dwells. Nowhereness reminds me how insignificant my life is and how important the questions about toenails and trees really are in the grand scheme of things. I think of Brianna in the first grade, how she vomited after accidentally swallowing her Lee Press-On Nail in gym class and how I told her not to be embarrassed as I helped her to the office. I'm really glad I did that. My brother directs the music selection while he drives, trying to introduce me to his latest favorites, in the way big brothers do, and I am reminded of being 16 years old and wishing I could know half as much as he did, be half as brilliant and unafraid. If only I would smoke pot, I remember thinking, then he would want to hang out with me more.
I remember my brother once telling me when I was 10 that there are more planets in the universe than grains of sand on earth. The enormity of it literally shut down my mind. But as the beautiful Badlands stretch before us and a hundred mini-vans roll by with little feet pressed on the windows, I can almost imagine how small I am, riding in the car, sharing the no less eternal mystery of an idle highway hour spent beside this man, my brother.
Reprinted from Clamor (Sept.2003), an activist-oriented magazine with fresh perspectives on politics and culture. Subscriptions: $20/yr., $25 Canada (6 issues) from Box 20128, Toledo, OH 43610; www.clamormagazine.org