I’ve made the 800 plus mile drive, spanning over six states, from Lebanon PA to St. Louis MO about 12 times over the last five and a half years. Over 700 miles are traveled on interstate 70. These trips are always fun, long, boring, sleepy, observation filled, intimate, lonely, and sometimes supernatural.
My family arrived home from our latest pilgrimage on Monday morning. I decided to drive through the night on Sunday so that my 21-month-old son could sleep most of the twelve-hour drive. I also wanted to try and beat the coming hurricane.
Driving through the night on one of the most monotonous interstates in America is difficult in and of itself. I usually hit a wall of irresistible sleepiness at about 3:49 in the morning. On this trip we hit rain in eastern Indiana and the precipitation continued steadily for the remaining ten hours of our trip. Driving when your sleepy, while it’s raining, in the dark, on a semi-truck dominated highway sucks.
Exaggerating the difficulty of the journey was the fact that I had woken up in Little Rock, Arkansas on Sunday morning where I had been retreating with my Dad, Grandpa, Uncle and cousins. I spent seven hours in the car and then a short two-hour break in St. Louis with my parents before my wife, son, and I gathered up our belongings and struck out east.
These are my thoughts and highlights from the road:
We made a quick stop at Shop N’ Save before entering I-70 E. I wanted to pick up some St. Louis beer to have in stock back home. My brother in law’s bumblebee-yellow Trans Am was in the parking lot. I hadn’t had a chance to see him or his new wife on this particular visit, so when I walked into the store and found them right away I was extremely excited. He and his wife live closer to several other Shop N’ Saves, but had come to this one because there was a Sam’s gas station across the street with cheap premium gasoline prices that he wanted to hit up for his Trans Am. I’ll mark this down as a supernatural happenstance.
After a few minutes of conversation we said our farewells and pulled into the east bound traffic. It’s always good when Julie and I make this trip together. Coach fell asleep about ten minutes into the drive leaving us to ourselves. Sometimes I forget just how loud life is until I’m stuck in a car. Julie and I talked and processed through the time in St. Louis with our two families, enjoying the rhythmic beat of the tires passing over the cracks in the pavement. The culture in St. Louis is very different than the culture of South East PA, so we always have quite a bit to chew on together after a visit.
Julie drifted off into car-trip sleep around 11:00 pm somewhere in Indiana. I love watching my wife and son sleep. When they are sleeping and I’m driving, I can enjoy them and their presence in a different, and sometimes, elevated way. As a man, it is satisfying to carry your family, and have them sleep. You sleep when you trust.
This reminds me of when Jesus and the disciples were on a boat in a terrible storm. The disciples fought the storm in vain and in fear. Jesus slept. He trusted his dad, so he slept.
I’m not very good at staying up super late. I never have been. In high school and college when friends would pull “all-nighters” I always thought they were dumb…and crazy. I like to sleep at night. In the past when I hit that wall of impossible sleepiness at 3:49 a.m., I have pulled over to a rest stop and slept for a couple of hours.
But now I’m a dad and husband and it’s different. I can do things I couldn’t before. Despite the hypnotic rhythm of the highway, the steady rain, and the 14 previous hours spent on the road, staying awake wasn’t too difficult. I needed to get my family home before the brunt of the storm.
Somewhere in Ohio, with my thoughts wondering lazily, I realized there are more semi-trucks in the world than there are people and there are even more billboards than there are semi-trucks
The Billboards on highway 70 are like whores in a red-light district propositioning each passer by. They call you to come and satisfy yourself for a little money. But you can visit each destination advertised and never know the land they’re built on. I know several men who have slept with prostitutes but have never known a woman. The billboards really detract from the beauty of the land.
On the new earth I don’t think that there will be advertising, instead I imagine there will be heightened senses. When we are traveling on the new earth, we’ll know where to stop for food because we’ll be able to smell it. We’ll know where we can stop to stretch and play because we’ll hear the local singing. We’ll know where we can stop to sleep because the land will feel so particularly restful to us at just the right moment. Instead of places calling to us with billboards, they will call to us like the Sirens in the Odyssey…except we won’t die.
As I drove through the night and in the rain I listened to my iPod. At first I enjoyed several of my favorite albums. After three or four albums I switched my iPod to shuffle and let it do whatever it wanted. Usually this creates a playlist as confusing as a tornado. Here’s a James Taylor song. Here’s an Underoath song.
The iPod played its usual cacophony of mixed tunes as I sat driving and thinking about billboards and the prostitution of our land. Coming around a bend a particularly brightly lit billboard loomed. Out of the corner of my eye I made out the figure of a bikini-clad woman sprawling out across its face. Choosing not to look I fixed my eyes on the road ahead. I whispered, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”. The Snow Patrol song playing immediately concluded and Jason Upton’s song “Glory Come Down” began to play; a song about God’s desire for a people with pure hearts that they may see Him. Three more worship songs (a minority genre on my iPod) followed. God’s manifest presence flooded the van as I worshiped and saw God.
It’s strange how when you are on a long road trip at some point you switch into autopilot. It’s not a conscious decision. It just happens. One minute you’re thinking, and then things go mentally blank. Miles are swallowed by the trans.
The light of the coming morning gently penetrated the darkness and heavy clouds in the hills of western Pennsylvania. The turnpike was as empty as I’ve seen it. Apparently people were taking the storm seriously.
We arrived home around 10:00 a.m. on Monday morning, 24 hours from when I had left Little Rock the day before. I love the road and love the thoughts and conversations that take place on long trips, but it’s good to be home.