It was a brisk October morning when I departed from my home in Southern Virginia to visit my friend in Columbus, Ohio. She was recovering from her fifth foot surgery, so I figured I’d pay her a visit and help her out. Dressed in my skeleton shirt and Doc Martens, I was sending the message that I am a fearless road tripper who is not to be messed with.
A few days earlier, video footage from 2005 had surfaced of our Republican presidential candidate boasting about sexually assaulting women. And I was about to drive through a lot of small towns plastered with Trump signs. Not that I assume everyone with a Trump sign in their yard goes about sexually assaulting people, but Trump has been terrorizing our country with his campaign of fear and anger for close to a year now, so I didn’t want to take chances.
I really hated how fearful and mistrusting I’d become in the wake of his campaign. How I’d started to size people up: Are they a Democrat or a Republican? Do they really like Trump or do they just really hate Hillary? I’d been infected with Trump’s Us versus Them mentality whether or not I supported his divisive message.
But in nine hours I’d be in Columbus, Ohio. In nine hours, I’d be out of my basement bedroom, away from my small, Trump-loving area. In nine hours, I’d be somewhere new with an old friend.
The GPS kept me constantly aware of how much farther I had to go. In same way the countdown to Election Day was making this final month of presidential campaign hell seem survivable.
I do enjoy driving. I love it mostly because I get to sing along to my favorite songs as they blast out of my car’s pretty great audio system. And I had put together an excellent playlist for this drive. I would survive nine hours of staring down endless stretches of interstate.
One of the songs in my playlist was The Front Bottoms’ “Cough It Out” from their most recent album Back on Top. A recurring theme throughout the album is the struggle to settle down. In the bridge of the song, Brian Sella sings,
“I like the in-betweens / I like the time it takes to get somewhere / if you know what I mean / wave your hands in air like you just don’t care / I just don’t care.”
Being in the middle of a journey or en route to some great destination wasn’t that fun. At least, my post grad existence hadn’t delivered me anywhere spectacular yet. And the road to Election Day was paved with scandals and vitriol.
I just wanted to get there already.
But then I was climbing and winding through western Virginia near the Blue Ridge Parkway. I was alone on the two-lane highway, slivers of sunshine breaking through the trees curving overhead. Autumn was in full effect. It was stunning. I had music, the twists and turns, the hills and valleys, and nature in all its splendor. There were no political signs in sight. It was glorious.
After lunch, I entered West Virginia, which I’d never driven through before, except for that small spit between Virginia and Maryland. I had three hours of winding through mountains full of fall foliage. Sure, there were plenty of billboards advertising gentlemen’s clubs and casinos, antique malls and Cracker Barrels, but what did I expect? Surprisingly, I was only tailgated once and West Virginia wasn’t some backwoods stereotype playing out in my backyard.
Somewhere along this stretch of interstate carved through stunning mountains, The Academy Is…’s “Same Blood” filled my car. As my fellow travelers and I navigated roads with a five-percent grade, William Beckett crooned,
“With all the people we need to love and hate / everybody makes the same mistakes / divided by these walls / together we are lost / we are the same blood.”
So much of this presidential election had argued against this message. So many times at home I’d felt out of place, surrounded by people too different from me to be relatable. Part of my post grad goals included moving somewhere where I felt like I belonged. But were there really irreconcilable differences between Virginians and West Virginians and Ohioans? Republicans and Democrats? Baby Boomers and Millennials?
From road signs to chain restaurants and stores, the differences were easy to spot. But after post grad life and this presidential election, I was tired of this belief that you should fear what you did not know. I was exhausted from fear and anxiety.
In Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck writes about the U.S.,
“If I were to prepare one immaculately inspected generality it would be this: For all of our enormous geographic range, for all of our sectionalism, for all of our interwoven breeds drawn from every part of the ethnic world, we are a nation, a new breed. Americans are much more American than they are Northerners, Southerners, Westerners, or Easterners.”
And as the week went on, Columbus became a home to me. It wasn’t so different. There were men in Carhartt jackets. Women in brown leather riding boots. Dudes with hipster buns and girls with pink hair. Moms day drinking at the zoo. Friends falling into excitement over Harry Potter wands at Barnes & Noble. There was no noticeable Republican versus Democrats, only OSU fans.
It was a week where I didn’t really think or talk or fixate on the presidential election or worry about where I was headed in my own life.
2016 isn’t that bad. The presidential election isn’t the end all be all of the world or the U.S. There are autumn landscapes and crisp air, brush fires and pumpkin pie. Little kids who hold the door open for your friend with her bum foot. Store clerks who strike up friendly conversation. There are strangers who become your friends, and strange cities that become your home.
I made the drive back home with a clarity I’d lost somewhere in the Facebook feed of presidential memes, SNL sketches, and angry, bigoted statuses. There is life past this election that stretches far past where we can see. Our great country has already weathered fifty-seven presidential elections. Why should we believe this will be the one to break us? The U.S. and its people still have many miles to go and so many things to explore, discover, and experience. We the People are still good, kind, caring.
As I wound through a different set of Virginia hills and valleys, Panic! At the Disco’s “Northern Downpour” came on, Brendon Urie telling me, “I know the world’s a broken bone, but melt your headaches, call it home.”
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