I’ve crisscrossed this country by road a dozen times, but usually it’s just me, my bland but nutritionally dense assortment of road food, and my outdated playlists. My custom is to drive until my eyes burn like fried eggs and my ass is as numb as Donald Trump’s conscience. I fall asleep within the flimsy four walls of some roadside motel, lulled by the late night break-ups, make-ups, and pay-per-view selections of my neighbors, then wake early for a bleary run along some lonely stretch of two-lane highway, the roar of the interstate never out of earshot. This is followed by yoga modified to the constraints of a room little bigger than the cheap nylon bedspread that dominates its decor. A shower, a few handfuls of food, and it all starts again.
But this time, I am making the traverse in a 14-ton, 40 foot-long behemoth equipped with kitchen, library, musical instruments, ample storage, and six rows of empty seats to choose from when I’m not enjoying the prime view and bouncy hydraulics of the driver’s seat. Because that is something else that’s different. This time, I’ve got a co-pilot and his name is Bruce. Bruce, another member of the bus program’s faculty roster, has been charged with helping me transport the bus out to Seattle while Neal (my co-faculty for the semester) and Larkspur (the program’s executive director), facilitate a week-long orientation for our students in Vermont.
It turns out that what you do a cross-country road trip in, and whether or not you do it alone, make one hell of a difference. Yes, plying the construction zones and big city interchanges of I-90 in something the size of an Orca does have it’s drawbacks, but when one has another warm body with which to swap driving duties every four to five hours, the benefits are many. Case in point, we are currently cruising blithely towards Chicago, making great time and nodding to the heavy ears of corn in the fields while I write these words. A moment ago, I was enjoying a lovely breakfast while perusing the mouthwatering assortment of books in our little bus library. Yesterday, I took a nap. Okay, I took two. Today I will eat lunch, walk around, do some light reading, and we’ll still make Omaha by sundown.
Bruce and I are of the same mind when it comes to driving hard to get to the good camping out west, but there are drawbacks to our full bore strategy. Last night, I slept in a storage bin on the bus (see above). No camping or hotel fees, and it wasn’t too uncomfortable, but sleeping in a busy travel plaza is not as fun as it sounds. While there was plenty of room for the blue whale-sized semis and porpoise-sized RV’s that sought berths, the big rig driver’s were magnetized to our sweet bus, edging in as close as possible to idle and squeal for an hour’s power nap before continuing on their way.
Truck drivers don’t sleep, it appears. They power down for a hard 60, pound a Redbull, and get back to business. All. Night. Long.
Thus, I didn’t so much sleep as drift in and out of the parking lot’s false twilight and scanning high beams, wondering in delirium if I had accidentally crawled, not into the storage bin, but into the engine compartment of one of those blue whales-on-wheels. Would I wake up back on the East Coast, having just discharged a belly full of industrial sealant to some manufacturing plant in New Jersey? But no, I crawled out of the bin this morning just as our bus lurched back onto I-90 West, trusty Bruce behind the wheel and determined to leave Chicagoland traffic in our wake by noon. I’ll be in the driver’s seat soon enough, eschewing the cruise control for the occasional bursts of speed that will get us to the hotel room we have promised ourselves in Nebraska that much sooner. For this night (and probably a time or two during this day), I sleep.
(Postscript: Just a few hours later, our rear shock absorbers blew, and things went a’flying. Bruce and I are now hunkered down in a Freightliner shop in Davenport, Iowa, awaiting our sentence. There will be a hotel room tonight, but it ain’t gonna be in Omaha. The easy way? What do I know.)