Whenever I drive out onto the open highway, the inevitable question, “what is the road?” enters my mind. And every trip offers additional answers to the inquiry, prompting the question again and again. Most recently, while driving from my family’s home in California to my home in Colorado, these answers emerged . . .
The road is poetry, rolling and riding under ghostly silhouettes of Utah rock formations, flying through the desert blasting the Doors with my Dad, vanishing gas stations left to cinders and dust, neon billboards and ripped apart signs broadcasting products and strip malls and adult stores in Texas, rabbits dodging semis and deers that didn’t quite make it, old diners with charm and modern fast food dives crisply covered with dirty tile grout, truck stops filled with nick-knacks and pre-packaged food delights and necessities of newly found needs, specific tales and general myths, and the road is all of this.
The road is music and movement, places and people, stuff and food, cars and trucks, highways and backstreets, wandering routes and maybe even a few destinations, all known and unknown. But the road is also home, where it often and eventually takes us, back to our doorstep, our driveway, our next phase of life. The road is always continuous, yet it also culminates, and sometimes on the most mysterious of front porches.
Upon arriving home from my California to Colorado journey yesterday, I was greeted with one such mystery, another answer about what the road is: news that Steve Hudson, a dear friend and my high school history teacher who taught me many things about the road, (roads both physical through our world and metaphorically through time), had passed away. The unexpected loss of an elder transforms the question, “what is the road?” into “what is life?” But Steve would hold fast that the two questions are the same.
A story he once told our class flashed into my mind, a specific, beautifully painted tale about when he found home on the Natchez Trace Parkway. Traveling on this historical American by-way through the south, Steve was invited to a local’s front porch for an evening jam session as the sun set over the Great Smokey Mountains. He placed his mountain dulcimer humbly onto his lap and joined in with the band of Appalachian musicians, strangers that soon became friends interconnected by the great threads of the American road, American music, and one could even venture to say, American hospitality.
So while the road might often be a nostalgic American love affair with forward momentum as its driving factor, the road also becomes a memorial for our artists, our thinkers, our philosophers, our wanderers, our mythic prophets who dare to step onto the open highway eager for whatever adventure might unfold, whatever wisdom might appear. Steve is now a memory, frozen in time on that road line yellow, sitting there at twilight, playing his dulcimer with those bluegrass bandits, singing The Man From God Knows Where or Arthur McBride or The Rising of the Moon, or all of them, basking in his poetry of teaching and playing beneath ghostly silhouettes.