“I have found that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” — Mark Twain
In the process of writing this post, it kind of morphed into historical fiction. Both participants (myself and older brother) seemed to have
forgotten, conveniently blocked out, most of the details.
The above quote got it half right. There ain’t no surer way of getting to know
someone, your older brother, than to drive cross-country with him in his 1986 Blue Izuzu Pick-Up Truck with Hard Camper Shell. Or so you’d think…
I’ve been trying to figure out why this particular memory keeps jabbing away at me. I think in this time of self exploration, it’s been important to me to grab hold of those nearest and dearest. For most of my life, my older brother has been this mystery. He holds his life very close to the vest. But as we’ve gotten older, I’ve seen a slight change in him as he has slowly been coming around. Literally…to the house. Spending more time with my son as well as with all the extended families during the holidays. So, I think this memory sparked the notion of bonding with family and the question of expectations that we hold onto.
It was 1985. I was attending Cal State Long Beach and about to begin spring break when my brother approached me about taking a road trip with him. At that point, we weren’t very close. He’s seven years older than me so I didn’t know him very well. Of course, I could give you solid adjectives to describe him, but I couldn’t tell you who he truly was. I had barely reached double digits when he was sprinting out the door to college. Having no plans and no money, I thought, “What the heck. We’ll bond.” Had I been psychic, my response would have been, “Hell no.” But I’m not (psychic) so I did (say yes).
The purpose for the trip? My brother, the almost attorney, needed to return what appeared to be an entire library of law books. Instead of spending thousands of dollars to ship them back, he thought he would drive them back to the warehouse located in nearby Minneapolis, Minnesota…with a partner in crime, of course.
The following states were to be tackled within a week’s time:
California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota — then turn around towards South Dakota, Nebraska, over to Colorado, Utah, Nevada and back safely and with sanity in tact (well, that’s still being debated) to California.
I remember being excited to get going. At the time, I was a commuter. Instead of having an apartment near my lovely college, I was living on the couch of my Mom’s one bedroom apartment. Very snug quarters. My Mom and I were going through a rough patch, so it meant getting some much-needed space from each other. And what better way than the wide open road. I mean, it was Jack Kerouac who said, “the road is life.” I was going to go get me some life experiences with my bro and time away from my Mom. Win-Win.
We settled into the drive pretty easily…stayed clear of any and all deep conversations. A good strategy, except that I don’t think either of us were prepared to run out of small talk so quickly. My brother was the silent type, so when the quietude descended upon us, it didn’t seem all that abnormal. That is, until it went on a little too long, transitioning into uncomfortable stillness. He did come prepared in the music department. All his favorites in tow. Loggins and Messina, The Doobie Brothers. And what better way to break the silence? A Sing-A-Long, of course. For miles and miles and miles.
Had I known that the goal was to whisk by every state with just a picture to prove we were there, I may have tried harder to get in touch with my psychic side and not gotten in the car. I didn’t realize it counted by having the window down to get a glimpse of a distant monument, museum or whatever that particular state was known for.
As we forged ahead, the plan was to take turns driving. I gotta hand it to him. He did quite a bit of driving up top. I don’t remember what state we had slid into, but I do remember it was on the verge of dusk when it was my turn. I was a tad nervous being surrounded by so many semi-trucks. I loosened up as my brother taught me how to navigate so closely to the trucks with strong winds in tow. At least that driving lesson distracted us from the lack of subject matters to talk about. I did wish we had a CB in the car to be able to interact with all the truckers. “Breaker, breaker, there’s a bear at your back door.” Meaning? Cop is coming up behind you, of course. That would have been handy. Or maybe they would’ve given my sibling and I a few suggestions for topics to chat about. However, after about twenty minutes, we had a bigger problem. I turned to my brother and said, “Uh, my double vision is acting up.”
Let me back up for a moment. Around that time, I had been diagnosed with a muscle disorder. One of the side effects is double vision. I know what you’re thinking. My brother really should’ve thought through who to bring on this too good to be true trip (yes, that was sarcasm). My poor brother. At that point, he ended up doing most of the driving. Let me just say this…I didn’t realize the human eyes were capable of getting so swollen and red…Spongebob and Squidward, yes, but again, I said human eyes. I had no doubt that inside my brother was filling his head with profanities to describe what he was feeling towards me and I didn’t hold it against him. What I might have held against him was the fact that when we were done driving for the day, we didn’t stay in a motel where we’d get a good night’s sleep. Instead of saving our sanity, we saved money by sleeping in the camper portion of the truck. I’m so happy I can’t remember what that was like. I’m not certain, but every so often I have visions of a Ted Bundy type circling around the Izuzu at the various rest stops watching us sleep.
Half way through the trip, there was one song that was playing on every radio station. Every single one. It wasn’t this, but something like, “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves. Something poppy and fun. At first we loved it. It made us feel good and happy. We were Donny and Marie — it didn’t matter that we were driving through the most mundane towns and never-ending roads. But after about the 100th time, I think we wanted to rip the radio out of the car and leave it in a ditch. Sorry Katrina for using you as an example. I’m so glad I can’t remember that song.
Even though there are a lot of gaps in memory, there’s none louder than feeling trapped in that damn truck. Screw the seat belt, I would sit on my knees…rocking back and forth. Like one of those test animals trapped in a cage. I start hyperventilating just thinking about it now.
When we finally reached the warehouse in lovely Minnesota, I watched as my brother slung the books out of the car onto the loading dock. He couldn’t have moved faster. For a split second, I questioned whether or not Mr. Dock Worker was expecting us…the answer may have been how quickly my bro got into the car. Not sure, but I think we left skid marks. It didn’t matter, we were on our way home!!! We were freeeee….almost.
One of the highlights (well, the only one) was stopping in Colorado to stay overnight with one of our favorite uncles. Uncle Maury. He was my Mom’s baby brother. When I was a kid, he loved to hear me whine. It was kinda weird, but it made him laugh, so I always obliged him. Even in my 20s….I felt very silly and strange doing it, but I looked at is as preparation for having a kid. It was too short a visit, but we had to get home. As we drove through the Rockies, we decided to pull over to take a picture. Again, the camera there to provide proof on photo paper the faux joy we had experienced through-out our trip. So, you can imagine our chagrin when the camera jammed. My bro pulled and prodded it until the back of the camera swung open. He started to yank at the film and before I knew it, I was witnessing him completely breaking down. I started screaming at him to cover the film, but it was too late. Now we had no proof of what we had endured. Anything that had occurred would be he said/she said. The exhaustion was starting to take its toll on both of us. Not even the bright lights of Vegas could lure us to stay and have a little fun. We were so over each other, so ready to abandon that truck and each other. I kept asking myself, what was the lesson here?
When you think of Jack Kerouac, you think of traveling. You think of getting to know our America. Appreciating the wide open space of this country, stopping to get to know the people and breathing in the awe-inspired surroundings. Looking inward with the hope of having some grand epiphany. Well, I suppose I wanted that, too, but mostly I began the trip with the hope of getting to know my bro. The very failed trip may have not brought us closer, but I think it did bring us in spitting distance of each other. It took many, many, many years, but the shared memory of a ridiculous situation and the humor it brings now, is something I’ve grown to
As I get older, my expectations of myself and my loved ones to truly bond are more tempered. We are who we are and some of us need baby steps to reveal our deepest selves. What I do know is that my older brother is one of the funniest people I know and I feel blessed with any time I get with him. If just for an afternoon here and there. Would I go on another road trip with him? Hell no. I think if you asked him, the answer would undoubtedly be the same. See, bonding.