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I love the ends of roads. Just south of Miami, Florida, for example, I-95 ends. The first time I got there I pulled over and thought about it for a moment, the 2,200 mile length of it, the other end of it, somewhere near the end of Maine. My girlfriend thought I was crazy.
From New York to San Francisco on I-80. Detroit to Seattle on I-94. LA to Jacksonville on I-10. Boston to Omaha on I-90. Then there are the state roads. 101 on the Pacific, LA to San Francisco. Route 1 on the Atlantic, Freeport, Maine to Key West. I remember standing on that ugly stump of a concrete block at the end of the continent looking for Cuba on the horizon and looking back at the road that is so surrounded by civilization and so riddled with traffic lights.
And then there are the roads I want to drive yet. To the Gaspe peninsula. To Fairbanks on the Yukon road. Through the mountains north of Honolulu. To the top of Mount Washington. The speedway in Wiscasset, Maine. Out the peninsula to Provincetown. Across the bridge to Atlantic City.
I love driving down dead ends, knowing that I'll see the end of them, knowing the climax and the resolution and not having to be surprised by a bridge out or impassible spot. When I was a teen, my girlfriend would get out and time me in my dad’s old Dodge, going zero to sixty down the dead end road near school. So many times I neared the end at breakneck speeds.
In my neighborhood growing up, the roads were all cul-de-sacs except for one. And I loved going to the end of that road, and watching where the pavement turned to grass and dirt again, how I played intently there, watching as though the road might grow and take me to a new place. I loved how the road ended in the Redwoods, how you must walk to old California or the drive-through tree where cars had once been. I loved parking the car in El Paso and walking over the Rio Grande into Juarez, because it just made more sense not to drive.
I loved how the road out Sandy Hook ended before the beach, and how you have to park and walk the rest of the way, and how Sanibel's did that, too. I loved the runaway truck ramps in New Hampshire, how they made me and my brothers dream of losing our brakes and having a safe way out.
The first time I read "On the Road" I put it down every few pages and dreamt of taking those crazy Kerouac late-night drives cross country, and when I had no car, I'd hitch like him and somebody would pick me up. The road is where we give our middle finger to each other in the cruelty of anonymity, but where we still occasionally slow down and pick each other up.
And now we've lost another driver to the road, one who became a symbol of the road as racetrack, America pushing itself to go faster, driven by his madness for the road to live on it, and die on it. And when a nationwide media chorus reported his death, there were those who said, "That's what he gets for driving so fast," and those who understood and said, "Way to go, Dale."
America's the place for roads, like the Native American trails that lead beautifully out of the wilderness in Lacrosse into town and down to the river's edge; like the private roads above the Sunset Strip that give you vistas of desert and ocean simultaneously as you round each turn; like the road a man builds for his wife to take the tractor up to the maple shed, digging out the bigger rocks and laying gravel. One day someone might study the millions of miles of road as a metaphor for the growth of a nation and the death of a land. But for now, the roads -- widening, lengthening, congesting, heightening, giving birth to dreams and killing them, too -- are the best and truest democracy of all.
Listener Poetry: Looking for Lions
On a visit to Zimbabwe several years ago, we stayed at a camp on the Zambizi River. Every day, on our game drives and walks, we saw magnificent sights, but never, no matter how hard we looked, lions. We were a small, multinational group who good-naturedly gave our wonderful guide a hard time about this. At breakfast on the last day of our, I shared the following poem, which I had written the night before:
THE WAIL OF THE WEARY TOURIST
Buffalo in the grass. Alas.
Impala on the hoof. Aloof.
At six am out we creep. Asleep.
The baboons cry and still we sigh.
Our cameras snap at elephant crap.
We sit in the hide. Lord knows we tried.
Our days have passed. This is our last.
No final reprieve. Tomorrow we leave.
Susan Sachs Fleishman