Growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, my experience as a young kid in a car was vastly different than it is today. I sound like an old timer when I say “In MY day…”, but in my day, things were a little less safe.
I can remember riding to the coast while suntanning on the rear dash beneath the back windshield. While the car was doing 80. I don’t even think the backseat had a seatbelt, and when things got boring, I could crawl down into the foot space behind the front seat and color in my books. All cars had ashtrays, because EVERYONE smoked, and most cars weighed about 11 tons and got 5 mpg. Ah, the good old days. Isn’t it amazing that we all survived?
Always a pretty inquisitive soul, the act of driving around the city and state was a pretty amazing feat to me. We would be heading to an auto parts store 20 minutes from home, and after taking a half dozen turns, I would ask my Dad, “How do you know how to get there?” He would smile and just say, “I’ve driven it many times. You just figure it out once you’ve driven it once.” This was very confusing to my young mind. I mean, the city is a big place, and there are roads virtually EVERYWHERE. How could a person possibly memorize so many routes to so many places? It was mind-boggling to me.
My mom, bless her soul, is the everlasting teacher. As I got a little older, she did her best to prep me for my driving days. We would be driving down a random road and she would whisper, “Ben, what road are we on?” Sometimes I could answer her, but most times not. Then she would throw me for a loop: “What direction are we going?” I would close my eyes and try to figure it out, and would half-heartedly respond with “North?” She would smile, tell me that we were heading East, and I would grumble and stare out the window.
It was just all so confusing. So many roads. So many turns. So many trees and stop signs and flashing lights and passing strip centers. Everything looked and seemed the same to me, and in those days before GPS, I figured that I would be stopping at every 3rd gas station to ask for directions. The world was just so BIG and mysterious and dangerous.
And, I figured, it always would be.
So now we fast forward 30 years and, sure enough, I know my way around as good as anyone. You can name a couple of cross streets, and odds are, I have a pretty good idea of where you’re talking about. I have even caught myself telling stories that involve lines like “You know, I was heading east on Johns Road…”. Just like my parents before me, the world is not nearly as big anymore and I know my way around pretty well.
I can’t exactly figure out why, but this has been a depressing issue for me of late. Something about making the world “small” is not a healthy thing for a man’s mind. I don’t want a small world; I want a huge world full of adventure and intrigue and getting lost and strange sights and new directions; not familiar stop signs and the same old strip center signs.
But that’s life, I guess. What is new and exciting becomes old and mundane. What is exhilarating (driving), becomes diluted by habit. The unknown of the open road becomes the familiar pathways we memorize and ignore.
In our un-ending quest here at EXPLORE to identify the connections that we all share, I think that “driving” would be a pretty easy one. While we are all surely pretty comfortable with driving and consider it a most mundane task, there’s a lot to find out there if we seek it. Let me explain: a few doors up from my house is a guy that lives with his wife and three kids. It’s a normal house in a normal neighborhood that you would pass while running your normal errands. There’s a truck in the driveway, and you’d probably see some kids running around the front yard. Because you are so familiar with this street, you would turn up the radio and go brain-dead as you cruised down the road on the way to your destination. But inside this house, you would meet a man that is fighting for his life against a disease trying to kill him, and a wife that is struggling to handle three young boys. You would meet them and see their spirit and their passion for one another and your jaw would hit the floor.
At the other end of my street, you’d meet a couple with two kids. She’s a realtor, and he’s a restaurateur. They struggle to manage their lives along with their kids, he’s stressed about the state of his business, and she’s hoping the phone will ring with a prospective buyer. They’re delightful people with stories to share, wisdom to impart, and hope to inspire.
But they’re just in plain old houses in a plain old neighborhood that you’d pass on the way to your normal old destination.
And I’ve come to understand that this is where the adventure is, where the intrigue is, and where the mystery is; in the people and in their hearts. No matter how small the world may get in my eyes, nor how familiar with a particular area I might get, I’m passing by so many stories, so much knowledge, and so much inspiration in the people that make an area their home. Beneath the Insurance Sales sign stands a man that is thinking about opening a new business. He’s scared to death because insurance sales pays the bills, but dang it, it’s always been his dream. Will he or won’t he? What will he do if it goes bad? How will it all unfold? Ah, the mystery.
I now believe that my world is HUGE. Yes, I know my little town and its ins-and-outs like the back of my hand, but there’s this quirky guy near my office that likes to sit on his front porch, smoke his pipe (who does that anymore?) and he reads Tolstoy, Shakespeare, and other antique books. I can see him sometimes from my office window while he rocks gently in his chair with his little mutt dog at his feet. I bet if I wandered over there and struck up a conversation, he would tell me of travels and loves and adventures that would seem so big to me. So dangerous. So exotic. All from the front porch of a mundane home in Boerne.
Welcome to March. It’s Spring (finally), and warmer temperatures are upon us. Get out there and seek the adventure of the world. No, you don’t have to embark on an Amazon expedition, but instead, start by striking up a conversation with a person up the street. I’ve decided that until I know the story of virtually every person in my town, then it shall remain big and mysterious and adventurous. My directional abilities might have increased a hundred fold in the last 30 years, but my appreciation for the human spirit continues to grow exponentially, and I will seek it as often as I can. And as always, I will just continue to drive these roads, and……………EXPLORE.
Benjamin D. Schooley