“How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.”
― William Faulkner
I will admit it, after being in Belfast for one month and 3 days, I’m homesick, but not in the way you may be thinking. There’s a little part of me missing my parents and friends from home, the changing of Pennsylvania trees in the autumn and warm apple cider from the Apple Castle to accompany those brisk evenings – but it’s the oddest thing that I’m longing for: driving my car.
Four years spent at college didn’t give much leeway for road trips and casual drives through the country, but after moving back home, my little blue Cavalier became a long lost pal, our friendship rekindled with each trip to and from my dad’s, Ligonier Camp and weekends down to Pittsburgh.
Driving is an American pastime. We take pride in our cars: nicknaming them, feeding them with our favourite music, bathing them regularly and decorating the windows with signs and symbols from our life. They’re one of our most important accessories when we live somewhere far from public transportation. Living in a country without boundaries, Americans are seemingly programmed to desire exploring all four corners, re-defining freedom with a flip of the wrist out of our car window. More often than not we find ourselves going for a drive when we are upset, overwhelmed, or needing to breathe; sometimes our car is the only place where we can feel infinite for a few minutes, as if we could drive forever and never reach the end of the earth.
We road trip to music festivals with coolers and tents crowding the trunk; we spend muggy evenings driving down country roads with the windows down and stereo cranked; we go off-roading in the bed of our friend’s pick-up truck so we can find the best hill for stargazing; we sit in the trunk at the drive-in, cozied-up with ice cream cones and flannel blankets; we take nighttime drives when it’s snowing, to feel like we’re in a snow globe or the opening credits of Star wars; we drive to our favorite viewpoint just so we can sit in silence, watching the world go to sleep in hues of purple and orange.
This past August while living in Ligonier, I was reflecting on experiences behind the wheel and in the passenger seat stateside and abroad, exploring and reveling in the life that exists on the road. I wrote a piece that would become poignant upon arrival in Belfast and the subsequent pining for an open road and unwarranted freedom behind the wheel:
As I drove down Route 30, thick fog encircled the foothills of the laurel highlands, looking like the sky was touching the earth. I could smell the tangy air blowing through my window; my stresses of the week seemed to melt away as the hot asphalt steamed from a recent downpour. The darker the tree line grew, the cooler the air felt on my finger tips resting on my cracked side mirror. The ebb and flow of the hills and curves recalled memories from road tripping in Ireland, although the trees were another kind of green. Ben Howard’s cd on repeat, I drummed my thumb on the steering wheel, memorizing words that corresponded with lines on the highway.
I pictured this past March, when I finally went on the trip I’d been dreaming about since I was little: driving to California’s coast. I remember my dad telling me stories about his big cross-country road trip with his best friend and my grandpa, and I wanted similar memories of my own. I had been craving the desert just as much as the mountains – to escape from lights and houses that drown out the galaxies. The vastness of the valleys and height of the cliffs echoed lyrics from America The Beautiful. My camera could scarcely capture the purple of the mountain tops in Idaho and the vibrant green grape fields in California. I could do nothing but smile at the sun and feel as if I was living in a filtered version of a Jack Kerouac novel.
Each city was livened by the personalities of the locals. . .colourful and diverse San Franciscans rollerbladed through the park and drank wine on metal patio furniture; loud laughter and glitz filled the streets of Reno at 2 AM; tie-dyed music stores and Shakespeare book shops decorated the valley of Ashland; sunshine accompanied stranger’s conversation on switchback stops in Idaho; the towering Redwoods transported us to Wonderland as we stood in speechless awe and fascination. It felt good to be on the road, passing through moments in others’ lives, taking their stories and adding them to our own.
Now that I’m living in the city, I rely on walking or public transportation to and from work. Both allow for a different kind of seeing and experiencing. Whether it’s re-reading “To Kill A Mockingbird” on the 57 to Crumlin Road, or enjoying the far-away laughter of neighborhood kids in the park while walking to Garnerville, it’s a refreshing change.
I will always advocate for and support public transportation, but there’s always that small town American desire within me to put in a mixed CD and go for a long drive. After some inspiration from my new surroundings in Belfast, I finally finished my autumn mix for the year, perfect for traveling to and fro, regardless of your destination or means of transportation. Featured artists include Fleetwood Mac, The Black Keys, SOAK., and Foy Vance.
Things making me happy this week: Counting on a chat with the flower shop man at the bus stop each Sunday, a handful of sweets from Rita at church, reminding me of my own Grandma, the sound of getting a 10-pin strike and friends cheering, teaching at Knocknagoney, the reward of a Silverleaf kebab after a 6 mile hike with Emma, Jason Isbell lyrics, theological conversations and debates, the way the air smells in N. Ireland’s valleys, the joy of getting reacquainted with familiar relationships and the beauty of new relationships.
More on my flatmates, placements & site-seeing in the next few posts!
Sláinte agus go raibh maith agat,