There is nothing like hitting the open road. While many find it absolutely nerve-racking to be cooped up in a car for hours, zooming by miles and miles of cornfields and old, broken down farmhouses, taking big whiffs of cow manure into their lungs, and stopping to eat crappy gas station food, others like myself jump at the chance for a country road trip. Many prefer to go with a companion or two. I am one of those rare birds who love riding solo on the open road.
I recently got a call from my 86-year-old grandmother to come visit. When love calls, I come running. Mama Veeda is home to everyone in Centralia, Illinois. Her door stays open and there is always a big pot of something delicious and warm on her stove. The thought of her not being around one day just leaves a huge lump in my throat and I quickly rush that thought out of my mind. Though Centralia holds many fun childhood memories and countless generations, it is a town so small that if you blink, you will have missed it. Dirt roads, cornfields, old matchbox sized houses, trailer park homes, one gas station and one grocery store, Centralia is the type of town where you learn hard work, solid family values, and how to sit on a porch in the hot sun, sipping lemonade, swatting flies, and gossiping about the new neighbors.
It does not sound like much to most, but I love to visit my birthplace Centralia. Packing up the car for a good five-hour drive from Chicago, I get super excited. I prefer to drive it alone because I can roll down all the windows, play my favorite song over and over back to back for hours, and just go into a meditative state while driving. My imagination and creativity begin to flow looking out onto open road. I can figure out any dilemma I might be having without any distractions or having to entertain a passenger with conversation for five hours. In my mind it is just me and God out there.
However, this last trip to Centralia, my mother came along. I love my mama, but I do not like her on a road trip. For one, she prefers air conditioning over the wind. Air conditioning makes me physically ill. I get congested and need a rest after exposure to direct air conditioning. I tried to explain this to my mother, but I believe she thought I was exaggerating. She said it was too hot to ride for hours with the windows down. She was gagging at the smell of the horse and cow manure. She forced me to deal with the air conditioning and tried to convince me that I was not getting sick…while I was sneezing.
I am also one of those road trip drivers who hates to stop, unless I am driving cross-country. Then I enjoy stopping for a comfortable stay at a hotel in Vale, Colorado somewhere for one night, enjoying a nice waffle breakfast before getting back out on the open road. But for in-state road trips, I pack water and snacks. I only stop for gas and then I am quickly back on the interstate to peacefulness. My mother, however, needs to stop for restroom breaks and Subway and beverages and you name it. It interrupts my flow and takes me longer to get to my destination. And like all Mothers, she nagged and nagged for me to slow down every time I was even five over the speed limit, reminding me that a Black woman out here in the country with no witnesses should be looking out for the police or the Ku Klux Klan every minute to avoid being pulled over and never making it home. She does have a point there, but I was driving the legal speed limit. She argued I was speeding. I wanted to pull my hair out.
She complained about my choice in music for a road trip. I was going through a break-up with my boyfriend and wanted to listen to a love song by r&b singer Monica called Just Right For Me. She said,”If you play this song one more time, I am gonna scream! I can’t take it!” All I had left on my mp3 was hip hop artists Rick Ross and Jay Z. The foul language made her question me for a good hour as to how and why I could listen to that kind of music. I explained it is hype music with bass to keep me awake and alert. She did not agree.
Oh my God! I could not wait to see the Welcome To Centralia sign. It could not come fast enough. With thirty minutes remaining to our destination, all I could think about was laying down in Mama Veeda’s guest room alone with the lights out, listening to the sounds of crickets outside my window. We finally arrive and pull into Mama Veeda’s gravel driveway. I stepped out of the car to look up at the country sky. It was filled with a kazillion stars. We do not see a night sky like this in Chicago. Mama Veeda opened her screen door, greeting us with open arms and laughter as always. Hugging her and seeing those beautiful brown eyes made the uncomfortable last five hours well worth it.
I looked at Mama Veeda and reminded myself that my mother will one day be 86 years old and I will look back on our road trips together, wishing I had enjoyed her while I had her. I suddenly felt guilty. The road trip back to Chicago, I made sure she was comfortable as my passenger and enjoyed herself. I did whatever she wanted. We laughed and told stories. I had a blast for the first time with a passenger riding along side me on the open road. It made for a smooth ride back. I will remember it forever.