“Well, we’re not in the middle of nowhere, but we can see it from here.” ~ Thelma & Louise
It seemed that way sometimes, those times when we got a little bit lost and found ourselves on a long stretch of a desolate county road. It’s on those roads when you haven’t seen a passing car for miles and miles on end that you feel as if you’ve driven yourself out of civilization.
We got lost in Arizona and drove 50 miles on two rutted lanes to a shack and some outbuildings that Google tried to sell me as being the Painted Desert. It was certainly desert but the buildings were in sore need of a coat of new paint. Except for the reds and browns of distant mesas, the land had an ashen complexion.
Yet even in what seemed smack in the middle of empty, we always saw random traces of civilization, either abandoned or lonely or somewhere in between.
We passed old barns suffering the ravages of time and seasons, rain, wind and sun. Though rotting and dilapidated, they take on a character that they never possessed in the days of their newly painted youth. They aren’t unlike people in that way.
We saw rusting metal shacks, and enough hulks of old cars to put together a respectable vintage car museum.
And the single wides. Plenty of those. The nearest neighbors are coyotes and jackrabbits. Out front, in a plot of dirt that passes for a yard, as if the whole of the barren land isn’t the yard, we might see a giant satellite dish. They belong to the loners who live on the outside lines of the grid. The others, the real hermits, they’re the ones without a dish. They either left the grid or never bothered with a grid.
A rail corral might house a horse or two, maybe a cow.
I imagine if you drive down the dirt road that leads to one of these hovels, you’ll be greeted by a barking old mongrel that wears the same dust he donned when he was a pup. That’s the movie stereotype anyway.
Between the shacks and mobile homes are wide sweeps of nothing.
Cora wondered aloud how they survive. She was looking at it through suburban eyes, someone who holds her manicurist, trusted doctor and local supermarket close to heart.
On the other hand, I wonder what it would be like to live that sort of solitude. Is it peace and freedom from worldly stress or is it an empty, friendless isolation?
I made the argument that this is likely the life they choose, are perfectly happy with it and wonder how we can tolerate suburbia.
I actually wouldn’t mind giving it a try. That would be easy though, knowing that I always have suburbia to fall back on. But what’s it really like? Really, meaning that there’s no back up plan.
At times it wasn’t a case of getting lost but more a purposeful, “I wonder what’s down that road?”
In South Dakota we took a county road that went from paved to potholed to gravel. We took that road until I decided that whatever it was that we were looking for wasn’t worth the anxiety of having a breakdown in the middle of desolation.
Was it South Dakota? Maybe it was Wyoming or Montana or New Mexico. I’ve lost track of those lonely little roads.
And then there was the long stretch northbound on Highway 49 in Missouri, headed towards the crazy little women and barbecue of Kansas City.