“This looks like a good place to stop,” I say to Morrie, turning into the Wawa parking lot.
I park, rolling the back windows down a touch. It’s before dusk, and it’s much cooler in Virginia than it was in Wilmington.
I feel comfortable, for the first time in our travels, leaving Morrie in the car without the air on.
As I walk into the convienence store, a middle-aged woman with dark red, frazzled hair eyes me. She glances up and down, and then with a disgruntled face, walks away. I wonder what her issue is, and then reconsider what I’m wearing.
Crazy Tinkerbell hair, a fitted tan t-shirt with a left breast zipper pocket, a pair of denim shorts and my brown combat boots. A typical ensemble from the grown-up Ash Ketchum collection.
We’ve been on the road for about five hours now. After speeding through North Carolina and most of Virginia, I desperately need coffee before moving on. And maybe some snacks.
They don’t have the apple slices with peanut butter, so I settle on a turkey hoagie on a wheat roll; avocado, cucumber, salt and pepper, spinach, and cheddar. Moments later, I see my friend again, arguing with the woman behind the sandwich counter about the temperature of her sub.
Maybe my outfit was fine after all.
After I make my purchases (the sandwich, a coffee with a bit of french vanilla creamer, and a can of dog food for Morrie), I sit back into the car.
“Dude, I got snacks,” I say to Morrie over my shoulder, popping open his to go bowl and filling it with the last of his dry food.
I peel off the lid to the wet food, scooping it out with my pocket knife, a necessity Gwynne insist I have while on the road.
“You should always carry a knife with you when you travel alone,” she had said primly, after I asked her what she would bring if she were camping.
After a few weeks, I finally got two – one more traditional knife, that can be folded down so I don’t cut myself, and a curved, small blade that my parents bought in Alaska. That one is more of a novelty, but could easily slice fruit or open a container.
He sloppily eats his food while I work on half of the hoagie. He finishes quickly, panting/smiling as I still eat mine. He looks at me lovingly, with such gratitude and respect in his eyes, I almost get choked up. Then I realize he’s not looking at me.
“No way, bro.” I say, taking a larger bite. “You just ate a shit-ton and this is my sandwich.”
As I wipe my hands off, a little voice tells me to call my mother. The same voice that nagged me to get the Friend Finder app, as Annabel requested, that required a purchase of a data card to download.
“You’re important,” she said, as I showed her I had installed it. “Someone should know where you are.”
I call my Mom.
“Hey…” she says, her voice sounding small.
“Where are you?”
“Somewhere in Virginia,” I reply, taking a swig of coffee. “About six hours left.”
“Did you know La Quinta’s take dogs?” she asks, her voice cracking. “We can book you one if you want.”
“What?” I say, distracted by Morrie, who has jumped up on the back of my seat, in search of remaining hoagie bits.
“No, Mom… no. I’ll be fine.”
We hang up, and I contemplate the offer for a split second. No, I decide, turning the car on. I want to drive. After filling up with gas quickly (and getting sprayed with gasoline from a neighboring car, thanks a lot), Morrie and I get back on 95 North. The weather is great, and it’s going to be a cool, clear night through the mountains.
I love long distances. I’ve probably mentioned that before, but I feel at home while on the open road, no hurry to get to where I’m going. Tonight, I’m just listening to terrible music and enjoying the drive, a stunning twist and turn through the Pennslyvania mountains. Morrie softly snores as we zoom past dark farms and tiny, highway side towns. Large houses buried into the side of mountains, and neon restaurant lights taunting us to try their homemade desserts.
I don’t stop again.
There are barely any cars on the road, and my mind wanders a bit. I think about the next past few weeks, the friends and adventures and personal revelations had. Things are changing, but the more I listen, the better things get.
“I need a quiet place to work,” I had told my dad a few days prior. “I just need to be somewhere that no one with bother me. I need to write.”
So much depends on it – whispers of a road trip through Montreal, and Quebec. A week in Maine. A volunteer opportunity in Portugal. Yes, I need to write.
I don’t feel as anxious as I thought I would. After I talked to Annabel about Wilmington, the next step seemed obvious, and the opportunity nagged at me until I acquiesced to it. I find most opportunities are like that.
As I near the state line, the sky lights up with falling stars. Upon the quiet backdrop of the sleepy mountain road, it’s momentarily breath-taking – a perhaps, undeserved warm welcome from the state I had constantly abandoned.
Welcome to New York, the sign reads.