I wasn’t disturbed when the paving machine lifted its machinery. Even at my young age, I knew there were connections in other places.
I loved looking at the road when I rode in the car. Is it rushed beneath us it looked soft and almost liquid. I knew it wasn’t, though. I don’t have a specific memory but I must have been very young. I could have been crossing the street holding my mom’s hand and my curiosity called me to reach down. Or I may have snuck out the front gate and touched the surface of 1st South Street. But I knew that the road was a rock. Looking closer I realized that it was lots of little rocks stuck together with tar. I could tell by the look of the freeway (or fast-road as I called it) in Phoenix that it was made of cement. No matter. It was still a road. And although I failed to grasp lots of simple concepts at my young age, there was one rather abstract notion that I believed firmly. There was only one road.
If all the roads connected, then they were all one. I hadn’t looked at maps much but I’m pretty sure I knew that there were more roads across the ocean. But in North America, there was just one road. The pebbles stuck with tar in front of my house connected to the main street that went on to connect to the highways and eventually freeways. Those freeways went to California and New York City and Washington DC and Vermont and Hershey, Pennsylvania. I could touch the street in front of my house and touch the world.
One afternoon I watched with ecstatic fascination the paving machine laying new road over the old. I may have been 7 years old, give or take a year. I thought I was the luckiest kid on the world at that moment. This was the pavement, road being made. Knowing what I know now, it was just putting down a new layer of tar. The big truck came to a cattle guard and paused. This was where the road suddenly ended, and for about three feet there was a perpendicular trench with steel bars, then the road continued. The truck crossed until the back part that dragged like a dirty blanket laying tar was at the cattle guard. There was a grind of machinery and the back of the truck lifted up. The truck advanced just a few feet until a workman signaled. The truck stopped, the back lowered and the truck went on its way. The faded, dusty road was made new, ready to tantalize a young imagination some more.
The road had a break in it. There was a spot here where the road from Clarkdale to Jerome was broken. Could this be? If the roads didn’t touch, all I had at my feet was a tiny world, cut off from the rest. I only had to think for a moment to remember that there was an outer road that led to Jerome. You could even drive all the way to Cottonwood on the old highway and come back on the bypass and head up to Jerome. The break here meant nothing. There would always be a way somewhere if you were willing to take the trip.
Over the next few years I never lost that feeling that there was a world out there. Even living on Maui with limited roads and finite space, I never lost the feeling that there were endless possibilities. The world and the future were wide open and I would walk on whatever road I wanted.
I’m going to be 45 in two weeks. I haven’t traveled the roads of the continent as much as I wish. But as far as my metaphor for the road being life goes, I have walked a few difficult ones. And a lot of the roads I choose were the wrong ones. It’s not enough to admit that today I’m trying to walk a straight and narrow road as best as I can with help from others. I’ve not walked alone now for 19 years. I’m leading others on what I pray is the right path.
There really were parts of the road where I thought I was going the right way only to see the way either cut off or just taking a wrong turn. In the past, instead of taking an alternate route I sat on the hard pavement and did nothing. I finally was helped up and shown the right way. It meant walking far back for a while. It meant a longer walk and often seemed meaningless. But sometimes you’ve sat for so long you just have to keep up for a while just to remember how to walk. Sometimes you need to get away from that break in the road far enough so that you have a clear way to the right destination. It’s okay. The destination isn’t going anywhere. If I keep my eyes fixed on it I can keep walking on the road.