1: Winston-Salem

Friday, August 23
Odometer 44,304 – Trip counter 0

I’m off.

The first day is exactly as I picture it: the sky is a perfect blue, there is not a cloud anywhere.

It’s eight o’clock, and Wendy and I are headed west on Interstate 40, toward Asheville. Two days ago, Wendy got a clean bill of health from her mechanic, and she got a good scrubbing. It was hot, so I had to wait until near dusk to pull out the hose and bucket and sponge. I battled grime and revenge-minded mosquitoes, who could see the carnage I had committed on their insect brethren.

The first day is exactly as I picture it, except that today is Friday, and I had intended to leave Thursday. The first 95 percent of getting ready was easy; the last five percent dragged on and on. This little task, that little bit of packing, this one phone call. I could have gone last night about eight, but I wanted to head out in the daylight. And how could I resist one more night with Eleanor? It’s ten days before I’ll see her again, and for us that is a long time.

By last night, leaving exactly on time didn’t matter. I had already punched the clock: I was on vacation.

It takes a lot of work to take a month off from work.

Several friends have told me of their trips across country, through Europe, into the Amazon. These stories have one thing in common: for each person, they took these trips when there was nothing in the way. Just after graduation, or during the summer hiatus. Just before starting a new job. While unemployed.

It never occurred to me back then to do anything like this. Turning 40 inspired this.

Six minutes into the trip, and I already have to make a wind-related adjustment. Wind is fact of life in the convertible, especially in the back. A blue washcloth, an all-purpose bar rag kind of thing, leaps out from the back seat and tries to escape. Perhaps it had been talking to the socks, which are always trying to break free and make it on their own. I grab the rag, and stuff it between the seats. Then the sleeping bag, which is spread out on the seat, gets the wind under it, and I see green rising up in my rear view mirror like an X-Files creature, ready to smother me. I reach back and tug on something to cover it, and it breathes out and collapses back.

I could pull over, but it’s just too early. The sun is over my left shoulder, and it’s 130 miles to Asheville.


Exactly 9 o’clock I have my first tailgater, a Camry that is suddenly about a yard off my bumper. As soon as I can I move to the right, and Camry lurches forward to go after the next slowpoke. Less than a minute later, Camry is second in a three-car conga line, and the dance continues.

I have a simple question for tailgaters: do you not care about your life? At ten past nine a Chevy Tahoe pulling a U-Haul tries the same stunt on a maroon Pathfinder that won’t surrender the left lane. Pathfinder taps her brakes, so Tahoe has to jam his, and the U-Haul waggles in admonishment. I’m in the right lane, and I back off the gas. Tahoe can die out here if he wants, but he’s not taking me with him.

I’ve been driving for 23 years, and I’ve never been in an accident. (Okay, once I rolled forward from a dead stop and tapped the car in front of me, and caused a $411 scratch on the bumper, but that was it.)

Here’s why: I have a simple philosophy: watch everyone, trust no one.

Leaving, Friday Morning