The Death of the Road

In 2013 my summer holiday plans fell apart one by one. The Nantucket house had too many guests, my friend in Millbrook had accepted an invitation to the Rockefeller’s’ Adirondack estate, and my sister was leaving Maine for a conference in Boston. All the flights to Thailand were out of my budget and Labor Weekend came with a harsh realization.

I was stuck in New York.

At least it wasn’t New Jersey.

Earlier in the day I had bought a small painting off the street for $1. It hung on my kitchen wall. Telephone poles outlined against a cobalt sky. The words HIT THE ROAD in the corner spoke the ancient language of wanderlust and I contemplated hitchhiking across the USA, following Jack Kerouac’s route in ON THE ROAD.

“That’s a great idea.” My landlord AP loved adventure. He had two kids. His freedom was linked to their attaining 21 in the year 2025.

“Have you seen any hitchhikers?”

“Not on the LIE.” AP drove once a week from Fort Greene to Hamptons to check on his building site. “Or anywhere else.”

“Me neither.” The spring of 2009 I had traveled over 2000 miles through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin without seeing a single hitchhiker on the roads. I called several friends in Florida, Maine, and California. None reported a sighting.

“Maybe they’re extinct.” AP was puzzled by their disappearance and I rethought my trans-American travels. Denver was a good two days from New York by car. Maybe 3-4 by thumb. If I left Monday morning, I wouldn’t get to Colorado until Wednesday. Another 2-3 days to the coast. Saturday or Sunday. Online flights one-way from San Francisco to JFK cost over $300. I had $700 in my pocket, plus two kids in Thailand.

Instead I went to Ralph’s Deli and bought a six-pack of Modelo.

I wasn’t going anywhere.

But I had known that all along.

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