Driving I-5 in the USA


It’s nothing special to look at, the stretch of Interstate 5 that runs between Sacramento and the tiny California town about one and half hours north where my mom lives. Flat fields, often brown, fade away to low foothills, faintly purple in the distance. You pass the occasional almond orchard or cattle ranch, or perhaps a drowned field planted with rice. This is a road I traveled many times as a child, with my mom, when we drove north to visit her parents. Now she lives in the family home, and I come to visit once a year.

By the time I reach the I-5, I’ve been up since 3:30, and taken two flights from my home in Florida. It’s still early, and I’m not tired yet. I’m too excited. While I make this drive, I’m not mother, or wife, or daughter. I’m just me. I crank music from my iPod through the rental car speakers. I think, daydream, sing along with the music—all while keeping my eyes on the road, of course.  I control the music, the speed of the vehicle, the interior temperature, and whether and where I stop along the way. (I always stop at Granzella’s in Williams where I eat a sandwich and some gelato, pick up a loaf of olive sourdough bread, and stretch my legs in their gift shop.)

As a woman, I’ve been socialized to put others first, to be a good girl and do what will please others.  For the most part I love my responsibilities and take them on willingly. But that just makes the hours of freedom I feel while traveling all the sweeter as I become aware of the compromises and accommodations I make every day for those I love. I don’t mind those compromises, but I delight in this taste of personal freedom.

It’s not just driving the I-5 that gives me this feeling of freedom. Any physical act of getting from one place to another, whether I’m driving, flying or taking the train, does the same thing. I feel it when I travel with a companion, but even more so if I’m traveling solo. I feel an agreeable sense of accomplishment: even though I’m not doing much of anything. I’m getting someplace. And there’s nothing else I should be doing in that moment. (Flying is even better than driving, because no one expects me to spell the pilot on a long flight.)

That space between one life and another, who you are at home and who you are when you’re not—that space in between can be a place of peace and freedom, even when you’re coping with cramped seating on an airplane, or a stiff back on a long road trip. You don’t need an exotic destination to feel it. Sometimes just a stretch of empty road will do the trick.

I roll my window down when I get close to Mom’s, even if it’s hot outside. The familiar scent of alfalfa fields washes over me, and I know I’m almost there. When my tires crunch on the gravel of her street, I gladly return to my role of daughter, refreshed by the brief freedom of driving I-5.

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