When I’m on a vacation, be it a month-long backpacking trip or weekend jaunt, each day I plan to leave a section of Walt Whitman’s Song of the Open Road. I might leave it in a B&B guestbook, tuck a note behind a hotel painting or write it on a dollar bill I spend at a hot dog stand. In any case, I’ll be tracking where I leave the poem here. I call it The Open Road Project. Click on the stanzas below to find out where they’ve been left and track the poem’s progress here.
Last weekend was one of the most harrowing and hilarious weekends of my life. My friend Steph and I decided to take a weekend trip to Bowling Green, Ohio to celebrate the 30th birthday of my dear friend Liz. We packed up the car with presents and champagne and left Friday evening. The plan was to arrive late Friday night, relax during the day on Saturday, make a big dinner Saturday night before the party and head out Sunday morning. That was the plan.
Everything started out fine, until two hours into the trip my car lurched forward while we accelerated up a hill, the service engine light came on and we lost acceleration. We managed to make it to an exit and pulled into a gas station 20 miles south of Berea, Kentucky, where I left the twenty-fifth section of Song of the Open Road as Steph opened the hood and checked our oil and fluids.
Whoever denies me it shall not trouble me, whoever accepts me he or she shall bless me.
Everything looked OK, so we decided to try and get back on the highway. After about fifteen minutes the same thing happened, so we pulled onto the shoulder and waited it out. We started the car again and this time it was only a few minutes before we lost acceleration. Luckily, we made it to Berea, Kentucky. After a fruitless visit from AAA and a good meal, we decided to stay the night and take the car to a service station in the morning. We checked into a hotel and had a lovely time swimming in the pool, talking all night and drinking champagne. It was a grown-up sleepover.
The next morning we found out I needed a new radiator and that we’d have to wait until that evening before it was ready. We spent the day in lovely Berea, walking around the town and wandering in and out of antique stores, one of which was selling a magnificent faux fur coat which I picked up for $10. We had lunch at the Main Street Cafe, where I left the twenty-sixth section of the poem.
Now if a thousand perfect men where to appear it would not amaze me. Now if a thousand beautiful forms of women appeared it would not astonish me.
That section of the poem was fitting because we ran into the most kind and helpful people along our travels and were indeed so invigorated by the lovely day in Berea we decided to keep driving to Bowling Green on Saturday night and surprise Liz, who we’d already told that we likely wouldn’t be making it. At 4:30 we were on the road and making great time. We were set to make it to the party right on time. When we were about an hour away in Lima, Ohio, we decided to stop for gas and a little snack to fortify us before we walked straight into a party full of people after a long drive. As we were turning off the highway, the car stopped, made a popping sound and started pouring smoke from its hood. Steph and I had both been doing a good job rolling with the punches, but the sight your car stranded on the side of the road, pouring smoke and leaking fluids does not encourage easy-goingness. But at least I had my new fur coat to keep me warm. Two hours later, though, the car was towed to a station, Liz’s boyfriend had picked us up and we were on our way to the party. Once we arrived we put on our party clothes (we were instructed to dress in the theme of the year we were born, thus my Madonna bride get-up under the famous fur coat) and danced our asses off. We deserved it.
Sunday we drove back to Lima, where we got the car in good enough condition to drive home. I was so nervous that we were going to break down that I forgot all about the poem until exit 41, about an hour from Knoxville, where I left it in the bathroom stall.
Now I know the secret of making the best persons, it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.
Now that we’re home and safe and my car’s transmission has been pronounced dead, I can look back on the weekend and say I’m glad we went. The car would have had trouble anyway. Liz will only turn 30 once. Steph and I are closer than ever. I’m looking forward to getting a new car. And I have my fur coat.
Where the poem has been so far: