On The Road
Los Angeles $3.69
Santa Barbara $3.65
San Luis Obispo $3.55
Big Sur $3.75
San Francisco $3.60
The road is dead. The romance is long gone, reality has caught up: easy flights, electric cars and uber rides, two weeks paid and too many screens. The Pacific Coast Highway and the other scenic roadways have all been seen. There are no more Jack Kerouacs or Dean Moriartys, just old men and old dreams and new ways of doing things. Of course you can just get up and go but never again will it be anywhere, everywhere. We’ve lost the cultural sensibility, the shared thinking that made the road trip an American rite of passage.
So this is a eulogy for the open road. For the pure possibility, the complete break, the clean getaway. For the blurred countryside, the revealed vista, the winding way to truth, a way out, a way in, an escape. For Bonnie and Clyde, for California’s broken down pilgrims and sad starlets and their edge of the earth anguish. For the West and the things you see that help you better see yourself.
On a road trip time goes differently than in our daily lives; though the days may bleed together, the trip still has a clear beginning and end. But the way they are remembered is as a collection of moments, a collage of details. Maybe it’s because when you’re on the road your eyes construct a perfect present, a blur of what you’re watching, what you just passed, what lies just ahead. The bluebird on the wire, the red convertible, the green mileage marker telling you how far you’ve come and how far you have to go to get to the golden bridge.
Your life on the road is made up of all these things and the so many others that will never be catalogued nor categorized. Before you had an idea or a reason and after you have these images, like how her glasses reflected the sunset or the way the wind made her hair dance. But during, during is for the details. And the details are why. They were always why.
In the beginning Instagram was just a simple way to catalog our moments and share those snapshots with others. These retro-styled, retro-filtered squares never reassured us that memories can last forever the way an old photograph in your hands can, but Instagram did let us show so many others how we saw the world. And it was easy and convenient; it even made us all artists. Now there are strategists, there are influencers, there are consultants; there are actors and targeted audiences. An entire culture industry has been built around these art directed realities, revealed to us on our feeds daily. Our feeds. We are fed, and then we consume more.
In the quieter galleries of most established art museums you’ll find portrait paintings of ages past; the wealthy patrons and personifications of power, religious figures and funny looking babies, anonymous beauties and dandies in frivolous fashions frozen in time the way they wished others to see them. It is easy to quickly pass through these halls on the way to the blockbusters of our Brave New Art World; what do these strangers mean to us? But look into those eyes staring back at you across the centuries and you realize the subject of these paintings is not another age’s power broker or It Girl. What these paintings are really about is death, and how art can capture a moment in a life and make it eternal. A portrait painted or photographed can make the fleeting and free eternal and valuable, but in the end portraits are dead people, lost to memory no matter their (social media) status or (follower) rank.
So it’s not about the perfect image or amount of impressions; the end is not the aspiration. It is the collection of moments strung around the faintly beating heart of a memory. And so it is when you’re on the road – it is not the destination or the end, because all things must end and the end is death. Come on, let's all say it together: it is the journey. The getaway. And that is where the beauty, the story, and the myth lies.