I began my day in Augusta, Georgia when Carolyn packed her luggage into my car and we set off with a cooler full of water and snacks. I entered Alabama for the first time since 1989 and as the day ticked away we made our way through Mississippi, Tennessee, and finally into Arkansas, over 600 miles of American highway. One of the most surprising things for me was just how empty those highways were, as a Jersey girl I am far more accustomed to traffic jams than I am to long stretches of lonely highway. There were never more than ten cars visible to me on the highway and the long stretches of fields broke suddenly into city scapes with very little warning. The signs along these highways were few and far between and as a result I wasn't able to do what I'd planned to do, take a picture of each state's welcome sign. I'm accustomed to several warnings, constant reminders of how many miles I have before I reach a certain point, 'Newark 15 miles, Newark next 3 exits, Last Exit before toll', in New Jersey there's always something to remind you of where to get off, driving route 20 and then route 78 west, things seemed to come suddenly from nowhere and then disappear just as suddenly into nothing.
One of my favorite parts of today's trip was when we slipped across the Alabama state line I caught sight of a sign on the side of the road that read "Now entering Central Standard Time" and just like that we added an hour to our day. It's amazing to me that just by crossing that invisible threshold I gained what I am always finding myself short of, time. If only it were that easy everyday to add the hour I so often need.
Today I've traveled through states I've never set foot in before and watched through the car window as the countryside slid by. One thing that struck me more than what is different about each state is what is so often the same. Highways in each state were littered with gas station signs, fast food chains, department stores, things I see every day at home. There was also the insistently blue sky and the patches of clouds I found myself trying to find the hidden shapes in. In state after state I saw the things that tie us together, the flags, the car dealerships, the road signs. I think I set out looking for what is different about each state and somehow found, at least today, the things that make us similar.
We've settled into our hotel here in Little Rock for the night. I must admit I found myself enamored with the receptionist's southern drawl, with the slow, smooth surety with which he seemed to move. The world is moving more slowly here, I'm a thousand miles away from the fluster of horns I've grown accustomed to on Route 9, I've distanced myself from the 'get out of my way I'm busy' attitude I've come to accept as normal and I'm eager to press on tomorrow toward Oklahoma City toward more people who smile and chat more. I wonder if maybe the highways here are less crowded because not everyone feels as driven to 'get things done' or maybe it's just that extra hour has makes all the difference.