On The Road, or The Art of Dislocation

Last night I had an idea: In the morning, I would begin a new yearly tradition. I would go to the nearest bookstore and purchase a roadmap of the United States (I used to own a Rand McNally Road Atlas, but now, like most Americans, I rely on Google). At home, I would open the map so the entire country is visible. I would do this mindfully, maybe light a candle. Next, depending on your orientation to the universe, I would either act randomly, enter the chaos at the heart of existence and become chaos myself, or, if you prefer religious vocabulary, I would attend to the Holy Ghost or to the stirring of Brahman.

            In the New Testament, following the death of Judas, the remaining eleven apostles “drew lots” to decide who would fill the vacancy. Some scholars think there was an actual coin toss. It sounds juvenile, even blasphemous, to us moderns, but first-century Palestinians believed that, in these displays of “chance,” the divine would cast Her vote. Flipping a coin then was not like flipping a coin now.

            With the map open, I would walk outside and, again, with that same spirit of divine chaos, ask the very first person I crossed paths with to point to a city or town, however large or small, anywhere in the country. “Don’t think, just do,” I would say. “You might change the course of the rest of my life.” Wherever the person selected, I would go there.

            Every year, in the northern hemisphere (where I live), the summer solstice occurs on or around June 20. Because of the planet’s tilt, this is the longest day of the year. Going forward, I will plan my yearly trips to coincide, as best as possible, with this date. The weather this time of year, as you know, is most likely to be pleasant, across the country; not to mention, as a professor, I have the summers off, which will give me ample time to document my trips. Once the city or town has been selected for me—I’ll be going to the bookstore shortly—I will update you with further details. I plan not just to visit these various cities and towns but, in the months leading up to my departure, to research their history and culture, and the stories that make each of them unique. Hopefully, what follows will be as interesting for you as it is for me.