The Road Is Good For What Ails You

by Kevin Burton

   “When I hear that siren call baby, I just can’t help myself,” croons Bonnie Raitt. She’s authentic and believable and I get it.

   The tune is “The Road’s My Middle Name.” It’s from her album “Nick Of Time” and I get that too.

   The road is the life blood of America, the place where I grew up.  The road transported me as a child, to places I had only read about. The road is about possibility. The road is possibility. 

   The road is a deep breath and the warmth of the midday sun. The road is going places.

   Soon we will go places too.

   My earliest road trips were at the Ohio State School for the Blind when my track or wrestling teams would travel to other blind school for competitions.  Everything is better on the road or at least seems that way.

   I remember thinking how delicious the fish dinner was at the Illinois school on one such trip.  This was the same frozen fish product they could have served us, probably did serve us, back in Columbus. 

   But this was somebody else’s food at somebody else’s place. I was with my friends. We had busted free from the old routine and feeling fine.  We were on the road.

   Those big green signs have always been beautiful to my eyes. This way to Kansas City, this way to Denver, you’re almost there!  They are proof of freedom, verification of belonging. They are part of the narration of the American story.

   The road is a mindset. And I need it, badly, just now.

   There was a day two years ago, when they cancelled, outright cancelled, the American Athletic Conference post-season basketball tournament because of a virus.  This happened right before I went to work.

   I had a sinking feeling that by the time I got back home, the big NCAA tournament would be cancelled too. It only made sense.

   That’s what happened.  The event is one of my favorites on the sports calendar and Wichita State had a reasonably good team.  This was a kick in the stomach and believe me, it was only the beginning of sorrows.

   Here I will skip a lot of stories about masks and toilet paper and just say the Covid 19 virus has stolen some things from all of us. Time and memories, freedom, hope. Trust, commerce, confidence, community. I could go on.

   Risk/reward I always say. I live by risk and reward.

   In the America I grew up in real Americans would have banded together to beat the virus. To some degree this did happen in post-national America, but you can tell it isn’t the same.

   News about the virus wasn’t, isn’t, science. It’s political dogma, outright lies and power grabs. It’s mindless tribalism.  My usual risk/reward strategy is impeded by the worst kind of lies and liars.

   The virus era has tied me up in cold, hard knots.  I mean the sound of the doorbell is now a reason for sudden despair.

   Someone told me the president said the virus crisis is over. I didn’t hear that, and I don’t believe it’s over no matter who said it.  But there are signs that say the worst of it is over, though virus mutations continue as they always have.

   Two years on, the virus crisis has rendered me unrecognizable to some others and even to myself. So now I’m looking to an old friend for help.  For help in thawing out what in the past I would have called my “frozen soul” back before I knew what an actual soul was. The part that makes me, or used to make me, Kev.

   I’m looking to the road.

   The God of Heaven is my protector, my savior, source of help, of solace, belonging, stability, context. But the road is a tool, an old friend, a partner in crime in the benign sense of that phrase.

   Jeannette and I are going on a road trip later this month. We both need it.

   Bonnie Raitt named her album Nick of Time and so it turned out to be. That was the album that brought the accomplished musician her to bigtime commercial success for the first time.

   Without abandoning my risk/reward strategy, I’m trying to remember how to live by once again surrendering to the call of the American road. It feels like the nick of time.

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