Music for the Road and Grand Canyon for the Soul

December 14th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

The Grand Canyon and Richard.

Selecting music for a road trip is, at first, an exhilarating proposition. What a pleasurable diversion from the uninspiring task of packing for myself and three children. It’s such a process for me: doing all the wash, taking out every potential clothing that each of us might wear, then whittling it down to what we really need. Throw in the toiletries, the reading material, the toys, the coloring books, sketch pads, crayons, pencils, the iPods, the sunscreen, hats, flip-flops, fishing poles, tackle box, some extra rolls of toilet paper, first-aid kit, nail clipper.

Time to add another suitcase. I can’t help but overpack. My husband has it down to a science. Granted, he usually only packs for himself. Not himself and three children. And he oftentimes does it an hour or two before departure, even if it’s for a monthlong assignment to several countries. His priority is to make sure he has enough underwear and socks to change daily. Everything else can be worn several times before needing fumigation.

Back to something a bit more enlightening than dirty underwear and smelly socks. I turn to music. My perspective of this task quickly shifts, though. The reality, the pressure, seep in. It was almost a bigger job than packing for four people in two suitcases. Make that three suitcases. Selecting music was an awesome responsibility, a decision that could greatly affect the mood of our monumental road trip. A choice that could leave the driver — me or my husband — frustrated or, worse yet, challenged to stay awake during those long hauls. Not to mention that there’s nothing more irritating than having to flick through radio channels every 15 minutes as you go in and out of range while driving hundred-mile stretches.

I look at the time. 2:30 a.m. Our flight to Arizona leaves in 12 hours, and somewhere between now and then, I need to get some sleep. Time to take a deep breath and just pick out the music. I hadn’t gone through our CD collection in ages, and here I was fingering along hundreds of discs, waiting for some sign from God to lead me to the chosen 20. Which is how many would fit in the portable case.  I was led, I can’t definitively say by the hand of God, to Don Henley, the Cranberries, Natalie Merchant, Rolling Stones, some Dave Matthews, some Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Ravi Shankar’s Morning Raga, to name a handful of my final selection. What turned out to be the best road trip series by far was the three-CD collection of The Beatles Anthology. Wow. My two boys were drawn into it, especially the obscure recordings. Mind you, they’re only 11 and 8. Age doesn’t matter, though. I even found my 3 year old dancing around the RV to tunes like the Taxman. It was such raw, inspiring ageless music to roll along the highway miles as we sought new countryside.

I’m sure many of you have a Beatles CD or two somewhere in the house, or downloaded in your iTunes collection. Take it out now, listen to it. I can wait….Because this will bring you back to life again.

So the second morning of our trip, somewhere in Arizona, with the Beatles’ Lady Madonna cranked, we hit the road again. Now this is what I call a road trip. Driving through rugged, rock-jutting landscape suddenly gave way to utter expansiveness of rolling hills adorned with nondescript shrubs that seem to go on and on into the horizon. It was hard to imagine that we were so close to something so awesome. But the GPS said we were, and I’ve come to trust that little instrument more than my own instincts. Have I mentioned that my sense of direction is about as good as my little Francesca, the 3 year old, reading a road map? Let’s say the map is a bunch of scribble to her, and instead of trying to make any sense out of it, she adds to the scribble with her own line drawings. I am right there beside her with my crayon.

The first telltale road sign emerged from the barren landscape. A large billboard flanked by McDonald’s and Dr. Pepper symbols. In the middle, yellow lettering read “Grand Canyon, 46 Miles.” You’ve got to love America. Or despise it. One of our greatest natural wonders is standing side-by-side some of the worst creations for our bodies and individuality. This is a land of opportunity and free choice. Yet the rundown mobile homes that pepper the barren landscape along the highway house native Americans who seem to have been forgotten in the American Dream. This is truly the land of opposites, of haves and have nots, of hope and despair, of health food and junk. I suddenly have a hankering for a burger, side of fries and a soda. Which one to visit first? It was a toss-up. I quell my hunger for something bigger.

As if on queue, out of the vast nondescript terrain, the most amazing natural wonder overshadowed anything — ANYTHING — created by man. I just could not prepare myself, I could not anticipate what I saw. Immense. Overpowering. Otherworldly and godlike. We were expecting hoards of people, but the hundreds, thousands, were dwarfed by the immenseness. We stepped out of our RV and into this strange new world of the Grand Canyon. There were moments when I felt the pull of energy, wanting me to go closer and closer, yet even as I did stand at the edge of the precipice, it seemed just as unreal, just as unfathomable. I had to hold myself back.

At the edge of the Canyon.

We lingered until dusk then stayed overnight in a state park nearby. The next morning, we drove along the canyon’s rim to our next destination, again stopping to take in the glory and awesomeness of this wonderment. It was just as unfathomable as when we came upon it the day before.

Then, still numb, we climbed back into the RV and back into reality. Driving and living in this vehicle is liberating in a way, at least for someone traveling with three children and a husband. For a two-week journey, it is so much easier to load up everything we need and take off, not to be concerned about where to eat our meals or where to sleep, unpacking and packing again, getting up and leaving at a moment’s thought, or lingering longer to savor the beauty of a new discovery. Even things like doing laundry in a laundromat instead of a hotel where the cost of such a service can be more than the room rental itself.

What could top something like the Grand Canyon, our first touristy stop on our Southwest adventure? We were inexplicably drawn to a rundown RV park off the side of a busy four-lane road. We couldn’t resist the welcoming face and waving hand of a two-dimensional, larger-than-life Fred Flintstone standing by a sign that said it all: Yabba Dabba Doo! It was our evening’s destiny.