It’s a small world.
A German colleague I had lunch with last week said this: when we are little, the distance between school and home is large. Then we move to university and the distance between university and home is large and the distance between school and home is small. Then we move further away for work and that becomes large, the distance to university is small. Then we travel. The world gets smaller and smaller, a distance labeled ‘not bad,’ just grows. We are willing to go further.
When I was in college, three hours from home seemed so long. Now, for a weekend, that’s not so bad. What once required a backpack of car activities now just needs some casual conversation and a reliable radio connection.
One of my favorite examples of my naivete growing up:
Living in the country, far from town, sucks for kids for a multitude of reasons. No one wants to go to your house because their parents have to drive them and their parents will probably bitch about how far out it is, how hard it is to find. Additionally, you could never meet up anywhere after school. You had to take a bus home and any after school activities required the involvement of the parent, and therefore the approval of a parent.
When I was in middle school, I walked to a friend’s house after school. A few of us then walked to the grocery store around the block. By ourselves! At the age of thirteen! Oh, you lucky townies.
But, when I was ten, the worst was not being able to get to school on my own, by bike or legs. I would watch kids pull up to school on their bikes with envy. One afternoon, I was riding my bike around the yard. My mom was video taping my brother doing something cute. He was six, so most things were cute. I rode into the middle of the frame, got into the camera lens, and asked my mom if I could ride my bike home from school sometime.
She said I could if I could tell her how to get from school to home.
My response: Oh, I know that. You go on Hall until Main Street, then go on Main Street until you get to Pizza Hut. Turn left at Pizza Hut. The ride until you get to the corn fields, then follow the corn fields until you get home.
Mom: Okay, I’ll think about it.
For the record, that answer isn’t even remotely right. But look at the innocence! I didn’t even know how to get from school to home, a route I had take numerous times by that point. A few years later, I had my license and drove my brother to and from that same middle school. By then I guess I was good to go on my own.
It’s almost twenty (gasp) years since that video. I still remember my point of view. While other home videos have morphed so that I only see them from the camera’s point of view, this one remains strictly mine. The freedom of a bike, being responsible for your own self.
When I first got my driver’s permit, my dad let me drive to his mother’s house. It usually takes about forty minutes. That day, it took almost two hours, my entire family sitting patiently in the back. We had to take the back roads because I wasn’t comfortable on the highway. Which meant gravel roads, which meant I went even slower than usual.
Dad drove on the way home, to everyone’s, including mine, happiness. At one point, he pulled out onto the highway, into a mess of traffic (in actuality, it was two cars in the direction he was headed, one in the opposite). I was so enthralled by the smoothness and lack of hesitation. Would I ever get there? Would I ever be so confident, would driving ever come so easily?
A few months later, I failed the driving test. On the way home, my dad offered to buy me a CD to cheer me up. I imagined in my mind the cover of the latest J.LO album. I was so tempted to say yes, but refused. That CD would always be tainted for me and I couldn’t have that.
Three years after the failed driving test, I went to college, an hour and a half away. I was moving from a town of 10k to a town of 105k. The traffic was terrifying. You had to know what lane you wanted ahead of time. More than that, there were multiple lanes! But I made it. On one of the first weekends, I drove home. It was the longest distance I had ever traveled by myself. I hooked up my phone to headphones that included a microphone and called my mom. I talked to her almost the entire time. I stopped at a rest stop to get a snack. It was ninety fucking minutes and I stopped to get a snack.
Then my first internship, three hours away. Then to secondary school, 12 hours away. Then my first job, a 24 hour drive away. Not that I never took that drive - even flying was an all day adventure, with multiple layovers.
Now I’m friggin' Germany! When I first got my license, I went into town (by myself!!!) and spent most of my sixteenth birthday filling out resumes at various locations. My brother went with me. What rebels we were. On the way home, we stopped at Blockbuster and picked up a few movies. It was crazy. I had told my mom we were dropping off applications, but we also stopped at Blockbuster! The freedom of it!
Sometimes, especially on the weekends, I feel giddy like that again. I can do whatever I want! I can take a train to Paris. Or Amsterdam! And then as soon as I have thought, it’s followed by - should I tell my mom what I’m doing? Ask her permission. Last year, a co-worker and I randomly decided to go to Kentucky for the weekend, to check out the bourbon distilleries. It was a very last minute trip, like Friday afternoon last minute. I called my mom on the way home and almost asked her permission. Am I old enough to not ask her permission? Only if I can explain how to get back home.