I don’t leave the country for two days, but today marked my last stationary day of the summer. Tomorrow transit to the airport begins, and some last goodbyes with friends and family. I have spent the majority of the week shuffling aimlessly through the aforementioned superstores, trying to decide which travel-sized shampoo would be most compact yet conditioning. I didn’t want dandruff protection to dictate my lasting memory of America.
So, I took a drive.
I jumped in my dad’s beat-up gray Nissan truck and chugged along until I hit the countryside. And by “beat-up,” I mean it is so old and dilapidated that when a couple of teenagers once stole it from the curb outside of our house they abandoned it by parking it around the corner. I had been brambling around town all week in it. In the city, we fight over who has to drive it. The shiny Lexuses and hybrids make the ripped upholstery and busted bumpers even more apparent. The oily engine gargle attracts attention that the rusted exterior does not deserve. It’s a lemon through-and-through. Those who might have recognized me from high school would never suspect my education or soon-to-be world travels.
But while I drove with my elbow hanging out the manual roll-down window, blowing past fields soaked green from the rain that falling every night in the summer, it didn’t matter if the cloud billowing from the rear was from the road or a flat tire or a rotten engine. I felt as if I were living an Aaron Copeland soundtrack, which could have been playing if the radio wasn’t busted. Just as the 29th street turned to dirt, I saw an eagle on a telephone wire. At least it was a hawk or some other large fowl that looked enough like an eagle for my city eye to fit it as a sign of my immanent American-ness in the moment. Then at one intersection, a man in a large tractor nearly flattened me, so perhaps I should have searched for a less folksy aesthetic.
I was traveling with only a general knowledge of my location to the city. I found the small town of St. Mark’s. I had never been there, but it couldn’t have been more than eight miles from my house. I passed through and onward. I wasn’t paying any attention to my speed, although the speedometer gives an Olympic-sized ballpark estimate to be of much use anyway.
In one wheat field, small white egrets were tiptoeing through the stubble stalks. The birds aren’t rare in Kansas. They flock along subdivision lakes and in Sedgwick County Park. But the egrets always seem foreign to me. Their angular creeping looks exotic imposed upon the typical flat fields and big sky. Beyond them in the distance another storm bruised the open blue. I could see a line of rain falling on Goddard. I could see some people very close having a much different day than my sun-saturated evening.
The air cooled as I drove on, and I could see the storms edges reaching those the suburbs’ developing skeletons. In the bright sun I could even predict its landing. My windshield flattening cotton wisps as I drove home, missing that certainty already.