Sunday, September 21, 2014

Roads Not Taken

Every day is an adventure, right? I took a road trip yesterday with no real destination in mind. I spend a lot of time driving, both personally and for work and I always see so many things that I want to stop and look at or take a picture of. That’s what yesterday was. I got in my car and drove; if I saw something I wanted to take a picture of I would do a quick U-turn and go back. (I made many U-turns yesterday!)

There appears to be a lot of serendipity involved in doing things like that, in the spontaneity—or maybe it’s just a lesson in taking things as they come.

My first U-turn happened when I passed an old tiki statue that was overgrown with weeds. It was in front of an old abandoned Chinese restaurant, and I pulled into the parking lot to take pictures. I love and hate abandoned buildings. There’s a certain beauty to them, yet the visible “what was” is sad. There was a large parking lot next to it with two other buildings on the same property. One of them was a house with a few cars in front and there were two guys working on a truck outside at the far end. Outside of making sure they weren’t going to come over and yell at me for trespassing, I didn’t pay much attention to them until a few minutes later when they drove up to me. The one driving (he never gave me his name) said his father (or father-in-law), Ed, wanted me to take a picture of him. I laughed, because I had misunderstood, thinking they were worried about him being in one of my pictures. So I took a picture of them. This is them (first, the tiki statue):

Poor Ed; immortalized in a girly blog.

I told them what I was doing, and while I was talking to them I had a thought that this was wonderful, this random conversation. Ed offered to take me inside the abandoned building so I could take pictures—I’ve always wanted to do that. At first, I actually almost said no, because I didn’t want to feel like I was bothering anyone. But I thought about it; he offered, it was something I’ve always wanted to do and the opportunity was handed to me! So Ed brought me inside to explore for little while, while the other gentleman went to get the bolt that they had both initially been leaving to get.

Ed pointed out a few suggestions for pictures and he gave me a little bit of the history of the place as we walked through. I honestly could have spent all day there, exploring. But I was still aware that he was busy. Before I left, we exchanged emails so I could send him the pictures that I took and the link here, and then I left. But as I was driving away I realized that that little experience was exactly what the day was supposed to be about; doing different things, having new experiences. Even meeting new people. I was so happy that I was lucky enough to show up at an abandoned building to take pictures, on a random day, at the same time that somebody else was there in a way that gave me a fuller experience.

Mother Nature cooperated nicely, as well. I had the top down (on my car!) until about 6 PM. And of course, the music playing was awesome. I really do love driving.

And I kept driving. And I stopped and took pictures of whatever struck my fancy. There was another serendipitous moment when I passed a sign on a tree in front of a house. The sign said, “This tree is pretty neat!” As soon as I passed and I realized I needed a picture, and made another U-turn to go back to it. As I was pulling up a 20 something year old boy was just coming out to check the mail, and I asked him if I could take a picture of the sign. I also asked him if there was a story behind it. His answer killed me, because it was so… me, and worded almost exactly the way I would have spoken. He said, “There’s no story. We are just ridiculous like that. We love that tree and it’s fun to climb on.” I don’t know how many times I have used the word ‘ridiculous’ to describe myself-- I felt like I met a long-lost family member! I laughed and told him that I was ridiculous, too, and that was why I wanted a picture.

Those little moments made my day. And they wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t stopped.

I stopped in the town of Monson, MA (and if you are like me and had no clue, Monson is pronounced “Munsen”—I never made that connection!). I had half a plan to go through there anyway on the recommendation of a friend (Thanks, Jonathan!), and Ed spurred that decision on further when he mentioned that I may find a few interesting things to take pictures of, not just because it was a beautiful town but because of the tornado that had gone through the town a few years ago.

It is beautiful town. The majority of the tornado damage has since been fixed, but there are still traces of it in the trees, and one building that is well into its renovations.

The restaurant I had planned to lunch in was closed, and the only place open in Monson was a local pizza place. It was already late in the day, well after lunchtime, so it was empty. Of course, I ended up talking to the guy behind the counter, in between his phone calls for takeout orders. I was looking around the small restaurant, and it struck me that you could go to any local pizza place on any main street in any town and they would all look the same. Even the signboards on the wall with the menu. When you walk into any pizza place and walk up to the counter, there are always two or three signboards over your head with the menu; they are white, with a black frame, and the interchangeable letters which are always black for the food description, and red for the prices. And there is always going to be one or two random letters out alone in whatever empty space is on the sign. And I started scanning the restaurant, looking for every similarity it had with every other pizza place and began to mentally write about it. As I’m forming it in my mind, I come up with a line about “… and Tony is working behind the counter—of course his name would be Tony; it’s a pizza place.” And then I reminded myself to make sure to ask the guy behind the counter his name before I left. A few people came into the shop and picked up their order and left. The guy behind the counter starts talking to me about the tornado, and the damage that had been done, and gave me of a lot of information about one house in particular (the one that was undergoing renovation) and directed me to a side street that would lead up a hill behind that house where I should be able to get some nice pictures of the entire town and maybe even of the path the tornado had taken. He gave me directions, and pointed out a few other areas of interest. Before I left I introduced myself and asked him his name. He said his name was Tony. Of course.

The day was spent driving through places I’ve never been before, and talking to people. Robert Frost was right when he said, “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” It’s not just about making your own path and not following the flock; it’s also about stretching your vision by seeing new things, and talking to new people. This is not the same thing as taking a vacation, especially since most vacations can sometimes tend to be be planned even more tightly than a daily life schedule. What a difference it makes in a day when it is not governed by plans and boundaries. We are all advised to “stop and smell the roses,” to notice and appreciate what we have and what’s around us. Sometimes, it’s even better to go outside your own little world and look for roses to smell along roads you have not traveled before.


After today, I realized two things:
1. I need to do this more often.
2. I need a dashboard camera.