The Things You Find on the Side of the Road
Every year that I’m away from Washington state, it gets harder for me to think of it as home, and yet, it’s really the only connection I have to family and the place that I still go to when I set down to write. Now when I land in Seattle and get in my rental car for the long, beautiful drive to the other side of the state—what everyone who isn’t from Washington calls, “The Not Seattle Part,” it’s not my life that flashes in nostalgia and memory, it is the characters of my book, From These Ashes. They are the roads he traveled, the mountains he hiked through. They’ve been lost to me for a long time now.
Or they usually are.
Last time I was driving to Spokane, I took my customary stop in Ritzville, a little gas-stop town. No matter where I was going when I was young, we always had to stop there for the best milkshakes in the world. And although the shake shack is no longer there, I still have to stop every time, just in case. This time, the delicious dessert was still absent, but what I did wind up picking up was my 20 year old self.
She was hitchhiking from Oregon to Montana for that year’s Rainbow Gathering and she was accompanied by a dog and a guy she had met on the road. Sitting next to her in my rental SUV, the whole decade of my 20s flashed through my mind as wind-turbines that were not there when I lived there, peppered the landscape.
Yes, back then I was what was fondly (at least to me) called a Granola. A Gen-X hippy is another term—or a Pacific Northwester in their 20s. Anyway, I too had relied on the kindness (and sometimes, let’s be honest, the creepiness) of strangers for a ride. In fact, 20 years ago that summer, I too had made my way down to the Rainbow Gathering, that year held outside of Taos New Mexico.
I remembered how easy life had been then, mostly. How while in New Mexico, I had gotten lost hiking back out of the Gathering and had no idea where I was and no way to get the information or notify the people I had come with that I had lost my way. I tiny Mazda pickup drove by and stopped and a man called out asking if I needed a ride. He was a Hara Krishna and he was perhaps the nicest person I’d ever met. I had so many questions.
So many questions that I didn’t ask.
And as I sat next to my 20 year old self, I had so many questions for her too, so many things that I wanted to tell her. I wanted to tell her to not put things off; to take the opportunities that she was presented with, no matter how scary, no matter how much work was involved. To take risks, to stop when she see something that she wanted to record, reflect or take a picture of, because chances are, she wouldn’t be down that road again and she’d regret the stops she didn’t take.
Mostly I wanted to tell her to trust herself, to trust her dream, and for the love of all that is holy, STOP WAITING FOR THINGS TO HAPPEN! Make them happen!
Of course I didn’t say any of those things. I convinced myself that the reason was because if she really was me 20 years ago, she wouldn’t care what some 40 year old senior citizen was saying. Really though, it was because I’m horrible at taking my own advice and there will always be things I regret not doing.
But now? Now at least I stop and take the pictures.
Tamela J. Ritter was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, her debut novel From These Ashes was published in March 2013 by Battered Suitcase Press. She now lives and works in Haymarket, Va. You can find her on Twitter or on Facebook.