I once took Route 1 from Virginia to New Jersey by using a AAA atlas. This was around 2000 – way before Google Maps or the guiding voice of Siri. In my black Dodge Neon, I pulled over periodically to check the way, using my finger to follow the road off the page and onto the next when I crossed state lines. When I finally left the main road for the highway, I felt like I was Lewis or Clark or Jacques Motherfucking Cousteau.
Almost twenty years later, when I first moved to Reading, Pennsylvania, I stared at a new map, not printed, but pixelated. Tethered by a job to a location in the middle of everything and connected to nothing, I zoomed in and zoomed out on Google Maps. I plotted radii from livable cities. Philadelphia? Allentown? I calculated commuting miles and planned alternate routes, trying to find a way out, a road back to where I thought I belonged.
In April 2013, on my way back from my niece’s wedding in North Carolina, I pulled my car over on I-95 before I hit the standstill-likely construction-induced traffic, somewhere around Maryland. I’d taken the exit on a hunch and hoped my GPS would recalculate the rest. My dad, in the front-seat, and uncle, in the back, ad-libbed the detour.
“Man look at all the land they got out here,” my dad said as we drove past fields and barns and cows, now making our way through Pennsylvania. “They got as much land out here as North Carolina.”
Uncle James (never as much of a fan of North Carolina) wasn’t as impressed, but something did catch his attention.
“Triple deuces,” he called, like a casino card dealer, as we passed a sign for Route 222: the road we’d follow to I-78. “Two. Two. Two. I’m gonna play that number when I get home. Sure am.”
When I wasn’t staring at the map, I was going about my life, equal parts work and grocery shopping. One day, I decided to join Sam’s Club and set the destination in my car GPS unit.
Somewhere in the middle of the twenty-minute drive, I heard Uncle James.
The route, which I’d driven before, suddenly became more than the sum of its parts: Two. Two. Two. As much time as I’d spent staring at Google Maps, I hadn’t realized that my dad, Uncle James, and I had been here before. I had been so focused on getting away that I hadn’t taken time to appreciate where I was.
I wanted to believe Route 222 was a sign as concrete as the white and black one on the side of the highway: an assurance that detours are part of the journey, a reminder that the memories made along the way were more important than the destination, and a lesson that what I was genuinely seeking wouldn’t be found on any map.
When I finally left the highway for Sam’s Club, I felt like I was Lewis or Clark or Jacques Motherfucking Cousteau.