While I was home during vacation, my mother told me I should write a column about something that made me happy. I told her I couldn’t really think of anything. So I came back to Ann Arbor even earlier than I had planned. That made me happy.
I’m not sure if it’s going back to Grand Rapids or my family that bothers me more. (Grand Rapids is a place that, among other things, claims former President Gerald Ford as a former resident and names buildings and freeways after him. Amway Corp.’s world headquarters is located in one of its suburbs. In the local paper, there is an ongoing letters to the editor debate on the validity of creationism, with justifications ranging from quoting scripture to assuring letter writers espousing the opposing viewpoint they are going to hell. As for my family, I won’t air that here.)
For those of you still unsure about where Grand Rapids is, point at the pinkie side of your open palm, about the same height as the base of the thumb. I knew long before the end of high school I wouldn’t ever go back there to work or live. That realization, I’ve decided since writing the last paragraph, is fully a function of the type of place it is, reinforced by my family. Ann Arbor is less than two hours from Grand Rapids, but it’s worlds apart.
I knew when I came to school here I wouldn’t stay in Ann Arbor any longer than necessary to graduate. Had it not been so much cheaper than going out of state, I’d be somewhere else. That’s not to say it hasn’t been great. I don’t regret a moment of my proverbial college experience, but I’m going to be excited when it’s time to leave. I’ll be a little nostalgic, I’ll miss my friends, but I’m sure I couldn’t stay here another year. Perhaps that’s because I’ll always see Ann Arbor as a transient place (I’m not that excited about getting older while the girls at the bar stay the same age) or because it is increasingly less unique as the University expands and the surrounding area becomes more commercialized. It doesn’t really matter. I just know I won’t be back.
The thing is, I don’t know exactly why I’m so happy to be leaving. I have virtually no clue as to where I’ll go when my lease here ends in May. I might not have a job. I’m not sure I want one. There are so many options it has become paralyzing. But I can’t wait to move out. Perhaps I am one of the few still enamored with the ethos of the road, the notion of giving up everything on the chance you’ll get something entirely new and better. Hemingway wrote about the virtues of expatriation, forsaking his family for the opportunity to die far, far away from them. Fitzgerald wrote about erasing his past, Salinger about the impossibility of absence solving familial problems, and that the prodigal son, in American culture, rarely returns home to a warm welcome. Kerouac understood all of this, but wrote it without the overt thanatos of Hemingway or the excess and romanticism of Fitzgerald. He blew it wide open, and the culture he was a primogenitor of represents one of the last major shifts in our country’s collective mindset. It led to the backlash of the stagnating status quo we have right now. In the United States, progressive thought seems to move in a sort of sine wave, and I presume we are in a trough. At least, I thought my parents worried about some of these same things at some point. So what happened? Why did they move to the suburbs and forget what it was like to hitchhike cross-country on a whim or smoke pot all the time? Did they fail or give up? Am I destined for the same? I keep going over to my ex-girlfriend’s house when I could be dating someone new. I drink in the same bar every night instead of trying different ones. I occasionally obsess over lost friendships I cannot salvage. Somewhere, underneath the urge to run, exists a latent desire to settle down, to fix things before moving again.
The problem with the ethos of the road is that giving up and failure are not only one in the same, they are the only options. There is no fulfillment without reaching the destination. And there is no destination. One just reaches an unmarked end. Empty.
I tried to explain all of this to my mother. She told me I shouldn’t have come home in the first place.
David Enders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.