The mother road

Life is simple. Do only good. Hurt no one. Live well.

WORDS AND IMAGES BY RAFFY TESORO

I’ve pretty much traveled all my life, in all sorts of transport that would have done John Candy proud and then some. Of all these sojourns, nothing calls more than the road trip.

What’s so special about it? Is it the wind in your hair? The miles under your tires as you race along lonely roads to destination somewhere? Ironically enough, I found the answer—my answer—on a dusty stretch somewhere in Oklahoma.

In our daily lives we are ruled by our jobs, our needs, our taxes and our bills—necessary concepts to be sure, but oppressive to the soul as time goes by. Once you’re on the road though, that all melts away. There’s nothing in front of you except the future and nothing behind you but the past. The present is now. Your concerns become incredibly simple. Get somewhere at a certain time? Maybe. Got enough cash for food, gas, lodging and knick-knacks on the way? Check. How about decisions for the everyday stuff? That’s all on hold. What do we see? Where do we go? What do we eat? Those are all discoveries waiting to be made.

The real questions start popping up now that you don’t have the mundane to clutter your mind. What do I want to do with myself? Where am I headed? That all comes into play, like a metaphor come to life at 80 miles an hour. Stretches of silence punctuated by the occasional bump and the hum of dim music can tease out the answers that you never wanted to really face. It’s easy to disregard all this while we’re living our daily lives. But in a car, alone with your thoughts, you are faced with your greatest fear: Yourself.

So that’s what the open road does. It clears the mind and opens the soul. It makes you ask the hard questions that should really be answered. While this plays in your head, you look at the landscape bisected by a black line in the middle. That’s where you have to go. Suddenly, life is simple. Simplicity is freedom.

It’s about freedom. And it’s always good to be free.

ROUTE 66

I first heard of Route 66 from a song. My grandfather used to tune in and tell me the stories of a bygone age that came with the Mother Road. He would say to me “My time is going. We fought two World Wars. We knew evil and we rallied against it. We also knew what was good and why we were fighting for it. We dressed well not to impress but to show respect. We knew when to talk about important matters and chose not to pay attention to the unimportant ones. Nowadays, it’s not as clear cut. Life got complicated.”

He was a product of that era and a proud member of the Greatest Generation. Although he never fully traversed the length of the Mother Road, he definitely knew parts of it. His brother lived in LA and had the most hilarious job ever. If I remember it correctly, he used to be a driver for Universal Studios and was charged with the Batmobile—the very first, atomic powered Batmobile. He would sneak it out of the lot at night and joyride it down Sunset Boulevard to impress girls. My grandfather would tell that story often and with glee, eyes twinkling as he talked.

The years passed, my grandfather passed away. I grew up. But something would always gnaw at me. It was a yearning for the simple life. To know what was black and white, right and wrong. In today’s world, full of noise and static, I decided to act on it. Then I remembered the song.

So there I was, standing on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Jackson Boulevard with my friend in the Windy City, just taking it all in. If you look up at the sign and drown out the din, you’re back in 1920s Chicago with its dark, looming edifices and overcast skies. I closed my eyes and imagined men in pinstriped suits and snazzy fedoras smoking cigarettes next to me.

Then we hit the road.

That type of scene played over and over again in different forms. We’d be in a diner somewhere in Oklahoma and imagine what it was like back then. People talked. They asked questions. They stopped and asked “How’s it going?” and meant it. They were more connected to each other on a personal level. It was still done out there, in the small towns. Things had value. Machines were built to last. Is this what simplicity was? To be away from the rat race and truly just know that you are a part of humanity?

We met an 86-year-old antique dealer-slash-farmer in Missouri who loved to talk for hours about life. He taught me how to make horseshoes and railway spikes glow in the dark with crushed fireflies. We stumbled upon a big, burly, Hells Angels stereotype who was running a lonely outpost in Arizona. He looked like he could snap me in two but he also had the best sense of humor. He refused to have any photos taken without the brightest pink baseball cap you’ve ever seen. We met people. We talked. We conversed. We learned. We matured.

Then there was the silence. Miles and miles of road in between towns with only a few hundred people in there at the most. Our constant companions were tumbleweeds and the iron horse. Broken signs and ruins littered the landscape, a stark reminder of an era long gone. It was a time when my grandfather lived. Driving through the Main Street of America was like having him with me again. I would take photos and send them to my mom. She would reply: “I remember those when I was a kid.” “I miss how it looked back then.” “It was so simple.”

There it was again, the word “simple.” And it was.

Devoid of the noise of today’s life, the answers would just come to questions we never wanted to ask. What do I want to do with myself? How do I want to be remembered? Prior to leaving Manila, I was all burnt out and unsure what to do with myself. It seemed that nothing was right or wrong anymore. Everyone was about getting ahead and it was stressing me out. But out there, in the middle of nowhere, I found the simplicity that they were talking about.

Life is simple. Do only good. Hurt no one. Live well. Material things are temporary but our legacy lives forever. And whatever we do, this earth will outlive us all. It really does put things into perspective. So now I choose to do all that, despite what others tell me so that I can get ahead. I don’t want to get ahead. I don’t need to. Everyone else can choose to complicate their existence with wants, needs, trends and fads, but not me. I’ll do what makes me happy. If it makes other people happy then so be it.

Going through Route 66 was an experience I’ll take with me for the rest of my life. I’ll always remember the names of the towns that are slowly disappearing from the map but never in my mind. Tucumcari, Shamrock, Barstow, Winona, Flagstaff, Two Guns, Joplin, Vega… too many to mention but if you want to take a trip back to a simpler time then the Route is for you. Everything from the 1900s to the 1980s is still there in all its faded glory. But for how long, we don’t know.

Roughly two weeks later, we drove down Sunset Boulevard. One final time, I imagined an “atomic” powered Batmobile driving next to me. My grand-uncle’s wide smile beaming as he looked across at the ghost of my grandfather sitting comfortably in the rear passenger seat. “Hey Noler,” my grand-uncle would say. “Hello, Ramon,” my uncle would reply. Then he’d drive off into the sunset while we turned away and parked at the Santa Monica Pier.

My friend ran off to take some photos as I walked toward the ocean and I felt my grandfather slowly fade away into the warm LA sunlight. I said my goodbyes and was filled with gratitude. It was good to be with him again and to feel him guiding me on a road preserved in a moment when he truly lived.