Sumeet Jain
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24 Jan 2011

Going Home

Charleston, SC to New Orleans, LA

Saturday, December 18th

Excitement kept me awake during the night, so around 6am on December 18th, I called a cab and went back to the beach where I’d watched the meteor shower some days before. It had been raining, and the forecast called for more rain. But I wanted to see a sunrise on the east coast (to bookend the many sunsets I’d seen on the west coast) before heading home. It was unlikely to be viewable with the cloudy sky, but I didn’t have anything to lose (and I was awake anyway).

As it turned out, the forecast was correct and no sunrise was visible. Oh well. The hours on Folly Beach that morning were beautiful all the same. The past week had been full of quiet excitement. Charleston had cemented itself in my memory with its engaging history, kind people, delicious food, and beautiful sights. I could not have asked for a better stage for my various inner dialogues.

The plan now was to pick up a rental car, get some sleep back at the hostel, and then head home to California. But when I sat in the driver’s seat of a shiny 2011 GMC Acadia and my hands gripped the steering wheel, adrenaline pumped into my system, and I took off for California right away.

I drove into the night and approached New Orleans just after midnight. Driving is freedom. Trains weren’t taking me anywhere - I was taking myself wherever I wanted. When I looked down the long road ahead of me, the seed of this thought planted itself in my soul and grew all throughout the drive. As each mile passed, that thought breathed evermore life into me and kept me in a state of focused joy.

When it’s nighttime, the road between cities might as well be anywhere. Nothing but fields and small towns for miles and miles. I couldn’t see anything except the bright glow of my car’s headlights and the reflectors indicating my lane. An occasional car passed me, and there were exits every few dozen miles; but aside from this the scenery was a beautiful darkness. I opened the car’s moonroof and stole glances at the full sky above me.

Once, while driving along one of these empty stretches of road, a brilliant set of lights emerged from the darkness in the distance. It moved fast, and the lights were organized in large shapes with a couple extra-bright ones on the front. I entertained the most absurd thoughts before realizing it was an 18-wheeler truck crossing an overpass ahead. With no light around, the overpass had been invisible to me. It had looked like the truck was flying.

Semi-Trick at Night Photo from US Dept. of Labor

The darkness would play more tricks on me. For 45 miles before reaching New Orleans, I drove along I-10 through swamp and lake and saw that the roadside was littered with strangely-shaped, leathery objects. Crocodiles. I was driving through crocodile-infested roads. Were they going somewhere? Was I supposed to do something? I only had a half-second to consider answers to these questions before realizing that the objects were just shredded tires.

Tired but enthused, I finally parked in front of India House - the same hostel I’d stayed at during my weeklong visit a month before. I would rest here before continuing the drive.