Finding sanity on the road

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By Meaghan Downs

Right before checking into an insane asylum, I hit the open road.  
Some people meditate. Contort themselves into yoga pretzels and sailors’ knots in an effort to relieve stress.
I drive.
Sanity, for me, is found in the silence behind the steering wheel.
Both my hands grip the wheel at 10 and 2, freeing my mind to wander into the dark corners of things I don’t want to and need to think about.
Usually the sole passenger, I’m my own therapist. The worn driver’s seat? My personal reclining couch. No escape exists just an exit ramp away from my thoughts.
Road stretches behind me with nothing but more endless, winding strips of new interstate in front of me on the horizon.
The desire to embark on a road trip is a siren call I’ve never been able to ignore, as someone who grew up on family excursions to upstate New York to Florida to mission trips in Canada or moving to a new, small town in the Midwest.
Road trips figure prominently into American lore, particularly for American writers of all shapes, sizes and genres.
From Jack Kerouac’s ’60s cross-country adventure to Laura Ingallas Wilder’s covered wagon journey to even the zombie-ridden encounters of TV’s “Walking Dead,” the classic tale of the road trip is as all-American as life, liberty and the pursuit of a winning high school football season.
I believe that phrase is in the Declaration of Independence somewhere.
Because our forefathers must have known, along with calling for taxation with representation and a new republican government, that road trips are necessary for life.  
Well, it’s necessary for me.
As long as I can afford a full tank of gas (fingers crossed on that one), I’ll travel as far as a good set of wheels will take me.
And some road trips have taken me far beyond the road in front of me.
The silence doesn’t always produce morbid musings.  
New inventions and ideas spring forth from a mind that’s clear and focused:  
Books I know I’ll never write.  
Screenplays I know will change someone’s life.
Soundtracks for movies you’ll never see.
Plans to save the world, end cancer and neatly stitch up the widening political fissure:  gone as quickly as they popped into my head.
I’m as brilliant, charming and witty as I’ll ever be, as long as those thoughts stay contained inside my head before being criticized by the world at large.
Because then I shut off the car, open the door and step right back into chaos again.
Even in my short commute to work, in the weak morning light before a full day of writing, reading, interviewing, talking and more writing, I pretend I’m off to see the world.
As much as you can see the world in a five minute trip down U.S. 127.