Life's Little Roads

Why did I wait so long to do this ridiculously simple thing?

Ian and I drove up Reader's Digest Road today. I've passed Reader's Digest Road on the parkway hundreds of times; it actually marks what I like to think of as the exact half way point between my "city life" and my "country life." Once I pass it, I'm "over-the-hump" and "almost there" in whichever direction I happen to be going.

But never, in all my years that I've passed it with regularity, did I ever make either the right turn while heading north or the left turn while heading south to drive up and take a peek. It never even occured to me to do so for a long, long time. I used to idly wonder if there was more to Reader's Digest Road than the giant, forbidding-looking red brick company structure on the hill, but it didn't ever seriously cross my mind to drive up there and take a look. Then, a few years ago, I began to think that I could maybe take a turn up there sometime, if I wasn't in too much of a hurry. But from the vantage point of the parkway, it really seemed more like a massive driveway than a public road, and maybe I would just end up at a security checkpoint leading into the Reader's Digest grounds, and since of course I don't work for Reader's Digest (I don't even read it) or have any business being there (unless "curiosity" can be considered "official business") they'd tell me to "go away." And I'd have to make some awkward and embarassing broken u-turn to get out of there and hold up traffic and annoy people. Being awkward in public is a phobia of mine.

I did take a turn up Roaring Brook Road once. Roaring Brook Road is more or less the same road as Reader's Digest Road, it just goes off the other side of the parkway directly opposite. A couple of years ago, heading south, I came to a stop at the intersection at the red light (the light is always red when I come to it...) and impulsively turned right, up Roaring Brook. Why I didn't impulsively head up Reader's Digest, when that was really the one I wanted, I don't know. Kind of like going for a member of the homecoming court instead of the queen, because you know you'd never pull it off...?

So, up I went, up Roaring Brook. And...there's not much to tell. It was a nice, winding road with lots of big, old trees, and lots of big, old, upper-middle-class north-county homes. I wound around the road for a few minutes before it deposited me conveniently back onto the parkway, still heading south. Yawn. OK, well, I'd crossed that off my 'things to do' list.

I crossed another couple of roads off my 'to-do' list over the ensuing months. Not as part of any big plan or anything. Just once in a while when I'd pass one of those roads up in the country that I'd never been on but had passed hundreds, probably thousands of times really, in thirty some-odd years....instead of plowing by, if I had the time, I'd turn and drive up. Big Bear Road, another big hill, where snotty little Wally used to get picked up and dropped off on the yellow school bus. I never had much more interaction with Wally than stopping him from throwing rocks at my dog (yes, he was that type of kid...) but the road name was evocative, and why, especially when you had to slow down anyway as you passed the turn on the main road, had I never turned up there?

So one day, I slowed down and turned up Big Bear. And again, it was lovely...but nothing special. It was a longer road that I had imagined, and a steep hill all the way up. Was it a dead-end? I don't remember, though I did come back down the way I went up, so it probably was. If it had ended up on another road, I would have taken that road and continued on in the same vein until I ended up somewhere I recognized.

Mountain View Road (or, "Mt. View," as it's abbreviated on the signpost), is another big hill. Another dead-end, or at least I am as sure about that as I am about Big Bear. Mountain View Road wends its way off the main road opposite the horse farm ("the fields") where I used to work as a teenager. My dad always referred to it as "the pasture," since "pasture" more than "fields," accurately described the expanse of land where animals, horses or otherwise, grazed, and my father was nothing if not accurate in his descriptions. I remember once way back in those horsey days, a man came out to the fields with his elderly mother. True to the name of Mountain View Road, his mom had fallen into the habit, from her big living room window in her house up there, of watching, teenagers....all of us of all ages, working with the horses, riding around...doing what we did. It captured her imagination, and her grown son was nice enough to figure out our exact location from that mountain top distance, put his mother in the car and drive her on out to meet us. They were periodic visitors from then on out; mom and son would come, were always warmly welcomed, and would sit around for a couple of hours and watch the goings-on. I thought of them, god, thirty years later, as I took a drive down that road.

I took all of those little side trips, those little exploratory jaunts, by myself. When I'm with anyone else, that generally means we're headed somewhere, with no time to satisfy a little bit of ages-old curiosity.

But today, I was with Ian. Just Ian. Who has patience for his mom and her nonsense. Heading back down from "country life" to "city life" on a slow Sunday afternoon. "Ian," I said, as we approached the red light heading south on the parkway, "I'm going to take a left turn here and take a peek up Reader's Digest Road. I've always wanted to have a look up here, ok?"

"OK" he automatically responded. Followed two seconds later, as I knew it would be, by "Wait, what?"

"Where are we going? Why?" Ian loves to clarify. No, strike that, Ian needs clarification. It's one of his 'things.' Ian doesn't like the unknown. It makes him nervous, even the "surely to prove mundane" unknown.

"Just up here to see what's what..." I said. "I've never gone up this road before in all my life, and I decided it's about time we had a look."

"Well, what's up here?" Ian asked. My sweet, predicatable baby.

"I don't really know, Ian, that's why I've finally decided to have a look, don't you think it will be interesting? You know, this big red building up here, that's the headquarters for Reader's Digest, that's a very famous magazine."

"I KNOW." Ian replied.

"How do you know that?" I asked. Ian's leisure reading doesn't extend far beyond World Wrestling Monthly.

"I know things!" he said. Fair enough.

We waited for the green turn arrow and made the left turn onto Reader's Digest Road. After we drove a few yards and over the railroad tracks, the true path to the big red company building became clear. It was on the left, a turn off the road, and the main road itself continued on in an arc to the right. No unavoidable security checkpoint. No embarassing u-turns. Just a big swoop to the right, up a road with more big, old trees, and more big, old houses, which eventually deposited us conveniently back onto the parkway, still heading south. An old question, as old, if not as pressing, as any question I've ever had, answered as easily as that. This ages-old little question, answered, in most anticlimactic fashion, in a turn up a hill.

Why did I wait so long to do this ridiculously simple thing? Of the thousands of times I passed Reader's Digest Road, I wasn't in too much of a hurry every single one of those times. Did I just know it would be a bit of a letdown once I did it? It's not as if I thought there were great questions to be answered by driving up there. It's not as if I imagined I'd stumble upon the Holy Grail, or Oz, or something, up there.

I am glad I did it with Ian. He's got to learn to explore life's paths, big and little, with others and by himself, so I hope he learns to do it through me.

But I think....I'm just going to miss wondering about it now, stupid Reader's Digest Road, dumb magazine I continue to drive by in years to come. Just imagining what it looked like up there. It was just a little unanswered question I enjoyed chewing upon everytime I passed. And now I don't have that anymore.

Should I drive up every single road, or are some roads better left to the imagination?

Does every question need answering?

Then what?


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