Confessions of a Pa. turnpike junkie

Pittsburgh is just waking up as I climb the steps to the second level of the double-decker bus waiting to take to me to D.C.

The doors slide shut, and we begin to navigate the grid of streets that make up the heart of the City of Bridges.

I look out the rain-streaked window at the inbound traffic just beginning to clog the parkway. Headlights glisten off the wet, dark pavement. The lanes leading away from downtown remain clear.

Nobody’s leaving Pittsburgh at this hour of the morning.

We leave the city behind. I shift this way and that, finally finding a promising spot that allows for an hour or two of sleep. The Turnpike passes in a drowsy, rocking fashion as the bus navigates the jersey-barriered twists and turns.

It’s a route that’s as familiar to me as anything can be. Even without driving it, I know those turns through Breezewood taking us from the Turnpike to Interstate 70 well. Lean this way just so to offset the pull of the tight ramp. Lean that way at the sharp 90-degree turn at the light. No, we’re not stopping at the Bob Evans this time.

Childhood memories are funny things. So many remain buried, while others come to mind at the slightest nudge.

Every year, my family would make the trek for Christmas – and other holidays, as we were able. West Friendship, Md., to Youngstown, Ohio. Before we moved to Ohio ourselves.

I loved it. I knew when we packed up the car, gathered snacks and checked the supply of books and other entertainment that it was time to go northwest.

You may notice I haven’t mentioned why we headed to Ohio. Don’t get me wrong – I loved seeing relatives and spending time with them – but that isn’t what sticks in my mind.

It was the process of getting there that snagged my childish imagination.

It is the sole reason I became convinced my life’s calling was to be a semi truck driver. To a 7-year-old, the prospect of driving the Turnpike all the time was romantic, a sign of limitless possibilities.

Age has reversed that opinion, of course. How quickly our youthful dreams can become just that – dreams.

This period of waiting to go to Kenya has been a time of reflection, among other things. It has been a time of retracing steps I’ve taken in the past and exploring new paths, some I expected, others I didn’t.

Rain beats a tight staccato on the bus roof as the wind whips by. Patty Griffin pipes through the headphones.

May you dream you are dreaming, in a warm soft bed
And may the voices inside you that fill you with dread
Make the sound of thousands of angels instead
Tonight where you might be laying your head

As the bus continues down the highway, all of these things bounce around in my head. I’m once again traveling, something I’ve become very accustomed to this year. Soon, hopefully, I’ll be traveling even further.

For now, though, I’ll settle for another trip down memory lane.

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