I am finally back in Los Angeles after the most epic road trip ever. Twelve days, seventeen states, and almost 4000 miles of skyscrapers and prairie dog towns, one lane highways and campgrounds. I feel as though the miles gave me hours to be alone with my thoughts- which can be an opportunity, and terrifying.
I remember a sense of finality as we crossed the border into Connecticut from Massachusetts. My time in Boston was over. It’s a strange act to say goodbye to a place, especially with mixed emotions sunk deep into the foundation of your life there. The rain drops pelted the windshield all the way into New York and then on to Pennsylvania, where we would make our first stop.
Jose and I have been fans of the show The Office for a long time. As long as the seasons are on Netflix, we return to it as one of the few sitcoms we both enjoy. So when we knew we would pass through Scranton, PA, the setting of the show, we planned our drive through the electric city. We spent the first few hours of our drive exchanging our favorite lines, most of which were uttered by the geeky, overbearing beet farmer character named Dwight. Anticipation built in my mind as I imagined the Steamtown Mall and what treasures it would hold.
We exited the freeway onto a long raised road that eventually led to a narrow intersection. On the opposite corner, a rundown pizza parlor advertised $.99 slices. We turned left and drove down the road behind an empty trolley. Dirt caked every street sign, each of which looked bent and antique. When we arrived at the mall, the parking ticket booth had been abandoned, so we found the biggest parking space possible for the giant Tahoe, our road trip vehicle.
This was my first clue that Scranton was different than in the show. That could have been obvious, but I needed to see it to believe it. More than half the stores in the mall were vacant. After we found the one relic that acknowledged the show, a replica of the “Welcome to Scranton” sign that appears in the opening montage, we drove to a Walgreens on the other side of the city to replenish our water. More desertion- it wasn’t that Scranton was full of desolate people, it was that the city itself was desolate, deserted. The few folks we saw walking around moved slowly, as if meaning was absent from all of life there. I have been in big cities all my life and I’ve seen small towns- but this seemed something different. At least small towns seemed to have a life pulse through them, a central meeting point, or a gas station. I wondered if this desolation had anything to do with the intense divide in our country right now, the one that has widened an abyss of misunderstanding on all sides.
This was the first wake up call of our journey. I was mentally preparing myself for the guns- I knew the states that we could expect to find them. But the abandonement of a place made me consider how particularly I have lived my life thus far. Perhaps it is not the guns I find most terrifying, but the vacancy of opportunity lost. As we drove away, back onto the luxurious freeway that would take us to Cleveland, I wondered if we would see this despair again.