I was in DC to restore sanity this weekend. I suppose everybody who is anybody has already blogged about this, but driving to DC and back in 72 hours is an exhausting endeavor. I only just had a moment to sit down and write about it.
I think that's an important part of the message of Saturday's rally -- don't rush home and write a million words about it; instead, think, and write later. I had been looking forward to this trip as a good way to go home for a couple weeks, at least. I've been feeling strange from time to time and was attributing it to being homesick. To be honest, I've been thinking in a mildly destructive way that Houston is the wrong place for me, that risking this move was wrong, and that I should just go home. I definitely needed a dose of sanity.
We left on Thursday night, after work. I was writing a grant literally down to the wire; one of my compatriots was waiting at my office door for me to finish. We got to my apartment. We loaded up the back of the car. We departed. But I didn't feel like I was headed homeward or anything like that, I just felt like I was... getting in the car for an adventure.
In the first few miles, we defined the ground rules: ding when we pass into new states, driving shifts would be of no more than four hours, passenger seat isn't allowed to sleep, fill it up when you finish your shift (it's just nicer that way). And so we began.
It was a wonderful trip. America's freeway system is a state unto itself, and it's a state I know well. I love it. I love the consistency of the roads set against the many landscapes of the American terrain. I love that there's always a McDonald's, an Exxon, or a Shell station because they give me a real sense of familiarity everywhere I go. That said, I can always tell when I'm home. The trees are different, the air is familiar, the mountains are the kind you can feel even in the dark. Lucky for us, we arrived in Virginia in the late afternoon:
My cousin and her husband took us in for the evening. She had beds made and dinner ready; she even made gluten free bread, just for me. Her home was so happy and so warm that the ache in my knees from having bent them in the car for twenty four hours just... slipped away. It was so peaceful.
We went to the rally in the morning, Simon & Garfunkel leading the way. We were planning on parking at a park and ride metro, but alas, the one close to my cousin's was so overwhelmed with people that the highway was backed up four miles out of the station. So, rationally, we moved on to the next. The line was long there, but it was a calm line. Even the dude not wearing any pants was pretty reasonable.
So then, we met the crowd:
And approaching the innards of it, we heard, "Who's ready to restore some SANITY?" It was Colbert or Stewart, we weren't sure which, but the happy sounds from the crowd meant we weren't hearing anything. Still, we made a foray in, and out, and in, and out... until we had to leave the mass of people. From the outskirts of this massive crowd of people emerged one of my brothers. Perfect!
We sign watched a bit:
And then again we wove in and out of the crowd, holding hands, moving in the currents of the people around us. It was one of the calmest groups I've ever met. Some of the rallyers were climbing trees, so we all cheered them and pitied them as they climbed and fell. Realizing that there was no destination in the middle of the crowd, we decided to head for the back of the rally and maybe catch a glimpse of the stage from there -- there was no way we were going to hear anything. So we did... by way of the art museum, a very rational decision on our part, I think. A sane and beautiful choice.
Walking towards the other end of the mall, it became rather clear that we weren't going to hear any of what the people watching on TV were hearing. We weren't going to hear any of the programming, at all, because we just weren't going to get close enough. This conversation we'd driven halfway across the country to take part in was going to happen without us ever hearing a word of it. This was disappointing for a moment.
Then I looked around and saw with me some of my favorite people in the whole world; I saw the crowds of kindhearted rallygoers who had come out to the mall that day to ask everyone to please, take it down a notch -- for America -- and I felt the solidarity in the air that day. I had good people all around me and beautiful, beautiful day in our country's capital. The disappointment went away.
I felt the crowd. The breath of this quiet crowd was in me. They weren't all vocally quiet, but the vibrations of the group were energetic but steady and calm. What more could I want? After all, watching what you missed is what youtube is for. I decided that I'd find out what the public perception of that day's shindig was later -- for now, I was going to feel it. From the opposite end of the mall, which, by the way, is really crazy far, this is what the crowd looked like:
So we sat out there on some steps near the grass and hung out. It was nice.
After the rally, we sat in a restaurant nearby for some beers and lunch. Old friends and new friends happened by (it's incredible to me that we ran into people we knew without meaning to, but we did), and it was good to see them all. This rally was a reunion of people and ideas: we can feel passionately about things, but that doesn't make our opponents our enemies. After months apart, it will always be good to see an old friend. People are inherently kind. These are a lot of random statements, I know, but I don't feel compelled to structure an argument around this experience -- I just want to share some of its beauties. For example, the sunset which sent us home:
And the sunrise that greeted us over Birmingham:
And the monument to confederate women in front of the statehouse in Jackson, Mississippi:
The chicken and the cat which shared our dinner in Louisiana:
And last, our own little monument to what we did:
One of my car-buddies fell asleep on my lap on the last leg into Houston. He woke up when I whispered, "We're home."
The funny thing is, I meant it. The first picture in this post is of the mountains of the stomping grounds of my youth; that place will always be a home of mine. But so is Houston; so is Texas. Taking off my sweater, being once again in a place where it would be completely absurd to wear more than a long sleeve shirt and jeans was a relief to me, in a way. I breathe differently here. The air is different here. Home, I think, is where you breathe it right. That's why there are many of them for some people.
I know I'll make it back to Virginia, in time. Meanwhile, I'm here. And I have friends willing to travel for 48 of 72 hours. Nice.
The sun rose on Birmingham in both directions, and I never felt like I was leaving home. I think, instead, I may have traveled between locations I've loved and truly lived in. I do not carry my home with me on my back, but I think I've made them in quite a few places, which is a comforting thought... even if I do want to get back to Appalachia.
Virginia, good to see you. Texas, it's good to be here. And Jon Stewart, thanks for the sanity.