best-laid plans

We are meant to leave home.

Every human is supposed to leave the place where they grew up, and some of us never return. Whether we never live there again, or come back and never quite return mentally, it’s necessary to our evolution to put it behind us and live anew, somewhere else. We are meant to heed the soft call of the open road. It widens our perspective, helps us develop empathy, and learn to be the person we were meant to be.

When I left my hometown a decade ago, I made myself a promise: Never, ever come back here. Not to live, anyway. Six months and two weeks ago, give or take a few days, I broke that promise.

Robert Burns once wrote that the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. I returned home to one new family member (my nephew) and one temporarily absent (my brother), and a job in a new industry. That job is gone now. Temporary. I’ve returned to the company I left before moving back here (another promise broken), but not before learning that life has a few things in mind for me beyond my best-laid plans.

A few weeks ago, I was in a minor accident. My car, 15 years old and north of 182,000 miles, was not badly damaged but declared a total loss. I wasn’t hurt. The accident happened at the same intersection where I bought the car a decade ago. The used car lot that was there is now a gas station.

A few days after the accident, I joined my favorite adventurer (my better half) to heed the road’s call, to her homeland in the south. The road has the power to show us things we didn’t know we needed to see.

Alabama, at least in the northern third of the state, is lovely. It’s mountainous, dense with history and character, and full of people who prove that the stereotype about the place is wrong. Southern hospitality is real, white sauce goes well with barbecue chicken, and culture is as much a way of life as football. When you’re on the road to somewhere new, leave your preconceptions at home, and don’t keep them after you return.

On our way back north, we met Nashville’s Hattie B, and paid homage to the king of southern comfort food, the Waffle House.  It wasn’t yet cold or hard here, but it was coming. There was a chill in the wind, and the rain had turned cold. A few weeks later, we knew that summer’s lease had all too short a date.

Autumn is performing its terrible dance here. It’s cold, blustery, and gloomy. The rain and wind have stripped the trees of their colors, and snow is on the horizon. In some parts of this state, it’s already on the grass. So naturally, I took the adventurer as far north as I could yesterday without crossing water. I introduced her to the Straits of Mackinac. The entire region was desolate. The tourists have gone to shelter in warmth, and the workers have scattered to the winds. Mackinaw City, normally packed with visitors from everywhere, was all but abandoned, except for a bar, a pasty shop, a few hotels, and a gas station.

We followed the Lake Michigan coastline on the way home. We encountered the first maple sugar maker in the United States that’s also a winery, experienced normally-bustling Traverse City in off-season quietude, and saw the after-effects of lake effect snow on an inland forest.

As for me, I’m learning that the plans we make don’t always come to fruition. Life has other plans, at least in the interim. The road always offers me solace and wisdom, as it has for the past decade. I won’t be here forever; this much is for sure. Where the road will take me next is anybody’s guess. While I’m here, I might as well learn a few things, as this long strange trip continues.

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