The Road Atlas [essay] by Daniel Torday

1. Baltimore, MD  >> Sun Valley, ID, Summer, 1998

Mid-June. Pick up Then-Girlfriend/Now-Wife from airport, where T-GF/N-W returning from year in Dakar. Plan: in Grandpa’s old 1993 Nissan Maxima, pick up two Old Friends in Baltimore, drive to Tuscaloosa to pick up college friend in Tuscaloosa, drive through Ozarks, drive to Vail, drive through Independence Pass into Idaho. Spend week in wilderness in Sawtooth Mountains. Drive on.

Tuscaloosa Friend wears coveralls, no deodorant. Sometimes sits shotgun. When in back with T-GF/N-W + OFs, T-GF/N-W’s hair smells like TF for days.

TF mostly sits shotgun.

TF obsessed with maps. Geography major at Alabama. My Mom has gone dutifully to AAA and picked up “TripTik,” custom book of maps showing each leg of road trip. In Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, stop for gas. TF dumps TripTik in trashcan in favor of constant attention to road atlas. Road atlas retained.

2. Baltimore, MD >> Plattsburgh, NY, Summer 1996

Pick up friends in Baltimore to drive to weekend-long Phish thingy called Clifford’s Ball. Though I-95-ing it whole way, bring TripTik. Provided by Mom. Weekend: heat, water, tent, smokables, music. Ride up proves road atlas far more effective at cleaning and rolling smokables than TripTik. Road atlas retained.

3. Philadelphia, PA >> Philadelphia, PA, Every Morning, 2013-Present

Get jacket on One-Year-Old. Get shoes on Four-Plus-Year-Old. Get hat on One. Get jacket on Four. See jacket now off One. Get jacket back on One. Get backpack on Four. Grab phone-with-GoogleMaps. Get One and Four out front door.

Get One into car seat. Get Four into booster seat. Get Self into driver’s seat.

At Four’s feet: road atlas.

Only Lunatic would need road atlas to get where Self goes every morning, every day, every week.

Four asks to see road atlas. Four opens road atlas. Self feels phone-with-GoogleMaps in pocket.

“We live here?” Four asks. Four knows Pennsylvania begins with “P.” Four has opened road atlas to Pennsylvania.

“Show me,” Four says.

Road atlas retained.



Image of 1930s Switchboard Operator

[Refer: The essay refers to a clip of Phish’s Clifford Ball.]

Daniel Torday is the author of a novella, The Sensualist, winner of the 2012 National Jewish Book Award for Outstanding Debut Fiction. His debut novel, The Last Flight of Poxl West, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in March 2015. Torday’s short stories and essays have appeared in Esquire Magazine, Glimmer Train, Harvard Review, The New York Times and The Kenyon Review. He is an editor at The Kenyon Review, and he teaches at Bryn Mawr College.

Image by Flavio~