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I’ve done a few things in my life that have raised eyebrows, but this winter, when I decided on a dime to drive across country—from my home in NYC to a three- month-rental in Venice, CA—with a man I’d just met, my family and friends were slightly worried that I was going a bit too far, so to speak.
I felt a twinge of jealousy, wondering whether I, at 48, might be too old to have such an adventure.
You see, I’ve always wanted to drive across America, but the opportunity had never presented itself. So when it did, I grabbed it.
Last summer my college-age daughter Ella did the same trip with her best friend. As I waved good-bye to the girls from the parking lot of a diner in Fort Lee, NJ, I was worried, of course, but more proud, hopeful they would conquer the road in whatever sort of Thelma & Louise way would make them feel good. Their iPhone shots along the way—new tattoos procured in Minneapolis, Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands—were thrilling to me, and I felt a twinge of jealousy, wondering whether I, at 48, might be too old to have such an adventure.
Manifest Destiny, Anyone?
Little did I know that three weeks later my second marriage would unexpectedly blow up, and that overnight I’d find myself in the ultimate empty nest—kids and husband gone—just me alone with my 12-year-old dog, Muffin.
Cut to later that fall. Emotionally wrecked, but trying to get on with things, I was in Los Angeles for a trip combining some work and some pleasure, and a lovely guy I met online a few weeks earlier was calling regularly. One day as I was weaving through traffic in Sherman Oaks, top down on the rental car, he said, “You sound so happy out there. Maybe you should spend the winter in LA. Maybe we both should!” I guffawed, flirtatiously, if that’s even possible, “Don’t be crazy; I hardly know you.” To which he responded “We know each other better than you think. Let’s do something bold.”
This was a midlife turning point: the realization that after two marriages, four kids, and a varied career, I could, actually, for the first time, just take off.
I work from home, so his words sunk in. Why couldn’t I go to LA for the winter? Was there anything holding me back? In retrospect, this was a midlife turning point: the realization that after an adulthood including two marriages, four kids, and a varied career, I could, actually, for the first time, just take off. Manifest Destiny, anyone? At almost fifty, would going west help me find a new path?
We allowed ourselves two weeks, choosing a rough direction using a yellow highlighter and a paper atlas (mid/Southern route, down to Asheville, then Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock, Bentonville, across the plains of Kansas, Denver, Aspen, Telluride, Moab, Vegas, Hoover Dam, Venice!) but didn’t book any hotels til the day of, so that we could feel footloose.
All-American Charm and Speeding Tickets
With a cooler full of snacks, a jam-packed trunk, and Muffin taking ownership of exactly half the back seat, we created our own little eco-system, where we divided the driving equally, ate tons of almonds and Halo oranges, listened to NPR incessantly, and got three speeding tickets.
What sticks out the most in my memory now, a few weeks later? The violet light filtering through the denuded forests of Tennessee as we drove through at dusk; actual tumbleweed on the plains of Kansas; the other-worldly power of the red rock formations in Moab; the massive Art Deco beauty of Hoover Dam; the blue moon we saw in Telluride, in a gondola at midnight. Those were the American charms, for me.
The inner reveal? I travelled for fourteen days in a car with a man I barely knew, and we laughed constantly. I felt like myself, all the time, in a way I wasn’t able to in my marriage. I also cried sometimes in motel bathrooms and once or twice behind the wheel, hopefully hidden behind my sunglasses. It’s not lost on me that while I was trying to escape via the ultimate freedom—heading West in a car with no constraints—I wasn’t alone, and there were still lots of emotions binding me to New York.
Reaching the Coast
Now I’m in LA, and my adventure continues. The vast, gorgeous sky that emerged as we drove west is here in abundance, and there is light and color everywhere, just like a Hockney painting.
The high quality of produce is doing me good, and I even like being in a different time zone. I’ve already gone chanting Kundalini-style, had a tarot card lesson, biked at sunset along the ocean, and continued to ponder my mistakes and regrets, just in better weather.
I’m still young enough for radical reinvention.
What started almost as a lark has turned out to be meaningful, even if I don’t entirely understand it all yet. I said yes in a big way and learned so much right off the bat: That I’m still young enough for radical reinvention. That I can go straight into the unknown and find joy, even amidst sorrow. That I can say “I’m just doing this for me, because I can, and I’ll see where it takes me.” The world often feels full of ideas about what a woman’s life should be, and it’s incredibly liberating to realize that we can make it whatever we want, at any time. It’s never too late, and sometimes we need distance to see things clearly.