First off, it’s my 30th birthday! And how have I been celebrating this week? Well. I drove to Austin by myself. So that’s a thing.
When I started this trip in October, I spent 2 months in Boston (UGH, I MISS IT) and then went home for 6 weeks for the holidays (Thanksgiving through New Year’s). Then I went to Asheville for 5 weeks and had to come home for a month because I needed clearance from my gyno to drive cross-country; the last thing she or I wanted was to be on the side of the road with another ruptured ovarian cyst. (I did get that clearance—albeit begrudgingly—but I still need to get another follow-up while I’m in Austin; my gyno wasn’t happy with what she saw on the ultrasound).
My point is that for the last two legs of the trip, I had “breaks” home in New York. And those breaks were great. A guy I fooled around with in Boston who used to live in NYC said the first time he returned to New York, he felt as if his eyes had been dilated at an optometrist’s office. When I returned home after Boston, I couldn’t agree more. I felt completely disoriented on the subway and overwhelmed by the sounds and crowds and energy. When I got back home from Asheville, however, I was like OH THANK GOD. A REAL CITY WITH PEOPLE WHO ALL DON’T LOOK THE SAME AND PLENTY OF THINGS TO DO AND GOOD FOOD THAT CONTAINS ACTUAL NUTRITION AND VARIETY. I wanted to kiss the piss-scented sidewalk.
So what had I been doing at home in NYC for the last month? Well, I went to all my favorite places (Sweetgreen! Babeland! Journelle! Monster Cycle!), my day job has been crazy busy (my boss got fired!), I’ve been freelancing (THIS and THIS and THIS!), I went to a ton of doctor’s appointments (I have another cyst! And an anal fissure!), I booked my Denver Airbnb (weed!), planned a big "project" that I’ll be able to talk about in two weeks (IT’S SO GOOD), and I even got asked to appear on Buzzfeed’s morning Twitter show “AM to DM” (a total blast!). I crammed so much shit into a single month that before I knew it, it was time to drive to Texas. And for the first time on this trip, it was "real." I had wanted to drive to Asheville, but couldn't because of that damn ER trip in Boston. This time, I was driving. There weren't going to be breaks at home anymore. Once I left, I was committing to 7-8 months on the road.
Now, I mapped my route out months ago. I planned to drive 8 hours to Virginia, crash for the night, and then drive 7 hours to Atlanta, where I have family. I don’t know how high I was when I rationalized that 15 hours of driving in 2 days would be a normal undertaking. Because Jesus Christ was I wrong. Holy hell.
Now here are a few thoughts I have about driving for long periods of time:
Here’s the thing about my car. Now, I am not a bougie person at all when it comes to cars. In fact, I had the option to buy a new car for this trip, but decided against it just in case the worst happened (I’d rather total a 2001 Honda Whateverthefuck than anything else). So my car is old. I’m talking has a CD player old. But you know what? I hate touchscreen shit in cars and prefer not to have them because with actual buttons I can feel for the controls without taking my eyes off the road. I also have super fond memories of my car in high school (a black Dodge Neon named “Baby;” RIP) and you bet your ass I kept all of my CDs from middle and high school (REMEMBER THOSE ZIP-AROUND BOOKS WITH THE PLASTIC SLEEVES? YEP) and so for 7 hours from New York to Virginia, I listened to shit like Coheed & Cambria, Motion City Soundtrack and the soundtrack from RENT (because I was a very angry teen who was consistently on the honor roll and smoked weed, like, once), singing every lyric. I can’t remember shit because there’s a giant Ambien-sized hole in my brain (recommended Ambien usage: 1-2 months, how long Dana had been on it: THREE YEARS), but for some reason I know every lyric to every song on O-Town’s second album (take it from me—they should have stopped after the first one).
Do you know how fun it is to listen to albums that hit you right in the feels as a preteen for the first time as an adult? I legit burst out loud laughing at a gas station in Virginia when Erik from O-Town sang “Now I’ve been around the world tonight/And I can’t find my lover/Now I’ve been around the world tonight/And I CAN’T EVEN FIND MYSELF.” Incredible.
When I pulled into fuckin’ Shitkick, Virginia (no, no, I’m joking—where I stayed was a very bougie neighborhood filled with colonial homes and mansions; I just had to drive through Shitkick to get there), I felt like a deflated balloon. My Airbnb host was the absolute nicest woman—an art professor at the local college—and I could tell she wanted to chat more, but I didn’t have the energy (I was very kind and polite! Just very quiet). I think she understood. When her husband came home, I heard her excitedly stage whisper “She’s a writer from New York City!” which was very sweet. I was so wiped I settled for the Applebee’s down the road, which had muted Fox News on their TVs and Tatu’s “All the Things She Said” playing on the sound system. (Interesting choice, Virginia Applebee’s. Interesting choice.) After that, I took a bath with a plenty of Epsom salt (my body was so sore) in my private bathroom and ate peanut butter M&Ms in the bathtub.
My father (who has driven from New York to Florida and back) warned me that after a long drive, your body is so wired from being on constant alert that even though you’re exhausted, you can’t sleep. That happened to me. Have you ever spent a day at the beach body-surfing and then that night, while you’re trying to sleep, your body still feels like it’s bobbing in the ocean? That night, when I shut my eyes, I was still in three lanes feeling cars go by in my peripheral vision. It was awful. My body was on autopilot and couldn’t rest. But the next day, I got up super early, drove to my overnight Airbnb in Montgomery, Alabama (in a rough neighborhood), ordered a pizza and crashed like the dead. The following morning, I just wanted to get back on the road so the driving planned out for that weekend would finally be over. I got up at 7, was the first person at the local Goodyear (something was up with my tire; I got it fixed), and got to Atlanta around 3 in the afternoon.
I spent the week with my uncle’s ex-wife (who I don’t feel comfortable calling aunt because she’s, like, six years older than me and a total babe), her awesome husband, my 11-year-old bookworm cousin aka the only man I’ll ever trust or love (“I know all about how babies are made. I know everything from the cerebral cortex to the gluteus!” – my cousin, who definitely does not take after me at all, nuh uh, no way), and an 18-month old lil’ chickie who is all smiles and snuggles. Vivi’s favorite word is “donut” and she isn’t a big fan of wearing pants so I guess what I’m trying to say is I lived with the baby version of me.
Living at Jen and John’s was wonderful because Jen eats mostly vegan (I’m mostly vegetarian) and so I’d come into the kitchen and a meal would already be on the table for me. I made lattes with a real espresso machine and milk steamer. The downstairs apartment is super private and I had my own kitchenette (that Jen filled with snacks) and my own bathroom. “When my friends get divorced, they usually stay here.” – Jen, my hero
My week was spent working 90% of the time, but it was a great stay. I just needed to unwind and take care of myself. Driving takes a lot out of you. Here are some tips I want to pass on after driving across half the country:
Once I left Atlanta, I stayed overnight in Baton Rouge, and then by afternoon the next day, I was in my BEAUTIFUL condo (in an incredible location) in Austin. This is also the first leg of the trip I’m living on my own and it is *amazing*. I am fully clothed about 20% of the time and that estimate is generous. There is a lot of naked dancing going on. And naked getting stoned. And naked eating. You get the picture. Living alone is the tits.
I’ve only been in Austin a few days, but so far I’m getting very positive vibes, similar to what I was experiencing in Boston. I also randomly had a crazy hot ~sessual encounter~ the second night I was here (completely unplanned), so that may color my thoughts slightly. But overall, I am so proud that I made it. Driving across half the country is hard. I have joined the ranks of women who have driven across half the country by themselves. (I also have the distinct honor of being probably the only person in the history of West Virginia who has ever ordered a salad from a Burger King rest stop. And it was most definitely just the lettuce and tomatoes they put on the burgers and a piece of grilled chicken someone dropped behind the grill in 1996. Homegirl was charred.) I couldn’t be prouder of myself and I couldn’t have more positive vibes about Austin. Good things will happen here.
Passionate about everything having to do with the body, Dana Hamilton writes about sex, dating, relationships, body image, and eating disorder recovery. She is a regular contributor to Playboy and her work has appeared in VICE, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, New York Magazine, Teen Vogue, and SELF, among other publications.