Bloodlines and Maplines
Updated: Jan 19, 2019
There are two things that make the Finley clan so remarkably Finley-ish; our raucous guffaws, and our road trips, one of which rarely comes without the other. Prior to leaving for college, I had never flown anywhere, nor have most of my cousins, and the elder generations despise it. In the absence of absolute necessity, we much prefer the cramped conditions of a tiny four-door with too many people and, sometimes, not enough seat belts.
The most important events of my life, before and after my birth, take place in a car. While my grandfather courted my grandmother, he accompanied her family on their yearly road trip to Utah. Driving on the line between yesterday and tomorrow, starlight and sunlight, my great-grandfather was at the wheel with his wife beside him, my grandparents in the middle seats, and my great aunts behind them. The ill-lit, infinite stretch of road lulled my great-grandfather into a doze, and when the brights of an oncoming car shattered the windshield into a thousand rays of color, my grandfather lunged forward, took the steering wheel, and saved both cars. Even after their divorce, my grandmother knows that was the moment she fell in love.
Thirty years later, my parents met in Berkeley, California. When school let out, they parted ways, my dad returning to Upland in Southern California, and my mother to Walnut Creek, near San Francisco. Every week, sometimes twice in the same week, my dad drove along the west coast to visit my mother. Thousands of miles later, she finally made the drive back with him.
My early childhood is a blur of gray car interiors, the smell of chili cheese fry vomit, and the streaks of colors that assembled into the landscapes that zoomed backwards past my window. Summers and winters meant six or seven hours in the car before the forests of Tahoe bloomed before us, with an outdated cabin with yellow paper-lined shelves and linoleum floors that smelled of sunshine even when snow pressed its nose against the windows. The first time I pulled an all-nighter was the summer of 2005, when my family drove through Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. I stayed up all night and counted rocks and stars as the blistering desert cooled to match my mother’s warm embrace. We visited some thirty National Parks and Monuments that summer, and at each one my brother and I stamped our homemade passports. I haven’t touched mine since.
Though I was born, like most, in a hospital, I grew up in a car, from the daily commute to school and ballet to the increasingly infrequent treks to the far corners of the West. I will continue to grow up this way, and it’s almost certain that much of my coming life - young adulthood to senility - will be spent in a car. Though the sheets of a bed that smell of home win a close second, nothing soothes me more than the rumbling of flying asphalt and the soft murmur of the radio, rocking me in time with the with ticking odometer of my life.