The Suitcase Lady


April 6, 2021, 9:03 pm

Note: I wrote this blog last year, just before Covid hit. All road trips were ended, and I put  the blog in my saved pile. A few weeks ago, with vaccinations and hope on the rise, I retrieved it. And then, last week, this sad news appeared on the front page of the New York Times.

“Larry McMurtry, a prolific novelist and screenwriter who demythologized the American West with his unromantic depictions of life on the 19th-century frontier and contemporary small-town Texas, died at his home in Archer City, Texas. He was 84.”

Ironically, I recently read a book about road travel while flying in an airplane. The book was a serendipitous purchase found on my library’s sale shelves.

Entitled Roads by Larry McMurtry, the book was calling to me. Mr. McMurtry is one of my favorite authors and Driving America’s Great Highways (the book’s subtitle) is one of my favorite things to do. I quickly parted with the fifty-cent purchase price.

Lonesome Dove, Terms Of Endearment and The Last Picture Show are among McMurtry’s many highly acclaimed novels. Book lovers also know him as an avid collector of rare books. At one time, he ran four bookstores in his tiny hometown, Archer, Texas. His travel books number 3,000, and he has read every one.

He explains his rationale for Roads as follows,” I merely want to roll along the great roads, the major migration routes that carry Americans quickly east-west or north-south. What I really want to do is look.”

His method for doing this consisted of flying to a distant city once a month for ten consecutive months, immediately renting a car and driving home, mainly on interstate highways and logging between 800 or 900 miles a day. For example, San Diego to Tucson to Archer City on the 8, the 10 and the 20. Many people would consider this insanity, but for some of us nomads, happiness is a clear sky and an open road.

I’ve driven many of his drives or major portions of them myself. Some are so familiar to me that I have the routes memorized. But what fun it was to see these trips through someone else’s eyes and mind. McMurtry reveals the history of the land he traverses as well as the literary giants who were formed by the varying American landscapes. The book is a vicarious road trip with an extremely erudite driver.

These words he uses to describe his massive travels are, to me, absolutely perfect.

“Being alone in a car is to be protected for a time from the pressures of day-to-day life; it’s like being in one’s own time machine, in which the mind can rove ahead to the future or scan the past. When I’m getting ready to start a novel, I’ve always found that driving across the country for a few hundred miles is a good way to get ready. I may not be forming scenes or thinking about characters – indeed, may not be thinking of much of anything on these drives. But I’m getting ready, all the same.”

I so agree. The open road is a great muse.

Photo: Mary Tooley

1 Comment for this entry

  • Peter Little

    I’m no expert on Mr. McMurtry, but it seems that in literature the Open Road has often figured as a metaphorical-device; change, opportunity, freedom, new experiences, etc. I go – therefore I am.