Giving up the delusion of control helps.
Driving cross country is a great way to see the US of A in all its variation. And there’s more than one way to do it.
East-west comes to mind first, and there’s the northern tier states, the southern tier, and the middle.
Then there’s north-south—east coast, west coast, and several middle options.
Or you can zig-zag.
As an adult, I’ve driven from Maine to Arizona, and Arizona to Florida. Both times we were moving and had to be at the destination on a certain day. I’d like to have about three months off so we can drive (not on the interstate) only a few hours a day, staying in one spot for a time.
Family and work brought us to Florida. My home state of Maine is just too cold, but a great place otherwise. I had a job opportunity in Arizona, but my wife—a Florida native whose life circumstances brought her to Maine—didn’t like Arizona. And my dad and stepmom, now retired, had moved to Florida.
I-10 goes from goes from Los Angeles to Jacksonville. Phoenix is a pit stop. We left Phoenix on Labor Day weekend in 2018 expecting to arrive at my parent’s house outside of Tampa that Tuesday.
But Mother Nature can be a bitch.
I-10 passes through New Orleans, and tropical storm Gordon was threatening to become a hurricane. I-10 through Louisiana and Mississippi was a flood risk.
We left Phoenix midday Saturday and had driven through southern Arizona, past the astounding rock formations in southern New Mexico (a great place to stop and look around—if we had had the time). The next day we headed for West Texas.
Messin’ with Texas
Sunday night we found a motel in Junction, Texas (population 2,500)—more than 100 miles west of San Antonio.
The local newscasters were alarmed at the growing threat of tropical storm Gordon. Could become a hurricane! Might hit New Orleans! Gonna flood I-10!
Worse, Gordon could stall after hitting land and hang around for a week, wreaking havoc. Damnit, Gordo!
The motel’s internet was useless, and not even Verizon could hear me now. My phone’s Facebook Messenger app was the only thing that worked, and even that was spotty.
My anxiety level was set to max.
We can’t continue down I-10—we’ll be in Louisiana or Mississippi when Gordon hits. We don’t have the money to hunker down in Texas for a week. And I have to start my new job in Florida next Monday.
A lot to worry about
What if we drown in the car? What if I lose my job before even having started it because I don’t make it in time? What if, as a result, we become homeless and destitute?
My inability to effectively communicate with family and friends—or even to look at an online map—due to inadequate internet only heightened my anxiety.
Worrying about the wrong things
One of the most perplexing statements from book two of Discourses, Stoic philosopher Epictetus’s classroom lectures, is that we should be confident about external events beyond our control but cautious about our own choices, which we do control. But most of us get this bass ackwards, Epictetus says.
I thought about this, and dismissed it.
“But at least I can control my choices! I can’t control the terrible things nature throws my way!”
If the ghost of Epictetus, Obi-Wan like, had appeared in my motel room (funky Roman toga and all), he would have said something like,
“There’s no point in stressing over what might happen, or what has happened, because you can’t change the past and you don’t control the future.”
“You’re acting like it’s of no importance to act rashly as long as you get what you want. But outside events are neither good nor bad—it’s how you respond to them that’s good or bad.” Epictetus continues, “So tell me, is freaking out really helping you make a rational decision?”
A rational decision
In the end, my wife’s friend in Florida (her IM finally coming through after several connection time-outs), asked, “Why not take the back roads to Dallas, then catch I-20 to Atlanta, and I-75 south to Tampa?”
Imagining immanent death, or unemployment, I had lost my ability to think rationally.
Obi-Wan Epictetus, meanwhile, would remind me, “Don’t be like a stone statue—that’s poser Stoicism. Be aware of the anxiety you feel, but don’t assent to it—put it into perspective. You have no choice but to deal with bad weather, so don’t stress over it. Instead, be cautious of your anxiety-based choices. Ask yourself what an objective observer would say. Or ask an objective observer, if one is available.”