It’s Summertime…and the highway is calling. With vacations planned and wanderlust on the rise, now is the time that we find ourselves striking out on the road to adventure and discovery. On our drive to discovering a few different Americas out there, it can be all too easy to find a disheartening drone of interstate arteries, drained by identical off-ramps evenly spaced, fed by the same corporate fast-food chains, pitching a kind of fabricated heartland patriotism – a navigated, located, ATM card “freedom” that’s only designed to free you from your vacation savings while propelling you past an alien, deeply divided America. It almost makes me just want to stay home and cry…but wait—there is another way!
The Buddha said this about Life’s transit:
We are created by our thoughts; we become what we think.
Pain and suffering follow negative thoughts like the
wheel follows the ox that pulls it.
The Dhammapada, 1:1
What if we struck out on a different route instead? On a path inspired by our longings for a truly fulfilling vacation – healthful, connected, and discovering our uniquely diverse American wholeness, lined with joyful creativity and camaraderie? Well here’s the good news: That America is out there, waiting for you…but how do we find it?
Recently, my wife and I left our home of many years in New York City, and drove cross-country for twelve days to our new home in the West; across a southern route we’d never taken before. Along the way we accidentally – almost magically – discovered a beautifully spiritual route, right through those limited options and glaring cultural divisions we might otherwise drive by without investigation. It happened as a result of one amazing “secret” trick that I’ll give you in a minute, but also by following a couple pretty intuitive tips that made it all possible. So here’s the dharma of the road trip we discovered…
First of all, don’t crowd the drive into fewer days than necessary – getting there really is half the fun. Lay out your days in a general way, and limit yourself to four or five hours of driving per day, starting in the morning, and arriving to your daily destination in the early afternoon, giving yourself time to explore along the way, and to settle into your overnight surroundings with some space and energy. The variety of excellent lodging apps makes finding a place to stay as easy and worry-free as spending five minutes after lunch to book your top pick.
While traveling, be willing to venture off the beaten path, and be positive and open-hearted to everyone you meet. Remember that practicing radical, unconditional kindness is an incredibly powerful way to open doors and possibilities. It’ll precondition every experience you encounter, and magically gain you upgrades and invitations that you could have never dreamed of. Let the trip show you where to go next – synchronicities and “magical” meetings will pile up as evidence that the Universe is showing you where you have to go, and what you have to see next; and introducing you to exactly who you’re supposed to meet. The coincidences will be custom-made, but won’t appear unless you’re fully flexible, and open to the energies generated by each experience. You’ll find yourself being mysteriously woven into the fabric of everywhere you are.
And naturally, If a place is telling you not to stay, get in the car and leave.
“Let the road home, be home.”
Now here comes the secret trick – and it came to us because my wife is a vegan, and I’m a vegetarian, but whether you’re a non-meat-eater or not, you’ll find this method works miraculously well. (It worked especially well considering that we traveled across the old Route 66 – through a slice of the heartland where you wouldn’t expect veggie-types to find many easy meals…) Now here’s the secret:
Do a search for vegan/vegetarian restaurants before getting to your daily destination – whether you’re a veggie or not, and watch how it will transform your trip, and maybe your life!
It (literally) turns out that as you navigate towards those destinations, you’ll find yourself completely avoiding the big boulevards lined with corporate tourist-traps and “neighborhood” chains, and heading into the artistic, architectural, entrepreneurial, and “alternative” neighborhoods instead – the parts of town where you can really eat well, and feed your soul at the same time.
There aren’t any aggressive 24-hour TV truckstops blaring where “alternative lifestyles” are quietly creating the new sustainable businesses of the future; bringing the solid old (often industrial) neighborhoods back to life after having been abandoned by the rigid corporations and their forced, soulless “food and fun.” They’re the parts of town where you find new galleries, boutiques, coffee shops, music venues, live theater, and of course, cutting-edge food. Right away, you’ll thank God it isn’t Friday.
There you’ll also find the greatest local diversity – people bridging ethnic and generational differences who may have had to live outside of local expectations – the real innovative rebels, often rejected by common dogma and unconscious politics. These are people who’ve learned the real value of tolerance and compassion, first-hand. They’re the people who are growing new alternatives towards a new reality, preparing for the actual challenges of our changing planet – without burying their heads in some shallow Fox-hole, or blindly consuming another Bud and double-double bacon cheese burger…and they’re in every town, forming brands that are timelessly fresh, inventively earned, and altruistically authentic…and there’ll be a tattoo or two…
Along Interstate 40 and the old Route 66 you’ll find incredible vegan cuisine at the stylish bistro Bizou, on the resurrected Main Street Mall in Charlottesville, VA (the most sadly maligned beautiful little town in recent media history). At the delicious Laughing Seed, in the cool part of downtown Asheville, NC. Then on the outskirts of Knoxville, TN, tuck into comfort food at Sanctuary Vegan Café, whose proceeds go to save condemned animals…and you’re on your way to the heartily excellent Wild Cow, in the globally-countryfied neck of Nashville. From there, wander over to Oklahoma City, OK? for the truly super-deliciousness of The Loaded Bowl (where they have weekly alt ok-bingo and watercolor classes too); and before you bust out across the Texas panhandle, load up on delicious dumplings at Three Fold Noodles & Dumplings, on South Main in Little Rock. AR. Take a Texas break at The 806, for great coffee, veggie-fare, local color, and live music, in old Amarillo. When you officially hit the semi-hip Southwest, stop for a chile relleño at the iconic Rte. 66 Silver Moon Café in Santa Rosa, NM…and drop in for excellent locally-roasted coffee and not-to-be-beat breakfast at Java Joes, on the edge of downtown Albuquerque, NM.
…and absolutely DO NOT MISS one of the best meals you’ll ever have at Chef Ahmed’s amazing Jambo Café, just a little bit south of Old Santa Fe, NM. As you roll towards the sunset, don’t miss the beautiful Palestinian family that really is the Oasis Mediterranean Café, out on the western edge of Gallup, NM.
...beautiful food and beautiful people at The Oasis, Gallup, NM
To paraphrase what Mahatma Gandhi said: If you be the change you’re looking for, you’ll find it – by following your heart, and your health (mental, physical, and spiritual). All the food you encounter on this path tastes like Love, because it’s being brought to you with that secret ingredient, wherever you go..
Stick to the Blue Highways, follow your heart, Google Vegan/Vegetarian and you’ll find people—and food—that you’ll swear you’ve loved all your life, and that you’ll never forget.
Blessings, and safe travels…vaya con Dios!…and remember what the Buddha said about heading out onto the road:
We are created by our thoughts; we become what we think.
Happiness attaches itself like an inseparable shadow to
the positive thoughts that precede it.
The Dhammapada, 1:2
Read about this and much more in:
How to Get to Heaven (Without Really Dying), Wisdom From a Near-Death Survivor from Llewellyn Worldwideavailable direct on this page, or online. The first book: How to Survive Life (and Death), A Guide To Happiness In This World and Beyond is available the same ways – but ask for it it at your local bookstore!