If we accept the fact that personal blogs are, at their core, self-serving beacons of ridiculous narcissism untethered to anything resembling reality, then this return to the Barfoed Does America well needs no apology or explanation. We’re good!
“Beards,” “Sunsets,” and “Chicago” are all nouns around which previous entries in the Barfoed Does America series have revolved. Today we add one more: “Limbo.” Not the party game, fascinating a 500-word exploration that might be, but the state of being. Limbo isn’t uncomfortable; it’s not anything, really, except maybe the absence of defining edges. It’s the middle, Purgatory, that sensation you get when you’ve been living out of your car for two weeks and feel more at home driving a stretch of unfamiliar highway than you do at any of the places you’ll sleep, including the room you left way back when (…two weeks ago). Limbo is perfect room temperature and feels like it has been and will continue to be this way forever.
(From there I suppose you could say Limbo is like a “goldfish’s memory,” but that level of metaphorical inception is practically unconscionable. Let’s not say EVERYTHING we’re thinking.)
Limbo as defined on Barfoed Does America came in two flavors — the first, tasted early, when you realize how out of sync you are with your TV-watching schedule. And “schedule” is definitely the right word when the list is 10-12 shows deep. A day or two seems easily caught up to, but four days…a week…and you realize not only how much goddamn television you watch (even justified by the “just doing my homework!” defense) but how much you can probably do without it.
What starts as upsetting, especially when you’re missing episode two of ‘Hawaii Five-O,’ turns into this new, easy calm. “What value is this weekly 42-minute-long commitment adding to my life that can’t be replaced with a sunset, or bilingual conversation?” you ask yourself. “How was I allowing a series of corporate-created and -branded ad repositories to so control my time and attention?” Whether this was inspired by episodes of This American Life and Four Loko is nobody’s honkin’ business, but also beside the point. Suddenly you’re done eyeing the TV Forecast widget on your computer because, Internet connection (hi, McDonald’s!) or not, you’ve moved past. You’re free!
…But Limbo is of course an abstract concept that stretches well beyond “I couldn’t watch TV,” and appropriate to form the Big L manifested itself in other ways, too. For much of the trip I spent my nights crashing on friends’ couches, staggering travel days between 24-48 hour stopovers in America’s Great Cities. When those friends ran out after Austin — something I should probably address, since everyone needs a buddy in Tucson — I felt for the first time completely detached. There was an end, sure, and at least a casual understanding of the east-west distinction that would get me there…but nothing in-between. No concrete plans. No people. And do you know how much of Arizona and New Mexico seems like (or just is) sand and/or dry grass? You can drive for hundreds of miles without any clear proof that you’ve moved an inch.
So this is where that really deep, sensory deprivation tank-level meditation comes in. “WHO AM I?” “WHAT DO I WANT OUT OF LIFE?” (It’s still meditative, but your brain has to yell to overcome the “Americana” playlist pumping through the car.) Anyone else next to you would straight-up ruin the moment, but you’re by yourself without any chance of embarrassment (until now). You’re uncomfortably free!
More than a few times between Austin and Santa Monica I found myself wanting to pull to the side of the road and go for a walk. To nowhere in particular, just out — into the vast, looped landscape. I was unmoored from anything resembling reality, so the concept of doing something without agenda or feedback — something that couldn’t be called much more than that, “something” — felt like the right sort of response. I only once or twice did it, probably because I couldn’t get the right Fleet Foxes song to play, but when I was out there it was easy to understand why I even would. You look left and you look right, and it’s all the same. Neither side is better or worse; a good or bad decision. New York. Los Angeles. Bagels. Botox. It’s just moments, possibilities, and away from the road — from the drive to Point B — you can take stock of all of them at once. You’re Billy Pilgrim, and so it goes.
Less up its own butt (just barely): Limbo is that rare chance, spurred by physical displacement, to step outside routine and throw into sharp relief the kind of life you’ve built for yourself, and the one you’ve yet to get started on. Road trips can be buddy comedies and crime movies and Britney Spears vehicles, but each one at their core is an opportunity for concentrated, and often exaggerated personal reflection. That EVERY road trip doesn’t have its own dedicated blog seems almost weird.