Last Tuesday, I voted when the polls opened, then got in the car and drove off alone to Pennsylvania. My father was pretty sick and might have died, but he pulled through, recovering from a risky emergency operation.
I was glad I could be with my parents. My sister from Boston came down and was magnificent when it came to piecing together the elements of my father’s medical situation and in general being a godsend to us.
All my family are from Pennsylvania, so I’ve been going there since I was a child. It was somber and exhilarating to drive across the country on Election Day, across a landscape so peaceful and beautiful and so filled with grandeur, reflecting all the time not only on my own worries but on the great political drama being played out in every corner of the nation that day. How ironic to find myself sailing across Ohio’s bucolic stretches! Its status as a “battleground state” seemed incongruous, when all I could see around me were empty, near-dormant fields; motionless birds of prey; beautiful stands of dried wildflowers and grasses; a swirl of dead leaves.
I happened to have the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou with me, and as I listened to “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” it came back to me how my parents used to sing that on car trips when I was little. Back then I knew only that the song described a fairy tale. It was years before I understood it was an adult fairy tale, and a profoundly rascally one—thumbing its nose not only at law enforcement and “The Man,” but at the world of work and the constraints of social order, more generally. Its vision of heaven gave me much to contemplate on a long and fretful journey. It still sounds pretty good as a place to go.