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Maybe I’m dating myself, but who can forget the opening line of Roger Miller’s iconic song, King of the Road? Actually, when you read the full set of lyrics, the road doesn’t sound all that romantic, what with hiding away in railroad box cars, staying in two-bit motels, and scrounging old stogies out of ashtrays. Still, the insouciant, light-hearted tone of Miller’s voice evokes a powerful image of a foot-loose and carefree life, far from the responsibilities of family, work, and of paying those endless bills.
The lure of the open road is a powerful theme in pop culture. As a kid, I was entranced with the Road To movies starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. The comic duo made seven road movies, starting with The Road to Singapore (1940) and ending with The Road to Hong Kong (1963). They were exceedingly silly movies, but they appealed to the pint-sized adventurer in me. I didn’t fully understand that these movies were a spoof of various film genres, including jungle films and Arabian fantasies. What I latched on to was the zany friendship between Bing and Bob, and how they conned their way through one adventure after another, trying their best not to get caught—either by the bad guys or by the lure of women.
The ultimate road movie, as far as I’m concerned, is The Wizard of Oz. This movie speaks to us on so many levels, but to me it’s about the romance of friendship. Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion must forge unbreakable bonds of friendship in order to survive the many tests and adversities thrown their way. During their journey Dorothy and her friends discover their essential selves. For Dorothy, the discoveries of the road lead her back home and to the arms of her loving family. That seems to be the case with many stories of the open road—the journey of self-discovery ultimately leads back home, literally, in Dorothy’s case.
Recently, I re-read Loretta Chase’s book, Lord Perfect. I’d be hard pressed to name which Loretta Chase novel is my favorite, but this one comes pretty damn close. It’s a classic road story, full of adventure, comedy, romance, and self-discovery. Lord Perfect is Benedict Carsington, an impeccably bred aristocrat who never, ever breaks the rules. He’s a widower of several years, bored out of his skull and skating on the edge of depression as he faces a lonely future that holds only duty and, well, perfection. Into this orderly life come the infamous Bathsheba Wingate and her rascal of a daughter, Olivia. Olivia and Benedict’s nephew, Peregrine, run away, and Benedict and Bathsheba take to the road in pursuit. Of course, against all odds these two outrageously different people fall in love and, in the process, discover their true selves and what they want from life. The very act of the journey is what allows them to do that. Breaking free of their normal routine, with its burdens and responsibilities, pares life down to its essential core. And by paring away all the non-essentials they discover what really matters—love for each other, their families, and home.
And that’s the funny thing about life on the road. Adventure may call us ever onward but, eventually, the road often leads us right back home. Because home, in so many cases for the weary traveller, is where the heart is. Is it corny? Yes. But does it still contain some universal truths? You betcha.
Dorothy knew what she was talking about when she clicked her heels three times and said, “There’s no place like home.”