I miss hotels.
I miss arriving in a new town, that last five minutes before getting to a hotel when you drive a little slower, looking around for places to eat, a convenience store to pick up mixers and washing liquid, watching the locals walking to meet friends at places which have long ceased being a novelty to them.
I miss how neat hotel rooms are, how they have just enough towels and knives and forks for the number of people staying. I miss little shampoos and conditioners that I never use, but like rearranging so everything looks tidy. I miss showers where I don’t need to worry about the hot water, having no schedule and not needing to rush soaking in the bath with a magazine and a drink within arm’s reach.
I miss the lack of options when you’re living out of a suitcase. I miss leaving clothes discarded in hotel rooms so I can pack more books and bottles of spirits and souvenirs and weird sleeping aids you’re allowed to buy in other countries and pick up along the way.
I miss learning the tricks of ordering a drink in different countries. I miss meeting locals and sitting in groups talking about what’s surprised us about their town, or city, or country. I miss losing friends on a night out and finding them perched on a bar stool outside a club in old Vegas, checking people’s IDs while the bouncer is occupied bracing himself against being slammed by my best friend, a small but strong roller derbying journalist.
I miss how long drives on holidays feel like part of the adventure, rather than a chore. I miss making road trip mixes and planning songs or albums for specific legs of the trip. I miss resting my head against the car window and watching the lights of Phoenix sparking in the night, listening to Elvis. I miss how I’d always pictured Tori Amos singing ‘A Sorta Fairytale’ about a man in a desert and listening to it while driving into Death Valley and it felt exactly as I’d imagined.
I miss saving up strange coins and sitting on the floor in laundromats with a book while I wait for my clothes to finish. I miss how everything, even shopping for underwear feels strange and new when you’re somewhere you’ve never been. I miss going to the movies in different countries, standing for the national anthem in Thailand before watching a movie about the Holocaust, eating a tiny pizza while watching The Rum Diary in America.
I miss people watching: A young Russian woman in a pool in Thailand with the word ‘bitch’ tattooed across her lower back in gothic script, old men sitting eating hamburgers at a picnic table outside the lower petrol station in Coolah, which also serves as the local takeaway, families in Tamworth meeting in an Italian restaurant attached to a motel on the outskirts of town, gathering to celebrate a birthday, kids down one end of the table throwing ice at one another.
I miss driving alone and being able to pull over every time I want to take a photo. I miss passing my favourite property in between Orange and Wellington, a farm with a long drive, old cherry trees lining each side, trees which look spectacular when in blossom, and cold and foreboding in the winter.
I miss knowing that any given moment on a road trip, no-one else knows exactly where I am. I miss taking a random exit on a freeway and pulling over to make sandwiches from the esky in the boot, wandering around while I eat and seeing a convenience store, Amish men picking up supplies, finding a pile of dusty marble covered composition books exactly like the ones I’ve seen in a million American movies.
I miss the satisfaction of packing the boot of a car like a game of Tetris. I miss packing a backpack to take out for the day: Camera, lip balm, water, tissues, gum, money. I miss cleaning out the car at the end of each day, keeping it fresh. I miss making sure I have everything I need at my fingertips in the car: A shirtless picture of a young Bruce Springsteen to hang from the rearview mirror, charging cables, a notebook to write down things I want to remember.
I miss small country town bakeries where everyone takes a second look at you because they know you’re not local. I miss knowing that I’m not local, not anymore, and driving past houses I used to live in as a kid, realising the intimidating hill of my childhood memories barely slopes.
I miss coming home and unpacking my suitcase, washing all my clothes, finding space for all the new things I’ve brought back, seeing my dog, sleeping in my own bed in clean sheets. I miss being able to leave, so that I can come back and not feel like nothing has changed.