Traveling the open road is like writing a novel.

The battered remains of a windmill rise up from the western landscape. Photograph: J Gerald Crawford.

You’ll enjoy the journey more if you make a few turns at a few crossroads and take a few back roads along the way.

I’m headed West. The miles pass by. And the trip, I find, is not unlike writing a novel.

There is a beginning.

And there is a destination.

In the beginning, there is a feeling of anxiety and uncertainty.

But I am excited about it.

After all, the journey is filled with elements of the unknown.

My destination offers a broad assortment of hope and optimism and a belief that everything will turn out as I expect it to end.

But I never know for sure.

And that is the magic and the beauty of being on the road.

The locations keep changing, and each scene, good or bad, has a new location.

So it is with a novel.

I have not made my way through any great and magnificent cities.

Instead, I have chosen a route that takes me through the small towns of the American West.

They are little more than skinny little lines – some blue, some red, and some black – outlined crookedly on the map.

I pass through small hamlets scattered on vast and empty wastelands.

Aging towns.

Decrepit towns.

Empty streets.

If the big trucks didn’t come rumbling through, there would be hardly any traffic at all.

Just the trucks.

And me.

That’s all.

Vacant stores.

Abandoned homes.

Fences down.

Automobiles rusting on blocks in front yards where weeds don’t even grow. The weeds died, and I hear a death rattle in the throats of the towns

Dust in the wind.

It’s all about the wind.

I look up one street and down the other, and it reminds me that, once upon a time, those little towns were packed with people and optimism and vibrancy and hope.

All that’s left is hope.

Not even the hard times can erase the hope.

It fades with the passing of time, but it never leaves.

Windmills creak.

Windmills no longer catch the wind.

Hope is the only resident that comes and stays, and stays until the last door is shut, the last window is shuttered, the last picture show shuts down, and the last pickup truck is loaded before it drives away for good.

Characters are everywhere you look, although I’ll never know their names.

The rancher is standing on a street corner. His hat is old but not as old as his boots. He wears a worried frown, or is it a sun grin?

The lady is sitting on her front porch in the shank of the afternoon, her dress worn by too many washings, her face wrinkled by winds too hard and sunshine too hot.

A rancher has quit praying for the rain.

The soil beneath his boots is baked.

The wind blows.

New potatoes are dead in the dirt.

The wind blows sand.

His world can be described in two words: drought and dry.

But he looks up into a cloudless sky and whispers, “Well, we’re one day closer to rain than we’ve ever been before.”

Life goes on, man and crops waiting for the rain.

The lawyers are sitting over coffee discussing vandalism.

An occasional murder.

A cheap divorce.

A feud.

A fight.

And foreclosure.

Graveyards are full of those who fell out of love as quickly as in love.

I see them, and I would like to know more about their lives. Each life demands its own story. Each may demand its own novel.

But I’ll never know them.

And I’ll always wonder.

And I’ll write about some of them even though I’ve never met them.

I don’t have to.

The story of their lives is written in their face.

Tom T. Hall sang it.

I believe it.

Traveling is indeed like writing a novel.

You can get on a highway, big or small, and head straight to your destination.

But you’ll enjoy the journey more if you make a few turns at a few crossroads and take a few back roads along the way.

Please click HERE TO check out my newest novel: Back Side of a Blue Moon.

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