"Song of the Open Road"

 By Cindy Rae

For Pat


Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road,-

Walt Whitman, "Song of the Open Road."

(First line)





"Airline ticket?"

"In the inner pocket of my jacket..." Michael reached a hand in to make sure.  "Check."

"Chewing gum?  For your ears," Catherine clarified.

"Gum.  Gum."  Michael patted down the front and back pockets of his well-worn jeans.  "No.  I don't think I have--"

Catherine produced a bright yellow rectangle from her purse and held it up.

"Juicy Fruit.  Good choice,” Michael approved.

"Devin assures me it's the choice of international travelling champions everywhere," Catherine gave him one of her best smiles as she handed it over.  He tucked it into the breast pocket of his brown bomber-style jacket.

You're sure about this, Michael?"  Catherine asked, watching the young man as he stepped away from her and ran the zipper around his valise.  The dorm room door was open to the hall as they got ready to leave for the airport.  House rules.

"About being in love with Sandra?  Definitely."  His voice sounded sure.  "About flying to Calgary to meet her father?"  Michael winced.  "I guess that depends on what he thinks of me, don't you?"



Catherine folded her arms patiently, while he finished packing.  "If the four-point-oh GPA doesn't thrill him, you can always just smile and nod.  That usually works," she offered.

He crossed to the incredibly tiny medicine chest in the miniscule bathroom that was part of his student accommodations.

"Sandra's dad handles horses at the Calgary Stampede," Michael said from the tiny bathroom.  "I'm not that sure he's going to be impressed with an English Lit major.  Toothbrush.  Where's my... ah.  There it is..." Michael began packing his shaving kit.  A can of shaving cream clattered its way across the basin of the small sink.  He snatched it up and set it on the basin.

"Calgary has a stampede?"  Catherine asked.  She hadn’t realized.

"Calgary has a whole rodeo.  For, like a hundred years now.  Don't get Sandra started."  He reached for a travel-size bottle of mouthwash, and knocked the shaving cream over.  Again.

"You're nervous," Catherine observed, as Michael winced again at the rattling sound and nodded in agreement.  He set the can upright, and emerged from the bathroom, kit in hand.

"'Nervous' isn't the word for it.  She's beautiful, Catherine.  Inside and out.  Shy.  Smart.   And... my flying up to meet her dad...this means a lot to her."  Michael sat down on the edge of the dorm room bed a moment, clearly worried about the trip that loomed before him.

He took in a deep breath and released it slowly, trying to rid himself of some of the tension that gripped his lanky frame.  "I... I know we... you and I got off to a rocky start, but... I don't think I ever really thanked you for helping me to get back on my feet,” he stated.

It wasn't the first time he'd apologized.  And like the other times, this one wasn't necessary.

Catherine sat on his desk chair, opposite him.  "You know you're welcome."  She watched him fidget with the zipper on the shaving kit.   "Are you really sure about this?  You and Sandra haven't known each other all that long..."

"Barely a year.  I know."  Michael caught himself in mid-fidget and raised a hand to the area behind his neck, trying to massage away some of the tension at the nape.  "I've asked myself the same thing, Catherine.  Asked myself if I wasn't just... rebounding from everything that happened before."  He shook his head, firmly.  Catherine was struck by how much he seemed to have matured, in the last year.  Perhaps meeting Sandra had been a part of that.

"You say she's an only child?"

"One and only.  Kind of like you.  She says her mom took off when she was little.  It's been her and her dad ever since.  When school's in, she stays with friends of his.  Rodeo circuit must be pretty big."

"Must be," Catherine agreed.  "You say she'll meet you at the airport in Calgary?"

"If she hasn't come to her senses and decided to leave me standing someplace where I don't even have a Canadian dime to make a phone call.  Does it cost a dime to make a phone call, there?  Do the phones take those?"

"I'm sure they do," Catherine smiled.  "And it's an airport.  They'll have a place to exchange currency right there."  She was trying to calm his obvious misgivings. 

 Michael knew he was worrying over trifles, so he wouldn’t have to focus on his larger concerns.

"They should give you a warning," Michael lamented.  "Something tied to your alarm clock when you wake up, the first day you’re going to meet her.  Something to tell you "Today, your life is going to change forever."  He held up his hand as if he were framing the words of a newspaper headline as he read it.

Catherine knew all too well about days that changed your life forever.

"I wasn't looking for this, wasn't looking for anything."  Michael dropped his hand.  "But one day...one amazing day, there she was."  Catherine could tell he was seeing the first moment he'd met Sandra in his mind's eye.  "Standing in the poetry section of the university library.  Trying to get what she called ' the most romantic poet ever' off the top shelf.  I helped her reach for it."  Michael grinned, happy at the picture in his head.

"Byron?"  Catherine guessed.

"American poet," he corrected.  "Walt Whitman.  She said she wanted an American poet, and her professor told her they didn't come more American than Walt."

"Walt Whitman, huh?"  Catherine raised an eyebrow, impressed.  "He got in trouble for being 'too sensual,' you know."  Catherine verbally nudged her young friend.  Her young friend who was going to meet the father of the girl he was very much in love with.

"She loves free verse.  And me.  For some damn reason."  He was clearly in knots.

"Ah.  I'd say she has good taste, then.  On both counts.” Catherine’s tone was one of sisterly approval.

Michael appreciated her support, knowing now that they were friends, and nothing more.

"Catherine... what am I going to do?  If her family doesn't approve of me, what in God's name am I...?"  He let the sentence trail, and looked sincerely worried.

Catherine might have brushed aside the question as "just a bad case of nerves," but she knew that for tunnel residents, the need to fabricate at least part of a past when dealing with potential future in-laws was daunting.

That, and she remembered just how very much Vincent having the opportunity to speak with her own father had meant to her.

"She's close with her family?  Sandra is?"  Catherine asked.

"Very.  Crazy close.  Says her long distance phone bill would make a car payment.  International rates."

Catherine reached over to squeeze his hand.

"Michael, I'm not sure what to tell you other than... well, no matter how old a woman is, there's a part of her that never quite stops being her father's daughter.  I think as long as Sandra's father knows you have respect for that, that you're not trying to take his place, that you're      just... happy she wants to share her life with you... you should be fine."

He gave her hand an answering squeeze and rose from the bed.  Crossing to his crammed bookshelf, he tugged a well-worn volume from its confines and slipped it into the side pocket of his carry-on bag.  Walt Whitman.  Leaves of Grass.

"Oh, and I learned a few things about hockey.  In case it comes up in conversation."  He threw in an extra pair of socks.

"That's a terrible stereotype," Catherine chuckled.

"Is not.  Sandra says the right answer to every question her dad asks is 'Wayne Gretzky should still be playing for Edmonton, and his being traded to the Los Angeles Kings last year is a national tragedy.'  I memorized it."

He took a snapshot of a pretty, blue-eyed brunette off the alarm clock where it sat propped.  Sandra was indeed a lovely young woman.  He tucked the photo carefully inside his well-creased wallet.

Speaking of pictures...

Catherine gave him a grin as she stood up from the desk chair and snagged Michael's camera case off the hook on the back of his door.  She handed it over to him so he could add it to the pile of things they needed to take.  It had been a gift from Eli.

"So you're going to Calgary to be with her before the new term starts.  Another city.  Another country.  I envy you the trip, Michael.  So does Vincent.  He sends his love, of course."

"I know.  I talked to him before I decided to go."  Michael double-checked the side pocket of the camera case for film.  "Matter of fact he was kind of instrumental in talking me into it."  Would three rolls be enough?

"Was he?"  Catherine asked.  She wasn't aware that Michael's misgivings had gone so deep as to warrant a conversation with her love.

"Mm.  I wish... I wish he could go, Catherine.  Wish he could see it.  Just once."  Michael lowered the camera gear.  The faraway look in his eyes became wistful.

"I know," Catherine's voice dropped in commiseration, as her expression became the same as Michael's.  "It's not a thing I haven't thought every time I go... anywhere.  Out of town.  To the Met, or a museum.  To a play..." She let her voice drift a moment, then pulled herself together.

"But I'll tell you exactly what Vincent would say,” she mock-lectured.  “'Go.  See everything.  Do everything you were meant to do.'"  She even dropped her voice a little, in an unselfconscious imitation of Vincent's rich baritone.

She picked up the leather valise that had seen better days and set it near the door.  "Then come back and tell him all about it.  Take him there with your words.  That way a part of him goes there, too.  Goes with you,” she assured.

Michael knew that was indeed exactly what Vincent would say if he were standing in the room with them.  Catherine knew his teacher so well.  Loved him so well.

"He's... amazing, isn't he?"  Michael asked.  He could hear the love in her voice mixed with the longing for all the adventures Vincent deserved to have, but couldn't.

"He really is," Catherine replied, tucking a magazine she'd brought him into the side pocket of his carry-on, next to the book.  He nodded his thanks for it.

"It's good of you to drive me to the airport."  He double checked the gate assignment on the ticket.  "A cab would have been just f--"

"A fortune.  A cab would have been a fortune." Catherine cut him off in mid-sentence.  Michael began stacking his other bag by the door.

"You're taking a lot for just a few days," she observed.

"I know.  I've packed and unpacked three times.  Do you think it will be cold?" he asked.

"Not in July."

"It's north of here."

Catherine grinned.  Just the mention of the word "Canada" conjured images of snow swept mountainsides, covered with pine and maple trees.  "So the people who make maps assure me.  They have beautiful summers there, Michael.  Coldest you'll be is on the plane."

"You ever been?" He raised a questioning eyebrow.

"My girlfriend Jenny has.  She told me."

"Think I'll see a moose?"  He tucked the shaving kit inside the carry on.  The camera case went on top of the pile.  They were set to go.

Catherine smiled again.  "If you do and you don't get a picture of it, I'll be disappointed.  But considering you're going to a city and not out camping, I kind of doubt it."  There.  They were all set to load his mismatched cases into her car.

Michael looked at the stack of his belongings, all disparate bags that had seen better days.  He wondered if Sandra's father would judge him harshly for the battered valise with the dodgy handle, and prayed he wouldn't.  "I love her, Catherine," Michael confided, his heart in the declaration.  "I really do.  When I think of how stupid I was..." Michael's voice drifted as he hinted about the time he'd kissed Catherine, in his pain.

Catherine hefted the camera case and her purse, settling both over her shoulder.  It was time to load up.

"Bad judgment is what experience is meant to cure."  She gave him her best "All is forgiven" look.  "And if we don't get going, you're going to miss your plane.  And that will definitely send a message you don't want.  One even liking Wayne Gretzky won't get you clear of."

Michael nodded.  They needed to get a move on.  He approached the remaining luggage.

 "Am I really going to Canada?"  There was more than a touch of amazement in his voice.  Canada was a long, long way from the tunnels of New York.  Farther than even the maps indicated, in so many ways.

"You are."  Catherine reassured him in her most convincing courtroom tone.  She put his suitcase into his waiting hands.  "I'm happy for you, Michael.  We both are," she added.


Traffic was heavy.  One bridge accident and a rush hour later, she was waiting with him inside the terminal.  They'd made it with time to spare, thanks to Catherine’s insistence that they 'get going.'  They were still early, but not excessively so.  She could see a huge white plane emblazoned with a maple leaf outside the gigantic terminal widows.  Air Canada. 

She stood with him while he waited to check his carry-on luggage through the scanner.  It was as far as security would allow her to accompany him.

The hubbub of Airport noises made themselves known, all around the pair.  The sound of indistinct conversation, shuffling feet, heartfelt good-bye's and fussy babies mixed in with the sound of jet engine take-offs and intercom directions.  The air felt... electric. 

Calling all passengers.  Air Canada flight 361 now screening all passengers.  Proceed to—the intercom gave its directions.

"Do you have your ticket?"  Catherine asked.

"We've been through that."  He patted his pocket.

"So we have," she smiled, a little nervous for him.  He looked so young.  So young, and so grown up, all at the same time.  The line was moving slowly.  A thought occurred to her.

"You said... 'he' talked you in to this.  Can you tell me what got said?"  Catherine asked, not wanting to use Vincent's name around strangers, but wanting to know.

Michael looked around out of habit, when talking about Vincent.  He dropped his voice low.

"We talked a lot about fathers and daughters.  He said... meeting your father was one of the most important things he ever did.  That it... helped him to understand how loved you were.  How your heart was so capable of it.  He said... he said he could feel your father's love for you when he stood in the room.  That I needed to do that with Sandra's f—“

Tears sprang to Catherine's eyes, immediately and unbidden.  Michael tugged her elbow and stepped out of line, reaching for the handkerchief Mary had raised every tunnel boy to carry.

"Oh, hell, that was stupid.  Looks like my judgment still needs work.  And like they should revoke my GPA."  He handed her the square of white cotton.  "I'm sorry, Catherine, so sorry.  I didn't mean to make you sad.  I should have my head examined, should have thought before I said anything.  I should have just said--"

"Exactly what you said," Catherine finished the sentence for him, as she wiped her sudden and unexpected tears away.  Bystanders just assumed she was upset at having to say good-bye.  Catherine breathed in deeply, steadying her nerves.

Of course the empathic Vincent would sense her father's love for her, even though Charles couldn't speak.  It was so obvious a thing, Catherine wondered why she hadn't thought to ask Vincent about it before.

"They had a moment together," Catherine said as she collected herself, so happy that it had happened.  "And... afterward, when I was down in the tunnels, I swear I saw him, saw my Dad."  She lowered the handkerchief so she could make eye contact with Michael.  "It was like a dream but I knew it wasn't.  He gave me his blessing.  Gave us his blessing."  She dabbed her green eyes again, and Michael could tell the tears were bittersweet.  There was an almost peaceful kind of happiness mixed in with her sorrow.  Letting Charles go had been hard for her.  Knowing she had his blessing had made a huge difference, in that.

After a few moments, she collected her memories, smiled a wistful smile, and folded his handkerchief, returning it.

"I'm all right.  And you have nothing to be sorry for.  You just gave me something precious.  Do you believe in miracles, Michael?" she asked.

"Since the first day I saw him, back when I was a kid.  And just about every day, after."  He tucked the handkerchief back in his pocket.  "You?"  He eyed the line over her head.  They still had time.

"I didn't used to.  That is, I might have.  Sometimes.  But not really," she shrugged.  "I just wasn't sure," she confided.

"You're sure now?"  Michael asked.

"More sure than anything I've ever been sure of in my life," Catherine answered without hesitation, aware she was answering many questions at once, some of them unasked.  Did she believe in miracles, now?  Without question, and like Michael, she knew they happened daily.  Was she in love with an incredible, exceptional man, even if he wasn't sure that the word "man" applied to him?  More than she ever thought herself possible to be in love.  Did she see a future for herself with Vincent, no matter how many obstacles stood in their path?  If she saw nothing else, she saw that.

"So sure," she tacked on weakly, meaning all of that, and more.

Michael understood, and gave her a hands a squeeze, knowing she meant every word she couldn't say.

"Last call for Air Canada flight 361," the tinny voice over the airport intercom announced.  "Last call for flight 361 for Calgary.  Please proceed to baggage screening and wait in the--"

"Looks like I better get a move on," Michael said, realizing that a momentous journey lay before him; one where a lasting love might be waiting for him at the end of it.  One where he, too, could find surety, strength, and purpose, as Catherine had done.  He tugged his book out of the side pocket of his carry-on bag.

"Here," he pressed Leaves of Grass into Catherine's hand.

"But... aren't you going to read this on the plane?  Take it to read to Sandra?"  Catherine asked.

"She's got another copy and I have what I need memorized.  And I want you to take it, Catherine."  He leaned closer, and dropped his voice.   "Read it to him.  Read it to him, for me."  His voice was determined.  Unshakable.  "Take him there, with your words."  His dark eyes gave her an emphatic look.  He knew he had to go.  But he also knew he wanted Vincent to have a journey.  At least as much of a journey as he could have.

They had no more time for this, no more time for good-byes.

He stepped back in line just as a heavy-set woman who was clearly out of breath brought up the rear.  She'd been running to make it.

Catherine fondled the dark canvas of the cover, loving the feel of an old book.  She smiled at Michael as he smiled at her.  He was on his way.  The line seemed to go forward more quickly, now.

"What should I start with?  Do I begin at the beginning?  'Song of Myself'?"  Catherine stepped along with him, knowing the metal detector was about to stop her progress.

"Boarding call for flight 361.  All first class passengers --” Some of the passengers seated in the roped-off area past security began standing up, collecting their things and making their way to the boarding area.

"No," Michael answered.  "Not the beginning.  You can go back to it, but not at first."  His things were set on the conveyor belt, along with his dorm room keys and wallet.  He stepped through the metal detector and out the other side.  Cathy had to wait for him to finish, and collect his battered leather bag and camera case.

 A velvet rope now separated the two friends as the heavy-set woman struggled to put a huge purse up on the conveyor belt.  It looked like it weighed a ton.

"'Song of the Open Road?'"  Catherine guessed, correctly.  Her grin was huge.  His answered it.

"'Song of the Open Road.'"  He looked left and right.  It didn't matter what they said.  No one else knew who they were speaking of.  "Take him there, Catherine.  Take him there the way only you can."  Michael acknowledged both her love for Vincent and her ability to transport him the way no one else could, with her voice.

She hugged the book to her chest.  "I will," she vowed, loving the feel of the often-handled treasure in her hands.

"Calling rows A through M.  Rows A through M please proceed to--"

Send us a postcard!"  Catherine called as Michael stepped backward, moving with the flow of boarding passengers.

"I'll barely be there a week!  I'll probably make it back before it gets here!"  He shook his head at her, grinning as he moved toward the crowd.

"Send it anyway!  Send a picture of the Calgary stampede!  Of your future father-in-law!" She raised her voice some more, to be heard over the noise of the shuffling crowd.

"I will!"  he answered, not bothering to deny his intentions toward Sandra. 

"We love you, Michael!"  Catherine watched him adjust his bags over his shoulder and step away some more, still walking backward as he went.  His smile was the one a man wore when he knew he was about to have an adventure.  An amazing one.  A life-changing one, perhaps.

"I know!"  Michael called over the press of the crowd.  "'Song of the Open Road!'  Tell him it's from me!  And Sandra!  And tell him... Tell him I owe him more than I can ever pay back!  For talking me into this trip!  For all of it!"  His smile was full of hope.

"He knows!"  Catherine answered his infectious smile, aware they were shouting about Vincent in a crowded airport, and also aware that no one else knew.  Their smiles grew larger, still.

Michael's life was about to change.  About to change forever.  In another country, he was about to stake his heart, gamble his fate, have an adventure.  And they both knew the very special person who meant so much to both of them was a part of it, and would approve.

Catherine knew that Vincent could feel her pleasure through their bond.  She was so glad she could share this feeling with him.  This feeling of "good-bye" mixed with "Go and have a magnificent time."

"Rows N through Z.  Calling flight 361 rows N through Z..."

The momentum of the crowd drew Michael backward until he simply had to turn to walk with them through the cordoned off area and down the hallway which led to his plane.

"He knows, Michael," Catherine whispered into the canvas cover of his book, as the mob swallowed him up.  She knew shouting was pointless, now.  He was too far away, and the crowd noise was too loud.  Other people around her were shouting their good-byes, as well.

"He knows.  Because we all owe him for our journeys."  She had to say it out loud.  She just did, in this place where journeys so often began.

"For our journeys, and so much more," again, it was said to the cover of an old book.  An old book about journeys, and self-discovery.

Catherine knew for a fact that so many steps that she'd taken on her life's path had been taken because of Vincent.  So many journeys, as she'd found the best parts of herself.

The best part of being human.  She'd said that about Vincent, once, and realized how much that part of him inspired her, how much Vincent seemed to inspire so many of the people he touched.

 She smoothed her hand across the front of the book, smiling her joy as she cradled it lovingly.  She knew she would read it to him in just a few hours.  The rush hour traffic would be thinned out.  A fast-approaching sunset would bring him to her balcony.

I give you my love, more precious than money.  I give you myself, before preaching or law, she remembered the cherished line.  It had been a long time since she’d visited it.

"Song of the Open Road."  How many roads had he opened for her since her life had collided unexpectedly with his?  Too many to count.

"And we all owe him more than we can ever repay," Catherine said, knowing it was true.


Walt Whitman, from the frontispiece to Leaves of Grass


Allons! the road is before us!

 It is safe—I have tried it—my own feet have tried it well.

Allons! be not detain’d!

Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen’d!

Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn’d!

Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!

Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! let the lawyer plead in the court, and the judge expound the law.

Mon enfant!  I give you my hand!

I give you my love, more precious than money.

I give you myself, before preaching or law;

Will you give me yourself?  will you come travel with me?

Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?


Walt Whitman, "Song of the Open Road"

(Last lines)


For all those who will attend the Beauty and the Beast Convention in Calgary, this year, I wish you a marvelously good time.


No matter where you are on the Open Road, I wish you love. ~ Cindy