Though I hesitate to speak for people I've never met, I'm fairly certain that the folks residing at the end of Jock Road—a two-mile gravel path that cuts through an idyllic, calm stretch of kudzu-and-honeysuckle-wrapped woods in the northeastern reaches of Durham County—aren't surprised they live there.
The driveways leading to the scattered mobile homes at the road's terminus appear worn by a mix of time and familiarity, patches of green grass interrupted by thin dirt ruts made by and left for tires. The same two or three cars probably pass the same way every day, finding familiar grooves as their drivers aim into one of the nearby towns—Durham, 15 miles; Butner, 7; Creedmoor, 12; Raleigh, 33—for work or play or dinner.
I've never been to Jock Road. I didn't know it existed until a horse standing as still as the day itself caught my eye as my car shot by on a smoothly paved country road. I turned around and eased onto the gravel, my tires redistributing the rocks and breaking the day's quiet. The windows remained down on the perfectly warm, spring day, neverminding the clouds of dust that drifted occasionally onto the dashboard. Alone, I strolled the grounds of Horton Grove, where old slave quarters still stand, and climbed back in my car.
Tall trees to my left and right, a straight line of hills and gravel ahead: It felt as if I'd stumbled onto a river of a road, a secluded stretch that served as an occasional conduit for the rare passerby. Aside from the owner of that horse, which by now felt like the way's retired sentry, could anyone call this home?
My reaction to the road's end and those little houses, then, suggested a moment we've all seen in movies—the sea-stranded sailor reacting to the first sight of an island with a mix of surprise, interest and the sense that the solitary voyage has ended. And that instant encapsulated all the intentions of the day: To be alone and surrounded by newness, to be in unfamiliar land but not lost, to get away while going home.
As some of the best voyages do, this one stemmed from a few good lines in one great song. "The same route every day/ And in the turning lane, someone's stalled again/ And he's talking to himself/ and he hears the price of gas repeat his phrase/ 'I hate Winnipeg,'" Canadian songwriter John K. Samson sings on "One Great City," trying his folk-song-best to beat the ennui of a daily routine. Working in downtown Durham and living just past the far side of downtown Raleigh, I identify with Samson's sentiment. Even on traffic-jam days, the fastest way home remains Interstate 40, a nondescript monolith that's easy to navigate but hard to enjoy. Onlooker delay, the expected stench of that sewage treatment plant just off the highway: Done daily, it's enough to make one hate a place.
So, leaving work, I headed not due east but due north and, eventually, east, entering Granville County, circling Falls Lake, passing Little River Lake, dipping my hands in the Eno. I spoke to a grape farmer about his goods and met his dog, a feisty bull named Boy. I realized mariachi music was pouring from a stucco-and-cinder block house near a rural stop sign where I was waiting for traffic to pass, so I pulled into the driveway and listened for five minutes. I eavesdropped on a conversation about a secret fishing spot in Jordan Lake (Robinson Creek, I'm coming to get you). I found a farm that bore my last name and met some kind folks with whom I might share great-great-grandparents. I ate lunch at a greasy spoon in Butner while pondering that—for every town I'd ever been in—Butner's many government agencies might make it the most surreal yet.
And, four hours later, I was back in Raleigh, gearing up to play basketball with the same fellows who play at the same court at the same time every Monday and Wednesday. You don't need to spend money and cut out of state to get lost or renew your interest again in an area you thought you knew well enough: You just need to take an afternoon off, take the long way home and sneer at "the same route every day."