For as long as I can remember, one of the best spaces to become present to the people and places around me has been during a car ride. Whether it was the usual summer family road trip, long drives on familiar roads with those closest to me, or exploring the streets of new cities I was moving to, car rides have proved to cultivate an environment of storytelling, community, and bonding. Without fail, whenever my sister and I had free time, a new album to listen to, or really needed to think through a problem, the sound of, “wanna go for a beach drive?” was music to our ears.
The night before leaving for Ireland, my sister and I went for one last beach drive before the big departure. Windows down. Teary eyed from laughing. Music Blasting. I am at home in the passenger seat of her car. “This is what I’ll miss the most,” I thought to myself. A small part of me was (naively) convinced Ireland couldn’t hold a candle to what we had right here on the coastal roads of New Jersey.
Fast forward to January, watching my sister hold her breath as we are driving on the other side of the road from Galway to Cork, half fighting because of the stress and half laughing because if we make it to our destination, it will be a miracle. Both of us in awe of the scenery around us and neither getting sick of the other saying “look, more sheep!” We used the time in between sharing new songs to catch up on everything we already told each other on the phone over the past six months. Before I knew it I was already thinking, “this is what I’ll miss the most” not only about her visit but also my time in Ireland.
The magic of car rides quickly proved to be an important part of my Mitchell year. Within the first week of moving here, new friends from Cork offered to pick me up at “half eight” to go for a drive. Passing from the busy streets of Cork City to the countryside, I discovered new sights while also learning about what it’s like to grow up in this place I’m about to call home. “That to the left is my family home…to the right thats an old abbey…oh have you been out west yet? We can drive there one weekend.” Just like that the unfamiliar starts to become familiar and new plans are created in the time it takes a traffic light to turn from red to green.
Back home, a staple of any road trip, no matter its distance, is Bruce Springsteen. I used to think that there was no better place to blast Thunder Road than Ocean Avenue in Monmouth County, New Jersey with beach views on both sides of the road and Springsteen’s voice blaring through the speakers. That is, until I got to Ireland — a land that might give New Jersey a run for its money with their love of the Boss. On a drive back from Belfast to Cork, I heard the beloved words “play some of your favorite Springsteen songs.” As Thunder Road began playing and I took in the scenery around me, I realized how much moments like these blur the lines between home in New Jersey and home in Ireland.
From the time best friends surprised me with a car already rented and ready for a week of adventures across Ireland, to family friends from Cork City packing the car for a day of discovery, I have found that the best way to get to know this country has been from the passenger seat of a car.