Sometimes, you just have to get away from your everyday surroundings and get into some new ones. That was where I found myself a few weeks ago. I thought: I need be away from home. I need to be somewhere else. I need to find…something. Some…answer.

But would my kids be okay if I went away for a bit? Yeah, they would be. They’re busy with their own summer plans, after all, and a week or two without me wouldn’t be a big deal—especially if, when I returned, I was more like my old self.

So I made some rudimentary plans to drive cross-country to Santa Fe to see my parents, and to see a friend in Texas on the way.

Road trip!

Drive? That far? Oh yeah. This wasn’t a trip to take by plane. I needed to be on the open road, with some direction, out of the cities and onto the great plains. The wind wouldn’t be exactly in my hair, but close enough.

I spoke to the amazing team at Kia, and they were kind enough to loan me a car, a 2017 Optima HEV. What a car. I mean, I felt cradled and safe every moment I was in it. It’s a hybrid, so it got amazing gas mileage. But more than that, it was just so much fun to drive. When I took off early on a recent Saturday morning, I let the car do the job it was built for. It spoke easily and quickly to my iPhone through CarPlay. I’d never used this before. CarPlay allowed the Optima to access what’s in my phone: music, contacts, navigation, and more. (The Optima has its own navigation system, which I used locally in Santa Fe. Glitches? Zero.)

When a text came in (can’t stop the world), CarPlay read it to me and let me dictate my response. Very cool. I toggled between phone, nav, and music so easily that I was able to keep my attention on the road ahead. Compared to the way my phone interacts with my Honda HR-V, which is sluggish and monochromatic, the speed and blazing-color interface between my phone and the Optima were sheer joy.

Other features of the Optima came in handy as well. For example, thanks to the heat out west, the seat-back cooling system was welcome. And the Advanced Smart Cruise Control monitored the traffic ahead of me and slowed the car automatically when necessary, then increased speed again once the traffic cleared. In the most basic terms, all I had to do was follow the nav and steer.

The drive itself was spectacular. The great plains really are great, with enormous rolling green hills, fields of corn that stretch on forever, and of course, out west, mountains distant and close that reach to the rich blue skies and the clouds that float with flat bottoms, as if they were sitting on glass.

Driving, I put in 12- and 13-hour days to get where I was going. That sounds like a long time—even in retrospect—but in a way the Optima made it easy because I didn’t have to worry about it. I trusted it. And honestly, it seemed built to make my journey hiccup-free, so I could try to calm the storm swirling in my mind and focus on the glorious scenery beyond the windshield—a welcome distraction.

After stopping for a night in Texas to visit with my friend, I finally made it to Santa Fe. New Mexico calls itself the land of enchantment, and for me Santa Fe is the epicenter of that enchantment. I spent some quality time with my parents, saw family and a few friends, made one or two new ones, and ate a lot of amazing food at Los Portrillos, Piccolino, and The Compound. I ventured up into the mountains, putting the Optima through some off-highway paces. It handled tightly curving roads as well as it handled long, straight highways and city traffic. The vistas up there were breathtaking, but what else is new?

A new altitude…and a new attitude

Later in the week, the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market got underway. The annual event brings in folk artists from around the world so that they can sell their work to the throngs of people who swamp the tents that cover Museum Hill in the middle of Santa Fe. Thousands of people gathered: a few famous faces, most of them anonymous, but all of them collectors who wanted to find unique, handcrafted goods from far-flung places. 

The wide variety of nations represented was inspiring. The event celebrates their art, which is often not art in the traditional sense but rather artful products that can be used every day. These people—sellers and buyers—assemble in the region beyond politics, where art and commerce are shared passions as powerful as currency.

In its 13 years, the market has brought in 800 artists from 90 countries—from as close as Mexico and as far as Israel, China, Brazil, and Argentina. It’s generated more than $25 million in sales, 90% of which goes to the artists themselves. Often the money they make at the market is their income for the entire year. The market also features live events, and many artists demonstrate how they do their work, from prepping the materials to the final details. Inspiring, to say the least. 

Waving hello before waving goodbye

On two nights, I spent time at Ten Thousand Waves, Santa Fe’s wonderful, Japanese-themed spa. Nestled in the mountains north of town, the Waves features many outdoor private and public hot tubs in an environment that almost has me forgetting I’m in the American Southwest and thinking I’m in Japan itself. Though the nights I was there were overcast, I’ve been at the Waves on nights that are clear and starlit. Believe me when I say there’s no better or more relaxing place to be.

My journey west had to come to an end eventually, and I had to drive back east. It took a day longer than the trip west. I’d rushed out there, but I wasn’t rushing home. That was clear. I’d done much of the introspective work I needed to, but maybe I just wasn’t quite ready for the press of home.

The trip, now that I’ve begun to really absorb it, was all about perspective. We go through our lives day after day, interacting with people. But how often to we interact with ourselves? How often do we examine how we touch those around us? We know who we are and how we are, but I’ve learned that how we are isn’t all there is. More important is how we affect the people we care about. How do they perceive us? What inadvertent mistakes do we make? How can we rectify them? How can we eliminate the unintended expectations we place on the people we love the most? And most important of all, how can we use what we learn to bring us closer together?

That’s what this trip was about. It was about thinking and learning and sharing—and maybe bringing back some wisdom for my kids instead of a T-shirt. This trip was about trying to mend what’s broken. One of my sons recently told me about kintsugi, the Japanese art of taking broken ceramic vessels and reassembling the pieces with gold. Gold is used to join the shards together, which helps create something altogether new. The gold accentuates the mending and increases the value of the piece, both monetary and emotional. I love this idea, this metaphor. My hope, as I took this journey, was to mend something that was broken. I hope I did—well, I hope we did, my friend and I—and I hope the mending in gold increases the value of what we have. Time will tell.

Now that I’m home, I can’t say I totally achieved the inner peace I went in search of. But I’m on my way. After 13 days, 11 states, and 4470 miles, I’m a lot closer, and I’m pretty sure I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. Who knew inner peace was so far away?

—Tony Buchsbaum

Kintsugi photo: Wikipedia