by Drew Holmes
“I’ll have the Purple Dragon, please” I told the server who, if I’m being generous, was maybe eleven years old. She valiantly tried to work the tablet in her hand to take the order but needed to go back to the kitchen several times to get help from the only other worker, who I assumed was her mother. The restaurant was Grandma’s Soda shop in Wilson, Kansas, and the Purple Dragon was an ice cream soda made with, you guessed it, grape soda.
Jamie, the boys, and I were winding down day one of our much-anticipated road trip to visit her family in Kentucky and she had discovered Grandma’s Soda Shop and added it to our list of places to maybe try if we were passing through at the right time. Maybe.
I love traveling, but not just for the time spent at the intended destination. I am one of those people who enjoy the game of navigating airports or planning driving routes. The “in between” spaces have always held a special fascination because they are not quite here or there, a transitional unreality. They exist in a quasi-limbo.
I used to think that the appeal of these spaces was the disconnect from reality. Before every pocket and purse held a connected smart device, a four-hour plane ride meant isolation from the hustle and bustle. Now when I fly, I have my laptop open for just another workday (albeit at 30,000 feet). The disconnect is no longer there, but for some reason the wonder is, and I could not put my finger on why that would be.
Then on this trip funny thing happened. While traveling across what some dismiss as “flyover country” (I-70 through Kansas, to be specific) I started to see these spaces with the boys’ eyes. Suddenly getting gas at a Flying J became an adventure to explore the snack aisle and play with the hand dryer in the restroom. The rest stop vending machines did not hold junk food, but new candies never before seen and within reach to taste.
Then I realized what is unreality for me is reality for someone else. I started wonder who are these people? My in-between space is their world, one I could experience if only for a moment. We have favorite pizza places and ice cream stands here at home. What are their special places? How could I find them? When I looked at it like that, a whole new layer of possibility opened.
Humans are built to find comfort in the familiar. We are hardwired to seek not exceptional experiences but rather ones that are not terrible. For example, when traveling through an unfamiliar area we can choose the same McDonald’s vanilla shake we can get in Anytown, USA or we can open ourselves up to the possibilities of Grandma’s Soda Shop. What we get with the first choice may not be noteworthy, but the base line for how bad it could be is low (unless the machine is broken, but that is a whole other conversation). But the second choice, the one that exists in someone else’s reality, for better or worse, could be anything. By opening ourselves up to experiencing the unknown we run the risk of disappointment, but maybe, just maybe, it can surprise us and be truly great.
As Sarah, our young server, brought our ice cream sodas and food to the table, we were ready for anything. And this time we were rewarded for being adventurous. The ice cream sodas were delicious and the “barrel tots” appetizer I ordered on a whim were exceptional. Think of an oversized tater tot that is crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and tastes like a loaded baked potato. In other words, something I had never experienced before and would not have known about if we had chosen not to explore the in-between space.
The trip was successful beyond our most optimistic hopes and the boys are already talking about heading back to Kansas to dine at Grandma’s Soda Shop again. The in-between space has become the destination and transitioned into our reality. I am excited to go back, but before we return, I will figure out how to make those barrel tots.