Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Road More Traveled

Truth be told, most people in our day and age take the road more traveled—even those millions who have read the M. Scott Peck bestseller named after the Robert Frost poem. It’s a pleasant enough poem. It implies that the less obvious ways of doing things and seeing the world, the unconventional ways, yield unexpected rewards. But it has nothing to do with the vicissitudes our modern Interstate highway system.

For instance, a traveler recently endeavored to go from Burlington, Vermont to Great Barrington, Massachusetts. The road less traveled was Route 7, which passed through many interesting towns the traveler might not have had a chance to see had he chosen a shorter route involving an Interstate highway. Unfortunately, the road less traveled added an extra hour and a half to the trip. Yes, it enabled the traveler to see Middlebury and Bennington, but it was totally dark by the time he arrived in Great Barrington. If he had taken the road more traveled, he would have missed Bennington and Middlebury, but seen Great Barrington.
Even though Shirley Jackson and her husband, the critic Stanley Edgar Hyman, lived out their troubled lives in Bennington, Great Barrington is more of a crossroads, situated as it is in the Berkshires, in close proximity to both Tanglewood and Lenox, where Edith Wharton’s home, The Mount, is still preserved.  Middlebury sports a typical New England college campus, with wholesome stone buildings and a strong whiff of winter sport. It’s also the home of a famed A&W Root Beer stand, where waitresses still roller skate up to your car to take your order. But let’s face it, if you you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all.
What would Rogers E. M. Whitaker, the famed New Yorker writer, who wrote his famous train column under the pseudonym E.M. Frimbo, have said about the road less traveled?  No idea. Just a thought.
Times have changed. The fact is that the road more traveled is usually the shortest distance between two points, and often leads to greater spiritual insights. For instance, had the traveler reached Great Barrington on the earlier side, he might have had time to attend a seven o’clock meditation at the Congregational Church, or to browse the famous Book Barn, one of the greatest used bookstores in New England, located on an otherwise deserted back road deep in the woods near the town.
On the other hand, if the traveler is tuned in to NPR, it hardly matters whether he takes the road less traveled or the road more traveled. It might make sense to take the road less traveled if it’s Saturday night at six and Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion is on the radio. On the other hand, if it’s a Sunday afternoon, an ambitious driver on the road more traveled might squeeze in Ira Glass’s This American Life, followed by All Things Considered, and still arrive in time to unpack before dinner. In the twenty-first century, the decision to take the road less traveled isn’t about nonconformity. It’s about scheduling. There is a reason why the road more traveled is more traveled. Like modern love for David Bowie, it gets you to the church on time.


  1. Allan Bloom said that the liberally-educated person is one who is able to resist the easy and preferred answers, not because he is obstinate but because he knows others worthy of consideration. What might he say about this? I don't know either.


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