The “good” news is you’re only 500 miles from home. Sounds like a lot to the uninitiated. Who wants to be that far from home unless it’s for something fun, not this cathartic journey of self-discovery that blew up in your face?
That is what country singer Bobby Bare sang about in his 1960’s hit, “500 Miles.” In classic lyrical form, he explains just enough without giving it all away. The song offers a snapshot into the grueling procession of the singer’s life and his humble retreat home. We don’t know why he left some years previous, lived on the road while seeking this unannounced dream. The mysterious dream dissolved miserably and how he is feeding on scraps. Hitchhiking. After some persistent urging from his mother in a letter, he swallows his pride. He will return to his family home, to the parents he deserted for the sake of the fantasy.
The story takes place in a locale about 500 miles from home. A distance tragically far to those who have a home, but brutally close to those who have none.
I didn’t have to pack, I had it all right on my back he mournfully relents as soon as he realizes his mother’s forgiving invitation is an offer he can no longer find the will to refuse. The song could very well take place in the flicker of a moment that runs through the singer’s mind as he stands by the side of the highway, thumbing a 500-mile ride back home.
Five hundred miles is a bittersweet distance. And a cruel one.
Five hundred miles is close. But it’s not. Five hundred miles is the Planck Constant of human alienation.
My Alienation Constant.
It is the distance at which objects assume a nefarious unreachability while simultaneously, tantalizing with their congruent allure because once you surmount the 500 miles and descend into the 400’s, your destination’s nature devolves as it beckons in reach. Beyond 500 miles, and the destination is no longer a destination, but an origin, one that may await or may not. Estrangement greets values greater than 500.
Five hundred is the point of uniform unlikely attainability. Bobby Bare’s singer, during that brief moment the song floated through his mind, was suspended between dual worlds but time’s arrow was drawing him home. At this precarious moment he was suspended in an ethereal fog of uncertainty.
The Alienation Constant triangulates that coordinate which describes personal alienation. I don’t know the numerical value, if there is one, but it describes the precise state of equilibrium when you are a member of this reality and accompany those who inhabit it, while simultaneously, you are so removed from their concerns and strivings and hang-ups that you lack all kinship with them. Suspended as you are, you detect your immersion in the madness but you are buffered from its grasp by your alienation which acts as a surgical glove.
This is the Alienation Constant. At this moment, you can join or you can remain estranged. Regardless of direction, your next decision will draw you to one of the sides. Perfect equilibrium. You witness both worlds but enjoy the privilege of neglecting both.