At Home, Feeling Homeless, Back in Knoxville

How sweet it is to know exactly where you are.

Zach Bowman Odyssey
Beth Bowman

Zach Bowman has sold everything he owns, slapped a camper to his high-mileage 2003 Dodge Ram and has taken his family on the road. His clan numbers three, counting wife, Beth, and their infant daughter. They are touring America, working and discovering, and are sending The Drive periodic dispatches from the road.

I’d written off Knoxville. Put it out of my mind. We’d lived a comfortable eight years in that bright and beautiful southern city on the banks of the Tennessee River, and I couldn’t think of the place without it kindling a soreness in my chest—the tender old ache of homesickness. Familiar as breathing, these days. But you can’t ignore where you are.

We came in from the west, driving through the miles of consumer sprawl that define the town from Lovell Road to the 640 bypass. It’s an ugly ocean of generic America. Comfortable, easy mediocrity: fast food and chain restaurants, every flavor of box store, car lots gleaming in the late May sun. From our spot in traffic, the place looks no different than any other middleweight city in America, no more varied in its cultural texture. For one short moment, I don’t miss the place. I miss the open acres of Utah. The beautiful, tortured stone of west Colorado and New Mexico's white peaks.

It passes quickly enough. I get a glimpse of the low city skyline. The weathered red brick of the Old City. The green steel and gold glass of the Sunsphere peeking its head up from the holler where it sits. My heart sings, "home." I want to scream.

Beth Bowman

There’s not a lick of it that isn’t bittersweet. We spend a few days doing maintenance on the truck. Putting everything back in order after the hellish three-day haul from Colorado. We stay with Kevan and Amanda. I can’t bring myself to go back by our old house and visit my sister there. She’s a saint and comes to us instead.

I’d forgotten how sweet it is to know where you are. How to navigate around rush hour traffic, or to find a decent fuel station. Which grocery store is worth a damn. Where the good beer is. We see friends we thought we’d left for a year. We have dinner with family and show off our photos from three months of wandering the continent.

Beth Bowman

The place has already changed in the short time we’ve been gone. New stores open and old stores closed. Big stretches of repaved highway. New breweries and radio stations and restaurants. It’s staggering. Feels like being homeless in your own home.

There’s a wide share of me that wants to stay. To pick up that easy, comfortable life we left behind. Maybe that’s why I sold the house: we have no base to return to, no real port of our own here. We’re in the wind.

We’ve gotten good at saying goodbye, and when it comes time to leave, we load up the truck, give the last of our hugs, and point ourselves north again. Follow the same footsteps that carried us out of town the first time, up I-81, heading for Virginia.

Beth Bowman