I’m sure you’ve been just as inundated as I with ads for the shitty remake-although-they-aren’t-admitting-it’s-a-remake movie Due Date, which is of course limply redoing Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, which is of course making me think of how road trip movies are always shown as wacky jaunts shot through with soul-searching and character changing. But then, I think of my most favorite road trips, and they all involved comic capers as well as a solid layer of bonding with friends or reflecting on self. That’s the eternal appeal of the road trip.
There are three distinct phases of a person’s road tripping life: childhood vacations, high school wanderings, and adult road trips. When you’re crammed into the backseat of your parents’ car with obnoxious siblings and no rest stop for the next 200 miles, the journey is a trial to be endured until you reach Walley World. You have no control over the car, and very little voice in when you’ll stop to eat or sleep, so you must content yourself with playing the alphabet game and poking your sisters til they shriek. But then when you’re a high schooler, everything changes. Now you’re borrowing that same car and out with friend. You can take whatever side road strikes your fancy, because you have a game of MASH going, your best friend’s sixteenth birthday mix tape is playing, and shit, you aren’t paying for your own insurance and you’re certainly never going to die, so take that curve as fast as you like. Who cares where you’re going, so long as the radio works and school’s out.
I’m about to make a morbid leap here, but bear with me: When you’re an adult, the pleasure you derive from road tripping comes from a sense of your own mortality. Horribly aware of just how lethal cars are, you don’t drive quite so fast or recklessly as you used to (usually), and you have to wait til spring break or save up your vacation days to take the trip in the first place, so every moment matters — the journey and the destination. You can still meander from point to point, or drive through the night just to make your next stop, but either way, time is more precious now so you pay more attention to how you’re using that time.
As with most things, I have fond memories of my childhood and adolescent road trip experiences, but I like the ones I’ve had as an adult the best. It’s no secret that knowing you only have so much time here on earth can cause either a sense of panic or a sense that everything is to be savored before it’s gone. Road trips are a great way to come down on the side of savoring; hopefully you’re with people you like, and going somewhere you’ll enjoy, and in the meantime, you have time to talk, gaze at the scenery, and reflect or make jokes as you like. This isn’t the whole “it’s not the destination but the journey that matters” BS — it’s even better because they both matter! Having something to look forward to doesn’t have to distract from the excitement of the present, and enjoying where you are now shouldn’t mean you can’t plan for a great time in the future.
And yes, I just made that a bit life lesson-y, and I apologize. As penance, here are some funny road trip memories of my own.
- pulling over under an underpass to avoid driving headlong into a tornado (yes, a real one)
- taking a huge, and awesome, detour with my mom to Gettysburg on our way to Washington, D.C. during my student driving days
- swerving off a two-lane highway on that detour to avoid a police car barreling straight at us, lights flashing and driver ignoring the fact that he was on the wrong side of the road
- losing my innocence in a Kentucky Dairy Queen at the tender age of ten — I saw my first cockroach
- singing the entirety of the “Graceland” album at maximum volume with Pam as we moseyed into Memphis
- skipping Lubbock, Texas (although we do love Buddy Holly) so we could visit Cadillac Ranch and spray paint our names on the cars
- approaching Mount Rushmore at dusk as the famous presidential heads glowed above us
- managing to avoid certain death on Route 1 on pitch-black roads
- steering with my feet from the passenger side of the car on a dirt road in rural Michigan (kids, don’t do it) (yeah, it was fun)
- giving unclear directions so half our caravan for Senior Skip ended up 10 miles away from our designated rest stop and very confused
- driving all night back from visiting Liz in Ithaca, New York, and then sitting in the parking lot of my freshman dorm having a heart-to-heart with my ex and incurring my mother’s wrath as the car was decidedly not returned in time for the twins to get to school
- zipping along at 74 mph with Pam until a helicopter landed on the roof of her mom’s minivan — and then realizing that the helicopter was actually us with an exploded tire
Okay, so half of those were life-or-death experiences, but hey! I told you the appeal of road trips is a bit morbid. What about you — what are your favorite or just most memorable road trip memories?