I love road trips. I’m like a yellow lab. I bound into the car practically panting with excitement at the adventure to come. It’s been like this as far back as I can remember (and granted it is not that far back anymore). I don’t know what it is about sitting for hours on end, watching the scenery fly by, suffering traffic and bad drivers until I get to my destination that sets my inner navigational system abuzz, but I love it.
When I was little, one of the games I used to play with my brother and sister had something to do with us pretending to pack up our car or covered wagon or train and travel a great distance to discover new lands or visit some adventurous place--in our basement. I have this memory of enjoying the decision-making process of what to bring and where to put it. I thrilled at finding just the right space for my belongings and I beamed with pride when I got all of our dolls to fit in the “backseat”. Maybe it’s just packing I love. Maybe I missed my calling and I should be working at UPS. I do look good in brown.
There’s not much I don’t like about climbing into a car, igniting the engine and taking off. Alone or with company, I have many, many good memories of traveling by car. Even when traveling with kids, which can be challenging. In the days before portable dvd players and iPhones, we would throw a few books in the backseat, a blankie, a pillow and some favorite stuffed animals and we were off. I remember talking, listening to music, singing and laughing. (I do understand that these are probably not my children’s memories, but they are mine and I’m sticking to them.) When the trip would start to get a little long, we played the enormously original game of Alphabet. We had to find things that started with each letter of the alphabet, in order. Airplane, bushes, cars (the easy one), drawbridge, etc. When we had trouble with Q, X and Z, we made allowances and we could cite a billboard or a phone tower that had the shape of the particular letter. (There are a lot of Xs in tall telephone towers, just in case you need that information.) We also played, “What’s in the truck?” another original game in which we would guess what exciting merchandise a semi trailer was hauling, if it wasn’t evident on its sign--like Dunkin’ Donuts. Obviously that was a truck full of doughnuts. Yes, our drives were quite academic in those days. But if we weren't learning quantum physics, we were definitely having a good time.
My latest road trip was a little different. Technology has integrated itself into my travel time in the form of a smartphone. Where I once gazed out the window, wondering if that was the Erie Canal or if we were close enough to the Blue Ridge Parkway to drive on part of it, I was gazing instead into the little screen in my hands. New emails? No problem, I could answer them right away. Voicemails? Same thing. Done. Of course I could also find out about that canal (Yes, it is the Erie Canal), but I spent more time on my phone than watching the late fall beauty of upstate New York pass just outside my window. This of course, is my experience as a passenger. The phone is new and hopefully a passing fancy. (Yeah, sure. I’ll always want to know the origin of that lake’s name or if the next rest stop has a Starbucks.)
When I drive, and I can’t hold the phone in my hand, it’s just me and my car, watching the sky and feeling the road vibrations under my feet. Stories about the people who live in the towns I pass create themselves and fill my head as I drive by. They seem like nice folks. Way back in the olden days, when we only had steering wheels and tires and forty-cent a gallon gas, I drove everywhere in all kinds of cars; the make or model didn’t matter as much as that I got to get behind the wheel and go...anywhere. As a passenger I usually read books when I wasn’t looking out the window or tending to children; as the driver I pointed out interesting sights, sometimes to those same children who were now sleeping. It was always a good time. I don’t want an electronic device to dictate my road trips to me (and don’t get me started about the irritating and bossy GPSes we have had). As a result of this last trip, I think I will have to fight the urge to annotate my trips via Wikipedia, put down the phone and do what I have always done: enjoy the journey.
And I can always play the Alphabet game.