An Ode to Road Trips

I recently drove from Springfield, Missouri to Key West, Florida with my Mom, Fiance, and brother. It took approximately 24 hours. Regrettable things were said. Poor choices were made. Too much greasy food was eaten. And time, more often than not, passed as though the minute hand had a bum ankle (he wasn’t exactly Usain Bolt to begin with). And yet, I had a blast.

I’ve always liked road trips. Even when I hated them. There’s just something compelling about it. Sure, a large part of it is the anticipation of where you’re going and what you’re going to do there—the snowy mountains you’re going to ski, the beaches you’re going to sit at and do nothing at all, the friends and family you’re going to see, the alcoholic beverages with little umbrellas you’re going to down by the fistful because it’s all inclusive and cousin Marty paid for the trip anyway. But it’s more than that. It’s the actual driving part, too. Or at least how you fill your time while driving.

What’s one of the biggest complaints or excuses people have today? Being too busy. Too busy to read that book that’s been sitting on the coffee table since two Christmases ago. Too busy to write. Too busy to work on that one project you’ve been wanting to do forever but haven’t been able to find the time (knitting a sweater, making space boots for little cousin Jimmy’s Halloween costume but it’s not really for little cousin Jimmy it’s for you because space boots are cool and Halloween is too and you know what back off me!, etc.). Too busy to do this. Too busy to do that. Well, guess what? On a road trip, you have nothing but time. (If you’re on a solo road trip or find yourself in the driver’s seat, you still have all the time in the world, but the space boots should probably wait. Seek other ways to pass the time. Like listening to the radio or enjoying the scenery or talking to another human or just thinking.)

It’s one of my favorite things about a road trip. Slowing down. Embracing the monotonous hours. In a world that’s moving ever faster, it feels like a privilege to sit in a car for hours on end without having to worry about an appointment or an email or an assignment you’re not into. You know how much stuff you can accomplish when you don’t have other stuff to do? A lot (and at the same time nothing at all! It’s great). For example, I came up with these jokes while driving north though the southern part of Florida on our return leg from Key West.

Q: What do you get when you mix an orange and steroids?
A: Orange juice.

Q: Why can’t you trust the sky to make a good decision?
A: Its judgement is clouded.

Q: What do you call it when a bunch of people get together to make jokes about beef?
A: Roast beef.

Q: What do you call a room with an uncomfortable amount of people in it?
A: Chick-fil-A at noon.

Q: Where do you go if you want to see NASCAR but don’t want to pay the money?
A: Florida’s North Turnpike.

What a productive way to spend one’s time! But perhaps even more fruitful than having the time to come up with genius jokes is being able to spend time with people you care about. Like a lot of things in life, a road trip is better when shared. That’s not to say a solo road trip isn’t good, either. It’s just different (and sometimes exactly what you need). But it’s nice to have people to talk to and share moments with, even if it’s just hours of silence, stupid laughs, or the gas bill.

Take our trip to and from Key West. On both legs of our journey we went long stretches saying nothing at all, with the only exceptions being some remark about a nice building or someone asking what we were going to eat next. Other times we’d play dumb games mispronouncing common restaurant names we passed, like “rubby” Tuesday instead of Ruby Tuesday, or saying anything in our best Rick Grimes voice, which often ended up sounding like Christian Bale in Batman while trying to wolf down a chicken wing. And other times we talked about funny, forgotten stories from our youth or discussed future aspirations and hopes. Which, I think, is pretty neat. There aren’t a lot of places where the range of conversation is so widespread.

There’s also the novelty and adventure of a road trip. Passing through foreign landscapes for the first time. Seeing unique towns, both big and small. Stopping to eat at unique restaurants along the way. Seeing how other people live, if only for a moment. Watching how much of a difference a few miles makes, or how little a difference a couple of hundred miles makes. It’s like we’re pioneers all over again. Plus a few minor conveniences, of course. Like cars and stuff.

When you’re on a road trip it’s more than just getting from point A to point B. It’s the experience of the journey (wow, this sounds a lot like a motivational speech about life, and how it’s not about the end destination but about digging in deep and enjoying the road there, which almost certainly consists of piecing on the same leftover takeout for a week). A unique one at that. There’s monotony, idle chatter, meaningful conversation, excitement, boredom, and more.  And what an adventure and privilege it is.

[Author’s note: I wrote a good majority of this while on the return leg of our road trip to Key West. And what better time to write about road trips than when on an actual road trip?]