Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Lost Art of the Road Trip

On Tuesday, I am leaving to go to St. Petersburg, FL to visit two of my best friends. In the days and weeks before this vacation, I have been bouncing off the walls with glee and excitement. My last "vacation" was to Amarillo, Texas and while I don't mean to diss the cow-tippin town, vacations to me mean palm trees. Exotic locales. White sand beaches. Fruity drinks with umbrellas. On top of the fact that I get to check off my "vacation" criteria checklist, I will be re-united with two of my very best friends on the planet.

As one gets anxious about an impending vacation, they tend to bring it up in conversation. "Oh my Gaaaaaahdddd, I can't wait to get outta here and just be on vacation already!" Don't feel bad, we are ALL guilty of subtly rubbing in that we get to get out of town. For some reason it just feels good. What people cannot believe delving into the more detailed question responses, "Where are you going?" and "When are you leaving?" "You're flying?"

"No, we're driving."

ERRRRRRRRRRRRR! Conversation slams on the breaks. Windows shatter. The whole room stops in silence with mouths agape. "You guys are driving from Chicago to St. Petersburg?!?"

"Yea! It's more fun that way." My response usually elicits a laugh or a smirk or a sarcastic "Hah, well good luck..." But you know what, I will stick up for the road trip. The road trips glory has long been lost.

Now a days, our lives are about convenience and efficiency. We want to get to places as fast as possible (hell, I would love a teleporting machine), get our work done as fast as possible, and do it all with the smallest amount of effort put forth. We are a society of instant gratification. We want things when we want them, and we want them yesterday. Flying on a plane is a perfect example. We are willing to trade our hard earned dollars to achieve the convenience and efficiency we so desire. For our generation, flights seem as normal as a bowl of cereal and driving, well driving seems exhausting and passe. I am sure all of you have heard your parents or relatives say, "Back in my day, we drove. We all piled in the station wagon and drove 15 hours to the beach. And to us, it was fun, it was normal, it was a luxury."

Seeing as for the past six years of my life I have been on the poorer end of the financial spectrum, road trips for me happened out of sheer necessity. If I wanted to take a vacation, I would have to drive. I couldn't afford the $300+ plane ticket, plus all of the fun vacation stuff while I was there. My maiden voyage road trip was in college, when 4 of my friends decided we MUST go down to Tampa, FL for the Hawkeyes bowl game. The drive - it was 23 hours. We got lost. We screamed. We sweated in the southern heat. We wanted to kill each other. I swore that I would never participate in an old-fashioned road trip again.

Isn't it funny though how you look back at an experience later on with more positive nostalgia? I actually smile and reminisce about that road trip when I think about it today. So, when the opportunity presented itself for another road trip to Amarillo, Texas to visit one of my best friends last summer, I was in. I convinced my two friends Bianca and Kevin that it would be cheap, and hell, it'll be fun! On the way down, we were lovin life; the open road, good tunes, great conversation, and the building excitement of arriving in Texas. On the way back, it was a different story. I was hungover six ways from Sunday, demanding frequent "PULL OVER! PULL OVER! I'M GONNA PUKE!" In Oklahoma, we hit a dead stop on the highway for 2 1/2 hours for an accident. Tensions were boiling, we had no information on why we were stopped, and we were 12 hours from home. Did I mention that the thermometer in the car read 130 degrees? One of my road trip comrades, Kevin, was having a damn near panic attack in the back seat and kept yelling about his sweaty stench and something in his pants sticking to his leg. It was bad.

Guess who I am driving with down to St. Petersburg? Bianca and Kevin. Even though they could both afford to fly (they actually have "real" jobs), and both experienced the torturous drive home from Amarillo, they were down to drive. I think it is because they look back with that same positive nostalgia that we all have. They remember what is so great about the road trip.

The road trip is this to me - it is friends packed in a car with nothing but each others company and the radio. It's the open road and feeling free. It's the feeling of being on an adventure; much akin to the ones that seemed so amazingly fun and scary as a child. It's seeing new places and new kinds of people at every stop along the way. It's telling stories, telling fears, and eating bad fast food along the way. It's having gut wrenching belly laughs that only seem to come when a story is either really funny, or you're just damn near delirious from driving. It's keeping each other awake at 4am and being a good "co-pilot." It's bonding in a way that you can't manufacture over a dinner or night out. It's being stuck in a car, hours on end, with people you love. You get to know the people on a different, deeper level. It's singing at the top of your lungs, arms flailing, hands out the window, and dancing in your seat. It's getting frustrated, getting lost, and snapping at people; followed by the understanding that we don't really mean the hurtful things we say when we're stressed. It's the understanding that "We're in this together."

The road trip has been lost in our society. Don't be afraid to bring it back. I promise you - you're gonna thank me.

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