Road Trips: The Memories

Does running approximately 205 with a group of friends and strangers in two vans count as a road trip? I've definitely got the memories. Excuse the unshowered, unslept, unflattering Leslie photo. March 8, 2010.

A New York Times story sparked nostalgia and a hankering for hitting the road.

Many of my most vivid traveling memories stem from road trips:

  • Childhood: On a Houston-to-Denver trip, I surprised my mother and grandmother with my consumption of fried chicken. After car sickness caused me to throw up on my brother during a trip to Austin, my mother mesmerized us with Jiffy-Pop. I took my new puppy on a large tour bus with my grandparents and their friends. My dad, grandmother, and I drove from Houston to Indiana, stopping at Graceland along the way.
  • Leaving home: When my dad drove me to college, he bought two deep-fried blueberry pies—the overly processed kind in wax paper for microwaving—at a gas station. I’d never seen such a thing. Loved it.
  • Leaving love: On the way to move a boyfriend from Chicago to San Francisco, I heard a Nebraskan radio program about hyenas in the dark of night while he slept, we lost a tire in the Salt Flats of Utah, and we hit snow crossing into California.
  • Moving: A friend and I took a Penske moving truck down Route 66 from Chicago to Amarillo before shooting down to Houston on “regular” roads to drop off my few belongings before I moved to London. We stopped at every roadside attraction and relic of Americana that we could find. A “Precious Moments” chapel, anyone?

Why do road trips make such impressions?

My hypothesis:

  • Driving takes time. As I know from running streets that I sometimes drive, the more slowly you journey, the more you see, absorb, and appreciate.
  • No matter how well you’ve planned your route and how diligently you prepared your vehicle, something haywire will happen.
  • Road trips put people in proximity for long periods of relatively little activity, encouraging conversations unlikely to occur in other settings.
  • Road trips sprinkle sudden surprises into stretches of boredom, giving these moments more impact.
  • Epic journeys have always captured imagination. The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest surviving works of literature, describes the long journey of two friends. And how many times and in how many ways have the arts interpreted Homer’s The Odyssey?

Further: Road trips and the Americas link in the popular imagination. The American road trip has turned iconic. After all, slow, long-distance travel—from other countries and between our borders—built this country. Nomadic immigrants, us all.

Do you have a memorable road trip?