Eventually everyone takes a very long road trip. Some do it with their families or friends. A few drive alone. They load up the car and head to places like the National Parks, Florida or even the far off reaches of Canada or Alaska. Others drive across Europe, landing at a major city and jumping into their rental car of choice. I even know of one person who drove to South America from Boston. I love long road trips and here are some of the reasons.
I love driving to faraway places; for me it is always an adventure. Even from my youngest days I have enjoyed looking at the maps and seeing the states, the cities, and the towns the trip will pass through. It is amazing how technology has changed this aspect of travel. When I was a kid we traveled via the traditional gas station map. Back then gas stations were not convenience stores; the gas station office usually had a desk, a cash register, a peanut vending machine and a whole bunch of roadmaps on some sort of shelf. Those gas station offices always smelled like a mix of spilled oil change and old dust.
In the summer of 1972 a friend of mine who actually had Triple A (AAA) prepared an itinerary of maps for a road trip we did to California, via every state west of the Mississippi. It was as thick as a phone book. His dad worked for Shell Oil and he had it made for us. In later years I bought this huge oversized paged atlas of road maps of the United States. That became my guide for trips to Maine, Chicago, Vermont and Florida. Now you just plug in the destination on the car GPS.
Back before such luxuries such as FM radio, 6-track players, cassette players, and then the bluetooth and satellite radio we had to invent games to help pass the time on long road trips. Looking for license plates from other states was one favorite. Another would be a trivia game covering everything that would go on for hours. In desperation there always was the last resort, the singing of the classic as 99 Bottles of Beer! As corny as that was we all sang it.
When I drive on long trips I find myself doing the math of the distance to and from the next state border. I always think, “30 miles into Virginia that’s 172 miles until North Carolina. I always know how far into the state I am and how many miles until the next state.
I also would know how far until the next rest area because if I was driving with the family rest stops were important. The amazing thing about rest stops, the ones with gas stations and multiple food options is that once you get out of the car it’s like entering The Twilight Zone! It’s as if they were all designed by the same guy to make you feel like you have been here before. Once inside it is fun to see the nuisance differences that lets you know you are not home. Sometimes it’s seeing “fireworks for sale.” Other times it may be a sign that says “eggs with grits.” My favorite of all time was back many years ago in a red brick complex on Route 66 somewhere in Kansas that had an old faded sign that said, “WE BUY AND SELL GUNS.” The place had the biggest selection of western guns I have ever seen to this day.
Another favorite way to pass the miles was noticing the different sectional food chains. In the south there are Waffle Houses, out west there are the wonderful A&W Root Beer fast food places where they serve the A&W Root Beer in a huge glass mug. There is still a franchise of A&W in Lake Placid, N.Y. It’s the only one I have ever seen that is not way out west. How about seeing “Big Boy” hamburgers or if you are heading to Florida, “Stuckey’s!”
Speaking of road trips to Florida, I am sure everyone who does the drive remembers the infamous “South of the Border” tourist trap about in South Carolina. It is the half way down mark when driving from New York to Florida. For miles there are those signs, “Come visit Pedro!”
Lastly, when the road trip ends the car always looks like the inside of an old covered wagon from yesteryear; there are clothes, blankets, and pillows in the back. Perhaps a few fast food wrappers under the seats with sand or leaves on the floor mats. The outside of the car usually looks like the it collected some dirt from every one of the hundreds of miles of bad roads the trip endured. Let’s face it, when you get home the hot shower along with the feeling of your familiar bathroom is golden.