Following Signs

3600 miles, one music festival, five nights of camping, eleven days in the car, sixteen cups of gas station coffee.  And now we’re home.  Route 66, really, is the quintessential road trip.  I only did the middle piece of it, but it was enough.  I loved it.
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Tonight I started doing laundry, since Dawg and I are still on Texas time and are wound up from all the driving.  I realized there is no setting on my washing machine for “four days of camping at Merlefest followed by eight days on Route 66.”  I think I’ll just wash everything twice three times.  I’ve figured a few things out along the way:
  1. Drinking gas station coffee is far preferable to drinking no coffee.
  2. Eating nothing is far preferable to eating gas station food.
  3. The same applies to the “free continental breakfast” at a motel.  I will likely never be hungry enough to eat that cellophane-wrapped muffin.
  4. For a true “road trip” experience, look up the estimated driving time to your night’s destination on your smart phone.  If you’re going to have any fun along the way, the actual driving time is about 1 1/2 times what your phone says.  Plan accordingly.  Stop a lot.  (I budgeted for six hours’ actual driving time each day, knowing that it would take us probably nine including stops and gas station boot purchases and tennis ball throwing at roadside parks.  That was about right.)
  5. Photo opportunities at every roadside attraction may annoy all of your Facebook friends, but I still think they’re totally worth it.
  6. When you have reached the point in your driving day when things are no longer fun, or no longer safe, it is time to pull over at the first roadside motel you see, share an apple with your dawg, and throw tennis balls on the lawn and go to bed early.  Watch some trash tv.
  7. Should you choose to ignore this rule and push an hour or two too far, you are guaranteed to find yourself stopping at four different exits to find a place to stay.  One exit will have a sign but no actual motel; one motel will not take dawgs; one will have absolutely nobody at the desk; one motel will usually take dawgs but this one in particular is not configured that way.  This will also guarantee that your contact lenses will fail and it will start to rain just as you are entering a badly-lit nighttime construction zone on a major highway, and you will find yourself regretting every choice which has led you to this point.  When you finally find a motel which ends up being twice your budget, and the clerk gives you a $40 discount, you will want to give him a big fat kiss although it is age-inappropriate, because you can finally get your yowling dog off the road.  Or something like that.
  8.  I am happy to pay the $10 “pet tax” at any roadside motel.  Proprietors, please note that if I have paid the $10 “pet tax,” I am going to allow Dawg to shred a roll of your toilet paper.  It will make him extremely happy, you’ll come out $9.50 ahead, and it will give me ten minutes of peace.  I will clean up the mess.  But I will not bother to hide the evidence.

I loved every bit of my road trip.  I am aware that there are more relaxing ways to travel, and more ecologically sensitive, and more efficient.  But that’s not the point, for those of us who are lovers of car songs, and frivolous destinations, and the open road.

The last time on Route 66 when I got five miles down a dead-end road, about twenty miles outside of Amarillo, there was a whole lot of cursing from the front left quadrant of the car.  I didn’t mind being on a piece of Route 66 which dead-ended, again, but I sure as hell minded being five miles down a dead-end road before there were any signs indicating such.  And then I laughed, because that is so Route 66.  Efficiency is not the point.  It’s about the ride.  It’s about the scenery.  It’s about the challenge.

Metaphor metaphor metaphor, I have wandered way more than 5 miles down the wrong path, a time or two, in recent history.  That’s fine.  I wouldn’t take any of it back.  I learned a few things along the way, and I have some stories to tell.  There are also plenty of roads I didn’t choose to go down, and don’t we always wonder what might have been?  At least on Route 66 you’ll hit a sign that says “DEAD END,” eventually, or the road will just fall apart in front of you.  It’s pretty clear when you have to turn around.  That’s not always true with other dead ends.  When do you cut your losses and backtrack?  When do you stubbornly push forward, because look how much you’ve already invested?  Everyone’s answer to that one is different.

When I traveled around the world, more than a couple of people were snarky about it.  Downright judgemental.  “That’s so American,” they told me, and not in a nice way.  They implied that the only correct form of travel is to go to a place, and stay as long as you can, and immerse yourself in it.  That’s fine, if that’s what you need, but after all of those years sitting still at my desk in graduate school, I had no desire to go sit still some more.  I wanted to move as fast as I could, get as far as I was able, and see as many things as I could afford to take in in the time that I had.

Sometimes it’s about stillness, and sometimes it’s about motion.  Sometimes it’s about just seeing whether you can find the path.

Good heavens, I love a road trip.  And thirty-six hundred miles and sixteen gas station coffees later, I have gotten some of that motion out of my system, for the time being.  I’m ready to sit still for a bit.

I can’t wait to start my new job next Monday.

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One Response to Following Signs

  1. Joy Ingallinera says:

    When is the slide show? :). I could use a vicarious road trip.

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