The floor is littered with apple cores, road maps, and someone’s discarded socks. The smell of cattle overtakes me from time to time. And after the third hour, my butt begins to ache.
But I like it.
Road trips aren’t supposed to be relished. They’re the means to an end, the drag we endure so we can get to the fun part. Like a transatlantic flight beside a whiny toddler. Or an elevator ride with a stranger who’s humming to himself and has Cheetos dust on his shirt.
We have no choice but to turn down our anticipation to “idle” until the motion … comes to a full … and complete … stop.
Yet there’s something about the magnified here-and-now of family transit — the way it forces a collective stillness — that appeals to my frazzled inner overachiever. I was reminded of this precious and peculiar pleasure during a recent road trip with my brood.
Shoehorned into my four-seater like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the four of us shared legroom with suitcases, portable electronics, a cooler of snacks, a diaper bag, too many jackets, and an arthritic dog dozing on a stack of CD cases. Despite our shared domicile back home, we are never all so near for so long. If one of us isn’t dashing out to fetch groceries or disappearing into the garage to do laundry, the other is on the way to a basketball game or stealing a moment to check email before bed.
But not here in our car. Strapped into our 6×6-foot box, careening past farms and foothills, we have absolutely nothing to do. We can’t “prepare.” We can’t “accomplish.” We can’t even catch up on reading or we’ll throw up.
Forced into this state of inoccupation, we take note of things we would normally ignore. Like the filthy pickup truck beside us. “Look at the mud on that thing!” “He must have been off-roading.” “Hey, why don’t we ever go off-roading … besides the filth factor, I mean?”
We make music together: me wailing, my husband rumbling bass lines, our eight-year-old playing animal-style drums on the seat back, the baby clapping spastically. We take note of the distressing number of bugs that have met their demise on our windshield and, feeling helpless in the face of such bloodshed, busy ourselves with trying to count their carcasses.
On the road, our commitment to a healthy diet is chucked out the window like the pickle from my son’s fast-food cheeseburger. We allow ourselves detours for root beer floats at a roadside A&W, and brake for pancake houses that serve fluffy biscuits and gravy. We stop at a gas station and peruse the minimart’s jerkies, CornNuts, and packaged pastries with a traveler’s curiosity — not like they’re the devil’s work, but merely the regional delicacies of this strange and exotic land called Gilroy.
We take a few minutes to scamper on a pristine strip of grass at the edge of the gas station before moseying back to the car, holding hands. And I’m surprised to realize it’s this aspect of road trips — the physical connection — that I like best.
In our jam-packed, litter-strewn, bug-splattered people mover, I can reach over and touch my family. Almost absentmindedly, I take one hand off the wheel to stroke my husband’s cheek. I reach back and hold onto my son’s calf as I drive, or squeeze the baby’s feet just to reassure myself he’s there.
At home, life moves faster than that maniac who just zoomed past us on the Kawasaki. But here in the car, it’s suspended.
Like any good driver, I’m always scanning the road up ahead, anticipating what might be coming. I know there will be days when I miss this closeness, this instant access to my guys. And I’ll cherish the hours I traded productivity for proximity.