Monday, June 8, 2009

The Road Trip That Stole My Essence

by Julia Buckley
I had no idea what a feeble person I was until I embarked upon that rarest of adventures (for me): the road trip. My niece Anna has graduated from high school, but she has the audacity to live in the deep, deep countrified air of Indiana. In order to reach her house you must pass through endless cornfields, seven towns that look identical (and include the small-town staples of a tiny theater, two hardware stores, a laundromat, a giant courthouse, and a gas station so clean it is obviously not related by blood to any gas stations in big cities).

In order to honor Anna and her parents, I agreed to join a family caravan that wended its way through Illinois and Indiana. Our route took us first to my parents' house (they were our leaders), a good hour south of us, and then off to the graduate's house--another three hours. Then we arrived at my brother's beautiful home and attended the graduation party for about three hours, then four hours home again.

For the young and energetic, this is not a big deal. I can say this with some confidence, because my passengers consisted of three rambunctious boys, two of them teenagers, and their energy never flagged. Not for eight hours of driving.

I had hoped that on the way home they might feel subdued by the endless ribbons of road, dotted by its inevitable decor of country roadkill. On the way to the event, my son Ian had persuaded me to listen to an entire Queen CD at top volume. I did this, and by golly I enjoyed it. We sang "Bohemian Rhapsody" together, even the lyrics no one knows. My sons and their cousin Dan were duly impressed by my rock n roll coolness level.

So on the way home, I figured I could get them to cooperate by listening to an Elliott Gould recording of Raymond Chandler's TROUBLE IS MY BUSINESS. And they tried. But they are boys, and they found Elliott Gould sort of boring, and soon they were yelling over his discreet reading.

"AHHHHHGGGGG!" yelled Ian, his head stuck out the window.

"Ian, stop it. Pull your head in here." He did, sadly. "Stop yelling out the window," I ordered.

He looked at me as if to say that I used to be cool. Perhaps he was remembering the Queen song.

"Mom, yelling out a window on an empty road is a victimless crime," he said.

I thought about this, then agreed. Even the cows hadn't seemed to notice. His voice, loud as it had been, was merely lost on the wind at 70 miles per hour.

My mistake was in agreeing. Soon three heads were out their respective windows, yelling merrily, sharing their barbaric yawps with the world.

Then Ian decided that he would try "acting."

"My BARN!" he shrieked as we passed a barn. "It's on FIRE!!!!" (It was not). "My BARN!!!! AHHHHHH-HAAAAAHHHHHHH-AAAAAGHHHHHHHH!" This was his dramatic crying. It was over the top, but when you're screaming out a window for the pure joy of it, anything goes.

I felt a burst of envy. I wished that I could reclaim the joy of screaming out a window on an open road at fourteen years old. It looked really fun. But I had to keep my eyes on the concrete--that's what we adults do.

When we finally, finally, finally reached home at about nine-thirty at night (we'd left at nine in the morning), I was tired. I sat down and greeted my husband (who had stayed home in order to go to work) and then fell asleep in my chair.

The next morning I woke up long enough to send my sons to their respective obligations, and then I fell asleep again--FOR FIVE HOURS. I haven't been this tired since I drove to Bouchercon in 2006.

What I've learned is that I am a terrible traveler. I can't even drive without losing a chunk of my energy resources, and yet my young charges bounced back instantly. They capered around today as though they had never taken a long ride.

I'm starting to wonder if yelling into the wind gave them some of that youthful energy. Or maybe it was that lovely fresh air in one of the towns we drove through--towns with names like Enos, Flora, Brackney, Ganges.

Some night this summer I'm going to take a drive by myself in the dark. I'll find a road that isn't too trafficky and I'll roll down my window and yell up at the moon. I want to see if it makes me feel younger. Maybe some of the crow's feet will be gone in the morning--or maybe I'll just stay awake for the whole day.

It will be worth the try, right?


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Kids are so spontaneous! You just never know what they're gonna do next...

I think my kids have it sooo easy when we travel. They have little DVD players and a ton of rented Blockbuster movies. I had to play the license plate game and count cows when I was a kid....

Mystery Writing is Murder

Susan D said...

Julia, you CAN regain that essence. Not by travelling with anyone you're related to (except perhaps your wild and crazy cousin Karen) and not by going and returning the same day.

Collect 3 friends of the same sex and similar world view and vintage.

Select some event or destination that will require at least 2 nights on the road each way. (Writing conference, old friend's birthday bash, Leonard Cohen concert.)

Plan a loosely defined route that avoids major highways and motel chains.

Allow lots of time for roadside attractions and shopping impulses.

Assign each person to bring
-enough snacks for everyone
-guide book of attractions
-road map
-music from your youth
-hot romance audio book

Get in the car and go.

Yell out the window all you like.

Sheila Connolly said...

There is a freedom to getting into your car and just taking off--not with a deadline, not with a goal, just going. It's a real luxury these days.

But I'm not sure doing it with a bunch of teenage boys is the best way. A few years ago my daughter and I took off from eastern Pennsylvania for Kentucky, for the wedding of my nephew. We had a grand time--cranked up Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again" and John Denver's "Country Roads" (we were going through West Virginia at the time--speed limit 70) and singing at the top of our lungs (but with the windows closed!).

Julia Buckley said...

Elizabeth, I'm with you--we played the alphabet game and fought with each other (there were five of us kids)and my father read almost EVERY sign. That got old fast. :)

Susan, that is a lovely sounding trip. It would take some planning, but it sounds like you've done it and have come out of it a happy person! Did you yell out the window?

Sheila, we DID play a game called Name That Tune, where we would hum something and the others had to guess what it was--and I DID hum Country Roads. They got as far as John Denver, but couldn't remember the song. Darn teenagers, don't even know good music when they hear it.

Lonnie Cruse said...

Wish you could have wended your way down here to the southern end of the state so we could have coffee and a chat. Maybe next time?

Julia Buckley said...

I'll have to build up my endurance, Lonnie. You can give me tips--I know you take long road trips all the time!

Tara said...

Part of the problem is how LONG this road trip was - that much driving in a day would drive anyone bonkers! Of course the kids are full of energy - they didn't have to drive (and they're young).

The key to great road tripping is to bite off what you can actually chew - I always recommend no more than four hours of driving in a day. That amount of time gives you plenty of time to explore, stop and check out arbitrary sights, and just get out of the car. When you plan a great road trip (i.e. realistic driving time) you can have a blast on the road.

By the way - I think it's a great idea for you to go out one day or night and just scream yourself silly in your car. Sounds like fun - I've got to try that!

Julia Buckley said...

You are so right, Tara! The things we learn in retrospect . . .

Let's all pick a time when we go out and scream together. We'll leave our little imprint on the universe.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

I will be on the road four days total in August, going from New York City to Nashville and back for Killer Nashville. Anybody wanna come? No teenage boys, please! And you've gotta like country music. :)

Julia Buckley said...

I love country music! But the thought of another long drive isn't appealing right now. I hope you're doing what Tara suggested and breaking up the trip. :)

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Yes, Julia, I have a sleepover planned at a friend's halfway each way (and a Plan B and C with other friends not too far from the middle), but it's still two long days' driving. I actually like long drives by myself--I crank up the music and also get some thinking done. Sometimes I even think about what I'm writing. :)

Julia Buckley said...

It's good to have friends in strategic places. :)