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?