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The Road Not Taken

What would have become of the Joads if they didn’t flee the dust bowl and travel West to California? What if Jay and Daisy weren’t driving back to West Egg on that fateful night? And how else would pseudo literary high school boys impress alternative girls if Sal and Dean hadn’t been so debauched and jittery On the Road? A love for the open road is one of the most American ideals I can think of. Just ask Uncle Walt.

With prices reaching $4.90 a gallon I have to wonder what will become of an institution greater than baseball and subdivisions: The Road Trip. The road trip teaches us about ourselves, about highways, byways, wrong turns, long stretches of nothing, convenience snacks, rural radio, weather patterns, cheap motels, driving exhausted, driving barefoot, right arm air planes, white steeple churches, cruise control, and games derived from utter boredom. In short, life.

How will wistful children learn the lesson of abiding disappointment following great anticipation that is South of the Border? How will young women assert their independence and discover the mysteries of NASCAR fans at a an overcrowded campsite and the wild horses Assateague Seashore? How will Brooklyn -based 20-somethings learn how many bodies you can cram into a Volvo 740 (6) and how many times the driver will politely ask certain male passengers to put the bag of jerky away on the way to Phoenicia (also 6).? These are critical lessons and they should not be denied.

I took my first trip across the country at age 4. We drove from Connecticut to Arizona in some kind of Chrysler and I sat in the backseat singing songs, counting cows, and cultivating an imagination that serves me well to this day. I saw the grand canyon and and almost got us busted for having a rather nasty cocker spaniel in the room with us at the Motel 6. It was an epic journey and even included my first beer in Mexico, if the flea market in Nogales counts. My love of America was born somewhere on the Shanendoah National Park Highway and it burns to this day.

The road trip can last for many days or merely one night. How will suburban high school kids pass the long hours of every afternoon and especially probe the promise of the weekend nights if they can’t drive in an endless loop, from Marty’s to the Marina in the family Taurus? You cannot get stoned and get 87 cheeseburgers from the drive through of McDonald’s without a vehicle. Believe me. You can’t make-out in the parking lot of your old elementary school, you can’t do doughnuts in the town beach parking lot, you can’t try to jump the Liberty Street Bridge and you can’t use laundry detergent to paint the inside of a WV bus and then trip out on the black light effects sans gas. Well, that last one would probably be quite similar if stationary. But still.

I’m not talking an outback End of Times with feral children and Tina Turner. It’s sadder and closer to home. If Sissy Hankshaw couldn’t hitchhike what would her thumbs have been for?

There Are 3 Responses So Far. »

  1. Well, at least we still have “The Road”, my new fave, and everyone is Definitely Out of Gas.

  2. Wow, Jillian! I’ve been lamenting the future of road trips to my friends the past couple of months. They don’t seem to get it but you surely do. Thanks for crafting your feelings so well. I understand mine a little bit better now.

    How will we “cultivate our imaginations” in the future? Perhaps by reading the edgy writings of a girl and her husband from a little beach town in Yucatan. Maybe our new road trips are with you. Maybe Sissy Hankshaw still needs her thumbs for the space bar on her keyboard.

  3. Right on – thanks for the trip down memory lane. I’ve been aching for a road trip myself – screw the price of petrol – a road trip is ALWAYS worth it!

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