I love to drive.
In the city, it’s like a competitive sport. In the country, it’s like therapy. But that’s when my focus is outside the car, and what’s out there is interesting. But what happens when what’s outside is not that interesting?
You’re forced to look on the inside.
A commute to work, for example, is generally hell. Especially if the commute is over 20 minutes. The same trip. Over and over and over. I’ve had friends who commuted by plane for years. Leaving on a Monday, flying back on a Thursday or Friday. One friend was a CEO who didn’t want to move away from his ranch (and neither did his beautiful wife). Another was a guy who relocated when his kid was just about to start his senior year in high school, so he bit the bullet for the kid. (Excellent move.)
When we moved to the farm, my commute stretched from what was 20 minutes (my max) to a 40 minute run each way. It was one of the items in my “Con” column when we were deciding whether to buy the farm. Surprisingly, it’s working out for me. OK, the main reasons are that (1) I love my farm (it’s worth the drive) and (2) I love my job (it’s worth the drive, too). But I also changed the “inside” of my car: audiobooks. Not a new idea, but new to me. I actually look forward to having a good chunk of time to make progress in my book. It’s like having a good visit with a friend. The kind you don’t mind doing all the talking.
I have a friend like that. And I love long drives with her. She doesn’t do all the talking, but I wouldn’t mind if she did. For years we drove our kids six hours to Disneyland, and one of the best parts was that 12 hours of conversation. What’s more, at the end of the weekend, we were known to sit in the driveway of my house continuing to talk….at 10:30 at night after the long drive home, just because we were on an excellent topic.
Then there are the family road trips. I remember taking one with my parents and one sister to Yellowstone. I read the entire series of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books that summer. I remember getting sick of the smell of pine. Imagine. Our dad was a guy who wanted to pull over and read every historical marker. We would want to die every time. And our mom was famous for saying, “Look, kids! Isn’t it beautiful?” about whatever was outside the car. To this we would mockingly reply, “Yes, ma’aaaam.” We were so lucky to see the whole country on those road trips, as claustrophobic as they seemed at the time. Some of my fondest memories are of those times.
And now we’re the parents who shove those kids in the car. Imagine a gang of six people with a full-grown black lab, tucked into an extended cab pickup loaded down with recreational gear, suitcases, coolers, a dog crate, sleeping bags….the Beverly Hillbillies. Every summer for many years, we would meet good friends of ours for a week at a lake house. The drive was over seven hours. Seven hours. But it was great. We laughed a lot on those drives. And we sang, too. Not like the Von Trapps, exactly. One memorable year, we listened to “Frampton Comes Alive” about 100 times. Music from my tween years, brand new to our kids. It was a bridging of the generations, as John and I belted out every lyric with the familiarity of “Happy Birthday to You”. We even attempted to sing along with the crazy instrumentals that made Peter Frampton famous. Our kids were amazed. And because they know good music when they hear it, they loved Peter Frampton. Further affirmation that our kids are smart, excellent people. That album, along with Jesus Christ Superstar, Les Miserables, and Wicked soundtracks, have become the anthems of our family.
Admittedly, the ride home on those long road trips was not always as joyful. Tired, dirty and cranky. I recall one trip home from the week at the lake…the kids were picking on each other. This had gone on the entire return trip and we had tried everything to get them to quit. We changed seating arrangements, stopped for treats, played games like “I Spy” and spotting out-of-state license plates. I was not looking forward to doing laundry all night then heading back to work the next day….I was really at the end of my rope and so was John.
Another fight erupted, and I lost it. I spun around and yelled, “If YOU guys don’t KNOCK it off THIS instant, we’re gonna PULL this car over, and I’m gonna BEAT you until SOMEONE pulls over and HAS me ARRESTED!”
Then a tiny voice. “It’s not a car, Mom. It’s a truck.” It was our youngest daughter.
A moment of horrified silence. Then we all burst out laughing. What a courageous little cuss. To make a technical correction when I was trying to be dangerous. Stopped us all in our tracks. It was a priceless moment offering instant relief. We laughed about it for the last two hours of the drive. In fact, we still laugh about it today.
An excellent book, a dear friend, the pure joy of being in a closed-in space with the people you love most in the whole wide world…..there’s odd magic in a road trip.