Sunday, September 29, 2013

Road Trip

I've been sitting on this for a while.  I started it almost a year ago and then set it aside for reasons that escape me now. I'm sure they were very important reasons at the time.  Anyway, I picked it up recently and finished it.  It may not be as entertaining for those not there, but I hope it brings a smile to anyone who is a fan of the road trip.

I like road trips. I like road trips because they involve cars. And roads. And music. And junk food like Chewy Sweet Tarts, Chili Cheese Fritos and Coke. Mostly though, I like road trips for the same reason some people fear flying; the unexpected.

Growing up, most of our vacations were of the road trip variety. The road trip ritual would begin by hitting the road, full of enthusiasm for adventures yet to be had and sights yet to be scene. Just how else would a road trip begin, you ask? Well, sometimes we’d forget something, turn around to retrieve the missing item and hit the road once again. Albeit with a little less enthusiasm and a little more – “did I pack socks? How about underwear, did I pack that? Are we gone for seven or eight days”? – thoughts running through our heads.

At that point in time we’d power on, figuring everything we needed was in the car; people, car keys, and the AAA Trip-Tic. Anything else, we figured, could be purchased along the way.

The ritual of the road trip hasn’t changed all that much in the twenty five plus years since I was a kid sitting in the back seat. Sure, there weren’t any iPods but we had cassette tapes! Hold down the fast forward button for juuuust long enough and then, STOP! Dang it missed it! Rewind! STOP! That’s close enough, let it play. We didn’t use navigation of the electronic sort either. Instead we used honest to goodness paper maps that were impossible to fold back up once unfolded for use. I bet all the map people thought that was terribly funny.

Despite some details in how time on the road is passed, the road trip, at its core, remains the same. Families or friends pile into a car with a destination in mind and they drive. Often times the journey ends up being almost as much fun as the destination.

My family and I went on a road trip last summer. We flew into Las Vegas and met my mother and stepfather. I know I know, flying isn’t a road trip, and Rhode Island isn’t surrounded on all fours sides by water either. But we still call it “Island” and I’m still calling this a road trip. Back on topic.

We picked up the rental mini-van, slid open its double automatic sliding doors, piled in and hit the road. I’m a pretty firm believer in the idea of the Right Tool for the job. There are usually other tools that will get the job done but they don’t get it done like the Right Tool.

As much as I hate to admit it, I can say with certainty the minivan is the absolute Right Tool for taking a road trip with the family with as much certainty as a flare wrench is the Right Tool for removing brake lines. Unless the goal is to round the head off the flare nut, in which case channel locks are the Right Tool. Immediately followed by bandages to limit the flow of blood from skinned knuckles and a mussel to limit the flow of expletives, both of which result when your hand gripping the channel locks slips off the flare nut and is stopped by a piece of sharp metal placed perilously close to the caliper by an engineer who clearly has never replaced perfectly good rubber brake lines with shiny new stainless steel ones. Back on topic, again.

The minivan really is a marvel of modern automotive engineering, designed to do exactly what is needed, in this case, ferrying six people and their luggage across the American southwest in triple digit temperatures. I remember when minivans had one manual sliding door that could double as a guillotine if not respected, fixed rear windows and a tape deck. Our road trip minivan had two power sliding doors which opened or closed at the touch of a button, a DVD player with a remote control, wireless headphones and rear windows that rolled down. The on board computer could display air temperature, water temperature, oil temperature, oil pressure, mpg, miles to empty, and probably where Jimmie Hoffa is buried had I thought to ask the question. A marvel of engineering I tell you.

I wish I could have been involved with whichever automotive manufacturer started down the automatic sliding door path first. Sitting in on the meeting where marketing and sales told engineering they wanted, no needed, sliding doors capable of opening and closing automatically would have been a thing to see. Seeing the polar opposite looks of disbelief and excitement around the room would have been priceless. Back on topic again again.

Although the piece de resistance of the trip was the Grand Canyon, all of the little stuff, the stuff that just happens on road trips, was as big a part of the trip as the canyon itself. I saw a gas station selling 85 octane gasoline in Springdale Utah (I didn’t dare put that swill in the trusty minivan, nothing but the best for the road trip Right Tool, 87 octane). We drove through the mile long Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel, drank a Mexican spiced mocha from Café Soleil and almost got hit head on by an over anxious car attempting an ill-advised pass on a two lane highway somewhere in Arizona. We subsequently got to hear my mother swear out loud at said driver which we all found quite funny once the adrenaline levels subsided. We followed route 66 out of Kingman Arizona to Oatman where wild burrows, descendants of prospector’s burrows released into the wild after mining operations ceased 80 plus years ago, still roam Main Street. We toured General Douglas MacArthur’s Lockheed Constellation that was out front of a small air museum in Arizona. Well, some of us toured the plane while others went shopping for cowboy boots across the street. We saw a gigantic Native American rug with a sixty thousand dollar price tag hanging on the wall of the Cameron Trading post. Hanging a rug on the wall doesn’t make sense, unless it costs as much as a new Corvette, then it makes all the sense in the world.

We saw a bunch of other stuff too, stuff that I’ve already forgotten but was funny or amazing or interesting at the time.   And really, that’s the wonder of the road trip; all the sights, sounds and fun experienced along the way.