I got terribly car sick as a kid. The car, as much as I loved an adventure, even to the next town, was associated with nausea. I dreaded it. I have no idea why my parents didn’t keep me sitting close to the door, as every time I was in the middle of the back seat, I’d barely make it to the window, climbing across someone to throw up. I remember always waiting until the last second before yelling, “I have to throw up!” and my father would swerve to the curb and i’d clamber out and wretch onto the side of the road. Probably didn’t help that someone was smoking in the car, but the motion was the culprit. Carnival rides and any ocean-going vessel were torture for me. So my mother was skeptical when my father took us on our first cross-country road trip. She was sure I’d be miserable the whole way. Being so excited about seeing Yellowstone National Park and the geysers, I barely gave my stomach a thought. I’d pored over the National Geographic magazine featuring those geysers the previous winter and dreamed I’d go there someday. When my father announced the summer vacation would be a road-trip to Yellowstone I ran out of the house announcing it to the neighborhood at the top of my lungs, “Hey everyone! We’re going to Yellowstone!” I was nine years old and unaware that this response was inappropriate according to my father. It might make the other kids feel badly, or it might be an embarrassment if something came up and we couldn’t go. The the lecture I got when retuning to the house listed these possibilities in grave tones. (The dumping of ice water on my enthusiasm started at an early age. I have no idea why it didn’t squelch it permanently.)
That July my father and his five kids climbed into the huge Chevrolet station wagon, loaded down with camping gear, and set off across country. My mother stayed home. (I’m not sure if she was involved in that decision.) The entire neighborhood surrounded her on the street as they watched us depart. She had a huge smile on her face, so I assume she was not sad at being left behind, but I was ecstatic. I felt like the chosen family. I waved goodbye to my best friend, Beth, from the rear seat of that car after the teary goodbye in the front yard. I promised to write every day. There were new people to meet and places to see! The world beyond number 2 Pomciticut Ave was ours to discover!
I could write a whole book about that trip, and one for each of the summer road trips to follow, but one remarkable thing was that I didn’t get car sick. I remember thinking that after the first three hours (possibly the longest I had ever ridden in a car before that) it was just fine. My father boasted having driven 850 miles in one day! Himself! I don’t know how many hours in the car that was, but it was a lot. He probably fell asleep at the wheel a few times, woken by the sound of the gravel as he swerved off the road, but hey, we were “making good time.”
Aside from never throwing up once on that trip (Remarkable! My mother couldn’t believe it!), I became a road trip addict. Now, this is also remarkable, as those trips were not always fun. Or safe. In fact, it is a miracle we survived them (Note the falling-asleep-at-the-wheel reference.) But the feeling of being on the road, moving toward some exciting destination, is still thrilling for me. And with my own car and ability to make my own decisions about when to stop? Heaven.
It’s certainly different now, a mere fifty years later. My car could probably fit in the front seat of that station wagon, and gas is no longer 23 cents a gallon. The roads are more crowded, the landscape more built-up, and shores are obscured by developer’s greed. We can find the seven-day forecast on our phones and a ladies’ voice tells us when to turn left. We don’t get lost much. The one in the passenger seat is not frantically scouring the huge map to see which exit to take while in the flow of traffic. (Such pressure! All of life depends on this split-second decision!) But we keep our own schedule. We leave when we want, stop where we want, visit the friends and family eagerly anticipating our visits. We make note of places we’d like to explore. We’ll come back, we agree. We get ideas from our friends about what to see. We get taken to favorite sights, where others’ childhood memories have rendered the location sacred and special. We hear stories of past loves, antics, celebrations, holidays, and tragedies. We traverse mountains much older than the Alps, (Yes, we have older things in this country than they do in Europe. They just don’t happen to be buildings.) We appreciate the vastness of this land, the history it rendered, the lives it has changed. We are grateful for our friendships and their warm welcomes.
This week the road trip changes direction and focus. The passenger seat will have a new occupant. She sends me a message that says, “All you need is a great friend and a full tank of gas.” I couldn’t agree more. We’ll play great music and sing. We’ll take on new roads and see new friends. We’ll be careful not to laugh too hard while driving. We’ll feel cool in our (middle?) age acting like teenagers. (Right?) Ok, we’ll be more careful than we were as teenagers, and we won’t be on the lookout for cute guys. (Right?) We’ll have to depend on GPS since we can’t see the tiny roads on the map anymore. The wind in our ears might be too much with the windows down and we don’t want to yell to each other anymore. But the excitement doesn’t differ from those years way back when. A great friend, a full tank of gas, focus, goals, ideas, and dreams…all on the road where we’re heading.