Road trips are often seen as these idyllic journeys of self-discovery. Of aesthetically pleasing adventures, where friendship strengthens and romance blossoms. Of magical experiences and little moments in liminal spaces, that are just yours in the space between.
That’s not entirely true.
I’ve been on four cross-country roadtrips in the past three years, trekking from home in California to college in Maryland and back and back again. I’ve gone with friends, and my father; I’ve done it in five days, and I pushed it and made it back in three. I’ve had trips with no problems and trips with over a thousand dollars damage to my car.
They vary, okay. But I’m going to talk about my most recent one. From Fairfax, CA to Towson, MD with a little detour to Mount Horeb, WI, to pick up a friend. Let me break it down for you.
The Ultimate Friendship Test
Like I said, this trip was four days. Four days, of being crammed in a small car with the same people for hours on end. I love my roommates, who were with me from the start of the trip, but oh my god.
This was our longest day – like twelve hours and nine-hundred miles and not a lot of room. Every little thing will get on your nerves. I hate the window being open on highways, and the smell of the leftovers my roommate packed. The other roommate has very particular music taste, that does not fit with me and the other – the only thing in common we got is the Hamilton soundtrack.
And the conversations. There’s only so much to talk about on the I-80. I woke up from a nap to find my roommates arguing about whether the moon landing was fake or not. This went on the entirety of Nevada. One brought up the existence of Bigfoot as part of their argument.
And then there’s just general arguments and disagreements: Who bought gas last? Whose turn is it to Why didn’t you pee when we stopped fifty miles ago? Let’s stop for food now – what do you mean you’re not hungry? Who farted?? IF YOU PLAY “MAMA SAID” ONE. MORE. TIME –
Our friendship is definitely stronger now. No one got murdered. We even still live together after all that.
In central southern Wyoming, there’s a pyramid. Off the highway, like a mile down a gravel road, there’s a pyramid dedicated to the brothers who financed the building of the railroad. The town of Sherman that was once around it has since become a ghost town. (And it’s a Pokemon GO gym).
Then in Nebraska, the highway’s lined with sunflowers, constantly blowing in the jetstream caused by the cars on their journeys. These are the liminal spaces you hear about: truck stops and abandoned gas stations. That’s all true. It’s so strange going to a town with a population of twenty-six, where all the items for sale are in camo print, where you can buy flip-flops with turf on them and that’s the greenest grass you’ll step on for miles.
It’s motels that you are sure are fine but feel strange, and have a stain on the floor that makes you think someone was murdered there. Or the fact that there’s no soap provided in the bathroom, and barely enough toilet paper but you’re pretty sure the owner is Norman Bates so you ration it instead of asking.
It’s getting pulled over for speeding twenty over the limit right past a State Trooper. Hoping, praying, that he doesn’t ask to search the car because we’re all underage and there’s a bottle of Everclear (and not to mention a lot of weed) right in the bag on top.
A road trip is a journey: one step-forward, two steps back. But somehow anyway you end up at your destination.
Somewhere in Iowa
You Are The Music In Me
I mentioned music briefly earlier. It’s a very important part, you gotta drown out the sound of the wheels on pavement somehow. You gotta make time move quicker than it actually is.
You want things you can sing along to. Belt at the top of your lungs, destroy your vocal chords, crack some glass, scream.
Cause you’re young, wild, and free, baby.
Super awesome road trip playlist
Maybe The Road Trip Was The Friends We Made Along The Way
The last day is both the best day and the worst day. You’re pumped, you’re excited, it’s the home stretch – but it’s also just that, the final stretch.
YOU WANT IT TO BE OVER.
You’ve been with these people for days. You smell bad. There’s pretzel crumbs everywhere. But time feels slower. There’s six hours left, then an hour later, there’s still six hours left.
Whoever is driving, whatever speed they are going ain’t fast enough. You want a bed that’s yours, or at least not in a motel. You want to not be in a car for a solid week, insist you’ll start walking more to places.
It was fun, but all journeys must come to an end. We were lucky, we were going from a friends house back to our college that day. The addition of him freshened things up although it did cram it (he’s not buff like Chris Evans, but he is a Dorito like Chris Evans).
Somewhere in Wisconsin
And I know, I sound like I hate these things. This was my fourth (fourth!!) but I’m actually in the process of planning one that’s approx 4444 miles. The last hurrah with my best friends after a graduate. Crossing state lines and country borders. With no set time frame, it may take up to two weeks.
That terrifies me a little.
But I’d do it again, and again.
(But maybe with a bigger car.)
Somewhere in Maryland