Hey, young people: What are your plans for the summer? Flying down to the beach with your buddies? Planning on taking your girlfriend to Napa for a week? Gonna stay around the house, throw a few bitchin' parties, maybe get arrested here and there? Working hard and saving toward your future?
Wrong. Bullshit. These are terrible answers, and you should be ashamed of yourself. The correct answer is We're taking a road trip. Here's something you will learn in the time after you are no longer a young person: You have the whole rest of your life to do that other crap. Another few years and you'll be flying the kids to that same beach every goddamn summer for the rest of your life. Napa isn't going anywhere, and you'll do it better once you're a real adult with a real job and real money. You can get arrested whenever. So quit saving the money, go get in your piece of shit car, and point yourself in whatever direction offers the longest possible drive before the continent ends. Steal mom's credit card if you have to. This will no longer be an option in just a few precious years, with too little vacation time and miserable howling children and a well-earned, profoundly negative physiological response to the very thought of driving for a long time. Do it now. It is a rite of passage.
What we're hoping you can all help us prove is that the road trip is excellent: stories of epic adventure and misadventure and discovery and disaster from the memorable dalliances of your elders. Got a road-trip story to share? Send it along to me at email@example.com. It doesn't have to be funny, or scary, or spectacular, or disastrous, or successful. What is does have to be is a true story of a great road trip. We want it all: the car, the year, the road or roads, the destination, what happened. How old were you? Who was with you? WHAT WERE YOU THINKING???? We'll compile all the best stories and publish 'em in a week or two.
Here, I'll start.
When I was 22, I moved west with my girlfriend, a friend from school, and my brother. We drove two cars from Reston, Va., to Huntington Beach, Calif., along US 70 in five days. The trip was planned pretty thoroughly in advance, and we spent most of the drive time playing a version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon between our two vehicles via two-way radio. I don't mind saying the other participants in this game were shit. I dominated. Anyone would agree.
The plan was to live in Huntington Beach for the duration of that summer, and then evaluate whether we could or wanted to stay. We had an off-the-books three-month lease at an apartment complex with a pool a couple of blocks from the ocean. It was a sweet deal. Towards the end of our second week in California, my friend decided he was too in love with his girlfriend back home to stay any longer, and he packed up his shit into his car and took off.
The three of us stayed for as long as we could afford to without his share of the rent, eating ramen burritos and non-burrito ramen, until, toward the end of July, with no means of paying any more rent, we sold a surfboard for traveling money, packed all our accumulated crap into a dying Ford Contour one very early morning, and hit the highway, with no sense whatsoever of how we were to make it across the country. When we pulled out of the parking lot the car was so overburdened with luggage that the rear bumper was just a few inches off the road. We had to leave possessions next to a dumpster to keep the rear tires from rubbing the wheel-wells. There was so little room in the cabin the third passenger had to lay across packed bags with his or her face against the roof-liner.
When you drive across the country east to west, you make incredible time. The sun, you see, rises in the east and sets to the west, and if you drive pretty fast, you can extend your daylight hours. When you drive back the other way, man, you just make no time at all. Before your first stop for gas, the sun is down. That first day, we made it from our apartment in Huntington Beach to Aurora, Colo., which is just east of Denver, and stopped at the cheapest hotel we could find. The concrete stairs leading from the second floor (where our room was) to the courtyard by the empty, moldy pool-hole were crumbled away, just a crooked web of exposed rebar with great hunks of busted concrete dangling dangerously over the hilariously unprotected sidewalk underneath. I mean, this place was a shit-hole if ever there was one. We got the hell out of there a few hours later.
We made great time that day, largely because we really had no choice. We had no money for another hotel and really no money for gas. At the very least, we needed to chop what had been a five-day drive in the long days of east-to-west driving into a four- or hopefully three-day drive in the shortened daylight hours of driving west to east. Somewhere west of Indianapolis, we stopped for a bathroom break. My brother went in the men's bathroom. My girlfriend went in the women's. I paced nervously out front, thinking the only way we could realistically make it home without having to sleep on top of the car one night was to not stop again for anything but gas, and even then it'd take some luck. I thought the overnight hours would spare us from driving in traffic and needing to use the air conditioner, both of which would soak up precious fuel we couldn't afford to replace. I thought about how to convince the other two, who were just as stiff and road-weary as I was.
My brother walked out first and said, "I know this is gonna sound crazy, but..." at which point my girlfriend walked out, looked at me, nodded, and said, "Yeah." So we all agreed.
When you drive for 29 straight hours from Aurora, Colo. to Reston, Va., a few things have to happen. For instance, only one person can sleep at a time. If two people are asleep when the driver also falls asleep and starts to drift into oncoming traffic, well, then you're all dead. Also, you have to switch drivers every four hours or so in the beginning, and then after a while every three hours, and then eventually you're switching every 90 minutes or so, until you realize that if you pull off the road and park for even a few seconds, you will almost certainly run out of gas somewhere in southern Pennsylvania or western Maryland. From that point on, you don't switch drivers for almost five hours and spend an awful lot of time driving with your head out the window, screaming obscenities into the spooky predawn mist, hallucinating flying cows and shit. You ask your girlfriend, who is sleeping in the passenger seat when she is not supposed to be even though she swallowed like a gigantic handful of NoDoze, to punch you on the leg if you start to nod off. The words "shit" and "fuck" are understood to mean "how long was I asleep" and/or "I am about to fall asleep, grab the wheel please."
I knew we were home once the scenery switched from farms to dense, kudzu-choked forests, and the air turned steamy and fragrant. It turned out we were still a few hours from home, but I really don't remember the rest. I mean, at some point we parked, and I made it into a house, and slept for a day and a half. I know we made it home, because here I am. But that gradual scenery change that indicated we were close yielded a really cool, exhilarating moment that we all shook ourselves awake to share, the grinning acknowledgement that we had done something really silly and really reckless and kinda awesome, a virtual non-stop overnight drive of more than 1,600 miles.
So that's my story—please send me yours. And if you don't have one yet, shame on you, and get a life. I mean, what the hell are you waiting for?