“Let’s go for a drive.”
My father said those words almost every weekend. Each time, the statement was met with a flurry of activity, as if it was a wholly unexpected surprise that required emergency planning.
My mother would begin boiling eggs for deviling, laying the halves out carefully on a rooster-shaped dish, filling them, dusting them with paprika and garnishing each with a slice of green olive. She’d cook potatoes and make fresh potato salad. She’d pull down the wicker picnic basket and the Tupperware, wrap salt and pepper shakers in cloth napkins and count out flatware – always a few extra, just in case.
Going for a drive meant packing up pillows and blankets and boxes of food and jugs of water and heading out, sometimes with a plan and sometimes not. Some weekends the daytrip turned into an overnighter, as we set out to visit faraway relatives.
My mother’s favorite was definitely the breakfast picnic. She’d mix up pancake batter to cook on a grill at the lake, and pack eggs and orange juice and instant coffee, along with old bread for the ducks. We’d eat at concrete tables as fog and pink morning light rose from the lake.
Sometimes we struggled home well past midnight, tired and windblown, my dad having purposefully gotten us lost as he tried to find a new way home.
I was born to parents much older than the norm. (My father was 51 when I was born.) For them, the freedom of the open road and the awe of the Eisenhower Interstate System, was still a cultural phenomenon that had taken the country by storm. For me, it seemed like life.
My dad, as a young man, had been part of a surveying team that traveled west in preparation for the new national roads. I have a collection of beautiful black and white photos from his early road trips – a group of gangly boy-men worthy of a Ralph Lauren photo shoot, swimming in rivers, standing on the Continental Divide, adopting a puppy and sitting on a rickety porch under a sign that read “Judge Roy Bean, The Law West of the Pecos”.
He had eventually given up wandering and turned civilian, so he could be home with his teenage wife and first daughter. Now he was recreating what he could with mom and me, his youngest child.
The great romance of his life – after mom and poetry – was exploration.
Travel in general is a kind of romance and a road trip is one of its most romantic forms. Whether it’s a 20-hour marathon drive on a tight deadline; a cross-country move for a new job; a sisters-only backroads trip to Georgia for the holidays; or a solo drive through California’s canyons, there is always a hint of romance.
Road trips generally turn into stories, too. At holiday gatherings we always hear the one about my brother speeding in the desert in his Alfa Romeo, or the one with my sister and I driving and crying, listening to a collection of vintage “plumb pitiful” songs. (Disclaimer: Do not listen to Merle Haggard on a coal-dark country road with tears in your eyes. Headlights will morph into disco balls.)
Luckily, my husband loves a good road trip as much as I do. (But really, how could it have worked, otherwise?) So, looking back, it’s no surprise that a casual road trip from Georgia to Virginia eventually turned into a 19,000 mile journey on the backroads of America, in our Lincoln MKX.
It’s a story worth telling.
To set the stage for summer – and inspire the next journey – I’ve decided to share some highlights from our meandering path. South to north to east to west to south to – oh wait! – we missed our turn. ( Again.)
I’ll share photos of the places we loved. The classic stops along the way and some unexpected ones, too.
I hope you’ll do more than follow along. I hope you’ll start your engines, pack up your car and document your road trips, too. Long or short, planned or impromptu.
I’m calling 2021 “The Year of the Road Trip”.
Let’s go for a drive. Together.