For folks of a certain age, “See the USA in your Chevrolet” and “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” were anthems inspiring us to experience the thrill of zipping along the nation’s highways, seeing new sights, eating new foods, and venturing from our home turf – in short, go road tripping!
It was 1961. For me, high school graduation was past, college was months away, and the ink was barely dry on my new driver’s license. I had saved for years to buy my first car – a magic carpet that would take me to places only read about or seen on snowy black and white television. It was a “two tone”, 1954 Plymouth Belvedere, with white wall tires, no less, and my first road trip destination from Central New York was to the rocky coast of Maine and Acadia National Park.
Maps are handy, but the best piece of road tripping advice I ever received came from NY Yankees catcher, Yogi Berra: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”That adventurous advice holds as true today as it did 50 years ago. On a recent trip, signs along the Oregon Scenic Byway indicated I was on a “Journey Through Time”. It was named to honor an area rich in the history offortunes made and lost,towns boomed and busted, and an archaeology proving long-extinct creatures had lived in a sea that is now mountains.
More introspectively, driving this awesome road got me thinking about my own journey through time, and how the veritable fleet of cars I’ve driven over the years evolved. Memories of that first magic carpet, and the sense of freedom it provided, remain vivid, from its pointy, protruding knobs on the dashboard, with no head rests, air conditioning nor seatbelts, to the hand-cranked windows. Gas was about thirty cents a gallon and caring about emissions or MPG had not entered the public psyche. Soon, choices of “sedans”, “coupes”, and “station wagons” from American Motors, GM, Ford and Chrysler were challenged by various shapes and sizes from across both oceans. Through the years, tinted windows, steel belted radial tires and leather upholstery came in; steering wheel knobs, cigarette lighters and ashtrays went out. I was abruptly jolted from my trip down Memory Lane when an electronic voice advised “slow traffic ahead in two miles, for about one mile” – the onboard “nav system” was working!
My car today is a Lexus RX450 Hybrid, with enough bells and whistles to quality as its own orchestra. Each time I use the navigation system, I think of good ole Yogi Berra again: “You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you are going, because you might not get there.” No worries, Yogi!
Everyone has their own list of suggestions for a successful a road trip. Here is mine. By the way, I usually go solo on my trips, so this list doesn’t address the needs of a co-pilot, children, or pets.
Road Trip Suggestions
- Driver’s license and insurance card: up to date and handy?
- Car in tiptop shape? Has it been tuned up lately? This includes an oil change, clean air filters and fresh wiper blades. How are the tires? Is the air pressure okay?
- Be smart. Obey speed laws, drive defensively, and no drinking and driving – EVER.
- Branch out from franchise eating places in favor of independent, local cafes, diners and restaurants – especially if you’re in an area noted for a particular cuisine.
- Same goes for overnight accommodations. Look a block or two off the main street.
- Interstate highways are efficient, but balance them with the slower paced, meandering local routes. A great book about this is Blue Highways, by William Least Heat Moon. It’s similar to John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, and urges the traveler to take the secondary roads printed in blue ink on maps. I remember a favorite quote by Charles Kuralt, moderator of the 1960s-70s CBS television show On the Road:“Thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything.”
- Stop driving late in the afternoon, allowing leisurely time to find restaurants and accommodations and explore the neighborhood. Support the local economy.
- Never let the gas level get much below half.
- Keep a small “office” handy: notebook, pens, flashlight with new batteries, phone charger, camera, and basic medicines for headaches, strained eyes, coughs, etc., along with personal prescriptions.
- Experience driving before dawn. With all the windows down.
- Be flexible. Inconvenient things will happen along the way, so just roll with the punches.
- And, above all, ATTITUDE.
In the mid-20th Century, Yogi Berra advocated taking the fork in the road; poet Robert Frost recalled doing something similar about forty years earlier, in The Road Not Taken:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I would have enjoyed either of these gentlemen as a co-pilot.