The last time I embarked on a proper road trip, it began in t-shirts and sunglasses on the porch of my sorority house and ended with snow and gloves at the Lincoln Memorial.
In March of 1997, I left California for the east coast, and took a not-very-direct route to New York. My friend Ang was starting an internship in Washington D.C., and I was aching for a change of scenery, so faster than you can say “Grad school? Nah, no thanks,” I was climbing into Ang’s Honda Civic in the parking lot of Kappa Alpha Squee! and heading east on Route 66. Or rather, heading south on I-5, then cutting over on 99, and connecting with Route 66 somewhere in the dead of night. Not quite as poetic, but to Route 66 we did connect, and on we drove.
And drove. And drove.
Because we were constrained by Ang’s finals schedule and first day of work, the cross-country journey was no leisurely drive. Literally, we left northern California on a Wednesday afternoon, around 4pm, and did not stop AT ALL until we reached Oklahoma. Which was about 28 hours later. I vaguely recall driving through the pitch-black desert of California in the middle of the night (and you haven’t seen dark until you’ve crossed some ungodly stretch of uninhabited land by moonlinght), trading the wheel back and forth with Ang, blasting the radio (which played TAPES only, no CDs yet) to stay awake, and crossing into Arizona around 4 a.m. And then, suddenly: the sunrise, near Flagstaff, Arizona. Snow and desert and jackrabbits and cactus blooms. Ang woke up, cold all of a sudden. We stopped for gas and shivered, exhausted and awed. “It snows in Arizona?” Ang asked me? “Guess so,” I shrugged.
On we drove. Through New Mexico, which lasts forever and ever. Texas, for a brief while (“Are those Cadillacs sticking out of the ground?” near Armadillo), stopping only to refuel and call our parents. Pre-cell phones, they sent us off with the one request – call us, just call us. Finally, dizzy with fatigue and the sheer size of this country, we crossed into Oklahoma and found a hotel for the night.
The next day we drove through Oklahoma City, silent with the then-recent memory of the bombing. Into Arkansas (“I can’t believe how pretty it is!?”), where we encountered our first Wal-Mart and marveled at how many trees there were. Next came Tennessee, where it got cold again. We have to go to Graceland, we said, excited. When we got there, it was closed. We’ll take pictures anyway, we said, We have to do something while we’re here. I remember poking around the Graceland visitor center after dark, hoping to find anything of interest. We didn’t have much luck, but I also remember a high school tour group loading onto their bus, asking if they could have their picture taken with Ang and me. We had been in a Honda Civic for two days straight, not necessarily looking our very best, but somewhere, some twenty-five year olds have photo evidence of our presence at Graceland.
We spent that night in a motel in Memphis, went out for pizza and watched Pulp Fiction on HBO. The next morning we set out again, driving and driving and driving through Tennessee. How long is this fucking state? we wondered? And why is it so cold? we asked. Onward and onward, crossing finally into Virginia. Lovely, green Virginia, where I finally shrieked, “I CANNOT listen to fucking Dave Matthews sing fucking “Satellite” one more fucking time or I will fucking FLIP OUT,” and promptly switched from our mixed-tape collection to the local radio.
At about 8 p.m. Ang and I made our way into D.C., and I will never forget the sight of the Washington Monument shining brilliant white against the sky. I was speechless. We then promptly got lost trying to find her apartment/dorm in Arlington, but still, the memory of those first minutes in D.C. remains. The next two days were tourist central, as Ang and I spent the weekend traipsing to monuments and learning the Metro stops she would need. Oh, and shopping for her at the “good” Safeway, soon to be named a prime pick-up spot, I believe. Then, on Sunday, she and I walked along the mall and to the Lincoln Memorial and I hugged her and told her how I would always remember driving cross-country with her. Early the next morning I boarded a train bound for New Haven and yadda yadda yadda, jobs and apartments and marriage, here I am. 29 and married and I’ve got a dog and a china pattern and a husband.
I’ve been asked what brought me to New York, and in lieu of an actual reason, I’ve answered, A Honda Civic and a whim. It’s painfully embarrassing to admit that I’ve actually said that to people, but nonetheless, it’s true. A one-way road trip got me here, and the next leg is so very clearly yet to be determined.
But in the meantime, Kent and I are taking our own little road trip; tomorrow we’re driving to Ohio to claim the hand-me-down car being given to us by my in-laws. A bitchin’ 95 Celica will soon be our chariot. Jealous much?
Honestly, all I can focus on is the idea of having an actual car with which I can take actual trips, like to the beach or the mountains or the “good” Target in New Jersey. It may not have a tape deck or power windows, but it’s MINE, y’all. Or, “Ours”…love, sharing, marriage, blah blah blah.
So another road trip begins tomorrow, and the CD selection is in the semi-final round. I’ve demanded at least one milkshake on the way to Ohio and at least one farmers’ market stop on the way back. Kent agreed to both conditions, so long as I go with him to see Spiderman 2 on Monday. I keep making myself giddy with the prospect of being able to BUY MORE THAN I CAN CARRY and explore this “New England” thing I keep hearing about.
(I just realized that technically, Kent and I took a mini-road trip on our honeymoon, driving down Highway 1 and back up. But really, that wasn’t so much a road trip as several days of me begging Kent to tell me again and again what the favorite parts of our wedding were.)
We’re off to fetch the Celica, our new hot Brooklyn wheels, and I have to laugh at Kent and his dad – calling each other, worrying, discussing every possible thing that could go wrong on the drive (Flat tire? Get lost? Huge explosion? Bird flu? My father-in-law is worried about them all.) Last time, I was 21, Ang was 20, we had no cell phone or master plan, and not a care in the world. We were fine. Better than fine. But I married into a family of hand-wringing worriers, so I’m taking it with a grain of salt and a glass of wine. I’m psyched to have the next three days free (a relative term, considering the emotional vise my in-laws often squeeze us into), psyched about the car, psyched about time alone with my husband. So long as he gets me my milkshake and relinquishes control of the radio to me.