Summer Livin’: Road Trip

8 Aug

Editor’s Note:  Summer Livin’ is a segment in which we ask our friend Steed to offer some words of wisdom on how to best enjoy certain staples of the summer months.  For further reason as to why this should be appointment Internet all summer long, check out the Introduction.  On to the easy livin’. 

“Like the bald eagle that looks out pensively from the front of the T-Shirt I’m currently wearing, I crave the freedom of the open air.  There’s a part of me that just doesn’t feel right if I go too long without tearing through wide-open spaces as the wind ripples through my hair.  Since I unfortunately have yet to figure out how to fly without the aid of a 747, the next best chance to get this feeling is the open road.

Over the years, I’ve had quite a few epic journeys on the Great American Highway System, and pretty much all of those journeys have come during the summer months.  With a lot of people getting time off and with the sun shining down upon pretty much every corner of our great country, the summertime is set up perfectly for Road Trip season.  During this season, you’ll find people from all walks of life out on the blacktop.

There are the family cars with the sweaty, disheveled parents arguing up front and the sugar-loaded kids tweaking out in the back.  There are the retiree RVs with the over-confident Gramps manning the massive steering wheel while Gram gets blitzed off gin fizzes in the back.  There are the college crews in the dusty Volvos with the driver looking all sour because they’re the only one not currently getting tanked or sleeping off the prior tanking session.  There are the biker crews, composed of either helmeted mystery ninjas on sexy exotic sport bikes, gruff and hairy lifers in leather chaps, or the terrified accountants wondering how to downshift their new trikes.

Then there are the solo mish drivers, who are usually hiding their stories behind big sunglasses, and who may be running from the law, running from love, running down a dream, or just running.  And while I have been a part of many driver groups over the years, this last group is where I’ve found myself the most.  There have been many times in the past, and most likely many times to come, when a restless energy begins to stir inside me, and the only possible outlet is putting rubber to asphalt.  This usually happens ’round June, and if there’s no one around to run with me, there’s nothing I can do except fill up the stank on the ‘Stang, throw the Party ‘Bans on, and start driving until I feel like stopping.

Throughout my various Road Trippin’ adventures, I’ve built up a decent amount of wisdom.  This wisdom has birthed some battle-tested Rules of the Road – some of which I’ll share with you now.  The other ones are too valuable to give up, SORRY.

Never make direct eye-contact with a truck driver on the open road.  Truck drivers are usually awesome people, and this ain’t a general rule against them.  But some of those big rig cabs are harboring some dudes and ladies who haven’t slept for a few days, and who may have a few bad habits.  And when you make eye contact on that open road, you may be picking up a new friend/enemy, whether you mean to or not.  When there’s only one gas station for the next 130 miles, there’s nowhere to run.

Don’t underestimate the rest stop.  It’s easy to get in the ‘just gotta get there’ mindset after a few hours on the highway.  There’s nothing between you and your destination but the open road, so why not just power through for 16 hours and get the drive over with?  I’ve been here before, and it’s a dangerous edge to walk.  You could find yourself chasing Adderall with 5-hour energies, and when that’s going down, it’s only a matter of time before you start having lucid dreams.  While you’re driving.  I’m still not allowed to drive in Wyoming because of that.

Have the tunes ready.  Make sure you’ve got plenty of playlists, spare iPods, tapes, CDs, etc. before you hit the road.  You don’t want to just rely on the radio, because you will find yourself all alone on a desolate stretch of desert road with nothing but your thoughts and an all-Spanish Mexican ranchera station…and that is not a place you want to be.

Know when to use the buddy system.  If you come up on a gas station/convenience store/generic diner in the middle of nowhere, and it’s between the hours of 2am and 6am, you should probably make sure you see at least one other person in that place that you would consider to be ‘trustworthy’ before you go very far from the safety of your vehicle.  ‘Trustworthy’ can be a very general term in these situations – they just need to be normal, respectable-looking people – but you definitely want to have some sort of potential backup present before you let your guard down in the bathroom or even by the Cold Drinks section.

Let the driver know about the road sodas.  This one’s for when your’re heading out into the Great Wide Open with some company.  Usually there isn’t a problem with having a few sudsy road sodas from the passenger side or the backseat.  You could even say it’s a deserved treat if you just completed a long stretch of driving, and it’s a good way to unwind from those caffeine pills.  But I’ve learned that it’s never a good idea to hide things from the person whose driving.  Because there could always be a situation like the one where Timothy was doing a buck-twenty through West TX in the Charger, not knowing that I was slowly making my way through a 12er of Schlitz, and then being cheeky to the deputy that eventually pulled him over.  One car search later, my open containers are violating some of Timothy’s priors that I was unaware of.  If I had asked him if things were cool before I popped that first top, it would have saved us some stick time, and Timothy some jail time.  Lesson learned.

Take advantage of your Stranger status.  This is less a rule about general Road Trip well-being, and more of a piece of advice on how to get the most out of your extended cruising session.  As you make your way out of the safety bubble that is your hometown and start to pass through the towns and cities that line the highways, you’ll find yourself among people who have no idea who you are.  You’re the man/woman with no history in these towns – the mysterious stranger who just blew into town today and who will probably be gone tomorrow.  This is your chance to be whoever you want to be.  You want to be an astronaut who’s on their way to a top-secret Moon Shuttle launch, and is just looking for love on their (potentially) last night on Earth?  Puff up your chest and step up to the bar – you can be whatever you want tonight.  It’s the Wide Open Road, and the possibilities are endless.”

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