Were you ever really excited about a road trip in the preparation phase, only to find the actual time on the road left a lot to be desired? Maybe your traveling companion(s) annoyed you. Maybe the food you ate left you feeling sick. Maybe the roadside attractions were boring and not worth the money. Maybe you couldn’t wait for the entire “adventure” to end.
Dar Williams sums up a road trip that doesn’t live up to expectations in her song “Road Buddy.”
If you want to follow along, here are the lyrics from http://www.metrolyrics.com/road-buddy-lyrics-dar-williams.html:
We passed the stores, we passed the hotels
Filled our car with gasoline
We drove that night, I saw the moon
Almost got us in an accident then
And then at the rest stop
When that woman tried to steal my wallet
It felt like an adventure
Isn’t that what you would call it?
Well, isn’t that what you would call it?
You’re my road buddy
But I’m lonely all the time
I thought that we’d be joking
Having long talks on late night drives
But you drive so bad, I lost my patience
So, pass the chips and turn the station
Well this is not a romance with the road
Where the moss grows up the trees
To where the dirt is rusty red
I thought we’d find each story
Like a snakeskin or an arrowhead
But we only stop at fast-food places
They hate their jobs, I understand
I try to act familiar
But they’re floating just above the land
And we are all floating
You’re my road buddy
But I’m lonely all the time
I thought we’d show that friendship
Could be stronger than the crossroads devil
But, I, I thought I heard the tollman sing
I’ll take that thing you got from me
And this is not a romance with the road
And those cliffs are the same
As in the magazines I have at home
And the tall grass reminds me
Of the same dreams I had at home
I thought life was a road
And I wanted to begin it
I said, My friend and I are going on a trip
So, I can only stop a minute
We go to the vending machines
I want to watch these kids with their mother
Sipping on their juice boxes
And smiling at each other
And maybe that’s their dad on the phone
Saying, “Hey mom, you shouldn’t wait
Go ahead, have dinner
‘Cause were running just a little late
But we’re on our way” yeah but a
Road buddy, road buddy
I heard about the boxcars and the family of travelers
But there’s real estate signs in the cornfield stubble
I know there’s love, I bet there’s trouble
But you just can’t spend a lifetime on the road
And there’s something I finally faced
I finally think I come from someplace
But this is not a romance with the road
As an adult, I always had high expectations for road trips. I wanted my travels with friends to be so much better than the boring trips full of bickering I was forced to go on with my family when I was a kid. (Dad often got lost, then tried to pass it off as taking the scenic route.) As an adult, I wanted my road trips to be full of singing along to the radio and stops for ice cream. Other than “Take It Easy” with Mr. Carolina (read about it here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/04/28/winslow-arizona/), I don’t recall much singing during road trips as an adult.
I remember a journey to a women’s gathering when I was in my late 20s. I was riding with two other women, and only the owner of the car knew how to drive. I thought the other non-driver and I would take turns napping so someone would always be awake to keep the driver company, but after the first couple of high excitement hours on the road, the other non-driver passed out and was pretty much comatose for the rest of the trip. The only time I remember her awake was when we stopped at a diner for breakfast, and an old man in the parking lot insisted on telling us a joke about a “polecat.” We couldn’t decide if he were actually trying to be funny or if he were trying to offend us.
We got lost in a large city in the wee hours of the night, and a man approached the car while we were stopped at a red light. He didn’t seem to want to give us directions. The driver and I were terrified, but the other non-driver—of course—slept through it all.
The trip took hours and hours and hours longer than it should have, and once we were close to our destination, the driver nearly fell asleep at the wheel, then got caught in a speed trap to the tune of a $300 ticket. The old man cop then asked the driver if the pressed leaf in glass hanging from her rearview mirror were marijuana.
When we finally arrived on women’s land, I was exhausted and overly emotional. I cried when I had to cross a rain-swollen creek to get to the main gathering spot. I do not remember singing at any point on the trip.
Now that I live in a van, road trips aren’t the big deal they once were. I usually travel alone, and time on the road is a means to an end, the way I get from point A to point B. Sometimes I eat ice cream, and I always sing at the top of my lungs, at least for a little while.
In one of her books (which I must no longer own, since I couldn’t find the exact quote), SARK writes about managing expectations about parties, but the same could be said about road trips. SARK says we often go into parties (and road trips) feeling pressure to have a good time. If we don’t have a good time at a party (or on a road trip), we feel disappointed, maybe even as if we have failed somehow. SARK suggests that instead of pressuring ourselves to have a good time, at a party (or on a road trip), we simply expect to have a time. Expecting only to have a time removes the pressure we may feel if we think we are obligated to have fun. Expecting only to have a time allows us to feel whatever we are authentically feeling, whether that is happiness, irritation, joy, exhaustion, boredom, sadness, elation, or some other emotion.
So if you are traveling this vacation season—whether alone, with your children, with strangers, with your parents or your partner or your friends—I wish you a time. And I hope there is singing.