Road trips are as quintessentially American as apple pie, suburbia, and crazy GOP candidates trying to legislate women’s bodies. The tradition is especially appealing to young adults, who have minimal funds but a (somewhat) functioning set of wheels. The interstate can take you anywhere; well, actually just to other states. And those states aren’t particularly exciting or better or worthy of being your “somewhere.” It’s just the somewhere represents something (shut up, it’s my party and I can be vague if I want to!). Your town, it’s a death trap; a suicide rap. You know what Coach Springsteen says – you have to get out now! Before you marry your high school sweetheart and have babies and get caught in the cycle of owing your Atlantic City bookie money. Okay, sorry. Enough with the Springsteen.
Road trip stories have always appealed to me – the sense of setting out to do something is there, but it’s really the journey taken that matters. Sure – Frodo throws the ring in Mount Doom in the end (uum, spoilers if you’ve lived in Gollum’s lair for the past 50 years?). But it’s the friends and changes made along the way that give road journeys their heart.
So imagine my surprise that for all my romanticizing of the open road, I realized that I had never actually been on a road trip. How do I still have citizenship?? I marveled silently. How did I even get handed my undergrad diploma without at least doing a road trip during Spring Break? It seemed my very being was now incomplete. Luckily, the chance to rectify this grievous oversight came about this summer in a happy confluence of events. Add some underemployed 20 somethings, stir in a love of Harry Potter cons, mix in a city within a reasonable distance, and voilà! A recipe for the perfect roadtrip.
Before we get to the reality of the open road, let’s do a list of my favorite fictional road trips!
CONSPICUOLOUSLY ABSENT ALERT: On The Road by Jack KeroWHACK. Sorry, I have no love for Kerouac. Mainly because I am not a teenage boy. And because that stupid “only people for me are the mad ones” paragraph grates on my very soul. REALLY, DUDE? You don’t like people who say commonplace things? God forbid people aren’t able to be sparkly wild road weasels at all times.
Without further rants:
6. The Oregon Trail. Teaching fifth graders the hardships of the open road since 1974, this game forces you to enter the story. Is Abe going to die of dysentery if you don’t stop to rest? Should you ever just ford the river? I argue (in a completely unfounded fashion) that the manifest destiny propelling stinky white Americans west is still deeply ingrained in our culture. Also… dysentery. You poop yourself to death. It’s compelling stuff!
5. The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. This has all the best components of a traditional road trip, but is set in the badass world created by the wonderful Scott Westerfeld. Prince Alek is on the run from his own country men, fearing his own assassination after his parents were murdered. Deryn Sharp is a girl who wants to fly with the British Air Force – except it’s WWI and they have a strict No Ladies Allowed policy. Fate brings these two together aboard a flying whale ship (told you it was badass) and they cross the globe trying to stop the war.
4. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. All the superlatives lavished on this book are valid. Hilarious, drug-fueled adventure in 1970s America that still feels fresh 40 years later. Read the book first, then watch the movie. (As with all things).
3. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. This is like THEE road trip story. A bunch of friends get together and take a round-about way to their destination. Sure, some die along the way and others get way laid by bloody battles with Orcs. But that’s not much different than getting sucked into a roadside attraction! Can we also take a moment to imagine if the Fellowship had a car? Or the Middle Earth version of the Creation Museum. My eyes gleam with possibility.
2. American Gods by Neil Gaiman – This book is fucking weird, meant in the best way possible. Shadow gets released from prison but his wife is dead and now he has to travel all over America at the orders of Mr. Wednesday, who is an aspect of the Norse God Odin. New and Old gods are fighting, and there is a goddess whose genitals consume the dudes she is screwing. In short: fucking weird. Oh and a lot of the places visited in the book actually exist! Someone who is far more patient and awesome than I has mapped the book.
1. Supernatural. They pretend that this TV show is about hunting down monsters and the brothers Sam and Dean Winchester saving the world one snarky episode at a time. But we all know it’s about that sweet ’67 Impala. And Sam and Dean talking about the feels they feel while driving around America. Also, it provides us with the most important rule of road trips: “driver picks the music, shotgun shuts his cakehole.”
Okay, so these are the works informing my idea of road trips. And Springsteen’s car-obsessed heroes are forever with me, coursing down the Route 9 of my soul (ooof that was bad, even for me). So my impression of road trips: We drive with the windows down! We talk about nothing, but really talk about everything! We get side tracked from our destination and have grand adventures!
We destroy the One Ring!
Well, except it’s hard to get side tracked on the route from New Jersey to Chicago. The directions are basically: “Get on 80 West. Follow for 8 bajillion miles. Turn right at Chicago. WIZARD PARTY.” Not a lot of opportunity for wacky side adventures in scary Midwestern towns. Though we were tempted to go the Creation Museum for laughs, it was in Kentucky. And that was just too much for us to handle.
So there were no Old Gods hitch hiking, no walking trees, no cute boys at rest stops to fall in love with. But we did pump our own gas! And we made up a ridiculous story about the town of Barkeyville, Pennsylvania, which is led by the dog mayor named Barkley. He wears a bowler hat and spats BUT NO SHOES. And we laughed with an unhinged sort of glee as we flew down 80 at 3:00 in the morning. By flew, I really mean we would drive fast and then Steph and Cassie-wa would have to shout SLOW SLOW SLOW as we entered yet another mysterious fog bed.
At rest stops, we would extract ourselves from our improbably full vehicle and buy more caffeine to continue the strangely wired state of consciousness we found ourselves in (all except Cassie-wa, who spent most of the ride in a Dramamine-fueled slumber). Back into the car we would climb, shifting the bags and drinks and seats, ready for another three hour stretch of highway. We drove through Indiana and marveled at its actual existence. As open highway transformed into an urban skyline, we knew we were getting close to Chicago. LeakyCon was going to be real soon, and the first half of our journey was survived. No one threw up, no one murdered any one, we didn’t hit any moose, and we discovered a town in the middle of PA called “Jersey Shore.” And now it was time for wizard parties and our favorite YA authors.
As our time being “on the road” drew to an end, I couldn’t help but think of that freaking Kerouac quote again. Maybe he wanted only the mad ones – the ones who would go on crazy side adventures, who spoke only of interesting and profound things. Who never had grumpy episodes, who never wanted to nap. Who sparkled incessantly with life and fire. But traveling with my fellow bloggers those long 12 hours, I realized that Kerouac can have those mad ones. They’ve got nothing on my friends.