Janet Sheridan: The joys of road tripping
August 7, 2018
According to a New York Times story in February, 85 percent of vacationing Americans take road trips. Perhaps we like packing everything we think we'll need — hula-hoops, pet hamsters, Cousin Hal. Maybe we want the freedom to obey a back-seat cry of "Wow! Did you see that? Turn around!" Or it might be the relief of being able to say, "Yes, I realize we stopped an hour ago. But I need a bathroom break!"
Despite such conveniences, years of watching an odometer accumulate miles convinced me that road trippers do not experience continual bliss; in fact, most undergo extreme mood swings. When confined to a car and the company of familiar people, most travelers randomly and spontaneously swing from appreciative to cranky to freaked-out as the family sedan rolls merrily along.
Appreciative roadies exclaim about the scenery as the green, rolling hills of Missouri give way to the stone-fenced flat lands of Kansas that eventually yield to the grandeur of the mountains of the west. They chat about the foreboding barrenness of the Badlands, watch for roadrunners in the Southwest, marvel at the skylines of famous cities, and scan eagerly for their first glimpse of the ocean. Appreciators happily eat lunch in a restaurant, order burgers at a drive-up, or rummage for food in a cooler; and as the sun fades to the horizon, they anticipate their overnight accommodations, whether a pitched tent, an economy motel, or a futon at Aunt Mary's.
Like the sleeping princess made petulant by a pea, road-trippers usually become cranky when faced with the minor flaws that occur in any vacation: Perhaps their motel waffle stuck to the iron, or they had to dry their hands on their Bermudas as they exited an ill-equipped restroom. Maybe a chorus of boos met their suggestion of McDonald's for dinner, or the sun burned hot against their window for the entire damn day.
Such indignities can change an appreciative traveler into a cranky person who complains, makes snide remarks, sulks for long stretches, and refuses to participate in sing-alongs. Fortunately crankiness usually wears off with the passing of time or a stop for ice cream.
Road-trippers who freak out have usually reached the point where they cannot stand one more minute in the company of fellow travelers who sing off tune, drool while napping, and insist on playing 20 Questions. So, already irked, they give in to tears and lamentations when told there will be no stop to buy firecrackers or they can't spend all their souvenir money on quick-stop candy or there will be no staring at electronic gadgets all day. Then, they sit in the car rather than touring another stupid museum, refuse to watch Old Faithful erupt, loudly wish they'd never agreed to come on this stupid trip, and give in to hysteria when their parents check the price of every motel in town before choosing one.
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Sadly, freak-outs improve only when they exit their teens.
Road-trip drivers suffer mood swings as surely as young roadies ask if they are there yet. The stress of driving while monitoring the car's cranky or melted-down occupants can threaten the appreciative skills of any driver. It's difficult to exclaim about the beauty of the bridge leading to the city when the hour grows late, the traffic becomes heavy, and the children insist on touching one another. Then, if another driver errs, either innocently or deliberately, the family chauffeur bursts into an angry rant delivered at full volume and punctuated with words that make the eyes of his suddenly silent children pop out of their astonished little heads.
When this happens, it's wisest to regard the driver's meltdown as entertainment, keep your thoughts about future road trips to yourself, and concentrate on your Doritos.
Sheridan's book, "A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns," is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at auntbeulah.com the first and 15th of every month.