Friday, August 24, 2012

Road Trip Pros and Cons

For those loyal readers who followed me through the darkly funny days over at Blogmogger, you'll know that from time-to-time I enjoy posting bullet-pointed travelogues detailing my various excursions around this fine country.

I recently was on a four-day road trip from Seattle back to St. Louis. I'm not going to give you a blow-by-blow, since it would largely consist of the following:

/listens to podcast

/makes up outlandish, profane scenario with brother

/laughs hysterically at own brilliance

Artist's renditioning of Lukas. Actually, Grant did it himself
on his iPad. Pretty cool. He can do your dog, too if you want.
It would get boring since most of the jokes were some variation on a chain of gas stations called the "Town Pump." I'll let you fill in the blanks.

Though the trip was grueling, it was also pretty satisfying. My dad, brother, my brother's dog, Lukas, and myself saw a lot over the course of four days, including a couple of our nation's greatest landmarks. But by the end, I was little more than a drooling zombie, hungry for my next fast food fix.

So I decided to break it down, pros and cons style, for those interested in the highs and lows of the open road.

Middle of Nowhere, Kansas
Pro: You realize just how big this country is. You Easterners probably think that Midwesterners are a bunch of slack-jawed hicks, pulling our plows over our shoulders on open acres of land before settling down with a nice Toby Keith album and smoking some crystal meth. True as that may be, you haven't seen "open" (or meth, for that matter) until you drive through a state like Wyoming, or Kansas. It's just mile-after-mile of brown wheat (or overgrown grass), with a town thrown in every hundred miles or so for those suffering from uromysitisis poisoning. There's a lot of land out in them thar' country, I tell ya' what!

Con: Boredom sets in quickly. After about the fifth field of wheat, you realize that all of that land is exactly the same. You get a bit of a thrill when trees start to reappear, but after mile six of forest, the doldrums set back in. Especially when driving alone, even with a podcast in ear, the time simply refuses to speed up, to the point where the folks on the podcast sound like Andre the Giant and that one guy from Rockapella. There's no getting around it--driving for hours at a time can definitely suck.

Pro: Can stop to see cool stuff. Since we were in the northwest, my dad routed us through Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks on our way home. Yellowstone is, in a word, awesome. Literally--it inspires feelings of awe. It was like visiting ten distinct climates over the course of a day, from plains to forest to desert to mountains to...whatever lots of geysers are. Buffalo graze around lazily, to the point where my brother called them "the deer of Yellowstone." Old Faithful is really something else, though I have my suspicions as to whether or not it's secretly hooked up to some kind of pump and hose system.

That's not even getting into Grand Tetons, which has some amazing views of mountains. We drove through the Tetons right as the sun was setting over the mountaintops, with a few patches of clouds to allow rays of sunlight to kiss the face and light the deep blues and purples of the rock face...

Con: Cars suck. Unfortunately, one of the cars' headlights went out, so we were booking it to make it to Jackson for the night before it got too dark. Though we didn't stop to get any pictures, we're all in agreement that pictures are a bit overrated. You take it with an iPhone, and then it sits on your camera roll forever, no depth of field or color, never to be looked at again. Or at least that's what we told ourselves--we went back the next day and snapped a couple of pictures in the daylight, and they're still pretty great.

Pro: Bonding time. It was nice to get away from it all, and spend some time with my dad and my brother. When you're in a car, you don't have much else to do besides talk, so you can really dig into some issues and have some cool conversations.

Con: No physical activity. You literally just sit there for twelve hours of the day, ass in seat, no way to move around. As of late, I've been going on long walks (~5.5 miles or so) a few times a week, and doing stuff like paddle boarding and sprint workouts more often. In the car? None of that, regardless of what Lloyd Christmas would have you believe. Combine that with plenty of fast food and it's a recipe for feeling like a regular Fatty McGee when you get back.

Con:
Grueling pace. I know, I know: "Two cons in a row? WTF, LOL!" Very witty, internet commenter. But when you're in the car, because of the other cons, you just want to make it back as quickly as possible. This leads to proclamations of "I could go another five, six hours" at dinner at seven o'clock. Of course, three hours later, you'll be gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles, eyes twitching, slapping yourself, jabbering gibberish about whatever Adam Carolla is talking about on his podcast, and hoping to God that Grant and Dad call to say we're pulling over for the night. Good times...good times...

Pro: Good source of new material. You wouldn't believe how much stuff Grant and I came up with over the course of the trip. More personally, Yellowstone alone was a great source of potential new minor characters and idiosyncrasies. Not to mention all of the sensory experiences and dormant words your mind conjures up to try to explain what you're seeing. It really is something else.

Con: Arguments over seemingly trivial matters. There wasn't too much of this on this trip, but I know in the past, innocuous questions like "which fast food place should we stop at for dinner?" have triggered riots to rival those after Maryland wins/loses in the NCAA tourney.

"I'm not eating at Arby's, FUCK ARBY'S!"

"What? (genuinely hurt) How can you say that? After all of the delicious roast beef sandwiches they've provided over the course of your lifetime? I thought you really enjoyed it."

...

"I was faking."

"EVERY time?"


"Every time."

Devastating.

Pro: Learn about car maintenance. There we were in Pinedale, Wyoming, pulling into a Napa Auto Parts store where a nice young lady helped us fix our burned-out headlight. Three men, testosterone coursing through our veins like Melky Cabrera, only to be utterly put in our place with regard to auto maintenance by a very knowledgeable woman. On the bright side, I now know how to replace headlights on Toyota-family cars, so that's something!

Pro: Ultimately glad you did it. It was a long four days, simultaneously action-packed and lazy, both exciting and dull. But it's more than the fact that I can now say I've been to Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. It's more than the pictures, more than the souvenirs and empty fast food containers collected along the way.

It's the experience of accruing all of that, the memory of times, both fun and boring, that I can now think back upon and enjoy in a way that can only be described as reminiscing. It's the cognitive imprint of all of those conversations, everything seen and experienced, and good times with loved ones that I'll take forward in life from this point on.

Until I get crushing Alzheimer's and forget all of it. That'll suck. Lousy scientists--get working on that already, whydoncyha?


D.J. Gelner is a fiction and freelance writer from St. Louis, Missouri.  Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here).  E-mail him at djgelbooks@gmail.com.  You can also listen to his podcast (Bottle and Cans) here.