Road Trip

March 17, 2016

There might be more than a few of you out there who, when you think about me at all, think of me as something of an anti-car zealot. roadtrip3Such a thought wouldn’t be entirely incorrect. I do so hate cars.

I do, however, love me a good road trip. Does that make me a hypocrite? A person laced with contradictions? Perhaps. But who amongst us isn’t subject to the fault lines of contradiction?

Let me float a theory in my defense, as a rationalization for this apparent personal discrepancy.

There is a difference between driving, engaging in the daily grind of getting back and forth to work, to pick up groceries, to chauffeur the kids to school and home, to conduct other chores, you know, the regular routine of getting from point A to point B, and the occasional figurative roof down, tunes cranked, freedom flying of the road trip. Picture a road trip and you see almost every car commercial that litters our TV and movie screens. Not another vehicle in sight. Pavement so wide and open it’s impossible not to Sammy Hagar. roadtripYou are that professional driver in the closed track of your mind.

I hit peak road trip on Monday, about an hour and a half outside of Death Valley, heading back to Los Angeles. Redrock Randsbury Rd., it was, in and around Saltdale which, from my very brief glance out the open window to my left, consisted of 4 abandoned railway freight cars. Granted, I may’ve missed something, going the speed I was, without another car anywhere in Kern County it felt like. And then, wouldn’t you know it, NEKO CASE AND NICK CAVE POP UP ON THE RADIO, COVERING SHE’S NOT THERE! REALLY!!

I love driving the American southwest. It’s mesmerizing. It isn’t welcoming like, say, a summertime northeast and New England. It isn’t bleak or desolate either, the words that first spring to mind. The American southwest, the desert southwest, feels actively hostile to human life. It screams: You Shouldn’t Be Here. There’s nothing for you. Do not put down roots. It will only turn out badly.deathvalley

The land underestimated the rapaciousness of the Europeans and their descendants. Great wealth was found throughout this region for those tough enough, unscrupulous enough, lucky enough to find it, mine it, exploit it, secure it and sell it. The scars can still be seen, gouged into the earth and dotting the landscape in the remnants of ghost towns and places heading in that direction.

Both of which add to — because I lack the vocabulary to aptly describe it, I’ll steal the now stale words from W.B. Yeats — a ‘terrible beauty’ to the American southwest. The definitive great place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. Certainly not permanently. I’m just passing through, acknowledging the grandeur of the surroundings, and then on my way to somewhere more hospitable, more conducive to, well, pretty much everything else.

roadtrip1The essence of the road trip.

Our cars have made that increasingly possible, perhaps intrusively so. Whatever happened to riding the rails, seeing all there was to see atop the observation deck, cocktail in hand? There is certainly a romantic appeal to that to my increasingly 19th-century soul. But it’s a slippery slope of reductive reasoning. Why a train? The bicycle not good enough for you? A bicycle?! What, you have something against horses? A horse, you say? What’s the rush, where’s the fire, Speedy McSpeederino? The burro is the only way to see the world. Lookit, Mr. Too Good To Use His Own Two Feet, high and mighty up on his donkey.

These are the times we live in, though, the twilight of the automobile age, brought on by the increasing demand from drivers for that road trip feel every time they sit behind the wheel of their car. What’s that 18-wheeler doing out in this lane, slowing everyone done. Shouldn’t they have their own highway? Why am I stuck behind that RV? We need to widen the road! roadtrip2Where’s the exhilaration gone in my daily commute? The joy of discovery and absolute freedom promised me in all the car ads I’m bombarded by?

I didn’t buy this slick machine and move out to where I had to drive for every aspect of my life just so I could be stuck in traffic day in and day out.

That’s where driving and the road trip collide. Road trips serve as an escape, a fun change of scenery, a getaway. Driving is simply one mode of mobility, usually the least efficient, most expensive way to move people around. A get-from-and-to, let’s call it. Road tripping pretty much requires a private vehicle of some sort. Getting people around a city, a region doesn’t. We need to stop confusing the two.

into the sunset-ly submitted by Cityslikr