There’s nothing like slapping together a few plans and details to get a good road trip together. You get your bags packed, invite someone along to explore with you, and hit the open road.
Everything is going well, assuming you haven’t missed your train or had a flat tire. Basically, you’re not on vacation with us.
As the day progresses your energy starts to wane. The rumbling sound you hear isn’t the bass on the radio. It’s your stomach asking for dinner. And in your stomach’s defense you haven’t given it anything besides that family sized bag of Gardetto’s and a big gulp in about four hours. It’s definitely time for dinner followed by a warm bed and sleeping. Your travel mates agree and you star scouting the highway for the sign marking the next exit.
The sign ahead says the next chain restaurant with actual dishes and forks instead of plastic sporks is three hundred and ninety seven miles away. Not cool.
And then you see it.
You don’t say anything at first. You’ve been to one before. It was memorable, but not remarkable. You’ll do it again if someone in the car insists. Or your eyelids start to flutter closed in the next nine miles. You can make your stomach wait if need be, but you won’t risk lives by trying to pull an all-nighter.
A quiet discussion as started up in the backseat. Your sixth sense kicks in. You know where this is headed and you can’t help but sigh. Damn the powers that be for not putting fourteen quality chain restaurants in a sixty seven mile radius from your current location.
“Hey. Why don’t we stop there? We can get some food, stretch. Maybe even get a little shut eye.”
It’s the voice from the backseat. The elected spokesman of the group. You knew you didn’t care much for that guy. This would be the last time you invite him on a road trip.
“You hear me, man? Pull over. Just up ahead.”
Opening the back door and pushing him out of the moving vehicle would be a distraction from driving. And wrong. Yeah, that’s it. It would be wrong.
You choose the activity that isn’t a felony and that won’t get charges slapped on you before sunrise. You turn on your flicker –AKA: the turn signal. You purposely look for a large bump you could take at semi-high speed in hopes the guy back there talking gets “accidentally” bumped out of the car. No luck.
Without a real desire to do so, you start the process of slowing down and easing into the exit lane. You practice some deep breathing and try hard not to dislike the guy in the backseat. Besides, you are a little tired and there are worse places to stop. Like a Motel 6. Or an abandoned warehouse in a decrepit neighborhood. Surrounded by angry pit bulls who’ve eaten less than you have in the last half of the day and who would likely eat your face off at first glance.
As slowly as possible, you pull into a parking space, trying to manage the sudden onset of motion sickness you’re experiencing thanks to being surrounded by thirty eighteen wheelers, each filled with a sleeping over-the-road driver.
Before you can stop yourself, you escape the confines of the cramped car. Your knees and legs simultaneously rejoice and complain at the sudden stretching and freedom. They get comfortable, join with your still rumbling stomach, and make a beeline for the bank of machines in the distance.
An awning with built in fluorescent lights shields them from the light of the moon. Digging in the pocket of your jeans, you find a fistful of various coins and a few crumpled bills. The choices available are limited; previous passersby have already picked over the contents of the wicked vending machines as if their lives depended on it.
Dinner becomes the inevitable: lukewarm coffee made from mediocre coffee beans and questionable water, heated and mixed together by an unseen robot in the belly of the vending machine paired with semi-squished donuts with an expiration date you refuse to read. After all, their stale and less than appetizing taste tell you more than you need to know about when those circular sweets should have been eaten.
The road to your final destination remains a long one. More than ever, you wish you were capable of time travel. And perhaps, going back in time to un-friend the yahoo who decided this was the best way to spend an evening.
A few miserable minutes spent around the “restaurant” of the evening is followed by flipping coins to see who gets to sleep sitting up and bent over the steering wheel versus the guy who gets to stretch out on one of the bench seats in the back. You have half a mind to call the ground outside –being eaten by feral coyotes would be a better choice than sleeping in a vehicle filled with body odor and the snoring serenade of your traveling partners.
A thousand more miles…a few more state lines to cross…a podcast on how to choose traveling buddies…you’ll make it. You have to. You’re determined to. It’s you’re only choice.