About half way through our recent cross-country drive to New York, I began channeling Willie Nelson. It was somewhere along an Interstate highway in Indiana that I first realized I was, unconsciously, humming “On The Road Again,” his classic ballad celebrating travel, friends and family … factors which, coincidentally, are identical to those that launched us on this excursion. Unfortunately, that is where the similarity ends.
By all accounts, Willie’s travel experience is decidedly different from my own. When the mood strikes, for example, he can retire to a personal compartment on his tour bus for a nap or even an occasional toke to keep things mellow. I, on the other hand, caught in the motorized equivalent of a forced march, must grip the steering wheel ever tighter while combatting highway hypnosis with that day’s fourth cup of Love’s Truck Stop coffee.
Adding to the aggravation was one more item … our GPS. In years past, Rand McNally guided us on our journeys but, today, we have a disembodied female voice (whom we have affectionately named “Nagatha”) chiming in from time to time to keep us on course. As it turns out, she becomes irritated when I deviate a bit to, say, gas up the car or grab a coffee. In those cases … and usually as I am navigating a packed parking lot … she orders me, sternly and repeatedly to: “proceed to the route … proceed to the route … proceed to the route.”
Looking back, the trip was not as bad as I make it seem. For example, along the way we enjoyed some excellent meals in some unexpected places. The trick, for us, was avoiding the fast-food joints and national chains that populate every highway intersection. Instead, we sought out local fare (usually with the help of hotel staff) and were genuinely pleased. For example, the next time you are in Rolla, MO, check out Alex’s Pizza; in Blue Ash, OH, try Sammy’s Gourmet Burgers and Beer; and for Mexican food in Washington, PA, don’t miss the Old Mexico.
All in all, our 3,600 mile excursion was well worth the effort. We visited family, attended a reunion of work colleagues, and drove through some familiar places one more time. Our car ran flawlessly and the weather was good throughout, but there is little doubt that my days of long-distance marathon-style driving are over. And much as I abhor the prospect of getting on an airplane, it looks like any future cross-country journeys will be with someone else at the controls.
In his classic “It Was a Very Good Year,” Frank Sinatra sang of the different stages of life. And while suggesting that days in the “autumn” of one’s years are short, he said they are like vintage wine from fine old kegs. Clearly, Frank’s taste in vino was different from the sort I prefer, but his observations were true to the mark … and excellent advice for the next time I begin thinking about an odyssey to some distant land.
In the future, instead of mapping out routes of travel, I will make the short trip to Trader Joe’s where, instead of Sinatra’s “vintage wine,” I will pick out a couple of bottles of my preferred varietal … Two Buck Chuck. And for friends and family who want to get together, Tom Bodett said it best:
We’ll leave the light on for ‘ya!