Twelve hours in a car with a cat.
Twelve hours. Four States. Five pit stops. Seven hundred miles. Twelve hours in a car with a cat and a mom and a dad and a cellphone. They don’t make road trips like they used to.
Romantic memories of summer road trips past danced in my head when it was time to plan our move from Florida to North Carolina. The license plate game. Staring out the window, nose pressed firm, hot breath forming a fog on which to write notes to passing cars. Arm pumping to get honks from big rigs. Playing a mixtape over and over on the Walkman, lip syncing from the heart. None of that rang familiar to my eleven year old son.
Hours no longer pass as blips on a digital watch. Time is measured in movies, binge watching episodes on Netflix, YouTube videos, games of Candy Crush. Picking your own Invisible Ink book from the rest stop display rack is no longer enticing.
Everyone has earphones in so they can’t hear the static in between songs and news while dad turns the knob trying to find Paul Harvey. And now you know the rest of the story.
Seatbelts are on, tightly fastened. There are no naps stretched out on the back seat. No sitting in the way back of the station wagon. No waving to cars. No waves back.
No one has a CB handle. We have Waze. Police reported ahead. Waze doesn’t know what a Smokey is.
There are no bologna sandwiches in the cooler. But there are Pringles and Chips Ahoy! in the bag in the backseat. They aren’t special, though, when they’re always in the pantry at home.
Road trips of the past, like most things of the past, are often elevated in memory. The rougher edges refined. Sitting in the way back was fun so long as there was never an accident. Paul Harvey, with his voice of velvet, would have been a model modern day Trump conservative with his talk of the evils of evicting God from the courthouse and the schoolhouse. Bologna sandwiches were never divine.
Do big rigs still blow their horns for you?
Your digital watch is still there. Wherever you are, wherever you want to be. It’s on your phone. There’s the time. Istanbul, Cairo, Dublin. Miami. Phoenix. Beijing.
Who needs a Walkman when the entire internet is your mixtape and you never have to wait for the tape to rewind? You never have to wait for much of anything on road trips today. You only wait for time.
Time is the romance I remember of road trips past. Time. Empty space. A new kind of quiet. The place where imagination went. Books were read and written. Stories in your head of where that car was going and who that driver was and how that tree got bent in such a weird way.
Boredom set in but no one cared to hear you complain. Wandering thoughts. Gauzy, airy dreams. Getting lost in where your brain will take you. Unfettered time. Time is the romance I remember of road trips past. Time. I miss the time.