The '68 Chevy paneled wagon was warm and purring already in the Wyoming frost by the time Dad plucked us from our beds in the middle of the night and tucked us, still in pajamas, into neatly arranged sleeping bags in the back.
By breakfast, we'd be pulling into the fading neon of Vegas, sun rising on an all-you-can-eat 99 cent buffet, and a few hours later he'd announce with gusto, "San Berdoooo." We might be going to dip our toes in the ocean at Oceanside, or off to Anaheim and the delights of Disney, visit friends in Hemet or relatives in Phoenix.
With six of us eventually there was no need for seats, just one great big flannel sleeping bag in the back, pulling into $3 motels at night which our parents would inspect before booking. We'd tumble over the big bench seat in the front one at a time to jockey for control of the radio, which always seemed to have what we called elevator music on it when we wanted Beach Boys or The Association. Cherish is the word.
By college I'd seen much of the western states from the back of a car and ventured into Canada and Mexico, Banff and Lake Louise on my aunt and uncle's honeymoon, Tijuana to barter, a single road trip to Wisconsin with my mom and grandparents when I was still an only child, maybe three, a toddler declaring "TV for me!" when we'd check into motel rooms where that was extra. What I hadn't seen by family car I had by school bus, Cheyenne and back, Reno and back, miles of sagebrush, silly songs and strip poker.
Canada came one way or the other, Winnipeg-Medicine Hat-Calgary-Kamloops-Vancouver-Victoria-Seattle-Portland-Boise-Salt Lake City-Yellowstone-Black Hills-Minneapolis or Thunder Bay-Sault Ste.Marie-Sudbury-Toronto-Kitchener-London-Detroit-Chicago, maybe up to Ottawa, or down to Niagara-on-the-Lake and back through New York, Murchie's Tea, Rogers Chocolates, bad rest stops on the prairies, ferries in B.C., flowers everywhere, a bagpiper at Banff Springs, azure calm at Lake Louise, the Maid of the Mist, Mackinac Island, Shaw Festival, Oban Inn, Bloor and Yonge Streets, tearing hair out in Toronto traffic, pulling over to the shoulder with lights on going over the lakes.
Fate always furnished someone who thought nothing of piling in a car for the weekend, Salt Lake and back, Vegas and back, Ouray-Silverton-Durango for fun, let's drive up to see the sun rise over the Tetons, dash back from Four Corners in time to get to work Monday morning.
The map on my iPad tells me I've driven most of it, with the notable exceptions of Texas, Montana and the northeast, I-80 more times than I can count and every possible known route from the American Midwest to Florida and back through Nashville, Memphis, Louisville, Lexington, New Orleans, Asheville, Savannah, Charleston, Saint Louis, Hannibal, the red clay of Georgia, fog on Monteagle Mountain, Jackson Square, the Grand Ole Opry, Graceland, Biltmore, Orange Beach, Pensacola, throwed rolls, pralines, fried okra, pecans, Georgia peach, the headwaters of the Mississippi to the Delta, jazz and bluegrass, polka and mariachis, riverboats and paddlewheels, bridges and Confederate graveyards.
Today I will finally be home. Six nights on the road. Two thousand miles. Two thousand miles of feet in dashboards, distracted tailgaters, the charms of Buckhead, Nashville Rising after a flood, cornfields and Cracker Barrels, a hundred rest stops, smokehouses in Tennessee, diners in a small town, hundred degree heat, dogs walking, Georgia troopers, jet streams overhead.
Today I will finally be home. Six nights on the road. Two thousand miles. Daylight comes too early this far north in late June. The moon is almost full.
This post originally appeared exactly a year ago today, Jun 25, 2010, as I was on the last leg of my journey as I am today. For pictures from another road trip, see: Sagebrush and Funeral Potatoes