Posts Tagged Family road trip
Still, the aggravation of air travel is a statistically safer trip than by car.
Little Griswald has made it home safe and sound from another coastal road trip. The 2002 Honda Odyssey now has 140k miles, and more love than I could ever express here. (Though I’ve tried, and my website borders on the absurd.) We bought it three years ago, and when you consider the cost of airfare that we’ve saved in four major, 2,000+ mile roadtrips, then it’s like we’re driving a free car.
We took over the torch of regular, diligent service from the original owners, who kept meticulous records including every oil change, and have been treated to an inestimably safe and reliable vehicle. This transcends the numbers—the typical cost-benefit analysis I use for all things purchased. My wife drove with our kids from Chicagoland to her dad’s outside of Atlantic City over Thanksgiving. Our kids, five and six, have been flying since they were three months old and have become intrepid travelers: they have pushed us to drive through the night, to keep going till we get there, to get over our adult discomforts. I think my son likes it because the restrictions on his video game time are relaxed; my daughter, I think she likes having all of us at ready access to play Uno or get silly with. Despite this, driving sixteen hours without being able to manage what’s going on in the back seat is a feat of fortitude like no other. My wife didn’t complain once, at least not to me, who was worried on the phone but otherwise safely ensconced at home.
It’s remarkable to consider, and awesome to reflect on now that we’ve returned home. I surprised her to tears by flying out on Thanksgiving proper so I could be with my family and help drive home. I really don’t know how she did it. I’ve driven over a thousand miles by myself many times before, but never with two kids. The joke was that she really wanted to drive solo so she could justify unlimited coffee all day long. The truth is the airline industry fucking sucks, and if you’re going to have a two-hour delay, which seems standard for holiday air travel, then you might as well add a couple hours to your trip to have total control and know what to expect. (In 2010 the USA Today reported: From 2003 through 2009, 22.3% of flights were late, canceled or diverted nationwide. The rate shot up to 33.4% for the winter holiday period during those same years. That means passengers during the winter holidays were nearly 50% more likely to have their travel itineraries disrupted. )
Still, the aggravation of air travel is a statistically safer trip than by car. Lil’ Gris’ is ten years old, and for as dull as the destination-driven road trip can become after the second hour, it is fraught with peril and unpredictability. My son reported a long delay due to a three car accident, in which he saw a pick-up truck on its hood on the turnpike outside of Philadelphia.
On our way home we encountered the first snow storm of the season in the Allegheny Mountains in northern Appalachia. My wife was driving when I awoke and saw an accident on the eastbound side of I-80. Several cars had spun out, and were now in the process of being cranked from the ditch and loaded onto carrier bed tow trucks. Fortunately, there was nothing too grisly except for what followed: a five-mile traffic jam backed up to the nearest exit ramp. Drivers were standing, pacing, cursing in the snow, with absolutely no place to go. The visibility wasn’t that bad, the snow was wet, there was no ice. It takes so little for that to happen, one text, one dropped cd, one glance back at two bickering kids.
Then you see all the cars sidelined by seasonal and vehicular maladies, imagining how it would play out given the current circumstances, and you can’t help put praise your car. But Lil’ Gris is just a machine, an object, a thing. The gratitude one feels from a problem-free road trip is praised at a bumper much greater than the Honda Odyssey. Thank St. Christopher, or fleet-footed Hermes, or whatever deities of travel that make the best thing about a road trip—leaving home—balanced with the best thing about the return trip, getting home.
The Little Griswald, or Lil Gris, our 2002 Honda Odyssey with 125K miles that I’ve praised here, carried us safely from Chicago to Philly on our longest family road trip to date. The 900-mile trip was all about the rain.
Scattered thunderstorms thwarted our plan to camp with the kids on the shore of Lake Erie near Port Clinton, Ohio, about 1/3 of the way there. Instead the kids urged us to keep on trucking. The boy (5) wanted to play with his Uncle and, I suspect, to keep playing with his Leapster; our daughter (3), who had started asking “When are we gonna be at Nona’s?” a half hour outside of Chicago, agreed with her brother. Then we hit the storms.
Night fell and the mountains of western Pennsylvania rose, the outline of their broccoli heads shocked with lightning, like a very real Missile Command. Not five minutes before the lightning started, I answered Heather that I was fine driving on, bored but fine. We didn’t have a chance to laugh about it. Soon, the windshield was swimming, the reflectors in the center line of the road were disappearing, and only semis were left on the interstate. The road rose and fell, past signs warning of ice on bridge and steep grades ahead, but I drove on, trying to keep the taillights of the nearest semi in view. We passed a few exits, deliberating if we should wait it out, how long we might be sitting nowhere, my wife nestled in the back seat between the two kids, who were not worried. They weren’t sleeping, either.
Something in me wanted to get through it, not to arrive as much as to keep going until I couldn’t go anymore, to pit my endurance with the elements against my judgment of what’s best for my family. How bad could it be? After about a half hour with the seat moved up and my neck sore from hunching over the wheel–twenty miles at most–the storm stopped,the black broke and I could make out clouds again. I uttered some nonsensical man chants. Wife necessarily mocked me. It was premature. More storm. It lasted longer this time, the deliberations a bit more urgent, the terrain more winding, taillights disappearing, the distant exit ramps glinting like sequins yet muddling that which was road and which was ramp. We passed mountain exits with no services, a valley exit with no vacancies, comments from the backseat such as, “We should buy new windshield wipers,” until finally, after a total of 1.5 hours and maybe 50 miles, I conceded. We pulled off in a town that smelled like weed, Clearfield, PA, transported the kids to a hotel bed, then had a couple beers outside our motel door. My shoulders were stiff, the kids were asleep, the beer was good.
I told her, boasted maybe, that it was the toughest driving I’d ever done. Being a good wife, she complimented me. Rocky Mountain snow storms, Nebraska hail and electrical storms, this was harder because of the duration and most importantly the cargo. Why press on? Part of it was willingly, as if it were my rite of passage for being a bona fide road-tripping dad. As if there were a badge. My dad still tells the ice storm story, driving past jackknifed trucks, and though I don’t remember such details of our biannual road trips to Tennessee, I remember that it felt safe. Maybe I was trying to earn that feeling.
Perhaps I’m glorifying my self-importance or perhaps that prideful feeling was not for getting through the storm but for getting off the road.