The road trip is Americana. We have all felt the calling of road: windows down, music up, and sunsets on the horizon. Most have trials, wrong turns, flat tires, and the occasional overdue showers. Nonetheless, if you have never taken the journey, you ought to. As for me, I have trekked upwards, downwards, sideways, and back again throughout the lower 48, and the memories will never be lost.
If asked to describe the first one that comes to memory, it would be a road trip that I had taken from Miami, Florida, to Denver, Colorado. Summer was in full swing and spirits were high across the south. The smell of barbecues and charcoal could be smelt in every passing town. American flags painted the landscape with a familiar and welcoming wave. But this trek was my first through Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and most memorably, Northern Texas. Raised in the metropolitan northeast, I suppose I was raised to be somewhat skeptical of strangers, domineering in the fast lane, and conversationally abrupt. Well that didn’t fly.
I stopped at a hole in the wall rode-side “diner” in Alabama because I had to have grits. I suppose on adventures such as these, the cliché is tolerable. Two hours later I had tabbed out a 7 dollar meal. At first I was frustrated by lack of urgency in service, but as time passed and as the waitress continued to address me as sugar, I suppose I decided to roll with punches. The single lane highway that took me into Mississippi was decorated with elaborate tractor tire gardens, elaborately planted and well maintained; a serious paradox for a Jersey boy. It was Americana, and I loved it. To this day I could swear my watch had slowed down to keep up with their pace.
Maybe it was the time of day, and how the sun had been setting that afternoon, but Louisiana passed in a nostalgic fog. Crossing the bayou, being immersed in the landscape, and playing the local radio stations as loud as possible turned that leg of the trip into a blur. For those few hours I was a southern boy, imagining myself shrimping as I passed Bayou La Batre, home of Bubba Gump Shrimp, of course. It was one of those places you felt you had been before, and desire to return to.
Texas! This part of the trip could have been a Seinfeld episode. My first night in the lone star state consisted of barbecue, burgers, and cheap beer at a rest stop. I desperately needed sleep so stretched out in the pickup, and tried to ignore the trucker clamor. Let’s just say there are some truck stop taboos that have died and gone to Texas. Gross. Northern Texas is like a mix of a wrangler-jeans commercial and a dusty barbershop, if that makes any sense. Every dog looked like Toto, and I was sure every vehicle on the side of the road had been parked there for over 30 years.
I tried to embrace my surroundings in the scorching heat, turning up the country music and dousing my bandana in what was once, cold water. The landscape was iconic and truly made me appreciate the benefits of a road trip. I would have never seen these ghost towns, boulder sized tumbleweeds, and forgotten teepees on the horizon, had it not been for the pickup beneath me and the broken watch I had chose to lose. But, like any good road-trip there are hiccups.
Somewhere outside of Amarillo, my truck shook violently and I swerved off of the highway into a dusty ditch. There was glass on the road, and it was everywhere. My back left tire completely blew off the rim and traces of it could be seen for 100 yards. What was stranger was that in the distance ahead of me there were four or five other cars in the same predicament. As we walked on together, a few hundred yards or so, there was a cardboard sign pointing right which read “Used tires for sale. Quick and safe.” What!? A man sitting beside a tractor-trailer bed sprinkled with dirty old tires was waiting for us. Some scam that was. As we were all on to his dirty little trick, we scoured the interweb for tow services. The only service in the area went straight to voicemail with the tag line, “XYZ Towing, coverin’ this county like butter on a biscuit”. Needless to say there was a group of us who were stuck at the motel 6 for two days; red carpets, enough said.
As I headed northward toward Denver, making my way over the border into what was for me, more familiar territory, I was thankful for all the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes that the southern route had to offer. I met countless clerks, truckers, waitresses, bartenders, cowboys, and warm-hearted derelicts that gave my trip flavor. Road-trips may not always be glamorous, but as long as you can remember to embrace each and every place and person for who and what they are, you’re going to have an unforgettable ride. That southern summer road sure was for me.