High time to hit the road

Through a windshield, darkly.

Through a windshield, darkly.

It was 4:20 p.m. (smoke ’em if you got ’em) when I fired up the Forester for the latest six-hour drive from Bibleburg to Duke City.

Herself and I had been in the old hometown to prepare Chez Dog and The House Back East® for new tenants, a project I’d hoped would take only a couple of long, hard days, but I got there on Friday and didn’t get gone until Tuesday afternoon. Herself beat it on Monday, having one of them obnoxious “job” thingies that requires regular attendance.

So there I was, once again piloting a heavily laden Japanese automobile solo through the starry American night. It reminded me of the good old days, when all I needed for a cross-country jaunt was a bridge burned at one newspaper, a job offer at another, and a battered old rice-grinder that was nearly as full of shit as I was.

“What kind of sordid business are you on now? I mean, man, whither goest thou? Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?” — Jack Kerouac, “On the Road”

I used to love those long nights behind the wheel, in part because I generally enjoyed some sort of illicit chemical assist, having studied at the feet of Jack Kerouac, Ed Abbey and the redoubtable Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Once a friend and I even took a page from the Good Doktor’s book — to be specific, a page from “Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas” — and ate some acid before stalking into the old MGM Grand to see what we could see, which proved to be much more than was actually there.

In short, it was a bad idea, like so many of the Good Doktor’s, and we quickly jumped back into our auto and drove straight through the inky darkness of the Intermountain West to Alamosa, Colorado, for a steaming plate of enchiladas and beans served up by my companion’s mom, who either didn’t notice or didn’t care that we were horribly twisted on LSD and Budweiser.

After a few hundred thousand miles of that sort of thing, coupled with deteriorating night vision, a bad back and a considerably diminished drug intake (I’m pretty much down to a cup and a half of coffee in the morning these days), I lost interest in snorting that long white line through the windshield and sleeping it off under the camper shell in some rest area or unpatrolled parking lot. When the sunlight started fading, so did I. A motel bed sounded a lot better than drumming on the steering wheel with ZZ Top, Bob Seger or the Allman Brothers cranked up to 11.

But I got a little of the old love back Tuesday night. As I motored southwest with the cruise control set at a safe and sane 75 mph a banana moon hung brightly in the sky dead ahead, the highway stripes rising up as if to meet it on the hills. Where to go? Mexico? San Francisco? Albuquerque, as it turned out. I left the stereo off and listened to the music in my head.


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27 Responses to “High time to hit the road”

  1. Sharon Says:

    I still love a road trip every now and then. But as you noted, comfort is a much larger concern for us than it once was back in the day. Also these days I’m so picky about what I eat, most of the time we take a fully loaded cooler packed with good stuff just in case we don’t go by a wonderful mom and pop place.

  2. Arnold Says:

    Holy cow bro did that ever bring back some hoary o’l memories of road trips past of my own! And BTW that was damn near poetic my man..I don’t know is that’s what y’all were shootin’ for…but there it is…spoken not broken

    • khal spencer Says:

      Well, the man is a writer…

      • Pat O'Brien Says:

        And, he’s a damn good writer. Definitely a few minutes well spent.

        But, now the No Such Agency has another detail about the Dog’s questionable past. I guess if they really wanted him, he would have disappeared by now somewhere between B’burg and Duke City.

        O’Grady for President is what I think.

      • khal spencer Says:

        O’G has made no secret of his misspent youth on this blog, so if the NSA wanted him, I suspect he would be gone. Of course, if three Subaru mechanics from Albuquerque show up unannounced, break his car, and then offer to fix it, its probably the FBI….

  3. khal spencer Says:

    Road trips are cool, but like you, sixty laps around the sun has taken its toll on my body and mind as far as sitting behind the wheel or motorcycle handlebars for 8-10-12 hours or longer. Nowdays I can afford a decent set of wheels. Back then, my body could tolerate a ramshackle VW Rabbit or my old CX-500, which was a very nice midsize touring bike back in its days.

    I never got into using Super Leaded to keep me energized on long road trips. Strong, awful coffee from some all nite diner was usually the bill of fare, coupled with a good driving beat on the old tape deck.

    Since I had to get off of Long Island through New York City, I would do it in the dead of night to avoid congestion and crazy drivers. I’d hit the road out at Stony Brook at 0200 for the hour drive/ride into the Big Apple and get past the major river crossings and onto the Palisades or Taconic Parkway before anyone was awake to notice. Flying up those parkways in the dark of night was fun as long as one didn’t hit Bambi. First stop was the Liberty Diner (in Liberty, NY) if I was headed west, which was the halfway mark to Elmira. Otherwise, first stop was usually Warrensburg if I was headed to the high peaks or Thousand Islands.

    Wow….those were the daze.

    • veloben Says:

      Aah, the Liberty Dinner. Half way point on many a trip to and from Fredonia. Place was rebuilt and just not the same. But then I use to visit in the very dark hours.

      From Babylon, early early departure across the Throgs Neck and then the slow lonely climb on RT 17 through the Catskills, past Fish Eddy, on past Painted Post, Wellsville, etc. Little towns dark on even the sunniest days.

      • khal spencer Says:

        Sounds like you and I did the same drive.

      • khal spencer Says:

        Several of my good friends from high school (Alden Central, a little east of Buffalo) attended SUNY Fredonia. So in addition to Duck Soup, that’s my connection to Fredonia. My connection to Babylon was noticing the sign for it on the LIE or Northern State Parkway. Wow. That’s a long time ago and very far away.

  4. Larry T. Says:

    Great stuff PO’G! Reminds me of my last all-nighter behind the wheel..not that long ago
    I get tired just thinking about it!

  5. Charley Says:

    Awesome reminder of things past as youth fades in the rear view mirror. Thanks!

  6. bromasi Says:

    Charley said it for me, I don’t even drive anymore.

  7. md anderson Says:

    I took my first solo road trip at 17 and they became an integral part of how I get on with the world. As the song goes “I’ve been from Tucson to Tucumcari, Tehachapi to Tonopah.” And since most of those trips were in old VWs of one sort or another the miles didn’t pass particularly quickly and I became a pretty good roadside mechanic. And after being stranded at a shelter in Walsenburg, CO, when a Thanksgiving blizzard hit the Front Range and closed the interstate, I never traveled without a sleeping bag in the back. Still don’t for that matter, even though I have long since switched to Subarus.

    Comfort is good, but I’m still known for tossing the sleeping bag in the rear of the Outback and catching some zzzz’s at a handy rest stop or campground. I suppose it helps that I’m short and can pretty much stretch out with the seats folded down.

    • khal spencer Says:

      Back when I was doing field work in Central Minnesota, throwing a tent and bag in the trusty Rabbit was standard fare for the long trip back and forth to Stony Brook. I had friends in Chicago when they were home and willing to take in one or two weird geoscience grad students, but otherwise it was a loong drive. I recall heading back from the field area one day with a masters student. We were really tired of driving and pitched the little Eastern Mountain Sport tent along the interstate somewhere in PA and caught a few z’s and then finished up the trip fresh.

    • Pat O'Brien Says:

      It started snowing one night on my way from AZ to IL, and I got stuck in Tucumcari. Took 6 hours to get to Amarillo the next morning.

  8. khal spencer Says:

    can’t forget this one.

    • md anderson Says:

      Grateful Dead was always my go-to drive music on really long hauls. I would tell myself I’d be to point x by the time one side of the bootleg cassette was done.

  9. veloben Says:

    Thank you Patrick. Many memories of long nights behind the wheel of a 1966 Land Rover, cause in a Land Rover you never got anywhere in daylight no matter how early the departure, came flooding back with this post.

  10. Libby Says:

    Patrick, your account of your road trip home built to such a powerful and touching conclusion. I am so moved by this post.

  11. weaksides (@weaksides) Says:

    Damn, I’m just glad to hear everyone is still here. I was afraid Zappa had come and raptured all you old fuckers away!

    I’ll still take my miles without gasoline thanks.

  12. John Dallager Says:

    POG: Great to see you’re back in the cyber-sphere…..and what a terrific “reminiscence” of road trips long gone by…..or ongoing in your case.

    27 hours straight thru from COS to St. Pete, FL in a VW Beetle (circa 1969)…….and return …. was my best…..all courtesy of Coca Cola and some windows up/windows down hot and cold ram air circulation.

    Best to you, Herself, and The Menagerie……….JD

  13. Patrick O'Grady Says:

    Thanks, folks, for all your kind notes. I’ve been too frazzled to write lately and that one just sort of forced its way out in some sort of cranial jailbreak.

  14. tj Says:

    I’ve done my fair share of road trips over the years, from camping coast to coast with the parents, gypsy bike racer chasing crits up and down the coast, and deadline driven surges with a co driver. Ever switched drivers without stopping? I don’t recommend it but it does shave time on a “mission” drive. Anybody else familiar with the chest hair plucking to stay awake? Again, not recommended, but effective in a pinch.
    I’m not sure where I heard this first, but I kinda/sorta agree with it. “No one should be allowed to vote until they have crossed the country at ground level, train, car, bike doesn’t matter It is the only way to gain an appreciation of the vastness and the diversity of the country and put your own small world in perspective”. It is the one form voter id I could support.

    • Larry T. Says:

      Switching drivers? Now you bring me back to my moto daze driving up from LA to Sears Point raceway in the Bay area on Saturday night, racing on Sunday, then driving all the way back on Sunday night. We had it down pretty well in my old Dodge Maxivan – set cruise control, wake up co-driver, get them to take the wheel while you slide outta the seat and they climb in. We got so good that the person sleeping in the bunk behind us never knew we’d swapped. With 65+ gallons of dead dinosaurs on board in three separate tanks, we were good to go all the way up and back without a gas stop. Stops to empty bladders were another thing of course!

  15. Dale Says:

    “I left the stereo off and listened to the music in my head.”

    I’ve done that now for many more years than I can remember.

    There’s nothing on the stereo/radio anyway. Most of my driving is in silence. All of my songs are in my head. If the weather is warm, my windows will be down and I can hear the wind and the birds, and capture the occasional wasp to liven my drive. Like you, I have enough songs in the cranium to last a while. Pity I never cataloged them.

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