Road Trip Musings
Travel for us has changed a lot over the years. Whenever the dynamics of the family change, the strategy for preparing to travel follows suit. Likewise, I’ve seen changes in traffic and attitude while traveling over the past few decades. While there have always been impatient and rude people, it seemed to be the exception, not the norm. Drivers would adhere to rules and standards willingly. Not because the law required it, but because there was a sense of common courtesy. Blinkers helped others understand your intentional direction, drivers let someone else go first, or patiently waited their turn when the light turned green.
These days, normal driving behavior includes no blinker usage (whatever you do, don’t let others know what you are up to), cutting others off (even though they arrive at a stoplight a fraction ahead of the person they nearly ran off the road), and honking a millisecond after the light turns green. The attitude may have been summed up best by a bumper sticker I saw in Boston: “Honk if you want to see my finger.”
Even pristine circumstances can produce impatience and frustration. Especially if you are in a van full of children clamoring for food and bathroom, and the baby just filled his diaper and the car seat. A sunny day, easy traffic, and a sense of adventure can quickly turn a fun vacation trip into something you want to block out of your memory.
As our children grew, I noticed that inside the vehicle, the situation improved. Children could entertain themselves with books, games, music, napping, and, yes, conversing with one another. However, the situation outside the vehicle worsened. People are more impatient and show road rage without a second thought. Let’s face it. There’s anonymity on the road that is mirrored in posting on social media. The person who flipped my husband the bird because he didn’t get out of the fast lane exactly when the person behind thought he should will likely never be seen again. Many people feel empowered to be rude and even mean at times because of it.
The summer of 2020 was an eye-opener. We traveled to the Outer Banks for a family vacation. I was amazed at the terrible driving we witnessed. It was like people forgot how to drive during the shutdown. The problem was that they seemed to believe they had the same skills as before. The following year, we made the same trip. However, now there were a lot more people on the road. This time the attitude was different. Driving skills weren’t much better, but no one cared. The parking lot masquerading as route 95 served as a buffer. No one could go very fast. Still, the trip revealed a lack of skill, courtesy, and patience in most drivers.
The idyllic days of travel are a myth. I felt momentarily deceived and disillusioned. I have always believed that traveling is not just about the destination but about the journey. Not only can you see unfamiliar sights and enjoy them, but you can meet new people. And yes, there are still some pleasant people to meet out there.
On a recent trip out to Wisconsin to attend our daughter’s college graduation, I got to thinking about other fallacies of travel. For example, let’s talk about electric engines. Now I think the concept is commendable, but to assume we currently have the technology to make it a practical option for most people is incorrect.
I live in the country. The thought of having an electric car is not only laughable, but it would mean that people like me would have to use the Amish style of travel. I probably wouldn’t be able to do my biweekly grocery hauls at an Aldi. We live too far away for it to be practical. Even if we could recharge the engine, it would be a time killer. We already have to drive an hour to get to Aldi and Walmart. Adding a two-hour charge time would be horrific.
Big farmers would never be able to utilize an electric engine either. The amount of acreage they need to cover would be prohibitive. Many times, big farms work around the clock. Literally. While they work, someone brings them fuel to keep going. Not only would recharging an engine take too long, but the engine wouldn’t be able to sustain the trip to the field and back to a charging station. The scope of what it takes to work the land, tens of thousands of acres sometimes, makes electric engines ineffective and logistically impossible.
It’s not that there aren’t advancements in technology. I’m sure there are. I recently read an article that the Ford F-150 now offers an electric version. Reportedly it can go up to 230 miles before needing a recharge. The problem is that EV charging stations are few and far between. Then there is the time frame for charging. Who wants to be stuck at a rest stop or gas station for an hour or two? No thanks. Even with a reported MSRP of 40K or so, I’m not interested. Yes, you read that right. This country girl is passing on the truck.
Some other myths that were debunked on our trip weren’t so life-changing. For example, during the 12-hour drive west, we had several cars cut in front of us. One nearly took off our fender. Now, you’d think that bombing down the interstate at 80 m.p.h., we wouldn’t have that problem. But like my dad always says, there’s always someone faster and more impatient to get by. You just let them go. I have no objection to that piece of advice.
However, I admit I got a little ornery when quite a few of these reckless drivers had a “baby on board” sticker. Excuse me? I always thought that sticker was for warning others not to drive crazy because of precious cargo on board and that the parent was being extra cautious and driving a little slower than the speed demons out there. In other words, “please be patient, I have children on board.”
But I was wrong. Apparently, now the sticker means, “Hey, I’m gonna drive like an out-of-control idiot. But since I have my baby sticker, that means the responsibility is on everyone else to keep my child safe despite my terrible driving.”
I guess I had the wrong interpretation all these years.
Another quickly debunked myth was that of the so-called “Express Lane” in Chicago. What a joke. To be fair, we have gone through Chicago without encountering a major traffic glitch. Of course, that was eastbound at 6 AM on a Saturday. Other than that, we always encounter slow down. We expect it. It’s fine. It’s Chicago, after all.
However, this trip was the worst I had ever seen it. When my husband saw the exit for the express lane, he laughed. The express lane was a work zone lit up like a Christmas tree from all the brake lights. We spent a long hour and a half inching our way out of the backup.
Travel is certainly different than when I was a child. But despite the negative people out there, I still think we should enjoy the journey because there are still moments of wonder, laughter, new positive experiences, and enjoyable people. Maybe it would be better to go back to horse and buggy. That would slow us all down, and we would have to take time in the journey and learn patience anew.
In the meantime, I’m happy to load my family, some food, and a smile, into our big SUV and hit the road for an adventure.