Nothing captures the imagination of the American traveler like a good old-fashioned road trip. It reminds me of when I was a kid, packing the car for our annual family trip to Atlantic City. My primary function was to complain that there was not enough snacks and Hawaiian Punch to last the epic three-hour journey. I remember these trips as a lot more fun than they probably were, partly because I fill in the gaps in my memory with scenes from National Lampoon’s Vacation starring Chevy Chase, and when necessary, Beverly D’Angelo. This year we set out to finally see Chicago, stopping at various cities along the way.
I pride myself on my ability to follow directions. If my boss at work tells me to do something, and explains it thoroughly, there is no reason in the world why I can’t dig in and go find somebody who can figure out how to do what she just said. In the car, though, it’s just me and my wife. We’ve been together so long that she knows exactly what’s going on in my mind, if anything.
So if something goes wrong I have to speak in code, so as not to alarm her. If I say, “The journey IS the destination!” That means we are lost. If I say, “WOW! Look at all those silos! Do you think any of them contain missiles?” That means we are hopelessly lost. If I get out my compass, well, I don’t think I need to tell you what happens then.
One time in Greece we rented a car that was so cheap, and I would not lie about this, that the motor’s magneto had no housing. You shouldn’t feel sorry for it or start a Habitat for Humanity campaign or anything, but what it means is that a powerful magnetic field was generated by the car’s engine. So powerful that my compass’s needle always pointed toward it, no matter which way we went, so I always assumed we were going north. Once we realized that Athens was not located at the South Pole, my navigational abilities were called into question. Since then, I have to explain in advance where we are going, and sometimes, why.
That was before the age of GPS, so now there is no excuse not to be exactly where you are. Or so you would think. Turns out my GPS had gone slightly haywire, as though it had gone off its meds. The map showed us in the correct general area, but often traveling through bodies of water. My wife’s smart phone was more reliable, but running out of batteries. My GPS lady started getting a little snippy, and started an argument with Siri, and we had to pull over. Luckily we had an actual map.
We started this year’s trip in Philadelphia to visit my sister’s kid and her housemate. We didn’t see much of the city, but we stayed up half the night playing cards. Skyler and Guthrie taught us a game called, “high, low, jack, pitch and cinch,” and I swear they made the rules up as they went along. Thank god we didn’t bring much money.
Then it was on to Pittsburgh, which is a nice spot at the confluence of the Ohio, the Allegheny and the Monongahela Rivers. If you’ve never been to a confluence, Pittsburgh is a good place to get your feet wet. We visited the National Aviary, and found more questions than were answered: Why does a warbler warble? Is eagle baldness hereditary? At the Aviary you can enter a caged area filled with a zillion parakeets and feed them, if you are a big Hitchcock fan. We even had a sloth encounter, and I’m not overstating things when I say that they don’t like to be rushed. But the visit was fun, and we have no egrets about anything.
Cleveland was our next stop, and a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I thought it would be a little cheesy, but it was interesting to hear the evidence with your own ears that every great song has a genesis that came before it. Except for songs by Genesis, I guess. It brought back great memories of how I used to wait all week for “The Midnight Special” to come on, so I could see Elton John or the Allman Brothers play, before there was any MTV. Or going to your first concerts- I remember one time me, Chris and Zenny piled into Ken’s station wagon to go see Yes at Roosevelt Field in the pouring rain. We hydroplaned the car into a guard rail and had to walk to the concert, then ride home, five of us in the back seat of a Ford Capri. I still hold
Yes responsible for that misery.
The music of today seems pretty insubstantial compared to what we had in the ‘70s and ‘80s. When I think back on masterpieces like, “Chick-A-Boom (Don’t Ya Jes’ Love It)” and “Turning Japanese,” I feel sorry that the current generation is deprived of the direction and emotional depth that these songs gave us. On those notes, it’s off to Chicago!
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