Saturday, November 20, 2021

Driving

Wake up in a rest area in Illinois, go to sleep in a friend's driveway in Tennessee. Just another day on the road for a couple of intrepid retirees.  

We arose disgracefully late on Friday morning. I watched Layne crawl out of our very comfortable duvet bedding around 10 in the morning while I stayed behind reading my Kindle on my phone. I have been plowing through a 1200 page biography of Adolph Hitler, a surprisingly readable tome by the historian John Toland.  At a time when democracy around the world seems more in peril than recently I'd like to go back and find out what really happened. Austria is just about to be annexed and I had to leave 1938 holding my breath, and get back to the business of driving.  We had a date.

The biggest question that usually arises when I get behind the wheel is whether or not to take the freeway. Layne inclines to freeways but I don't, even when we have a date. I got support from Google maps when I noticed the blue line to Nashville turned red for some considerable distance. We took the back roads. Yay!

Southern Illinois is said to be planted in horse radish but as I have no idea what a horseradish plant looks like in the ground I couldn't say whether or not that was true. Most of the fields looked fallow for winter.

The back roads were straight, as you might expect in the great plains of myth. Paved roads, smooth mostly, and straight through the fields at 40 miles per hour, not a car in sight, completely relaxing.

We listened to NPR for a while from St Louis and as the signal faded so did our interest. Often I plug my phone into the sound system in the Promaster and scroll through my BBC podcasts and broadcasts. Layne is pretty tolerant, listening to historical discussions or old radio comedies or dramas from Radio 4.  It is the radio of my childhood, not the music but the spoken word and I enjoy listening to it. Not this day, I was watching the world go by. 

The roads were lovely and we bowled along at 60 miles an hour on the state highways, not much slower than the freeway and we had the roads to ourselves.

Small towns with a gas station, farm equipment dealer and farm supply stores, a bar a grocery and at 35 miles per hour we saw it all. We enjoyed the drive, being on the road, taking a road trip.  We had two hours to make a 90 minute journey.

We stopped to walk Rusty and stretch our legs in a field alongside the road. The air was crisp but the temperature was bearable even at 50 degrees with no wind.

In southern towns there are churches everywhere but in this part of Illinois they were noticeably fewer in number at least visible from the road. 

I think of Illinois and I don't think of this sort of scenery. Now I've seen it and I'm glad I have, as I never get bored driving these roads.

I'm not a fan of electric cars even though I know they are the future. I suppose I am a product of my time and internal combustion was what I grew up around. I feel lucky I'm still able to dream of driving over the horizon in my van, not answerable to anybody. I suppose the time will come when electrical charging will be as fast and inconsequential as filling a tank with gas and if that happens in my driving life I shall be happy to switch. For the time being electrical cars seem better suited to the commute or local trips than grand over-the-horizon expeditions. 

But this experience of the open road is quintessentially American, celebrated in movies and expressed in songs where the mere mention of a Road Trip triggers yearning. Even if you don't like to drive and you don't want to see where your neighbors live the notion of a "road trip" is completely understood.

I would watch any movie that offered a road trip as part of the plot. I saw Easy Rider in an English language movie theater in Rome in 1980 as I was planning my first trip to America. The fact that I rode coast to coast via Mexico on a 200cc Vespa motor scooter didn't detract one bit from my connection to the bad boys riding across America on their Harleys in the movie.  It didn't end well for them on their drug fueled trip, but my ride across America was excellent. And I met the very first love in my young confused life and she was maddening and excellent too. 

I've driven across country, ridden across country and even managed to sail across country from Texas to Florida after a portage from California to Texas. 

With all that under my belt I still enjoy the simple fact of being on the road. To leave late and dawdle along the way, to see something memorable and to stop at dusk and sleep in your own bed with the promise of more of the same tomorrow... That is my idea of perfect retirement.

We saw deer dickering around indecisively at the side of the road. These are full sized white tails and I can't imagine how they would deal with Rusty who finds them fascinating.

Another dip in the road, another small town, more of the same stores masking the same small town stories no doubt. Onward we go with miles till empty on the dashboard showing three hundred miles to go.

Our first two weeks on the road we paid around $300 for gas according to the expedition accountant who is keeping track of our expenses. Gas this year costs around 3 to three and a half dollars a gallon for which the President oddly gets the blame. Free markets aren't always so free when someone can make political hay out of assigning blame. If I were president gas would cost a dollar a gallon to fund my road trips. Vote for me, OPEC be damned.

Rest assured Rusty doesn't drive but he looks really cute when he takes my place behind the wheel. He doesn't seem to mind road trips at all, so perhaps he and I shared a gene pool in some distant past in the Rift Valley. Or maybe not.