In many ways, a road trip is a lot like one’s first sexual experience: it can be a lovely Sunday drive through the countryside or a hellbound dune-buggy ride through my count-, I mean, rush-hour traffic. Take your pick. I gave up my road-trip virginity to the autostrada in Bologna, and, like intercourse with any Italian, it was aggressive, fast and punctuated with artisanal cheese and prosciutto courses. I speak not of the post-salami salami, but of the ubiquitous Autogrille, a chain of veritable roadside Dean and Delucas lining the highways in Italy. You need a few panini? Some grappa? How about an 8-track of Tina Turner? You need Autogrille, fool.
I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: Italians know how to live. And love. And drive. It seems, however, that Americans do not.
In keeping with this clearly well-constructed metaphor of sexual intercourse, it seems to me that people are no longer interested in the actual process of the road trip. Just like the oiliest of monkey sex, it’s all about the end. Most people just want to stick in their keys, wiggle the stick around and hum along with the radio, counting down the minutes to the big finish. This is, of course, a product of our modern times. There is simply no longer time to really roll up your sleeves and get the job done right. You need to throw on a mix, take some uppers and try to hold on until the bitter, bitter end.
We can trace the sad decline of foreplay using road-trip films as a guideline. Take for example the artistic apex of this modern genre: Crossroads. Though the brilliantly crafted metanarratives and complex use of the archetypal journey might shroud my reasoning, please bear with me. We’ll make it to the end, I promise. Just let me try. You know I love you, baby.
Back to Britney, she and her friends all climb into an old “hooptie” or “gangsta lean” (Adina Howard “Freak Like Me” shout out! If you don’t recognize these terms, well, ya best reco’nize!) and make their way to California. Sadly though, the film is about where they all end up, not what they do on the way. Where’s the titillatingly witty repartee? Where’s the finely nuanced drama? Where is the hot, near-lesbian sex scene transcending the seemingly insurmountable divisions of race and class? I was expecting a Marxist class commentary about race relations and reproductive rights! I paid nine dollars for a white-on-black-on-teen-mom orgy, not some saccharine ending! Britney just took my money and spat in my face and not even in the good, sexy way!
To find a truly satisfying road trip, we must look all the way back … before Almost Famous, before Thelma and Louise, even before the onset of vaccinations and literacy. We must return to the original road trip: The Oregon Trail.
In hindsight, I realize now that The Oregon Trail was more than just an exciting funfest of religiously motivated colonialism and violent bowel disorders. The Oregon Trail was a perfect, timeless template for how to be a more considerate lover. Oh sure, you could force your family along at a grueling pace, fording rivers and trying to carry back more than your allotted two hundred pounds of meat all in an effort to reach the beautiful and apparently uninhabited lands of the Pacific Northwest, but that wasn’t the point. Even if you did manage to beat everyone there, probably leaving a trail of deceased children and oxen in your wake, all you got was a small, low-res congratulations screen which, believe you me, was not all that orgasmic once printed from your little Apple IIE. No cheap animation! No pixilated fireworks! Not even a midi file!
You went through the longest, most excruciating, thigh-chapping ride of your life, and you survived, so you best be grateful! At least, that’s what I tell everyone after I roll over and reach for my cigarettes on the sleazy motel nightstand.
After a while, even I started to get annoyed with frontier work ethics of The Oregon Trail. Dysentary schmysentary, at some point it’s just more fun to grit your teeth, plow it hard and get to the harvest as soon as you can. Journeys start to get old (especially when Steve Perry stops touring! “Any Way I Want It?” Stop playin’), so maybe it really is just about the final payoff. I mean, after all, hard-earned deposits are worthless without the money shot.
Even in Italy, the journey wasn’t everything. My boyfriend and I finally reached our destination: the Prada outlet in some rundown factory town in Orezzo. It was more than a journey, it was a pilgrimage. Unlike Mecca, however, Prada was closed. No pants. No wallets. Not even an emaciated, smoking woman named Amalita.
If we’d been in Oregon, we’d have cried, grabbed a handful of tasty entrails and braced myself for the coming winter. But luckily, we were in Italy, so yes, we cried, screamed a few profanities and then crawled into the back of the Fiat and took a roadtrip of our own.
Gli Italiani sanno vivere!
Bradley Bailey was bitten by a snake. Slow down, heal him or keep on moving?