My parents had been dating for a while when my dad thought it’d be a good idea to take their first trip together. “Let’s go to Kentucky when you get time off from work,” he suggested. When my mom asked why, he was taken aback: “Well have YOU ever been to Kentucky before!?” So they went to Kentucky. This inaugural question offered a first taste of the infinite road trips in store for my mother and for us.
Walking out onto a gravel driveway past my bedtime. The sound of rolling suitcase wheels on wet grass. Watching the sunrise on top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park next to the actually dedicated hikers. My little brother falling asleep in his plate of scrambled eggs. My dad loves nothing more than to make driving a challenge, to chase the night into the early hours of the morning. At an early age, I could sense the strangeness of late night hours spent awake — the mystery of looking out the window, watching other cars pass through this stretch of highway, wondering where they were going and why we were sharing this span of time.
Driving is a task my dad considers a group effort. This past summer, we rented a stick-shift car in which we drove around the perimeter of France. The car, he professed, had terrible visibility, so with each back-in park or pull-out or lane change he hollered “EYES!”, after which everyone looked up from their book or phone, hoping to collectively prevent an accident.
In such an hour of peril, my dad urged us to keep our heads up, offering us his unsolicited wisdom: that travelling should be as great a joy as approaching the destination. The other day, he told us, his friend had led him on a tour of his house, filled with long corridors and flanked by full-length windows overlooking the yard. His friend told him that the architect had sacrificed heating efficiency for the pleasure of walking through a corridor, of enjoying the space between two destinations. Pleased with the little anecdote, my dad took a hearty sip of his tea from the farthest corner of his mouth so as to keep his eyes on the road.
My dad has taught me how to find joy in these idle hours, how to take pleasure in simply passing through and watching things move. On Sunday mornings, he walks up our hill with our dog and a cup of tea to relax and watch the ferns blow in the wind, to enjoy the trees across the valley, to admire our dog running circles around his leash.
As a little kid, I always loved driving to the ski mountain more than skiing at the mountain itself. My dad would let us turn up his a cappella CDs, and we’d sing along to “Grace Kelly” together. Goldfish crackers were crunching into the carpeted floor, flying out the open windows.
Spring break meant our annual road trip to Wilmington together, to visit the Brandywine River Museum, eat at a small restaurant in Lancaster we had come to love, pass through a historical society and look down at our ancestors’ graves. I loved looking at the Civil War-era swords and the old correspondences between my great-great-plus grandfather and his sweetheart, but back then, I couldn’t understand how this particular pilgrimage was so important to my dad, how he could stare endlessly at a few engravings in a piece of soft stone, commemorating someone he would never encounter.
Maybe my dad’s lectures on the glory of hallways have actually gotten through to me. In high school, my friend and I jumped at any excuse to take a road trip, often coercing her dad into driving us to Newport or Providence on weekends. We visited her godmother’s house, made wonderful by pink tiled bathrooms, thick slices of chocolate cake, a paper resting on the coffee table that read “America’s 50 Most Influential Greek Men.” Another day, her dad’s anxious driving got us into a small collision with a parked car on a narrow driveway in Newport. Hysterical, we wrapped her dad’s bumper in pink duct tape. Afterwards, we were treated to a sampling of Rhode Island food, after her father entreated us with the typical question, “Have you girls ever tried Dell’s frozen lemonade, clam balls or Point Judith calamari?” Driving home in the evening, we’d play rap and her dad would beg us to turn on at least one Tony Bennett song, and we fought over picking the most vulgar song to play next. There are all these special things we’ve picked up along the way.
My friend started a babysitting job this past summer which often involved driving a passel of toddlers to sports practices or to the beach or the aquarium in the afternoons. After a few weeks of listening to their gripes about the long drives, one afternoon she pulled over and broke out C.P. Cavafy’s poem “Ithaka”: “…Keep Ithaka always in your mind./ Arriving there is what you are destined for./But do not hurry the journey at all,” she read to them. Their three little pairs of eyes under their three furrowed brows probably rolled as she returned to the steering wheel.
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