Monday, June 25, 2012

Stop worrying and love the road.

My stepsister Louise and I drove from Philadelphia to the North Carolina Outer Banks today. Despite typically being ambivalent or downright opposed to hallmarks of American culture like cars and fast food, for me this road trip was unambiguously delightful.

It helped that we took a scenic route, driving through Delaware and the Delmarva Peninsula across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (it's both!) through Virginia Beach. It was beautiful countryside on a textbook June day. It helped too that the best of those things were on display. The Wawa folks knocked it out of the park with the breakfast burrito; it was all of the sensual gratification and visceral satisfaction that fast food aspires to be. And the road trip is the automobile at its best. I felt real camaraderie with the stranger in the BMW who for thirty miles wove with me past and around traffic that seemed to know nothing of the "drive right, pass left" principle.

Something else was at play though. A big reason the road trip was so enjoyable was the peace that came from living for one day as an American and not as an individual. I did what I was supposed to do, and what I was supposed to do was drive. For a century this ritual pilgrimage to wherever has been more American than apple pie, unless that apple pie was served at a McDonald's drive through. Taking part in it made me feel like a properly turning gear in a precisely tuned clock.

I felt this peace most acutely at a rest stop in Delaware. After getting out of the car I paused to take in the well-groomed lawn and the 1950's classic cars that were trundling into the parking lot at that moment. I continued in past a procession of vending machines each tempting me with a different variety of saccharine, preserved, and caffeinated satisfaction. The bathroom experience with its automatic flushes and antibacterial hand foam could not have been more tranquil if I had been brought through on a conveyor belt. On the way out I paused again to smell the tiger lilies ringing a spurting fountain.

At no point was there any doubt what I was supposed to be doing. I with all others present fulfilled my calling. We sustained America and thus were Americans together. That felt good.


Katherine Koba said...

The drive through the Shenandoah Valley down to Greensboro NC is equally lovely. Though, I traded rest stops for caves.

Road trips are definitely the best thing about America, hands down.

Nicholas said...

Ah, I'll wager that drive is even more lovely! I drove to Charlotte, NC once via I-81, which I think cuts close to the Shenandoah if it doesn't actually clip it. The views on that trip were really breathtaking.

Yes, it's a beautiful country we've got here, and road trips sure are a great way to take it in.

Ben said...

As you might say, in a quiet contented fashion: "hmmmmmmm."