Now remember why some people don’t like roadtrips. Driving all day just to crash, exhausted, at some hotel with strange disinfectant smells, and then having to hunt up some restaurant in an unfamiliar neighborhood, just isn’t fun. It’s work. You might as well be a long-haul trucker and get paid for it.
Which is what I am right now. This is no pleasure cruise, this is a mission. I’m going up to Michigan in December for the only possible thing that could get me to drive voluntarily to the north in wintertime: our beloved vintage Airstream. This week I am a long-haul trucker, and thank goodness, I’ve completed nearly the deadhead portion of my trip. In a couple of days comes the payload.
There is nothing I can say about today’s drive that would be of interest to anyone. Perhaps later I’ll feel differently, but my overwhelming sense at this moment is that I’ll never get those three days back. I should have been listening to my Spanish lessons on the iPod so that at least I’d be getting something out of the time, instead of listening to 300+ songs and seven podcasts. Although I have to admit, Season 2 of The Red Panda is pretty good.
What did we do on long roadtrips before the iPod? Oh, I remember, we would either flick around for tolerable radio stations every ten minutes, or bring a bunch of cassette tapes. In college I had a bag loaded with about 20 BASF Chrome cassettes, each one holding a recording of a vinyl album (approximately, since the tapes were 45 minutes per side and sometimes that wasn’t enough to fit both sides of the LP).
[Editor's note: Anyone born after 1980, please consult with an older person for translation of the terms "LP," "vinyl record," and "chrome cassette."]
The cassette tape solution was good for the times, but not good enough. During a trip to the Florida panhandle for Spring Break I discovered that my collection of Pink Floyd tapes did not suit my college compatriots, and ended up listening to AC-DC’s “Back in Black”about seven or eight times. I haven’t been able to listen to that band since. My iPod carries about 2,000 songs at present, enough to carry me to the great wet north and back.
One thing I noticed today is that thanks to the Interstate highway system, it is possible to cross this great country not only without seeing anything, but without speaking to anyone. The iPod provides entertainment. Automated fuel pumps eliminate the need to speak to gas station attendants. Pointing and grunting will get you through most fast-food places. On Sunday I didn’t utter a single word to anyone except myself and my wife (via phone) until the moment I checked into the hotel and found myself trying to find my voice for the desk clerk. (No, I didn’t grunt to order lunch … I skipped it on Sunday.) Too many days of that and I’d probably start to lose contact with humanity. I’ll make up for it in the next two days as I contact a whole convention center full of humanity.
So here I am in the final hotel of the trip, facing the same questions I’ve faced the past two nights. Where to get dinner? Why does the room smell like deodorizer? What did it smell like before the deodorizer?
Down the street is a Denny’s and a Cracker Barrel. It is often said that the prevalence of chain restaurants and hotels make all American cities homogeneous, but I’m not fooled. I know I’m not at home in Tucson. (For one thing, I don’t stay in hotels and eat at Cracker Barrel when I’m home.) Identical services across the country are a blessing and a curse. It’s of little comfort to me to know exactly how boring the room will be before I get to it. It’s of no interest to eat the same stuff I could get at a thousand other chain restaurant locations. I’m in Louisville — I want to taste it, smell it, feel it.
But not tonight. Today I have driven 522 miles, watched a whole lot of pine trees and concrete go by, and I can’t stand to drive another inch in search of somewhere more interesting to have dinner, especially not now during Louisville rush hour in the winter dark. I guess that’s what keeps the chains alive. They are convenient, and that’s the blessing.
Tonight I have to go out again, to pick up Brett at the airport. We’ll run down our action plan for the show, and then hit the convention center floor early tomorrow. I will bring my camera, so if there’s something interesting by Airstream on display, you’ll see it here first.