“Your friends think you need a vacation,” the email from TripAdvisor read. At first, I was irked that my friends were talking to TripAdvisor behind my back. But, having just returned from a road trip through California, I was dumbfounded, but hard-pressed to disagree that I still needed a vacation. Isn’t that what a road trip is?
Hardly. The road trip is not what it used to be. It’s no longer the frolicking jaunt you may have read about in Tom Wolfe’s ” The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.”
That road trip, the original, was loosely planned, mostly spontaneous, with whimsical shifts in direction and stops for hitchhikers who floated up from the roadside like butterflies. On the hot, sticky griddle of asphalt, a quest to find the nearest body of water or a place to “crash” under the stars could consume the road trip with a whole new purpose. Maps were rarely used. Asking locals for directions was the navigation tool of choice.
Today’s road trip isn’t loosely planned. It’s engineered with elaborate Google maps and spreadsheets, with the “unexpected” buffered by GPS, iPhone apps and my old friend, TripAdvisor. Today’s road trip is a precisioned business. Mention “road trip” to a Generation Xer, a senior citizen, or a 10-year-old in this century and a laptop springs open.
Mention “road trip” to an old Hippy, and a fog of nostalgia envelops his being. Then, after beholding his entire beingness (from diapers to pimples to parenthood and back) he’ll say something like, “Yeah, man, cool, far out.”
It’s not his fault. It’s yours, for mentioning “road trip” so flagrantly.
You have to remember, while born during the Baby Boom, he came of age in the Age of Aquarius, the very beginnings of which were deeply rooted in Jack Kerouac’s cult classic, “On the Road.”
To keep their young Boomer headed down the right path, his parents sent him off to college, only to be greeted by LSD guru Timothy Leary, the original “motivational speaker.” Dr. Leary’s call to college campuses to “Turn on. Tune in. Drop out.” turned the open road into a path of mind-bending self-discovery.
As if that weren’t enough, Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksers (pharmaceutical-enlightened” passengers) set out on a legendary road trip across America in a converted school bus swabbed in psychedelic graffiti, elevating the road trip to new highs.
By the late sixties, the Generation Gap was clearly defined by the way we set out across America:
Families took vacations. Hippies went on road trips.
As Mike and I unpacked our road-weary Passat, the old Hippy in me lamented the evolution of the road trip. I mourned the loss of its spontaneity, save our In-N-Out Burgers at 10 AM outside Sacramento. “Life is a journey, not a destination,” the words of Emerson nagged like a big sister.
Then it dawned on me. Once I’d stopped giving spontaneity free reign, I learned that, left alone, life has plenty of it, from earthquakes to new-found friends, from busted wheel bearings to sudden bursts of laughter.