Thursday, February 28, 2013

Virtual Road Trip

Pulled an old classic out of the Book Room the other week: Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon, circa 1982. Briefly, Willy had just lost his job and was having a midlife crisis, so he went for an extended drive around the back roads of America. By the end of the trip he had a whole new attitude, and a book.

What a great idea. Maybe not so much these days, given the price of gas, but still an attractive and even doable fantasy. Who hasn’t dreamed of just taking off in search of the elusive “America”? And writing about your experiences, if you’re so inclined.

People have traveled our country’s back roads by vehicle, on foot, on horseback, by bike, and with and without a companion or dog, and shared their discoveries in print so the rest of us don’t have to leave the couch. “Road trip” movies still show up in the theaters from time to time.

I love road trips. I’ve driven cross-country twice, though not at the leisurely pace described in these books. I had a destination and a timetable. I was also a lot younger. I’m not sure I could handle eight to nine hours behind the wheel these days. (I’ve driven close to 14, but home was at the end of the line in those cases.)

There’s also the matter of gender. Rereading the book after 20-odd years, I still think today what I thought back then: I couldn’t do this trip the way he did because I’m female. Willy drove on deserted roads and went into bars to talk to people and slept in the back of his van. He’d wander alone into the most remote locations our country has to offer and somebody else would be there. Yet nothing happened to him. That’s because he’s male. Even today a man can go places and enter into situations that a woman just can’t. A man walks into a bar; big deal. A woman walks into a bar and has to be careful who she talks to or even smiles at or she could wind up like Jodie Foster in The Accused. When I drove cross-country, I stuck to interstates and public places, got off the road by dark, and slept in motels. (Even that came with risks; at one place in Nebraska the woman at the desk gave me a room at the far end, clear across the building from the room being shared by a bunch of construction workers. She didn’t want any problems and neither did I.)

I did get to see, and buy a burger in, the world’s largest McDonald’s, a massive structure in Oklahoma spanning a six-lane highway like a high-calorie bridge. I’ve stood on a deserted stretch of the fabled Route 66. It looked hardly wide enough for even one car, let alone oncoming traffic. I should have detoured to Roswell, New Mexico and checked for aliens, but I was on a schedule.

This is why we owe a debt of thanks to people like William Least Heat Moon, who do the things we can’t because of time or money or gender constraints, and then write a book so we can vicariously share the journey with them. Thanks to these wanderer/writers, everybody gets to road trip.

I’ve love to see an update of this book, or visit some of the sites myself, just to see how many are still there. Maybe when one of my books hits the big time I’ll load up the car with pens, notebooks and the laptop and hit the road for a month. No sleeping in the car, though, and no wandering the streets after dark. I draw the line at that.

I suppose it would help if I wrote more books so I’ll have a better chance of one of them earning enough bucks to finance this. With any luck, the price of gas will have dropped by then. In the meantime, I wonder if the library has a copy of A Walk Across America?


Savanna Kougar said...

Oh, I love road trips! Once upon a time, I did a few, but had schedules, etc. I've driven route 66 a couple of times... way back when, but after it had declined. Still, the atmosphere, the campy ostentatious creativity was a wonder to behold.

I would loved to have ridden horseback from coast to coast, border to border, and everywhere in-between.

These days, you couldn't pay me to drive cross country. Likely I'd end up 'dead' at some damn lokk-for-drunks checkpoint, especially if they tried to draw blood. I almost died when a nurse drew my blood. I turned blue, and the doctor was surprised I didn't kick the bucket. It sure felt like I was.

Pat C. said...

I've always wanted to do Route 66, either by bus trip or behind the wheel. I've already driven the PA portion of the Lincoln Highway. The problems remain the same: when I have money, I don't have the time (working) and when I have time I don't have the money (not working). I just need one of the books to take off and then so I can I, because I can write anywhere. If I write a book about the trip, maybe I can deduct the expenses on my taxes.

Holy crow! How much blood did that Vampirella nurse take from you?

Savanna Kougar said...

No, actually the nurse was pretty good at her job. It's just the way my body has always reacted. She didn't believe me when I told her, if she didn't let me lay down that she'd be sorry. She made me stay sitting up. Never works, I blackout. But that time was the absolute worst.

Of course, these days, with the way my health is NO ONE is ever taking my blood AGAIN!!!

Savanna Kougar said...

I'd like to go back in time and travel Route 66 with a group of good friends. Now, that would be a book. ~smiles~