November 2015

Road worriers

By David Feela

A long holiday weekend only encourages me to stay home. No sense planning a road trip at the risk of being maimed or even killed in an accident. Self-preservation, that’s the key to a long life, and nobody knows this better than retired folks. Give all the non-retired vacationers all the time they need to get back to work or school or whatever life of crime sustains the family, and that’s when I start unfolding my maps.

As a child I sat in the backseat of my parents’ car, eyes glued to the window until the motion of the vehicle rocked me to sleep. In college my thumb got me down the road. Once I owned reliable transportation I didn’t hang around. I drove, sometimes like a maniac, and I didn’t even buckle my seat belt or pack spare underwear.

During my career years, my employers organized my expeditions into those traditional slots known as vacations. Like a rubber band, I was tethered by how far I could stretch my days off, and the whiplash from getting back on time often hurt.

Now the day I leave is flexible and the day I return is negotiable. That’s not exactly a definition of freedom, but it’s as close to a vagabond as I care to get.

Recently I was forced to rent a vehicle while my only transportation was in the shop. The agent on the business side of the rental desk asked if I was under 70. I worried, does he really need to know? Apparently he does, because more car-rental agencies, even major ones like Avis or Hertz, are imposing maximum age limits for drivers, not just minimum. Some European, African, and South Pacific nations already impose a 70-75 age restriction; a few U.S. carriers are setting their cruise control at the same limit. In a decade I might not be able to get out of town.

One more worry that surfaces when I start planning a road trip involves sleep. It’s not that I’m unreasonably finicky about accommodations, but rest-area picnic tables and a reclined bucket seat have lost their appeal. Motels are always a crapshoot when it comes to finding cleanliness and comfort on the fly. Nobody wants to say it, but the chances of coming upon a good motel for under a hundred bucks is like walking into a public toilet and discovering a clean and comfortable seat.

I start packing for a road trip at least five days before I leave, because it gives me enough time to remember the items I’m likely to forget, for unpacking and repacking the same items in two or three alternate configurations, for removing the stuff I finally decide I’ll never need and then reassuring myself I’ll have sufficient time to put it back again after processing the nightmares of being stranded in a foreign-country jail without, say, my favorite spare belt.

Sustenance constipates my thinking when I’m planning a trip. I could pack healthy food in ice chests and stay away from the fast-food feeding troughs, but I don’t want to. What fun is being on the road, freewheeling, when I become a dietary monument to responsible decision- making? Good eating choices. Vegan of the vehicle. Organic overdrive. On the road, I’m with Jack Kerouac: “I ate another apple pie and ice cream; that’s practically all I ate all the way across the country, I knew it was nutritious and it was delicious.” My road trips will never inspire a generation, which is why it’s necessary that they at least inspire me.

I returned from my trip in just 7 days. I may have been worried about things back home, or maybe my confidence sagged. But I saw no aliens at Devils Tower, though everyone I talked to warned me about the possibility. I learned there are parts of Wyoming where driving at or above 80 mph is not such a bad idea. I learned that the rabbit population of Wyoming might be on the brink of extinction based on the number of squashed bunnies that littered the highways. I also learned that people who live in Wyoming are collectively called Wyomingites, which is better than being mistaken for a Nutmegger if you drive through Connecticut. I worry about that.

David Feela, an award-winning poet, essayist, and author, writes from Montezuma County, Colo. See his works at