Road trip: the road


Friday, the day I was to start my journey down south to see my brother, started out most auspiciously with the reappearance of Pretty O’Feral whom I had written off as being dead. While I was making coffee I heard mewing at my kitchen door. It was Pretty! I was so happy to see her. I stood guard against any other cats while she scarfed down her food. She was still nervous as when I last saw her three weeks ago, but she looked good. Then I went out for a long needed haircut. I’m happy with the results. I was feeling good as I threw my stuff together for the six hour drive ahead. As I started my journey, I was greeted by a rainbow ahead. It all felt quite fortuitous.

A lot of people don’t like the 400 mile drive down I-5 between the San Francisco Bay Area and the Los Angeles area. It’s a notoriously monotonous drive with little scenery and the the only signs of civilization are the few roadside clusters of gas stations and fast food joints. Me, I rather like the drive. I see driving that 250 mile long stretch of straight flat road as a kind of mediation.

(Warning: tortured analogies ahead)

Like meditation, having a effortless journey along I-5 takes a relaxed focused mind. When we are focusing on the breath in meditation, our mind finds distractions to follow; sounds, memories, plans and plain old random shit. So too when we drive down I-5 we move towards distraction; music, the phone, the bad behavior of other drivers and even the scenery, what little there is of it. Yet, if we can just stay focused on the driving, and relax into the moment, you start to get into the flow and really enjoy it. Driving down a busy two-lane interstate highway is a like a dance.  Becoming one with the flow of the traffic, we move in and out of the passing lane, always acutely aware of the other drivers in the dance. Sometimes you give way, and other times you are given way. Sure, there are some on the road who don’t know the steps, who stubbornly insist on sitting in the passing/fast lane when there are others who need to get by. But, even that is part of the dance. You adjust, slow down – eventually you will pass. Soon they will be nothing but a passing annoyance in your rear view mirror. And, if you stay present with what is going on you can even learn something about yourself.

A big ol’ SUV moved in front of me and I watched my mind tighten up. I couldn’t see anything but the back of that big ol’ red gas guzzler, so I couldn’t plan my next moves, I couldn’t anticipate, I couldn’t see the big picture. And I realized that I’m like that in general. My ability to relax into a moment is contingent on knowing where the hell I’m going. It’s not a bad thing, but it takes me away from being able to fully let go.


And while solitary road trips are great for introspective, they are also opportunity to eat snacks that you normally wouldn’t be caught dead eating. While the boyfriend loves road trips, he doesn’t partake in the guilty pleasures of the road; snacks and fast food. He’s the type that will pack some grapes, water, and insist on finding a real sit-down restaurant when it comes time to eat. Not me. At the 100 mile mark I had to make a pit stop at the emporium of bad road food, the AM/PM. Where else can you find a bag of Bugles? Who knew they still made those? However, those things are so salty, there was some concern I may stroke out, so I figured I would confuse my body and also get a bag of red vines so it wouldn’t know whether to have a stroke or go into diabetic shock. Oh, yeah, and a big bottle of Diet Mt Dew (because isn’t it obvious I’m counting calories?) Fortunately, I only ended up feeling slightly sick to my stomach.

I made decent time. Six hours. When I was younger, with a sports car and a minor death wish, I could make the trip in four hours and 45 minute (which translates as an average speed of 90 mph).

Coming up: Road trip parts 2 & 3 – the family and the hometown


7 responses »

  1. I enjoyed your analogies, tortured or otherwise. 🙂

    This will sound like an odd comparison, but when I worked as a pharmacy tech I’d have busy days I referred to as Dancing Days because once I got into the flow of moving around the pharmacy, it really was like a meditative dance. Time does a weird thing when I get into the flow like that, whether it’s at home, driving, walking, etc. I’m not sure how to describe it other than being right there, in that moment, seems to stretch time in a pleasurable way.

    I use car trips as an excuse to enjoy some junk food, too. Isn’t that what trips are for? 😉

  2. I usually enjoy that same drive, too. And of course, it’s best when I’m alone. I learned to put an audio book into the CD player (now I have them loaded on the iPod). It makes the trip go quickly and I’ve “read” a book during the time. If I decide I would rather not listen to the book, then fine. I shut it off. I can use the time to think. I have also used the time to record into a voice activated micro cassette recorder. You know, that great American novel I’m going to write one day! This, however, only works if you have a car that is pretty much sound proof so you don’t get the hum of the engine.

    I like 101 better, but it takes longer because it’s a slower speed limit and because I tend to stop more often and for longer times. Outlets!

  3. Robin – “Dancing days”, I love that. Yes, once we drop into that flow it does feel like a dance, joyful, effortless.

    Corina – I agree, taking 101 is for when I have the time to meander, stopping where I please for real food and scenary. I-5 is very utilitarian. It gets the job done when you need to get from point A to point B relatively quickly.

  4. What a great analogy. Made me think of ‘like’ things.

    I’ve made that drive a few times in another life, and know what you mean. I also expect road trips to include 1 each large Butterfinger and large Baby Ruth, as well as something salty and something soda (large) (unless I can find a Sonic and get a Route 66 Cherry Limeade) to drink.

    The road — it’s a journey, eh?

  5. Tortured analogies mayhap, but as straight as I5 is, rarely tortuous, right?

    I’m among those who find I5 tedious, and take state hwy 101 south when I can. And I’m totally with you re SUVs. I go out of my way to get behind a car and to prevent SUVs from cutting in, because I hate trailing their ugly pigish butts, too.

    Bugles!? Red vines? Diet Mt. Dew?! Permit my jesting that your lazy Buddhism is re-affirmed. 😉 Ok, ok. I’ll confess, when I traveled cross-country with my Ernie dog, driving the Kentucky/Tennessee backroads and stopping at local stores to gas up (with locals suspicious of both my license plates and accent) I often sought the comfort of … Hostess pies and cakes. I rationalized the berry pies at least had fruit, but maybe what I put in me was only slightly more healthful than what went in the gast tank?

  6. Shu – Ah, I see you tend towards the sweet with a touch of the salty for balance. I’m the opposite. Unfortunately, there are no Sonics on I-5, If you want to hit up a Sonic, you need to go down 99. Having had this discussion with a colleague at work I learned that all the Sonics are clustered up around Tracy/Modesto and then FIVE of them in Bakersfield. Go figger.

    OmbudsBen – Are you implying that my road trip diet was less than thrivalicious? Hmmmm, Hostess pies. My favs were the cherry and lemon. My teeth and glucose levels hurt just thinking about them.

  7. I loved the ‘tortured analogies’ bit that you put in the middle like a road-sign.

    Our families camping trips when I was young were completely food central for me and my brother. The camping bit was often tedious but that was the one time of year we got to eat junk cereal, hot dogs and s’mores.

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