The Road Trip is uniquely American. It is one of the only ways to really get to know other parts of the Country, and its people.
I’ve been Road Tripping since I was a child. We took family trips across Texas to see relatives in far away places like El Paso, and deep East Texas. I took it for granted for years, not really noticing the special event that was occurring at first. In the 1980’s, my folks split up and I moved to Houston to live with my Dad. For some reason, He decided that we would hit the road for points unknown every chance that we had to take off of work and school. I guess He was going through some middle age crazy or something. Now I’m glad things worked out this way. I began to take notice of things like old Neon Signs and one of a kind Mom n’ Pop Gas Stations. We once rolled in to Hot Springs Arkansas and my fate was sealed. Both sides of the old main Highway were strewn with flashing neon signs. It affected me in a way that I haven’t recovered from since, and I hope that I never do. On a side note, I’ve been back to Hot Springs since, and most of these glowing jewels are gone.
We still take Road Trips together occasionally, and I’ve been on many road trips with other folks. He is still my favorite road tripper, along with my Wife.
Okay, so now I’m gonna hip you to some tricks to make any road trip an amazing journey. There are some things that are essential.
HAVE WITH YOU: Good company . This is a must. If you spend several days in a car with someone, you get to know them pretty well. Good music. I love Fred Eaglesmith, but you MUST have some C.D.’s by Wayne Hancock. His music was made to drive to. Plenty of time. Old Highways are slower, with many red lights and stop signs. Old highway atlas map from 1946-1955. You can purchase these from Ebay for next to nothing. You want the ones that have every state in the union, not just a fold out map of one state. Garmin GPS device. I’m not a big fan of ‘tech gadgets’ but this one will save you time and help you find the unique places that you seek. Camera that takes telephoto pictures when you push the button. A notebook to document your trip.
BEFORE YOU GO: Check or replace all belts and hoses Good Wipers Make sure that you have good tires. I’ve always used top grade Michelins and can’t remember when the last time I changed a tire on the highway.
BOOKS ABOUT ROAD TRIPS Blue Highway by William Least Heat Moon John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie and Rocananto On the Road, Jack Kerouac. Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig-brutal read, but worth it. John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath
THINGS TO DO Look for old architecture( Gas Stations, Courthouses) and old neon signs. Buy a memento of the trip, from anywhere but a souvenir shop. Try to stay in old motels. This can be tricky, some of them are pretty crappy. Ask to look at the room first before paying if you are not sure. One chain that has bought many old motels and refurbished them is Budget Host, they are consistently clean and well stocked. Try to notice and appreciate what is unique to the area. If you get a chance, talk up one of the locals, they are usually very friendly. HOW TO FIND THE BEST CAFES William Least Heat Moon( Blue Highway) says ones with many calendars next to the cash register. While true, there is a problem with this logic. You have to stop and go inside before you can see how many calendars they have. I say the best ones have lots of Pickup trucks outside. Other good places are hamburger joints with someone’s last name.
HOW TO FIND THE OLD HIGHWAY On maps from the 1940’s, the roads in red are the main highways of their day. They are usually bypassed with 1956 and newer super highways. Old roads run next to railroad tracks, They usually run past the courthouse, or close to the old downtown section. They are usually more curvy, running along the terrain. Business designation roads that run through town. Look for evidence of old infrastructure, concrete bridges, etc.
Old Highways ( Besides route 66) Lincoln highway Highway 54 Highway 61 Old Highway 90
MY FAVORITE ROAD TRIPS SO FAR The first ones I took as a kid, Hot Springs Ark. and all through Louisiana. I drove an 18 wheeler from Huntsville Tx. to Bristol Conn., Oconomowoc Wis., and Chicago. Then spent 3 days in Chattanooga Tenn. The road trip I took with my friend Randall to New Braunfels, Tx. I discovered Austin on this trip and knew instantly that I wanted to live here forever. I did a tour with my buddy Wayne “the train” Hancock in Aug ’01. I turned 34 in Albuquerque, N.M. My trip to Tacoma with Dad in ’05. Read the blog. Our recent trip to Memphis and Nashville. We toured the Natchez Trace, a beautiful drive. My Honeymoon to Santa Fe in ’07