What is your favorite style of overland travel?
What I wish my answer was:
What my answer actually is:
I love elephants. Good god, they’re so tremendous and beautiful, how could you not love them? But for practicality’s sake, I choose the car. I love the freedom of setting my own itinerary, of leaving and arriving when I please, of stopping when I want. I love eating snacks in the car, I love rolling down the windows on cool nights, cranking the radio, and rasping along with Tom Waits:
Late nights and freeway flying
Always make me sing…
Granted, riding an elephant would be much more exotic and story-worthy, but still–travel by car generates its own stash of splendid stories. For example:
1. Traveling from Vienna south to Klagenfurt in a small car with two friends and a large vacuum cleaner. The even landscape of the city gradually nudging itself into green hills and then majestic mountains, providing gorgeous views that change with every curve of the road. “I planned this route specially for you,” my Austrian friend Oliver is teasing. “Since you live in Florida–such a flat state–I didn’t want to shock you with mountains right away. I thought you would need time to get used to them.” How thoughtful. How spectacular.
2. Crossing back into the US from Canada as a child in the backseat of my parents’ car, accompanied by our new puppy–a gift from our Canadian cousins. My sister and I holding our breath and clutching the pup’s shot record as we approach Customs, fearing that some terrible agent will accuse us of adorable-puppy-smuggling or something equally heinous and take him from us. (Parents having encouraged this fear, apparently half-heartedly hoping that the dog they didn’t want in the first place might be confiscated at the border, thus absolving them of responsibility for getting rid of him.) Clearing customs, dog not confiscated. Parents sighing in resignation. The nice McDonald’s manager in Lake George letting us bring him into the restaurant while we eat. Counting license plates. Snuggling the puppy the rest of the way home.
3. Driving across Florida from West Palm Beach to Sarasota with my daughter, on a long-awaited “photo trip.” Taking six hours to make what is normally a three-hour drive, stopping in every little town along the way to take pictures of all the eccentric places to be found in the middle of the Sunshine State. Life-size statues of glowering lions and rearing horses–painted gold–inexplicably guarding the entrance to a sod farm. Giant, full-color murals on the walls of nearly every commercial building in Lake Placid. Rows of pastel-hued antique shops in Arcadia. Stern messages on church marquees: “Friends Don’t Let Friends Go To Hell.” The only fly in the ointment of our plan: constantly leaving the air-conditioned bliss of our car to take those pictures. In August. In Florida. A hundred miles from the nearest ocean breeze.
4. As a child again, in the backseat again, this time in my uncle’s Cadillac, my dad in the passenger seat. Province of Québec. My uncle driving us to St.-Jean-Vianney, an abandoned town, the site of a 100-foot deep sinkhole that had swallowed 41 houses and their sleeping occupants one awful night some years before. Steering that giant American car down a narrow pseudo-path into the pit so we could get a true feeling for how deep and huge it was. The path gradually becoming impassable, nothing but air on either side as he tries to turn the car around…but the Cadillac is longer than the path is wide. Hm. My sister and I peering wide-eyed at the increasing distance between us and the floor of the pit below as he slowly, slowly inches the car out in reverse.
So, yeah. For going where you want, transporting pets, and creating small adventures, there’s nothing like a car.
Though I bet an elephant would have had less trouble getting out of that pit.
Images: Elephant: By Pearson Scott Foresman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; Car: By Giomayo at it.wikipedia (Transferred from it.wikipedia) [CC-BY-SA-2.5-it (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/it/deed.en) or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons