Monthly Archives: November 2012

Zen and the Art of the Road Trip

imagesThe freedom of the open road is a wonderful thing. I used to love taking road trips when I was a teenager. It was the quintessential rite of passage for a teenager in the 90s. I drove from Austin to Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington DC, New York, Chicago, and most national parks within one hundred miles of any road leading to those cities. I would go out of my way just to cross a border in order to tick another state off my list.

images-2The trips weren’t really that free and easy though, I had everything planned down to the penny we’d be spending on food, gas, and hotels as well as how far we’d be driving each day and how long we could sleep in before hitting the road again. I even calculated when my Prelude would be getting low on gas and where the nearest Texaco would be. That was the fun part for me. So in reality there wasn’t much wiggle room at all and certainly not too much freedom once the trip began. The freedom came in the days when I sat down with my trusty rusty Rand McNally road map and came up with the game plan.

I wouldn’t always take the most direct route, in fact, carefully penciling in spontaneous side trips and excursions was part of the fun. I always give my self an hour for an unexpected photo shoot somewhere en route. I tend to avoid the interstates if there’s something scenic to see on the smaller roads. If I’m driving from San Antonio to El Paso however, I want to be on the highway that allows me to drive the fastest because there is precious little to see between those two places. Next!

Unknown-4I love everything about road trips, even if I’m doing them by myself. As long as I have some music and a cooler full of snacks and drinks, I’m good. The only thing I don’t really like about road trips is when I’m taking one with someone who refuses to speed or needs to stop too often. I’m a huge believer that you should never stop for just one reason. If you need gas, then make it meal time as well. No stop on the road should last more than ten minutes. Nothing is more annoying than having to repass cars and trucks you’ve already passed before. It’s just embarrassing. Those drivers, though going slower than I, are all laughing at me because they know I don’t know how to properly manage my road trip. If at all possible, eat the food while you drive. If I could rig a bathroom in my front seat, I probably would. I’ve often wondered if I could just cut a hole in the floor and install some sort of tube leading to my crotch area.

On one trip through the desert going out to LA, I came up with the idea of a radiator cheese sandwich. I had all the elements for a grilled cheese sandwich in my cooler but no way to melt the cheese. I was in the middle of nowhere and a cold cheese sandwich seemed boring.

UnknownI got the bread, butter, and cheese out and made the sandwich.  I wrapped it up in aluminum foil and opened the hood of the car.  I placed it on the radiator and gently closed the hood, only slightly squashing it.  After a good fifty miles in the midday sun, it would be ready. I headed west on state highway 60 for half an hour. When it was time to take a piss break on a dry cactus I opened the hood to see what kind of mess I made of my engine. Surprisingly it worked out very well. I sat on my car to watch the sunset and ate my sandwich, deliciously melted to perfection, albeit a little soggy.

Unknown-1When I got my flight attendant job that’s how I spent my first vacation. I was so sick of cities and airports. I had two weeks off so my friend and I got in my car and drove from Austin to New Mexico, up into Colorado, over to Utah, back down to Arizona and then back. We hit every park we could find: Mesa Verde, Arches, Bryce, Zion, Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, White Sands, Big Bend, and even stopped to see the huge meteor crater. After a few days stay in Ruidoso, New Mexico I was ready to get back to civilization and the real world. Mission accomplished!

images-3I haven’t been on a proper road trip since then, and that was in 1999. I’ve driven from New York to Austin a couple of times but that was basically by myself in a moving van. It didn’t really count for some reason, probably because that drive is very boring except thru Pennsylvania Dutch country. It was a drive of necessity rather than pleasure. Getting two speeding tickets in the state of New Jersey didn’t help my outlook on the adventure. I spent the next few days staring at my speedometer and double checking with every speed limit sign.

Unknown-2Tomorrow that’s going to change though. As soon as I land back in New York from this Rio trip I’m on, I’m catching a flight out to Los Angeles. My girlfriend has packed up all of her belongings and we’re driving her stuff from San Francisco to Austin. For those who are wondering, the drive is 1760 miles, almost to the mile the same distance from Austin to New York City. If you drove straight it’d take 25 hours. We plan on breaking it up a bit.

images-1Since the girlfriend has to be out of her apartment today, she’s going to start the trip without me. She’s making it down to LA and that’s where I’ll meet her. From there we’re going to spend a day there with our friends and start driving the next morning. Though we don’t have any real obligations or places we HAVE to see, we’re probably going to follow this plan. We’ll make it to Las Vegas the first day (or Grand Canyon) and call it a day after a relatively short drive. We’ll enjoy the evening and start early the next day.

I’m not sure how I feel about doing my first road trip with a Navigator. I’m a purist and would rather just have paper maps but I guess I should get with the times. There’s something special about holding a map and figuring it out though. When you input a destination you go from being the leader to a follower. You aren’t calling the shots anymore. You exit when she tells you to exit and you stay left when she tells you to stay left. I used to pride myself for my map skills, it’s becoming a lost art in my own lifetime. Just being able to fold a map was something to brag about. Now there’s probably an app for that.

images-5There’s talk of spending a night in either Dallas or with my family in Oklahoma City so the halfway point to either of those places would be right around Albuquerque. That would be the logical stopping point for the next night and an appropriate spot since we both love Breaking Bad. Maybe they’re still filming the last episodes and they could use a couple of extras to OD or something. That’d be sweet.

Stopping once between Vegas/Grand Canyon and OKC/Dallas would also mean driving ten hours the second and third days on the road, which is what you really need for a good road trip. If you’re not cramping up and suffering from highway hypnosis then you’re not really on a road trip. If you haven’t drifted into the path of an 18-wheeler at least once, causing him to blare his horn in terror, then you need to get back out there and do it properly.

Unknown-3We’ve already discussed music playlists and games as well as what we want in the all important cooler. I haven’t told her about the existence of radiator cheese sandwiches but I have a feeling I’ll spring that on her somewhere around Barstow. Maybe I’ll slide one onto her radiator when she’s in the bathroom during one of our predetermined gas/potty breaks.

After a night in Dallas or OKC we’ll be on the home stretch to Austin. I could do the drive on I-35 from either of those places in my sleep and I have done so before. There will be nothing interesting to explore for me on that last day but it’ll all be new to her. It’ll be a stretch of highway she’s going to need to learn well. Hint, always take the West split through the metroplex. Going thru Fort Worth is always better than going through Dallas.

images-4I’m looking forward to the trip. I keep forgetting the main purpose is to move her into my house so that we can start living like a normal couple, as much as two flight attendants can live like a normal couple. I guess if we can survive several days on the open road together going through the barren Southwest, then we can handle anything. I just wish gas was still at 1999 prices and Motel 6s still cost $6 a night.

Click here to check out Locations NYC, the ultimate tourist app for exploring New York City and here for my book Straight Guy in the Queer Skies. It will answer any and every question you’ve ever had about the job and lifestyle of flight attendants.