I have owned four cars since turning sixteen and getting my drivers license. I got my first car, a used Ford Taurus, after graduating from college. Since then, I have bought three more cars, all of them new: a Saturn, which lasted me 14 years, a Kia Sorento, and most recently, a Kia Sedona. Each car has been a step up from the one before it, each adding more features and comforts that help offset the frustration one feels from sitting in traffic.
My grandfather called movies “pictures” and he called cars “automobiles.” Automobile is a better word than car, just as railroad is a better word than train, archaic though they both may be. Automobiles give you a freedom that few other forms of transportation can offer. As a youngster, new to driving, I remember thinking how I could get in the car and go anywhere I wanted. There was always a road that would take me to where I was headed. I never took much advantage of it then, but today with my own kids, our primary mode of travel has been by automobile.
In the summers, we pack up the minivan and drive up to New England. In the spring and winter, we drive down to Florida. These are long drives, but they are comfortable. There’s nothing like climbing into the car on a cold winter’s day, sealing yourself in and heading for the freeway south. Early in the morning, especially south of the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, the traffic is light. I can set the progressive cruise control on the car, and not have to touch the gas or brakes for hours at a time. Everyone has a comfortable space to sit. Kelly has a bag of snacks, juice and water if anyone gets hungry or thirsty. The kids stare out the windows, or play on iPads. I listen to audiobooks as a I watch the countryside roll by.
On these trips, we never worry about how much we have to pack, or how much it will cost to bring out bags along. There are no baggage fees and what we need aways fits into the back of the minivan. As we drive, we can pull over if we see something interesting. Sometimes we do. On our trips down to Florida, we routinely stop at new places on the way down or back home. We’ve stopped in Charleston, Savannah, St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, Jacksonville Beach, the Kennedy Space Center, Kingsland, Georgia.
On our drives to New England, we’ve stopped at many places along the way as well: Albany, NY and Saratoga Springs, Mystic Seaport and Aquarium, Sturbridge Village, Warwick, Rhode Island (to visit my old house), Freeport (to visit the L.L. Bean store) and Portland, Bangor, and Acadia. We’ve also stopped at many roadside places, little ice cream shops, and big barns with hand-painted signs with two of the most alluring words in the English language: “Used Books.”
A map of the country shows just how much our cars lets us get around. Kelly got me this map for our 10th wedding anniversary. It came with a tin of pins that we use to mark places we’ve been together, or as a family. Every single pin you see along the east coast from Bangor down to Fort Lauderdale and as far west as Nashville, Tennessee, we’ve visited during one of our many roadtrips.
Automobile travel isn’t always fun. When I lived in Los Angeles, I commuted from Studio City to Santa Monica, a 20 mile drive. Traffic was terrible. If I left the house at 5:10 am, I would be at the office around 5:30 am. If I left the office at 5 pm, I’d be home, on average, at 7 pm. I did this for eight years, and when I moved back to the east coast after that, I didn’t drive into my office again for another 6 years. I took the railroad.
Traffic in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area is bad. I don’t like driving around here during rush hour. But once we are outside of the area, the roads open up and the scenery quickly changes. I love it when we head down to Florida in the winter. It is either very cold, or gloomy and damp, sometimes snowing as we make our way onto the Interstate to head south. The traffic is often bad from Arlington all the way down to Fredericksburg, about 45 miles south. That can be mitigated by taking the HOV lanes, if they are open, and if you are willing to pay the surge pricing. I’ve sat in enough bad traffic in my life that I am usually willing to pay.
As we drive south past Stafford, the traffic begins to thin out, and past Fredericksburg, the roads open up. The weather changes as we head south. We stop for the night at a halfway point in southern South Carolina. The next morning, as we cross the border into Florida, I usually open my window to feel the warmer air on my skin. It’s a wonderful transition. Of course, we experience the opposite on the drive home.
Sometimes it rains, and even downpours, while we drive, but being in a car while it is raining out is comforting. You can hear the rain pelting down, and watch as it is whisked away by the wipers, but you remain dry and comfortable.
There is a pleasure to driving that I just don’t get flying by plane or riding the railroad. Part of it is being in complete control of where we are going and when we decide to go. Part of it is being close to one another as we travel. And part of it is the joy of the open road and where it might take you.