Road Trip!

I did my first solo road trip in 1980 over Labor Day. I was 21.  I had a brand new 1980 Mustang, a few dollars, and was itching to drive.  My friends, who couldn’t go with me, were appalled.  Alone!  What about serial killers?  My parents didn’t blink an eye.  I grew up doing 3000-mile road trips.  Of course, I would want to take the car out and about. 

Photo by Sean Foster on Unsplash

I had a few dollars but not a lot of dollars.  I plotted the trip carefully.  Milwaukee to Huntington WV where I could stay with my best friend from high school.  

Oh, what a glorious drive it was. I was young. I was single.  I had a gleaming new car.  I had 8-tracks of my favorite music and I had no particular time I was expected to be anywhere.   

I remember cruising through Eastern Kentucky listening to the Marshall Tucker Band at full blast singing my heart out and munching my way through a bag of Taco flavored Doritos.  It was my first trip back to West Virginia after moving to Milwaukee.  I had not realized how much I missed the mountains themselves.  I was comforted by their silhouettes against the horizon.  Of course, it was early September in a wet year.  Everything was green and fertile, such a stark contrast from the tall buildings and freeway system of Milwaukee. 

Even more comforting was the idea that I was going back to Huntington to see old friends.  In the military, we moved a lot, but we never went back to the same group of people.  We might get transferred to the same base, but the constant rotation ensured that the people would be different.   

I was returning to place and people.  That was a heady sensation for this military brat.  Moreover, it was Huntington where things didn’t change fast, so it was like I had just stepped out for a few minutes instead of two years. The same people, the same bars, the same everything.  It was my first experience of “coming home”.   

I didn’t realize that was what that sensation was until five years later when I moved back. 

I stayed longer than I should have.  I had two days to get back to Milwaukee and I would have to be back at work bright and early the next morning.  It was time for pedal to the metal. I had just enough money for tolls and gas…maybe. 

I headed out early for Milwaukee.  It was Monday of the Labor Day Holiday and traffic was heavy.  I got to Chicago which at that stage of life I didn’t dread yet.  But a few more excursions through Chicago and I would come to loathe driving in that great city. 

I was there.  Bumper to bumper at 80 mph. The federally mandated 55-mile-per-hour speed limit was nothing but a joke.  Suddenly, brake lights for as far as the eye could see.  We came to a complete stop.  And sat.  And sat.  And sat some more. 

I remember listening to Jimmy Buffet sing Lovely Cruise.  

 Drink it up.   

This one’s for you. 

It’s been a lovely cruise.   

Finally, one of the truckers got out of his truck and told people what was going on – news he’d heard on the CB radio.  Bad accident.  We were going to be there for hours.  I turned off the car (and alas the music) and sat.  People got out of their cars and sat on their hoods.  The sun was setting.  Nobody seemed distressed or mad…. just resigned to spending a lovely evening on the Chicago toll road.  Other people pulled out lawn chairs.  I got out of the car and walked around.  Met some folks.  Had a coke with a family who lived in Chicago but had been out of town for the holiday. 

I was two hours from home.  And mellow. The following workday would be rough, but I was enjoying being stuck on the toll road.  The sunset was glorious against the Chicago cityscape. 

Eventually, the big rigs started up again — our cue that traffic would move.  Lawn chairs and coolers went back into the trunks of cars.  We all returned to our private little world inside our cars.   

I eventually got home with 37 cents to spare.  That is how you know it was a good road trip. No dinero. 

5 thoughts on “Road Trip!

  1. What a great story! Being from Minnesota and now living in PA, I know that road trip well. And the Chicago traffic. Loved how you said you weren’t yet bothered by it 🙂 What ever happened to the car? Oh, and I saw Marshall Tucker Band in concert once at the minor league stadium in St. Paul. I think Molly Hatchet and Pat Travers opened. I remember some of it… LOL

    • LOL The car turned out to be a NOT GOOD Car. It died of heart failure in 1987 after years of problems. Plus it didn’t even look like a Mustang. That was the era of Chrysler K cars if you remember.

      I now refuse, categorically, to drive in Atlanta, Chicago, or LA. Just not gonna do it.

      Saw the remnants of Marshall Tucker a few years back. They were down to playing small city festivals. The lead singer, can’t remember his name, had lost his ability to carry a tune. Just awful.

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