During a Christmas break sophomore year in college so lame it seared a slow burn straight through the shelf, my mother released me from the death-grip of boredom and into the open arms of memories being made. The call to adventure went something like this:
Susie, college friend from not-so-sunny Cleveland: “Hey Stacie, wanna go to Florida?
Me, stuck in sucky Louisville: “Totally. When?”
Susie: “Tomorrow. We’ll pick you up at 9:00 a.m.”
I had no idea who Susie was with, where we were headed, or how long we’d be gone. And I didn’t care. All I knew was that Florida, surrounded on three sides by the ocean, was a hell of a lot warmer than Kentucky, and there was a hot pink, strapless bikini with the tags still attached suffocating under a pile of long underwear in my drawer.
The only barrier between the freedom I’d come to take for granted while away at college and the freedom I desperately missed from…being away at college?
In high school, I didn’t call her Big Bad Brenda because she was particularly mean. She earned this nickname because she appeared, in 3-D technicolor megapixels, right in the middle of every lie, plan to lie, or daydream of lying that crossed my mind.
Here’s a parenting tip for anyone lucky enough to have spawned a teenage daughter. When she tells you she’s going to the youth group lock-in at church but is really planning to sneak over to Jenny Clark’s house because her parents are out of town? Don’t believe her. In fact, follow her not-so-subtle scent straight to Long Run Park, post-football game, where she’s hanging out on the hood of Will Anson’s red Camaro with the sole purpose of getting a ride to school on Monday because the bus is for losers.
Watch where you walk. The air is so thick with humidity, heat, and hormones that you can hardly elbow your way through the haze. But please. Persevere. Move to the dead center of the crowd and pull out a bullhorn. That’s right. A bullhorn. Something to amplify your voice above the fully synchronized, eight-speaker, subwoofered surround sound stereos blaring Lynyrd Skynyrd, because by now your daughter has been alerted to your arrival, and she is hauling it toward the woods in her Dr. Scholls. Which is fun to watch if you happen to see her stop, drop, and roll into the dense underbrush for cover. Put the bullhorn to your lips, and with the best mom stare you can pull out from under your sensible shoes, scream the following,
“If anyone has seen Stacie Whitten tonight, please tell her that her mother is looking for her.”
And then leave.
The utter humiliation your daughter will feel as she frog-hops fallen trees in an attempt to escape her now not-so-cool life is more effective than any corporal punishment you could inflict.
I know. I was there.
With that small incident (and it wasn’t the only one), burned into the folds of my impressionable brain, I couldn’t quite figure out why Mom said yes when I casually asked the next morning, after getting up early to clean the house, fry her some bologna for breakfast, and hum Kumbaya under my breath whenever she passed by, if I could go to the beach with my friend. But she did, so before her pre-caffeinated mind had the chance to catch up with her mouth, I was out the door, and into this:
There is nothing that screams road trip like the faux wood-paneled siding of a Jeep Wagoneer, so as Susie, her big brother Rob, and his friend waved to Mom from the curb, I slid into the plush, pleather middle row, took in the Waxman-like scent with a deep breath, and settled in for the ride.
These are the things I remember about that trip:
- Rob drives really fast, but in a safe kind of way.
- Rob has a lot of spendy friends. We couch-hopped for over a week in some of the most expensive real estate on the planet.
- Drinks taste better by the ocean.
- Susie doesn’t just sing karaoke. She sings karaoke to win.
- Susie’s favorite thing to win, while singing karaoke, is free drinks.
- Free drinks also taste better by the ocean.
- If you’re not by the ocean, it’s perfectly acceptable to down your free drinks while playing pool.
- I look older in Florida than I do in Kentucky, which is a bonus when you’re 19.
- If Susie just won another karaoke contest and everyone’s downing free drinks by a pool table instead of the ocean? It’s fun to share them with some random dude named Enis who looks like he could use a free drink.
- Getting a free ride, free drinks, a free place to stay, and a free tan in December is awesome.
For me, there was a time when “road trip” simply meant getting in my car and going…with a Big Gulp, mix tape, and limitless possibility staring back at me through the rearview mirror. But now I map directions and time my ride, living a life so synchronized to the tune of obligation that an open lane has become nothing more than a means to an end.
When did taking the road less traveled morph into plotting the easiest path?
I was thinking about this as I touched down in Atlanta last week and made my way to the rental car counter to pick up the Ford Focus I planned to drive to my Dad’s farm. But the rental agent, who is now officially my new best friend, gave me the keys to a brand new, black-on-black BMW 528i instead. I am not lying. Go ask my mom.
As I slid into my practically self-propelled, fully loaded, freaking awesome ride with a Big Gulp and my mix tape (O.K., iPod), I realized that if life is really all about the journey? It looks a lot sweeter from behind the wheel of a $60,000 car.