When I told my friends that Wayne and I were planning a two-week, 2,500-mile road trip through Quebec, their reactions ranged from mock sympathy to dismay to genuine horror. "Better take lots of books on tape"; "What will you talk about?"; "Why?" A colleague grimaced as he reminisced about his epic drive with a college girlfriend and her parents during which the parents argued constantly and called each other "stupid."
I was no stranger to driving vacations. I grew up as a vehicular hostage at my parents' whim. We traveled across country twice dragging a 23-foot trailer, our "vacation house." My mother reveled in knowing that we would not have to sleep in strange beds, spend money at restaurants, or (gasp!) use toilets that other people had used.
I recall days of mind-numbing boredom punctuated by my mother's cry, "Look out the window, kids. There's a biplane." Or my father's thinking-out-loud as he pierced the veil of sullenness weighing down the station wagon: "Wow, a whole field of alfalfa. How about that?" Just thinking about car bingo still makes me shudder.
Even with that history, I have been a willing, if not eager, rider on long car trips with our kids. But our kids always were with us. This time, it would be just Wayne and me. Driving. What would we talk about? Rationalization being a key to forward motion, I convinced myself that the long car rides were simply a way to get from one destination to another; our resting spots would make it all worthwhile. Right?
It was worth it. On our travels, we tromped through cities and villages, lounged on sunny cliffs, ate in French restaurants and cozy pubs, talked with locals, watched whales breach in the St. Lawrence River, and hiked among moose and coyotes. And in between, we drove. We drove a lot.
On our first day of driving - an eight-hour day from Philadelphia to Montreal - we talked about current events, work, the kids, late-summer plans, and future house projects. On Day 3, we continued on about our everyday lives, but with somewhat less fervor. In our fourth hour of driving on Day 6, we turned our focus to the Olympics badminton controversy, debating the practice of throwing a sports match in order to play a less competitive team in a subsequent round.
Over the driving days that followed, we engaged in long silences interrupted by brief discussions of logistics and pragmatics, followed by silence. But the intervals of time between departure and destination and the lapses in dialogue between conversations were not distance at all. They were moments of comfort and intimacy. They were opportunities to mentally release and begin imagining. These periods were exactly what one wants to take from a vacation - a feeling of rejuvenation.
I already am thinking about next summer's trip. When my father was young, his family drove from Queens to Mexico City. Now, that's a trip to consider.
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