Your Pajiba Guide to Surviving Summer Road Trips

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Your Pajiba Guide to Surviving Summer Road Trips

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Guides | June 16, 2014 | Comments ()


Summer in America means road-trips. Those Europeans might have history, but they don’t have two thousand miles of open interstate, and an ocean on either end to watch both sunrise and sunset over. Plus we have barbecue and apple pie, so it’s really winning all around. Charlie Sheen isn’t the only one with tiger’s blood.

And I’ve ended up driving a lot over the years, on account of having flown way too much for a period of time and gotten quite sick of it. Plus, having dogs, if you want to go anywhere, you’ve pretty much got to load them up in the backseat and motate.

But there’s one glaring problem with all of those open roads. Driving all day is goddamned boring. You’d think that staring at a wall would be the epitome of boredom, but if you nod off as the latex paint blurs you don’t swerve into an oncoming 18 wheeler at a differential speed of 150 miles per hour. No, road-trips are the North Korean prison camps of travel: sleep becomes a memory as you slowly try to come up with mental games ahead of the slow creep of insanity. Here’s the Pajiba guide to your summer road-trips.

1. Coffee: This really should go without saying. I mean, it should without saying for any list involving what you should do on any given day of your life. Coffee is life. Never forget it. That said, also bring your non-opiate painkiller of choice for the searing headache that will kick in around the tenth hour and fifth cup of black tar. Helpful hint: never buy coffee at normal gas stations. Buy it at those giant gas stations that cater to truckers, with a full lounge and showers. Truckers don’t fuck around with coffee, so the coffee there is infinitely better than the Chevron special.

2. Audiobooks: If I wasn’t driving, I’d probably be reading. So having someone read aloud to you is just wonderful. Pulp science fiction novels make for great driving books. The so-bad-that-they’re-good Deathstalker novels have a wonderful set of audio versions. Biographies are also perfect: I once went cross-country on Edmund Morris’ The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. Be careful though, long road-trips do not mix with catching up on your classics. Dickens will literally kill you. I’ve enjoyed his books, but the mountainous description in them is as good as a sleeping pill by the time you’ve hit a state line or two.

3. Podcasts: See audiobooks above. I like history ones the best. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History is the best I’ve found for long drives, because it’s almost like having someone sitting next to you in the car telling you a bunch of wonderful history stories.

4. Conversation: Speaking of which, if you’ve got someone else in the car with you, they are responsible for entertaining you. This means you really should try to bring someone interesting along with you. Of course, they may get bored and try to go to sleep. At that point, suddenly swerve the vehicle and scream “you’re supposed to be keeping me awake!” This is great for the health of a relationship. If no one else is in the car with you, call someone on your cell phone (with appropriate hands-free mode, in case that was in question). You think drunk dialing is humiliating? Just wait until you’re halfway through your contact list and you still haven’t hit the other side of Kansas. Note: Kansas is six light years wide, never drive lengthwise across Kansas.

5. Music: I really shouldn’t have to tell you this one.

6. Radio: This is actually different than “music” because what you do is see how long you can stand putting the stereo on “scan” where it plays ten seconds of each station before flipping. It’s ADD travel audio! Also, do not miss the AM dial. Once you’re in big sky country, AM radio is basically just late night public access. Sure, there’s an occasional baseball game or sports call in show, but then there are also completely insane people. Besides Rush Limbaugh.

7. Memory games: Start trying to meticulously remember lists of things. For instance, try filling in an American map of states completely in your head from memory. Then move on to the world. Then try to stretch your brain back and remember which classes you took every semester of college. Or list every Buffy episode in order. Or recite every single scene of Return of the Jedi, with a full suite of sound effects of droids, blasters, and light sabers. For a twist, do all of these things in a British accent. Your brain is going to revolt as the miles pile on, so you have to trick it into attacking itself. Basically, you need to intentionally induce a mental auto immune disorder to keep your brain from exploding out your eyeballs.

8. GPS Space Opera: Do you have a GPS? Then I have good news for you. You’re not driving anymore, you are piloting a starship. Every single thing that shows up on the GPS, integrate into your own space opera. State borders? Entering the neutral zone. Random town names? Planets you need to invent environments and civilizations for. Turns in the road? Evasive maneuvers because of enemy torpedoes. You are morally required to narrate all of this out loud in a Scottish accent. This got me across most of Pennsylvania once.

9. Screaming: Talking at length to yourself about all of your plans, hopes, and dreams can pass some time. Eventually this transitions into screaming. Yelling. At the top of your lungs. Staring at the odometer and willing it to tick over another tenth of a mile. It can keep you awake. But you’re nearing the end of your sanity and probably should find a Motel 6 to crash in before you start having those little cabin fever full body shakes where you just have to get out of the car before oh god how many miles are left to go…

10. Giving in: Look, there’s a point when none of the above work anymore, and even the screaming has worn thin and tapered into guttural whining mixed with the occasional sob. Just stop. Pull over. Ignore your time table. Read a book in a booth at Taco Bell for an hour. Anything but continuing. This will probably occur in Texas. Because Texas is infinite.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at You can email him here and order his novel here.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

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  • zeke_the_pig

    Speaking as an intensely jealous European without the aforementioned two thousand miles of open interstate and an ocean on either end to watch both sunrise and sunset over...fuck you...

  • Neil Gaiman wrote in 'American Gods' that 'Chicago develops slowly, like a migraine.' Having driven from VA to MN, I can attest that is true on several different levels.

  • Smeezy

    Or just smoke weed.. The rest of these activities become exponentially more enjoyable and time is passed much easier.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    My thing for road trips is to always pull over at a scenic overlook, regardless of how pointless it may appear from the road. Then, regardless of how pointless it is, I get out of the car and loudly admire the scenery. This works best with my younger sister, though there've been a couple of men who were worthy travel companions in this regard.

    I'm the kind of person who usually needs to find the journey itself a reward of some sort. Especially in my advanced age.

  • Wednesday

    At some point coffee stops being your friend, though. I once did a 7-hour trip up and a 4-hour trip back in the same day, which normally is well within my tolerance, but I was meeting someone to deliver a dog and couldn't find the other party. So there was a three-hour window between the drives where we were both frantically looking for the other car in unfamiliar turf. Did I mention I was meeting an elderly couple who only had partial hearing between them, in a sketchy cell phone coverage area? On the drive back I was supposed to be staying with my sister so I could meet her new boyfriend and sign off on him (her previous boyfriend was an raging abusive asshole...she wanted a second opinion).

    My brother-in-law will never forget the first time he met me, totally jacked up on sleep deprivation, caffeine and adrenaline, and looking like I needed rehab more than dinner.

  • emmalita

    A Storm of Swords kept me driving for 18 hours straight once.

    I also find it important to have crunchy snacks and fizzy water.

  • Target_Blonde

    Yeah but did you have to pull over during Red Wedding? I almost missed a flight home because I got to that scene literally as my plane was boarding and my heart hurt so much I almost didn't bother getting on the plane.

    I cannot imagine what I would have done if I was behind the wheel of a car.

  • emmalita

    The red wedding gave me a surge of adrenalin that enabled me to drive from Sulpher Springs to Austin.

  • Stephen Nein

    I have a long, long list of fluffy but highly entertaining audiobooks for car trips:
    The Rook by Daniel O'Malley & read by Susan Duerden
    Velveteen vs. The Junior Super-Patriots by Seanan McGuire, read by Alison McLemore
    & Velveteen vs. The Multiverse by same
    The Grimnoir Chronicles (3 books) by Larry Correia, ready by Bronson Pinchot (Yes, Larry is an ass, but the story is good and Bronson fucking nails it)
    A Love Story, Bloodsucking Fiends, et al (3 books), by Christopher Moore, read by Susan Bennett (aka Apple's Siri)
    Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline, read by Wil Wheaton

  • The Grimnoir Chronicles are really damn good. If you like those, try his Monster Hunter series. Those are just as good.

  • Stephen Nein

    Tried. Monster Hunter is where Larry's writing skills reach a break point, IMO. Protagonist Owen is so Mary Sue it's effing painful. (Can you Mary Sue your own story? Irregardless, he's doing it.) I could ignore Larry-as-Owen-as-Heavy Jake in the Grimnoir because of milieu, but Owen is just too close to reality. Jake Sullivan has an honest humility that fits beautifully within the noir storytelling framework; Owen Pitt's humility is a deceptive shell because he *wants* to be special, even though he thinks he's not. Larry also lets his politics run loose far more within MH, and these two problems just grate on my nerves no matter how good the writing is.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    Similar to audio books, if you've got an in car entertainment systems because of children (how did I ever live without one) you can play movies and watch them in your head. The added bonus is that it will also serve to make life-long fans of Monty Python out of your 13, 10 and four year olds.

  • Target_Blonde

    Dude, no kidding!! We started off an 18 hour road trip with Groundhog Day and actually never watched any of the other DVD's because we were having too much fun quoting the movie back to each other over and over again.

    Also keeping an eye out for Steak n Shake's takes a surprising amount of effort, that kept us busy too.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Something I learned on our short road trip last weekend - if you have multiple cars, invest in some walkie-talkies. Yes, I know everyone has phones, but phones don't engender embarassing callsigns. Or serenading the other car with a rousing rendition of "Dancing in the Dark". Or making jokes about how nobody wants to go swimming in Middle Spunk Creek.

  • Target_Blonde

    We rented a van to drive from CT to KY for the Derby this year. Even though we were all in the same car I was still advocating for walkie talkies because ... well, because. My call sign was going to be Goldilocks. I got voted down.

    I'm pretty sure that's why California Chrome lost the Belmont.

  • lowercase_see

    This is perfect. I will be subscribing to that podcast immediately. In 6 weeks, I move from Dallas to DC and I'm driving it and I only have company as far as Nashville.

    Also, not all of Texas is a wasteland, just the northern part. The panhandle, North Texas, East Texas. Those are awful. Midland? Ugh. There is nothing. But get into West Texas for the Davis Mountains. Southwest Texas and Big Bend. Central Texas and the Hill Country. It's a gorgeous roadtrip. Texas is effing beautiful. Do not mess with Texas.

    Best anti-littering campaign, or BEST anti-littering campaign?

  • emmalita

    I have made that drive many times. I moved from Austin to DC 20+ years ago. The drive from Roanoke to DC is always the longest part. Pretty, but it shouldn't last as long as it does. Be prepared.

  • lowercase_see

    Ah, snap, thanks for the heads up. I think I'm headed a little north of Roanoke (going through Bowling Green, it'll add time but I have family in the area I haven't seen in years) but I'm definitely stocking up on audio books. Harry Potter is pretty darn clutch for roadtrips.

  • emmalita

    Harry Potter and Dresden Files books are my default books for long drives. Also, good luck with the move.

  • Kati

    We will pretend that the audio book for "Ghost Story" never happened, though...

  • emmalita

    I have already forgotten it.

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