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 www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here and order his novel here.