by Dave Mitchell
There’s a school of thought among some artistic types that the creative act itself holds more importance than either the concept explored or the final piece resulting from the act. Serious travel-heads have known this for years, that getting there is half the fun, and often more. Let’s face it, unless you’re on a one-way trip, you’re essentially taking a big sweeping loop from your house … to your house. Your “destination” is just the apogee of your flight, like a horizontal Estes rocket.
Always leave room for spontaneous stops. If you’re on your way to a Sporting Event, a Concert, or some other time-controlled destination, note the cool spots to check on the way home by sticking Post-Its onto a road map by the approximate location of said cool spot. Jot down “flea market” or “giant ferret statue” or whatever on the note paper. Many a trip where the “true” destination is a disappointment is saved when the plethora of unusualness along the route is explored. And remember, a little sleaze makes for a better post-trip story. What’s more interesting anyway, “We found the nicest little gallery … Some swell landscapes” or “We found the WEIRDEST thrift shop! Lemme tell ya about it …”
And even if you don’t stop, consider a return trip to fully investigate it later. Consider it “recon”. Take a picture or make a note for future remembrance. That goes for side roads, too. There’s a side road off of 520 on the way from Orlando to the coast that said “St. Cloud” that I’d pass on my way elsewhere. So one Saturday I tanked the van up, took along the dog and headed out. It ended up as being a straight shot to 192 with nothing but countryside!
Speaking of dogs (or your pet of choice), if they enjoy a car ride, why not take ’em on a day trip? It’s a swell way to get some quality time with the “kids” after leaving them at home all week while you work. Now, this may limit your spontaneous stopping options to gas stations and drive-thrus, but you can “recon” future dogless trips, and you may see something unexpected (I took the Nickosaurus [R.I.P.] up A1A past the air base once, and was surprised as a flight of A-10 Warthogs flew alongside the beach parallel to our car at about 50 yards up and, one by one, banked across the road and landed on the runway on the other side of the highway! Too cool!) Be sure to bring along some cool water, a bowl, some treats, and the critter’s collar, leash and tags.
Don’t forget the tunes! By all means, if your car isn’t equipped with a taped deck or CD player, bring a portable with fresh batteries. Depending on your radio is DANGEROUS. it’s tough enough to count on commercial stations to provide even a song an hour you’ll like, but in remote stretches one can have trouble raising anything but the worst AM talk stuff (I don’t mean religious kooks or right-or-left wing wackos – they have their place in the entertainment firmament – but farm reports, business shows, and all-news snooze). The Ex and myself took one such journey to Atlanta and dubbed the stretch from Valdosta to Macon “Radio Free Georgia” when we could raise nothing remotely listenable.
I don’t think Brian Eno has put out a “Music for Car Rides” disk yet, so your road mix is only limited by your taste, the size of your collection, and your delivery system. And ALWAYS bring more music than you’ll need. My favorite road trip memory relating to musical ambience was when I drove from Orlando to Wilmington, NC around 84-85 to visit The Girl. I had a huge V8 Ford then, with a $20 Woolco 8-track deck and a paper box full of tapes. Naturally, I was blasting Skynyrd through Jacksonville, Jerry Lee and X through Charleston, but MAN! I had this reggae sampler on while I drove through this South Carolina salt marsh, this great winding Southern road lined with huge oaks draped with Spanish moss, the stereo loping along to “Roast Fish and Cornbread” – I had a HUGE slack rush the likes of wish I haven’t had to this day.
It’s a good idea to bring along some non-messy snackage and some water, juice and/or sodas. This doesn’t mean you won’t be stopping for meals, refills, or relief along the way. That’s half of the fun, checking out oddball convenience stores and hometown rib joints. I won’t insult your intelligence, dear reader, by presuming your car isn’t equipped with a map, an emergency water jug, a first aid kit, and a phone card.
Watch this space, as I’ll soon get off my duff and list some new suggestions for road tripping in the Central Florida area. In the meantime, be sure to scope out www.roadsideamerica.com for the most amazing listing of vacation weirdness anywhere.