by Brent Cotter
When it comes to The Great American Road Trip, there are two distinct types. One, is a slow, meandering journey "out west", to see the likes of Mt. Rushmore, The Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the Redwood Forests, and the Pacific Ocean. A journey that may be perfectly tailored for a man wishing to add relevancy to the iconic and patriotic images of his elementary youth. The other, is a hyper-speed dash to Sunny Florida to meet Mickey, and thank him (in monetary form) for providing the dream inspiring entertainment of youth. While I can certainly understand this latter form of The Road Trip, it is not one I eagerly anticipated going through with. In fact, there has been some back-and-forth with the Misses regarding this. But, all that was put to rest when we won 4 tickets to Disney World at the Randolph Eastern Spring Carnival raffle in May.
So, on a late Saturday morning, we embarked on our journey. Holding on to the ideal of seeing some beautiful sites, I planned our route to go through the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains via the eastern leg of I-40 that leads into North Carolina. With our Jeep Cherokee steadily rocking back and forth through each winding 60mph turn, my knuckles were a little bit white and my brow a little bit sweaty. This reaction is not one of a young man with a lack of fear and a surplus of stupidity, but the reaction of a father with towering reminders on each side him. Reminders of the incredible fragility of our flesh and bones. But I took comfort in seeing a large geometrical slab of granite pushing out the side of a mountain. Suddenly it occurred to me that it was far better to race around this universe ALIVE, no matter what the outcome, than to be cursed to the existence of a quiet rock for millions of years.
This route was also chosen to land us in Savannah Georgia for the night. With Savannah being one of the great historical cities of the South, I was hoping to see some sites without the need to veer from our hyper-speed required interstate route. As one might assume, the great treasures of Savannah cannot be seen from the Quality Inn off I-95.
On our second day of travel, we encountered a flood of families just like ours racing towards the Sunshine State. During this time it became evident to me that The Great American Road Trip can only be accomplished in certain vehicles. The vehicle types are wide ranging. For obvious reasons, mini vans and SUV's are the gold standard. Most four door sedans and cramped hatchbacks are also accepted. And though I would look with envy with each BMW 3 Series or Audi A4 that passed by us, it was painfully clear that German sedans were excluded (The Road Trip shall not be tainted by conference calls). Oddly enough, Volkswagon is an exception to the German sedan rule. It should also be noted that Subaru's and Volvo's are not only accepted, but receive bonus points due to their high quirk factor.
Our drive was taking us to Cocoa Beach, where we would stay in a modest beach front hotel for four nights. Upon arriving, we were pleasantly surprised by the size of the waves rolling in. Investing in a few boogie boards was a necessity. It also appeared clear to me that it was a working mans beach, where working families converge on their way to Disney World. Like us, they didn't understand the concept of staying at resorts 50 miles inland just to be closer to the Mecca of Mickey, when you could stay on the beach front for $80 a night. No four star resorts here.
We headed to Disney World on the next day. Fifty miles and 5 toll booths later, we approached the gates of the Magic Kingdom. By this time there was a shining aura of pink princess giddiness emanating from the girls. The aura was overwhelming and changed something inside of me as well. For the next several hours, my usual frugal ways were interrupted by a faint pink mist, glittering sparkles, and sharp rays of light. Smiling, saying "yes", and opening my wallet, became my primary method of communication.
Three sleeps later, we are on our return voyage to Indiana. Important business matters are knocking, and I must bypass certain road trip ideals and choose the speedier and less scenic route of I-75. However, Atlanta rush hour is snail like and maddening and adds 1 hour of travel time. In Atlanta, I look around and I see no kindred spirits on The Road Trip, just commuters. During this time, I might have made references in my mind to the Union army burning the city in 1864. But with all the exhaust fumes being inhaled, I can't quite remember everything that I was thinking.
The next morning, we hit Cincinnati rush hour. While it was a more logical affair, it was not the type of slow, meandering journey that I had in mind. But things ease up fairly quickly and we are moving again. With each mile bringing me closer to familiar territory, my tense road glaring gaze eases more and more. I settle into a calm, reflective mood and decide that it was indeed a perfect road trip.
One down, one to go.