When I was a kid, there were few things more exciting than vacation. In the Hanson household, that could only mean one thing: road trip! Load up the station wagon, roll out of bed in the middle of the night, and hit the open road! Since we generally left sometime between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m., most of the eight members of the family barely woke up enough to join in the rousing a capella rendition of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”, which for some reason was our traditional hittin’ the road song. As the last strains died, the car grew eerily quiet, as one by one they drifted back to dreamland.
These were probably my favorite hours of the trip, when just my dad (who was driving, of course) and I were awake. My seat was always right behind his, and I often sat forward, likely breathing down his neck. We didn’t talk, mostly, just kept silent company. Occasionally, one of us would see something worth mentioning. It was a treat to be with my family when they were all asleep. It was one of the few times in my childhood when they weren’t completely overwhelming.
We didn’t have a lot of money, so the trips sometimes boiled down to a long drive to a distant motel that had a pool. In between, we’d check out a variety of places, most of which we couldn’t afford to enter. Imagine six kids plastered against the windows as we drove through the Wisconsin Dells, home of the kitschy tourist attraction…without stopping. We often tease my father about pulling up to museums only to look at the admission price and get back in the car. The most famous of these stories involves the Hockey Hall of Fame. The fact that we couldn’t afford to enter made the experience more memorable than if we had entered its hallowed halls…none of us even followed hockey!
Then there were those moments which were unexpectedly magical. In Winnipeg, where the hotel lost our reservation and we ended up in luxurious accommodations. Or when we got lost somewhere in the Smoky Mountains and crested a rise to see the “hollers”, early morning mist clinging to the trees. In Baraboo, Wisconsin where I got to help a clown with a magic trick, under the big top of the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus. Even some moments, just riding down the highway, everyone finally awake and singing. The time my sister, Gwen, had an incident with a donut and a glass of chocolate milk. Or immediately knowing Dad had gotten coke instead of pepsi at the soda fountain and arguing with him about it.
I loved the family togetherness on these trips. With eight of us in the car, there was no way to spread out and “do your own thing”, though my sister Chris often tried. Looking back, I’m pretty sure it was my Mom’s version of hell on earth: the sheer din of everyone talking, whining, laughing at once. But I also developed a love for the lure of the unknown. I never knew, as a kid and a passenger, what was coming up. Everything on a road trip, therefore, was a surprise to me.
As an adult, there is still no vacation – unless I’m headed to an exotic locale overseas – I like better than a road trip. I have friends who can’t bear the drive from here to Chicago (a mere four hours). I feel like I’m just getting warmed up for the road when I hit the Loop. In this day and age, when we’ve depleted our resources, it is wasteful and arrogant, I suppose, to adore (and indulge in) long drives in personal transport. I rationalize that my ten year old car only has 74,000 miles, so most of the time I am not wantonly wasteful of gas. And then I load things up, and head on out looking for the odd and unusual, something that let’s me know I’ve left home and entered the wider world. And you better believe I’m singing.