In my late twenties, I teamed up with a good friend of mine to learn how to fly. I had been fascinated by aircraft since I was a young child, and remain so to this day, but the joys of being a pilot are crushed to oblivion when it comes to modern commercial aviation.
Let me be quick to admit that commercial airlines, by almost every statistical means are both the least expensive and safest way to cover large distance. When they do have an accident, it’s usually catastrophic and makes news headlines everywhere, but the sheer number of flights that go like clockwork on a daily basis offset those events by a wide margin.
While both fast and efficient, air travel, at least in the economy seats where the majority of passengers reside, is neither comfortable nor entertaining. Packed like human sardines in a tubular can, you sail over and through the clouds, sometimes with abundant turbulence, until you reach your destination feeling drained, and still trying to get your ears to pop from the altitude changes. I’m sure there are those who have adapted to these conditions with aplomb, but if there is one constant I’ve noticed in my life it’s that humans will adapt to incredibly punishing conditions which they eventually accept as normal if they so choose.
I’ve been blessed to be married to a wonderful woman for the last thirteen years who allows me the freedom to indulge my car hobbies (as long as our home life doesn’t suffer in the process.)
I’ve always considered that to be a fair and generous policy to live by, but more importantly, she has taught me the value of investing in vacation time. The experience of travel is both expanding and amazing, generating a firsthand account of just how vast and diverse this country is from coast to coast.
Granted, driving is not a joy for a great many people, and my wife has expressed abundant appreciation from day one that she now has a full time chauffeur. But for me, taking my car on vacation is an opportunity to enjoy its capabilities for more than just a commute to work.
The other benefits are the ability to stop and stretch or relax at a time of my choosing, pick interesting and different places to eat, and soaking in the sometimes spectacular landscape the road crosses through.
The last of those choices is of utmost importance to my wife, who is a photographer, and will often sing out for me to stop, turn around and go back so she can capture a specific feature or view. I’ve learned to allot generous room in my travel schedule for just such events, but I must admit it has become as entertaining for me as it is for her.
The other great benefit of traveling the road system is what is often referred to as Roadside America. This past week we flew to Las Vegas, rented a car, and drove to Grand Canyon. While the natural wonder of the world almost defies adequate description, and no single picture will ever do it any level of justice, the things we discovered in rural Arizona were equally entertaining. Certainly not on the vast scale of the Canyon, but by laughs and smiles they were gemstones in their own right.
Several years ago, we made a cross-country drive to Yellowstone National Park, and the incredible beauty, both natural and man-made along the way didn’t disappoint. For the six days this past week, our Dodge Journey rental was an impressive stand-in for my own car. In that span of time, the things we saw and experienced were wonderful to behold, and all would have been impossible to enjoy jetting overhead at thirty thousand feet.
There are parts of the country where the road can be monotonous and long, sometimes nothing more than mile after mile of agricultural wonder, but even then I’ll take my driver’s seat, the cruise control, and a good audio system to roll away the miles.
Legendary automotive journalist Brock Yates once said, “If I’ve got plenty of time to kill I might fly where I need to go, but if I have a schedule to keep, I’ll drive.”
Such a statement coming from the unofficial father of the Cannonball Run comes as no surprise, but even so, I’m not a fan of murderous hours of high speed hammering. For me, the journey is to be relished as we go, and I can’t count the number of places we’ve passed by and wished we had the time to stop and explore. Maybe someday time and money will allow just such travel to be possible.
My father was a Greyhound Bus driver by trade, and I know he savored personal travel in much the same way. I’ve never driven a large bus or tractor-trailer for employment, and I’m not sure I could since it would mean blowing mindlessly by everything I’d see, but I’ll never be able to thank my Dad enough for infusing me with the love affair of my car and the open road.
He and I got a rough start over cold nights, wrenches, and droplights, but it sunk all the way to the bone. Airplanes are great for their intended purpose, but for the full joy of travel, I’ll borrow from the Harley biker crowd, “It’s not just about the destination, it’s about the journey.”
I’m sure Dad would agree.
– T. August Green