The beauty of a road trip

It’s an undervalued pleasure these days

It was at about the 3,000-mile point of our 4,100-mile driving journey that our 17-year-old son saw the beat-up little sign: “Hopalong Cassidy Museum” with an arrow pointing straight ahead.

He started laughing, thinking it was another one of the museum oddities we had been keeping track of throughout our trip across 19 states in the Midwest and East, along with the District of Columbia.

We had already chuckled about signs along the road promoting the “Action Figure Museum” and the “National Motorcycle Museum,” among plenty of others. So when I turned the wheel toward Hopalong’s museum, he looked disgusted.

“We’re not actually going to see this, are we?”

“C’mon,” I said. “Hopalong was a real TV cowboy. Let’s do it.”

We were already off the road to refuel the car, and it was a rare day on the two-week trip that we weren’t on deadline to be somewhere.

So we drove around the tiny Ohio town, eventually finding the combination museum and antique shop in a building with tightly and sloppily boarded windows.

That’s the kind of trip we were on, just the two of us, a father-son get-away: part college sleuthing, part baseball watching and part meandering aimlessly.

Being the two least-talkative members of our family, there was plenty of time on the trip to let our minds wander, something difficult to do during hurry-up-and-wait airplane travel. Waiting in line, shuffling through security, waiting in line, jamming aboard the plane, then waiting in line again is tiring, and you don’t really see anything from point to point, unless you count floating high above the clouds as “scenic.”

A driving trip, though, has its own cadence. You control the pace — interstate or backwater roads — and you control the stops. You can visit as many or as few McDonald’s as you want. You can compare notes on the stages of public bathroom cleanliness, going all the way from generally disgusting to downright appalling.

And as for scenic: On an endless stretch of highway, you can watch the sky kiss the land up ahead as fluffy clouds float by almost at eye level, something impossible to ponder in a city jammed tight with buildings and lights and smog.

On the monotonous road, cracks in the highway thundering rhythmically beneath the car, the mind wanders to all sorts of interesting places, many of which have nothing to do with the trip at hand.

As for Hopalong and his museum, despite my son’s complaints, we parked and walked toward the door, my son visibly slowing behind me as we approached the Promised Land. Then he smiled when he saw the sign on the door: “Closed until next week.” And he jostled me about missing that opportunity for hours and hours and hours.

That’s the ultimate beauty of a driving trip. Gas is still expensive. Driving still takes more time and effort than many other ways to get from here to there.

But there’s something to be said for taking a little extra time to get both somewhere and nowhere simultaneously these days.


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