On the Interstate

The road trips of long ago

By Brian Doyle | December 5, 2014


I am in the back seat of an old Dodge Charger. Two other college guys are in the back seat and two in the front. This was a long time ago and somehow right now also. We are in a vast wide American state, the name of which changes every few hours. No matter what state we are in, the side of the road is lined with gravel and steel barriers and scraggly bushes and trees in which you can sometimes see a patient hawk. Sometimes there are rest stops and we stop and the driver gets gasoline and one of the yawning other guys hands him a wad of crumpled cash. The driver stretches and shuffles his feet. He jams his hands in his pockets and flips the collar of his coat up to stay warm, while wheedling gas into the car. Sometimes one of the yawning guys says, Want me to drive? And the driver says, I got another hour in me and we ease back onto the highway. We are going to college or we are going home or we are dropping guys off on our way home. Sometimes when you pick a guy up or drop a guy off at his house, his family is awake and we all troop into the house and find sandwiches and coffee and cookies and beautiful younger sisters to tease because we are cool college guys and it is two in the morning and soon we are back on the road with a bag of cookies and sandwiches each.

When you start the trip there is music and dickering about who gets to play the music and Oh my god not that song turn that off I am begging you, but after a while the music flags, and then sometimes the radio flickers in and out as you pass through the mountains, and you can hear snatches of a baseball game in a city far away, the quiet amused wry gentle nasal voice of the play-by-play man sounding like everyone’s uncle as he muses about the weather, and the games in progress elsewhere, and the new kid in right field who was just called up from the minors and, interesting fact, his grandfather also played right field for a professional league in the Dominican, and he, the old man, hit a solid .317 for his career, and if the kid achieves that, we will all be very grateful for the miracle of genetics, and at the end of the fourth inning it is still zero zero, and we will be back in a minute after this message from our sponsors.

Mostly we sleep, though not in sustained stretches; it is all catnaps of eight and 12 and 20 minutes max, and then you would jolt awake for any number of subtle reasons: the sleeping guy next to you has put his head on your shoulder, which is unnerving, or the car brakes suddenly, which is terrifying, or that awful song comes on again, or you just open your eyes for no particular reason, and sit there huddled and dazed and not quite awake, and you can see the faces of your friends in the dim light of the dashboard, and you mumble, Want me to drive? And the driver says, Nah, I am good, and then you notice that it’s infinitesimally lighter outside, and you can see whole hillsides of beech and oak and maple and ash, and an incontrovertible heron floats past, and it’s morning, and you are almost there. Almost there always means another hour, and by now everyone is rumpled and stiff, but it turns out the guy in the passenger seat has saved five of his cookies for exactly this moment, and we each have a cookie that a guy’s mom made, and those are the best cookies ever, still warm and crumbly and perfect.

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