Thursday, July 06, 2006

Don't Make Me Stop this Car

from James

Al Roker wrote a book by that title, and it has always stuck with me. It captures that love-hate relationship we have with the most Ämerican of vacations: the road trip.

I write outdoors and live in South Florida, so I have no choice but to flee my home base when the rain, heat, mosquitos, humidity, thunderstorms, tropical storms, hurricanes, tsunamis and all forms of biblical peril come ashore, usually about three blocks from my front door. This year we had a short stay in the Bahamas, which unfortunately forced me to miss the first annual Thrillerfest, where Paul Levine demonstrated that he's still got it as a defense lawyer and got Jack Reacher off (not even on a technicality) in a mock trial of Lee Child's famous character. Congrats to Paul!

I was especially disappointed to miss the Thriller conference, because I was one of the contributors to the "Thriller" anthology, a collection of short stories from about 30 thriller writers who are charter members of the organization. My story is called Operation Northwoods, and if you're wondering what the U.S. Government may be forced to do in order to solve the controversy over the ënemy combatants detained in Gitmo, well, let me just say that you need to read Operation Northwoods.

But back to the road trip. We drove from Miami to North Carolina for the 4th of July. This was my first trip with all three of my children (my youngest is must 16 months). We did one long trip in 2000, driving all the way from Miami to Martha's Vineyard, but as my friends point out, that was before I entered the big leagues and had a third child. Still, that trip from 2000 forever imbedded in my subconcious a song called Ïce Cream Crazy by Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, which my daughter listened to about 500 times on the trip.

From my childhood I have many roadtrip memories, but the most interesting points for present purposes are the contrasts between those trips I took with my parents and four siblings in an old Pontiac station wagon, and the trips I take now in the big SUV. The fights over the radio were legendary. This was in the day when a rear speaker was an option that only the rich enjoyed, so my parents not only had to endure rock music blasting from some screechy A.M. station, but they would have to play it loud enough so that my older sisters could hear it all the way in the back of the station wagon. Today, my kids watch DVDs in silence from a 10 inch screen while wearing infrared headphones. (We've moved up in the world since the days of the portable TV and VCR plugged into the cigarette lighter in 2000)

I also remember the days of C.B. radio. The cool thing about the radio was that the whole world was everyone else's "good buddy" going down the interstate, looking out for smokies (cops). Burt Reynolds capitalized on this in Smokey and the Bandit, and I guess every couple in America fancied themselves to be Burt and Sally, even if they were driving a Pontiac station wagon instead of a Firebird. But here's what's going through my head this morning. I'm comparing C.B. radios to blogging--total strangers carring on these conversations, probably never to meet in person. The comparison isn't perfect. One difference that jumps right out at me is that the conversations on C.B. radio were always friendly, or at least civil. The same isn't always true about blogs. I guess people are less likely to lose their manners when actually speaking to another human being, as opposed to simply typing on a keyboard. (The irony, of course, is that those polite words uttered on CB radio have disappeared forever, whereas everything that goes on the Internet, including insults that don't reflect well on their "speakers", will probably still be around for centuries). But here's where the imperfect comparison gets interesting. What happens when those speakers meet?

I will share one example with you. I was traveling with my brother in law to college as a freshman, and he had a CB radio dialogue going for at least an hour with another guy who, as it turned out, was also headed from Chicago to the University of Illinois. They were like the world's greatest buddies. Larry (my brother in law) signed off and said he was stopping for gas at some station. The guy responded and said he was stopping off too--at the same station. Now, I expected these two CB radio buddies to get out of their cars and say hello to each other. They didn't. It was the most fascinating thing to watch. Back then you had to go into the station and pay for your gas. The other guy went in and paid. Larry then watched him go to his car and went in and paid. They were CB buddies only. That was just the natural order of things.

Weird. But I wonder what bloggers would do?

James Grippando


  1. C'mon Jim, stop trying to make your life sound like a Chevy Chase/Bevery D'Angelo movie. We know you're a jet-setting, club-hopping, SoBe-bopping dude. And you were missed in Phoenix. So was decent A/C at the Arizona Biltmore. The Thriller anthology is getting great reviews. Can't wait to read your story.

  2. Jim, your children sound way too well behaved. My sister and I had an invisible dividing line in the back seat of the car to mark our territory. Cross that line, baby, and there was war.

    Hearing great things about the anthology. Kudos. Can't wait to get it.

  3. You are a brave man.

    I'm the eldest of 3 siblings, with many a roadtrip taken across borders under my belt.

    I do not want to relive any one of them, and if I have children, pray that I've the sense not to do the same thing.

  4. I still love a probably-apocryphal quote I once heard attributed to Rickie Lee Jones--describing her life with Tom Waits as having been "like always driving to Mexico in a station wagon full of small children."

    HARSH! Bet she would've loved one of those in-car DVD setups.

    I hope you guys have fun and safe travels, whichever 10-20 the summer may find you in.

  5. From Jacqueline

    I just love reading road trip memoirs, after all, we've all been there and we think we're the only kids in hell at the time. When I was a kid, no family excursion could even start without a goodly number of toilet rolls packed ready to deal with my dreadful motion sickness. It was so bad that my brother used them to build a wall between him and me in the back seat, and usually, after ten minutes in the car, John could be heard wailing, "jackie's being sick and it's all over me." Poor kid. And of course we argued like crazy, so much so that the only time my father was stopped for speeding was when he was so fed up with us he just wanted to get home. Of course, my mother piped up, "Oh, sorry, officer, it was the children - they won't stop shouting." Being a typical British cop, he tapped on the back window for me to open it, then leaned in and tore us off a strip. He let my dad go with a warning not to let the kids get to him! My brother and I were silent all the way home from there.