What does the world cost? Oh well, then we'll just take a small coke.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Long Drive

There are drives and there are drives. More specifically, there are short drives and long drives. Webster defines them thus:

Short Drive n. short•drive [ple⸍ zhər] An interesting, profitable trip, usually made in an awesome motor vehicle, for the purposes of leisure, necessity, or vanity.

Examples: “I really need to take a short drive to a burger place.” “I just might make the short drive to class today.” “I was only on a short drive—it must be Mom who used up all the gas.”

Long Drive n. long•drive [payn⸍] An excruciatingly tedious trip down a boring interstate in the middle of a barren American desert, in vain pursuit of some elusive goal such as a vacation or conference. People who take long drives often die of heat, bladder expansion, or an overload of junk food and portable movies, although the leader of a long drive, called the driver, frequently survives.

Examples: “When is our long drive going to be finished?” “Why did we even decide to go on this long drive?” “Wow, you really meant a long drive.” You think you took a long drive?” “This is nothing like the long drives we took in my day, son.” “You should hear about the lovely long drive we took last summer.” (The last example demonstrates a curious fact about long drives: they are very enjoyable when the driving is more memory than reality.)
The latter definition appears almost calculated to arouse curiosity. Why do drivers survive more frequently than passengers? The answer is in a third entry, which I generously plagiarize here for your benefit:
Driver 4 n. driv•er [ov⸍ərlord] A skilled but overindulged participant in a long drive (see entry). He/she bears responsibility for the safe navigation of the vehicle, but in return has command of the air conditioner, volume and subject matter of the radio, and the size of the interval between rest stops. Passengers (see entry) generally display a deep respect for the driver, in order to conceal their jealousy and boredom.

Examples: “Don’t ask me when we’re going to be there; ask the driver.”
Of course, such definitions cannot really communicate the full meaning of the words. To actually know a thing, you have to experience it in its unveiled, unstinted reality. Or, you have to hear about it from a person who has experienced that reality. With that in mind, I offer for your information a concise, four-part exposition of the average long drive.

1. The Beginning
A long drive is a real drive, the sort of drive that makes all other drives seem cheap and trifling, and so it must begin early in the morning, when the sun is just rising, the birds are beginning to come out, and the highway is empty of traffic. That is the ideal, anyway. A real long drive usually begins when the sun is up enough to wake would-be pilgrims from their sleep and send them frantically scurrying to the car with a neck ache, ruffled hair, and no coffee, to push for hours through early rush-hour traffic. The lucky passengers wearily try to find a tolerable position for their pillows so they can snatch another hour of sleep and the driver slaps himself to stay awake, counting down minutes until the end of his shift.

2. The Middle
The long drive continues when someone finds that there is no ice in the ice chest, and the travelers descend upon a gas station to buy some. There is generally no ice at the station, but they stretch their legs and use the restroom before driving to another. After a few more stops, the ice is found, and it is time for lunch. Lunch is then eaten in the car to save time. Crumbs litter the seats, and every time a passenger sits down, they roll around beneath him. If there are small children on the long drive, they get hungry between meals and eat snacks, populating the seats with yet another batch of crumbs.

Near the front of the car, meanwhile, there is a debate over the radio. The small children want to listen to their favorite CD for the twenty-ninth time. The driver wants to listen to something energetic and fascinating to alleviate his tedious task. And the other passengers want some peace and quiet for a few minutes. The small children always win battles of this kind.

3. The Interlude
With meal, snacks, and music all tended to, the long drive enters its most peaceful stage. The passengers doze in their seats, the small children gaze listlessly out of the window at the passing prairie (or city), and the driver relaxes at eighty or so miles per hour. The sun shines down on the asphalt, spotting the road with an occasional mirage. The driver relaxes a bit too much, and jolts up as his tires hit the grating on the side of the highway, which was been placed there to vibrate him back to his senses. He shoves his shoulders back and peels his eyes, but soon they glaze over again. Another jolt. One of the passengers gets worried and has all of them, especially the small children, chip in to help the driver stay awake. They succeed. The peaceful stage is over.

4. The End
It is followed by the stressful stage. Night is approaching, a destination must be reached, and everyone is for some mysterious reason crossing their legs. The sun sets fast, and little orange lights appear all over the city, forming words: No Vacancy. The driver and the head passenger (see entry) wrangle over a map, trying to figure out how far the next city is and which way they should go anyway, all without raising their voices so the passenger calling ahead for reservations and prices can hear the receptionist’s voice. The small children are restless and would like to cry, so they are kept busy crunching on snacks that raise the crumb population on the seats as if there were an illegal immigrant problem. Semi-trucks whiz by, making the car sway, the passengers gasp, and the driver stops arguing to look at the road ahead for a few minutes. When he does, an open hotel is finally found at an exorbitant price, and everyone prays it has free wi-fi, clean sheets, and a free breakfast to help start the next day of the long drive.


Anonymous said...

"Near the front of the car, meanwhile, there is a debate over the radio... The small children always win battles of this kind." Not true for our "long drives".

"head passenger (see entry)" is it just me or is there no entry for head passenger unless thats the driver?

Tim said...

Very appropriate; our family is preparing (physically and emotionally) for a Long Drive. But no hotels for us - we'll be tent camping along the way.