“The Americans have found the healing of God in a variety of things, the most pleasant of which is probably automobile drives.”
(William Saroyan, Short Drive, Sweet Chariot)
Saturday morning. Long before the sun had risen. The long-anticipated road trip arrived without a whole bunch of fanfare, but with a lot of expectations. The destination . . . Missoula, Montana . . . where the oldest son and I were heading to meet his sister and brother-in-law for an Avett Brothers concert on Sunday evening. It had been a while . . . over a year . . . since the oldest and I had taken any sort of a trip—much less a road trip--together. The last time was when I traveled to assist the son on his move to Montana . . . to welcome him home after his life had unraveled. In a way, this was just a continuation of the original journey.
Road trips are not supposed to be completely planned, but we did know our destination . . . Missoula. When I think about road trips I think about hopping in the car, traveling down the road, and seeing where I end up . . . no maps, no expectations . . . just the trip itself. But, this trip had a destination, a stated purpose, and a lot of expectations for having a good time. Not only were we heading off to see a concert, I was on a mission to show the oldest parts of Montana he had yet to see. Trust me, there is a lot of Montana to see between here and there!
So, you are probably wondering how the road trip went. Well, let me tell you what I learned . . .
I learned that when one takes a long road trip that it is probably not good if one is an introvert and the other is an extrovert. Ideally, this trip would have been so much more enriching for me had I gone on it by myself . . . that is an introverts ideal vacation . . . being on the road by him or herself. We were two mismatched traveling companions—me the introvert, him the extravert. Needless to say, it drove the oldest crazy . . . me, not so much. I don’t need a lot of conversation or interaction when I am on the road. Oh, I must admit, there were moments on the trip when I wish I had brought ear plugs . . . but, I listened. I am a good father . . . I listened. And, in all honesty, I really do not care to hear anything else about fantasy football for a long, long time. Yet, I was not much company for a person who starved for company . . . but, such is a trip with an introvert. I was content with the silence or listening to the music.
The music . . . another sticking point on the trip. The Keener tradition is that the person driving controls the music . . . which meant whatever was on my MP3 player was it. Over the years my children have inundated me with all sorts of music . . . lots of it I like, but on my MP3 player I run the gamut of musical selections. I have everything from the big band era to country, blue grass, rock, rock and roll, blues, jazz, heavy metal, Americana, country rock, pop, soft rock, folk . . . just about everything but hip hop and rap. The oldest was cordial and did not complain . . . even said that he survived the majority of what we listened to . . . and, actually enjoyed some of it. I think that he drew the line at the big band stuff!
So, in the actually driving to Missoula, the score was one to one . . . he talked when I longed for silence, I blared my music when he longed for real music.
Another thing I learned is that I am getting too old for the road trips I remember as a younger adult. Upon arriving I think that the two of us had the same expectations . . . we were going to have a great time, explore the city, experience its life, and make a fun time of it. And, we started out well . . . but somewhere along the way, something I ate or drank, decided to exert its presence in the deepest bowels of my body. About our third stop, a brewery, my body rebelled. I couldn’t even finish my beer that I had ordered. It wasn’t even five o’clock yet . . . the day and evening was still young . . . and there I sat with a growling bowel, hoping that I could keep everything down, and wishing I was twenty years younger with that cast iron stomach I used to have.
As an introvert, I wanted to sit there and quietly die. Luckily for my son, he is an extravert. My dilemma did not slow him down too much . . . he made the most of the opportunity to hob knob with those around us. He easily talks to others and others are attracted to him . . . he is a charismatic sort of guy. It is his blessing and his curse. While he was socializing with the best of them, I was praying that whatever it was that was using my intestines as a trampoline would hurry up and settle down. By the time the oldest had had his brewery defined limit, I was almost back among the living . . . the key term here is “almost”. Where he was ready to hit the next spot, I was ready for hitting the sack . . . and, the night was young.
My car, my gas, my money . . . we went to eat and it was only seven o’clock. Though worried, the son was disappointed . . . even though we did eat at a Hooters. There wasn’t much to hoot about . . . I ate, paid the bill, and we headed back to the hotel. I was ready to call it a night at eight o’clock. Somewhere in the rules of road tripping I am sure there is a rule that states that bedtime is never before midnight at the earliest . . . I could see it in the face of my son and hear it in his voice. But, it sure felt good to hit the bed. Ernest Hemingway wrote: “Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.” Thankfully, my son loves me . . . and, I love my son.
Sunday was a new day. It had new lessons to be learned. I got to have breakfast by myself . . . I got to walk around, see the area, and take pictures. I witness people out on a hot air balloon ride over the mountains . . . and, I longed to be there with them. But, I appreciated the quietness. The culprit from the day before was long gone, and I felt a hundred times better. In the meantime, the son slept.
One of the new lessons I learned, only later, is that there is a difference between men and women . . . especially when it comes to fine eating experiences. The daughter and son-in-law arrived and we headed out for lunch. I wanted food that I had to eat with a fork . . . that came from a cow . . . and was cooked on a grill. I chose Outback Steakhouse . . . a place I had not eaten at in over six years . . . a place I thought was fancy. Little did I know. I forgot that when in a new place, women want to go someplace where the food is a little more elegant and artsy-fartsy . . . not a steakhouse. I thought I was being a gracious host . . . but, the wife informed me that I had disappointed the daughter when we pulled up to the Outback. I explained to my wife that they were lucky it wasn’t Mickey D’s Golden Rainbow Room! But, since then, I have made a mental note . . . next time on a road trip with the daughter in tow . . . that I will eat a meal at some place where the napkins are not a roll of paper towels on the table, the water had lemon wedges in it, and they do not have a football blaring away on twenty televisions. I will eat in a place where the portions are way too small for the amount of money I am paying, napkins are made of better material than the clothes I am wearing, and the music is more chamber-like than rock-n-roll. Well, the daughter was out-numbered—three to one, but the company was wonderful. I just need to remember . . . men and women see things differently. Though I was in heaven, others were in hell!
The afternoon was spent on the brewery trail between Missoula and Hamilton . . . something all of us would have usually enjoyed . . . all of us enjoy microbrews and Montana has some of the best in the United States . . . but, there were complications. First complication was the fact that the daughter was not feeling well. Feeling sick and breweries do not mix well . . . no microbrews for the daughter . . . the daughter who loves her brew. It was no fun watching everyone else enjoy the many wonderful brews being offered. Second complication was limiting the amount anyone could drink. This was due to time, distance, and the fact that I was driving. Once again, the expectations of a road trip were dashed for the oldest son. He wanted extravagant imbibing and was only getting a tease of what could be. But, the company was great!
The purpose of the road trip—the concert—was up next. Needless to say, the kids did not steer me wrong on the Avett Brothers. They were great. The music was great. The concert was one of the best I had ever been to. Full of energy. It was the highlight of the trip. Plus, they sold beer there. The oldest was in heaven . . . good music, good beer, and great company. Even at my age, I still quiver in the temple of good music, and I was touched. None of us walked away from the concert disappointed . . . maybe with a little less hearing, but not disappointed. It took me a good hour to calm down enough to fall asleep after the oldest and I wished the daughter and son-in-law a safe trip home. I learned that good music speaks to all generations, and the Avett Brothers were preaching that evening.
Of course, the edge wears off of any road trip when reality of having to go home sets in. The trip home was quiet . . . no music . . . very little conversation . . . lots of beautiful scenery. A quick brunch in Bozeman. We were home by one in the afternoon. The oldest hit his bed, I did laundry and work I needed to get done. And, that was it. I learned that reality never lives up to expectations . . . what started out as having the potential to being a big bang, ended up being a fizzle.
Yet, it was a good road trip. It was good to get away from the routine. It was good to be with my children. It was good to be able to go someplace new, observe it, experience it, and wonder. It was good to connect, even in the silence and awkward moments, with one another. It was good to see how far the oldest had come from his trip home a year ago . . . but, to realize there is still a long ways to go. It was good to see the daughter and son-in-law . . . to enjoy her laughter, his wittiness . . . to watch them express their love towards one another . . . to be in the presence of family. It was good to just be quiet . . . to appreciate the beauty of the place and the places we pasted coming. It was fun to take pictures of the obscure and beautiful in places no one ever looks despite it being right before their eyes. It was just good to be. It was a good road trip . . . despite the silence it ended in. It wasn’t the destination, it was the journey and the people it was shared with that made it wonderful.
As Morgan Matson writes in Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour:
“And I felt, in the silence that followed,
everything that had happened on the trip
to bring me to this place.”
And, it was a good place to be.