Solo ones, ones with friends, spur-of-the-moment or planned out in detail, trips to the coast or just one state line crossed, or multi-day multi-state trips.
Sometimes there are consequences, fairly dire ones. But usually, just good times and amazing memories.
What is it about the lure of the open road? Our world’s dependence on cheap gasoline and oil will change, must change, in the future, but I hope future generations can still see past their anger at our indifference to the damage it did and see that long trips in a car through the wide-open countryside were romantic, dammit. Or am I just romanticizing it all?
When I was a kid, growing up, my family would go on road trips. California, to Los Angeles for Disneyland, was the big one, but we’d go to the beach, or to Seattle. But the first road trip I remember taking without my parents, with just me and some friends, was a trip to Kah-Nee-Tah resort in Central Oregon.
It’s difficult to pin down the exact date, but it was after I graduated from high school. I was dating Amy, who would be my first long-term relationship and the first girl I had ever slept with. Funny how those two things go together, huh? We would be together for about 3 years total, spanning my senior year in high school until I got and kept a job two years later, and my opportunities for dating exploded. Is that bad to point that out? I basically broke up with Amy because I had built up some confidence and wanted to see other women.
But in the summer of 1983, all of that heartbreak was ahead of me. I’m pretty sure it was a weekend, and Amy’s mom was away or at work or something, so I had stayed the night. In the morning we were woken up by a phone call.
It was my friend Terry. He was trying to track me down. He had somehow gotten a friend to loan him a car for the weekend. Terry was always doing things like that; trading favors, making deals, making connections and benefiting from them. He was far more socially adept than I was, or would ever be. It was a skill he had; and one I envy to this day.
The car was a brand-new, black, Pontiac Grand Am. Turbocharged, sleek, T-tops. Terry wanted to put the car to it’s paces, and that meant only one thing.
Did we want to join him?
Our answer was not just yes but Hell yes!
An hour or so later, he drove up to pick us up. The car was a black monster, all metal and rubber. I had never seen tires that wide or low before. Terry tried to keep it cool in town, though, and drove it rather sedately. For him. But just sitting behind the wheel of that car put a huge smile on his face. C’mon, we were 18 and had few responsibilities.
Terry picked our destination, a resort out in the Central Oregon desert, on a Native American reservation belonging to the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. Since the Fourth of July was coming up, Terry figured we could pick up some illegal fireworks while we were there.
I have to admit today that most of that trip is a blur to me now. I remember the long drive up Mt. Hood and down into Eastern Oregon (anything on the other side of the Cascades is “eastern” to a Portlander). Google Maps tells me it’s a 2 hour and 20 minute drive from Sellwood to the resort; somehow, I think we made better time than that.
Driving that car intimidated me, I won’t be afraid to say it. I didn’t have much experience at the time with driving, and didn’t even have a license. But I took a turn behind the wheel all the same. But not for long; it wasn’t Terry’s car, after all. Mostly I rode in the tiny back seat, and allowed my girlfriend to sit up front. The tape deck, which may have actually been an 8-track, competed and won against the wind noise from the open roof and the growl of the turbo-charged V-8.
In my memories it was a warm, sunny day. We wandered around the resort a bit and swam in the pool. They had a few simple video games, which were brand-new back then: I remember a Pong game and the ultimate (for it’s time): Lunar Lander. Trying to get that damn spaceship to land properly with just rotate and thrust was so hard, I burned through many quarters trying. Arcades back then were full of pinball machines and not CRTs and computers; real bells and whistles, not simulated sounds.
We ate dinner there, and as much of a food lover as I am today, I barely remember what I ate. Probably some kind of steak. It was fancy for a trio of teenagers. White cloth napkins and crystal goblets. Terry, who was the only one of us with a job, picked up the check.
And on the drive home, just after sunset, I remember a moment when Terry pulled over to the side of the road, and we all got out and stared up into the brilliant night sky. With the mountains blocking most of the light from distant Portland, out there in the high desert, the stars were brighter than I had ever seen them. I could make out constellations that I had only seen in books; all the stars in Ursa Major, the long dragon tail of Hydra, and I could even see the red mace head of the Orion Nebula.
Not sure I’d ever want to be 18 again, but with memories like these, I think I had it pretty good.