When you combine a huge sprawling country, an instinctive love of automobiles and an even greater love of booze, it was only natural the Great American Road Trip would evolve as one of the cornerstones of growing up in the U.S.
Steeped in history and tradition, and despite the sinister work of certain mothers, it remains one the cheapest and easiest methods of temporal emancipation. All you have to do is point the nose of a car in a random direction and let all responsibility and cares disappear into the rearview mirror.
Kerouac and Cassady made the road trip a literary institution, Hemingway did his in fascist Spain and Florida, the film Animal House introduced the concept to millions of college kids. If you’ve never been on one, then I’ve got a question for you: just where in the hell do you get the nerve to go around calling yourself an American?
All you need is a desire to escape, a car, some friends, and beer, lots and lots of beer. There are two types of road trips, planned and unplanned. The latter requires no instruction, you merely get fed up enough to jump in your car and start driving out of town. The former should be as well planned as a jail break. Here’s how:
Cooler: This is essential. Make sure it’s a big one. How big? Just look at it and ask yourself: “Could I drown a horse in that fucker? A really big horse?”
Food: Food on the road is expensive, so stock up on snacks before you head out. Make sure you bring some bread and meat for sandwiches, which are good for soaking up alcohol when it’s your turn to drive. I also recommend chocolate covered espresso beans. You’ll be taking enough piss breaks because of the beer, and you don’t need to add coffee to the equation. Espresso beans have all the caffeine and none of the bladder pressure.
Alcohol: Beer is best for road trips because it takes a while to get you drunk, as compared to say, whiskey. Not that you shouldn’t bring some whiskey along for those rough moments. Beer supplies are also easy to replenish, you can buy it in most gas stations.
Maps: You should start with a general road atlas, then pick up free maps at tourist bureaus in each state you visit. Use the atlas to get yourself situated, and the more detailed tourist maps to guide you to such essential stops as the awe-inspiring World’s Biggest Ball of Twine, the sublime Corn Palace, the magnificent Two Headed Gopher Museum and assorted distillery tours.
Who you travel with is up to you, but choose them carefully. At the very least they should be stout-hearted drunks who can play nice in cramped surroundings. Here are some types to avoid:
The Whiner: This person will complain non-stop about everything from the quality of the beer to the way people drive, until you are ready to leave him tied up in a ditch in the middle of a New Mexican desert. Don’t think the fine adventure of the road will suppress anyone’s personality flaws. It will magnify them. If a guy will whine while sitting on a comfortable barstool drinking Guinness in a perfectly good bar, he will elevate his whining to a high art in a cramped automobile serving PBR.
The Bedwetter: This person has the smallest bladder of any human you’ve ever been in contact with. You will find yourself stopping at every rest area, gas station, and bush along the highway. It’s best to stick with your drinking buddies when choosing traveling companions, you know who has the bladder of an elephant and who has the bladder of a mouse.
The Narcoleptic: This person will simply sleep the trip away. If they aren’t driving, this will simply bore the pants off you. If they are driving, it will be very, very dangerous.
The Race Car Driver: There’s nothing wrong with travelling over the speed limit, but the road trip should be a comfortable cruise, not fifty laps at Indianapolis. It’s hard to absorb the passing sights, never mind sleep, while Speed Racer is tailgating slower drivers, screeching around mountain curves and cutting off truck drivers. There’s also the hassle of trying to explain to the Highway Patrolmen who all the open containers belong to.
You’re much better off sticking to these types:
The Icebreaker: This gregarious soul will fearlessly walk up and talk to any random group of strangers, regardless of size, smell, or tooth number. When traveling in strange lands this proclivity is invaluable, it helps you get to know the locals, who know where the good roadhouses, saloons, stills, and bootleggers are.
The 1000 Mile Stare: This guy was born to drive; they missed their calling as a truck driver and will instinctually want to make up for that on the road. You have to pry his hands from the wheel to make him stop driving. Or you could just pop another beer and enjoy the view.
The Accountant: This cat just has to know what kind of gas mileage you are getting. This may sound creepy, but it comes in handy when you are trying to figure out such important questions as: “Do we have enough money to get to Vegas, gamble, and buy more beer?”
The Navigator: This person has maps on the brain and can be a fount of obscure geographical and cultural knowledge. He can glance at a map and say: “If we take this back road, we can shave a hundred miles off the trip, and also make happy hour at a secret roadhouse bordello with midget prostitutes.” Try to find that in a tourist brochure.
What to travel in is a conundrum. On one hand you want fuel efficiency, on the other you want space to stretch your legs. Insurance is a good idea, since it is required in almost every state in the country now. If you don’t have it, just be damn sure you aren’t pulled over. You also want something that won’t blow up in the middle of nowhere. On the other hand, such a calamity can be the start of a whole new adventure involving toothless strippers and a cheap bottle of bourbon under a railway bridge. And yes, I’m speaking from experience.
Don’t underestimate the importance of choosing a good sound track for your road trip. Music sets the tone, attitude and speed of the trip. While the radio adds some local flavor to the journey, too often it is a lonely hell filled with Christian screeching and top forty chaff. If the car doesn’t have a working tape or CD player, bring a boom box. There is but one cardinal rule about music on the road: the driver always chooses the music. They’re doing the actual work, so they make the call. Period.
Drinking on the Road
There are many opinions on this touchy subject, and I think you know how MADD and the cops feel about it. But a road trip isn’t a road trip without some serious boozing. Take away the alcohol and you might as well be driving to grandma’s house for Sunday dinner. That said, you must lay down some strict ground rules, so no one gets arrested and the car doesn’t end up in a ditch.
The 40 mile rule: The driver is only allowed to drink only one beer every 40 miles. It keeps the driver reasonably sober and happy. Just make sure he doesn’t try to beat the system by driving 110 miles per hour.
Rotating shifts: If you have three or more people, set up a rotating shift of 4-6 hours each. The person who just finished driving can drink freely, the guy next in line to drive must stop drinking an hour before he takes the wheel.
Sober driver: I’m only mentioning this for the sake of argument. This system never works, because the person driving usually gets fed up with the drunks and needs a drink just to deal with them.
Nothing crushes the road trip’s groove like getting a DUI, especially one in Podunk, Nebraska. Here’s how to avoid one:
Don’t give them a reason: This may seem obvious, but it’s an easy rule to forget after you get caught up in all the freedom and drinking. As much as it sucks, don’t overly abuse the posted speed limits. Make sure the tail lights, turning signals and headlights work. Don’t sport any stupid bumper stickers that will make a redneck cop suspicious. The “I Hate The Man” or “Jesus Was a Stoner” bumper stickers may have seemed cool when you put them on, but to a cop they’re red flags saying: “Pull me over, ya big fascist pig. I got some weed in the glove box.”
Plastic cups: Buy big plastic soda cups from a gas station, dump out the soda and replace it with beer. This way you don’t have to look furtively around before sucking on a can or bottle. And it’s not only the cops you have to worry about these days; with the advent of cellphones, any car on the road could potentially carry a do-gooder eager to report you to a DUI hotline. and use a straw, no one ever thinks you’re drinking booze through a straw.
Hide the evidence: The last thing you want are beer bottles rolling around on the floor as you get pulled over. Bring some plastic grocery bags and put the empties in there. Every time you stop to get gas, throw them out. This does two things, it keeps all the danger in one spot, and it camouflages the bottles when you throw them out.
Breath mints: Put them in an easily accessible place, there’s nothing more incriminating than digging around wildly for something while the officer walks up to your window. You’ll be thinking, “Where the fuck did I put those mints?” and he’ll be thinking “He’s either hiding weed or looking for his gun.” Make sure to use them not only when talking to the police, but also when dealing with any member of the public, especially gas station clerks. Assume everyone is the enemy.
Air freshener: If you get pulled over, spray a little of this around. Not too much. And don’t get anything too flowery, that’s a dead giveaway your hiding something. Get the “New Car Smell” variety.
Be respectful: No matter how much it sticks in your craw, be polite to the officer. Don’t suck up to him, just be polite. Have your paperwork ready and your window down when he approaches. Don’t volunteer any information he didn’t ask for. Make the stop as brief as possible; the longer the interaction, the more likely he’s going to spot something he doesn’t like.
Tell your friends to shut the fuck up: Because they are drunk and not behind the wheel, your buddies will feel the urge to fuck with the cop. They may wish to become your lawyer, or vent some hostility over a recent parking ticket. So always say this before the cop walks up: “If one of you cocksuckers breathes so much as a word, I will put by boot so far up your ass you’ll be tasting leather for a week.” It works, trust me.
Leave the drugs at home: As much fun as it may seem to get high on the road, it’s just one more danger to add to an already risky venture. Cops, especially in Texas, like to search out-of-state cars, and if you’re already in danger of a DUI, you don’t want drug charges thrown in. If you need to stay awake, there’s plenty of legal speed available at gas stations and truck stops.
Now that you have a car, beer, music, mindset and road buddies, it’s time to figure out the trip itself.
Where you’re going: For some people this is the most important part of the whole trip. Picking a destination depends on what you are looking for. Do you want to drive to a specific place, get drunk there, and then drive back? Or do you just want the excitement of being on the road? Either way it helps to have a destination, however vague, just to add a sense of purpose to the trip. My favorite road trips have always started with only an abstract idea of a destination, or a completely unrealistic goal, such as: “Well, we’ve got $100 between us, a beaten up ‘74 Ford with 200k mileage, a case of Keystone, and it’s four in the morning. Let’s roll to Vegas.” You will probably end up in some place like Fairplay, Colorado, with one person is in jail and the rest spare-changing for beer money. Which is fine. Just think of the cool stories you can tell if and when you get back.
How you’re getting there: Avoid the interstate. Why? Because cops like the interstates more than the highways. What’s more, the interstates have become completely and utterly homogenized, they’ve lost their collective soul. You can drive from one end of the country to the other and see the exact same thing out the window: the same chain restaurants, the same chain gas stations, the same chain motels. State highways and back roads is where the color and culture of America lurks.
Don’t be afraid to stop for something other than beer and gas: This goes hand in hand with the last tip. There are multitudes of strange tourist stops, rundown roadhouses, and other adventures waiting for you. Seek them out.
Free booze on the road: There can be several opportunities to get free drinks while on a road trip. Vineyards almost always offer free samples, check your tourist map and see if you’re in wine country, nowadays you almost always are. Brewery and distillery tours are always reliable sources of free drinks, finding the best ones, however, requires some of research.
So there you have it. Keep your spirits up high and your beers down low. And remember, it’s not where you’re going, it’s how many beers you drink on the way.