The Great American Road Trip – Episode I
by Carolyn McLaughlin
It seems that somewhere between the pages of crusty old novels or in a slightly dated movie, the American cross-country road trip is created through fantasy or reality, desire or necessity. People everywhere have been drawn into the notion of venturing along endless highways, checking out the road for themselves. Perhaps it’s the “just do it” momentum that makes a road trip so appealing. Maybe the curiosity of what the experience would actually be like. There’s definitely an explorer in all of us, and the opportunity to see such a young nation with a vast and turbulent history unfolded is enticing. This seasoning of the country is seen clearly enough in the changing features of gas attendants across the land; within the echoes of the sprawling landscape; especially in the roadsigns, the names of places tainted with the influences of foreign languages.
And so in the middle of May 1995, I embarked on an official road trip. Among my companions were Rob and Dan, two exchange students from England, and Melissa, a fellow student from the University of Rhode Island. During the Spring semester Melissa and I had agreed wholeheartedly that we would get to “the other side” – by hitching a ride with any number of various friends that were headed West for their summer jobs, by mountain bikes or hitchhiking, even public transit from city to city – however we went, we were definitely going. How convenient then, when the Englishmen announced that they shared our interest in a cross-country tour.
We ended sharing the rental cost of a Buick Skylark. We left in a whirlwind from Mystic, Connecticut. For about three hours into the trip we worried about or whether we’d brought too much. That wore off quickly enough as we wrestled our way through the New Jersey Turnpike. Our first destination plans were for Washington, D.C. – the blokes fancied seeing the capital. Arriving at the house of a fellow URI student turned out to be first class after our first day in the car. Tara, a roommate of Melissa’s from the previous semester, fed us much welcomed leftovers and pointed in the direction of the bubbling jacuzzi. After a good night’s sleep we thanked our hostess and headed for the mall.
Melissa and I had both been to Washington at least twice before this so we were content to really enjoy the Smithsonian exhibits. One of the unique exhibits we were able to experience was viewing the Hope Diamond. A single guard stood next to the window and looked on as people filed by, glimpsing what is considered the world’s largest unflawed diamond.
Meanwhile Rob and Dan saw everything from the Washington Monument to Arlington Cemetery. We took a train back to the parking lot where the car was, and at 7.30 that evening, headed for Memphis, Tennessee to observe the enduring phenomenon of Graceland.
Next week: Elvis Remains…