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The American Road Trip: A Retrospective*

By August 9, 2014 One Comment
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*Any resemblances to real persons or events, past or present, are strictly coincidental.

Circa 1978

She: Honey, I think we were supposed to take that exit.

He: Are you sure?

She: Well, I’m looking at the atlas here and … boy, this is right on the edge of this page … here, I’ll look at the detail map on the next page.

He: Let me see that!

She: You drive! I’m navigating!

He: Are you sure you’re reading that right?

She: Gives him a dirty look. I’m telling you, it’s exit 174. Stabs atlas with finger. I can see it right here.


She: Which exit am I supposed to take?

He: Look at my phone mounted on the dash. It shows you. Just follow the arrows.

She: I can’t see your phone. It’s too small and there’s a glare.

He: Here, I’ll set up my tablet instead. Several minutes pass. Oh shoot. My tablet is out of power. Let me find my charge cable. Rummages through large tote bag containing a tangled knot of chargers, cables, plugs, devices of all sorts. OK, here it is. Flurry of plugging and unplugging.

She: So which exit am I supposed to take?

He: Just a minute! Minutes tick by. OK, well, Google maps has us using a different route from Apple maps. Pinches the image in. Agh! Too small! Stop that, you dumb thing! Pinches the image out again. OK, let’s see… Well, I think we should take exit 174.

She: Yeah, that was miles ago.

* * * 

Circa 1978

Dad: All right, I’ve been around the dial three times now. There is nothing on the radio out here in the boonies.

Mom: Let’s sing!

Small kid: Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, Ninety-nine bottles of beeeeeer!

Teenager: Shut up, dork!

Mom: Or we could play a game! How about the alphabet game? Or twenty questions?

Big kid: Look, it’s a “Watch for ice on bridge” sign! ABCEFGHI! Ha ha!

Small kid: No fair!

Big kid: Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall…


Dad: All right! We’re on the highway now. What would we like to listen to together? I’ve got 27 audio books, 314 music playlists, and 67 podcasts on my phone. Or I could project YouTube videos on the car ceiling if I can rig up my laptop with the projector ap on the tablet, and then I could get audio by…, let’s see, …

Mom: (Driving.) Honey. Just stop. Kids, what would you like to listen to?

Kids: Barely perceptible twips and chutters of earbud noise, as each kid zones out in a private world created by a separate headphone/ipod set.


Circa 1978

She: I’m hungry. Is it time for lunch yet? Where shall we go?

He: Say, there’s a billboard advertising a truck stop with Marge’s Diner. Shall we take a chance and stop there?

She: Well, it’s hard to say when we’ll come across another restaurant on this lonely stretch. We had better do it.


She: I’m hungry. Is it time for lunch yet? Where shall we go?

He: Let’s see. Tappita tappita tappita. Ok, Google maps says that in thirty miles there’s an exit with fifteen restaurants, including a Denny’s, an Applebee’s, a Noodles, and here’s an Italian restaurant.

She: Italian! That sounds good.

He: I’ll just look it up on TripAdvisor. Tappita tappita. Scroll scroll scroll. Yeah, no, never mind.

She: Where’s the nearest Chinese place?

He: Tappita tappita. Looks like forty-five miles, just off the interstate. Scroll scroll scroll. Gets good reviews, too. And they have free wireless!

She: Let’s do it.


Circa 1978

Parked on an exit ramp, Dad is peering under the hood, looking determined.

Dad: I think it’s the carburetor.

Mom: Are you sure? Shouldn’t we call Triple AAA?

Dad: Of course not! I can do this! Son, I think there’s a socket wrench in the trunk. Go get it and then crawl under the car with me to watch what I’m doing. Every man has to know how to fix a car!


Parked on an exit ramp, Dad is peering under the hood while teen stands there with a tablet.

Dad: So what does the KIA website say?

Teenager: I went through FAQs, and that took me to the diagnostic page, which says we need part #24015-15A. And it has a link to the nearest place where we can get one.

Later, in the parking lot of the ginormous auto parts store in big-box world off the interstate.

Teenager: OK, I’ve got the instructional YouTube video up.

Dad: You sure that’s the one for replacing a running light on the 2011 Kia? That doesn’t look right.

Teenager: Oh yeah, that’s the 2010. Sorry. Hang on. Tap tap tap. Here you go.

Dad: That’s better. OK, hold it up so I can see.


Circa 1978

Kid: For the twentieth time. Are we there yet?

Parents: No!


Parents: Sweetie! We’re here! Time to get out of the car!

Kid: Are we there already? I’ve still got twenty minutes left in this episode! I’ll just stay in the car and finish.


Circa 1978

Some place far from home in a distant state, at the end of many many miles of highway, the travelers at last arrive.

Travelers: We’re here!

Dear friends or family: Welcome! We’re so glad you’ve come!


Some place far from home in a distant state, at the end of many many miles of highway, the travelers at last arrive.

Travelers: We’re here!

Dear friends or family: Welcome! We’re so glad you’ve come!

Thankfully, some things stay the same…

Debra Rienstra

I am a writer and literature professor, teaching early British literature and creative writing at Calvin University, where I have been on the faculty since 1996. Born and bred in the Reformed tradition, I’ve been unable to resist writing four books about theological topics: beware the writer doing theology without a license. Besides the books, I’ve written well over two hundred essays for The Twelve as well as numerous articles, poems, and reviews in popular and scholarly contexts. I have a B.A. from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) and a M.A. and Ph.D. from Rutgers. I am married to Rev. Ron Rienstra, and together we have three grown children. Besides reading and writing, I love classical music, science fiction, fussing in the yard, hiking, and teaching myself useful skills like plant identification and—maybe someday—drywall repair.

One Comment

  • Ed Bruinsma says:

    I enjoyed reading this post. Just goes to show that no matter how much things change in a lot of way the ending remains the same. I long for the days of talking to my kids in the car like we used to. Now one is o the tablet, another with earbuds in so she can listen to the playlist on the iphone and so on and so on.

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