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The American Road Trip: A Retrospective*

By August 9, 2014 One Comment

*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 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. My most recent book is Refugia Faith: Seeking Hidden Shelters, Ordinary Wonders, and the Healing of the Earth (Fortress, 2022). Besides the books, I’ve written well over two hundred essays for the RJ blog 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. Dr. 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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