The Stages Of The Road Trip: Stage Two


Stage One. Before the trip.


The gang is ready to set off. It’s going to be a long trip. Maybe the longest they’ve ever made. Maybe the longest there ever will be. Anyway it’s at least two hours longer than the last one the group’s managed. Dan is not saying that if he were in charge he would set up a definite rotation for driving. He’s just saying that a definite rotation for driving would be good. After the third iteration of this Sophia answers that if they rotate too much they’ll end up right back where they started. Amanda has the bad luck to mention 180 degrees in this. This brings lively but unproductive talk about the differences between 180 degree, 360 degree, and 720 degree turns. Dan attempts to propose a 270 degree turn just to lighten the subject.

Still, better if we set out sooner rather than later. No, sooner than that. Maybe a bit earlier than that. After three different chat rooms have settled on five different start times Dan proposes that everyone set out the night before and meet up at the park-and-ride twenty minutes out of everywhere. He’s being facetious, everyone tells themselves.

The compromise is to move the start time 90 minutes earlier. The morning of the start everyone is running about an hour late, so they agree to just start 30 minutes ahead of the original start time. Then somehow just getting everything in the trunk and one last trip to the bathroom takes 75 minutes. Josh insists that by starting 45 minutes late they’re running ahead of schedule. Dan is not convinced by this. It will be until the state welcome center before the topic has been debated enough that everyone lets it drop.

The seat belts are locking up. Just the ones in back. They do that. There’s a trick to it. You have to sit so you’re facing forward. No, not that forward. Dan, just … no, you need to … there, see? Now it’s pulling out. All right, now it’s locked up. Maybe you should get out and get back in the car the correct way this time. No, the other correct way. Look, both feet on the floor, that’s the first thing you need. Now face forward. Not that much forward. All right, why don’t you try the other side? That’s right. Now sit facing forward. Not that much forward. Don’t pull the seat belt out that fast. All right, let it out and back again. Not that slow. You want to go medium speed. More medium than that. Not that … look, this is before your turn but why don’t you try the front seat? Oh good grief. All right, let’s try where you started again. Right. You know most of us can use a seat belt. Yes, try facing forward. Not that forward.

Fine, we just won’t crash the car this time.

There is a great sense of thrill and delight at finally being off. And then stopping again because Sophia needs to stop at the convenience store ATM for some overpriced money. Dan does too. Also Josh. Amanda doesn’t need any but, you know, it wouldn’t hurt to get some Combos. This turns into getting sour cream doughnuts instead. And then there is great thrill at being off again.

There is also great thrill at seeing the trip’s first group of sheep. Who knew there were sheep and they were just standing there, tending sheep tasks, off on the side of the road, just like that was a normal thing? So, sheep. Yeah.

This is the time when everyone learns their friends have the worst taste in podcasts. Josh is partial to three guys laughing at each other, with occasional guest hosts. Dan prefers one guy trying to remember all the things he wrote down in the notes he doesn’t have. Sophia likes one person interviewing three people about something she never heard of before and will never hear about again. Amanda likes hyperbolic descriptions of movies and TV shows she never really watched, they were just on. Sometimes two or three can find a podcast that satisfies them, but there is no hope of all four enjoying what they’re listening to. The shows keep getting interrupted for explanations of the in-jokes that don’t need explanation.

It’s pointed out that if the trip doesn’t ultimately have a 360 degree turn then they can’t ever get home again.

The Stages Of The Road Trip: Stage One


The gang agrees a road trip would be great. It’s been so long since the last one. There’s not going to be many more good chances this year. The weather’s getting to be more of itself. Work is getting busier. There’s the chance the state might discontinue roads for the rest of the year. No telling. If we don’t get to it soon we might never start at all.

Which car to use? There’s the obvious choice. That’s the one that would reach its scheduled service mileage about one-third of the way through the trip. That’s … something we could handle? … Right? … Daniel insists he can handle it. Nobody believes it. The cashier at Pita Pit asks Daniel if he’s all right, or if he’s lying about something powerfully important to him. The guy at the car wash just leans in and hugs him, saying, “I don’t know why but, man, something about you says you need this. Whatever it is, it’ll get better.” Amanda’s the first to admit this won’t work, though, even after finding car dealerships roughly along the planned path.

It’ll be Josh’s car instead. It’s less comfortable. But Josh insists he’s glad to host the trip. “It’ll be great! I can finally get updates to all my state maps!” Nobody’s sure whether this is serious. But in that little cubbyhole in his car doors are a lot of maps. So many maps. Gas station maps. Maps from Esso gas stations. A map of the Washington, D.C. area that still shows “Lee Family Estate” where Arlington National Cemetery should be. A map showing the Colonie of Nieuw-Nederland. It’s pristine. His car is three years old. There have always been things about Josh nobody understood. Now, knowing a little more, everyone knows him less.

Road snack purchases are a hot debate. There’s the faction that wants things bought ahead of time, so the gang can set off without false starts. There’s the faction that sees the false start as tradition. There’s the faction that insists there’s rest areas on the highway for a reason. Amanda tries to be the sensible one and insists road snacks aren’t necessary if everyone just eats good meals. There seem to be more factions than people going.

Fourteen hours of heated debate spread over three chat groups, none of which have all the participants in it, agrees at least to go to the same convenience store and stock up. This after ninety minutes of argument about the supermarket being cheaper. Or the neighborhood grocery store being better for the long term economic health of small business all right THANK YOU we get it. It’s twenty-five bucks’ worth of Fritos, economic justice doesn’t enter into it.

The cooler issue will not settle. There’s good economic reasons to get bottles of soda, even small bottles, and keep them in cooler. This crashes into the faction that fresh-poured fountain drinks taste better. A hard-shell cooler works better but bangs the knees of everyone in back. A soft-shell cooler fits between people but Sophia’s read things about breeding bacteria? Somehow? It’s all very tiring.

The day before the trip the low-tire-pressure light comes on. Josh has a pressure gauge for just this problem. It’s not the front driver’s side tire. It’s not the rear driver’s side tire. It’s not the front passenger’s side tire. It’s not the rear passenger’s side tire. Two hours of increasingly cross words follow in three of the now-five group chats. Fourteen separate web searches for symptoms follow. Eight of them end up on Yahoo Answers. Despair sets in. Sophia has the breakthrough insight: could it be the spare tire? Yes, it could, but it is not. Thirty minutes later the low-tire-pressure light stops lighting. Daniel offers it was his suggestion to put electrical tape over the dashboard that did it. The real explanation remains unknown. Perhaps the tires just wanted some attention.

“Fritos are not a matter of economic justice” becomes the newest in-joke for the group. Three and a half years later it switches to being Cheetos not being a matter of economic justice. No one is able to explain this phenomenon. It becomes a matter of great angry debate when anyone tries to insist that it was originally Fritos.

Statistics Saturday: Some Fictional Road Signs


  • Caution: Road
  • Stock Photographs next 3 miles
  • No Weather Zone
  • Keep Right Except To Giraffe
  • In-Jokes
  • Mediocrity Far As The Eye Can See
  • Dental Technicians And Supporters Only
  • To The South Is
  • Impertinent Scoundrels, All
  • Wark Zone Ahead: Watch For Seagulls
  • Save Your Files
  • You’ll Make It Through This
  • Orbs, Mister Christian. Orbs
  • Perfected Frost Zone
  • Nostalgic Haze – Visibility 15-20 Years Ago
  • You Had Your Chance
  • Monitor Helicopters For Speeding
  • It Made Sense In Context
  • Welp
  • A NEW CAR!

Reference: The Kaiser’s Merchant Ships in World War I, William Lowell Putnam.

Statistics Saturday: Which Side Of The Road Various Countries Of The World Drive On


Country Of The World Which Side Of The Road Is Driven On
Canada Top
India Top
United Kingdom Top
Australia Top
Mexico Top
Germany Top
Ukraine Top
Norway Top
Russia Top
Romania Top
Finland Top
Turkey Top
Hungary Top
South Korea Top
Brazil Top
United States Top
New Zealand Top
Greece Top
Serbia Top
Argentina Top
Vietnam Top
Bangladesh Top
Taiwan Top
Lebanon Top
Italy Top
Spain Top
Portugal Top
Israel Top
Philippines Top
France Top
Denmark Top

Source: The Kind Of Motion We Call Heat: A History of the Kinetic Theory of Gases in the 19th Century, Volume 1: Physics and the Atomists, Stephen G Brush.

Highway Robbery


If you accept the oddball news, then, you’d believe that a Russian official’s been arrested for stealing a highway. The BBC reports that Alexander Protopopov, a senior prison official, had thirty miles of road in the “far-northern Komi region” dismantled and driven away over the course of a year. (I’m glad they clarified it was the far-northern Komi region, and not, say, the far-southeastern Komi region I knew from visiting my grandmother in North Carolina when I was young.) I have to assume he was very careful figuring out which parts of road to steal first and which to leave for later. It’d be embarrassing to find you had to drive back over road that was now loaded up in the back of your truck. Sure, you could handle the situation — you’ve got road on you right there — but it spoils your getaway. You have to stop every couple feet to put down some more road and pick back up the old. It’s just undignified.

And I understand his pinching a road, if he did actually do it. I have a bit of a hoarding tendency myself. But I tend to grab stuff like that only if it’s clearly free and for the public to take. I have few far-northern Russian roads, so far as I know. My grabbed-stuff collection is mostly breath mints from Penn Station subway shops. (I say nothing about what my father might have in his storage locker.)

But I’m not a kindred soul to this fellow. The police, say the BBC, accuse Protopopov of selling off the road he got. That goes completely against the way I think. To me, if something might be remotely useful in some context I’m keeping it. “What, what do you need every receipt for buying gas for your car dating back to 2009 for?” a sane person might ask. To which I respond by pointing over the person’s shoulder, screaming as though in fear for my life, and running out of the room. A road is much more obviously useful, what with how you can set it up somewhere and attract a couple of grease trucks. Eventually this will form a little gentrified quick-food center in town, and you’ll get written up favorably in the local alt-weekly when they do their annual Dining In Town guide. So that’s where Protopopov really went wrong.

Also it turns out you can fence a stolen highway. I’m still getting over that a couple years ago someone stole a little garden statue from our front yard. It probably wasn’t this Protopopov fellow, although if Russian police do find he’s got a cute little statue of a rabbit standing up I’d appreciate their contacting me.

The Road Warrantiers


A controversial thing going around Michigan right now is a public referendum for a road-repair plan. As side effects it also changes how schools get funded, changes the sales tax, and requires a band of the state National Guard to tromp into Toledo once every two years and say, “Is too ours anytime we want it”. It’s kind of complicated. Even the media guides to it drift off after a few paragraphs and admit, “every time they explain it to us it sounds like it makes sense but then we leave the room and we forget how it works again”.

But there’s advertisements for it on the TV now. One advert just explained how under the new plan roads will have to be warrantied. I never thought of warrantying road construction before. I guess I had just assumed that as long as nobody stole your road within four months of construction then everything was fine. It’s kind of comforting knowing that roads can be warrantied and maybe even will be. But now I’m imagining my next visit to Best Buy. I’ll be waiting at the customer service desk, trying in despair to think of anything I can buy that wouldn’t be a waste of my $5 gift certificate. And ahead of me will be the Mayor of Lansing, holding a chunk of where I-496 turns into 127, pointing to a receipt that’s eight feet long, and arguing a pothole. I always get stuck behind problems like that.

Expedition Log, Day 1, Redux: Not Arguing That Again


9:45 am. Not making the same mistake as last time. Headed out east to find the Cumbrey Road onramp desperately backed up due to emergency construction. Turned around; went west, discovered the Pridmore’s Swamp Turnpike closed due to non-emergency non-construction. At the Five Points Turnabout walls of orange barrels reach high enough to blot out the sun. Trying south instead discovered potholes for sale by the square yard and extending as far as forty feet off the highway and into people’s homes. Northwest reveals a patch where it’s still winter, and northeast finds routine construction implying detours sending me right back home. Clearly there are deeper forces at work here than we suspect.

Total Mileage: 0.

But it’s tidied up all along 127


So I realized this one rug needed to be vacuumed, and once you get to the effort of getting the vacuum out of its special guarded chamber and all that it doesn’t make sense not to vacuum the rest of the rugs too. And sure, once you have that it doesn’t make sense not to take out the broom and sweep the floor, and when you’ve got that going there’s the stairs too. And once you’ve got the cleaning vibe going for the stairs there’s all these things that could use dusting — I mean removing the dust, not putting it on, that was last week’s chore — and then there’s the glass that could use being sprayed with a translucent blue liquid that’s swiftly rubbed off and that can really be done on both the inside and the outside of the house and …

Long story short, I’m somewhere on the outskirts of Alma, Michigan, straightening out the edges of potholes. If someone could sneak up on me and shoot me with a tranquilizer dart and deliver me back to home I’d appreciate it.