I always sat in the middle, straddling the hump, and rode for hours – wedged between my brother and sister. Sometimes, I would stand up and lean forward in order to be ahead of the backseat riders, but mostly I sat back and propped my knees on the front seat so that my feet dangled. I would ride and look out the windows. We spent a lot of time in the car – my mom and dad, my brother, my sister and me. We might have been traveling to a distinct destination, but often we were just out to explore. We would set out to see “something” and wind up in a completely different place than planned because we would notice a side road or a billboard that called to us. It didn’t matter. We were on a car ride. My dad normally drove, and if it was a Saturday afternoon in the fall (our favorite season to go riding), the radio would be tuned to the AM station that broadcast the University of Michigan football games. We would listen as Bob Ufer, U of M’s frenzied announcer, called the game (“from left to right on your radio dial”) and trumpeted the ups and downs of “Old Blue’s” four quarter fight. We celebrated great plays with cheers as my dad happily thumped the steering wheel, and we all sang “The Victors” with fists held high after touchdowns. We cheered as if we were in the stadium. I’m sure fellow motorists thought we were crazy, but we didn’t care. We were on a car ride.
Vacations normally found us with a camper in tow, heading to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and when the football games weren’t on, we normally had the radio off. We didn’t need it. We sang instead. My mother had a million titles in her head, and as we got older, we learned the harmony parts, with my dad always providing the driving bass line. We were especially good at the old hymns from our Methodist hymnal – tub thumpers, my dad always called them. Every so often, we could convince my parents to find a popular radio station, but as it faded out of broadcast range, they would turn it off again. We would go back to singing the miles by, or we’d move on to playing 20 questions or just talking out life’s problems and curiosities. We didn’t pack video games (not yet made) or Walkmans, which were new to the scene. We didn’t need them. We were on a car ride.
Time has passed, and now my husband and I load up our three kids and go – sometimes with our camper and sometimes just on a whim. We let the kids choose if we should turn right or left, and we are off. Gas is hovering around $4.00 per gallon, but we don’t care. We are going on a car ride. I know it isn’t the green way to think, and I am a little ashamed of our waste sometimes, but I won’t give this up. I can’t. Oh sure, some things are a little different. We have a mini van now, so no one is in the middle on the hump, and yes, I admit that long trips sometimes find my kids messing with Gameboys, but normally we travel in sync with each other. We sing, we play games, we talk through life’s issues, and we laugh as we go exploring. We have turned down odd avenues and discovered corners of the world not yet mapped. We have watched the sky throw colors and dance clouds across our windshield. We have marveled at wildlife that warily watches us go by, and we have honked the horn at the first sight of the Chicago skyline or the towers of the Mackinac Bridge. And we have done it together – on our car rides.
And in the evening stillness that takes over the van as our kids slowly blink to sleep, I remember fading off in the backseat of our old Ford LTD, and I believe I can again hear the muffled night voices of my mom and dad drifting back to me. I look at my children’s sleeping faces and grab my husband’s hand as he steers us through the night. We are right in continuing this tradition. We are right to spend this time together in our car.
Calendars may be packed and gas may be expensive, but the memories built from a car ride are priceless. This I believe.
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