Two Februaries ago, I sat in a Boston bar with a group of writing-conference friends, shooting the breeze about nonsense like tone and voice (I’m making us sound way more scholarly than we are – we were probably yelling about television or something, my memory is fuzzy). My friend Amy, who I had bonded with the previous year over our love of our respective football teams (hers, the Packers; mine, clearly, the Steelers) looked down at her phone and suddenly went wide-eyed.
“You guys, I just got into LSU!” We all immediately ordered a shot of tequila — because, really, how else do you celebrate getting into a graduate MFA program with an under-5-percent acceptance rate — and cheers’d her accomplishment. At some point the conversation between her and I turned into her having to quit her job and take part of the summer off to relocate, and then at some further point into the wee hours, I suggested she should stop off in Pittsburgh and we should take a road trip.
In the moment, it sounded like what our creative, yet 9-to-5 employment-having, brains needed. I’d just take a week off and she’d find a way to get to the Pittsburgh airport (which was a debacle in itself) and we’d hop in my car and go! We joked about it for the rest of the conference, but then I got back on a flight to Pittsburgh and wondered if it could really be a thing.
I looked up gas and toll prices idly, considering our options as snow swirled outside my windows in the March cold. We had people we could stay with — friends scatter-shot across the Rust Belt — and I had some PTO saved up. I made a Google Map, considered the wear and tear on my car, and finally decided why not? I sent Amy a detailed proposed itinerary and she bought a plane ticket from her hometown to Pittsburgh.
So we took the road trip. And it was the greatest decision I’ve made in recent history, even though we were late for nearly everything, went under a structurally-unsound set of elevated railroad tracks in Cleveland in the pitch-black-dark while a train rattled by over our heads, and bent several Ohio traffic laws to get to a barn of cheese before they closed.
To borrow the word of Aubrey “Drake” Graham, YOLO. I’m being serious — you really are only young once. If you’ve got a break in your work or schooling, why not get out and explore? Everyone needs a change of scenery, and it will revitalize you to get back to your grind. Mine happened to be timed right before we went into the busier holiday season at work and it kept me going through the end of the year. The summer was the perfect time to press play on a playlist of ’90s hip hop and press pause on our otherwise busy lives.
You will come back with amazing stories. My friends and family were skeptical when I told them I was taking a road trip through Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, but then I came back and showed them all the pictures of the (in order) largest apple basket, largest regular basket, largest loaf of bread (now rusted and somewhat sketchy-looking), largest candle, the place where the largest fake eyeglasses and nose are supposed to be, largest kielbasa-shaped sign, largest tire, largest bronze falcon, and largest rubber stamp. Amy and I took selfies in front of as many of these things as possible and I still look back through the album sometimes and laugh.
The bond you form with your fellow roadtripper will be awe-inspiring. Amy and I were friends — maybe not the closest, but friends — before our trip, but since then, we’ve spoken almost every day, and she’s become integral to my existence. Topics of discussion over our week ranged from intensive political debate to light discussion of our favorite makeup products and everything in between. Comfortable silence and endless chatter were both appreciated. We figured out how to coexist in a very cramped space and came out all the better for it.
+ Have you ever thrown caution to the wind and taken a road trip? Where did you go, and how did it make you feel?