“How far are we?”
I looked out the window, gazing into the Northern Texas desert. We were in the middle of the country, in that spot where the tumbleweeds are just starting to dance around the dust. My father drove as we headed deeper into nowhere.
“It’s only supposed to be another mile or so,” I said. “The picture makes it look pretty big, so we should see it.”
Our destination was, according to the Roadside America app, a huge pair of legs that sat just outside of Amarillo, Texas. My eyes gazed over the horizon, and sure enough, a pair of legs appeared in the distance.
“There!” I said. Dad parked the car and we hopped the fence, breaking the rules in favor of getting a better look. The legs were cut off at the knee and were donned in spray-painted socks. I stood next to one foot, my chest just barely reaching the ankle.
“Now that is weird,” Dad said. He smiled. “I’d have never imagined to see something like that.”
Nearly five years ago, my father and I embarked on a Virginia to California road trip. I was working an internship in Santa Monica that summer, and Dad and I decided to turn the cross-country expedition into our own personal bonding session. On the morning of our departure, we loaded the car with Fig Newtons, made the first post on a Twitter account Dad had made for the trip, and started the engine.
It was the longest amount of time my father and I had ever spent just the two of us. We took Route 40, the famous highway that cuts the country in half and goes through twelve central states. Along the way, we visited the jungle room in Elvis’s Graceland, dined like cowboys at the Big Texan Steak Ranch, and took pictures beside the aforementioned huge pair of legs (check it out, seriously) in the middle of the Amarillo desert. We wandered through the petrified forest of Apache County and absorbed the nostalgia of Route 66. We were pioneers; a modern day Charles and Laura Ingalls Wilder.
While it was the first cross-country drive for us both, I was no stranger to the family road trip. I still have vivid memories of traveling the two hours from Virginia to Pennsylvania for second Christmases with Grandma and summertime soaks in my uncle’s pool. My family had our favorite stops; the Busy Bee bakery for bear claws or, if it was a Saturday, the roadside stand along Route 15 for bagged kettle corn. (Naturally, the majority of detours stemmed from hunger.)
I soon graduated from the backseat into the driver’s when I hit the life-altering milestone of earning my license. Road trips took on a new symbol, going from family to freedom and friendship as my buddies and I began navigating directions outside of our high school highways. We drove to state football games, blasting MGMT and Dane Cook stand-up, while the snow dusted the highway a light gray. I remember laughing, feeling like I totally understood what Stephen Chbosky meant when he wrote the lines “we were infinite.”
Then came college, and road trips were all about gratitude. If you’ve ever ventured from your college town back to Mom’s house with an empty belly and a trunk full of laundry, you know what I’m talking about. I drove home for Thanksgiving break with childlike anticipation; forget dining hall mashed potatoes, I was gonna eat Mom’s! The various gas stations become timestamps; each one symbolizing a decrease in the length of time I had before the reunion with my high school mattress.
The heartfelt road trip was surprise. These ones, spontaneous trips we take when we’re falling in love, were all about pushing long hours in order to get into so-and-so’s arms before midnight. When I was 23, I drove from Tennessee to Texas to reunite with a former flame. Every mile-marker served as a delicious and terrifying tick reminding me that I was getting closer to a kiss. I don’t remember the scenery so much as the butterflies.
Road trips also symbolize change. Every now and then we need to make a shift in our lives, in which case a road trip might be the solution. For me, this occurred when I made the self-indulgent decision to move to Los Angeles. I left Virginia in the winter months, when the ground was caked with snow. As I headed south, I took note of the salty air of the Carolinas, the way the New Orleans bartender leaned on the counter as she divulged her weekend plans. Every human had a chapter of America, and I was weaving myself into the novel.
Post-move, the journeys continued. When life got too ordinary, I found that road trips could fall into a category that I affectionately label “educational escapism.” In these moments I’d grab a girlfriend (or one grabbed me), and we’d pick a spot on the map, tie up our hair Thelma and Louise–style, and venture out into the semi-unknown. We’d stop in general stores, sampling chocolate fudge and making friends with strangers over the countertop. How groovy for our paths to cross, how unexpected.
Why have I become so addicted to the journey, and why can’t I apply that metaphor into the rest of my life?
I’ve recently made a roadtrip to reconnect. It had been months since I had spoken to my dear Uncle David, a shame because he was the one who first introduced me to Broadway and the Ramos fizz. He was staying at Grandma’s, and visiting him created an opportunity for me to revisit the roads of my past. Instead of milk, Grandma gave me champagne, though I did leave with my typical purse o’ Werther’s Originals. Some things never change.
I prefer to be on the road. When I am stagnant, I wonder what it is about these expeditions that feels so right. Why have I become so addicted to the journey, and why can’t I apply that metaphor into the rest of my life?
In these moments on the road, we are both homeless and in motion. Our space is communal; the road is shared between passengers and travelers making their way across the highway. I’ve often looked out of the window and wondered about the mother with the loaded backseat, or the lovers with their feet on the dashboard. What are they running towards? Who are they looking to become?
Road trips are special because they give us the time to see, wonder, escape, communicate, connect, appreciate, and start over. The car provides a safe space, a time where we need not focus on the past or agonize over the future. No, we simply pay attention to the road ahead of us, and if we have time, stop for pair of legs.
All photos by Aminda Villa