Road Trips

If the Wistful Wishes Fairy ever shows up, she is going to give me a comfortable car with superior audio capabilities and sufficient cash to buy gas, food and accommodations Forever. Throw in a Road Atlas for North America and we’re good.084_84

Ever since I was a tiny person in diapers I’ve been loving being on The Road, a fortunate affinity if one is born in Montana, where the distances are great and the family far-flung. The very earliest coherent memories I have are of a trip to Seattle in 1957, and how much bigger and brighter the Seattle city lights were from Queen Anne’s Hill than the Great Falls city lights viewed from the Twilight Drive-In Theater. Maybe a year later I remember freaking out when I was told we were going to drive over a mountain in Glacier National Park; something about that notion made little Me deeply uneasy. So parents and grandparents lied right to me, saying it’s okay, Cotter (Grandma’s nickname for me) we won’t go over that scary mountain, even as we were ascending that scary mountain. Once we got to St Mary’s, they asked me if I had liked the ride. I had in fact loved the ride. Then they told me that we had just finished going over that scary mountain, and that wasn’t so bad, was it? I remember being aware that they had pulled one over on me, but I didn’t mind because I knew they were right. And then I had my first experience of Black Hills Gold and endless copper bangly stuff at the Gift Shop. Enormous log buildings. Buzzing horseflies that hurt like fire if they bit you. Grownups in shorts, with pale legs. Sunglasses. Watching the train pull in at East Glacier, with the Blackfoot decked out in full regalia to greet the tourists. Colors screaming bright, grass and flowers and war bonnets and sky and the enormous silent mountains. All new. Dazzling.

There was a time when there were no Interstates. There was a time when there were no rest stops. One in immediate need therefore had to “Pee the road.” This meant finding a wide spot, pulling over and selecting a bush. Our families favorite place to do this on the road between Great Falls and Livingston was a thicket of chokecherries just past the Burma Shave signs and before you got to the five white crosses marking the site of a fatal accident. (Montana used to put up a little white cross wherever somebody had died in a car wreck. Constant remembrance of mortality for a little boy with more graphic imagination than was perhaps necessary. I doubt they do that any more. Some atheist would sue them silly.)

I know what it is to ride a Montana highway in the back of an old El Camino. Me and my Baptist Youth pals looking for a hot spring with the radio turned up loud, playing the Young Rascals. Four or five of us in the back of that thing, doing 75, all keenly aware that if anything went wrong, we were all dead. It was a marvelous feeling. Three different sets of parents had no problem with turning us loose with no particular place to go in a completely unsafe vehicle. They gave us Freedom, understanding that risks are involved. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

And now let us sing: Goin’ up the country, goin’ where I wanna go/Goin’ up the country, goin’ where I wanna go/Goin’ to some place where I never been before. I’m goin’ I’m goin’ where the water tastes like wine/I’m goin’ where the water tastes like wine/you can jump in the water and stay drunk all the time.

Heaven, if it exists, is going to be an endless roadtrip. Much more to my taste than standing around on those silly streets of gold endlessly telling God how wonderful He is as the Elders fall down and worship.


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