Revved for a Road Trip

Off we go, in search of the best hash browns in America

And now we have July, mean and muggy.  Add a little extra detergent to the stinky t-shirts. Stick to the shady trails on the hikes.

More ice in the tonic, drown the geraniums with the hose.

It’s July, a good time to flee town on a long road trip, in search of the best hash browns in America, remote roadside attractions, trinkets, selfies, and gas stops in the Plains where the Shell sign is the tallest structure for a hundred miles.

In the morning light, a Shell tower can look kind of majestic, as you top off the tank, clean the windshield, grab coffee in a Styrofoam cup, eat a pastry out of plastic wrapper. There are fancier places to grab breakfast. None better.

A car trip offers such sweet anticipation. It’s summer on steroids, a steeplechase of milkshakes and fries.

I love road maps, the way they crinkle and fold, the tiny eyelash type, for petroglyph sites or the grave of Sacagawea.

At some point, we’ll get lost, or low on gas, or stuck in a lightning storm in Wyoming, looking everywhere for twisters. 

We’ll feel the hood of the car with the hand and wonder: “Is it running a little hot?”

Some days we’ll do 600 miles – two guys alone can cover a lot of highway. I’ll tell him how the American interstate system was built by a famous World War II general who was inspired by the German Autobahn. I’ll quiz him about the first 10 presidents.

I’m taking paper maps, not because you really need physical maps anymore but because I’m the kind of dad-dork who loves road maps, the way they crinkle and fold, the tiny eyelash type, for petroglyph sites or the grave of Sacagawea.

I’m taking the Rand McNally because only then, with the atlas spread out on your lap like a tablecloth, only then can you really appreciate the heft of this country, the vast distances, the little lives that go unsung. Good lives, anonymous, though well played, with envy, greed, veneration, hard work, piety and dirty little secrets – all the qualities that make us human.

You spot the little farms from the freeway. What goes on in there? Maybe someone’s taking a bath, or writing a poem, or making a baby. You see those places and the imagination soars.

I’m taking Smartacus, too, because I love my son. I love him the way I love hash browns, to almost fanatical levels.

We’re hitting the road now because summer school is over, and because daily routine has reached our bones, and we’re feeling cranky and isolated and in need of new experiences. Getting the mail each day has become an event, as has dinner, as has running to the store.

We need a little more than that.

Lately, we seem to be even more into our phones than usual, which isn’t good. I don’t need more digital intrusions. The mortgage company texted me the other day that the payment was late, when it really wasn’t, if you include the grace period.

Point is, they hound you, these creditors…I wake up to their scolding. And the gas company now sends me weekly updates on our usage, as if I’ll read their little bar chart and decide: “Hey, let’s all use less natural gas today. No more hot showers!

Look, it’s not like I don’t have a few funds, and if I needed to, I could always hock my fishing equipment or my son. Tall, gangly, unfocused young men with a knack for tech are still a hot commodity in some places.

It’s July, mean and muggy. A good time to flee town on a long road trip, in search of the best hash browns in America #ChrisErskineLA #roadtrips #America

Seriously, I could probably get 40 bucks for Smartacus (plus shipping). When he gets a little older, maybe he’ll be good for yard work, or odd jobs around the house, though I kind of doubt it.

The other day, he couldn’t even fix the ice maker, when one little chunk was stuck in the discharge panel, like a bad piano key. It was obvious right away what the problem was, and he couldn’t diagnose. All he knew was that the icemaker wasn’t working.

‘DAD, THERE’S NO ICE. SERIOUSLY, NO ICE!”

When I sell him, I’ll send along a user’s manual. All kids have their little quirks.

Tip No. 7: Don’t mention chores or laundry or any sort of personal obligation before breakfast, and it’s even better if you’ll wait until noon, by which time he’s had three meals and has become somewhat docile, even a little comatose from the big wad of food in his tummy. He’ll walk around patting it, like a pregnant woman. That’s when you know it’s finally OK to talk.

Stuff like that.

Hard to tell what I could get for a kid like him in Nebraska or Iowa, where strapping young men who yawn a lot are in constant demand.

They might even make him governor.

So load up the car, Spartacus, and don’t forget to tuck a few of Dad’s old CDs under the seat.

Flashlight?

Check.

Trip-Tiks?

Check.

Binoculars?

Check.

Ready or not, America here we come.

Come along on our road trip to the heartland – up through Utah and across Wyoming, as we search for the best hash browns in America. I’ll be filing from the road on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and you can also follow on Twitter and Facebook.

39 thoughts on “Revved for a Road Trip

  1. Devin and her boys are on a road trip from WI to AZ camping and hoteling it, headed for Utah today🚣‍♀️

      1. Are you going through Cheyenne, my cousin owns a bar that I know you would enjoy.

  2. I cannot wait for your road posts! I was opening my paper this morning, feeling a little blue, knowing your column would not be there to turn to first. Then I remembered you were in my phone instead! THANK YOU for continuing to share your and your wonderful kids’ adventures with us. Safe and happy travels! Is the wolf staying home?

  3. Have a wonderful trip! I’m looking forward to traveling vicariously with you. When you get to Chicago, wave at the lake for me. It might even wave back.

  4. Was turned on to you by my LA stepson, on the day you signed off from the LA Times. So glad you continue to post your travels. Enjoy your road trip, we have done it many times. Always an adventure!

  5. There is nothing like a road trip! Wishing you and Smartacus smooth roads, interesting “tourist traps”, dramatic skies before the storms, and great adventures. May road construction not keep you waiting too long in the heat each day. Travel safely!

  6. Since I can’t go anywhere this is really exciting. Look forward to hash browns all over America. Will Spartacus be driving ?

  7. Ah yes the Rand McNally atlas. No road trip is official without it. Who didn’t love reaching into the glove compartment for the state map for directions and then struggle to fold it back correctly? Brings back fond memories. Safe travels to you and Smartacus!

  8. Sounds like big fun. I have never been on a road trip. Will go on my first one via yours. Thanks

  9. The real question is…do you put ketchup on the your hash browns? I like mine covered with the stuff and maybe a little egg yoke as well. Makes my wife gag. Have a great trip.

  10. RAND McNALLY? When I was in college my roommate’s boyfriend christened me with that moniker because I was obsessed with maps (still am). Yet another thing we share in common! Chez Jay’s still beckons… someday. Bon Voyage my Friend!

  11. I hope you have a great trip! Take lots of photos. I still have my grandparents slides from the 60’s of their trips from California to Iowa. Stay masked up but don’t rob any gas stations. 😁

  12. Paper maps and paper newspapers – both so much fun to hold but both only useful if used appropriately.

  13. Can’t wait to read about your trip! Just finished Daditude. Absolutely loved it!
    Wishing you & Smartacus a safe journey.

  14. So, you’re on your way a week before me! No problem; I’m taking the southern route on my way there, but the northern way back. I doubt you’re free-loading on your sister for a month, so chances are we won’t run into each other at gas stations & restrooms on the way back! But I’ll keep an eye open for you & Sparticus just in case!

  15. Rand McNally, trip tiks, Thomas Guides..all necessary tools for navigating the nooks and crannies of America. Back roads and small towns…what fun you’ll have and neat memories!

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