Pandemic prompts summer road trip

It seemed like 2020 just couldn't stop dishing out nasty surprises, so this summer I went rogue and took a 1,400-hundred mile road trip to Arizona with the kids and the dog.

I'd not driven across country since I was maybe 12, but there I was, toting teenaged children and a stubborn, 70-pound (shedding!) Basset hound through six different states during a global pandemic.

Long car trips were a summer staple for my family in the '70s and early '80s. Airplane rides were strictly for business trips, not for family adventures.

We'd drive down to Florida and back early in the summer, and then go west to Colorado, returning just before school started. Back in those ancient days, The Driver (aka Dad) had godlike control over everything: the radio station, permissible topics of conversation and the frequency of rest stops. We always departed at sunrise to "beat the traffic" and brought (vile) thermoses of milk to drink on the way.

Dad held contests to see who would be first member of the family to spot certain landmarks - the dim outline of the Rocky Mountains, the first orange groves or the first billboard for Wall Drugs. I always lost. Coincidentally, it was also during these trips that we discovered my nearsightedness. I was not a good sport; I would spend the entire ride (when I wasn't getting violently carsick) reading Tolkien, whining that my sister was taking up too much room, and wishing my parents would disappear.

My own offspring, on the other hand, have no idea how nice they have it. They pretty much put in their earbuds and checked out for rest of the day, leaving me alone with the interstate. One might think this was lonely for me; au contraire. Thanks to technology I could ascertain the distance to the nearest Starbucks, order, pay for and pick up an enormous iced coffee (not forgetting a "pup cup" for Ollie) - all without interrupting my audiobook of "Travels With Charley," voiced by Gary Sinise. The kids barely noticed.

In these uncertain times, some things actually do remain constant. No matter how hard we try to avoid it, the result is inevitable: we will turn into our parents. Once I was in the driver's seat, I found myself compelled to point out every funny billboard and suggest, "Hey, let's see who'll be the first one to spot the St. Louis Arch!" This time, I won the contest.

We made it into Arizona unscathed. And I fell in love all over again with the desert southwest, vowing to move there and foreswear the damp Midwest forever. Just to mess with me, though, Hinsdale had to turn around and have the prettiest autumn we've seen in years.

I'm not complaining; a picturesque fall is the least 2020 could do for us. It owes us, big time.

- Susan O'Byrne of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].