My Love Affair with the Atlas
As a tween traveler, my favorite part of a road trip involved monopolizing the atlas. I watched highway signs near, knowing what town or junction we approached. I searched for the origins of creeks and rivers long after we had traversed their bridges. I estimated how far and how long each leg of our drive would take and knew without asking that we weren’t there yet. Better still, for my sisters the bound book of maps mattered little, so unless someone in the car’s cockpit needed it, I occupied myself in combining my sense of direction to my geographic curiosity. I easily could have earned the title of Backseat Navigator had my family realized how intimately I studied and adored its pages.
Of course, the road trips with my own children possess three features that the family station wagon of the seventies lacked: seat restraints, a solo driver and ADD-diagnosed boys and their bladders. I possess an atlas of my own, but I doubt my cartographic fascinations genetically transferred to my two passengers. Still, my boys rarely ask the classic road trip query, “Are we there yet?” My secret: when we stop for a meal, I fill the tank – mine and the car’s – and the boys unload theirs. They detour for a pit stop on arrival and before departure, but in between they burn off energy on the playground, whether at a rest stop or a restaurant. We grab their food to go, I’d buckle back in the driver’s seat, and they feed their faces without driving me crazy.
No Services for the Next Fifty Miles
But despite the skills of a master navigator, boys will be idiomatic, and on the fifty-mile stretch between Las Cruces and Alamogordo through the White Sands Missile Range, Son #2 announces his need to leave his mark in the sandy shoulder of the road. The occasional portable men’s rooms strategically placed to aid motorists with like-minded boys appear just slightly less frequently enough than needed, and distinctly less frequently than the “No Stopping” signs. During his sixty seconds of unauthorized precipitation, the only passing vehicle, a Wal-Mart diesel rig, honks in salute of his raining on the military proving ground’s parade.
Back in the car and back on the road, we resume the journey and commence the familial razzing that the situation warrants. Laughter about his “moment of glory” in the New Mexico desert, another feature missing from the old days in the family station wagon, continues long after we catch up to the discount store semi, which again honks at our family’s follies. We certainly aren’t there yet, but traveling with my boys distracts us from how far we have traveled, and makes how long each leg of our adventure will still take blissfully unimportant.