Since yesterday, I have legally been able to drive a car on my own. It’s a great feeling. The driving test itself was pretty nerve-wracking: every mistake I made, however small, seemed like an instant fail to me. Then thirty minutes later, the instructor was all like, ‘OK, I’m passing you today,’ as if he plans to test me again some time in the future and fail me.
Yeah, so I feel liberated and all that. Blahdi blah blah. I was planning on writing a blog post if I managed to get my license; however, not just a simple ‘soap-box’ rant. In order to awaken the adventurous beast that lies dormant somewhere within me, I’m going to compile a list of my favourite road-trips in pop culture history. A couple of my choices are so obvious that I give you permission to laugh derisively to yourself.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
An absolute classic written by one of the pioneers of the ‘beat’ movement, Kerouac’s book is the kind that awakens a teenager from an apathetic slumber by blowing several loud saxophone notes in his/her ear. It’s an almost entirely autobiographical account of several years of his life; with alternate names used to avoid accusations of libel. Kerouac is Sal Paradise, a young beatnik living in New York City, itching to go and discover America after meeting a friend of his pal (Carlo Marx/Allen Ginsberg) called Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady). Throughout the story, Paradise and Moriarty form a lifelong bond born from their adventures on the road. They wind up everywhere from San Francisco to Mexico City. There are many quirky characters that they meet along their way, each influencing the pair (particularly Sal) in one way or another. These include Old Bull Lee (William S. Burroughs), a sage-like drug addict, and The Ghost of the Susquehanna (as Sal dubs him), an old hobo whom Paradise meets while hitching his way west. Sal Paradise and particularly Dean Moriarty have become cult icons. Dean is anti-authority and anti-establishment. Sal is in awe of his seemingly pure freedom. Dean’s laidback lifestyle, however, comes at a cost as you’ll find out upon reading the book.
On the Road is my first choice for this list (although it’s really in no particular order) because I think that the ideal cultural depiction of a road-trip is one in which the ultimate destination itself is not necessarily just a city but an existential awakening. Sal’s journey in On the Road teaches him a great deal about himself. Jack Kerouac managed to successfully capture the essence of what we know as a ‘road-trip’.
Dumb and Dumber
OK so it’s pretty ridiculous going from one of the foundations of modern literature to this. I’ve had a special place in my heart for this movie since I was really young. It’s immature, cringe-worthy and totally hilarious.
Lloyd (Jim Carrey in his best role) and Harry (Jeff Daniels) are two lower-class dimwits struggling to make ends meet. When Lloyd witnesses a beautiful woman drop a briefcase at the airport he convinces Harry to set out on the road with him to track down his new object of affection. What follows is a series of increasingly embarassing and very funny scenarios as the two make their way to snowy Aspen (‘Where the beer flows like wine, where beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano’) and the woman of Lloyd’s dreams.
Lloyd and Harry’s journey in Dumb and Dumber doesn’t really teach them that much (they’re dumb after all), but they do learn that a friendship as strong as their own can never really fade. Any two people that still like each other after one drives them both halfway across the country in the wrong direction, are pretty much destined to be friends forever.
This Is Not the Way Home – The Cruel Sea
This song by the whiskey-soaked blues-rock band from Sydney doesn’t tell a detailed story but it manages to capture the experience of a young male’s Australian road trip pretty damn well. Everything from barren landscapes and bullet-ravaged road signs to downing six packs of beer and throwing up in a men’s restroom. The drums gallop along aimlessly while the guitars weave in and out of the song like snakes by the roadside. Whenever I listen to it, I can almost feel the sun ruthlessly beating down on my neck and that alone would have earned this song a spot on my list. It’s a killer blues-romp as well so that doesn’t hurt either.
Bart on the Road (The Simpsons)
This is by no means one of my favourite episodes of The Simpsons, but I think the concept of four ten year olds concocting an alibi that involves a ‘grammar rodeo’ in Canada and hitting the road after one of them gets a fake ID is pretty memorable.
This is Bart’s episode through and through. My favourite moment (off-topic alert) is when Bart reads the title of a pamphlet outloud in class: ‘Go to Work With Your Parents Day?’ Suddenly, Principal Skinner answers him over the PA: ‘Yes, Go to Work With Your Parents Day.’ Gets me every time.
The actual road trip portion of this episode is naturally far-fetched but some aspects of it ring true; namely the dynamic between Bart, Milhouse, Nelson and Martin. They argue over their destination (Martin suggests a tour of the Bridges of Madison County) and the little things (Milhouse insists that they stop to buy a cup upon discovering that their car has a cup-holder). It’s actually a pretty accurate depiction of how a car full of young folks would behave.
Like many road-trips, Bart’s does not end like he’d hoped. Shit goes wrong pretty regularly but he winds up safely at home (via Hong Kong) by the time the credits roll.
I’m sure there are many more great examples I could have crammed into this list but the ones I’ve chosen are those that make up the image of a ‘road-trip’ in my mind. I’ve never really seen cars as an object of pleasure; more a simple means of transport. All I wanna do is get where I wanna go without having a back-seat driver every time I get behind the wheel. Now that I can do that, it’s just a matter of figuring out where I’d like to go…