Five things I learned from my road trip through the Midwest

I kicked off my month long farewell tour with a long drive in a giant yellow truck with a best friend.  I'm a bike commuter and drive maybe once a year so hauling my minimal belongings cross country in a 12 foot Penske truck promised to be interesting.  It turned out to be not so terrible, though I wouldn't opt to do it again anytime soon.  This is what 800 miles on the road taught me.

1.  There are two types of people in this world.  Those who sing on road trips and those who are serial killers.

My road trip buddy was excellent.  After an initial power nap, she tried her best to keep me awake and entertained, even though we were both visibly struggling to keep our eyelids propped open.  She opened the jar of road peanuts for me when I couldn’t take my hands off the wheel and was patient with me through every one of my requests to skip a song on the playlist. 

She was the perfect co-pilot with one big exception:  She did not sing, hum, or tap her fingers along to any songs.  At first I thought it was no big deal.  I could probably stay silent too if I tried.  (I tried. I couldn't.)  

Maybe it was the playlist.  Perhaps she didn’t know the artists or lyrics (although to be honest, that never stops me from making up my own words).  Because I had another five hours on the road, I decided to experiment with a classic rock playlist.  I pushed play and observed. 

Not a peep.  There was no belting during the chorus of “Living On A Prayer”, no foot tapping to “A Horse With No Name.”  She was fully conscience and yet completely silent, content with looking out the window as the most singable soundtrack in America played in the background.

She doesn't look like a murderer but don't let those adorable bangs fool you.

She doesn't look like a murderer but don't let those adorable bangs fool you.

I confronted her about it, of course, because I was worried she might be a murder.  She didn’t understand what the big deal was.  She was tired, she told me.  I was dubious.  She did manage to produce a few forced head nods and karaoked with me a bit further down the road but probably only because I shamed her.  I’m not murdered, obviously, but I’m still not convinced.  All I’m saying is just maybe slip in a few interview questions pre-trip asking about car singing habits.  It’s for your own safety.  

2.  We are all set on radio stations exclusively dedicated to 80s hair bands. 

Same for country music.  Same for praise Jesus stations.

I’m not saying every corner in the United States has to have a radio station catered to my musical tastes, but would be so hard to have an eclectic station once in a while?  Anyone who has driven through Middle America knows radio stations are sparse.  We have all felt the dread that comes with hitting the “seek” button only to be trapped in the deathless three station loop. 

And please, for all that is holy, can we please start a petition to ban Paradise City from ever reaching our air waves?  This song has to hold the record for the longest duration with the fewest words.  (“Take me down to the paradise city where the grass is green and the girls are pretty” repeated one million times.) 

I don’t get it. I’ll never get it.  Which brings me to this point. 

3.  If there is a God, she (he?) is surely manifested as the internet.

Spotify is queen.  Because I apparently just joined my generation, I only now realized you could have spotify on your phone without having to pay any money. I know you can’t really choose a specific song and the playlist runs on shuffle but still, this is incredible!  

It doesn’t stop there.  Google maps, Yelp, FaceTime.  The internet has transformed the American road trip.  Of course our giant Penske truck didn’t have a hook up for our iPhone so we used a mini jam box and connected our phone playlists through blue tooth.  That sentence wouldn’t have even made sense 15 years ago.  Cheers to living in the future!

4.  Allowing yourself time to stop for extensive periods of time on the road is key.  

I was skeptical of this one at first.  Proud of my Nebraskan roots and ability to drive six hours a day, no sweat, I’ve always been one to power through the distance.  Minimal bathroom stops.  Bring your road snacks with you from the get go.  Only pull off in emergencies. 

This trip I understood the benefit of stopping when we pleased and taking breaks as necessary.  Half an hour at the World’s Largest Truck Stop?  An hour long dinner at Cracker Barrel? 

My first trip to Cracker Barrel did not disappoint.  Well, the food definitely did.  But not the ambience. 

My first trip to Cracker Barrel did not disappoint.  Well, the food definitely did.  But not the ambience. 

The best decision we made was a three hour stop at The Nebraska State Fair.  It was a Monday afternoon so we mostly had the fair to ourselves.  We were fortunate enough to see a frisbee-catching dog show, piglet races and a really bad magic show.  Most of the rides were closed since it was the middle of the day but we were able to jump on a few carnival rides.  The temperature was well into the 90s but otherwise we had the perfect fair experience and when we left, we only had another two hours until we arrived at our final destination.  

Sarah receives a very Nebraskan greetings.  

Sarah receives a very Nebraskan greetings.  

5.  There is no good reason why all road side attractions are not directly off the interstate.

WHY?  Why would you not put every weird sideshow attraction directly off the interstate?  We once had high aspirations to hit up every “World’s Largest” attraction between Illinois and Nebraska until we realized these odd tributes were way out of our path.  I’m (recently) all for taking breaks and rest stops but driving 30 miles out of the way to get to the World’s Largest Garden Gnome is absurd.  World’s Largest Strawberry?  Yeah, that’s going to be an additional two hours on your trip.  No thanks, weird things.  I don’t want to see you that badly.  I only wanted the novelty of saying I had been to your sacred lands. 

We did manage to stop at the World’s Largest Truck Stop, as noted above, which was completely underwhelming.  Two out of five stars, would not recommend.  The best thing to come from that stop was this gem of a t-shirt.

A wardrobe staple for anyone who appreciates wolves or a good pair of sturdy legs. 

A wardrobe staple for anyone who appreciates wolves or a good pair of sturdy legs. 

So there you have it.  Eight hundred miles with no cruse controlin Buster The Truck. A huge thank you to Sarah, my travel buddy, who kept me awake and let me call her a serial killer on the internet.  The next big road trip I make will be on my own, on the left side of the road, 8,000 miles away. 

Buster the Truck is a beautiful beast.  

Buster the Truck is a beautiful beast.  

This guy is a majestic beauty.  

This guy is a majestic beauty.  

The red pig wasn't especially motivated.  

The red pig wasn't especially motivated.  

Nebraska is objectively more beautiful than Iowa. 

Nebraska is objectively more beautiful than Iowa. 

Crying because of how many times I had to listen to Paradise City. 

Crying because of how many times I had to listen to Paradise City. 

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