Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Healing Power of Asphalt

Garrison Keillor explores the healing power of a long road trip in the car.

The thought of getting in a car and driving west has saved me from many a despairing phone call. West from Minneapolis, you have your choice of Highway 7 through Clara City and Montevideo toward South Dakota, or Highway 212 through Olivia and Granite Falls, or Highway 12 through Litchfield and Willmar and Benson and Ortonville and across South Dakota through Mobridge and all the way to Miles City, Montana. Our family drove that way every summer back in the ’50s, before the interstates, on ribbons of asphalt lifting and falling gently over the plains toward our relatives in Idaho and Spokane.

My dad loved getting behind the wheel and hitting the road, and I loved to stand right behind him in those pre-seatbelt days and look at the road over his shoulder and imagine myself driving. Alone. Window rolled down. Radio playing. The whole deal.


These days I travel by air, in the realm of stale pretzels and unhappy flight attendants, and I’m nostalgic for the long car trip. I was driving a hybrid car last fall, trying it out and watching the Living Map on a screen in the middle of the dashboard. A small blue circle marked the car as it sped along the bright red highway or the blue interstate or the thin black line of Summit Avenue, past green blocks of parks and over the crinkly blue ribbon of Mississippi River. The Map turned as the car turned. I did a U-turn in a parking lot and the Map spun, the world revolved around my car. And me.


I turned the hybrid in — I don’t need anything that fancy, with the little driving I do — but I hope to take a long trip in one someday with my family and start out from Minnesota early one morning, the smell of coffee and bacon in the air, and head down the Mississippi to Memphis and east through the Smoky Mountains into Virginia, or west through South Dakota to Wyoming and the Rockies to Durango and the Grand Canyon and Los Angeles.

I know the feeling, which is why I often do my little road trips to the Keys.

PS: In case you’re concerned about wasting fuel on a trip down to the Keys in a Mustang GT with a 5.0 liter V-8, my gas mileage actually goes up on trips like this; I got 22 mpg on my voyage to Marathon last week.