I love the summer drive.
Fall drives are nice, going up north to watch the leaves turn, but if your timing is off by a week all you’ll see are dead leaves. The spring drive means nothing is open yet, and the winter drive? Well. I have never gotten up once in my life and said, “Hey it’s February, let’s go for a spin.”
But when the temperature hits over 20 degrees, I get a hankering to get in the car and go somewhere. I lather on the 60 SPF sunscreen on my driving arm, which is perched on the partly rolled down window. Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” is blaring as I merge onto the highway. I am met with the sweet smells of tar and the dulcet sounds of jackhammers. Nothing says summer like a highway down to one lane. Though within minutes I’ve cranked the air up to about the same temperature as a meat locker, I know the heat is out there waiting for me.
I grew up near the Thousand Islands, which meant if someone said to go jump in the lake, you could. In the summer you would never think of getting in the car without your bathing suit on underneath your clothes. If you wore a swimsuit on a winter drive, it meant you had run out of underwear.
The best times were trips with my Dad.
My mom and his idea, that a holiday was to stuff six kids in a paneled station wagon and drive 500 or 600 kilometers a day. My Dad was the kind of guy who, if GPS had been invented back then, would’ve thought it was lying, and who believed the rest stop was for the weak. I think we were in Quebec before we got a bathroom break. He slowed down in New Brunswick and said, “Hey kids, there’s the Magnetic Hill. Of course, if we go backward like that we’ll lose time.”
We didn’t care. Perhaps we had Stockholm syndrome and had started identifying with our captor. Or perhaps we were having a ball in the back seat.
These were the days before seat belts. Every time he turned a corner we’d slam into each other. It was like being on a ride at the amusement park – without the height requirement.
We played “I Spy”, and spotted love bugs – punching each other until our upper arms were black and blue.
My mother gave us each 50 cents and I convinced my brother to pool his resources with mine to get some itching powder.
Come on, it will be fun.
We first shook it down my sister’s back when she was sleeping. The result was similar to trapping a cat in a in a tent while camping. She broke out in hives trying to crawl out of her own skin. And it ended with my mother marching down the road trying to escape, with my Dad driving behind her, both arms hung defeated over the steering wheel muttering:
“I don’t know what your Mother’s thinking. At this rate, we’ll never make it to the ocean by nightfall.”
Being forcibly confined breaks some people. Being trapped in a small space also impaired my ability to make reasonable purchases. Summer drives often odd purchases of fudge or folk art. Once on a 12-hour drive to Timmins, I picked up a Billy Bass fish singing “Take Me to The River.”
This is because reality is heightened after a summer expedition.
Swims always feel more refreshing. Hotdogs taste like steak. The connections to friends are never sweeter. A lot of good summer drives end with great late night conversation echoing across the lake.
Despite evidence to the contrary I still like to go on road trips in the summer. Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe I am trying to chase a feeling I had in my youth. Or maybe my Dad was right: The destination is far better than the journey.
( from the article I wrote for the Toronto Star in 2015)