There’s nothing like a 14-hour road trip to make vividly plain the full value of a well-told story. Especially a 14-hour road trip in a five-passenger sedan with five adult passengers, the shortest of whom (me) is 5’6″ tall.
Our family has been taking summer road trips from the beginning. However, shortly after we had our second child, we transitioned from sedan to minivan, so we’re used to spacious vehicles. Alas, our last surviving van, approaching the end of its eleventh year, developed fatal brake defects earlier this summer. Before the problem could become fatal for us, the users, we said goodby to a vehicle that would cost more to fix than it was worth.
This left us with our Passat, a lovely car with decent gas mileage … but not a lot of leg room in the back seat. Actually, when three grown people sat in the back, seat width became an issue as well. And, while the togetherness would have provided a welcome cosiness midwinter, that same heat generated on a sunny summer day strained the ability of the air conditioning to keep up.
I know this because I spent my not-driving periods of this 14-hour journey in the middle position of the back seat, battling heat-induced claustrophobia. I love my family but … I do also appreciate the ability to move feet and legs. And not overheat.
Luckily, we also have a longstanding tradition of bringing music tapes/CDs/mp3s and audiobooks along on road trips. For years, we did sing-alongs to keep the kids happy, and then we found the audiobook section at the library.
I’ve found that a novel I also know and like works best. That way I can enjoy the good lines, be reminded of the plot twists, and yet also pay enough attention to my driving because I do know how everything turns out. But even with a story I know, listening to it takes my mind off the passage of time and keeps me from boredom and road hypnosis as a driver.
On the aforementioned recent 14-hour marathon drive, I learned that a good story (in this case, The Vor Game by one of the Price family’s favorite authors, Lois McMaster Bujold) can also keep shoe-horned, overheated passengers content for up to two hours at a stretch, in a situation where barely over an hour was otherwise enough to leave them begging for a break to cool down and move. I hope to someday write stories that compelling myself.
What has a good story done for you?