While it is physically possible to drive 1,250 miles in a day, I don’t recommend it. I tried that coming back from Montana in July, leaving just after 5 a.m. and arriving here after midnight. For hours afterward, my fitful sleep was haunted by the vision of pavement rushing beneath me, weeds and signs blurring by on either side. It didn’t help that the stupid cat, perhaps annoyed by my long absence, kept walking across my head and meowing through the night. Let’s just say it took an extra night or two to recover. So the money I saved on a motel was a false economy.
Not that money spent on a motel is a great deal either. Super 8, which I had long considered a bargain in roadside lodging, has pretty much doubled its prices over the last few years, trying to justify it with tepid swimming pools and hair dryers and a free “breakfast” that is little more than watery coffee and generic cereal in a plastic bowl. You get the cereal by turning this knob on the container; an adult-size portion of raisin bran requires about 38 turns. I always feel a bit like a chimpanzee when I do that, imagining that scientists are recording my reactions to see how many turns it will take before I run cursing from the breakfast lounge.
Still, Super 8 is the Ritz Carlton when compared to Motel 6. All I really require from a motel is clean sheets and a shower and a decent Internet connection. Motel 6 provides the first two. It claims to provide the third, but the Internet never works at a Motel 6, and most of them expect you to pay $3 for the privilege of attempting wireless access to their dial-up AOL account — the one that times out after taking 15 minutes to load a Lifelock ad. It was at a Motel 6 that I discovered the joys of solitaire and mahjong on my laptop.
I’ve ruminated before on the decline of the American road trip, and I guess this is an extension of the theme. Motels, like hamburger joints and big-box stores, have all become the same place over time. You check into a La Quinta in Tupelo and check out of a Sleep Inn in Missoula; if not for the blur of time in between, you’d swear you were somehow teleported while flipping through the same 40 channels. You go into a Target in Jacksonville and when you come out, you’re in Wichita. Yeah, you must have driven it, but the memory of the trip is just the endless unspooling of white lines on the interstate. I’m glad I’m not a trucker. Finally, I think, you’d lose all sense of place.
Road trips used to be more about the journey than the destination. Now, not so much. Maybe I’ve driven too many miles this year. Maybe I should stop more: check out that five-legged cow near Hays, or purchase a look at the World’s Largest Prairie Dog. Maybe I could time my next trip to coincide with that Czech festival in the town of Wilson. So many attractions. Outside of Livingston, Mont., there’s a billboard shouting “BEARS EXIT NOW.” Not being a bear, I’ve never exited. But maybe next time I will.