The beat up blue pick up truck roars down the Interstate 80 as my father and I make another trip home to Ohio from the East Coast. The radio barely works, and even if it did those speakers blew out way before we ever had title. It’s a two seater, but you could squish three people in there if you really had to, and the Grateful Dead sticker on the back was inherited from the previous owner, but my dad kept it on there because “the dancing bears are great.” The tank requires more gas than a fifteen passenger van to make it across Pennsylvania so we stop for coffee and fuel multiple times, always remembering to hit up the Pilot station at mile 258.
Through eight hours of traffic jams, fuel stops, and general cruising we keep up the conversation. Coming from a large family means very little one on one time with my parents, even more so since I went away to college. At some point we start talking about future plans. He keeps suggesting I take economic or marketing courses in the future. “I don’t see you as a guy who wants to go back to school again. Best get a degree in something applicable right away.” Then two seconds later, “But if you want to just take a year after school to just travel, by all means go for it if you’ve saved properly. It’s one of the few things I regret.”
My Dad got married young, worked extremely hard, and proceeded to have lots of children. He loved kids, but knew they could take up a lot time, effort, and money. At the same time that didn’t stop him from taking us anywhere and everywhere he could. We moved all across the United States when I was really young. He always came up with these wacky, spontaneous trips. One Sunday morning the fall he turned to my younger sister and asked “Have you ever been to Niagara Falls?” The answer was no, she hadn’t been many places outside of Northeast Ohio and certainly not Canada. All of sudden we piled into our big Ford 15 passenger van and on our way to Canada. That was just the kind of guy he was. Another time my older siblings missed their train in Pittsburgh back to New York for college, so we just hightailed it to the Big Apple because “New York pizza is the best.”
Meanwhile he did get to see London and Ireland on business trips and saw plenty of the United States; San Francisco, Milwaukee, New York, and everything in between.
“James, you got the atlas?” He turns and asks me in the truck. I reach underneath the seat and of course he has the brand new Rand McNally United States road atlas in there. He knows I love maps, even as old as I am. “We on the right course?” Even though we only have to do a straight shot across I-80 to Ohio. I nod and laugh.
I travel to learn about new cultures, have new experiences, and see new people. I travel because I think these new places make me a better person. I travel because it was one thing we always enjoyed together, no matter how old I got. All we needed was a place to go, and a map to guide us. Well the world is full of places to go, even if he can’t go with me anymore.