I was thinking about why I like to go on road trips – and particularly why I like to get road trip food.
When I was younger – say between the ages of five to ten, my parents would take us on trips to our grandparents. They lived about three hours south of us. Sometimes we would drive all the way to them, and sometimes we would go halfway and they would meet us, with one child or the other going back with the grandparents for a week, then to be traded out for the other child the next week. Every summer we got to spend a whole week, by ourselves, with our grandparents. Sometimes the whole family would visit, but the best trips were when I’d get my grandparents all to myself.
Visits there were magical. There would be a present under my pillow every morning. We’d sleep with the windows open (no central air there!) and listen to the mournful sounds of the trains in the distance. I could wander wherever I wanted in that new country that was their neighborhood, and I could do anything I wanted. I got whatever I asked for and more. Going there was a child’s fantasy.
While I enjoyed being there, the part that I seem to have kept with me the most is the road trip itself, and getting the road trip food. Why? It is still a fun thing even today.
I think part of it was because going on road trips was the longest my family would spend together. Going on those trips meant that nobody could storm away to their private oasis – the kitchen, their own bedroom, or lost inside their headphones, listening to music (this applied to my brother and my father). We weren’t close by any stretch, but being in the car for hours meant we had to at least try to get along. Closeness isn’t an automatic – it has to be worked on. You can’t work on it if you are all doing your own thing.
Going to the convenience store meant that this was a road trip – an adventure out of town. Going to the store meant that there was no doubt about it, something good was going to happen. This was not a usual trip. I think part of what I loved was that, unlike any other time, I was allowed to get whatever I wanted. This made going to that store much like being at my grandparent’s house – my opinion mattered for once.
I usually bought Willy Wonka candy – Everlasting Gobstoppers, Bottlecaps. Sometimes I’d get Nerds. I’d usually very colorful high-sugar items, and not chips or sodas. These days the default favorite snack for road trips is a Yoo-Hoo drink and Andy Capp’s Hot Fries. Sometimes I’ll add something in from the “chocolate food group” – maybe a Heath bar, in part for texture. This is what I would get at the beginning of the trip. Usually later on I’ll get some fruit drink (with no HFCS if possible) and some green tea – and sometimes I’ll mix them together.