Oh, the plans I had made for 2020! There was the annual drive back to Michigan, dropping of nearly two dozen boxes of automotive books as a donation to the library at McPherson College on the way.
From Michigan, a trip to Florida, to watch a granddaughter play in the national junior volleyball championships. While in the Midwest, a drive to Illinois, to meet my brother and sister-in-law and other family members, gathered to bury my mother’s ashes next to my father’s.
And the drive back west from Michigan… maybe through Montana?… another visit to Carhenge?… or perhaps — at last — Alaska! — the only state of the union I’ve yet to visit. What’s that? Canada closed its border to traffic from the US.
All of that plus the annual mid-summer week on the Monterey Peninsula.
Of course, the coronavirus pandemic canceled all of the above.
So, instead of driving my usual 25,000 to 35,000 miles driven in 2020, I stayed too close to home, driving little more than 5,000 miles, which is probably the least I’ve done since I got my license on my 16th birthday, oh those many decades ago.
Yes, I love to drive, and I love road trips.
I come by this passion quite naturally. My Mom used to tell about how, early in 1941, she and her mother drove from Illinois to Washington DC and then to Miami. They ran out of cash on the way home, slept in Mom’s Nash, and even promised a gas station attendant in Tennessee that they’d mail him money when they got home if he’d fill their tank.
They did, and he wrote back with a wedding proposal. She declined, and instead met my Dad when they both were stationed at the Naval hospital in Madison, Wisconsin.
Dad had started driving in the early 1920s, at age 12, and a few years later, he and two buddies convinced the local lightning rod company to underwrite their “Niagara-or-Bust” drive so they could see the falls.
From the time I can remember, we were taking trips in the family car — Sunday drives after church, vacations to see the fall colors in New England, to visit their former military friends in the Southeast, to visit relatives in Texas, to Montana where my grandparents lived for a few years, and all across Canada. Later, as empty nesters, they drove to Colorado on one trip and to Arizona on another, and annually to Florida, where they eventually settled after retirement.
The saddest day of my Dad’s life was the day two Florida state troopers — alerted by Dad’s eye doctor — came to the door to take his license. He’d driven more than 70 years, and without a single accident, and was devastated to have those privileges taken away. But he no longer could see well enough to drive safely (he’d passed his previous DMV eye test by counting how long it took for the clerk to move the ball out of the field of vision of the person standing in front of my Dad in line).
Growing up in farm country, I started driving at 14, with the proviso that I stay on gravel roads until legally licensed to drive.
I remember that day. I informed my Dad that there would be a detour on his way to work, a stop at the DMV office so I could get my license on my 16th birthday. Test passed, the roads were mine!
Those roads stretched across this country, and up into Canada, and through much of Europe, a goodly part of Australia and even Korea and a bit of Japan.
For my dozen years at AutoWeek magazine, my daily commute was nearly 200 miles roundtrip, and with our test fleet of the newest cars from automakers around the world, it was done in a different car pretty much every day, something like 250 of them a year.
Do the math and it’s around 50,000 miles a year. But that’s just for work. Add in travel during vacations and the total grows.
I left AutoWeek more than 20 years ago, but since then have continued to drive a lot — annual trips back to Michigan, visits to Mom’s home in Florida, to New Jersey when my youngest daughter and her family lived there. Each year, it seemed, I would go coast to coast and sometimes border to border.
But now it’s a new year, and let’s hope we can get back out on the roads again very soon.