The first time it occurred to me that Colorado was just a one-night drive from Dallas was a Wednesday evening during my freshman year of college. Several of us were sitting around the dorm drinking Busch beer, planning what to do for the weekend. It was spring semester, so the weekend had long since expanded from Friday evening to sometime Thursday, and since Wednesday night is practically Thursday, it was time to plan.
No doubt there was a basketball game, and all the usual bars to hang out in and the multiple troubles available in a college dormitory. Then somebody, reflecting on the fact that one of us owned a car, said, "Dudes, we should just drive somewhere." This moment of genius brought forth a string of ideas -- the Gulf Coast, New Orleans, Austin -- and then we all laughed about the time the previous semester when we had rented a car at the Dallas airport Friday morning, road-tripped to Chicago, spent 24 hours there, and barely made it back for class on Monday. The look on the Hertz dude's face when we brought the car back, three days later, with 2,300 miles on it, is a highlight of my college career.
So this got me to thinking. Now that we actually have a car -- and really, what situation is more loaded with danger than a bunch of 19-year-old males with a car? -- the only question was where to go. We were awash in possibilities. I drafted up an imaginary circle with Dallas at the center, extending about 1,000 miles. Everything east looked dull, south looked like more Texas, and north -- well, it was February.
I took another sip of my beer. I stared at the can, contemplating. This was a frequent activity, reflected in my grade-point average. Where can we go? I wondered. There, on the can, was a range of snow-covered mountains, magnificent and glorious. It was at that moment that an inner voice, a messenger from the god of road trips, said to me, "You know, Paul, if you left right now, you could get to some mountains like that by morning."
My mind raced across the Plains, up through the foothills, past the lights of Denver, and into the Rockies, and I knew we wouldn't be in English class on Thursday.
My friends thought I was nuts. I told them to drink more, and I would make more sense. "Think about it," I said. "We leave now, we're having breakfast in Breckenridge tomorrow, and we miss our Thursday classes once and our Friday classes once! Dudes, we could ski tomorrow while everybody else is preparing for their future! I'm talkin' about Rocky Mountain National Park! It's just right out there past Fort Worth. We take turns, we eat a bunch of sugar and No Doz, we're there!"
I did get carried away in those days, but I found two willing volunteers: Mike from Illinois and Anthony from England. An hour later, after stopping at the Safeway for more beer, chips, salsa, and cookies, we were screaming across I-30, rolling into Cowtown.
I think Mike was the first one to say something about sleeping. It was well before Wichita Falls. The thing is, these road trips start out in a blaze of glory, with all your friends talking about it and giving you a hero's send-off. Then you flash by the city -- "Goodbye, familiar sights!" -- with the radio cranked and dreams of adventure spinning inside your head.
And then, say, an hour later, you're driving through West Texas, and it's past 11 p.m., and you're coming off your emotional (and chemical) buzz, and somebody says he'll take the first sleeping shift. This is when the road warriors get separated from the herd.
The three of us became an embodiment of the split human mind. I was full of energy and vision, hundreds of miles ahead of the car, watching the sun rise over the Rockies, bragging over breakfast that we just drove in from Dallas, and we're skipping class today. Anthony was starting to say things like, "Are we really doing this?" and "I think I have a quiz in biology Friday." Mike was snoring away in the back.
I don't know what those two are doing today. Last I heard, Mike was an advertising guy in Chicago. Anthony married one of our college friends and moved to Atlanta. But for me, nights like that one became an addiction. Were there a Travelers Anonymous I would attend regularly, when in town.
"Dude," I said to Anthony, "think of it this way: We've got the rest of our lives to go to class and work and be responsible. How many times are you going to be sitting around on a Wednesday evening and realize you can be in Colorado on Thursday with almost no repercussions? Screw the quiz."
He agreed. The road rolled out ahead of us, and I switched on the radio and started looking for a station out there in the nothingness. n