Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Of Friends and Road Trips

Last week I took a road trip to an old friend’s wedding. It was four hours across Missouri to St. Charles, but twenty years down memory lane. I have driven I-70 close to a hundred times in at least a dozen different cars. Most of the trips, all of the early ones, were made with my group of friends in college. Trips home for the holidays in my drafty, heater-less VW Thing. Driving all night in a dilapidated Cutlass to Florida for Spring Break. Top down, summer night runs to St. Louis in my LeBaron convertible to watch the Cardinals at old Busch Stadium or raid White Castle.

A road trip in a car that offers the speed and weather protection of a Conestoga wagon is a good test of friendship. When the sun dipped behind the clouds, taking ambient heat with it, we envied the Donner Party. Fortunately our friendships survived those days. Over time, my cars evolved, to a Toyota with roll up windows and a working heater, the aforementioned LeBaron, and currently a well worn Infiniti I30.

Change along the highway evolves in a lower gear than life. You aren’t aware of the change until you happen back on the past. Then the contrast between what is, and what was, becomes largely immediate. It’s like running into a grown up Lloyd from “Say Anything,” finding out he never married Diane, and gave up kickboxing for a career in IT.

Like my version of Lloyd, my friends have changed. Steve is now a research professor at a major children’s hospital. His wife Keri, is a fitness educator and personal trainer. Brian, my long suffering roommate and partner in crime, runs a pool cleaning business. And J.B. who was getting married, does play-by-play broadcasting for a local college.

It was never clear to me if these friendships were shaped by the road trips or the road trips were shaped by the friendships. Probably both. If I still owned the Thing, I doubt anyone would take me up on another January road trip. But I’m grateful for the experience and thankful to have my good friends to share it with. Everyone was happy to reminisce about the Thing, laughing at the sheer, stupid absurdity from the comfort of a warm July evening.

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