Hear the words road trip and the image of two SoCal girls cruising down Route 66 in an ’80s Mustang convertible wearing bikini tops and denims so short they are more like jean panties is unavoidable.
Almost certainly the girl riding shotgun has her hands raised well above her head, fingertips carving great grooves into the rushing wind above. Both are soaking up the sun, rocking along to Springsteen and revelling in the freedom.
No agenda, no pressure, and being in a Mustang, not far from the next fuel and rest stop either. Burnt coffee and microwaved hotdogs anyone? Okay, so it is not all idyllic, but the picture still has allure, right?
Sure it does, except the reality of most road trips is very different. Usually they begin in the early hours of the morning when the sun is still cooking Aussies in the Outback.
Feeling the chill through his ‘comfy pants’, dad has been tasked with playing the role of Tetris grandmaster, fitting Beyoncé-on-tour levels of luggage into the boot of the family Yaris.
Mom is assembling egg-and-something-unmentionable sandwiches with all the finesse of a bricklayer, filling flasks with impossibly sweet tea and the finest chicory known to man. There are many beautiful words in Afrikaans; padkos is not one of them.
The kids have but one job, and that is to sleepwalk their butts into the car. Experienced parents know better than to wake them, for these first few precious hours of backseat peace will soon descend into something worthy of an Extremely Loud & Incredibly Closesequel.
Why do we have 2.34 children again? Is it because they look so adorable curled up asleep in the back? What a pity those life-saving belts have them trussed up like hogs as they twist and writhe their dreamy way through seven levels of mentalMinecraft.
Two hours and not quite 200 kilometres in, the sun threatens to make an appearance. Dad looks despairingly across to the Tupperware container where only crumbs remain. Soon the two delights will be awake and demand resumption of their regular entertainment and feeding programmes.
Blame stiff necks, empty tummies, and city car claustrophobia for their Trump levels of general grumpiness. Then the volume goes up, loud enough to drown out the Smashing Pumpkins.
Threats of: “If you do not shut up, I will stop the car and leave you here at – where are we honey? – Kaalkatsegat” turn the ruckus temporarily down to five. But like rabid rats in a cage, they are soon at each other’s throats with a ferocity that is usually sufficient grounds for a UN peace keeping mission.
Dad says a begrudging thank you to his in-laws as mother dishes out a pair of matching Chinese tablets, Christmas gifts which, despite their dim-witted 7-inch presshardscreens, manage to suck the fight right out of the kids. Hopefully the batteries last until Beaufort West and breakfast.
It was not always this way. Back in the late ’70s, you did not worry with isofix, 12V or USB. Instead you would just tip the rear bench backrest forward and toss a mattress in the boot of your Ford Anglia estate.
As for entertainment, Eye Spy, magnetic travel checkers, and a set of Bicycle playing cards did the trick, even though at 90 km/h with a mandatory breakdown just outside Umtata, road trips took days not hours. But those days are long gone.
Dad is sweating bullets playing a real-world version of Konami’s 1981 classic Frogger as he times his moment to pass the trucks without being rear-boned or completely eaten by a speeding Bavarian-accented ‘crocodile’.
It is just then, in the strange slow-motion haze of a successful overtake, that he spots a 2017 Mustang Convertible doing an easy 55 mph with two buff gym boys snacking on kale burgers and coconut water. Yes, the picture may have changed somewhat over the years, but the road trip dream is still very much alive.
Image © 4Kphoto.net