(Gabrielle Mayer)– I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into when I agreed to roadtrip down to Georgia for a spring break Ultimate Frisbee tournament. Well, scratch that. I knew there would be extensive packing, re-packing, and re-re-packing. I also knew that, at the distant 500-mile mark, there lay the promise of beaches, team bonding and organized sports. But I hardly considered the twenty hours of driving, the gas station escapades, and the innumerable Cracker Barrels and Waffle Houses that lay between the hills of Amherst and the shores of St. Simons.
This was my first real roadtrip, one that stretches out over multiple days, with nothing else to do but stare out a window or fiddle with the radio. Perhaps my dearth of experience is a consequence of my urban and car-less upbringing; perhaps it’s just an odd accident of fate. Regardless, the car rides of my childhood very rarely stretched past the four or five-hour mark; briefer subway trips were far more prominent.
So you can imagine my surprise when, ten minutes into my Georgia-bound odyssey, I looked around and realized that all I would be doing for the next eight hours is sitting in a car. We at Amherst exist in a world where we’re constantly overbooked, overworked, and overcommitted. The time we invest in others – lunch at Val, the ever-promised “catch up session” over Schwemm’s coffee, even the Saturday night pregame – is often structured and scheduled with an alarming level of precision.
This busy-ness is both a blessing and a curse. For while we are enormously productive, this efficiency often comes at the expense of important conversations and interactions with our peers – the kinds of interactions that we ostensibly came to college to experience. This isn’t a problem unique to the Pioneer Valley; I’ve heard similar feedback from campuses as close as New Haven and as far as California. But it’s a problem nonetheless.
When you shut three such overscheduled girls into a (perhaps too small) Mini Cooper, it’s amazing how quickly the frantic, scurrying pace of Amherst life disappears. We are armed with nothing more than memories, magazines, and an epic mixtape to pass the time, And so the stories flow, one after the other: about that crazy time we had four different prom dates, the time we got our first kiss, the stupid things we did our freshman years. It takes a little while to warm up the muscles that conduct this sort of deep, meaningful conversation – they’re stiff and sore and we haven’t used them since the days of middle school sleepovers, when we’d lie still in sleeping bags and divulge secrets in the dark.
By hour fifteen, things will inevitably get a little bit hazy. Traditional lines of propriety have all but eroded, and you almost forget that there’s a world outside of this tiny, tiny car and its bug-splattered windshield. You begin to observe things about your carmates – things that undoubtedly surprise you, enlighten you, and bring you closer. Like when your senior captain tilts her head in your direction as she speeds down I-95 and asks if you own the Wicked musical soundtrack. And then again when she proceeds to belt “Defying Gravity” word-for-word, her eyes never leaving the twilit highway ahead of her. It’s a hushed, shared intimacy, as though there’s a kind of magic suspended between the four wheels of the car.
And I think ‘magic’ is exactly the right word to describe this, however hyperbolic it may seem. Because no matter how hard we try, these kinds of exchanges can’t occur once we’ve parked and unloaded the car. It’s the same reason why we camp together, why we hike together, why we end up having heart-to-hearts on Memorial Field at 3AM: to listen and be listened to; to share.
My generation is one of firsts and lasts. We are the first of the laptop era, of ubiquitous wifi, of Google Maps; we are the last of dial-up, of Walkmans, of 1990’s nostalgia. It’s a weird, precarious identity – I can fondly reminisce on days when I knew my friend’s landline numbers by heart, and yet I juggle the multiple screens of my laptop with instinctive ease. If I think about it too much, I’ll probably launch myself into some sort of existential crisis.
But for a few days over spring break, all of this Internet-age ambivalence was disbanded. And while I respectfully observe the sacred law of roadtrips that states, “what happens in the car stays in the car,” I can tell you this: I can’t wait for next year.