Travel

The Good, the Bad and the Hallucinogenic: These Are Our Finest Road Trip Memories

Car Trouble in Oaxaca, a Sublime Frank Ocean Experience, a Pilgrimage to the Grateful Dead and...

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In honor of #UDroadtripweek, we're sharing our favorite road trip memories—the good, the bad and the hallucinogenic. May they inspire your future travels. Or not. 

Probably not.

Hadley Tomicki: May 20, 1995. The choice was easy. Go to prom or go to Vegas and see the Grateful Dead. In the end, everyone bailed on the idea except Marc. Good old Marc. We had class until noon, at which point we jumped into my car and scrambled for the airport to make our 45-minute flight. We landed in Vegas and must have taken a cab to get to the Sam Boyd Silver Bowl. I don't remember. I do remember the two hits of acid we both took right after entering to the opener, Dave Matthews, who was already into his set. 

And of course I remember the Dead's set perfectly: Tennessee Jed, China Cat-Rider, Truckin', Mornin' Dew. Because that's what the internet tells me they played that day. We danced and waved our hands in front of our faces. Jerry forgot the words a couple of times and there was this huge, wasted topless hippie lady crawling all over the crowd that I desperately, successfully avoided human contact with. 

When it was over, we were still tripping balls. We started walking back to our hotel, which was miles away on the Strip. After marching a little bit alongside a colossal queue of backed-up cars trying to leave the show, like a dream, this beautiful girl stopped for us and told us to get into her weathered old Mustang then drove us all the way to our hotel. As we talked, I couldn't figure out if she had any idea how fucked up we were or if she was as fucked up as we were. Then we checked in, which was a paranoid experience, as we were whisked to a VIP check-in area involving additional scrutiny and an unforeseen upgrade despite looking like we'd both just been dragged through the desert.

It would be still be several hours before we came down, but our good fortune was multiplied when our friends Sabrina and Teresa who graduated the year before us unexpectedly called us up looked for a place to crash, turning things into a reunion. Less than three months later, Jerry Garcia OD'd. From all accounts, prom sucked. But I'll never forget this mad dash with someone who's still a close friend and who'd probably do it all over again today.

Thompson Brandes: I have road tripped through a thunderstorm—lots of them, actually, having been raised in Florida—and I can definitely tell you it is bad. The storm arrives cool enough: you sit and watch as a thick, dark rain creeps in from the distance and the wind starts to howl. But eventually it all just turns into a slippery, cautious mess of bad traffic and loud noises.

I have road tripped alongside a tornado—once—and I can definitively tell you it is also bad. You drive and you observe, helplessly relegated to the confines of an interstate, as a grimacing death-tunnel rips far into the horizon (but visible enough to keep you paranoid).

I have road tripped through a snowstorm—one glorious afternoon from Syracuse to New York City—and, by contrast, I can definitively tell you it is good. Very good, even.

It was a long drive, and the snow was falling just hard enough to produce an illuminating white landscape but not so hard that we had to, you know, stop and seek shelter. There were four of us piled into one Lexus hatchback, equipped with one fully-charged phone and one freshly handcrafted artisanal apple bowl, which we would utilize to get a rather nice clambake going—as one cannot simply roll down the windows in a snowstorm. We used the former said phone to play one decided upon album all the way through, top to bottom, no skips: Frank Ocean’s Blonde.

For the entire length of the 17-track album, not a single person said one word—*deadpans into the camera*—one word. From the first vertigo-inducing drop of "Nike" to the final fluttering pianos of "Futura Free" (with a hallucinatory climax at "White Ferrari," mind you), we were paralyzed—completely at the mercy of Frank and the storm. It was the greatest hour of silence of my life, and it came alongside three grown men in a car four times too small and ten years too old.

AnnaMarie Houlis: Wet underwear and bleach-stained bras that weren’t our own trickled from the ceiling fan over our bunk bed. We were in a room in some stranger’s apartment in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, half-hypnotized by What the Health on Netflix, and deep into the depths of Skyscanner. My friend Savannah had been robbed earlier in the night, so we were searching flights to anywhere out of the dark, damp skies of that concrete jungle. The Thai beaches were beckoning, promising unadulterated, sun-swathed islands to lift our spirits. And at some point during Kip Anderson’s journey through processed meat, a DJ slid into Savannah’s DMs promising us a journey of our own: Lost in Paradise, a music festival on some secluded beach. If I covered it and Savannah, a photographer, shot it, we were assured free entry. That was it: we had only 560 miles and 48 hours between us and paradise. So we booked flights to Krabi, Thailand, leaving in t-minus six hours. We’d road trip to Koh Phagnan island across the country from there. Easy.

Except we’d already missed the last van from Krabi station to Surat Thani port for a ferry to Koh Phagnan. So we loitered at a nearby gas station where we bought markers to scribble “Surat Thani” on a cardboard slab, and harassed the station’s patrons. After some hours, a car stopped—and four Thai policer officers stepped out of it. Definitely super chill, we carefully explained that we needed to get to this festival we were “working” because, really, the show couldn’t go on without us—we were the press. One officer took a step behind me, muttering Thai to one of the others. I’d never been arrested before. Really. Never. He threw up a peace sign and snapped a selfie with us. And, one by one, each officer followed suit while a gas station attendee phoned a friend to give us a lift.

Lovely was his name—though the ID we found in the back of his car read otherwise. “Lovely” drove us through the night to Surat Thani, but didn’t arrive until long after the last ferry disembarked. We were forced to find a house on the side of a deserted dirt road to spend the night and, in the morning, the owner would drive us to the “15-minute” two-and-a-half-hour ferry herself.

Shortly after docking at Koh Phagnan, we were told of a four-wheel-drive truck that parks outside a 7-Eleven, which would get us the rest of the way to the festival—it was our only feasible option due to the road conditions. Except the driver refused to take us unless he could fill his truck with 10 people to make the trip “worth it.” So we waited. On a desolate dirt road. In the middle of a virtually vacant island. For eight passersby to appear and, by some miracle, drop everything and accompany us to this unheard of festival somewhere around 10 p.m. Savannah and I danced on the top of the truck, waving at the few motorbikes that passed us with not a pang of interest. Eventually, we hopped on the back of one of those bikes—that of a Portuguese man out for a night ride and up for adventure.

He drove us until another “Lost in Paradise” truck passed by. We hopped in and held on for dear life, tossed like rag dolls through dark, dense jungles along craggy cliffs. Exhausted, scathed, filthy and really late, we could hear the deafening music through the trees flecked with neon lights. We made it. We plopped out of the truck, prepared to tell the ticket collectors who we were—and prepared to text our DJ connect if we had any issues. But there were no ticket collectors. It was a free festival. For everyone. And the DJ, already in bed with his fire dancer girlfriend, had gone home hours ago after his set.

I bought a Malibu Pineapple from the bar and we sat down on the beach to ruminate on the last 48 hours. Then I fell asleep in the sand and missed the whole damn thing.

Sam Eichner: Did you know you could rent a car in Mexico City for $1 a day? It's true. Look it up. I wouldn't say its advisable, but it's definitely possible. My friends and I being the high-rollers we are, though, we opted for the $10 a day option. It was last October. Our destination was Oaxaca, where we planned on staying for several nights of their Day of the Dead festivities. All told, it was only about a seven hour drive. How much could go wrong? 

I should say that my mother was worried sick about us driving from Mexico City to Oaxaca. She thought it was foregone conclusion we'd get mugged at a checkpoint (there are no checkpoints). I'm sure her concerns were at least somewhat merited. And on the way back from Oaxaca—where we spent a lot of time in face paint, smoking cheap cigarettes, drinking cheap (yet delicious) mezcal, eating tacos and paying a taxi to follow a bus driver to a rave in the middle of nowhere (good idea at the time; bad idea generally)—my mother's worst nightmare came to pass: the car, which had been making some unsettling clicking noises for a majority of the trip, broke down on the freeway. My friend pulled over to the shoulder, and we debated what to do. 

Little time passed before a cop car pulled up behind us. A scramble ensued to hide pot. In broken Spanish, we explained to the understanding officer what had happened. And he devised a plan: rather than wait it out on the shoulder of the road, we would put our car in neutral and he would push it to a nearby gas station by literally driving his car into our bumper. My friend would steer. Vaminos.

After arriving at the gas station, we thanked the officer and parked our car, bought some beers and called the rental car company. We managed to hire a cab to take us the rest of the way back to Mexico City, and wouldn't you know, we made it back in time for a few more tacos and a lucha libre wrestling match. 

Often the best travel stories come from a close yet manageable brush with disaster: the initial rush; the impending panic; the possible solution; the welcome resolution; the beers shared over a sense of communal relief. One should naturally take precautions to prevent these disasters. But it's also true that, should you find them inevitable, strangers are generally kinder than we give them credit for.

Please do not share this story with my mom.

Jason Harris: For a period of time during her life, my Grandma was obsessed with bananas. Not growing them, or learning fun facts about them—did you know that bananas and human beings share about half the same DNA?—or even eating them herself. No, Grandma’s obsession with bananas was relegated to stuffing my belly full of them.

This might make sense if her last name was Dole or if she was a horrible cook, but she was neither the heir to a fruit fortune nor inept in the kitchen. In fact, my grandmother was such a good chef that one year for her birthday, my mother put together a cookbook of her recipes with corresponding stories from different family members recounting their favorite food memories with Grandma Shirley.

So it was odd that during my teenage years, she became a banana-pusher on me. Whenever I saw her, I’d hear “Do you want a banana?” “Did you eat a banana today?” “You’re going out tonight? You’re gonna need your energy. Take a banana with you.”

When I was 17, I flew to New Jersey along with my best friend at the time, Jake, and we spent our spring break at my grandparents. We’d tramp around New York City 'til the last bus left back to Hackensack and get kicked out of some of my old friends’ houses; we even slept in a library one night. You know, normal teenager stuff.

The purpose of the trip was for me to look at colleges, specifically Boston University. People say—and rightfully so—the best time to road trip in the Northeast is during the fall when the leaves change colors and nature lovers sojourn to the region just to experience the foliage. But spring isn’t far behind as the entire area is engulfed with lush greenery.

At least that’s how I remember it. Everything seemed perfect on our drive from Jersey to Beantown... that is, once we actually left. Before we hit the road, Grandma again tried to convince me that I needed a banana so I would have enough energy to sit in the passenger seat for a four-hour ride. Of course, the absurdity of her banana fanaticism just made me refuse any of her potassium-rich offerings. We got in the car and drove to Massachusetts, sans bananas, much to Grandma’s chagrin.  

So we’re on an official BU tour, walking through Back Bay, a picturesque neighborhood set against the Charles River. I’m content, thinking to myself that this is the place I could—and should—build my future. (They got me!) All of a sudden Grandma nudges me, interrupting me from listening to whatever propaganda the tour guide was pushing on us. I think she is going to say, “This could be a really great situation for you” or “I really like this school.” But Grandma being Grandma, has only one thing on her mind. She points to a beautiful coed across the street and says, “See. She’s eating a banana.”

I’ve been a professional comedian for over ten years—something I did not study in college. My grandpa, Van Harris, toured the world as a comedian for over six decades. But it was his wife, my sweet, banana-obsessed grandma who had one of the most perfectly timed comic lines I’ve ever heard. 

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