Yes, there is definite joy in the American road trip, even the modern ones with Google maps, in-car entertainment, and multi-zone climate control.
We are all tired, all of us on the last night in the last hotel on the last leg of a rolling road trip to visit family in New Jersey. It’s a solid two hours past our children’s normal bedtime, but they are awake, their little blonde heads still damp from swimming in the hotel pool, their eyes sleepily watching cartoons as the air conditioner kicks on to chill us to sleep.
Our hotel is in Front Royal, Virginia, a town that sits along the Shenandoah ridge, one with a friendly looking Appalachian downtown and businesses named Smoots Auto Center and Knotty Pine Restaurant and Lounge. I don’t know anything about this town beyond noticing that there are a lot of what I would describe as motor lodges, a vestige, perhaps, of a time when more tourists pulled off Highway 522 to explore the caverns buried around these valleys.
This trip has been one of constant motion. We’d started this morning in a different hotel a stone’s throw from the Jersey Shore, were treated to breakfast by my aunt and uncle and their grandson, and followed that with an abbreviated but fun board game session. The night before, we’d been at a different aunt and uncle’s house, splayed out on their deck in the mild evening, my cousin’s Pandora channel playing on the outdoor speakers while their dogs yipped about. The day before, a cookout and hours-long swim at my cousin’s house in North Jersey; the day before, time spent with my aunt and three cousins at her townhouse.
In total: we have hugged and visited sixteen aunts, uncles, and cousins and their children at four different stops. In the mornings, we try to explain to our children who they are meeting and remind them how they are related.