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College Road Trips

January 14th, 2008


The holiday season is over and the new, handsomely redesigned Chrysler Town & Country minivan I’m driving is doing what any minivan worth its salt should be doing the first week of January, transporting people and their stuff somewhere.

In this instance the transport involves getting my youngest daughter Layla and two other university students from Halifax to Antigonish’s St. Francis Xavier University. They are on varsity sports teams and are headed back five days early to burn off the dregs of Christmas turkey and holiday partying.

It’s a little over two hours from Halifax to Antigonish and although foul weather had been forecast, it’s been clear skies and bare roads so far. I set the cruise control and absorb my surroundings: athletes, suitcases, bedding, food and sports bags. The conversation leans more toward volleyball and basketball with the odd tidbit on who was an imbecile at what party over Christmas break.

Meanwhile Layla is up front in the passenger’s seat multi-tasking like a bandit. Text messages are flying to who knows where and she’s playing the controls of the Sirius Satellite Radio like a pinball machine while our backseat passengers are busy with their own personal communicators. It’s a mobile techno-wizard funfest all right.

After a while my mind drifts to my own college days when twin Larry and I each half-owned at least 2 cars at any given time. There seemed to be plenty of reasons for a road trip back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, those spur-of-the-moment adventures brought on by purpose, a means to get down the road and someone to share the experience.

Sometimes the purpose would come out of the blue, like the mid-November morning of my second year when the Ford dealership in Moncton called about a repossessed 1965 Mustang convertible that had to be returned to the stung finance company’s office in Toronto. I was dating a ‘freshette’ from the Toronto area and a 1,600-kilometre road trip looked like a prime opportunity to get some time on the road with her. It would also be an opportunity to meet her parents and a spiffy Mustang convertible would certainly put to rest any apprehension those Upper Canadians might have that all Maritimers have a streak of yokel in them.

The Mustang turned out to be a beater. The faded yellow ragtop had a 4-speed stick connected to a 225-horse 289 V-8 that ran strong. One of the factory dual exhausts was completely severed in front of the muffler and the raw exhaust blat made me feel more like American racing icon Parnelli Jones than a lowly college sophomore. But the heater didn’t work and the rear window was among the missing, so things were a little chilly in there.

We broke a rear spring driving through Campbellton, New Brunswick and had a jury-rigged replacement installed about midnight before the frigid all-nighter up the line to Hogtown. Rod Stewart’s Maggie May had just hit the charts and we must have heard it 50 times as I wrestled that tired Mustang with a pair of work socks on my hands to fend off the frostbite.

I was chuckling to myself about what her parents must have thought of their daughter’s Maritime prize when I realize we are approaching Antigonish and snap out of my daydream about ancient college road trips.

The Town & Country is still abuzz with music, conversation and communication with the outside world. And that’s about the time Layla announces her residence room keys along with her university ID card are conveniently located in her coat pocket, the one hanging in our basement back in Halifax.

My first feeling is one of frustration but the silver lining man soon finds some elation in Layla’s misfortune.

“Hey I’ll get a real road trip, at my own pace with my sweet wife Lisa tomorrow.” I think. “Just the two of us headed to Lisa’s own alma matter to bring our daughter her keys and ID card.”

The next morning in Halifax, packing for the road trip back to Antigonish, I vow to get two movies playing at the same time on the two DVD players in the minivan on the return trip to Halifax. My goal is to prove that this geezer brain has the right stuff to multi-task like Layla did with the Sirius Radio, text messaging, jokester run she was on yesterday.

A few hours later in Antigonish, we hand Layla her keys and ID card. The sky has clouded over as a nasty Nor’easter blows in. Snow is flying and the wind is howling as we prepare to head back for Halifax.

I check out the two movies, all those amenities for back seat passengers and slip into the front seat beside Lisa. Sadly, I look at the movie jackets.

Maybe next time.

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