Friday, July 6, 2012

Technology, Modern Car Travel, and Food


Though I am still holding out on getting a Facebook account, I know that staying connected (online) has been a great boon to most people.  In fact, technological advancements are, on the whole, quite welcome to a society not able to survive without penicillin—or, in this summer of 100 degree days, even air conditioning.

This month, we are reaping the benefits of all sorts of modern conveniences brought about by technology as we—somewhat crazily, and not entirely willingly—drive between Chicago and Park City, Utah, and then from there to Portland, Oregon, and back to Park City and then back to Chicago.  While we are not looking forward to logging 5000 miles on our car, we’d be even more apprehensive about our ability to withstand the 75 hours of driving had it not been for technology.

Of course, we wouldn’t contemplate this trip in the summer if we didn’t have air conditioning nor could we even fathom a trip this long in the days of horse-and-buggy.  And "romance of the open road aside," we desperately need entertainment through our ipod/itunes.  For long stretches of Nebraska, I know that we will also rely heavily on our books on CDs—no matter how badly written or inexpertly read these books might be.  (Last year, at the end of a long road trip to Keystone, CO, we found ourselves driving an extra 10 minutes, at the parking lot of our destination 1100 miles away from our starting point, because our John Grisham novel—the worst we’d heard—was not quite completed.  So strong is the command that we “finish what we start”…)


In addition to all the obvious attractions of technology, there is one more that not everyone might be thinking of: Food.

Searching for Starbucks…

Staying with our dog on our travels through Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Idaho, we are not staying at the fanciest city hotels or vacation resorts.  Yes, we are looking forward to stretching out in our beds at the end of the day—and even consuming make-it-yourself-waffles for breakfast—at La Quinta or Comfort Inn or Best Western, but we are not necessarily hankering for their institutional-tasting coffees.  Will, in particular, gets withdrawal from a good cup of coffee so badly that our smartphones are in a constant search for the nearest Starbucks.

Where to eat?

When you know that you are driving for 12 hours in one day, aside from the question of which book on CD is going to be chosen, the big question revolves around where to eat lunch and dinner.  It seems only yesterday—though more likely yesterday plus 10-15 years—that I eagerly scanned the New York State Thruway Toll ticket for eateries.  They very helpfully told you whether the next “Travel Plaza” in 39 miles had a McDonald’s and a Roy Rogers.  Perhaps you’d rather wait 72 miles for the chance at Arby’s and Brown’s Chicken.  Invariably, I found myself holding out for Burger King and Tim Horton’s—yes, it’s the doughnuts that I was after, not burgers.

Well, that was neat and helpful for 1998, but not for 2012.  As we neared our destination at Omaha last year, I did a search for Five Guys Burgers.  I had seen a sign for Five Guys and figured that there must be more around.  On our way back to Chicago, I looked up Tripadvisor reviews for food and found a highly-rated (though somewhat tired looking) Salvadorian restaurant.  You are no longer tied to the same old chain restaurants with the aid of your smartphone—though you can still use your phone to search for the nearest chain restaurant of your choice if that is what you desire.

Get food to go.

Especially on such grueling road trips, you cannot waste too much time waiting for food service.  That’s probably why so many of us frequent fast food chains when traveling.  Not only do you know exactly what to expect (a filet-o-fish tasted the same in Lugano, Switzerland as it does in Niles, Il) but you can also expect that you can purchase and consume your food in a relatively short period of time—so that you can hurry up and get back in the car and just wait until the next turbo stop.

But now that we can access a well-reviewed restaurant’s menu online and call them to order your food for take out, you are no longer limited (by your sense of urgency) to the same chain restaurants.  Not being able to find a Five Guys Burgers close enough to our Omaha Comfort Inn, I called ahead to a non-fast food restaurant and ordered spicy chicken wings and a grilled Italian sausage sandwich to go.  We drove by, picked up the order, and went to the hotel without wasting any time.  After checking in, we were able to have our food in the relative serenity of our hotel room, with our shoes off and our dog at our feet.  Ah, the small comforts that modern technology buys us.


But, finally, once we get to our final destinations and are able to get out of our cars, all that traveling seems to have been worth it after all...


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