“Music and road trips go together like American interstate highways and bad coffee.”

by Lisa Calvi

The first time I drove on public roads, I was at the wheel of my then-boyfriend’s Chevy Vega.

I remember cresting a hill and gasping sharply with the realization that I was in control. The curvy road splayed out far below wasn’t some carnival ride with someone else at the helm. I couldn’t just close my eyes and wait for the terror to subside. It was up to me.

I could coast down and weave gently through the corners or I could squeeze the throttle and feel the rush of acceleration and adrenaline. As a sixteen-year-old living in a small town, driving meant autonomy.

There were plenty of road trips growing up. I remember long hauls from Toronto to North Carolina and Florida with my dad driving. After he and my mom left Italy, they seemed to have an urge to see the new continent they now called home. Driving, I think, satisfied their curiosity about the world that they wanted to share with us.

When we moved back to Europe for a three-year period during my early teen years, the family would venture out each Sunday in our Peugeot 504 to discover a new region. Mom would be in the passenger seat with the maps and my baby brother asleep on her lap.

There was always music on those road trips. Music and road trips go together like American interstate highways and bad coffee. Music motivates, keeps you alert and adds to the euphoria of the open road.

Some of my fondest memories are of singing with my sister in the back seat of the Peugeot on the winding roads of Central France. Before iPads, iPhones, in-car entertainment systems and satellite radio, there were Beatles’ songs, ‘Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore’, and trying to remember all the words to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.

Road games involved spotting license plates from other countries, identifying makes of vehicles and fighting over whose turn it was to be a leaning post for sleeping baby brother, now in the back seat.

I’ve always been interested in cars, roads and travel. I love the growl of a revving eight-cylinder engine. A transport truck rolling down the highway at night all lit up just like a small city still gets me excited. I just never imagined that those things would be so engrained in my work and in my life. With our automotive event planning business, most days of the year, my husband Garry Sowerby and I are on the road.

It was this love of the road that brought us together. We could both relate to the words of Jack Kerouac in his classic ‘On the Road’:

“… We were leaving confusion and nonsense behind and performing our one noble function of the time, move.”

Our first date was a five-hour return drive to a ‘little spot’ my suitor knew. It must have worked. That was 17 years ago. Being ‘on the road’ is when our best scheming takes place. It’s romantic, soul-cleansing and gives us a sense of the wider world.

What about driving, though, actually gripping the wheel and pushing the throttle? Forget the destination, the freedom of movement, the road trip, the music. What is driving?

It’s that feeling that I got as I whipped a Porsche Boxster S around the tight-tight corners at a racetrack, squeezing through coned gates, powering down straight stretches and hearing the resonant instantly-recognizable growl of a Porsche engine. I had never driven faster, with such abandon yet with such intense concentration.

Or maybe I did. The 200 km/h reading on the digital speedometer of the Cadillac ATS I was driving on the back straightaway of one of the fastest, most challenging tracks in North America, Mosport, still flashes in my dreams.

None of this compares to driving my very own car, a pristine white 1999 Volkswagen Golf GTI VR6. When I bought it, I knew there were two extra cylinders under the hood than the Golf GL version and that it had an additional 57 horsepower. But when I drive it, I don’t think about horsepower, torque, or fuel economy.

Did somebody say ‘road trip’?

Follow Lisa on Twitter: @FrontLady

In terms of scenic interest, it is as disappointing as a mild chilli pepper in a bowl of Tex-Mex…

KM Texas Autobahn 01

Austin, Texas…

Road hogs are a common sight at dusk here on the so-called Texas autobahn.

I’m not talking about those crazy drivers transported by four-wheeled vehicles, but those of the four-legged variety… boars!

And just like their two-legged, lead-footed brethren, the cloven-hoofed wild pigs cause crashes – four bad smashes on the first night that the high speed State Highway 130 toll road opened back in October, 2012.

Last week, I wrote about a drive on the no-speed limit autobahn from Munich to Berlin. The piece was prompted by the recent Insights West/Black Press poll about increasing speed limits on highways in BC. I just had to try out the North American equivalent of the autobahn with its 85 mph limit (approximately 137 km/h) and here are my observations.

After driving a sporty Audi S6 on the toll highway from Austin on a day trip to San Antonio, I think there must have been more boars than cars on the route for long stretches. It was a lonely daytime drive in the S6 with very few cars passing in either direction. In terms of scenic interest, it’s as disappointing as a mild chilli pepper in a bowl of Tex-Mex.

It’s not that the tolls are high on the 65-kilometre stretch I travelled on the 210-kilometre route – less than $10, under $30 for commercial trucks. But the 85 mph limit is just not fast enough to encourage people to use it for what is a fairly short distance between those two major centres. And that’s especially so, when the posted speed limit on the regular toll-free state highways was raised to 75 mph (120 km/h) shortly after the turnpike was opened. The main section is also well to the east of Austin so there was a trek before I could unleash the horses under the hood.

It would help to hike the limit another 10 mph (16 km/h): It’s a very well-engineered road and I can’t see that causing carnage. At the risk of attracting the interest of a Texan posse bent on a hanging, I might suggest that a reduction of the limit in the same magnitude on the regular highways might dramatically increase custom along the way.

The only positive I can say is that I maintained the top legal speed for the length of the trip, which, as I reported last week, was impossible on the congested “no-speed limit” autobahn between Munich and Berlin.

The growing network of toll roads in central Texas may have the highest speed limits in the nation but unless they ultimately stretch to Houston and/or Corpus Christi on the Gulf coast, it’s hard to imagine the operators emerging from the billion-dollar financial quagmire.

The Department of Transportation has ended a rebate that had allowed trucks to use the road for the same price as cars since last April.

That disincentive is likely to increase the red ink.

Contact: keith [dot] morgan [at] drivewaybc [dot] ca

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