Tell us a little bit about how this story came about.
I wanted to use the very real detail of the Rand McNally rule you mention in question 3. I once routed a trip from San Francisco to New Hampshire (I lived in both of these places at one time or another so for a time I was ping-ponging between the two) in this way. I didn’t understand that the map legends were different from state to state and that my system would sometimes have us driving for many, many hours before connecting up again—or sometimes it led us into very congested cities and towns where the first “location” on the “right” to stop at would be extremely unclear. But. Just like in the story, it worked. We met up every time, like magic, the whole way across.
When the characters pull over to the factory, they watch the third shift workers come and go, and the tone shifts into something beautifully elegiac. In some ways, this trip looks increasingly like a last hurrah among friends before they transition into the full onset of adulthood. What do you hope they take away from this moment?
That they once had each other, completely. That at this moment, it was all working right.
The narrator’s “Rand McNally rule” and intensive preparations are great—she seems to be charting the geography of friendship as much as the nation. Do you think the ready availability of GPS devices is changing the experience of the American road trip?
It’s certainly a much different experience these days. Not only is it harder to get lost and easier to communicate between companion cars, travelers can also easily find free wifi along the way. Traveling in the 90s was a bit more off the grid. Paper maps. Bad coffee. Lots of dependency on luck and timing. I liked traveling without the certainty you can have these days. But I also like traveling now and using Yelp and finding the one great restaurant in a small city that in the past I might’ve had a 30 percent chance of stumbling upon.
What’s the best—or worst—car trip you’ve been on?
Oh, it seems the best and worst trips always merge to be the same thing over time, don’t they? I’ve driven cross country more times that I can correctly tally, but one trip comes to mind right now. It was with my friend Charlyn in her Volkswagon Vanagon around 1993. The heat in the van was stuck on high and we drove the Southern route from San Francisco to New Hampshire in June. I had to keep my feet propped on the dash at all times to avoid the steady stream of hot air. It was a stick shift and so Charlyn had to drive the whole way. I remember we also forgot a map and so decided it would be fun to navigate the country via a Big Boy restaurant placemat that we had kept that showed a crude outline of the US with all the Big Boy locations on it. The camper broke down on the way back (taking the Northern route) in Laramie, Wyoming, and we had to wait 5 days for a part to be shipped there. The mechanic let us stay in his tool room. I recall partially paying him—he was German, his name was Franz I’m almost certain—in homemade oatmeal cookies.