Friday, July 23, 2010

Another day, another five hundred miles

The boys are off again today, visiting college campuses. Up until a week ago, Wiley had only seen one college campus, that of our alma mater Rice University. Before he narrows down his choices next year, we wanted him to get a feel for campuses of different sizes.

Last week, they went north, visiting Austin College in Sherman, Texas and the University of Oklahoma in Norman. They were gone about twelve hours, covered about 500 miles.

Today will be the same, except they've headed south - first to Baylor University in Waco, then to Southwestern University in Georgetown and finally the University of Texas at Austin.

A five hundred mile day trip is no big deal for a Texan. Throw some cold drinks in the cooler and head out. I have often gone up to see my parents for a day - three and a half hours each way. On other family trips, we will routinely drive 1,000 miles in a day, leaving Orlando or Tucson or Keystone at 6:00 am and sleeping in our own beds that same night.

One summer day, when the kids were a lot younger, I made the six hour round trip to Abilene to pick up kids at camp, then made another two hour round trip to pick up another child at a different camp, then headed north with the whole family to spend the weekend with my folks.

That's what you do if you live in the south - a land of vast open space and scarce urban areas.

When Ricky and I were newlyweds living in Chicago, our best friends had family in Kalamazoo, Michigan, about 150 miles away. They would plan their annual trip months ahead of time, it was such a long way to them. That was the first time I really understood cultural differences.

In England last summer, I visited with a woman on the train. She was quite smug about the British rail system, with its superiority to transportation in the United States. I agreed with her, to the extent you have towns, existing for centuries, every five or ten miles. Our country is quite young and nowhere near as densely populated. It will be centuries more before it is both cost and environmentally effective to build transportation infrastructure outside the packed cities. Give us some time, we'll get there.

I wish our current government leaders would realize that. Instead, we're led by a man who has lived either on a small island or in a large city. For the past five years, he has only traveled locally by cab or limousine, his driving limited to golf carts. He should take a look at a map. His concept of efficient transportation does not apply to the majority of us Americans, sprawled across thousands of miles, who want to remain independent, able to transfer at will from Point A to Point B.

That's why I've started a slush fund. At the first hint of the phaseout of SUV's, I'm stockpiling three of them.

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