My son and I love the odometer. He probably appreciates it because I talk about it so often and focus on repeating numbers, patterns in the numbers or milestones.
We are approaching another landmark as our odometer edges upward from a volleyball practice, to a concert, to a visit with friends in upstate New York, to a trip to Bronx Zoo or a ride to the airport — 100,000 miles.
Where will we be when we hit that magic mark? Chances are we’ll be close to home, perhaps on our way to or from school, to the train station or to a restaurant to celebrate another birthday.
Those repeating numbers, the 99,488 or the 99,699, may bring back horrible memories of childhood, when we had to come up with a formula to describe the nth term in a sequence. The numbers also may be reminders of when we need to change the oil, rotate the tires, check the brakes or give the car the equivalent of a well visit to the doctor.
Our country has spent decades shortening the distance between two points by car. Along the way, we eat in them, change the radio station, pull off the road for a nap or park near a favorite place to commune with nature from our moving couch.
All that time in the car is what made McDonald’s possible, giving people who travel over great distances the reliability and predictability of the same meal regardless of the state.
We throw ourselves and all manner of accoutrements into our cars, including baseball bags, suitcases, or — with my father — holiday presents. Then we pile ourselves into the seats, buckle ourselves in and hope for an open road along the 3,000 miles from New York to California.
We don’t often think about each of the miles, because we’d clog our minds with useless and forgettable information, particularly during those times when a mile becomes a measure of an interminable length of time on a stopped Long Island Expressway.
Then there are those miles when we feel as if the road disappeared below us and we are floating home, singing a song that makes the whole family laugh, especially when we share voices that are off-key, or celebrating a triumphant play or an enthralling concert. It’s why road trip movies, even poor ones, are so common.
These travel experiences offer a physical journey to match an emotional, spiritual or personal quest, giving us a chance to wake up to an ocean and go to sleep under the shadow of a mountain. Even when we no longer want to contemplate literary devices, we may see symbols in our travels that are hard to ignore, such as the dawn of a new day, soaring birds taking flight together, a fork in the road or a lightning bolt crashing down in the distance.
While the odometer doesn’t take pictures, have Instagram or Facebook accounts, and doesn’t store information in the cloud, it does give us a moment to reflect on where we’ve been and who has shared the ride. When the odometer was still in the double digits, we looked at the backs of our small children’s heads at rear-facing car seats. As the numbers on the car, and our children’s ages and heights increased, we heard their voices drop as they described a movie they watched with friends, a visit with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a project they planned to complete as soon as they returned home.
I’m hoping my family is in the car together when the odometer breaks into six figures, because it seems fitting to share that milestone since the four of us journeyed through those miles of life together to get there.