Amongst the ranks of tailgates, frat parties, and caffeine-fueled cram sessions… the road trip has always held a place in the pantheon of must-have collegiate experiences.
For decades it has been a time-honored tradition for students to exchange uninspired commutes to campus for long garrulous conversations on lonely highways, forgoing the rigors of exams, papers, and other obligations for one short week of unadulterated partying, surrounded by others sojourning in America’s beachtown sanctuaries.
So prevalent is the road trip that it has forever been ingrained into American pop culture. Countless movies have been made in honor of its triumphs and in commiseration of its pitfalls, of which there are few and those that do exist have the potential to turn into great stories… with some exceptions here and there.
However this emblem of collegiate euphoria faces a real and present danger that will potentially transform the road trip from an annual expedition into a fondly remembered relic. A dream shared only by the quixotic and forgotten by the practical.
Rising gas prices present an insurmountable obstacle facing future road trippers. The exponential rate at which gas prices continue to rise is a variable that cannot be accounted for. With the national average precariously close to exceeding $4.00 a gallon, combined with high price volatility, it will most likely deliver a deathblow to many planned road trips this year.
In Panama City, Florida I saw the destruction high gas prices have wrought on spring breakers first hand. In the rare instance in which a conversation with a tripper surpassed the get-to-know-you phase, or was not intruded upon by a way-ward frat boy or misplaced beach goer, nearly everyone I talked to said at least one of their friends who planned on joining them had to drop out last minute because the cost simply became too great.
Routinely the main culprit behind the last minute change of plans was the price of gas.
My own road trip was nearly killed in its infancy when two friends decided it was simply impractical for them to tag along. With gas prices hovering around $3.69 last week at the time of our trip, it meant each person would have to cough up at least $120 in order to pay for their share of the cost of fueling the Ford Expedition’s long journey to Panama City.
Luckily we were able to find two last minute replacements. But with gas prices in Maryland currently hovering around $4.05, and rising daily, if the trip were scheduled to get underway this week I doubt any of us would have been able to swing it.
A few creative options exist for college students to circumvent the gas price issue. Road trippers can sacrifice comfort for the sake of affordability, electing to drive a smaller, more fuel efficient vehicle instead of the standard SUV.
Or the distance of the trip can be shortened. Instead of making the 1,020-mile trip to Florida you can adapt and make a 500-mile trip to some less desirable locale. Lastly, and most unfortunate, the road trip can be abandoned entirely, its place usurped by a plane ticket. While all the previous options present their own unique can of worms, it is this final option I find most devastating.
It means those unaccounted and unforeseen joys inherent in road trips would be gone forever. No more last minute detours to a nearby city, taking in the charms of a different culture, if only for a few hours. The laughs conjured up from obscene or simply absurd conversations… conversations that can only come about when four people are cramped in a small space for countless hours, will be forever silenced.
Lastly, it represents the death of a tradition.
It means the tentacles of high gas prices have transcended the political and economic realms and entered into the realm of the symbolic and the sacred… wrapping themselves around something college students have held in high esteem for decades, if not centuries, slowly constricting and tightening their grasp until they have squeezed the life out of the last remaining construct American undergrads had to look forward to in an America riddled with high unemployment and uncertain futures.
Until next time,