As you read this, I should be on Day 2 of my third annual Cross-Country-Road-Trip-With-Beagle -- likely somewhere between Mercer, Pa. and Columbus, Ohio. But this column was actually written a couple of weeks before the start of LA/XC-3, as my journey is known worldwide (or at least, by me), while I was still very much in the middle of the planning and obsessing stage. During that period, I found myself constantly posting my thoughts and concerns about the trip on my Beagle Man blog.
In one of those entries, I confronted a truth that had become increasingly clear and impossible to avoid: Though my yearly September road trip across America with Ricky the Beagle had started out as a mercy mission to drive a beloved dog out to see a poor homesick boy in far-away California, by round three it was way less about boy-is-reunited-with-dog and much more about Beagle Man's Excellent Adventure. Our son is now a junior, and is more than acclimated and comfortable at the University of Southern California, in the land of perpetual 78-and-sunny. So I couldn't help wondering: Do I really still have a justification for this month-long trek?
In a second post, I announced a momentous change for the drive: I'd retired the Acura MDX, and was introducing the new Official Vehicle of the LA/XC series -- our brand-new Audi Q5. Everyone seemed all revved up about this SUV. A friend from Laguna Beach read my post and texted, "I like your new ride. The Q5 is an awesome car and has gotten great reviews."
But secretly, I wasn't all that excited about driving the new Q5 across the country. In case you haven't noticed, I'm not a huge fan of change -- I'm suspicious of most things invented after Colonial times. The Audi salesman had told us "everything will be intuitive," but the only thing intuitive to me was the steering wheel. I have no idea what I see when I use the back-up camera, and absolutely no idea how to operate the navigation system. Most of my time is spent trying to maneuver from radio to iPod, and when I finally get to iPod, I can't figure out how to switch from playlists to albums. So I pull over, stop the car, and fiddle with the iPod manually. Very time-saving and efficient. This car is way, way too complicated for a guy like me. I'd need three days at NASA training school to safely operate this puppy.
Just as I was facing these two vexing concerns -- that the raison d'etre for LA/XC had evaporated, and that I'd be making my journey in a car that scared the bejesus out of me -- something happened.
A while back, we'd promised our son he could have a car on campus this year, primarily because he has an internship that requires a commute. Carol had lined up a transport company months ago to shuttle Robby's old Nissan Pathfinder to L.A., but at the last moment, the outfit backed out. She hired a second trucker, but that one didn't pan out, either. We were up the creek. Then, a lightbulb lit up.
Hey," she said to me brightly, "maybe you could drive Robby's Pathfinder to L.A.?" She quickly put together a plan that would involve driving the Pathfinder to the west coast with my co-pilot, Ricky, and then driving a rental car home. The total cost would be less than what either of the two transport companies was charging.
I pretended to be miffed. "We just got a brand-new SUV for the trip," I said. "It's way more comfortable. I was kind of counting on driving it."
Secretly, though, I was pumping my fist in the air. I'd be driving the good old Pathfinder! OK, maybe I couldn't program my 847 favorite radio stations, and I wouldn't have a voice-activated nav system, and I'd have to do without the back-up camera that tells me if there's a tree within 100 miles of my rear bumper. But that Pathfinder does have some amazing features. Like a clock that you can adjust by hitting the "hours" button and the "minutes" button. And a hatch that you can close by reaching up and closing it. It even has an actual key.
So now, in one fell swoop, the Pathfinder gave my drive across the country a purpose again. And I don't need to get my pilot's license to make the trip.
Hank Herman is a Westport writer, and "The Home Team" appears every other Friday. Hank's adventures with his dog, Ricky, can be followed on his blog "Beagle Man" on the Westport News website -- http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman/ . Hank can be followed on Twitter @BeagleManHank and reached by email at DoubleH50@gmail.com