By Jim Obermeyer
“I find holy redemption when I put this car in drive, roll the windows down and turn up the dial.” – Maren Morris, “My Church”
Sometimes a song comes on the radio at just the right moment. The first time I heard this one was in the car headed from the NRA show in Louisville to a weekend escape at Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri. I immediately grabbed it off iTunes and listened to it several more times. It was the right song at the right moment.
It’s summer, and my wandering thoughts at this time of year always seem to turn to the road.
A few years ago, a buddy called me seeking help with getting a car delivered to his daughter, who had just started school at UCLA. How could he get her car out to her from St. Louis? I called several of our carriers and got several quotes for transporting the car. The price was well beyond what he wanted to spend. That’s when I made the offer: to pay for several nights in cheap motels and two one-way return flights from LA, and my son and I would drive the car out to her.
What started out as a favor for a friend turned into a memory-filled adventure. We decided to follow the old Route 66 all the way. Through countless small towns and grand vistas, we experienced travel the way my parents did – on the old blue highways. We stopped at the Big Texan in Amarillo, but didn’t bite on the offer of a free meal if we could finish the 72-ounce steak (although the two of us would have put a big dent in it).
We saw the Tee Pee Curio Shop in Tucumcari, the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, a forest fire near Flagstaff and the Roadkill Café in Seligman. We “stood on the corner in Winslow, Arizona,” and “passed through Kingman, Barstow and San Bernardino.” And we documented the entire trip and presented Doug and his daughter with a scrapbook of the journey of their car. The real memories, however, live on with me and my son.
As a child, I have vivid memories of the quintessential summer vacations we used to take. My brother and me in the back seat of the car as my dad would lead us off on two weeks of exploration. And it was usually somewhere out West. Those trips were just enough to whet my appetite for travel by car. They introduced me to people and places that would pull at me forevermore – drawing me to the road whenever I had the chance.
I remember the story my dad told of hitchhiking from Decatur, Illinois, to Seattle, Washington, to visit his brother after they both were discharged from the service. Some of the people he met along that journey became lifelong friends; we visited them on our family vacations years later.
I have carried on something he started as a young man. In my home study is a large US map, with pins in places I have stayed and lines on roads driven. These lines and pins include 47 of 50 states (Alaska, Hawaii and North Dakota…) and parts of Canada and Mexico. But more than lines and pins, it is a visual reminder of the opportunities I’ve had to experience the places and faces along literally tens of thousands of miles of American roads.
Working in an industry that requires a fair amount of travel has definitely fed my hunger for the road. And more often than not, you’ll find me out wandering when I’m not in some convention hall. Early on in my career I worked with guys that would take their per diem money, go buy a loaf of bread and peanut butter and jelly and hang out in their hotel rooms, pocketing the money.
I couldn’t do it. I was always out wandering around whatever city I was in…either on foot or driving. There was always somewhere or something I wanted to see. When planning a trip, my first choice will always be to drive; depending on how far it is I need to go.
For three years, one of my salesmen and I would fly out to attend Exhibitor Show and then drive back to St. Louis from Las Vegas. There were only two rules: (1) no interstate highways and (2) stop whenever we saw something interesting. These trips were the realization of the words on one of my favorite t-shirts: “Not all who wander are lost”.
When I talk to people about this passion for the road, and driving long distances just to see what’s out there, I typically get a response like “You drove 600 miles for no reason?” Yeah, I guess. Actually, the drive was its own reason – the things you see, the people you meet, the places you eat.
Most people would not consider just jumping into a car and going for a drive to be a reasonable recreational option. And I know everyone is always too busy or always has some reason to be in a hurry to get where they’re going in a fast-paced world.
That’s all the more reason to take a time out and just get out and experience the open road. Leave the technology at home. Roll the windows down. Turn up the dial. Go somewhere you’ve never been.
See you on the show floor.
Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry 35 years, both as a corporate trade show manager and exhibit house owner. He is currently a Vice President at Hamilton Exhibits and can be reached at email@example.com.