Ann Dorer Essay Series: Are We There Yet?

The sweltering heat and humidity of summer in the South inspired many a road trip for my family when I was growing up. Mama and Daddy would load up my brother and me, and off we’d go, happily anticipating the fun we’d have at our ultimate destination.

But getting there was a different story. Back then, our car was not air-conditioned. Riding fast with the windows down was the only way we stayed cool.

My brother and I often tried to hold our hands out the window, or our feet, or sometimes our heads, to feel the wind as we flew down the road at a “fast” 55 miles per hour. Our parents always squelched such attempts, correctly preaching on the perils of hanging body parts out of the windows of a moving vehicle.

Daddy always did the driving (it was whispered that Mama’s driving made him nervous). But she helped navigate, spreading wide the unwieldy road map to study where we needed to go and then fighting to fold it back into the original shape. She never succeeded.

At the start of the trip when we were fairly fresh, our family sang. “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” was a favorite. Then there was the countdown song that began with “One hundred bottles of beer on the wall.” We knew singing was getting old when we quit caring how many bottles of beer were left on that wall.

We also played the game of who could see the most license plates from different states. This usually ended with the classic:

“I saw it first!”

“No, you didn’t. I did!”

The longer we rode and the hotter the car got, the more annoying my brother became.

Occasionally, along the side of the road, a series of signs provided brief entertainment. A popular one advertised a shaving cream, Burma-Shave, with clever or humorous poems on small sequential road signs.

A sure sign we had abandoned our upbeat attitudes was when my brother and I started asking, “Are we there yet?” Repeating this question one too many times resulted in Daddy threatening to pull over on the side of the road, and that wasn’t a good sign.

Recently, as my husband drove our two granddaughters and me down the highway in our air-conditioned car, I considered regaling them with how road trips were when I was a child. But both granddaughters had on earbuds, one listening to her playlist and the other watching a movie on her tablet. And anyway, I was reading a book on mine.

I smiled. Today nobody asks, “Are we there yet?” We all know when the GPS announces, “You have arrived at your destination.”

Watercolor painting of roses

Text by Ann Dorer
Illustration by Judy Jamieson

Former editor and consummate Southern lady Ann Dorer shares her reflections on life in our beloved region. For more of her thoughts, see her essay on Becoming a Southern Lady and previous post on her granddaughter Maggie’s pre-k graduation. Browse exclusive place cards that feature Judy Jamieson’s beautiful artwork in our online shop.

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