From the earliest stages of childhood, I was exposed to the idea of the road. At just a few months old, I took my very first road trip to the Jersey Shore. Ever since then, every road trip I’ve ever taken has represented a different milestone. Whether it was the first vacation I took without my parents, the first time I drove a car, or my travels across Ireland and Europe, the road has always represented more than just a journey between physical destinations, but more so a journey in my personal growth. A song that immediately jumps into my head when I think about my journeys is “Life is a Highway”. Although originally a Tom Cochrane song, the version I connect most with is the one done by Rascal Flatts for the movie, “Cars”. In particular the lyrics, “Life’s like a road that you travel on…”, and “Life is a highway, I wanna ride it all night long”, speak to the connections I find between the road and its representation of journey and personal growth.
I believe that many people see the road as a representation of a pathway to achieving their goals. They’ll “hit the road” and get out of their town to achieve bigger and better things. In the movie “Cars”, which draws a lot of its imagery from the stereotypical ideas of Route 66, Lightening McQueen, a young race car is traveling across the country to get to California for a big race. However, he runs into the town of Radiator Springs, an old town that lost all its visitors when the new highway was built. From traveling this stretch of road, McQueen learns that life isn’t just about all his shiny trophies, but about enjoying the road you’re on and embracing the journey itself. In the movie, some of the secondary characters like Mater the Tow Truck and Doc Hudson fondly reminisce on the old times in Radiator Springs. While the road holds old memories for them, like many roads do for people today, they also recognize that their memories aren’t how things will be forever. In the end of the movie, the town recieves a revival after McQueen brings his crew through it, providing the typical children’s movie happy ending, just as Route 66 has achieved its own “happy ending” as a tourist attraction. While the people who travel the roads are on physically and personal journeys, the roads themselves take journeys as well. Route 66 for example went from being the route to get you places to being THE place to visit. Old popular roads are replaced with bigger, newer highways. Towns whole landscapes shift because of the use of one road or another. Some people may say a road is just a road, but I think the roads we travel play an integral part in our own stories and experiences. As we travel along the fast-paced highway of life, the exits we choose to get off at dictate our direction, and when old places and memories are replaced it can feel like a part of our journey is gone forever.
Image: Original Cars Movie Poster (2006)