Flashlight & A Biscuit, No. 4: It's time to plan a road trip

We’re all going to need a lot of asphalt therapy after this.

Welcome to Flashlight & A Biscuit, my Southern sports/culture/food offshoot of my work at Yahoo Sports. Thanks for hanging, and why not subscribe below? It’s free and all.

You know what I miss? I miss the open road. 

“America is all about speed. Hot, nasty, bad-ass speed,” Eleanor Roosevelt once said, at least according to the gospel of Talladega Nights. And in order to get up that speed, you’ve got to have some wide-open pavement ahead of you. Christ, could we use some of that right now. 

When I’m not under quarantine, I drive anywhere I can, for as long as it takes. This is partly because this is how we used to do it when I was a kid — we’d pile into the family station wagon and make the 550-mile drive from Atlanta to my grandparents’ home in Richmond. From those trips, I learned to love the road, learned to appreciate a good book and a big window, learned from my father how to pack 10 suitcases into a space meant for three. (One of his many packing lessons that’s always stuck with me: “Never leave something loose on top of the pile; if you stop quickly, it could come up and hit you in the back of the head.” I mean, I guess it’s true, but like most dad proclamations, it works equally well as metaphor.) 

The drive to push on toward the frontier is baked into the American consciousness, woven at the DNA level, from Lewis & Clark to Clark Griswold, Huckleberry Finn to Jack Kerouac, Thelma & Louise to Dominic Toretto & Brian O’Conner. Steinbeck built a career on the mythos of the road trip, and so did Bruce Springsteen, whose best song — “Thunder Road,” of course — is less an act of creation and more a straight channeling of what draws us out onto the open road. “Just roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair,” Springsteen sings, and every red-blooded American human being and head-out-the-window dog knows that freedom. 

Hey, speaking of Springsteen … last summer — a time that now seems as far ago now as the 1990s — I covered the U.S. Open out at Pebble Beach. One morning, I got up early and drove the Pacific Coast Highway. The Boss’s new album “Western Stars” had just dropped, and I played its orchestra-laden songs of lost loves, frayed ambition and late-life contemplation as I wound along the far edge of America. If you think that sounds like a hopeless middle-age cliche, that’s only because you weren’t riding shotgun with me for the transcendent experience. (More on road-trip music below.) 

I could go on forever with this particular line of thought. Like most road trip conversations, I don’t really have an ending in mind here; if we were in a car together, we’d just drift onto another topic. I’ll wrap with this: when all this is done, I plan to drive all over this damn country, and you should too. We’re all going to need a reminder of what truly makes this place great. 

Me, I plan to roll down to the Keys on the Overseas Highway, to gape as I wind through the brilliant autumn color of Maine and Vermont and New Hampshire, to open it up on the speed-limit-is-a-suggestion roads of Montana, to fill up the tank and cross my fingers at one of those last-gas-station-for-100-miles stops in the Southwest. I’m going to knock off the last few states I haven’t visited by flying into Boise and making a two-thousand-mile right angle through North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and down to Kansas City. 

If you’re anywhere along the route, jump in and ride along for a stretch. We’ll see where the road takes us. Stay safe till then. 

Stream This:

A crowdsourced road-trip mixtape

You can’t have a road trip without good music. I’ve made playlists on cassette, CD, MP3, my phone, and now Spotify, and each one includes gems like the aforementioned “Thunder Road,” Lindsey Buckingham’s “Holiday Road,” and Pearl Jam’s “Rearviewmirror.” (That’s also still my ringtone. Yes, I still have a ringtone.)

Anyway, I asked Twitter on Sunday morning to offer up their best road trip tunes, and here’s a selection of what they came up with by the time I sent this newsletter to you. Pick n’ choose for your next road trip playlist:

The Black Crowes, “Wiser Time”
Tom Petty, “Runnin’ Down A Dream”
Wilco, “Heavy Metal Drummer”
The War On Drugs, “Show Me The Coast”
The Beatles, Abbey Road Side 2
Kanye, “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”
Gram Parsons, “Wild Horses”
Eddie Money, “Two Tickets To Paradise”
Allgood, “Trilogy”
The Eagles, “Take It Easy”
We Were Promised Jetpacks, “Quiet Little Voices”
Toby Keith, “Shoulda Been A Cowboy”
U2, “In God’s Country”
Pearl Jam, “Yellow Ledbetter”
The Go-Gos, “Vacation”
Motley Crue, “Kickstart My Heart”
Springteen, “Born To Run”
Rival Sons, “Open My Eyes”
Bob Seger, “Roll Me Away”
Stone Temple Pilots, “Interstate Love Song”

Read this:

“Whoosh! That Car That Just Soared by Might Be Heading for the Coast,” John Branch, New York Times

Nobody’s ever going to look back on these days with fondness, but there’s definitely some joy to be had if you know where to look. As this story notes, empty highways and distracted law enforcement have kickstarted the Cannonball Run — the coast-to-coast, incredibly illegal, exhilarating-as-all-hell race — and records have fallen as a result. More than 3,000 miles in under 27 hours? Damn! Even Google Maps says it should take at least 41 without stops, and without traffic.

“Traffic is a major logistical challenge,” one of the current record-holders said. “Police is a variable we can almost control. There are tons of countermeasures. But we cannot control traffic.” Unless, of course, there is no traffic. Then it’s hammer down, son.

Menu of the Week:

ZZQ, Richmond, Virginia

This was one of the last restaurants I went to before the country closed up shop, and I think I’m still full from it. I ordered the Tres Hombres — brisket, pork & sausage — and I received a sandwich roughly the size of a medium dog, but much more delicious. What can I get you?

That’ll do it for this week, friends. Give someone you love a call this week, and listen to the smart people. Be good and I’ll catch you soon.


Next time: The story of how I made friends with one of the Atlanta Braves … while a game was going on.

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