As every Janeite knows, in Austen novels, plans to travel are always a clue that interesting things are about to happen. Excursions to London, Brighton, Bath, Lyme, the Lakes, and Derbyshire evoke feelings of expectation and excitement. Whether it is to partake in diversions and entertainments, do a little sea-bathing or simply to see the sights of distant places, the anticipation is certainly part of every Austen novel. When an opportunity for a road trip arose, I put on my Austen-colored glasses; hoping for good roads and good weather, we made our plans.
The purpose of the trip was certainly out-of-time with reasons the Austen characters wandered from home – we bought a used car and needed to bring it home. The challenging aspect of our purchase was that the vehicle was inconveniently located in Florida and we live in the Intermountain West. My husband’s initial proposal involved him driving the entire distance solo. I was exceedingly put out over this and insisted on going along. He had the good sense to humor me.
An absolute requirement to survive a road trip with a Janeite (at least this one) is a sense of humor. Fortunately, my husband pretty much rolls with all of my droll comments. He smiled as we headed out the door and I commented that, like Austen would have, we were going to be traveling coach. Likewise, when we were standing in the security line, I mentioned that although Lady Catherine would never know how I packed my bag, I could not hope for the same when it comes to the TSA. You get the idea.
The flying portion of our trip, including the layover, took us just under eight hours – about the same amount of time it took to cover the 58 miles from London to Brighton back in the day in a carriage. Considering that Brighton and Florida have beaches in common, and beaches have water, and water has fish and we were packed into the Boeing 737 like sardines in a can, this leg of the trip I dubbed Mr. Collins, because he thanked Lady Catherine for winning at fish and apologized if he thought he won too many. With every seat taken on both flights, there were absolutely too many fish!
The departure from Mr. Collins signaled our arrival in Florida, where it was a balmy 78 degrees. So far, the weather report is looking good! Limo service from a driver named Valentine, and a dealership full of fancy cars we could never afford earned this short blip of our 2-day adventure the name of Rosings.
It wasn’t long before we were on our way with a gently-used Toyota Avalon. Heading north on the Florida Turnpike however, the weather quickly betrayed us. That is one thing that hasn’t actually changed much in 200 years. The weather remains a significant factor on the degree of pleasure one derives from a road trip. Thank goodness nobody has to sit outside the vehicle to drive as a coachman did! We quickly discovered that the car needed new windshield wipers, calling for exploration off the main road. When we found “Bennett Auto Parts” across the street from an “Auto Zone”, it seemed like a no-brainer as to which establishment we would patronize.
We also experienced paying tolls to use the Florida Turnpike. We had a bit of an oops there, since it works a bit differently than the ones my husband was familiar with, but once we got that straightened out, I had to do a little research. Research counts as entertainment any day of the week, but on a road-trip using tiny devices with my fat fingers, it feels a bit awkward, much as having high-tea in a barn would. Austen doesn’t talk about paying tolls on the roads in her novels, but I learned that in 1800, there were upwards of 8,000 toll booths on roads in England. The “good roads” referenced by Mr. Darcy at Hunsford were the turnpike roads. So the Florida Turnpike was hereafter named Fifty Miles of Good Road in recognition of all the money we had to pay to use it!
Not long after that particular good road ended, we found ourselves in one-lane, battling heavy traffic and construction barrels. This photo was taken at 2:30 in the morning and the traffic was backed up in both directions. I named this stretch Mrs. Bennet. Anyone want to guess why?
We’ve talked about the state of the roads a bit, but now going to return to the weather. The weekend of our road trip, the entire eastern half of the country, down into the south, suffered yet another severe cold snap.We had to add no-freeze windshield wiper fluid to the reservoir because they apparently don’t need such things in Florida. Freezing slush on the windshield is not a recipe for excellent visibility. Tennessee and Kentucky became Derbyshire in honor of the cold – and the Kentucky Derby. It was in these states that I noticed the rows of trees along stretches of the highway – not quite like the hedgerows of England, but similar.
During this part of the drive, I began writing postcards. I had, prior to the trip, purchased a box of Austen-themed postcards and stamps. I then collected names and addresses of people who wanted to receive one. I wrote a few here and there as we drove along, or sometimes when we were waiting for food when we stopped to eat. It was fun, and definitely kept me occupied as we crossed over from the south into the mid-west. They were all finally mailed at a truck stop in Nebraska, It actually took more than a week for them to be delivered to the recipients I heard back from, so the postal system in Nebraska gets a failing grade.
I had fun watching for things I could relate back to Austen in some way – like the “Elizabethtown” sign, a piece of heavy equipment, a country church and livestock in the fields. As we approached home in morning light, I named the final stretch Rocks and Mountains.
I had a camera, some postcards, my Kindle and a WiFi hotspot from my cell phone. Armed with his sense of humor and a willingness to indulge my inner Jane, my husband actually
survived enjoyed our road trip! He was an excellent travel companion too. Now it’s your turn. What are your road-trip survival tips?