Archived Story

How to stay alert during long drives

Published 1:03pm Saturday, October 1, 2011

Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster

“The long and winding road that leads to your door will never disappear,” Paul McCartney sings.

He’s part right. The road to my door is pretty much a straight shot with a few right turns and a couple confusing roundabouts, but it does feels like it will never disappear.

Today I’m on the same journey I’ve made several times a year for the past seven years, Woodbury to Elk Rapids, Mich., and back again. It’s 594 miles one way, in case you’re wondering.

Alexandra Kloster

If you’ve ever traveled the same path over and over again, you know that eventually the beautiful scenery starts to resemble a postcard that’s been on the refrigerator too long. Your patience wears so thin you want to jump in next to the driver in front of you going exactly 55 mph in a 65 zone and ask him, “Where isn’t the fire?” But there are ways to make your drive less monotonous and more efficient without bringing johnny law into your rearview mirror.

First, base what you listen to on the following principles. It must be entertaining, but not too funny. When you’re cruising five feet from Lake Michigan you don’t want to experience a fit of debilitating laughter and end up “sleeping with the fishes.” Don’t bore yourself though and make an 11 hour drive seem like 11 1/2.

One particularly jittery trip, when I was headed to see my father in the hospital, I hit the scan button on the radio and left it that way. Bad idea. I couldn’t speak a complete sentence for a week.

What works for me is what I call, “The great baseball paradox.” Listening to a baseball game is like getting behind the wheel after a cup of warm milk, two Unisom and a lullaby, but hearing the life stories of famous players intrigues me. I know more about Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Roger Maris than I do my own mother.

When you’re driving through a forest of boredom, I’ve nicknamed it Wisconsin, enjoy the wildlife but from afar. Don’t let the furred ones take liberties. Give them an inch, and they’ll take the front end of your car, or they’ll try to hitch a ride — all over your headlights and tires. I remember when I arrived home to find Graham welcoming me in the driveway and the look of repulsion on his face as he caught sight of the car. “Allow me to introduce you to my new buddy, skunk parts.” They were not fast friends.

I haven’t traveled with small children since my nieces and nephews were little, but how different can they be from lapdogs? The best piece of advice I have for you regarding these tiny freeloaders is, if they are scratching on their cages, first ask them to use their words. When you hear hysterical barking there is urgent personal business at hand. They are not bluffing. Pull over. Don’t gamble and lose.

You used to be able to have fun with kids on the road, but common sense ruined all that. No matter how many times they’ve done it, crossing the Mackinac Bridge is a thrill to children. If you’re not familiar with the bridge, it is divided into a solid lane and a grated lane where you can see through to the Straights of Mackinac. When I was small, my dad used to let me hang out the window so I could see into the water. Sure, maybe I almost fell out of the car a few times. What of it? It was good, clean fun. It was the ’70s. Being arrested for child endangerment never entered our minds.

I continued the traumatic Mackinac Bridge games with my niece, Caitlin. Whenever I’d drive over the bridge I’d pretend the wind was going to blow us off, and my Chrysler LeBaron was no Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

She’d sit in the back seat with a blanket over her head refusing to show her tear-stained face until we were on solid ground. You know, those were good times. That trick only worked until she was around 20. Then she wrecked it by insisting she drive across the bridge herself.

Friends, long drives are tedious and tiresome. Do what you need to do to entertain yourself, but be smart.

Stay awake, buckle in, discipline your lead foot and please don’t feel the need to show how manly your Prius is by passing an 18-wheeler on a two-lane road. Get home safely to the one who leaves the light on for you.

Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at, and her blog is Radishes at Dawn at