This is the name given to the operation by which four million stressed-out, scorched, bottled-up, dark-suited citizens decide to become stressed-out, scorched, bottled-up, shorts- and vest-wearing citizens with an inflatable crocodile on the roof of their car.
These days this operation is quite simple. In the past it was done by carriage, and in addition to the children’s and grandparents’ suitcases, we had to deal with the horses’ suitcases too. I don’t know if you have ever had to pack equine luggage. It’s hard to combine a spare halter with tons of sugar cubes, anti-parasite spray, and a giant-size toothbrush. As for the dental floss, they often make do with the cable on the cell-phone charger. Especially if you have forbidden it. Horses, even when tamed, essentially do whatever they want. So don’t rule out the horse taking the driver’s seat while you travel shut up in the trailer intended for equine transport. If you get bored, try alfalfa. Then you might understand a little more the drama of their life.
The rest of the preparations for the trip can be summed up in one word: acquiescence.
Once on the road, my advice is to always drive in the right lane. The existence of such a lane is unknown to men and has thus far been kept secret only thanks to the determination of the most elitist secret societies, which have made people believe that the only existing lane is the left one. The truth is that the right lane is a beautiful highway at your full disposal, empty 24 hours a day. It goes without saying that the knowledge I have just entrusted you with must be guarded with your life.
Drive merrily down that right lane, and if you do so with this article taped to a window, identifying yourself as a reader of The American Spectator, you will discover fellow travelers who share your passion for reading. In an exodus, solidarity is very important for when problems arise. And when on the road, problems always arise.
If it has been years since you last traveled, you must remember that now you have to fill your gas tank up yourself, you have to clean the windshield yourself, you have to vacuum the little mats yourself, you have to check the tire pressure yourself, you have to get the newspaper, French fries, and soft drinks yourself, you have to make your own coffee, and at the cash register you have to insert your credit card into the little device they hand you. Finally, the gas station attendant, from the comfort of a lounger, stretches out his finger to press a little green button, producing a little piece of paper that you must pick up, tear in two, sign, and, of course, hand over to the cashier.
Nowadays, when you’re done putting gas in the tank, you stand with your hand outstretched like an idiot, hoping the cashier might at least give you a tip.
Eating on the go is good for your cholesterol but bad for you. Science is still debating the origin of the oil used to fry practically everything in roadside diners. You can expect everything except — and not always — the salad, on the menu to be fried, even the menu itself. From the pancakes and the milk to the fish or the steak. All, of course, in the same oil, which makes the roadside kitchens extraordinary places to discover impossible flavors, such as gravy-flavored fried milk, or fish flavored with anise-seed bagels. Delicatessen only within the reach of traveling vacationers.
At some point in the journey, an unforeseen stop is mandatory. The little light that flashes on and off warrants it. No vacation trip is complete without an emergency light coming on at the worst possible moment. It’s time to retrieve the owner’s handbook from the glove compartment only to discover that it has been stowed elsewhere. In its place you will find the case of the removable radio from that other car you had in 1982.
When you manage to find the handbook, it’s time to look for the English version, only to discover that it gives you a choice between two very common American roadside languages: Chinese or German. Naturally, you ask the family to keep calm, as you try to recall your deep knowledge of German from the thousand times you read the caption under that Claudia Schiffer poster you hung in your room when you were 16 years old.
The important thing is to make sure that in the vicinity of the page referring to the flashing light in question — guide yourself by the drawings as we all do — you do not find the word “lebensgefahr.” After making sure it’s not there, close the manual quietly, cover the light with a Pokemon sticker, and continue your journey. “Lebensgefahr” means “danger of death.” Anything else can wait.
Just when everything seems to be working, and you’ve even started humming ’60s classics, you hear it: the call of nature. That horrible sensation at the wheel. The big question: where to stop? You could pee by the side of the road, but you would risk flashing your piece in front of the whole world due to any of the thousand cameras and radars that both the police and television stations use in the operation exodus. On the other hand, the trembling road from passing trucks makes it difficult to relax and complete the operation successfully, with some guys taking up to four weeks to urinate on the hard shoulder.
Others, out of an excess of modesty, go deep into the roadside brush to evacuate discreetly. The enemy lurks among these plants, however, and appears in the form of a bumblebee, a poisonous snake, or even in the form of a road maintenance worker with a yellow diving mask and chainsaw. If you meet one of them, run. Don’t try to talk to them, because they wear helmets that prevent them from hearing. Those who stop to talk often lose any chance of peeing again, whether on the hard shoulder or not.
Finally, wherever you stop to pee, don’t leave the keys in the ignition. It never looks good at the police station when asked, “And where were you when the vehicle was stolen with the children in it?”
Itxu Díaz is a Spanish journalist, political satirist and author. He has written nine books on topics as diverse as politics, music, and smart appliances. He is a contributor to the Daily Beast, the Daily Caller, National Review, the American Conservative, The American Spectator, and Diario Las Américas in the United States, and is a columnist for several Spanish magazines and newspapers. He was also an adviser to the Ministry for Education, Culture, and Sports in Spain. Follow him on Twitter at @itxudiaz or visit his website: www.itxudiaz.com.
Translated by Joel Dalmau