Who doesn't remember their first road trip? The windows down and the perfectly blue sky overhead, the feeling of endless possibility that can only occur when the journey means more than the outcome, singing along to your favorite mix tape with your best friend in the co-pilot seat.
If you're like me, your first road trip was over a decade and a half ago. It took place before cell phones and GPS. You made it in a car that was well past it's prime but completely loved, irreverently named and covered in high school sport and band stickers.
You got lost often, but it didn't matter because you knew what to do: pull over at gas stations in small towns and flag down passing cars or spread maps over hoods that were smoking hot because while the cruise control on your 1985 Camry still worked, the cooling system didn't.
You still possessed that magic ability to be exactly where you were: in the moment. You weren't worried about work emails, updating your Facebook status or checking neurotically to see if that guy you like texted you back. When something amazing happened, you wrote it down. Or you took pictures of it with a disposable camera, knowing that you would be reminded of those moments next winter when you finally got around to picking up your prints at CVS.
I miss those days, and I've always regretted never having some people as my co-pilot, especially my sister. At five years my junior, she was always too young -- and by the time she was old enough, I had moved on to other parts of the country and occasionally the world. She often came to visit and sometimes to live. We traveled around by bus, plane and train, but never by car.
Last month I got to change that. My sister and I spent the weekend in California, driving around the hills of Napa in a car that quickly became the third member of our road trip. Betsy, as we named her, was the new Ford Escape. We quickly realized she was smarter than the two of us combined and probably could have driven herself there while we drank wine in the back seat. The dashboard computer synced to all our technology, the trunk opened when you kicked under it and the side mirrors lit up when there was something in your blind spot -- feature we quickly decided we wanted for our lives.
It was a short three-day trip to celebrate a milestone. Six months earlier, my sister took a ride on a very different set of wheels: a hospital bed. Thousands of miles from the green hills of Napa, I watched her slip through the operating room doors so that her left kidney could be removed and given to my father, effectively saving his life.
It is to this day, and maybe for the rest of my life, one of the most incredible things I've seen one person do for another is give a piece of oneself so that someone else can live. I didn't qualify as a donor. I didn't have to have surgery, all I had to do was hold my mother's hand and watch. But even though it wasn't me, it's changed my life.
It's made me realize how important journeys are, and how little destinations matter if you love every minute of how you got there. It's shown me how silly we all are, running around, worried about the imagined, allowing our fear of the unexpected and the uncontrollable to make our lives smaller than they ever should be. I've learned what real risk looks like and how some people answer the question: What would you do for the people that you love?
We live in difficult times. Aliens for president, a stagnant economy and a job market that slopes the same way as the hills that run down into San Francisco. There isn't a big fix for all of our problems, but there are little ones like taking someone that you love on a drive, rolling the window down and putting on your favorite song. Laughing and talking as the road unfurls itself below you. Remembering that how you get there, and who you get there with, can be just as important as the places you end up.