Road trips and the rules of “shotgun”

The road trip. That glorious tradition that allows us to emancipate ourselves from the regularity of where we stand. Can there be anything more important to one’s mental health than the ability to get the hell out of Dodge every once in a while?

But a road trip is nothing without a few close, insane friends. The kind of friends who’ll help pay for gasoline. The kind of friends who’ll snap you out of the trance induced by hours of continuous driving. Perhaps most importantly, you need folks who appreciate the peculiar nature of road trip dining. In my experience, food acquired on the road usually falls into two categories: “fast” and “frightening.”

“Fast” is easy to find. Places like McDonald’s (“Did somebody say McDonald’s?”), Burger King (“Home of the Whopper”) and Wendy’s (“Ooh! I can actually feel my arteries clogging.”) offer a smorgasbord of healthy, delicious meals and endless choices.

Say you want … hmm, I don’t know … greasy meat pressed into convenient “patty” form. You can get it at ANY of these three “restaurants.” Amazing!

As for the “frightening” food you’ll find along the roadside, try Stuckey’s. I think a few still are scattered along the East Coast. How they stay in business is anyone’s guess, but I suppose the demand for a salad bar whose primary offering is orange Jell-O with marshmallows still is strong.

Another disturbing fact about Stuckey’s (Question: Who the hell was Stuckey? Can you picture a guy named Stuckey? I think I can, and it’s not a vision that inspires me to eat.) is that you can get seafood at any of its locations. I was on an overnight drive through Ohio (state motto: “Almost as fun as flossing.”) when my comrades and I happened upon a Stuckey’s. To our shock and dismay, that night’s special was oysters. Mmm … a plate full of central Ohio’s finest fruits of the sea.

Above and beyond the issue of road food, is the “sticky wicket” of the “shotgun” seat. For those of you not familiar with the concept, theory and practice of shotgun, here is a brief primer:

When three or more persons are included in a car trip, one of said persons (other than the driver, whose seat is assured) must express his or her desire to ride in the front seat (i.e., the “shotgun” seat, “riding shotgun,” etc.) by yelling “SHOTGUN!” before anyone else. This seat is desirable not only for its comfort, but also its view and, in two door cars, its access to the window.

During one of my latest excursions, I found myself with a grand total of five occupants in my two-door jalopy. With the prospect of being one of the three to occupy the back seat looming large over their heads, my passengers engaged in fierce combat for the shotgun position.

Two things came out of this experience. Firstly, a man lies dead following what historians are referring to as the “Shotgun Massacre.”

All right, all right, that’s a bit of an embellishment. Actually, no one is dead. Sorry. But in a public service effort to help stop the violence, I have attempted to codify the rules of shotgun. Submitted for your approval:

THE RULES:

I. Thou shall wait until ye is in sight of the car before calling “shotgun.”

II. Upon calling “shotgun,” one may call “golden.” This means that he or she will have the seat for the duration of the trip. (One way only! The return trip is entirely separate.)

III. Nobody deserves shotgun. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been riding in the trunk, or if you weigh 500 pounds and can’t fit in the back seat. You don’t call shotgun, you don’t get shotgun.

IV. In the event that two or more people call “shotgun” at the same time, the front seat shall be awarded to the winner of “rock, paper, scissors.” Or a fencing duel. Whichever.

V. A sitting shotgun holder only shall be removed through a lengthy, embarrassing investigation culminating in formal impeachment proceedings by the U. S. House of Representatives.

And there you have it.

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