FP Staff Picks: Road Trips
The Summer of Dead Birds takes readers on a lyrical road trip winding through death, breakups, and the complications of everyday living. To celebrate this soon-to-be iconic journey, the FP staff has generated a list of our most-cherished pop culture adventures. So fill up the tank, grab some snacks, and hit the road with us!
🎵: “Telephone,” starring Lady Gaga and Beyoncé
The route: Beyoncé ("Honeybee") bails Lady Gaga ("Gaga") out of prison, they drive to a breakfast diner in the middle of nowhere for a murderous bout, then they escape to an undisclosed location, promising each other they'll never return.
When it was released in 2010, the nearly ten-minute music video was instantly iconic—combining two of the world's most acclaimed divas with clever pop culture references, campy product placements, and unforgettable looks. Given the amount of commentary, controversy, and critical analysis this video provoked, its release was one of the first moments that helped me understand the power of pop culture to ignite and shape discourse. (Fun fact: Lady Gaga does not like this video).
📚: The Wangs vs. The World by Jade Chang
The route: After losing everything to the financial crisis of 2008, Charles Wang—a Chinese immigrant who came to America and built a cosmetics empire—decides it's time to reclaim his ancestral land and start anew. So he packs up the family in California and begins the journey: first to New York to pick up his eldest daughter, then to China. Whether or not they'll make it is best left to the reader.
The characters are brash and the writing is really funny. More importantly, it has great meditations on the Chinese immigrant experience in America, as well as the Chinese American one in the next generation. The Wangs vs. the World is a great (and underappreciated) debut.
🎥: Thelma and LouisE, written by Callie Khouri, directed by Ridley Scott
The route: Starts in the grim depths of compulsory heterosexuality; ends at the violent refusal of same. (Or, to be literal: starts in Arkansas, ends at the mouth of the Grand Canyon.)
The classic feminist outlaw tale, Thelma and Louise celebrates difficult women, forever friendship, and resistance to rape culture. But make sure to follow it up with a queer utopia that doesn't end in tragedy.
📚:"A Good Man Is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor
The route: The goal is Georgia to Florida. “The Misfit” has other plans.
This is one of O'Connor's best-known works and for good reason!! Nostalgia, self-righteousness, and familial tension all seem to be heightened when you're on the road in close quarters! Good thing most road trips don't end the way this one does.
🎥: The Way, Way Back, WRITTEN AND DIRECTED by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
The route: Albany, NY to Cape Cod, MA.
The movie follows the story of an angsty teen who works at a water park near his stepfather's beach house. Through meeting this crazy manager who works (and lives) at the water park, they both realize there's more to life than the everyday blunders. Definitely a feel-good movie all around.
📚: August by Romina Paula
The route: From Buenos Aires down into Patagonia and back.
The most intense road trip scenes in this Argentine novel come near the end of the book. All the sadness and melancholy that's been pouring out of Paula's protagonist are now trapped within the claustrophobic confines of a days-long road trip with her married-with-kids ex. Who can't relate to some deep reflection on what could have been?
🎥: To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, written by Douglas Carter Beane, directed by Beeban Kidron
The route: From New York City to a drag queen competition in Hollywood, but car trouble lands them in Snydersville for an extended stay.
First off, the film gives us Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes, and John Leguizamo in drag. It’s a very fun movie with a million cameos—just a joy to watch. At the same, all the while you're laughing and having a ball, To Wong Foo confronts you with both the vulnerabilities of queer life, and the complex development and negotiation of a Black and Latinx solidarity. The movie has a lot going on, and the road trip provides a perfect platform for the issues presented and the overall the narrative arc.
📚: Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
The route: The trip starts in California and ends in Connecticut where Amy's mother has decided to move the family.
You're never too old for a fluffy YA romance, and Morgan Matson rarely disappoints. There is something very sweet and sincere about two strangers being thrown together in small quarters and then getting to watch them fall in love against the backdrop of the unique quirks of different states. Not to mention the novel also tackles grief and loss in a way that's accessible to younger readers. All around great!
🎥: Mad Max: Fury Road, WRITTEN AND DIRECTED by George Miller
The route: Joe's Citadel to…well, the road trip takes multiple unintended detours.
Mad Max: Fury Road puts a new feminist spin on the Mad Max franchise, but at its core, it's just classic road-trip buddy movie: you set off with a few friends hoping to flee your oppressive routine, but after a series of run-ins with biker gangs, near-death experiences (no one brought snacks!), and perpetual car trouble, you return home realizing that the oasis you were seeking elsewhere is right there, waiting to be reclaimed.
🎵: "I and Love and You" by The Avett Brothers
The route: This road trip is from the South (for the Avett Brothers) or from wherever the listener is—to Brooklyn, New York.
This appeals to me personally because Brooklyn is my home, and I feel the environment is very welcoming to tourists and newcomers. Brooklyn accepts people who are anyone from anywhere. Unlike Manhattan's busy streets and overwhelming capitalist/consumerist qualities, Brooklyn is a city less intense and cozier in sophistication and ostentatious pride. Therefore, Brooklyn is proudly willing to take anyone "in.”
🎥: Crossroads, written by Shonda Rhimes, directed by Tamra Davis
The route: From a small town in Georgia to Tucson, Arizona.
The story of three childhood friends, Lucy (Britney Spears), Kit (Zoe Saldana), and Mimi (Taryn Manning), who, after eight years apart, rediscover their friendship on a cross-country trip. I’ve always loved this story of friendship on the road!
📚: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
The route: The Shire to back in the Shire, or arguably only when the next adventure begins, only when sailing westward from the Grey Havens.
This was one of the most formative stories of my life, and I no longer have any sense of how to talk about it with any kind of objectivity.