Vail Daily column: Will road trips replace electroconvulsive therapy? |

Vail Daily column: Will road trips replace electroconvulsive therapy?

Robert Valko
Dear Darwin
Vail, CO Colorado

What’s so enticing about a road trip? Why do people’s brains fizz with tiny bubbles upon word of an excursion over the hills and through the woods? Will road trips replace Prozac, electro-convulsive therapy and popsicle sticks as a treatment for depression? Maybe it’s the cranberry sauce and roast beast waiting at Grandma’s that exerts such a strong gravitational pull over anxious kin. But alas, plum pudding and rooty toot toots aren’t always the “cheese” at the end of the Wisconsin-size maze that is a road trip.

One would think that an intelligent species such as Homo sapiens would know better than to hurl themselves at pumpkin pie and sweet potatoes in a metal box going 60 miles per hour on a narrow ice rink, also known as the northern half of the U.S. interstate system.

Then again, maybe our craving for stuffing and turkey simply overrides the impulse to protect ourselves. If this kind of behavior continues though, new legislation will have to go into effect that will require helmets for those who steal-away to Grandma’s. Certainly, she’d be pleased to find a group of helmeted aliens standing on her door step. Personally, being trapped in a metal box speeding across the earth with three other people is grounds for duct tape (blindfolding), earplugs and medication.

For others though, a road trip is right up there with grill marks on chicken breasts. Research has shown that people consistently prefer marked breasts over the unmarked variety. This likely has something to do with the fact that people might not be able to see unmarked chicken breasts. Obviously, this is related to the similarities between our visual systems and those of cats.

When cats are raised in environments where they are exposed to only vertical stimuli or only horizontal stimuli, they won’t perceive one or the other as adults. If a cat is raised in an environment with only horizontal lines, it won’t perceive vertical stuff as an adult. Indeed, if a “horizontal-only” cat is placed in a maze with vertical barriers and a big hunk of meat at the end, it will snow-plow into the vertical barriers on the way to the prize. Apparently, humans raised in households with horizontal grill marks on their chicken prefer that as adults because they can spot their food.

Truthfully speaking, people like grill marks because they remind them of backyard barbecues, friends and family. And people like road trips for the same reasons: We’re in close quarters for an extended period with those we like to be around.

Because we lived in tight quarters over the last few million years – caves and huts – we feel at home and happy when in similar situations. The optimal road trip assault vehicle is the RV. They’re pretty much caves on wheels. Maybe psychiatrists will start writing the words “road trip” on prescription pads instead of ECT.

Robert Valko is a graduate of Northwestern University. E-mail him with column ideas at

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