Return of the Coffee Can

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Planning a road trip back in the 1980s typically required a paper map to be able to plot your course from one location to another. This was the time to fish out the old, dog-eared Rand-McNally atlas from underneath the car seats. You could also call the local automobile club and request a trip ticket. This was basically a folding paper map that someone marks up with a marker or highlighter for you to show the way.

According to the paper maps of the 1980s, from my paternal grandparent’s house in Upstate NY to my father’s house in Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C., was about a 6.5 – 7 hour car ride. When my father made the trip, it was always done in 5 hours. There was no stopping, and he made judicious use of a radar detector the entire way. Radar detectors were legal in Virginia; the speed limit in Virginia at the time was 75 mph. Radar detectors are illegal in New York; the speed limit in New York at the time was 55 mph. I am unsure of the laws regarding radar detectors of the other states that one passes through on the way from New York to Virginia.

Another key aspect in the speed of this trip is the no stopping rule. When my father was driving, there was no stopping. He left with a full tank of gas. There was no stopping at any point for gas or for a bathroom break. If you had to go to the bathroom, you had to hold it, wet yourself, or hope that you remembered to bring a coffee can.

Ah, the coffee can. 

The coffee can was used as a bathroom for car rides. It was also used as a bathroom for camping trips and when we were homeless and more transient. As one of my fellow Occupiers noted when I was protesting in the #Occupy camps in 2011 – “Don’t pee where you sleep.”

The coffee can comes in handy for so many things.

The coffee can has now made a comeback in the time of COVID. This is the first time as an adult that I now travel with a coffee can in my car at all times. 

You cannot take a road trip in the time of COVID and make a rest stop. It is too dangerous. First, you have to go into a gas station, restaurant (are they even open?), etc and risk exposure not only by coming into contact with other people but also by going indoors. Second, it is well documented that COVID is spread through bathroom use. 

Since you cannot stop anywhere to use the bathroom, the coffee can is back in style. If you need to use the bathroom, you pull over to the side of the road and use your coffee can just like back in the 1980s. As a child, there was no “pulling over the car.” You just used your coffee can while the car was in motion or suffered the consequences.

With inter-state travel not feasible in this time, we can still travel instate. If you are in the car for a bit, you will need your coffee can for a rest stop. Sometimes I need my coffee can even when driving the car around locally. I cannot stop anyplace.

I have been trying to think if my annual camping trip is even feasible this year. Unfortunately, it is not. I have evaluated every obstacle from every angle. This will be the first time in over 20 years I do not get to have my annual camping trip vacation.

This challenge is what precipitated the resurgence of the coffee can. One of the challenges I was trying to figure out was how to do the road trip to my camp site. I typically make several bathroom stops and at least one stop to put gas in the car. Putting gas in the car is a trying ordeal right now, as I have to wear a mask and gloves and try to get gas at a time when the station is not busy. 

There are other factors involved in trying to attempt a camping trip this year that is making that impossible. But I was also trying to overcome the whole “bathroom stop” challenge in general in case I could at least figure out how to have a beach day this year.

Unfortunately, I will not be able to have any beach days this year either. 

I am in quarantine at least until January, which makes a road trip impossible for me. While everyone else is taking irresponsible and unnecessary risks by traveling, I am stuck at home. However, I do need to drive the car around regularly to “keep it going.” I am now traveling with a coffee can for when I need a “rest stop” on those trips. 

Old habits die hard. This is one coping skill from my 1980s childhood that is making a comeback. I never thought I would see the return of the coffee can. As an adult, I have always said when I drive that I would make as many stops as I needed and go as fast or slow as I needed to enjoy the journey and arrive at my destination safely. I do not want to travel as my father traveled. 

However, that coffee can trick is now coming in handy. 

Have you seen a return of the coffee can as a permanent supply in your automobile?

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