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Everyone calls his or her parents, and significant other, in the case of Radar, to explain what they’re all doing. They quickly settle into their road trip roles. Quentin is the driver, Lacey keeps track of supplies, Radar calculates the logistics and the route, and Ben has to pee, badly. Quentin has to exceed the speed limit in order to make good time.
Everyone plays a game of I-Spy, and Lacey and Ben are being flirty. Quentin, who is going seventy-two miles per hour in a fifty-five zone, races past a cop, by a stroke of lucky does not get pulled over.
Ben can’t hold it in anymore, and there is no time to pull over, so Radar dumps out a bottle of beer for Ben to pee in. Unfortunately the bottle is not big enough, so Radar dumps out another bottle, and Ben makes the transition cleanly. Radar, Quentin, and Lacey are grossed out, but Ben feels triumphant. Soon he announces that he has to pee again.
Lacey organizes the list of supplies they have to buy when they stop at a BP gas station, and she makes them memorize their roles so that they can get the job done in six minutes. Radar will fill up on gas, Ben will use the bathroom and then pick up the things on his part of the list, Quentin will pick up the things on his part of the list, and Lacey will use the bathroom and sign the receipt on the BP card. They drive into the BP, swiftly execute their plan, and get back on the road with four seconds to spare.
Lacey sorts through all the provisions, sees that Quentin forgot to grab healthy snacks, and complains about having to eat a GoFast bar, until she tries one and loves it. Radar and Ben can’t believe that the t-shirts Quentin happened to grab for them are printed with large Confederate flags.
They get stuck in traffic and play a game called “That Guy Is a Gigolo,” in which they invent a narrative about the lives of the people in the cars around them. Radar points out that the game reveals a lot more about themselves than about the people in the cars.
Everyone starts to get tired, so they begin to take NyQuil in order to sleep in shifts. Quentin imagines the minivan as a small house, in which every part of the car is a room and has a distinct function.
Quentin manages to take over driving from Radar without stopping the van and then pee into an energy drink bottle, all while going seventy-seven miles an hour.
Quentin and Radar are already sick of the nutrition bars, and feeling twitchy from all the energy drinks.
At 12:13 am, it’s time for their second stop, and Quentin wakes up Ben and Lacey. Quentin buys camo pants and a “World’s Best Grandma” T-shirt for Radar, and more energy drinks. He uses the women’s bathroom because Radar is in the men’s. When they get back in the car, Ben announces that they’re a minute behind schedule.
Lacey is now driving, and they get stuck in construction traffic again. They stop to let Lacey and Ben pee, since they’re losing time anyway, and Quentin takes over the driving.
Quentin and Ben are the only ones awake. Ben tries to manage Quentin’s expectations about Margo, saying that it’s easy to like someone from a distance but can be hard when you finally get up close. Quentin starts to get angry, but suddenly realizes that there is a cow in the road, and they are careening towards it. If he hits the cow, Quentin thinks, everyone in the car will die. Ben grabs the wheel from the passenger seat and the car spins out of the road before stopping in the shoulder. Miraculously, everyone is okay. Quentin is bleeding a little because of a scratch from a broken bottle, but everyone else is unscathed. The car is fine, too. They hear liquid pouring out of the car. Ben is convinced that it’s gasoline and runs away screaming, but the liquid is just beer from all the broken bottles in the cooler. Ben returns, and Quentin hugs and thanks him for saving their lives. Ben takes over the driving.
They all talk about how Ben just saved their lives. Ben insists that he wasn’t being a hero, but was just looking out for himself.
They all do their best to clean up the car’s interior, but it needs a deep carwash. The car will also need a side panel replacement, which Radar says will cost three hundred dollars, which Quentin thinks is a small price to pay for finding Margo.
Quentin starts to fall asleep in the back, and he thinks about how much he’s enjoying this road trip. He invokes the sentiment of Walt Whitman’s poem while he thinks about how the four of them will hang out together in New York even if Margo is not there.
When Quentin wakes up, Radar and Ben are debating what to name the car. Quentin suggests The Dreidel, because the harder you spin it, the better it performs.
They all play their game of metaphysical I Spy and sing along to the radio.
They arrive in the Catskills, close to Margo’s alleged location, with thirty minutes to spare. Lacey and Quentin rattle off everything they remember about Margo in hopes that it might help them find her.
Parts One and Three of Paper Towns are both structured around road trips, and they both essentially take place in the span of one long night. In Part One, the destination isn’t the point, since they start and end at Jefferson Park, where Margo and Quentin live. Rather, the focal point of the first road trip is the journey. In Part Three, the destination is the entire focus, since the trip’s purpose is to make it to New York to find Margo.
Although the ostensible point of the road trip is to find Margo in Agloe, the trip itself quickly becomes a way for Quentin and his best friends from high school to bond with each other. Quentin’s friends are extremely loyal to him and to each other, and even if they’re not as obsessed with the Margo Roth Spiegelman drama as he is, they would never let Quentin go on this mission without them.
Quentin provides the engine for the road trip to New York, both physically, since it is his car, and metaphorically, since he is the trip’s natural leader. However, the drive to find Margo is a highly collaborative effort. During her revenge road trip with Quentin, Margo organizes the night into eleven parts, and she has a very clear map in her head of what exactly she wants to do. Quentin is clearly there as Margo’s sidekick. He helps execute the plan, but he doesn’t help figure out what they’re going to do and why they’re going to do it. But Quentin’s friends are crucial to both the planning and the success of Quentin’s road trip to find Margo. Margo’s world revolves entirely around Margo, and most everything else is subordinate to her, whereas Quentin works best in a team, and he is able to trust and depend on others. If Margo’s road trip was a solo operation with a sidekick, Quentin’s road trip is a symbiotic ecosystem.
The road trip to find Margo in upstate New York contains a deep element of wish fulfillment. It would have been very predictable for Quentin and his friends to march obediently to Pomp and Circumstance as they walked across the graduation stage. Although they agree to forgo clothes under their robes, they would still be outwardly fulfilling all the expected duties and requirements, as they have done throughout their lives. However, searching for Margo gives Quentin the courage and recklessness to take a leap and do something outside of his comfort zone.
The road trip also serves as the climax of the novel, both in terms of its plot and in terms of the emotional development of the characters and their relationships to one other. In terms of the plot, the road trip is suspenseful because there’s a ticking clock. Quentin knows that they have less than twenty-four hours to get to New York, because Margo’s note says that she will only be there until May 29th at noon. There have been enough vague but dark clues throughout the search for Margo that Quentin has reason to believe the note she left on Omnictionary might be a suicide note.
In terms of an emotional climax, the trip begins during their high school graduation, which is the event that signifies emancipation and adulthood for all the novel’s main characters. Quentin has just been gifted his car, which symbolizes his adulthood. Yet the car is a minivan, the same kind of car that his mom drives, and the same kind of car that he used to drive himself and Margo on their Orlando adventure. The minivan signifies that even though Quentin is an independent adult, he is still connected to his past. Margo may have cut all her strings, but Quentin is still tied to his roots. The van also lets Quentin’s friends join him for the ride. As Quentin launches into the adult world, he doesn’t have to travel alone.
Ultimately, Quentin’s quest for Margo is less about finding her and more about finding himself. In fewer than twenty-four hours, Quentin feels as though his car is a house and the people inside it are his family. Quentin is a creature of habit, precision, and routine, and high school graduation signifies that daily life as Quentin knows it will come to an end. Change is always terrifying, and Quentin has almost been distracting himself from this fact through his obsession with finding Margo. But as he drifts to sleep in the back of the minivan, this transition from self-discovery to acceptance is evident when he comforts himself with the thought of being able to find happiness in himself and this journey, even if they do not find Margo.