A thousands reasons to cross the U.S.

By Jason Tudor

The Pontiac Fiero. Shallow. Low. Unreliable. Dangerous. If it got going way too fast, it ended up on its back. It was the Lindsey Lohan of automobiles. And in the summer of 1989, someone gave me one thousand dollars and 30 days to drive one across country.

Something past 19 years old, I saw an opportunity to a.) keep the better part of a thousand bucks and b.) break a new land speed record using a Pontiac. Besides, my friends convinced me I could make it from upstate New York to southern California in about the same amount of time it took to watch an episode of "Knight Rider." Challenge accepted.

This was familiar territory. Growing up a military brat, I'd criss-crossed the United States to the tune of six times and 24,700 miles by station wagon, motorhome and mid-size car. Route planned, cash in hand and with an armful of cassette tapes, my employer handed me the keys. "I had the car performance tuned and there are four new racing tires on it," he added. He might as well have thrown his naked daughter in the passenger seat.

Sitting in a Fiero is a bit like climbing into bobsled. Your ass almost touches asphalt and you need a booster seat from Sizzler to see over the dashboard. Still, if ever a car said "mid-life crisis," the Indy Fiero screamed it. Spoiler in the back. Super-charged engine. It might as well have come with the volleyball scene from "Top Gun" as an optional accessory. I slammed the first cassette into the player, fired up the engine, and was off.

The first and shortest leg took me to Effingham, Illinois. If you're unfamiliar with Effingham, it's the same shtetl radio hosts Bob and Tom once heckled with a bunch of "Effing" jokes. "The Crossroads of Opportunity" took 17 hours to reach from Plattsburgh. Highlights of the first leg included realizing I could drive like a bat out of hell in Canada and a guy jumping off an overpass into the windshield of a pickup truck in Detroit. Welcome to Michigan!

Day two provided the most drama. Somewhere between Goodland, Kansas and Denver, Colo., I stopped at grocery store. I felt tired. And what fixes tired? Vivarin! Peckish, I also grabbed a bag of fruit. Two Vivarin and half a cantaloupe later, Fiero and I raced back onto the 70. Meanwhile, about an hour later, I wasn't feeling the Vivarin kicking in. So, I took two more. Then one more an hour later. And maybe one more.

NeedlesstosayabouththetimethatLimonColoradocameintoviewmyheadwasracingalongalotlikethisentenceiswritten. Thismustbewhatitfeelsliketoswallowspeed. Wowthoselightssurearebright. AmIreallygoing125? Doesn'tfeellikeit. You get the idea. Still, I felt physically tired, arms heavy, legs like Jell-O. With Denver just an hour or so out, however, I'd wrap up 22 hours of driving, stop in a hotel room and get some shut eye.

Or so I thought. The combination of mixed fruit and grocery store uppers rebelled about the time the suburb of Aurora appeared. My insides roiled, growled and shuttered. Just past 3:45 a.m., squirming and rolling in my seat, I did the only thing I could do with no visible gas station or rest stop in sight:  I screeched the Fiero to a stop in the shoulder, pulled my shorts off my legs and let nature (and gravity) take its course.

Twenty-five minutes later, reeking of all things foul following the evacuation of my sickness and dignity, I found a hotel room. I stared at the hotel room ceiling for an hour and a half (thanks Vivarin!), then, strangely, "woke up" refreshed and hit the road. Less eventful passed the final day of driving, but it lasted the longest -- almost 24 hours before pulling into the final stop, an apartment complex near Azusa, California.

The trip, 2,974 miles, took 66 hours. I slept 10 of those hours. I spent exactly $209, and the Fiero’s owner gladly paid my airfare back to New York.

The last thing I did in two and a half days was clean my attic. But if you handed me one thousand dollars, I could probably get it done in one.

Jason Tudor is the owner of a lumbering, mid-sized SUV that sometimes climbs over 100 mph on the German autobahn. A writer and illustrator, he can also be found talking science fiction with his friends on a podcast called "The Science Fiction Show," which is funny, filled with geek and available via iTunes. He can be found at www.jasontudor.com and www.myscifishow.com and here, of course.


Come Down from the Mountains

by Sara Spock
I just came down from the mountain. The new aged glow of Machu Picchu was fresh on my cheeks and I had a head filled with spirituality, Incas, llamas, fresh flowing streams and brews. My high, it seemed, mimicked the altitude. A mere 8,000 feet above sea level and I was ready to kick off my Birkenstocks, fill my pockets with granola, and live among the ruins, but a bus in Cusco waited for me to return to Lima and some friends were getting married in a few short days. The road called, even though it only sounded like a whisper compared to the shouts of Machu Picchu.

As we approached the terminal, my hopes soared. The bus was modern, shiny, and lacking the normal enclave of chickens strapped to the roof. There were porters, baggage holds, and the driver was wearing a uniform. A uniform!  Visions danced through my head of a 10 hour ride with a seat to myself, a place to stretch my almost 6’ frame without dogs in the aisles and massive packs of farm goods conveniently resting on my thighs. This was luxury. As I approached my seat, the requested aisle in the 8th row, I noticed a little old lady in the spot I reserved. So etched and still, I wasn’t sure if she was dozing or dead. I tapped her. Nothing. I nudged. Nada. I used my pack to give her a gentle shove. Zilch. Instead of attempting mouth to mouth, I took the middle seat. At least I had it to myself.

The bus embarked in the evening, traveling through the night and I hoped to arrive in Lima before noon, to catch my next 8 hour bus north. Yes, I travel in style. About an hour into the trip, my seat mate stirred and I sighed with relief that rigor mortis hadn’t set in. I pulled out my journal and tried to make a few hasty notes about Machu Picchu in the waning daylight, but the tiny old bitty took this moment to shift her entire body to the right, draping one arm over my shoulder and the other on my journal. I was frozen and she was, apparently, still sleeping. I tried to gently push her back to her own space with my shoulder.  Instead, she managed to wiggle her hand from my shoulder, down the front of my shirt and into my bra. Suddenly, I was being molested by a snoozing Peruvian octogenarian and both my arms were pinned. I looked to my right in a failed attempt to enlist some help, but it was too dark. I used my knee to try to rouse her. I tapped my feet loudly in an attempt to wake the dead. I shifted my shoulders to dislodge her roving hand. Nothing worked. Finally, I dropped my journal and lifted both arms above my head, pushing the pervert back to her own space and sliding myself closer to the window seat while crossing my arms in an attempt to regain some self-respect.

Even today, I’m fairly certain a large portion of my dignity is still bouncing around on that bus in the Andes… along with the cash that lady found in my bra.

Sara Spock is a mom, wife, anthropology student, lab assistant, English tutor, and freelance writer.  In the moments between being groped on third-world buses and waiting for the birth of her second child, Sara can be found over at The Hero Complex where she tries to save the world, one. blog. post. at. a. time.

Editor's note: Congratulations, Sara and baby Bennet! The cutest little Erma yet!


An Outhouse to Celebrate

by Jeanette Levellie

“Did you see that?” my husband guffawed, pointing out the car window on a recent road trip.
Why does he torture me like this? If I miss something spectacular or funny, him saying, “Did you see that?” only makes me angry. “What was it?” I said.
He was still hooting with laughter. “A billboard for an Outhouse Festival; I can’t believe it!”
 “Are you serious?” By now, I was giggling, too. “What is there to celebrate about outhouses?”    
I can understand celebrating the Honey Bee, the Furry Bear, Covered Bridges, Popcorn, and Raggedy Ann & Andy. Bring on the parades. Sell deep fried Twinkies and tacos in a bag. Hire a brass band to play on the town square for festivals honoring those essentials in our society. But, outhouses? Every time I’m forced to use one, I am not thinking of Ferris wheels, lemon shake-ups, and ice cream cones.
I suppose they are a great invention, if you’re out in the middle of nowheresville and can’t find a bush. Still, to have an entire weekend dedicated to holes and the houses that hide them? How desperate must we be for something to party over?
            If you really want to celebrate, I have a few great ideas:
  • Celebrate living in a nation where you have a free education, can criticize a political candidate openly without being arrested, can vote, and can worship whatever god you choose.
  • Celebrate being rich, even if you only have one set of clothes and food for just today. Most dogs and cats in this nation live better than millions of people in the world.
  • Celebrate if you had parents who loved you and taught you right from wrong. Many children don’t.
  • Celebrate that you are in sound enough mind and have decent enough eyesight to  read this article.
  • Celebrate your friends. My Dad used to tell me, “If you get to the end of your life and can say you have one faithful friend, you are a rich person indeed.” I am discovering how very true that statement is.
  • Celebrate your marriage if it’s lasted over ten years. Most do not.
  • Celebrate a God who gave you all the wonder of creation simply for your enjoyment, and who loves you just as you are.      
I’ll bet you can come up with a few more reasons to celebrate; things we all take for granted and fail to notice until we’re without them. For that matter, next time I go camping, I may have to reconsider celebrating an outhouse after all.

A spunky, sometimes reluctant pastor’s wife, Jeanette Levellie has published articles, greeting card verses, stories and calendar poems.  She authors a bi-weekly humor/inspirational column in her local newspaper, and regularly speaks to any group brave enough to have her, offering hope and humor in every message. She is the mother of two, grandmother of three, and waitress to several cats. Find her blog, On Wings of Mirth and Worth, at http://jeanettelevellie.blogspot.com


Zombie Road Trip

by Angie Mansfield from The Zebra Rag

MURFREESBORO, TN (ZP) – A car crashed on Interstate 24 just outside of Murfreesboro Sunday evening, closing the southbound lanes for over two hours and causing mass confusion among first responders.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Murfreesboro Police Department spokesman Ken Kinnison. “The crash didn’t cause any injuries, but there were body parts everywhere…one guy’s arm wound up on the hood of the car.”

The body parts came from the car’s occupants, zombies Jan Carlson, 152, from Boston, and Mike Carlson, 17, also from Boston, who was driving at the time of the accident.

When asked to clarify how body parts could be strewn around the crash
site, but no injuries be reported, Kinnison responded by excusing
himself to go vomit behind his cruiser.

“We heal quick,” said Jan Carlson, waving his arm around with his
still-attached hand. “Some super glue, maybe a couple stitches, and
we’ll be back out eating brai—I mean, selling vacuums in no time.”

Mike Carlson, the teenage great-great nephew of the elder zombie,
seemed more concerned about his car than about the fact that he now
had to hop on one leg around the crash site. “I just put a new dual
exhaust on it.”

The crash occurred at around 10:30 pm local time as the Carlsons
headed north on their vacuum sales route. According to Mike Carlson,
he was attempting to pass a semi truck moving “about the speed of a
turtle trying to molest a snail,” when the truck drifted over into the
passing lane and forced the Carlsons’ 1965 Ford Mustang into the
median. Carlson lost control of the vehicle, and it rolled into the
southbound lanes, where it was struck by another truck, passed into
the far south lane, bounced off the guardrail back into traffic, got
struck by a U-Haul trailer, and was pinballed around the southbound
lanes a few more times before coming to rest back in the median.

“It’s a good thing them boys is zombies,” said the driver of the
U-Haul, who pulled over to photograph any injuries that may have
resulted from the crash for later uploading to his subscription
website, bodiesandblood.com. “If they’da not been zombies, we’d be
scrapin’ ‘em off the highway into Tupperware bowls fer sure.”

It was unclear at press time what charges, if any, might result from
the crash, but Officer Kinnison seemed certain there would be some. “I
mean…they’re zombies. They eat people, right? That just ain’t natural.
There’s gotta be something we can charge ‘em with.”

He then excused himself to vomit again.


Fourteen hours with 'Dale, Jr.' and the pit crew

by Rhonda Schrock

Note:  This column was written during the 2008 holiday season.  It’s all still true.
Surviving a 14-hour car trip with 6 people and 12 kidneys is a Christmas miracle right there.  I’m not the only one with an imagination around here.  Mr. Schrock’s got a very colorful one himself.  In our younger years, I honestly think he fancied himself to be Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 
You could see a visible change come over him as he took his place at the wheel.  There was a determined set to his jaw and a glint in his eye.  His body language shouted, “I’m here to conquer and to win!”  Mentally, he would don a one-piece racing suit and a helmet before gunning it out the lane at the sound of the imaginary gun.
I learned real quick that “The Manly Guidebook for Conquering the Open Road” didn’t include potty breaks.  They simply weren’t necessary.  If we all went before we left, then we could surely wait until we got there.  At the very least, we should easily be able to make it to St. Louis, which was seven hours in and halfway there.
See, if we had to stop, then all those semis he’d just passed would sail right by.  So what if they were a friendly bunch, giving us a special wave that either meant we were number one with them or that we had one lap to go.  We were never quite sure.  Either way, getting passed meant you were the loser.
However, even he had to relent and let us out once he realized our kidneys were about to shut down.  With the blood vessels popping in our eyeballs, legs crossed, we would slosh in to the gas station while he circled the building, honking.  At least that’s how I remember it.
To my relief, the trip down went well.  Things got dicey, though, when they started singing, “Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall” about 20 minutes down the road.  The singing stopped abruptly when their father killed the sound on their movie, spoiling their fun.  I heard one of them mutter to his brother in the darkness, “Told you he’d shut us down at 95.”
Not being a road warrior myself, I’ve tried various feminine wiles in an effort to get out of driving.  “Look at how your muscles ripple,” I might say in a wheedling tone as he grips the wheel to make a turn.  This only earns me a baleful glare that clearly says, “You’re not fooling me.” 
Hence, the fact that I drove for 3-1/2 hours in the dead of night to give him a break should count for something.  It wasn’t my fault that he couldn’t sleep, thanks to the incredibly windy conditions.  Sure, it may have been distracting, having the driver shout, “Lean to the left!” and, “Pile to the right!” to get us around the curves without tipping over, causing him to “flip and flop (his words),” but he didn’t have to get cranky about it.
All I want for Christmas is one more miracle – getting home with 12 healthy kidneys and a bit of flop-free sleeping.  Is that too much to ask?

Rhonda and her husband are raising four sons.  She telecommutes from the reservation (i.e., her home) while riding shotgun on the hungry horde.  Additionally, she is a weekly columnist and professional blogger who finds hilarity anywhere, including, but not limited to the toothpaste aisle, the laundry room, a church pew, and the Winter Olympics.  She chronicles the tribe's latest shenanigans on her blog, The Natives are Getting Restless.


Maybe I’ll Just Stay Home

by Patti Wigington

I never understood why my parents were so exhausted when we returned from vacations. Typically, about six to seven days in, everyone was grouchy and cranky – my brother and I fighting about who was over the line in the backseat – and I couldn't figure out why this was the case.

And then I became a parent.

It’s not that any of our vacations have every been on the grand scale of failure like the Griswolds, but each trip we go on seems to have some sort of issue that colors the entire rest of the journey.

One trip – which should have been an educational and entertaining visit to Colonial Williamsburg and the Shenandoah Valley – turned into a nightmare of Murphy’s Law. Hotel rooms which had been reserved in advance were mysteriously unavailable, or had half as many beds as we had planned on. A rental crib collapsed the moment my son stood up in it. Temperatures shot up over a hundred – in May --and there I was with a pair of hot, cranky 18-month-olds and a bored, cranky third-grader. My husband - also cranky - had his arm in a cast, thanks to a broken shoulder, and was heavily medicated on Percocet. I’d have happily traded places with him in an instant.

A couple of years later, when my twins were about three and my oldest eleven years old, we set out in the wee hours of the morning for the two-day drive to visit my parents in Florida. An hour after leaving the house, my youngest daughter threw up chocolate milk all over the back seat.

There I was, in a rest stop outside Chillicothe at four a.m. during a snowstorm, trying to change my poor child’s vomit-covered sleeper in a cold restroom, mopping her off with chilled baby wipes and holding her under the hand-dryer, while my husband tended to the chore of cleaning the mini-van – and trying to keep our other two children from upchucking as well. I had to pull into a truck stop in West Virginia to buy incense just to cover the smell in the car. On that same trip, I won the Worst Mom Ever Award when I shut the same kid’s finger in the sliding door. Eight years later, she still reminds me of it.

Then there’s the ever-present problem of moms never truly being on vacation. Even if we’re at the beach or Great Big Adventure World of Fun, someone’s got to be in charge of making sure everyone eats on time, has clean underpants, and knows what to do if they get lost. Someone has to do laundry in the hotel sink, figure out where we can eat, and keep the boy-child from falling into the Gulf of Mexico while chasing seagulls. And that someone is always me.

Helpful friends often point out that if I flew my family to our destinations it would be a lot more efficient, thus decreasing the potential for disaster. I’ve looked into airfares for a family of five, but it would mean taking out a second mortgage, and I’d still have to rent a car when I got there.

Knowing my luck, someone would probably throw up in it.


The Old Blue Buick

by Carole Lee
In 1972, when I was four, my parents custom ordered the largest metallic blue Buick station wagon in the history of the world. It had its own gravitational field. It did not have air conditioning or seat belts. To this day, that vehicle is the stuff of legend in our family.
Our family always took non-specific road trips; the kind where you see 12 states in 7 days unless you are too busy sleeping or throwing up. We went to old cemeteries so Dad could clear off ancestors’ headstones while my brother, sister and I had conversations with statues of Jesus. That’s where my brother taught me never to walk across a grave, lest the resident snatch me down with them. We ate proper meals in sit-down restaurants. We visited relatives whose houses smelled funny. We visited historic sites for the requisite family photo. We listened to Dad’s bluegrass 8-track tapes over and over (and over).  
On the day our vacations began, we left so early the neighbors hadn’t even fallen asleep yet. We kids spread out in the back of the Buick among coolers, suitcases and enough wet wash cloths in plastic baggies to wipe our faces for a week. Unfortunately, Dad always wanted to go the back way to get to the Interstate. If anyone ever tells you they’re going to take you “the back way” in West Virginia, find another ride. It was always cool and foggy outside when we left. Since Old Blue didn’t have air conditioning, dad did what any good driver would do to clear the windshield.  He cranked up the heat.
So there we were, going 90 mph around a state-long series of hairpin curves with the heat cranked up. Meanwhile, we kids were in a sauna a mile and a half away from any movable window in the back of the Buick, rolling around coolers and suitcases and wet wash cloths in plastic baggies to the soothing sounds of Bill Monroe. Good thing none of us got carsick.  Oh wait...
The first stop of every trip was Princeton, where three green-faced kids crawled out of the back of the Station Wagon of Doom for some fresh air.  Princeton was also where Dad informed us that we would have breakfast. Mom did a lot of cleaning in the back of that car. 
We all still remember the Old Blue Buick fondly, now that the car sickness has finally worn off for good. Each of us grew up climbing from one end to the other of that old car, and eventually we all learned to drive in it. I even learned to like Bluegrass. My parents have bought and sold many vehicles since then, but somehow the Old Blue Buick is the only one any of us really remember. Maybe it was the ever-present aromas that permeated the carpeting that planted that car in our minds. Then again, maybe we just realize now how idyllic those old family vacations were, even in a car three states long.


Up, Up, and A-Team

by Adam Slade

First, a little backstory. Back in June of 2010, I flew to Canada to meet with my sweetie for the very first time. The flight was brief and pleasant (a mere 8 hours, including layover), and the fortnight I spent among the moose and poutine was pleasant, to say the least.

Jump ahead to the next year, and I decided it was about time I pulled up stakes and headed back over there. For six months.

People, especially family, were a little surprised. They kept saying, “When are you off?” to which I’d answer, “Uh, April,” and then they’d say, “Have you started packing?” to which I’d reply, “It’s January.”

Each month, I altered my reply to suit, until I realised that the month of leaving was this month. 


As you can imagine, the sheer scale of preparation for such an upheaval would make lesser men weep. I had to write three whole lists, and buy a big bag. Then, using said lists, I put things in the bag. It was intense. I lost a foot to stress.

All the while, people kept telling me to pack more, pack less, make more lists, and to stop rolling my eyes when they gave me suggestions.

The day of epic travellage began at three in the morning, when I was roused by a mild heart attack brought on by the ‘apocalypse’ volume setting on my alarm. By four, I had said my goodbyes and was on the way to the airport.

See the picture above to see me sat at the wrong departure gate. Always a good start. I was wondering why it was so quiet.

After the first flight, I landed in the monstrosity that is London Heathrow, and had a three and a half hour wait before the next flight. Now, most seasoned fliers tell me the same thing about layovers. Stay stood up, as you’ll be sitting when you’re on the plane.
Stand up. For three and a half hours. Pfft.

There’s a finite number of times one can look at the same books, electronics, and £2,000 watches before one loses the will to live. I spent as much time upright as I could, though, then gave in and sagged into an uncomfortable seat to watch the minutes tick by. They took their bloomin’ time.

The next flight was the biggy, and I have to admit, I was dreading it. Six hours in the air, with only bad inflight movies and some smelly individual with a gut that hung over the armrest for company. In actual fact I got a row of three chairs all to myself,  and watched The A-Team and Kung Fu Panda. Pretty sweet. Even peed for the first time on a plane. In the right place, too!

I’d show you the pictures I took from the window seat, but it turns out that iPod cameras don’t like shooting through scratched and cloudy plastic windows.

We landed in Nova Scotia, I managed to get through customs, despite the fact that I was smuggling both a British accent AND sarcasm, and then was kindly informed by a gentleman that my hold luggage was not booked onto the final flight.

Cue second heart attack.

It turns out that it was easily resolved, but tell that to my blood pressure. The last flight was a speedy one, and I touched down in Newfoundland, Canada some seventeen hours after I left the house, to be greeted with a temperature of minus two degrees, and snow.
Oh, and my sweetie. And a warm hotel room to snooze in. Prior to the next day’s 350km drive.


The result of a caveman breeding with an ingot of un-distilled sarcasm, Adam Slade was always going to go places. Some days he even makes it as far as the kitchen. Adam is an author of fantasy and humour works, and when he's not writing, he's reading or goofing off on the Internet. You can read about his exploits on his blog, Editing Hat (http://www.editinghat.blogspot.com/), and on his (occasionally updated) Twitter (http://twitter.com/adam_slade).


Everything But The Kitchen Sink

by Tricia Gillespie

My brother and I eagerly climbed up into the back of our 1977 burgundy Oldsmobile Station Wagon.  Because vacations of my childhood always began in the pre-twilight hours when most of the world was tucked into their beds, my parents folded down the back seat, giving us a queen size snooze through New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia.  We never closed our eyes; surprises awaited us, every mile a new adventure to discover.  My mother packed everything we owned.  At seven years old, I heard the kitchen sink cursed more than once; however, packing forty-two bags, a grill, an adult size cooler, two children and the kitchen sink was acceptable.  Wagons could hold anything a family packed, even my four-foot Raggedy Ann.

My brother and I pumped our little arms, begging every tractor trailer to blow his horn; we wiled away hours sticking out our tongues and contorting our faces at the people traveling behind us.  We flipped shutters closed in race to win travel Bingo, and we asked the four words that make every parent want to eat their young - “Are we there yet?”

Today I don’t have a station wagon for my children to lounge in.  My youngest gets buckled into a harness that would make Houdini sweat, while my oldest buckles up for safety, his booster seat propping him high in the air.  My children don’t play travel Bingo; instead Disney entertains them for hours at a time.  After all, portable DVD players are an investment in a mobile child’s future.  Even though we bring only the necessities and leave the kitchen sink at home where it belongs, the adventure is the same and surprises never disappoint.

Finding clean bathrooms for a little potty training girl is like finding a good sale on designer shoes.  They are far and few between.  When my daughter was two, we traveled from Maine to Florida and back.  Every time she had to go potty, my husband would pull over; I’d run out and inspect bathrooms, retaining the power to veto a rest-stop. 

This day, we were on our third bathroom inspection.  I knew I must accept the fact that clean is subjective.  So I pulled out baby wipes, paper towels, and anti-bacterial soap, cleaning the toilet for my daughter.  I was proud she did so well potty-training on the road.

Now it’s never easy for moms to relieve themselves.  By the time you squeeze into a two foot-by-two foot cubicle with a small child, a traveling nursery conveniently named diaper bag, and a purse, there’s no room to unbuckle your belt, much less squat over a toilet.  Thankful the bathroom was empty of people, I stood my little baby girl in my line of vision, right next to the sink across from my stall.  I held her little hands by her side and warned her not to ‘touch’ anything or else she would surely end up sick.  Since I'm a bit of a hypochondriac, translate 'sick', in the ICU with doctor’s scrambling to call the Center for Disease Control.  

Never taking my eyes off my daughter, I set about doing my business.  After four cups of coffee and a Diet Coke, it was a relief.  Mid-stream I watched my daughter turn her little head to the nasty sink, open her mouth, stick out her tongue and lap the side of the public rest-stop bathroom sink from bottom to top. 

If a woman could die a thousand deaths while squatting over a toilet, I died every one of them.

My daughter is nine now.  She didn’t contract any non-curable diseases from her sink lick, but my breath still catches and my heart gives a little flutter every time my husband suggests a road trip.  Like my mom, I wish I could pack the kitchen sink.  At least I’d know it was clean when my daughter decided to lick it. 

Station wagons have been replaced with SUV’s and Bingo has given way to television, but some things will never change about road trips.  I’m still the one asking “Are we there yet?”

Tricia Gillespie, wife and mother, is finding her happy moonlighting as a freelance writer and blogger. She lives on the domestic fringe in denial of her actual age, avidly avoiding scales, and eating too many M&M’s. She desperately hopes another road trip is in her near future!


Office Spaced

Years ago when I was an office drone at the local tourism bureau, we would occasionally take an end-of-season trip through the state. Officially, it was to broaden our knowledge of regional attractions. In reality, it got our summer-cranked tempers away from friends, family and tourists for a week. By autumn, our group insurance policy had usually reached the maximum allowable limit of heads bitten off, so it was either get out of town or discover pharmaceuticals. 

 One memorable trip taught me a lot about traveling, especially the value of leaving all sharp, pointy objects at home. The rest of these lessons I give to you now, in the hopes that you, too, can take a trip, look back on it twenty years from now and realize you might have had a good time.

1.     Never share a room with a bouffant hairdo. My roommate used at least a half-can of hair spray every morning in order to defy her personal gravity. I blame my loss of brain cells and the purchase of a $5.99 bag of dirt (Mine your own diamonds at home!) directly on Aqua Net.

2.    That cheap, weird thing you didn’t buy? You’ll regret it. How was I to know that those clearance sale Lou Holtz dolls wearing little red-and-white plaid pants would be collectible today? Darn you, eBay!

3.     The $2.99 café burger is always better than the $40 fancy dinner. I don’t remember what we ate at the posh restaurant, but I’ll always remember the simple plate dinner with the awesome sugar-free pumpkin pie at a tiny diner right along the highway. One rule of thumb I learned from columnist Richard Allin years ago: if you’re traveling, stop at the restaurants with both Cadillacs and beat-up trucks parked in front. That means the food is good and cheap. Don’t stop at a place where you only see an LTD out front; that’s the cook’s car.

4.     Always listen for the “uh-oh,” especially if it comes from the bus driver. We zipped down some of the curviest roads the state has to offer, and I only heard it once. That was enough, though, for me to realize that I could use Ms. Bouffant as a safety inflation device.

5.     No matter how dirty you left your house, it always looks gorgeous when you get home. Even if your husband has been living like a caveman and building a nest with leaves, power tools and beef jerky in a corner of the living room. I guess the bag of dirt was a suitable souvenir after all.


Impending Doom Clues

by Melissa Hollern

Road trips should bring to mind visions of cars zooming down the road, avoiding speed traps while blasting the Doobie Brothers at full volume.  (For reference: Rockin’ Down the Highway is the best choice for this.)  My road trips usually involve some sort of blond-induced directional snafu that takes me miles upon miles out of my way. 

My trips are full of ‘Interesting Moments’ and ‘Impending Doom Clues’.  It started with Interesting moment #1: a dead cell phone battery. No problem, right?  The road I’m taking home is well traveled by tourists, and if something happens, I’m covered. 

I spent a wonderful half-week at the beach, but had to leave early for work. On a budget, I left my credit cards at home and took only $60.00 for spending money. My debit card was to be used for gas money only: Impending Doom Clue #1- stopping for gas. My card was declined. Twice. Not a problem, I had some cash left— about $7.00.  I filled up what I could, got in my car, cursed myself for the “let’s leave the credit card at home so I don’t spend extra money” line, and took off.

Music blaring, windows down, and the cruise control on, I had a great start to the ride back.  Most of the time the road is riddled with traffic, but it was Wednesday. Traffic was normal.  This, by the way, would have been Impending Doom Clue #2.

Interesting Moment #2. Road signs. How is this interesting? Oh, only because they were road signs I had never seen on any trip to the beach before. Now, Delaware is not that big of a state. You can travel the length of it in probably about four hours and I only had to drive the bottom third. So, when I saw the signs for Dover Air Force Base—approximately thirty miles OUT of my way—I decided I should have stayed in bed and called out sick to my job.

Then I saw another sign for the Bay Bridge. Yes, I need to cross that!

*insert clever girl pats on the back and smug cheering*

I put the music back in full blast mode, my cheerful mood once more intact, and I turned.  (Impending Doom Clue #3—things are NEVER that easy)  I saw cornfields.  LOTS of cornfields.  There were maybe two houses along the way, but mostly I just saw corn—Impending Doom Clue #4.  Corn is always a sign of Impending Doom (I've seen Children of the Corn), unless it’s in a large pot on your stove. Then it’s just dinner. And my gas gauge slowly inched towards the left and that smirking ‘E’. Yes, my car smirks - especially when I’m lost with no phone and no money.

Interesting Moment #3  FAMILIAR TERRITORY!  I’m not sure what it says about me that I finally recognized where I was when I saw an Outlet Mall, but there it is. There’s one right at a junction along the familiar path going to and from the beach. Back on track, I finally start feeling more confident than ever, especially during the past hour or so of this trip by this point, and relaxed.

And the gas gauge?  A fifteen gallon tank and 14.8 gallons of gas to fill it up the next day.

Melissa is a lover of life, the beach, and her boyfriend.  Currently residing in Delaware, ten miles away from where she's wanted to live since she was six, she now teaches two year olds the basics of how to get to be three years old.  It's a rough life... actually, she can assure you it isn't!

Image credit: myveryworstdate.com


Guiding Light

By Amy Mullis

“So why did explorers use The North Star to find things?  Why didn’t they use something everybody can see, like The Big Dipper or the sign from the Hot Spot?”
It’s our anniversary.  We are on vacation together in beautiful, historic Charleston, South Carolina, a sparkling corner of the world where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers come together with the Atlantic Ocean, and are rediscovering the joys of navigating life’s little highways as a team.  On the whole, I’d rather be juggling skunks.  We’re forced into this extramarital mall trip because I got lost on a whitewater rafting trip down the river of nostalgia and the only bra I remembered to pack is the bra I wore for our wedding:  an ivory lace number encrusted with sequins and seed pearls.  I’ve been saving it in pink tissue paper for almost a decade.  It’s great for sentimental value, and loaded with sex appeal, but produces a rather lumpy silhouette under a tank top; especially after almost ten years of married-life food.  Needless to say, my cups not only runneth over, they look like both air bags inflated in a head on collision with a pole dancer.  

“They used the North Star because it is fixed in the sky.  It doesn’t move.”

I’m married to an astronomy nut.  I love the guy, but to him the difference between true north and magnetic north is absolute.  To me, north is up.  Check any map.

“Oh.  I though it was all fixed.  Aren’t we the ones moving?” I’ve taken two hours to do my hair and makeup and the Captain of my canoe is getting miffed over my directional skills.

“It doesn’t matter who’s doing the moving.  The point is that if you see the North Star, that’s North.  Get it?”

          “Look, I’m not Keifer Erickson.  I just want to find the mall.”

“It’s Leif.”

“I don’t care if it’s ferns and daisies.  I have a desperate need for a department store.”

“It’s probably under that patch of sky that has no stars.  See, the city lights have blotted out all signs of any heavenly bodies over there.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” I answer smartly, eyeing a movie poster of Johnny Depp that could make you rechart your course.

“Very funny.  Hold the map over here where I can see it.  We’re coming to a junction and I think we go west.”

“I think we go left at the Piggly Wiggly.”

 “Grocery stores aren’t marked on the map.  We proceed to the junction and take the highway west to the next exit.”

“Okay Scout, but you passed the side entrance to the mall twice during the geography lesson.”

“Well, sure, if you want to sneak in the side, we can turn here.  I was going to take you in the front door like a civilized person.”

“Don’t try to kid me. Your horizons have broadened so far you can’t see the road in front of you. You can look toward the heavens and find Mars, Jupiter, and the gas station with the lowest prices, but you can’t read the writing on the mall.”

We rode the rest of the way in silence. There’s more noise in the car on the way home from school on report card day than there was between the bucket seats that night. He circled the lanes of cars and glared at me.

            “Can’t we do this later?”   

I love the guy, but his priorities are way out of order. I arched one eyebrow to alert him to a possible relationship-altering trap. “I’m wearing my sequined wedding bra under a white tank top.  All those little disks catch the light and send Morse code signals through my clothes. I look like I’m smuggling two signalmen with diamond semaphore flags. Yesterday a woman at the lemonade stand thought I was trying to call 911.”

            “That’s ridiculous.  You don’t know your dashes from your dots.”

            “Right now my dots are lit up like the beer sign in a cowboy club.  You don’t want me to give the wrong impression, do you?”

“No?” he guessed.  He hasn’t stayed married for almost ten years without squirreling away some random nuts of wisdom.

            “You could look at the tools while I’m in the lingerie department.”

            “I don’t like sissy mall tools.”

            “There’s that store with all the gadgets.”

            The way his eyes lit up, I could use the beam to track him all the way to the laser levels.  Real men show sentiment about important things:  whatchamacallits, thingamabobs and gizmos with pocket holsters. 

            “Well, if you’re getting something new,” he mused, “I might just splurge on something with a digital display.  Or one of those camouflage holsters that holds hot sauce that you can attach to your belt.”

            “Live it up,” I laughed, squeezing his hand and heading off to Lingerie.  

The secret to a long and happy marriage is knowing which tool is right for the job.  And sometimes it’s not the one covered in sequins.

Amy Mullis enjoys the high and low tides of marital bliss at her home somewhere in the creeks and channels of South Carolina.  Shoot the rapids of life with her at www.mindovermullis.com.  Bring lifeboats and survival gear.


Getting My Kicks . . . .

 Road. Trip. Two of the best words in the English language.
I’ve always been a road-tripper. During my stint in corporate America, my boss asked me to fill in for a couple of weeks during his vacation. I was in Chicago; he was in New Jersey. He told me to book a flight and my response was, “I’d rather drive.” I took a vacation day on Friday and was at his desk on Monday.
However, my best trips were of the random variety. During law school, in Tulsa Oklahoma, I developed a fascination with Route 66. Surrounded by history, the road called me. My first trip on 66 was an excuse to visit a friend in Los Angeles. My second trip had a different motivation.
Sitting in class, taking my last final, I suddenly wanted an omelet. Not just any omelet, I wanted a Spanish omelet. And it just so happened that the best Spanish omelet I had ever tasted was served at the Silver Moon Café in Santa Rosa New Mexico. The fact that it was 500 miles away did not deter me. I was hungry.
I got up early the next morning and took off.
Even as hungry as I was, I couldn’t make the trip in one jump, so I stopped at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. No, I didn’t try to eat the 72-ounce steak in one hour to get a freebie, but the sirloin tips were well worth the stop. I needed a break anyway, because I’d seen a tornado about an hour earlier. Well off across the plains, it was a sight. A scary sight. One that spawned the worst hail storm I’ve ever driven through. I was ready for lunch.
However, I was undaunted, I still wanted an omelet. Hey, you know what they say about omelets and breaking eggs. No tornado was going to stop me. Refreshed, I hit the road.
I got to Santa Rosa just in time to check into the little dumpy hotel next door. Greeted by the sleepy clerk, I had only two questions:
“Any vacancies?”
“What time does the café open?”
The next morning the nice Mexican lady called me “chica” as she served up my omelet. I explained that I had driven from Tulsa the day before to have breakfast here and her response is forever etched in my heart and mind, even ten years later:
“Um, okay . . .”
It’s hard to explain to the uninitiated the power of the road trip.

Terri Coop is a lawyer by day and writer by night. She lives and works in a Civil War era pile of bricks with a leaky roof and past-due property tax bill and loves every minute of it. She still hates tornadoes and loves omelets and also has a hankering to go on a road trip.