Sunday, July 29, 2007

Road Trip

My very first road trip was the summer of 1980.
My parents divorce was final earlier that year, and mom decided that we needed a change of scenery. So she packed up my brother, myself, the last of the hunting dogs (Sparky), and Nate’s gerbils, and off we went.

We went out through Pennsylvania, stopping to say goodbye to some family, then on to the northern mid-western states. Mom wanted us to see Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, The Black Hills, and The Badlands.

Somewhere in the Midwest I remember we found a hotel – something like “The Knight’s Inn” very hokey, you could stay in 'the keep' or 'the dungeon', there were ‘knights’ and ‘maidens’ walking around, you get the idea. We all thought this was so funny we bought a AAA handbook to try and find more of them to stay in on our way west.

We looked for crop circles in Iowa and Indiana and Illinois.

Somewhere in South Dakota we blew a tire. I remember watching my mom as she rifled through the trunk looking for the spare and the jack. I watched Nate set up road flares. I pulled Sparky out of the car to walk in the field on the side of road and noticed him chewing something. I assumed he had gotten into something Nate and I had left out and I knew we would get yelled at for leaving it out, so I didn't mention it. Sparky and I wandered while Mom and Nate worked. There’s lots of wandering space there. As far out as I was I still remember the sound. A deep rumble getting louder as it got closer, not thunder. From where I stood I watched as my mom stood up from the tire changing task and looked toward the approaching sound. Three motorcycles stopped just behind the car, their riders dismounted and approached my mom. I watched them take the jack out of her hands.

I reached the side of the road as the bikes blew past, kicking up dust and gravel as they pulled away. One of them saluted to me.

An hour or so down the road a fierce thunderstorm kicked up, the kind with sideways rain and hail. Mom pulled over and waited out the storm. When the rain let up, we caught up to the helpful bikers; pulled over under a bridge, smoking and laughing. They waved back at me again in the back window as we passed.

Just about then, Nate discovered that one of his gerbils was missing from the cage. He tore apart the back seat searching, nearly hysterical. He made my mom pull over, took everything out the car, yelling the whole time at me, my and at my mom. Watching Nate from the side of the road, I felt pretty sure I knew what Sparky was chewing the last time we got out of the car. I also knew just enough to shut up about it.

Somewhere between the tire, the bikers, the thunderstorm, and the missing gerbil my mom had reached her limit for the day. We pulled over in a diner parking lot, full of motorcycles. I still remember watching my moms hands shake as she took the keys out of the ignition.

The diner was packed. I remember being told there would be a wait, and then a large, long-haired, bearded man, punched his friend in the arm, turned to my mom, and said, “take our seats (at the bar) ma’am we need to head out anyway,” and head out they did, leaving my mom trying to regain her composure and express her gratitude in their wake.

My mom had coffee, and we spotted a hotel to stay the night in. I don’t remember if my mom drank that night, but I sure hope so.

I remember Crazy Horse, Mt. Rushmore, and I remember counting rattlesnakes along a trail we walked in the Badlands. Somewhere I have a picture of me standing under a sign that reads “Don’t touch the snakes.”

In Montana we were momentarily confused by the gray stuff floating around, covering everything. Earlier that year Mt. St. Helens had erupted and ash was everywhere, still. We collected some in sandwich bags laughing about sending it back to the east coast to friends and family.

In Idaho, people were selling small glass bottles of ash for 5 bucks a pop.

We arrived in Cascade Locks 4 weeks after we set out, tired and only one gerbil short.
We lived with my Uncle Byron for a bit, while mom looked for a job and a place for us to live. Byron took us camping every weekend, taught me to shoot a .22. Taught us how to find our way in the woods, what to do if we got lost, what to eat. I don’t think I’ll ever forget cousin Eric biting into a live grasshopper and announcing he’d just rather not get lost. Me too.
I liked driving around with my mom, looking for houses, it made the trip seem 'not over yet'.

I still love to drive. I’d go everywhere by car if it weren’t for paid-time-off balances and the need to get there fast. I don’t mind, and in fact like hotels, even with the scratchy bedspreads, too cold air-conditioners, and really bad art. I don’t mind endless hours of the same scenery (hellllo western Nebraska). I like the sound of wheels over pavement, even in Pennsylvania. I like seeing signs advertising whatever is revered in that state, boiled peanuts, peaches, salt water taffy, fresh corn, apple butter. I like the different accents. I like it that every once in awhile you find someone that truly belongs in a novel, even when the novel may have been written by Stephen King. I even like it that after about 10 hours you need to get out and walk around because your butt is numb. I like the dumb games you play to pass the time. I like it that no matter what state you’re in the people at Cracker Barrel all look exactly the same.

I wouldn’t mind seeing Crazy Horse again. I’d like to see the Southwest too, would like to stand outside the fence line at Area 51, and have my picture taken under a cactus. I’d like to see Devil’s Tower. I’d like to go to Alaska and stand on a glacier.

Where do you want go next?


Her Roo-ness said...

how do you feel about the donkey bar b que? fried balogna sammiches?
the love lounge.
i'd like to go all those places too...and i can help you with the alaska one...
good coffee there. no donkey bar b que. well at least not where i'm from.

tiff said...

Amywhere not here is the next destination. Always as been, even when life gets in the way.

For reals? I'd drive to Ireland. Somehow.

tiff said...

also? fuck typos. gah!!!

kenju said...

Where do I want to go next? On a car trip with you!

I have never been out west where you went and I'd love to see that part of the country. So far, I've only flown over it.

Jill Forsythe said...

You are a beautiful writer! That was an amazing memory. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I loved this. I also loved all my road trips. You should have been with me the time I drove from San Francisco to Kansas City on $60. should have been with me.


utenzi said...

That sounds like a great road trip to be on if you're a kid, Cravey. Your poor Mom tho--as an adult it was probably nerve wracking.

I don't like driving, flying, or Cracker Barrels but the occasional road trip is fun. I don't mind driving so much if the destination is a good one.

I like your idea of standing on the glacier but not so much the Area 51. LOL I think I'd like to hit Alaska too but I doubt I'll be going there anytime soon.

Scottsdale Girl said...

I wish I could remember more of my childhood.

You are welcome to stop by and pick me up and take me away when you make it to the SouthWest. No really - come get me. Please?

Anne said...

Next? I'm barely getting used to Nevada. But I'd like to take the boys on a train trip of the Grand Canyon some time.

JustRun said...

Ah, roadtrips. I was deprived of them as a kid. When we did go, we flew but that was not often. Or not often enough for me, anyway.

I've made up for it a lot in my adult life. Ironically, I'll be driving through Nebraska next month.

wordnerd said...

My next dream vacation would be pretty much what you just wrote about. Minus the gerbil.


OC said...

Alaska. :) I just did the trip you wrote about - the Dakotas, Wyoming and all that have to offer. I've been to the Southwest and I've been to CA. I'd love to see Alaska, stand on 4 Corners and hike through Yellowstone.
Nice post.