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.
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.
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.
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?