Friday, June 27, 2008

Go (Mid)West Young Man!

Remember those stereotypical movies and tv shows where one of the characters decides to put off college, or real life, for a year or two so they can travel and "see the world"? Let let me say if you do plan to travel try not to do it all in one day.

When I was a Texan (for all of nine months) I was looking to get back to the Buckeye State as I had started a relationship with a girl I had met at a wedding in Ohio. That relationship blossomed into something more than just a fling and had no sign of fizzling out. So I decided it was time to move closer to see where this relationship would go. It kinda helped that all of my immediate family was in Ohio. Yet, another incentive to move back. Texas was not a purposeful move to begin with and I had no real "anchor" keeping me in the Lone Star State although I thoroughly enjoyed what it had to offer.

Once it was decided I found a job in Ohio (Newark, just east of Columbus) and planned the big move. My brother, Chad, who had never been one to turn down adventure was more than willing to assist in dragging all of my crap back to our home state. It was settled that he would fly down to Dallas then the next day while I drove the monstrosity they call a Uhaul he would would drive my super sleek chick mobile: a 1997 Ford Taurus family sedan missing a driver's side sideview mirror.

Since I had all but owned stock in Uhaul due to my long list of moves over the years I had the route mapped out already. Interstate highways would take us the entire distance across five states: Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio. We had never discussed stopping at a hotel, motel, backwoods cubby hole or tree house along the way so it was assumed we'd see how far we could get before deciding to rest.

Getting up early on a sunny September morning in 2002 we were ripe to see if we could outdo what common sense said was not only asinine, but also dangerous. We were going to drive the entire distance straight through stopping only for gas, food, bathroom breaks and maybe the occasional goof off.

Just beyond the eastside of Dallas the highway was relatively empty for that time of the morning. I had made it a point to have my camera by my side to document what we had hoped was not going to be our demise. My brother, in my light blue sedan (that was now more arrow dynamic without the mirror), traveled ahead of the Uhaul and I. We collaborated on navigation as we each had a map and communicated via cellphone.

As we approached the large road signs that detailed the distances to the next major city I took pictures of them. The photos are not too bad, especially for being taken by someone who is driving a loaded down Uhaul on an interstate highway at 70 mph. You can document the trip through the photos that give distances to Little Rock, Memphis, Nashville, Louisville, Cincinnati & Columbus.

Somewhere just outside of Memphis, on the Arkansas side, we stopped to for a quick bathroom break before a scheduled dinner stop in Memphis. It was a simple exit with no visible sign of life, except for a gas station. It was the type of joint you'd see on an episode of the Twilight Zone with tumbleweed blowing past & being occupied by suspect characters. Curious to know exactly where we were my brother approached the friendly, bespectacled attendant. She had most of her teeth which to us meant she had to be halfway trustworthy and having grew up in a small, out-of-the-way town ourselves it would be interesting to document where we had been.

Once asked the girl uttered what came across like the sound you'd make when attempting to catch your breath after overexerting yourself. That was followed clearly by "Arkansas". We stared at each other then looked back at her in obvious confusion. The girl laughed when we didn't quite catch the name. Apparently our reaction was not uncommon. She repeated the name a little slower, but his time it had a more throaty rumble like the sound of hocking up a big loogie. She even assisted us by spelling it out: H-E-G-H. We were told the town, or village, was called Hegh (try imagining a cat loosening a hairball)...but less feline-y. We then understood why it wasn't on the map. Arkansas was too embarrassed to acknowledge it.

Back on the road to Memphis we had planned to stop and eat at a place that would have the Ohio State versus Washington State football game on television. It was airing on ESPN. Once there we found a Jillian's, but parking was at a premium especially for a Uhaul. After about five minutes of searching we talked a security guard into letting us park the gigantic truck in a spot in the parking garage reserved for emergency vehicles. That's because the truck wouldn't fit anywhere else in the garage. Actually I don't think you could have fit it in the Superdome much less a garage. We ate and watched the Buckeyes beat Washington State in a battle of highly ranked teams.

Somewhere between Memphis and Nashville we stopped for gas. After getting back on the road Chad apparently missed a sign dropping the speed limit from 65 to 55. Just as I think, "Dude, you need to slow down", a Tennessee State Trooper flies by me and flags him down. Chad exits and pulls into the parking lot of a gas station. This was compounded by the fact that the tags on my Taurus were expired... and had been for two years!! Totally my fault, but why the hell was he driving so fast!

Waiting for the the other shoe to drop we lucked out. The trooper was from Evansville, Indiana....I town I had lived in and the place where my expired tags were from. So, being friendly, we began chatting about the town and gave him the story about what we were doing & don't you know...he let us off the hook!! It helped that I gave an award winning performance of kneeling down to examine the tags and giving this horrified look of disbelief that they had expired...for two years! The trooper's advice...just make sure the Uhaul was behind the Taurus to hide the fact it had expired tags. To this day I don't have a discouraging word to say about The Volunteer State.

Deep in the heart of Kentucky we came to a dead stop on the highway behind a long line of cars. Something had taken place miles ahead. Once we started moving again we expected to see the remnants of some sort of accident or reason why the highway was shutdown, but there was nothing. It was very odd. We didn't even see emergency vehicles pass on the opposite side of the road. Only god knows why a miles long string of vehicles came to a dead stop that evening. Maybe some bootleggers were trying to cross the road in the middle of the night and met the front end of a semi.

Along the way, traveling behind my brother in the Taurus, I noticed my car weaving a little. Chad was weary and struggling to stay awake. I felt his pain, I was in the same boat. I made several attempts to wake myself up, but none of them worked. Finally, on a whim, I rolled down the windows took a deep breath and screamed the f-word at the top of my lungs. I did this three more times, each one with more force. You would have thought I was a drunken sailor who was just told it last call and had to drag my ass back to the ship. Within seconds my blood was pumping, my eyes were no longer heavy and I was a new man!

At our next stop for gas and food I was eager to tell my brother about my unique system for warding off the body's need for sleep. Surprisingly, Chad had done the same thing!! Great minds think alike I tell ya. Though some would beg to differ.

Just as we get to the Ohio River we come to a dead stop again. This time the reason was in plain sight. We were about the fifth car back as a tractor trailer rig had jackknifed. The driver was okay and he had missed the other cars, but the truck was blocking several lanes. Being in the early morning hours of what is now Sunday we sat outside our cars along with other motorist waiting to pass. There were a pair of loud and obnoxious fellas in the car next to us. They seemed as if they had been patronizing several bars for way too long and were on there way to dodging the cops.

We, and the other motorists, did our best to ignore them. A few moments passed and one of them gets in the driver's seat of their car. The other was attempting to talk to the girl in the car in front of them. She struggled to pretend he wasn't there and only briefly acknowledged his existence. His friend, who was now in their car, was fiddling with the radio and such. Like a little kid was was bored and didn't know any better. Suddenly I see him reach for the gear shift, and being on a downward incline to begin with, their car goes forward and runs into the back of the car belonging to the annoyed girl! He just missed hitting her and his friend!

She, now scared for her life at this point, inspects the damage. There was nothing to be too worried about as it was short distance, but these two yahoos still had to drive home in their drunken condition! When traffic starting moving my brother called 1-800-Grab-DUI, Ohio's drunk driver reporting hotline. The following should make you feel safe. The dispatcher told my brother, "Oh you know, there's a lot of traffic over there and I'm sure our patrolman won't be able to fight through the line of backed up cars to find in them before they are out of reach."

What!? We give you details on a pair drunkards traveling an interstate around a major metropolis and you blow us off? We told the dispatcher about their previous actions and she still gave us the "oh well" attitude. I'm sure our troopers and patrolmen are busy & do their jobs flawlessly, but common on! Don't treat us like we're bothering you! You would have thought we were on an episode of Reno 911!

In disbelief we head into Cincinnati and beyond without another sighting of the drunk brothers. Hopefully, the other motorists did as well.

On the outskirts of Columbus we breathe a sigh of relief and dance in our seats as we have finally reach our destination. Coming to a stop at my brother's apartment in Grandview we high five on the fact we just drove from Dallas, Texas to Columbus, Ohio in 26 1/2 hours with the only stops being for the needed food, gas and OSU football game.

Once inside we immediately hit the sack. I slept for 13 hours. My brother would have slept longer, but had to go to work that Monday. On that day I drove the Uhaul with all my crap another 40 minutes east to Newark, my new hometown.

Here it is six years later and we still reference that trip like it occurred yesterday. People think we're nuts and, well, yes...we were...and are. We probably wouldn't ever do something like that again, but those who tell us how dumb it was? You know they would have done the same thing if it had been them.

We were young, able, willing and looking to capitalize on not having the chance to do something so idiotic ever again. And you can't let those chances get away, you have to live in the now.

We're a little older now. I live in Akron, Ohio and my brother he lives in....get this...Austin, Texas! No lie! He and his better half, Stephanie, love it. I'm happy for them. But if they ever have the urge to make a triumphant return to the Buckeye State I'll suggest they sell their crap and buy a plane ticket.

Just make sure it's tags haven't expired and the pilots are sober, ;)

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