Every year we take a trip we pack a little lighter. Our first big family trip, every inch of our 2003 Nissan Altima was packed We brought strollers, a significant size portable tv/vcr, games, videos, and every item of clothing we owned. Now we’re down to one bag each and the freedom to buy whatever else we forget or need at our destination. Honestly, a t-shirt and shorts and sandals and all of my meds and I’m good. There’s a washer there. Ok, ok, I brought a little more. And so we packed our 2012 Nissan Altima and took off.
We left at 7:30 am with the intention of arriving at 8:35 pm EST. Hmmmm. Wouldn’t that have been nice?
Writing on the Walls
At our first rest stop, there were single-customer restrooms. These can be awkward. My band was playing at a dive bar when a drunk guy joined me in a single customer bathroom. Sometimes you just have to go with it. And so I’m cautious. I knock and lock. I knock before entering and lock when I get in there. And then there’s the time when the guy’s been in there so long you knock again. Like maybe he slipped out of the air vent.
The timing was just perfect enough to allow a young man/woman couple to enter the restrooms at the exact same time. They were a cute couple, perhaps in spite of themselves. The gal seemed normal enough, but the guy was trying to pull off the plaid shorts and fedora combo. He didn’t quite make it. Not sure why, maybe the sandals and white crew socks. And he was the problem, this guy.
After 5 minutes the girl was out, and around that time the manager, a sixty-something woman with bleached blond hair, walked out of the back office and she must have taken note of me waiting because 5 minutes later she poked her head out at me and saw me still waiting. She stepped out into the hall, put her hand on her hip, looked at the door and then back it me and said. “He better not be writing on the walls.”
I got my turn 1 minute later.
At another stop, Jennifer suggested that I top off the gas tank, but there were lines so we parked, and just as I opened the door, this young skinny guy rushed up and started in with “Sir!”. His clothes were a little raggedy and his face was urgent. I’ve been hustled at gas stations before. AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR DAT! But as he continued, I could see that his need was real, and I might be able to help him.
He pointed back to a newer Nissan Altima and 3 or 4 other people that must have been his family. They’d been stuck for 2-and-a-half hours because they needed to change a flat and couldn’t find the tire lock. Altima tires cannot be removed without a special socket to remove the hub cap. I started digging around in the trunk but he suggested that I check the glove compartment. Jennifer popped it open and dug around until she found it. The guy’s face lit up. Salvation!
I was still a little unsure about all of this so I casually followed him to see what would happen. He knelt down to see if it would, and much to his deep chagrin, it did not. There was a collective sigh among his family. He returned the socket to me.
As we were leaving, I could hear them pounding on the lock, perhaps hoping they could bust it. We left, never knowing if they found a way out. As I write this, I pray to God that they did. Not everyone can afford roadside assistance.
My family has long-since been a Harry Potter family. I am rabid. The kids are keen. And my wife is casual, but interested. I own all of the books on Audible which I can stream from my phone into the sound system. My hope was that our travel might be more enjoyable and we might be focused on something together if we listened. As I’m writing this, we’re already a good way into the 2nd book: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Jennifer is not very demonstrative with me about the things she enjoys, especially the ones I proposed. She doesn’t want me to get a big head about things….understandable. So every time I thought she and the kids were sleeping or not paying attention I would turn it off. A few times she didn’t notice but mainly, and without even opening her eyes, she would nod and mumble “I’m listening.” She even laughed a few times.
The Huddle House
Somewhere in Alabama we collectively decided it was time for dinner. We were looking for fast food, but all we kept seeing was The Huddle House. In the spirit of adventure we decided to try it.
The Huddle House is a like a tiny Denny’s. It is a diner which serves breakfast all day along with All-American lunch and dinner fair.
Before lunch we had stopped at a gas station with a 5 dollar credit card minimum, so I grabbed a couple of energy drinks with my coffee to satisfy the policy and to keep me going. And that’s what happened. I kept going and going and going. We stopped so many times that we added a couple of hours to our trip. And so when we sat down at the Huddle House and realized this was a full-service sit-down restaurant we knew that it was going to be a late-night arrival in Atlanta.
But I refused to let it be a drag. I really wanted to enjoy the best the Huddle House had to offer. My eyes were immediately drawn to the chopped steak with gravy and mushrooms. The waitress was close by bringing us drinks and stopped to listen. Jenn proposed that we split a plate.
“You wanna go Scotch? I don’t think so!” I said with gusto. “I could eat the whole plate!” You must understand that in my family going Scotch means splitting a meal. Well the waitress liked the sound of all this. She took our orders. Jenn got a baked potato, Alli got something very forgettable, and Chris went for gold: the ribeye medium-rare and a glass of chocolate milk.
When the waitress came back to bus our table she looked at my half-eaten green beans and exclaimed. “Well I thought you was gonna eat the whole plate, and you got green beans and a few bites of potatoes!”
I sputtered and reached for a good retort, but it was nothin’ doin’! She nailed me. Should’ve gone Scotch
We arrived at the Fairfield by the Atlanta airport just after midnight. Jenn and the kids tumbled out of the car after a 16-odd-hour journey, and I went to park the car. Some young folks were standing outside drinking beer and sharing cigarettes like it was midday. Wow, the days when the middle of the damn night was not to0 late. There was not a single space, so I went inside to ask the front desk what to do. She told me she would have security meet me outside.
I waited, trying not to be bothered about the time and the trouble until this young guy in a full security guard uniform strolls through the automatic sliding doors holding what looked like a small nightstick. He played his part so well. He walked up to me without looking at me. He surveyed the lot for a moment.
“Yes, sir,” I began, “I’m the guy looking for a parking place?”
He said, with a straight face, “I don’t know anything about that. I got a call about a disturbance. Some guy with a blue shirt.” He pointed his stick at my blue Cardinals shirt. For just a moment he had me. I was too tired to process his little jest at first. But he broke into a smile and we laughed. He found me a spot…in the fire lane. Promised he wouldn’t toe me.
We slept boy-boy and girl-girl. After fiddling with our phones for a few minutes we all turned over and fell asleep; except for Chris, I kept him up all night with my snoring.