After being laid-off from my job last year, my wife and I decided to go to Alabama to look for work. Why Alabama? … It’s the South! … My wife, Samantha (Sam) moved up from the south almost five years ago, and would love to go back. She has never adjusted to the Northwest climate. Sam spent nearly 14 years in Texas, after being raised in New York. She has a New York attitude with a strong Texas southern drawl. She is only five feet, four inches tall and weighs only 119 lbs, but with that New York attitude and that Southern accent, she can intimidate a Sumo Wrestler! Living with her for around five years, I have learned what NOT to do, and when NOT to do it….well, at least on some of the major things.
Being a middle aged man, I’ve spent a lot of time in introspection, learning about my quirks, idiosyncrasies, shortcomings, and whatnot. One thing that I know about myself is: if it’s moving, and I’m in it, if it has a steering wheel and a brake pedal, then I have to be in control over it. This road trip was about to bring these control issues to the forefront and give me the opportunity to face one of my fears head on.
Sam and I spent weeks preparing for this trip. I studied the route on Google Maps® for hours. I printed out close-ups of the major intersections along the way, so I was sure this drive would go smoothly. Time was limited, so we decided to buy a canopy for her truck, throw a mattress in the back, and drive in shifts. When the day finally came, we packed our clothes, loaded up a cooler full of food, and another with beer, and then at six o’clock on a Saturday morning, we were on our way to Alabama.
I took the first shift driving because I usually get up early and I wanted to be east of the Cascades before the traffic got heavy. Sam crawled into the back of the truck and snoozed while I drove. Somewhere in the middle of the Columbia River Gorge, the traffic got more than just heavy; it was bumper to bumper at seventy five miles an hour. For the first time in my life, I had a panic attack! Great! ... We’re not even out-of-state, I’m at the wheel, and I’m already scared to death! I pulled off of the interstate at the next exit and found a gas station. While filling up, I told Sam about what I’d just experienced and that she would have to drive for a while, so I could calm down a bit. “Yer just a little tittie baby,” she said teasingly with that ‘cute’ southern drawl.
I’m not one to start drinking that early but with my exceedingly high blood pressure, and heart rate, combined with being in the passenger seat, I had to slam down a few of those beers from the cooler to settle down. Somewhere in Idaho I got tired, then crawled into the back of the truck and went to sleep.
During the transition from deep sleep to consciousness, there is a dream world. It was there, where I was at home, secure, and in my own bed, and then slowly reality took over and I woke up. It was dark, fairly cool, and I didn’t have a clue as to where I was. “It’s yer turn to drive, Baby; I’m ‘tarred,’” Sam said with that ‘Southern’ drawl.
“Where are we?” I asked, wiping the sleep from my eyes.
“Goin’ that way” she said, in a ‘tarred’ kind of way.
We were about a hundred miles into Wyoming, heading east, when I took over. I planned on being in Nebraska before daylight. The traffic was light, but that was to be expected at three o’clock in the morning. I drove past old towns that I had only heard of in western movies, and old country western songs. This would be cool if it wasn’t dark and I could see them, I thought to myself.
We left the interstate in Lincoln, Nebraska, as planned. Sam had already gotten up at the last stop for gasoline. We were taking the back roads directly east to connect with interstate twenty-nine south. It was there, in Iowa, where I had Sam take over.
It was midday, very hot, and I was tired, but I couldn’t sleep if I had to. I stayed up front and rode with Sam. When Sam drives, she drives “balls-out,” testing the limits of her truck, the road, and my fear of crashing into a planet at thirty-four thousand miles per hour. I glanced over at the speedometer, “Aren’t ya goin’ a bit fast, Hun?” I dared to ask.
“Nine yer fine, ten yer mine,” she replied with an old cliché that I had never heard before.
After miles of dodging in and out of traffic at what seemed to be two-hundred-fifty miles an hour, reminiscent of the police chases seen on the network news channels, Sam looked over to me and yelled, “Knock that off!”
“What?” I replied, thinking, what the hell?
“Holdin’ on t’ that thing like that!” she said with that ‘slightly annoying’ Southern drawl.
I looked up at my hand that was holding the handle on the windshield post. My knuckles were white from tightly gripping it out of shear stress and absolute fear. At the next rest stop, I had a few more beers, from the cooler, to lower my exceedingly high blood pressure and heart rate.
With a road map and the Google Maps® print-outs in hand, I helped navigate us through Kansas City. It was a major city, and not fun to drive through. Little did we know; it was going to get progressively worse. St. Louis was a nightmare. The map of the freeway intersections looked like a bunch of night-crawlers in a tuna can on a fishin’ trip. On paper it looked somewhat straight forward, but on the ground it was far different. I tried to tell Sam where the exits were by the map, but she just grew that much more frustrated and then finally ignored me altogether. I was sure we had taken the wrong exit, but every time I tried to point it out…she …um…lovingly said, “SHUT-UP!”
“Hey! ...get off my ass!” I finally snapped back, feeling a bit cocky; being a man, my navigational skills are highly tuned.
Of course, she turned out to be right and we were on the right road to Nashville after all. I decided that I’d better shut up like she said.
Nashville, Tennessee, was bigger yet. It was a real challenge, so I followed the written directions to the tee and watched the map very closely. For some strange reason, something didn’t feel right. I was convinced that we were not on the right highway and finally convinced Sam to find a convenience store, so I could buy a city map.
It was upwards of midnight on Sunday night, and the area was very dark. It was the bad part of town. The store had bars on the bullet-proof glass windows, and a secure walk-up window, much like a drive-up teller window at a bank. There was a scary looking man outside of the store near the window. He was trying to carry on a conversation with me while I was asking the teller….err…I mean…cashier, for a map. Reluctant to take cash out of my pocket, I went ahead and paid for the map and then hurriedly headed for the truck. Sam, seeing what was happening, brought the truck around, and I quickly got in. We took off like suspects in a bank robbery get-away. It turned out that we were on the right road in the first place, which made Sam none too happy.
As soon as we were out of the Nashville city limits, Sam pulled off of the freeway for gas, coffee, and a bathroom break. Before leaving she said, “Y’all git yer happy ass in the back! You need to git some sleep…NOW!”
Sensing her anger and frustration, I complied. At this point I had been up for more than twenty four hours and was not in very good shape attitude-wise either. She took off like a bullet, and I knew that sleeping was not an option for me.
At the Alabama state line, there stands a rocket. It’s there because Huntsville, Alabama, is known for the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. I thought it was there because we flew into Alabama at rocket-speed and we just happened to catch up with one.
If you’ve ever been to Alabama, then you’d know the condition of their highways and how they drive. ‘Insanity,’ comes to mind as the best description.
Here I was, in the back of our truck without a seatbelt, airbag, or even a windshield post handle to hold onto. An intense feeling of helplessness came over me. We were moving at a rate of what seemed to be at least ninety miles an hour. Sam was passing trucks from left to right. There was road construction in the works and the freeway had one lane that was paved, the other was not, and was full of potholes. There was an abrupt edge in between the lanes. Every time she would change lanes, I would be thrown to the other side of the mattress. My face and hands were smooched up against the front window of the canopy like a Garfield® window ornament, hoping to get her attention. I wouldn’t dare pound on the window out of fear of shocking her at this speed, and the fear of getting my butt kicked. With every mile, my blood pressure and heart rate went up a notch. No amount of beer was going to bring it down this time. I felt as though I was put into a barrel against my will and sent over Niagara Falls. I could feel myself falling and knew the crash at the bottom was only a matter of time. I took all of the blankets and pillows and bunched them up against the front of the pickup bed, curled into a fetal position, and then braced for impact. When Sam finally let off of the gas and decelerated to around Mach II, I thought, maybe I would get to live another day.
We came to a stop in the parking lot of a truck-stop. While I was climbing out of the back, Sam was already outside of the truck. “Bluh bluh bluh bluh…bluh….bluh,” she mumbled, then crawled into the back of the truck and then went right to sleep.
I stood there in stunned amazement thinking, was I in the back of the truck at ninety miles an hour, with her asleep at the wheel? After several moments, I regained my composure, and then waddled into the truck-stop. After a hot cup of coffee and a change of breeches, I was ready to take on the last leg of our journey.
We arrived in Huntsville at four o’clock early Monday morning. I found a motel with vacancies and went to the counter to get a room. “Y’all want smokin’ or non-smokin’?” the man asked.
Grrrr….that’s right! … Everyone talks ‘like that’ down here!
Sam and I spent a little more than a week in and around Huntsville. We looked for work and a possible place to live. We met some terrific people and had a great time. We drove several miles together without even crashing! I may have even been able to resolve some of my control issues, but -- you can stand anywhere in Huntsville, Alabama, and throw a rock. Chances are you would hit a rocket scientist or some sort of pointy-headed engineer with it. My question is: -- Why can’t they design a simple transportation system that doesn’t cause my blood pressure and heart rate to ‘skyrocket?’
Having not found what we were looking for in Alabama, we turned back and made it home safely. I may have not been cured of my control issues, but I learned a few things about what NOT to do along the way: when Sam is driving, do NOT touch the windshield post handle for any reason. Do NOT look at the speedometer under any circumstances. Do NOT ride in the back where there is no seatbelt or airbag, and, for God’s sake, y’all, keep yer mouth shut!
Welcome to Skippin' Rocks
I originally Started a blog to run off at the mind on politics, hopefully witty and humorous ramblings, and just random thoughts. But, I'll make a new one for that and stick to short stories here. I hope you liked what you've read so far.