The Stupid 365 Project, Day 78: Going South (2)

December 19th, 2010

One of the things that kept my father young, he liked to say, was irritating my mother.

On our trips South, this took two forms.

First was musical.   At that time, country music was primarily a regional taste, and the region was south of the Mason-Dixon Line.  As the North receded behind us, my father would keep the radio on scan until something really, really basic came on, heavy on twang and, if possible, yodeling.  He’d turn it up, sit back, and say, relatively quietly, “YeeeHAAAAA.”   My mother would refuse to rise to the bait.  She’d nod her head to the rhythm, maybe tap the drumbeat on her thigh, and then, after about forty second, lunge for the radio.  “Why don’t we just have some nice quiet?” she’d say.

And then there was the encyclopedia approach.  He would learn absolutely everything there was to know about something my mother especially enjoyed — Spanish moss, for instance — and just sit on it until she said something like, “What beautiful Spanish moss.”   And then he’d start an endless data dump: Really an epiphyte, not moss, related to bromeliads, lives on air and humidity, rat snakes like to live in it. He could keep it up for a remarkable amount of time. Obviously, he needed a new topic for every trip, but from the first time he trotted it out, he’d bring it up again every time Spanish moss made an appearance, and he’d also work it into conversations.

And they stayed married more than fifty years.

Although if any issue threatened their stability on trips it was my father’s total refusal to ask directions or even consult maps.  He had a mystical ability to get places, except when he didn’t.  One time in the wilds of West Virginia, with the sun going down, we failed to find Wheeling, where we’d determined to spend the night.  We were clearly hopelessly, perhaps permanently lost, when a bus came by, going in the other direction with a sign on the front that said WHEELING.  My father endured my mother’s triumph and turned the car around so we could follow the bus.

We followed it down one road, then down another, smaller, road, then down another road that was barely a rut in the dirt, and which ended at a copse of trees.  The bus stopped.  We stopped behind it.  The bus driver climbed down and came back to us as my father put the window down so they could chat.  The bus driver said, “Do you know how to get to Wheeling?”

I give my father credit.  He didn’t even glance at my mother.  He just pointed back in the direction we’d been going in originally and said, “It’s back that way.”  And it was, but about 30 miles further than he’d thought.  The bus followed us all the way.

Year later, when we were teenagers, we were on a trip from (I think) Los Angeles to San Francisco when my brother Pat did something that became family lore.  We were taking the scenic route, up 101, and Pat was playing his guitar in the back seat and singing as we entered a tunnel.  He stopped the moment the tunnel swallowed us and started again the moment we came out. It was about five seconds before anybody replayed it in his/her (hir?) mind and laughed, and I think it was my brother Mike. Then we all laughed for a few miles.

To this day, few things appeal to me more than getting into a good car with a full tank and pointing it nowhere in particular.

11 Responses to “The Stupid 365 Project, Day 78: Going South (2)”

  1. Phil Hanson Says:

    Macho guys insist that maps and all other forms of instruction only be used as measures of last resort.

    I’m with ya (sort of) on the good car/full tank thing, Tim. Yeah, it’s environmentally irresponsible as hell, but it sure is fun. For me, the trip was always more about the driving than about the destination. The fun came in getting from Point A to Point B in the shortest possible time; once the car stopped, the fun was over.

  2. Laren Bright Says:

    Which explains how Tim ended up in Thailand.

  3. Peg Brantley Says:

    My husband was warned by his mother that we shouldn’t take a road trip. She was certain we’d end up divorced because of it.

    I wasn’t in favor of a road trip either. My nose was so far up in the air, my nostrils looked like the east and westbound portals of the Eisenhower tunnel in Colorado’s high country. Why couldn’t we just fly from Point A to Point B? We’d be there in no time.

    LoML held his ground and we set off. We drove from Colorado to Seattle (where some friends were getting married), up into Canada, over to Banff, down through Yellowstone and then back to Colorado.

    We were home for maybe three days when I was ready to pack up again and head out.

    Road trips are freeing. They’re unscheduled and uncharted. No airports, no security, and the only patdowns you get are the ones you like.

  4. Beth Says:

    My husband refuses to read road signs. After a trip to DC, we were almost to Richmond before I could convince him we were going the wrong way.

    When we were moving our oldest to William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA we were a two-car convoy. I bought a set of walkie-talkies, put a daughter in each car, and made sure that the car he was driving continued to follow the car I was driving.

    The most memorable experience the kids had with him at the wheel was the day he forgot where their school was located.

    Someday, when we are going somewhere we have been a thousand times, I will not give him the directions.

    We’ve made it to thirty-five years. I don’t know if we will live long enough to make it to fifty.

  5. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    I love your family outing stories. We were very much a touring family, and I got the front seat because I got green anywhere else. It seems to me that cars were bigger, but also smellier when I was little. When I was older, we lived on the East Coast, and I was the one who dragged the family to battlefields, and historical places, much to the dismay of my kids. We lived near Valley Forge for a while, and that was really interesting to see for me, anyway. To me, there really nothing like pointing a car to a new road, or an old one, and see what there is to see. I have enjoyed getting to know California, and some of its old roads-beautiful and scary, some of them, Highway 1, Highway 49. Bucolic in some places, terrifying in others. I guess Tim hit a button; I better stop here.

  6. greg smith Says:

    Yes Tim, your travel stories have taken us on a fun trip down memory lane (not to be confused with Penny Lane, which is the world’s cheapest toll road).
    Thanks for a most interesting ride.

  7. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Guys and maps — what’s to say?

    But Phil, I have to disagree with you about destinations. My ideal car trip is a sort of mildly directional float, maybe a loop that will ultimately bring me home again, with an aimless zigzag as the itinerary. Or maybe one destination — say, Bryce Canyon before the money pigs in Congress allow that open-pit coal mine, but the joy is seeing a sign for Bliss, Arizona, and going there for a day or maybe two. Or some obscure national park I never heard of. Paradise.

    That’a about right, Laren, in that Thailand was an accident. I was supposed to stay in Japan, where I’d been working on a TV show, but it was wayyy too cold, and I asked my travel agent to get me a flight to somewhere warmer, where I wouldn’t need a visa, and the lottery came up Thailand. Metaphorically, a lot like I’d been driving and a road sign came up reading BANGKOK.

    You got it, Peg, and you made me laugh, too. And what an itinerary you had for your maiden voyage, so to speak. Although a little heavy on mountain driving for me. Mountains scare me silly. I live the pat-down line, and the whole idea that it’s a form of travel in which the traveler is in charge, as opposed to entering the Kingdom of No Rights Whatsoever as we do every time we step on a plane.

    Beth — refusing to look at a map is one thing. Refusing to ask for directions is still one thing. Refusing to read ROAD SIGNS is in new territory. I’ll bet your husband believes he possesses a computer-accurate sense of direction (which he obviously doesn’t) and that’s what frees him up to take the Zen approach do driving: if I put the accelerator down, the destination will arrive. I have an advantage over your hubby in that I possess no sense of direction whatever, beyond right and left. I ask directions and used maps until I got Doris, and now I just entrust myself to her.

    The walkie-talkies were a great idea. My wife and I, tired of searching for each other in Costco (we live in Costco) use our cell phones as walkie-talkies while daring the High Aisles.

    Hi, Lil — I think cars were bigger — after all, gas was practically as cheap as water, and bigger, in that long-lost America, was better. I know for a fact that a family of four could have dined elegantly in the trunk of one of my father’s endless string of Cadillacs. And you’ve encapsulated my driving/travel ethos exactly: “pointing a car to a new road, or an old one, and seeing whet there is to see.”

    Thank you, Greg. By the way, Penny Lane has been renamed. It’s now called the Twelve-Dollar Drive.

  8. Suzanna Says:

    Tim, This particular tiny collection of travel memories and the way that you have crafted each one is really impressive! Thank you so much for sharing more about your family and doing it with so much care. I am enjoying this so much.

  9. Bonnie Says:

    Believe it or not, the town we came closest to running out of gas (on the way to take me to my Freshman year of college in Pella, Iowa, via Utah, Yellowstone, and the Badlands) was Truth or Consquences, New Mexico.

    Some of my fondest memories of Austria are of driving aimlessly through the beautiful countryside, randomly picking the next village by the picturesqueness of its name. I soon learned that, if we were hungry, the best thing was to aim towards a church steeple, as there was invariably a Gasthof across from the church.

  10. Larissa Says:

    Bonnie-hehe..what is it with New Mexico and not having any damn gas stations? The only time I’ve nearly run out of gas on a road trip was outside of Albuquerque..or however that’s spelled…It was crazy. We just kept driving and driving and every town had old gas stations with tumbleweeds instead of gas. I guess the cars out there were the first hybrids. (c:

    And, the best part, was all of the signs we kept seeing along the side of the highway-“Do not stop your vehicle for hitchikers. Maximum Facility Prison nearby.” “Do not stop to assist motorists. Call (insert some highway patrol number here)”

    And it was 2 am. My best friend and I were quite relieved when we saw, gleaming in the distance, the bright red white and blue lights of the Texaco Travel Station.

  11. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    There’s also Route 80 out of Salt Lake City and across Nevada. You want sand, no problem. You want anything else, forget about it.

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