Ordinarily a road trip is synonymous with fun. There’s the fun of piling into a single vehicle jammed with suitcases, books, boxes and a cooler and the swapping of jokes, sodas and candy. There’s the fun of heading down the open road and viewing new scenery while playing ABC Bingo. Finally, there’s the fun of putting miles behind you, moving closer to your destination and the arms of loved ones.
This is not that trip.
Mikayla, my sister-in-law Ellen and her daughters Seren and Bekah and I leave Lakeland at 8:40 a.m. following a gorging at Fred’s breakfast buffet. About an hour later we are ready for our first potty break. No worries. My father drove thousands of miles every year in the driver’s seat of an 18-wheeler and never once complained about stopping. I won’t either.
As we continue north on I-75 we finally reach a groove in our ten-hour journey. The girls seem content watching videos and reading books. El is getting some much needed rest. She’s experiencing some nausea from a lingering bug and could use a nap. I’m singing along to tunes on the iPod and feeling good. We’re finally making some headway.
I look down and discover that the oil meter reads five percent. Does that mean there’s only 5% good oil remaining and the van will come to a dead stop in the middle of the freeway when it reaches zero? I’m not taking any chances. I pull off at an exit marked with a Zaxby’s and a lube shop.
Lunch is a success. Bekah and Seren eat the chicken fingers, and Mikayla and I cross off another favorite restaurant from our list of Restaurants We Must Visit While in the United States.
El is not having much luck with an oil change. Everybody is booked up for the next 90 minutes, and we don’t want to wait that long. We pull into Walmart and, hallelujah, they can take us right away. We’ll be out in 30 minutes, I promise Mikayla.
Two hours later and we’re still sitting in Wally World. Al the mechanic found a bad tire on the front passenger side. It’s as bald as a baboon’s butt and has cracks around the edge indicating tire rot. The one on the opposite side isn’t much better. Al doesn’t think the tire will make it to Austin; he wouldn’t take any chances with it. I don’t think El should either. I prescribe two new ones.
El and I have a discussion with the joyless desk man, Robert, about which brand to buy. He talks to us for a few minutes about what can be done in case of a blowout. I realize he’s talking about a warranty so I cut to the chase and ask how much it costs. It’s ten bucks. He looks at Ellen and he looks at me. Then he asks, “Who’s running this show anyway?” The poor guy can’t figure out who’s the decision maker. I’m butting my nose in because I’m today’s driver and Birmingham, AL, isn’t getting any closer at this rate.
Ellen decides on two new Goodyear tires that will go on the rear. A good choice: the rear tires still bear the Goodyear label and they’ll go on the front.
I’m struck by the irony that I’m about to wrap up Liz Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. I’m probably the last woman in America to read it. I’m at the part where Liz takes a road trip with her friend Yudhi. They eat junk food, sing American songs and order pizza everywhere they can.
Okay, so we’re not driving through Bali. We’re driving through Florida on I-75, which is the Most Boring Freeway in America whether you start in Florida or Michigan. Eventually we move over to I-10 and then AL-331.
We drive through farmland where horses are chomping on clover, and hay bales lie scattered like giant tumbleweeds. Irrigation equipment stands idle over crisp corn husks, and hand-painted signs spell out “vine-ripened tomatoes” or “free puppies.” The towns of Brantley, Luverne and Sardis slip by.
Ellen, Mikayla and I play a challenging game of Trivial Pursuit (Sample question: Which Asian country has an alphabet with 78 letters?), and finally we’re having fun. Wally World is far behind us, green countryside lies ahead of us and no one has yet uttered, “Are we there yet?”