*You already know that I started out Day 3 by writing about Day 2. Now I am starting out Day 5 (in a manner of speaking) by writing about Days 3 and 4.
We did make it past Asheville last night (or rather, early this morning) and checked ourselves into a hotel on the side of I-40. Charles Kuralt once said upon the completion of Interstate 40 – which runs from coastal North Carolina all the way to the Central Valley of California – that it was now possible to drive from one coast to the other without seeing a thing. I fear he was right. That’s not entirely true. Why, late last night I saw stars. No, my wife did not beat me over the head for blasting the original cast recording of Evita while she was sleeping. My son, in a way only 11 year-old boys can do, announced confidently that he had to relieve himself. He did this about ten miles after I had driven past the last exit with any services for a considerable stretch of road. Oh well, I’m a guy. I get it. You don’t really need a bathroom proper in order to take care of that kind of business. It’s just how God made us. The only problem was that this stretch of I-40 wends and winds its way through the Great Smokey Mountains. It was cut as judiciously as possible through rocky cliffs. Owing to that fact the highway engineers “forgot” to install a shoulder. I drove as far as I (and his bladder) could travel before, mercifully, finding a runaway truck ramp. Out we hopped. I walked him around the back of the vehicle to afford a tiny bit of privacy (not like he cared) and for some reason I looked up. The night sky was blanketed with thousands of stars. We live in the Dallas area. On a typical night we’re lucky to see about five stars and one of those is the moon. I also saw a sign that proclaimed bears would be crossing the road in some kind of pack formation. I feel sorry for the bears, really I do. According to the sign, they cross like this: a she-bear followed by three cubs. Where’s the dad? Not doing as good a job as I am, I should imagine, shepherding my wife and kids across the continent.
Upon leaving the hotel I did something I promised I would not do on this trip (or anytime if I can avoid it). I asked my wife to drive. She’s a fine driver and I appreciate the help. It’s just that this is something I can do for her. When I was growing up I never once saw my dad NOT walk around the car to get the door for my mom. It’s a car door. Of course she can open it by herself. But he did it for her because he could. And he could because she allowed him the privilege. Until the last time I saw him drive anywhere with her, he held her door. I liked that. But, I needed time to write so I accepted her invitation to take the wheel. She drove us all of an hour and a half until reaching the city of Greensboro. That’s where my niece and her family live.
Right before getting out of the car my wife pointed out that Facebook had notified her of a “memory”. On this exact date three years ago we had also visited my niece on a cross-country drive. Her son was a couple of months old. We had taken a picture of my daughter holding her first cousin once removed. This meant that we would have to re-create the picture. My niece prepared a lovely breakfast for us. Sadly we couldn’t stay long – just long enough to enjoy a meal and catch up. And one of the best parts for me was getting to play with her dog – a lab mix named Leo. I love dogs and I especially love labs. They’re so friendly and seek attention. They also want to be loved and so they go out of their way to please every person they meet. Sound like anyone we know?…
Perhaps the funniest thing of our trip so far happened at this time. I almost didn’t want to write about it but my wife insisted I should. My great-nephew is potty training. It happens. As we were getting ready to head out the door my niece walked past the bathroom door on her way back into the kitchen. As only a parent who’s potty training a child can, she said “Did someone poop?” And before anyone could comprehend her question a certain member of our party who happens to be my mother-in-law replied quick as lightning: “Me.”
Sometimes in life there are pauses. Sometimes these pauses are dramatic like when the Twin Towers fell and we all held our breath for 40 seconds. Time seemed not to exist. Sometimes these pauses are ironic like when we await the punchline of a joke. In either case there is anticipation in these pauses. We know something is coming, we just don’t know what. This was not one of those moments. In fact there was no pause. Her answer was immediate. The pause came after her “Me”. The pause was me and my wife wondering how to process what we had just heard. For a moment we just stared at each other. And then we figured it out. We were to laugh. Look, I’ve never thought bodily processes a good subject for humor. It’s lowbrow and cheap. But her innocence in answering so quickly and something about the moment just made us laugh. Seems she didn’t want my niece to think it had been her potty-training son. I admire such honesty. And I laugh at it.
After breakfast we were back on the road. Remember when I said a trip with us is like trench warfare? So… a half-hour later we stopped. This time our stop was an outlet mall. Unlike the depressing shell of a mall we had seen two days earlier, this one was vibrant. I hit all the shops I wanted to, got some new shorts and shirts. The lady behind the counter at the Old Navy even gave us a 20% discount because she liked the Nintendo-themed shirt my son was wearing. It seems his love of classic video games has indeed paid off. Back on that road. Another hour, another stop. We had promised my daughter we would hit a craft store so she could get a few items to keep her entertained at the beach. I thought the ocean and stuff would have been enough; but it appears not. Ten minutes after entering they emerged with even more
crap stuff to stuff into the car.
Finally, we were on our way again. Fits and starts, kids, fits and starts. By the way, did you like my use of the word “wend” up above? Thought so. From the craft store we actually raced to get to our next destination. See, we’re Catholic, if you couldn’t tell, and this being Saturday evening and not wanting to attend the “beach mass” at the Outer Banks On Sunday morning we decided to take our chances on a church in the city of Rocky Mount. We got there with one minute to spare. I ALWAYS wear my best suit to Sunday mass. This time, however, that option was not available to me, arriving with no time to change. The church was interesting. For those in the know, it looked like a typical 60’s parish that had recently been assigned a more tradition-minded pastor. The mass was ad orientem and we knelt at the rail for Communion. This might offend some but I realized over the past five years that I need to go out of my way to exemplify the virtue of reverence in the face of so many Eucharistic abuses. Kneeing for Communion, for me, is the best way to do that. Not a fan? Sorry. But the building itself was quite distinct in that it featured the most bizarre stained glass windows. At one point I looked up to see a purple man-baby looking down upon me. If that doesn’t put the fear of God into one, I don’t know what will.
And now for the “Top Reason to become a Libertarian” section of the post. We drove on from Rocky Mount headed for the Outer Banks. Normally, this is a three-hour drive. Not with us. And not because we took a ton of stops either. I use the Waze traffic app. About fifteen minutes out from mass Waze informed me “Police reported ahead.” My wife and I looked at each other and, noticing two county police cars in the median, remarked in unison: “Police right there.” Lucky for me I was not speeding. Had the cruise control set at the actual speed limit. But that didn’t stop our friends from Edgecombe County, North Carolina’s Sherriff’s Office from pulling out in tandem and trailing me for five minutes. In my mind I went over any possible violations I could have made. Nothing. Why were they doing this to me? We were about to find out because they put their lights on. Being the dutiful citizen I am (and always obeying my federal overlords) I quickly pulled to the shoulder. An officer approached my vehicle. Without ever identifying himself he said simply “Got your license?” I already had it out so I handed it to him (careful to make sure it was my driver license and not my gun license because this isn’t Texas and he has no right to know) and asked “What’s the problem?” “We ran a check of your plates and it came back ‘no record’,” he said. Stop and think for a minute. If I haven’t done anything wrong, why on earth would you run a check of my plates? None of this made any sense. After five minutes he returned to my window and handed me back my license. “You’re good,” he said. “I know that,” I replied. He turned on his heel to walk away and I decided to be a wiseguy.
“Just one thing, officer,” I said. “Why do they call them Tar Heels?”
Officer Skippy shot me a look as if I had just asked him to explain quantum physics. “Um, I think… You know? I’m not… Hey Buck!” Here he called to the other officer who had never approached the car. “Buck! Why are they Tar Heels?” Buck mumbled something inaudible. Skippy stuttered a bit and then said “I think Tar Heel was an Indian or something. Yeah, I think he had black feet.” Then he scurried away. The thing is that my wife and I had just had this conversation moments before being pulled over. Thanks to Google we knew the answer and it did NOT have a thing to do with a Native American. I’m not even sure these two clowns were actual police officers or if they were. perhaps they were doing some kind of on-the-job training. Look, folks, be on guard when you drive through North Carolina. The very first speeding ticket I ever got was in the Tar Heel State and the trooper admitted it was because the county needed the money
Another stop. This one at a Walmart for supplies and the world’s smallest liquor store for liquor supplies. Then, with the cruise locked to the speed limit the rest of the trip we drove on toward the beach. And finally, at 11:35 PM we reached our destination. Having seen stars, family, a shopkeep with human decency, an inflatable unicorn raft from a craft store, Jesus, two Andy Griffith wannabes, and a whole lot of coastal flats we could settle into bed. And this dad could give thanks for his wife, children, mother-in-law, friends, health, and safety… and a whole lot of memories.
PS: I need to mention here that my niece and her husband started up a neat company a couple of years ago and I would love to drive business their way. The company is called Soledier Socks. Check them out here and, if you, like me, wear socks consider them for your next purchase.