In the spirit of the summer vacation, this is something I wrote a few years ago, and probably Mark's favorite piece.
There is nothing The Big Daddy likes better than a summer road trip with the Fam. He plots our course and gathers 'round men folk at cocktail parties to discuss our expedition, and all his fellow pioneers weigh in with options so as to make “good time”. The wives of the men folk ask me why we don’t fly. The answer to that would be that we are a particularly close family that loves to cram into the car for hours on end and eat fallen Skittles off dirty car mats. Thus began our journey to Florida.
An avid road man only requires the Rand McNally Atlas of the United States of America and The Big Daddy handed it over to me with as much care as the family heirloom Bible. With a wink and a nod he said, “Here you go, Honey. You’re my copilot.” The problem is, Honey couldn't read a map if her family's life depended on it, was required to break up regularly scheduled back seat fights, and had a really good book she wanted to finish. Also, Honey didn't like to be disturbed during her afternoon nap. Nevertheless, this man looked at Honey year after year and said the exact same thing, “What do you mean you can’t read the map?” I think what I mean is that I can’t read a map, didn’t enroll in map school since the last road trip, don’t understand someone who can look at a map for hours, and believe that my not learning to read a map may be the only perk of marriage.
We left Kansas City at six a.m. sharp, and somewhere in southern Missouri reached our first “panic point” as The Big Daddy referred to it. This, he said, is a technical term experienced drivers use when things on the road get a little confusing. Technically, he started yelling at me. I quickly grabbed the atlas and tried to find our exit. Looking, looking, looking, still looking, looking up, and looking down. “You aren’t even on the right state,” he hissed. “GIVE ME THE ATLAS!” Missouri and Arkansas look almost exactly the same what with the backwoods and meth and such. I refused to hand it over as I have witnessed this man on many occasions hurtling down the highway at eighty miles per hour while balancing the atlas on the steering wheel and muttering under his breath. I was not about to let go of Rand McNally, and he was not about to let go of what looked to me like some very high blood pressure. From the back seat, The Teacher Girl said, “Why don’t you guys use the GPS?” Before I had a chance to say, “Why, yes, let's do that,” The Big Daddy dismissed the idea. The GPS disc was outdated by two years, to which Mallie Bee announced that the atlas we were using was eight years old. Not to be deterred by common sense, Big Daddy replied, “Listen here, Missy, Rand McNally has gotten me everywhere I’ve ever wanted to go. and some orbiting satellite isn’t going to tell me where I’m supposed to turn.” Actually, it does tell you exactly where to turn. Without screaming at you.
Twenty hours later we arrived at our beach rental. You could probably say that we didn’t make “good time.” There are many reasons why this is so. Mainly, it is because it takes about twenty hours to get from Kansas City to the Florida Gulf Coast. When we finally reached the sunny shores of Florida, it was pitch black and we hobbled out of the car like we’d been given a butt epidural.
After a lovely week at the ocean, it was decided that the trip home would have to be done over two days, and so we loaded the car, turned in our key and sadly ended our beach vacation. The driving plan for day one was to take Interstate 10 to Mobile, pick up Highway 98 and then Highway 49 into Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The drive was uneventful until Highway 49 abruptly ended and we weren’t in Hattiesburg. The road came to a halt with a large yellow sign with black slashes on it that was probably Braille for, “Hey, Stupid, didn’t you read the map?” Big Daddy looked at the sign and yelled, “You HAVE got to be kidding me!” The Boy Child made the fatal error of asking if we were lost. No, we weren’t lost at all. We were headed south on Interstate 55 to New Orleans. New Orleans? Psssst......you're driving the Chevy to the levee. With clenched teeth and hands gripping the steering wheel, The BD looked straight ahead and said, “Atlas.” I passed it over without saying a single word. Sure enough, the map showed Highway 49 and its demise and the only choice was an interchange onto I-55.
How could this be? This serious map reader and good and faithful servant of Rand and McNally had gotten it very wrong. Well, well, well…the nut hadn’t rolled far from the squirrel, so to speak. When it became apparent that this was a navigation error, he laughed and said I had such bad map reading juju that it was affecting him, but we both knew that at that moment, the tide had turned. I had what every long and loving marriage needs. I was the proud owner of leverage. Years from now I could drive anywhere with him and say, “Snookums, you pay attention to these signs so we don't end up in New Orleans. Again.” A diamond lasts forever? No sirree, leverage is the gift that keeps on giving.
When we finally arrived in Hattiesburg, we dined at a delightful international restaurant that specializes in pancakes. The Big Daddy barely spoke and it’s a shame they don’t serve alcohol as a couple of vodka and tonics would have done a world of good for his surly mood. The waiter made the mistake of asking us if we’d been driving long and I pulled him aside and told him it was probably in his best interest to stay away from the subject since The Big Daddy was on the verge of killing someone. He understood immediately, and in an effort to lighten the mood relayed stories of Hurricane Katrina refugees coming into town and shooting the cook.
The details of the rest of our drive home remain foggy as I may have been self-medicating. A few weeks later, The Teacher Girl got her dad a new atlas for his birthday. When he opened it he ran his hand over the cover and said, “It’s beautiful, just beautiful.” And how could it not be? This edition proclaimed itself “America’s #1 Road Atlas” and promised more fun, more peace of mind and more city maps. The Big Daddy Explorer took a deep breath, smelled those virgin maps and flipped to Mississippi to see if Highway 49 really did come to an abrupt end. When he closed the page and said nothing, I knew that until death do us part, I would be enjoying a nice, long nap whenever we took a road trip.