Three times over the years we have driven from Kansas City to Spokane, Washington where Mark's mom used to live. Since we have never lived near family, our kids were accustomed at an early age to long car trips. This particular trip was always our longest but there was plenty to stop and see along the way, and when things went off the rails we would bribe them with promises of candy or ice cream at the next gas station stop.
During these trips we saw the Badlands, The Corn Palace, Mt. Rushmore, Wall Drug, Arches National Park, Yellowstone, Seattle, and Mt. St. Helens. Those trips will always hold some of my favorite memories with the kids.
We never made a plan along the way. Each trip there and back would take three days, and though we knew the vicinity of where we wanted to stay for the night, weather and traffic would dictate our home away from home at the end of each driving day.
Mostly, though, we go through life as The Fishers and assume that The Universe will be announcing our impending arrival and needs long before we pull into town.
Such was the case when we left Spokane after a glorious week in a cabin at Loon Lake. We packed up and said our goodbyes with plans for our dinnertime destination and nightly stop to be Billings, Montana. Eight hours later we pulled into town and looked at the strip of motels with their Welcome State Olympian signs in front, picked a place and went in to get a room.
"A room? You want a room tonight," the desk clerk said. "Did you make a reservation?"
"Well, no, but we were just here ten days ago," I answered like that had anything to do with anything.
"You can't get a room. Everything's booked. It's the State Olympics. There are no rooms."
"The State Olympics?"
"It's the Olympics only statewide," the clerk said. "Biggest event of the whole summer here in Billings. We've been booked in advance for months."
"Oh, just one is all we need. Surely you have one room," I said. Because, ummmm, we are the Fishers. Haven't you heard?
"We don't. I don't think anybody does but I'll call the Howard Johnson's across town. I heard they had a couple of rooms left. You may be out of luck, though, and the nearest town is Cheyenne, Wyoming."
"The nearest town is in another state?"
"Oh yes," she said. We're few and far between out here."
It was then, at precisely the same moment, that The Big Daddy and I knew we were entering Shit Creek with three, tired kids who'd been promised over and over a pool to swim in at day's end.
The Howard Johnson did have one room left and no they would not hold it for us, so we raced across town to get it before anyone else did.
Raced. The Big Daddy gunned it while I pleaded with The Universe for just one room at the inn.
The Big Daddy sprinted from the car to the front desk and one look at his face on the way back was all I needed to know that we had arrived at said Shit Creek and our paddles were back at Loon Lake.
We stopped at a Taco Bell and then started driving, confident with our limited knowledge of the area that the motel desk clerk was mistaken. Somewhere between these two states there had to be a little town with a motel that could put us up for the night.
There was no such thing. The Wild West has no suburbia.
Six hours later, at 2:00 a.m. we arrived in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Sleepy kids in the back of the car, sleepy parents in the front.
Our lodging for the remaining hours was one room with one bed. Fortunately, we had two cots in the car and set those up for Maggie and Will. Mallory, who was but a toddler slept with us. Getting kids and bags and cots had woken up our sleepyheads and so there we all were in the crappiest motel room ever wide awake.
We turned the t.v. on and watched half the Batman movie that George Clooney starred in. By the end we agreed that it was as bad a Batman movie as we had ever seen and probably not the least bit appropriate for our young kids to watch. It was the last domino to fall in a day of bad decisions.
We dozed off for a few hours until it was time to hit the road again for another day of driving. A noisy window air conditioner rattled and revved like a jet engine preparing for take-off. Will and Maggie tossed and turned and talked to each other in their sleep. Itty bitty Mallory sprawled sideways in the bed and kept turning in circles in her sleep like one of the Three Stooges.
The Fishers, crammed into a smoky smelling, paneled room that had likely seen things that would make an episode of COPS, had indeed arrived.
The Universe wasn't impressed.