There and Back Again
Last week, my wife and I took a car trip to Alabama for the holidays. Altogether, it’s thirteen hundred miles, which we split over two days. For anyone who’s counting, that works out to around ten hours per day spent listening to Pandora radio, two hours searching for restrooms, and six hours languishing in an uncomfortable hotel bed.
Still, it was worth every butt-numbing mile. We got to hang out with dear friends we hadn’t seen in a few years, eat some of the best, starchiest food in the known universe, and run the warm and humid roads of southwest Alabama. Also, one of the most appealing things about traveling by road is the local flavor along the way. In fact, it’s really the only thing that makes driving preferable to flying.
Here are a few highlights from the trip.
Calhan, Colorado: On our way out to I-70, we’ve passed at least five signs for cowboy churches. Every one of them depicts a cowboy kneeling before a cross or leading a horse somewhere, into a church I assume. If I thought they let the horses into those churches, I might visit one.
Limon, Colorado: On Highway 24, we drive past a dude peeing on the side of the road. To his credit, he doesn’t appear to be ashamed. He’s just standing next to his car, having a refreshing whiz and taking in the beautiful, frigid Colorado day. I’m guessing this is what Abraham Maslow referred to as self-actualization.
Colby, Kansas: Jesus is watching us from a billboard. He’s peeking up out of a wheat field, and he looks like a member of the Allman Brothers Band. He offers us a nice sheaf of wheat, but he looks creepy, so we keep driving.
Wellington, Kansas: Silo, casino, windmill farm, Cracker Barrel, multiplied by infinity.
Billings, Oklahoma: At 8:25, we pass a Dairy Queen sign. Our Fantasy: A Dairy Queen, a beacon in the middle of nowhere. The Likely Reality: A Dairy Queen counter in the back corner of a gas station, behind a windshield wiper display, just outside the restrooms. We’ll take what we can get.
Ardmore, Oklahoma: For about fifty miles now, we’ve been driving by signs for fried pie shops and adult novelty emporiums. We’re in Texahoma, the area where Oklahoma and Texas meet, which also appears to be where the porn shops are in direct competition with the fried pie establishments. So far, we haven’t seen any places that sell both. Of course, we haven’t made it into Texas yet.
Gainesville, Texas: I see a sign for a “Romance Boutique” called “Sara’s Secret.” Couples are welcome, the sign promises, and there’s an ATM onsite. Part of me is concerned that the shop also features RV and bus parking.
Dallas, Texas: Fried pie shop, lawyer billboard, liquor store, church, strip club, all in the same mile.
Fordoche, Louisiana: We’re driving over a swamp. Which swamp? That’s a trick question, since there’s only one swamp here, and it’s rather large. It’s called Louisiana.
Walker, Louisiana: We’ve stopped for fried chicken, and I’ve noticed every business in this town seems to have a casino attached, including this Popeye’s Fried Chicken. Actually, it’s the other way around: The casino has the Popeye’s attached to it.
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi: Now is the time during the trip when I start reading off all road signs in my Foghorn Leghorn voice. Is it pretty? No. Is it necessary? You bet.
Diamondhead, Mississippi: We’re running low on gas, or at least lower than we’re comfortable with in the dark corners of Mississippi. As we take the exit, I try to assess our options:
My Wife: “What’s the name of that gas station over there?”
Me: “Looks like it’s called ‘Git-R-Done.’”
My Wife: “So we’re going somewhere else, then?”
Theodore, Alabama: My hometown. One thing I’d forgotten about this place was the smoking. Don’t get me wrong. People smoke a lot in Colorado, and they vape, too. But folks in Alabama take their tobacco seriously, and they smoke like they’re trying to prove something. It’s primal.
Diamondhead, Mississippi: Another thing I’ve forgotten about the Gulf states, especially Louisiana and Alabama, is the number of injury attorney billboards on I-10. Whether you’ve had an oilfield mishap, big truck wreck, or a DUI, these dudes are on your side, and they have the billboard bucks to prove it. I wonder if there’s anyone down here who specializes in fried pie-related injuries.
Lottie, Louisiana: Just after we passed a DUI attorney billboard, we also saw a fancy drive-thru frozen drink shop called “The Daiquiri Shack.” I’m sure there’s a connection there, but I’m just not getting it.
Krotz Springs, Louisiana: My wife, driving through the back roads, says, “The state bird of Louisiana should be a water moccasin.”
Alexandria, Louisiana: We stop in at a little take-out dive called Porky’s, a restaurant that features gumbo, red beans and rice, and boudin balls. In case you don’t know, boudin balls are like big hushpuppies full of Cajun food and love.
Glenpool, Oklahoma: A billboard reads “Brand New Luxury Apartments. Next to Wal-Mart.” The renters’ ad company must’ve forgotten to tell them to leave out “Next to Wal-Mart.”
Hallett, Oklahoma: Listening to 1983 Radio Hits on Pandora. The story so far: Madness is singing the praises of their favorite dwelling place, The Little River Band is obsessed with some other guy, and Culture Club is curious about the odds of being hurt. Rick Springfield, on the other hand, is busy having an affair of the heart, and Stevie Nicks advises you to just stand back.
Grinnell, Kansas: Pandora Factoid: When you play pretty much any eighties or nineties “Year’s Radio Hits” station, you’re eventually going to hear a song featuring Phil Collins. I’m sure that’s great if you’re Phil Collins.
Colby, Kansas: As it turns out, there’s also a Jesus-Lurking-in-the-Wheat Field billboard for folks traveling westward. This gives our trip a nice feel of symmetry.
Colorado Springs, Colorado: Home again, home again. It took us three hours longer than we expected, and our car looks like it’s been driven through the seven plagues of Egypt. It’s a good finish.