When I was in my 20s, my best friend and I used to just take off for the weekend. One weekend, we decided we wanted to see the Chattanooga Aquarium and the Chattanooga Choo-Choo. And so we headed to Tennessee once we both got off work.
Most of our spontaneous trips went well, despite the lack of planning. It was a Friday night, Easter weekend. Our goal was Chattanooga on Saturday. We spent Friday night in Nashville. Got up to road construction on a major highway. Had breakfast and crawled down an 8 lane interstate due to the road construction.
But we made it. Saturday we went to the aquarium and we went into a cave where you had to take an elevator down to the main cavern. I’m slightly claustrophobic, but I am occasionally surprised at the shit I will do when my best friend is with me (like fly, I’m terrified of heights, prone to motion sickness and vertigo, and am afraid of being bored – which is a weird phobia, but I have it…). Anyway, Saturday night we were going to stay in Chattanooga and then head back to Missouri. After returning to the surface from the pit of Hell.
We decide we still have 2 days… screw it and head further south. We crossed into Georgia, where we stopped and ate dinner, which was a really good thing. It was a Shoney’s or Denny’s, a chain diner, food okay, not great, but unlikely to make you puke later. And we decide to go to Alabama. In our heads we get the idea we’ll go to Alabama and then head to Arkansas and come back to Missouri a completely different route from going to Chattanooga.
Remember, it’s a Saturday night and the place we ate at was at the border of Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi. I have no idea if the place we ate at was in a town or a truck stop or what. I just know it was in that general area of where the three states meet. We head into Mississippi with a full tank of gas and Alabama as our destination. I had never been to Mississippi before and did not know they had billboard laws. Missouri highways are littered with billboards, bright beacons in the night that string along the sides of our interstates and highways as if guiding travelers onward.
We’re on a two lane highway (this was before GPS, so I was using an actual map to navigate while she drove – we were pros at this, just FYI). And there is nothing along this highway. At least, nothing open, except churches, on a Saturday night. We passed through several small towns where the churches were brightly lit with the doors open and people going in and out, but there don’t seem to be open gas stations, open restaurants, nothing. And without billboards, it was creepy as f*ck. Turns out, I’m not a fan of desolate highways without lighting and gas stations and truck stops and billboards. My imagination is a little too good for those types of scenarios.
But we made it to Alabama. More precisely, we made it to Huntsville, Alabama. During breakfast we decided to take a risk, after all we are in Huntsville and head to the NASA center and much to our surprise it was open! As a matter of fact, everything in Huntsville seemed to be open on Sunday. It was a welcome change from Mississippi.
We tour the space center. Then begin the journey home. When we got to Jonesboro, Arkansas, it began to pour down rain. We are talking sheets of rain so heavy you couldn’t see twenty feet in front of you, but we’re on a heavily traveled 4 lane highway so we stick with it into Missouri. The rain hasn’t let up and the road is no longer heavily traveled or 4 lanes. It’s dropped to 2 lane. We arrive in West Plains, Missouri and decide to stop for the night. We’re both off on Monday, so staying in West Plains doesn’t screw anything up.
As we are leaving the motel we stayed at, we hear someone say that about two miles north of West Plains, it wasn’t raining. We probably could have made it home Sunday night if we hadn’t decided the torrential rain was a hazard and we should definitely stop.
We made it back Monday afternoon. Four states, three days, and a ton of fun. Even if Mississippi was creepy on Saturday night. Her and I did things like that all the time back then. We’d decide to go somewhere for a weekend and go. Sometimes the trip was about the conversation on the way there and back, sometimes it was about the events. But it was always a great trip.
My first trip to Chicago happened this way. She said “We should go to the Field Museum, you will love it,” and away we went. For the record, she was right, I did love it. I enjoyed all of Chicago. We also “planned” a trip to Chicago and got to see Spamalot on the stage there, with Tim Curry and Hank Azaria. Even though it was a planned trip, it was still great. We listened to the audiobook of Wuthering Heights because neither of us had read it. I hated it, which is unusual because I usually love classic fiction. Eventually, when I was forced to consume War & Peace and got to follow that with Anna Karenina, I decided Emily Bronte and Leo Tolstoy had a lot in common in their writings… they were incredibly wordy when describing things. Description is fine, but I don’t need 77 pages about Heathcliff’s terrible childhood or Levin’s wheat.
I write this post with a touch of nostalgia and a touch of regret. Now that riding in cars for long distances is torture, I wonder how many times I told her “I couldn’t go.” There are still places I would love to go and my most adventurous trips have been with her, she talked me into getting on a damn plane and flying to Berlin, Germany.
A curious thing happened with Berlin, Germany. The day before we were set to fly out, I went partially deaf in one ear. I had a hell of a time getting that ear to pop during the flight, but eventually, by plugging my nose and exhaling really hard, I managed. Nothing else I tried worked though and I thought I was talking really loud all the time and my friend kept complaining she couldn’t hear me.
The day we flew back… we were there 10 lovely days in August… it cleared up.