This is the twelfth and final installment of our travelogue, starring Artificially Sweetened (AS), Cupcake, and me, the Nittany Turkey.
We would have to get to my house before 5 PM on this, the final Tuesday of our journey, so we had to get up pretty doggone early in Rocky Mount. Coupled with the late night and the usual issues with trying to get to sleep when I know I have to do something early, I did not feel very refreshed when awakened by my cell phone’s alarm. Alas, there was no choice but to hit the road.
Checking out of the hotel, we clumsily threw “all our crap” into the weary Sienna for the homeward bound leg. Allowing an hour or so for lunch and assorted pit stops, I calculated that we should easily arrive home on schedule. We sleepily assumed our positions for takeoff.
Our routing was unfortunate, but necessary. We would be on Interstate 95 all the way to Daytona. I-95 is a boring, non-scenic highway, just what a sleepy driver doesn’t need.
After driving for roughly an hour, I began to feel as if I were too sleepy to drive. I pulled off at the next exit, parked in a sleazy motel parking lot, and told the girls to hang on while I took a walk in some fresh air. I did two laps around the motel and returned.
I figured that they would question me as to just what in the hell I was doing briskly walking around the Motel 6 a couple of times, but I think they were too tired to bother with the interrogation. That concerned me, because it meant that my co-pilot, AS, who I had kept in reserve for the entire trip to date, might also be too sleepy to drive. I felt better, so I thought I would wait a while before assessing the need for and viability of a driver swap.
Back on the road, I was thinking back to all the fun times we had enjoyed on this trip. There were so many of them: the whirlwind tour of the mountains of North Carolina; the three-city western and central Pennsylvania blitz; the fun times with the Tams; AS and I obsessively singing “Runaround Sue”; the Amish; the sarcasm from Cupcake; the fact that we all had bladders; and, last but not least, the famous Skynard’s of St. George, South Carolina. I smiled as I drifted through the happy reveries.
My mind turned to my 89 year-old mom, who had fallen while we were away. She lives in South Florida, and she had broken a couple of bones. I talked to her while we were at Tam Manor, and she insisted that she was all right. I had seen pictures of her that my brother had taken when she was in the emergency room, and she didn’t look good at all. I resolved to go to see her when I got back to Florida. I would wait until the weekend, so I could take AS along. Then, I realized that I was daydreaming while paying scant attention to driving. It was time to switch drivers.
I pulled off at the next exit—we had just entered South Carolina—and I asked AS if she was ready and able to drive for a while. She said that it would require a cup of coffee, but otherwise, she was cool with it. We stopped at a convenience store for some coffee and junk food that would tide us over until lunch. I took the shotgun seat and AS got behind the wheel. Remarkably, Cupcake was silent through the process, not even asking one of her “why” questions.
Back on the road and relieved of the onerous responsibility of driving, I rested while continuing to daydream about the fun trip that was behind us. There were so many more things we could have done for which we didn’t have time. I began thinking that this should be an annual event. Next year, we would cover some other territory or perhaps some of the same territory, adding in some of the fun things we missed this year. This made me feel happy and relaxed. I nodded off and slept for a bit, probably not more than fifteen minutes or so.
Upon waking, I tuned into a conversation about lunch. Where were we going to eat? I piped up and said that Savannah, Georgia would be an appropriate place, but we didn’t have time to go down by the river to check out some of the tourist traps down there. To a collectively breathed sigh of relief, I noted that we were already past where we would have to exit to enjoy another fabulous meal at Skynard’s. With BlackBerry in hand, I began to check on Savannah restaurants closer to I-95. Half jokingly, just to get some feminist reactions, I said, “There’s a Hooters!”
From AS, I got a straight response, “We’ll go anywhere you want to go.” She had long since abandoned her sanctions against chain restaurants, giving me a broad choice.
And so, I chose the broads. I set a course for Hooters and replaced the navigation device where AS could follow the instructions. In a half-hour, we were parking at at the place with the owls and the “more than a mouthful” t-shirts.
As far as I’m concerned, the only thing that differentiates Hooters from any other beer and burger sports bar type joint are the waitresses’ uniforms: a tight, white, scoop-necked top and some short orange shorts. Some waitresses at other joints are just as hot or hotter, but at least at Hooters, ogling them is legitimized. You’re supposed to look at them. So, instead of furtive glances at the retreating butt of a black pants clad waitress, you get to go cross-eyed looking at cleavage and buttage. Good old healthy American hobby, if you ask me. There needs to be something entertaining to look at when the commercials come on during the ball game. This fits the bill.
Cupcake was unhappy with my choice of lunch spots, to say the least. I don’t know why. All she ever eats are burgers and fries, so she would surely have no problems with Hooters’ menu. I think I was gauging a burgeoning feminist attitude in the omniscient one. (Later, I noted that she had updated her Facebook status, stating: “Having lunch at Hooters, sadly.” To that, I added a great, big LOL.) I told her that she could buy some souvenir items. She demurred without hesitation.
Meanwhile, AS was telling me how noisy it was in the restaurant. I hadn’t really noticed. It seemed no noisier than most of the sports bars I’ve patronized. What the hell, between tinnitus and my sclerotic ear drums, I can’t hear anything, anyhow. (This is truer than what people think when accuse me of conveniently not hearing something I didn’t want to hear.) Maybe this was just AS’s oblique form of venue protest. If so, I was having none of it, knowing that she was as amused as I was—albeit more sympathetically—about Cupcake’s reaction to being there.
We ordered and got far too much food, as usual. Cupcake was asking about whether we were still on schedule—no doubt anxious to blame Hooters (or my opting for it) for anything that might screw up their plan to meet her two siblings, BCH and Shark Bite, at the Orlando airport later that evening. AS and I quickly said, “Yes, we’re on schedule.” We got the check and AS decided that she wanted to pay, so she obviously liked the place after all!
I looked outside. It was raining cats and dogs. When it rains cats and dogs in coastal Georgia, it’s just like the heavy rain we get in Florida. Call it a Georgia Toad-Floater, if you will. I gallantly offered to run through the driving rain to the mini-van, which was parked around the other side of the building from the front door, and then pull it around to the front so the girls wouldn’t get wet. Of course, I got soaked. Miraculously, at the very moment I parked by the front door the rain abruptly stopped, giving me something to grumble about. I did, momentarily.
As my butt was already ensconced into the driver’s seat, I declared that I would resume the driving chores. Having just entered Georgia, we had been alternating states. I drove in North Carolina, AS drove in South Carolina, and I was now back in command in Georgia. I fully intended to continue all the way home, although it eventually turned out that it didn’t work out that way. We encountered rain off and on through Georgia, and I-95 was its usual Georgia afternoon morass—the rain merely makes it worse. It was some pretty rough going there for a while.
As we approached the Florida border, I began to get sleepy again. Perhaps it was accumulated trip fatigue or maybe it was just the Hooters greaseburger requiring additional oxygenated blood to digest, but I was yawning and weary. At the first opportune moment, which turned out to be the Florida welcome station rest stop, I relinquished the command pilot’s chair back to AS. We were alternating states again, but this was our destination state, so hers would be the final shift behind the wheel. In a couple hours, we would be home. AS thanked me for driving through the rain before resuming the journey. It was my pleasure.
Relaxing once again, I sank into the Sienna’s shotgun seat and daydreamed one more time. This time, I smiled as I ruminated that this vacation was the most enjoyable one I had taken in recent memory, maybe for all time. Surely in the past, I had spent time at more exotic destinations, traveled in greater style, and dined in fine dives quite the equal of Skynard’s, hadn’t I? What was so special about this one?
That was easy. The people with whom I shared the past 12 days made all the difference. The wonderful Artificially Sweetened (AS), known in real life as Jenny, is the love of my life; sharing this experience with her simply enhanced my enjoyment immeasurably. The lovely and talented Cupcake, known in real life as Amina, is a great kid and a very effective pain in the ass, as all teenagers aspire to be. She’s just about ready to strike out on her own; thus, she displayed remarkable patience and perseverance about having been dragged along by her mom and her mom’s boyfriend with no voting rights herself. I thank them both for brightening my life, during this vacation and otherwise, and I hope they enjoyed our road trip as much as I did.
We finished the drive with no hitches and arrived at my house ahead of schedule, which enabled us all to get a little rest to shake off the road weariness. And, of course, we all had bladders, you know.
AS and Cupcake left for the airport and were there on time for the pickup of BCH, known in real life as Aliya, and Shark Bite, known in real life as Zane, who were returning from a visit with Grandpa and Uncle Chuck in Chicago. This time, they didn’t bring back a Giordano’s pizza for me, but by that time I had been eating non-stop for two weeks, so I was grateful for the omission.
After our departure, Toejam, known in real life as Joe, emailed me to tell me that Cupcake had left her belt there. He and Judy would be bringing it down with them when they come to visit us in January because Toejam didn’t think it was worth the postage. He was probably right. Cupcake doesn’t seem to have missed it.
Speaking of Cupcake, the all-night phone conversations have temporarily abated, as she and her long-distance boyfriend parted company shortly after our journey ended. I’m certain that his shoes will be filled forthwith, as Cupcake is now back in school, with hundred of slobbering adolescent dudes drooling over her daily.
While I’m still on the subject of Cupcake, I never did get to see many of the photos she took. Although she posted some on Facebook, the ones involving her feet were notably absent. Perhaps someday I’ll get to see them.
I would be willing to bet that AS still hasn’t logged any of the Geocaches we found on this trip. I’m also thinking that she still has in her possession a travel bug we picked up in South Carolina on our northbound leg.
AS and I visited with Mom the weekend following the trip. She was all bruised and she looked awful. Nevertheless, her spirits were fairly high. She was complaining, mainly about the people who were taking care of her, which was usually a good sign. A few weeks later, we visited her again and found that the huge black and blue areas had completely resolved and she was looking much better. She was still complaining about the hired help, though. Again, a good sign.
When I started this travelogue, I didn’t quite know where it was going. I originally wanted to scrawl out some private notes for AS and me, so we could remember where we had been and what we had done. I never envisioned it as the writing project it turned out to be. I am grateful to those of you who have read and enjoyed this chronicle, as your comments are all the rewards I need for having devoted the time and effort to writing it. Your encouragement kept me going, and as a result, I have actually completed this opus about a summer vacation before that same summer ends!
Thank you all once again for sharing our vacation. See you next year!
This is the final installment of the 12-part travelogue. If you’re just joining us here, you might enjoy going back to the beginning to read about the rest of the road trip.