Friday, June 26, 2015

Road Trip 2015: Embracing our Inner Thelma & Louise

One of my favorite movies is Thelma and Louise. I've always had a not so secret fantasy of loading up my car and taking off across the United States with my best gal pal. Mind you, my fantasy doesn't  include picking up a handsome stranger (if I do, I better not come home), being chased across six states or taking a flying leap across the Grand Canyon as Thelma and her pal, Louise did in the movie.
Thelma & Louise taking a selfie in the days before Facebook.

Well my version of the Thelma & Louise fantasy finally came true earlier this month. BFF Nessa and I took off cross country on a trip to pick up my step-daughter Hollie, and my three granddaughters  in Pennsylvania. How does this make for a Thelma and Louise adventure? Well you would have to know Nessa and me.

Most would have taken the straight route to Pennsylvania through Joplin, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Cincinnatti-etc. However, my Kevin will tell you nothing is ever simple with me. I planned and re-planned our route and finally decided if I was going to go across several states on this trip, it would be the states I most wanted to see. This evolved into a road trip that involved several southern states as well as eastern states and finally, in what can only be called a true manipulation of my poor husband and our funds, a side trip for two days and three nights in Savannah. Yes I am shameless and though Kevin was not happy, my motto has always been, "It's easier to ask for forgiveness that permission."

Route planned, bags packed, Nessa and I discovered we had forgotten a most important road trip accessory when traveling with children: the portable DVD player my niece, Jen was loaning us. It was still sitting in a bag at sister, Linda's house in Oklahoma City. Well a change in route would be in order. Instead of going down I-20 through Shreveport and spending our first night in Jackson, Mississippi we would go to Little Rock and then spend the night in Memphis. Of course, we would also do a little quick tour of Graceland.

Moments from our Thelma & Louise Adventure!
We loaded up and I gave a final kiss, hug and instructions to Kevin and Seth. I hadn't been away from Seth for a night in years. I was a little teary eyed but excited.  After picking up the DVD player from my sister, Linda, Nessa and I were back on the road and headed toward Little Rock.

Being ADHD, squirreling off on a tangent is a way of life for me. I get some of my best work done when I do this. However it doesn't always make for good navigating on a road trip. That was my job. Navigation. Nessa was the driver but I was the one who pulled up the maps on my phone and alerted her to exits or turns on the trail. Helping me in this endeavor was our car's GPS system: a disembodied female voice with a slight speech impediment that Nessa called Lola. We would come to despise Lola and her slurred, "Route Recalculating" in the hours to come.

 Kevin, knowing my squirrel headed ways, was a tad worried when I left but he knew I was in Vanessa's capable hands. She would get us there safely. Though a level headed woman, Nessa unwisely lets me have my way too often. Driving at a steady pace east of Oklahoma City, Nessa innocently uttered the words that would set us on a path through the twisty, windy back roads of Eastern Oklahoma, Arkansas and finally Louisiana.

Just past Shawnee Oklahoma after a stop at Starbucks she commented, "How sad we aren't going down I-20 through Louisiana and Mississippi like we planned. It's so lovely through there." Having spent my summers with a favorite aunt in Louisiana and Mississippi, I too had been looking forward to the tree lined highways of those states. "Why Nessa! I bet we can still do that!" Excitedly I immediately got Google maps up and running on my phone and was mapping out our route. I figured it would add an hour or two to our route but we could get to Jackson, Mississippi by 10 if we headed down through Southeastern Oklahoma, slightly into Texas, east to Shreveport and then continue on I-20 to Jackson. Nessa agreed, saying, "You're the navigator. Navigate away!" Poor, deluded soul.  She would come to regret those words in the following hours. Slowing down, Nessa and I typed the new destination into Lola's GPS system: Jackson, Mississippi here we come!

Despite her willingness to do what I liked, the added miles and our goal of Jackson being far in the distance, Nessa became a bit of a car Nazi. There would be no little stops along the way except for food, gas or bathroom. This rather saddened me because I love the strange and quirky roadside attraction. As we entered Hugo Oklahoma, I was elated to discover via google search, that Hugo was known as Circus City Usa and is often the final resting place of circus elephants. They have an elephant cemetery and everything. What a cool little side trip that would make, right?
Well Nessa didn't think taking a selfie with an elephant headstone was worth the thirty minutes it would take to get off the road, snap pictures and get back on. Disappointed, I comforted myself by Facebooking about my BFF's new status as a fun sucker.

I didn't pout on Facebook for long. Nessa turned on the radio and before you knew it we were belting out tunes and laughing hysterically at the way Vanessa murdered the lyrics. Nothing was sacred and My sweet baby James Taylor's "Her Town" got turned into "It used to be whore town". Appalled, I immediately turned the channel to less personally meaningful  musical territory.

We made our way through Eastern Oklahoma, and even though the toll booths that dotted the highway were nipping greatly into our Starbucks fund, we couldn't be too upset. Each mile brought us closer to our destination. We couldn't wait to cross the Red River. Once outside the boundaries of Oklahoma, not only would we be free of those pesky toll booths but we might even find a Starbucks along the way.

South of Hugo we hit our first snag in our road trip. Fifteen minutes from the Texas border we saw the sign that things were going bad. The bridge across the Red River was closed due to flooding. During the month of May and into June, Oklahoma and Texas had received uncharacteristically large amounts of rainfall. Rivers and creeks that were usually dried up in June were busting their banks and the larger towns near where we live had entire neighborhoods evacuated. That had been two weeks previously. Who would have thought the River would still be flooding. Well it was.
Railroad bridge over Lake Raymond Gary near Ft. Towson
Being optimists, Nessa and I tolerated Lola's "Route Recalculating" and turned east toward Ft. Towson. No problem. We would just go a little further and find another road that we could cross into Texas. Traveling east, we reached Idabel and discovered Highway 259 crossing the Red River was also closed due to recent flooding. The sun was beginning to go down and Jackson, Mississippi seemed further and further away. Feeling frustrated, we consulted our map and headed north to Broken Bow.

It appeared our only way out of Oklahoma was by way of Arkansas. Nessa was beginning to show her frustration and worrying that it might be aimed at me and my obvious lack of navigation skills, I chirped up with, "Well that's okay. Arkansas is beautiful and we'll just cross the border and go straight to Texarkana and be at Shreveport before you know it!" Unfortunately, our misadventures had become as predictable as a 1970s television show; those very words heralded trouble ahead.

As we reached the Arkansas border, it was full pitch black out. When Nessa saw the Arkansas sign, my excitement grew. In the weeks before our trip, we had planned to take a picture with every state sign we came across. As planned, we stopped to take a picture. Nessa wasn't in the mood for selfies so I got out of the car and ran to the large Arkansas sign, careless of the possible snakes, animals and Bigfoot that could be lurking in the grass and woods just beyond the blacktop road. Nessa stood by the car and took a picture of me standing under the sign. Looking at the sad state of that sign (i.e. bullet holes, rusty brown splatters), perhaps we should have been a little more cautious.  Ignoring the perils that two women alone on a darkened highway might encounter, we jumped back in the car and headed down the highway.

At DeQueen, Arkansas we exited highway 70 and headed South with the intention of going straight to Louisiana.
We hadn't gone far when out of the darkness we saw a sign with a glowing arrow and the words "Detour" pointing east down a narrow road that took us off the major highway. As we turned, Lola's predictable "Route Recalculating" seemed to mock us and our predicament and Nessa yelled, "Shut up Lola!"

After the first mile, my ears began to pop and the road seemed to wind upward and twist and turn the further we went. This little detour would have been merely annoying during the day. However, pitch black night with only the occasional lights from a shabby looking house set off from the road made this a white knuckle experience for Nessa. As for myself, I was pushing the imaginary break at my feet every few minutes in anxiety over the twists and turns. Having a fierce imagination, I was sure we had been sent on a tour of Arkansas' version of Meth alley. Those lights through the trees, I was sure were the homes of people cooking meth. Would they be overly suspicious of a strange car? Would they shoot strangers? Vanessa confirmed my suspicions by commenting that the car we had been following the whole detour might begin to wonder if we were following them. The darkness was suffocating and I was beginning to feel claustrophobic. Worse, I discovered I had no service in the hills of Arkansas. When my panic was starting to come to the surface we saw the main highway up ahead. Though probably only thirty minutes in length, the little detour thru the hills of Arkansas left us tired and willing to stop sooner than Jackson, but not too soon. As we took to the main highway, Nessa cursed Arkansas and its blasted hills, claiming she never wanted to go there again. Virginia would share that curse with Arkansas in a few days.

When we saw the "Welcome to Louisiana" sign glowing blue in the distance, we knew we had reached paradise: the land of four lane highways and 75 MPH! Of course we stopped and I got out and took a picture. You can tell a lot about a state by it's welcome sign. Notice there are no bullet holes or rusty stains. Don't mean to slam the whole state of Arkansas. Just saying...

As we passed Shreveport, Lola did a most curious thing. According to her glowing six inch screen on the dashboard, we were not driving down a highway but through a field. This freaked Vanessa out. At this point, I was all funned out. Grumpily, I claimed it was because Nessa kept yelling at Lola back in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Lola was pissed off and showing us the only way she knew how. We were tired and the idiocy of these statements seemed somewhat reasonable at the time. Feeling a little trapped in a Twilight Zone episode, we vowed we would be nicer to Lola...just in case. Just as we neared West Monroe, Lola had chosen to forgive us and showed us the road we were traveling on.

When we saw the lights from of the Hampton Inn, our relief was audible. At 12:15 a.m., we checked in and collected our keys from a cheery desk clerk and went upstairs and fell into bed. Talking in the darkness while nestled in the comfort of our beds, Nessa commented how badly the day had gone. I reassured her that though the day had not quite turned out as planned, those little detours would make for a much more memorable trip. After all, we had been bragging for weeks about our "Thelma and Louise" road trip. How interesting would it have been to get straight to our destination without a few twists and turns to tell our friends about? Well that was our first day. As our misadventures continued we began to question our status as Thelma & Louise. I will share all--well maybe not all, in my next post. Have a great Friday-I'm off on a little weekend trip to Roswell, New Mexico with the family to look for possible signs of Aliens. Kevin isn't the adventurous type so let's hope it goes better than mine and Nessa's trip!