Sunday, February 13, 2011

Road Trip to Wilmington - Part 1


I've been away for a while on a road trip. After two-and-a-half weeks of juggling work and looking after the kids I was in need of a road trip and a chance to get away from everything.

 I happily went about booking hotels and planning my route in blissful disregard of one huge writhing serpent in my Eden, the fact that I would still be looking after the kids, so there was a 100 percent chance that they would be coming with me.

This didn't stop me having a carefree Jack Kerouac-like view of the whole thing in advance. I would drift from place to place feeling totally chilled, I would hang out reading in chic bars, far away from the demands of work and the internet, the need to update my blog and the requirment to view the wedding photographs of total strangers on Facebook.

Impediment Number One was Zara. When I suggested she'd have to "throw a sickie" to get off school for one of the two days (the school was closed the other day for the teachers to bicker at each other), she threw a strop and declared this was lying and it was beyond her remit.

Fortunately an inch of snow fell overnight Wednesday and inevitably Zara's school closed down. The next time I want this to occur, I'll probably dump a few styrofoam peanuts outside the school, make an anonymous call saying snow's expected and achieve my objective.

We set off rather late to Wilmington in North Carolina, a destination I had chosen because it was further south, so inevitably warmer but didn't involve driving all the way to Florida.

The snow was soon a distant memory on Route 58 to Emporia. It felt a bit like a roadtrip because I saw sights along the way, mainly broken down gas stations, unhinhabited roadside shacks and schools the like of which you wouldn't take your least favorite neighbors into (notwithstanding that dog mess on your front garden incident).

Route 66 it ain't but at least this is a snapshop of American life. We stopped at Emporia by the Interstate where some locals have made a valiant attempt to break the world record for how high fast food signs can be shoved up in the air. At a soulless McDonald's (OK the word soulless is unnecessary here) I presided over Zara trying to break another world record, the longest time it can take anyone to eat four chicken nuggets, while Jackson grabbed her fries and threw them at the elderly people on the next table.

McDonald's at Emporia helped me answer one of the great mysteries of life, namely, where do elderly people go on a Thursday afternoon.



We escaped from McDonald's and got onto I-95 south into North Carolina. At this point the whole notion of a road trip evaporated. I-95 is flat without interest. You gaze at trees and more trees. if you are really lucky you might see a river. Then 100 miles out you see the first sign for South of the Border. This surprised me because I had been told this huge, tacky faux Mexican experience on the border between North and South Carolina had closed down.

Even if this was true, it would take about a decade to remove all of the signs.

Falling asleep at the wheel is the biggest danger on I-95. I called friends and my wife. My sister, who I hadn't called for months wondered why I had called twice. The maintenance man from a property we lived at five years ago, wondered why I had called at all.

At least it took me only 30 minutes longer than MapQuest said it should to get to Wilmington. At this point, to use an expression that perplexes Americans, things went pear shaped.

The trouble with MapQuest directions is once you make a wrong turn you are up that unpleasant creek without a paddle. The names of the streets that were supposed to crop up didn't and a high bridge took me over the river past the battleship North Carolina. I did the gas station thing but when I asked about the Country Inn and Suites, the woman shrugged her shoulder and rattled away in Spanish.

By this time freezing rain was falling from the southern skies. Suddenly Zara started to go into meltdown mode over a floral belt for her jacket that she had mislaid. "Go back to McDonalds, go back," she screamed.

"What? 200 miles?"

Zara's meltown combined with Jackson's diaper blowout. At such desperate moments you realize you have no carrier bag and the wipes are missing in action. I yelled at Zara but her meltdown had extinguished any prospect of movement. To search for the wipes in the dumpster that was once an SUV, meant Jackson was likely to kick poo all over the back seat. To not search equated to paralysis in the freezing rain. Finally I spied a packet on the floor.

By the time I found the hotel it was almost dark and raining steadily. It occured to me I could have experienced a similar Country Suites experience in an identical hotel five minutes from my home. And I could have gone back for swim gear.

Still we had to venture out again to the strip malls near the hotel in search of food. I shied away from upscale looking places, which wasn't difficult as I couldn't see any, to somewhere more child friendly.

I have normally shied away from Golden Corral altogether. Within five minutes of arriving, I knew why. It was something to do with the greasy plastic plates and the pea encrusted high chair I was trying to squeeze Jackson into.

We had only just sat down over our slops, when Jackson wriggled out of his harness, twisted around, stared at the woman on the next table and started banging on her plate with his fists.

"He's lively," she said.

I had figured I wouldn't get too much kid-related grief at a place like Golden Corral, but it didn't take long for the familiarity of the woman on the next table to grate. I had come on holiday to get away from all the administration and the headache of finding rental house tenants and here she was telling me how it was imposssible for her to get a place to rent without a job and a job without an address, her false teeth threatening to jump out of her mouth and into Jackson's lap to become a toy he wouldn't want to give up, at any point.

"It's like catch, whatsit," she said.

"22."

Now I don't want to appear unsympathetic and I felt bad for her that she was going on about GC like she'd treated herself to a day on the QE2. It was just that I didn't feel like talking.

I wanted to escape but Zara was doing the world record thing again, this time with four pieces of macaroni cheese.

I'd dreamed of seeing undiscovered places. I'd thought of Jack Kerouac. And here I was at a particularly unappealing Golden Corral in anywhere America in the rain.

Tomorrow can only be better, I thought as I caught a yellow light that became a red light, heard a clicking noise and saw a flash illuminate the intersection and the puddles in the rain.

"Pretty," sighed Zara.

17 comments:

  1. Oh that sucks that you got caught by the red light camera. Those things suck.

    Hope you had/have a good time.

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  2. Sounds like trying to have a carefree vacation with your kids is like catch whatsit. Sorry, but it made for a good story, especially the last line.
    xoRobyn

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  3. Just got back from a mini road trip ourselves. Luckily no tickets. It's hard to channel the inner Kerouac with kids, guess those days of unencumbered wandering are gone. I am starting to enjoy showing the girls cool things on the road now that they're a bit older. They seem to be interested, so travel is taking on a new dimension.

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  4. Oh yeah. I remember those days. Sooo much fun. I'll be doing vaca w/kids, sans hubby, again next week, but at least my kids are little older now and can take care of most things on their own. So you see, there's a light at the end of the tunnel. It really does get easier. Sort of. ;)

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  5. Although you seem to be having a miserable time I laughed. You have a great way of writing and I felt I was there with you. [luckily I wasn't, I'm done with excploding diapers]

    Can't wait for the next part.

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  6. ...and you wonder why you bothered. It's hard to believe you might look back on this with affection!

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  7. Even without the kid-experience, road trips are best in recollection. While you're out there, you almost always secretly long to stop/go the other way/use the bathroom/change the music/know where you are/have a snack/eat proper food/find a gas station/fix that nasty engine sound that cannot be a good sign/kill the person in the car in front of you.

    Afterwards, though, it's easy to remember road trips as ultimate freedom, for some reason.

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  8. Brilliantly written, I feel as if I was in your back seat the whole time. McDonalds is the one place I don't see old people, they usually do their botching in the post office queue!!

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  9. thanks Oilfield, am hoping it wasn't a camera.
    Cheers Robyn, well it had it's fun moments but wasn't always laid back. For sure Tim, maybe in a couple of years it will be more fun. Thanks Jayne, I'll let you know if I see any light. thanks Vodka, the more grim the tales, the better they are in the re-telling. Well it did get a bit better, Sue. They are fun in a way Cruela, thanks for stopping by. Cheers Ryan, you are so right re the post office.

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  10. Looks like your daughter has inherited your sense of humour....I love the way your posts are peppered subtly with them...road trips can be fun with a little kid list in hand...And I thought American gas stations were the encyclopaedia of the highways and more... enjoy the rest of the trip as much as you can...

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  11. You're brave going on a road trip with two of them.

    I think this is one of the experiences you file under 'Will Laugh about it One Day'.

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  12. Aw David you're such a great writer!
    Although you seem to be having a miserable time your post is really funny. That one about McDonalds cracked me up.

    Hope you have a good time.
    Your kids sound so adorable!

    Betty

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  13. Ha ha! This made me giggle, a lot. I love the last sentence - aren't kids just brilliant in their cluelessness and self-centredness sometimes??

    And this:

    "The maintenance man from a property we lived at five years ago, wondered why I had called at all."

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  14. Well-written, David. You made me laugh with this. Fortunately, my sons are older now, but I well remember the trips that I've taken with them when they were younger. Things never went quite as I imagined they would. Sorry your trip was less than you were dreaming of. I hope the next one is more like one Kerouac would have taken.

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  15. Thans Rek, appreciate it. Well I'm laughing about it now, Roses. Thanks for the comment. You are so kind Betty, always nice to receive your comments. Thanx Emm, glad you liked it. Ha Daisy, doubt if I'll ever have a Kerouac-esque one, thanks for stopping by.

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  16. muahahahaha "It's a catch whatsit"... I can only imagine what your expression was.

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  17. I love the last sentence - aren't kids just brilliant in their cluelessness.
    Rental Dumpster

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