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The Best $12 I’ve Ever Spent

January 24, 2017 Family, Fear, Freewheeling No Comments

Dad and I rolled out of Kansas City at 2 PM on Tuesday, September 6. I had mapped out our route, but we had no set plan for the trip. By that, I mean that I didn’t have an idea of how far I wanted to make it on any given day. “As far as possible” is the closest thing I can give you as an answer to that question.

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I needed him to drive the first leg for a couple of reasons:

  1. I was really scared of driving this behemoth.
  2. I needed to go through all my emails with the salesperson at the dealership to figure out how this van could have possibly been ordered without cruise control. In taking possession of the vehicle, the first question I asked when I sat in the driver’s seat was, “Where’s the cruise control?” When I told Greg the bad news, he texted back to say he was “distraught.” Ugh.

Dad drove through the first tank of gas, which was 217 miles. In that amount of time, we realized that it was too noisy to turn on the radio or listen to an audiobook or podcast. It was basically too loud to hold a conversation at all. I was stressed, so was he. Not the super-number-one-good times we had hoped for. On top of all of this, my dad is 72 years old and had a nasty summer cold. Yay.

We stopped at a Casey’s General Store in Kingman, KS to fill the tank and get some much-needed provisions: a styrofoam cooler, ice, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, and Budweiser. The outside temperature was over 100*F coming across the west-facing Kansas plains and the wind was blowing like crazy. Keep in mind, we’re in a black metal box with no insulation or soundproofing.

I took over the wheel and got us to Texhoma, another 230 miles, which involved a late night thunderstorm and crazy cross-winds. It was not an easy drive, to say the least. But I am goal-oriented to a fault, and it felt good to check the boxes crossing from Iowa (my parents’ house) to Missouri (dealership) to Kansas (lunch with aunt and uncle) to Oklahoma (60 miles across the panhandle) to the Texas border in one day. We stayed at a very clean and comfortable hotel and got a good night’s rest to continue on our journey.

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We were up early the next morning for more of the same. There was a strong cross-wind, but we got lucky that it was an overcast day. I drove 12+ hours that day — 865 miles without cruise control — taking us from the Texas/Oklahoma border to Boulder City, Nevada.

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We were, of course, on Route 66. We knew we needed gas at some point, and there were hundreds of billboards littering the highway advertising their wares (as well as fuel, though prices were not always given). The highlight of that stretch was pulling into the Flying C Ranch, only to find that the gas was at $0.56/gallon higher than it was elsewhere along the route. Blasphemy! We saw that and I hit the gas on our way out of there, unintentionally spraying other weary travelers with the muddy water from a puddle. I legitimately felt/feel bad, but that gave us a much-needed laugh!

We stopped down the road at Clines Corners (where we probably paid just as much for gas). We also secured some M&Ms and a Mexican blanket that served as a barrier between the cockpit and the black hole that was the rest of the van. It helped the situation so much. We honestly couldn’t believe how much “soundproofing” this very primitive solution provided. That’s the best $12 I’ve ever spent. I’m sad I did not get a picture. We probably looked like fugitives driving down the highway in a windowless van and a Mexican blanket behind the cockpit!

Handy little compartment for my M&Ms.

Handy little compartment for my M&Ms.

Dad splurged for rooms at a historic hotel in downtown Boulder City, Nevada that night. We were hoping to meet up with Greg’s uncle and aunt, but they were otherwise detained. I made some wrong turns on my run the next morning that sent me farther than I wanted to go, and that set us behind on our plans to meet up with Dad’s 92-year-old sister in Las Vegas. Visiting with Maureen and her family was the most important stop on our trip. While we got there late, we had a very nice visit; it will possibly/probably be the last time we see her. What a blessing!

I’m going to add this tidbit here, mostly so that I remember it: We were sitting at an outside cafe in Boulder City, having a nice dinner and enjoying the fresh air. Dad made a point of stopping me in conversation to tell me he was proud of me. That he never once felt scared with me behind the wheel, and that I must have felt scared when he was driving (which was true, making me even more scared to drive). That it’s a tough rig to drive in these conditions and that I was doing a good job. I may be 42 years old, but sincere praise from my dad still goes a long way.

From there, it was more of the same for the next 600 miles. Me driving, Dad looking happily out the window and remarking as he saw fit:

“Why is that fence there?”
“Who put that highway there?”
“Why are there so many trains going this way?”

“That mother fucker doesn’t know what he’s doing. Get around him, and quick.”

So what I’m trying to say is: I own the highway. I am at one with the truckers. But only because of my dad. In all honesty, this was the best thing that could have happened. As not-fun as it was for either of us, I got really comfortable driving a really uncomfortable and out-of-my-comfort-zone vehicle. If Greg had taken possession of the van and driven it home (even if I was with him), I would not have driven it because I would have been too afraid. I needed to do this.

My dad’s words: “I’m never going to drive this vehicle again. You need to learn to do this.” He was right, of course, as dads are. He taught me, and he did it in a way that didn’t make me feel stupid or inferior or that I should somehow know how to do this already, having never done it before. He taught me to use the mirrors for maneuvering on the highway, to park in less-than-ideal situations, to park the rig in my own very tight driveway!

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Vans aplenty!

Greg wasted no time getting to work. Dad and I rolled in on a Thursday evening and Greg got to work the next day. We’ve documented the process, which I’ll share here, of course. This is where the real fun begins!

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