The Road Trip


The Road Trip

Growing up five hundred miles from my grandparents meant I was afflicted early and often to excruciatingly long road trips.  Every Christmas we would make the pilgrimage to mom’s homeland in the great white North.  The adults ate, drank and were merry while the cousins checked each other into snow banks and called it hockey.   In the Summer, dad packed the family into the old Plymouth and traveled five hundred miles in the opposite direction to spend time with his family on the beaches of Delaware.  Rehoboth Beach was a great place to transform my pasty white Canadian skin into a nice crispy shade of red.  I didn’t know it at the time, but these trips would eventually teach me a great lesson in forgiveness.

I’m thankful for those road trips of my early years.  They helped develop skills that would serve me well later in life.  I learned that a pound of bologna and loaf of bread can feed an entire family for two dollars.  That same meal also shaved thirty minutes from a long road trip.  Bologna sandwiches are much faster food than McDonalds or gas station roller dogs!

On one trip to Canada, my dad and sister taught me how to smuggle illegal contraband across international borders.  The contraband was my sister’s cat, but it could have just as easily been a box of Cuban cigars, citrus fruit or some other item that our governments don’t like to share at border crossings.

On the same trip, I learned that contrary to popular belief, cats can make potty without squatting.  Once on the road, dad rarely stopped to allow us kids to relieve ourselves.  He definitely wasn’t going to stop the car when the cat needed to make a stink-pickle. “Hold it up. Cats need to squat in order to poop”, he said to my sister.  Well, we found out that the urban legend of squatting cats is a myth. The old Plymouth smelled like cat doody for months.

Perhaps the most useful skill I acquired was the ability to fall into an instant catatonic state of sleep.  This skill was necessary to escape long hours of boredom or fighting with my sister.  Kids today have no hope of developing this skill.  They have a plethora of electronic gadgets and built-in entertainment systems in modern vehicles to keep them awake.

By the time I was college age, I had a million miles worth of road trip experience under my belt.  Because of the skills I learned from dad, I was able to continue traveling as a poor college student.  Paul and Buzz, two of my college roommates were from the East coast.  We made several trips across the Appalachian Mountains to their homelands of Delaware and Pensylvania.

One trip I remember well was in Buzz’s hometown of Kensington, which is one of Philadelphia’s slums.  The neighborhood consists of long rows of houses all attached to each other. There are no garages or driveways and very few parking spots in a row house neighborhood.  Looking for a parking spot, we drove more laps around the block than a NASCAR driver.  We had wasted all the time we saved by not stopping for Big Macs or bathrooms.  When we did finally come to rest, it was right in front of several vandals who were busy smashing the windows out of the house on the end of the row.  I was trying not to make eye contact with the thugs.  No sooner than we came to a halt, the lead vandal without missing a swing of his hammer looked up and said “Hey Buzz, welcome home.”

Another speed trip we made to the East coast was to meet Paul’s girlfriend.  Laura K Brenner lived in Delaware, so when Paul suggested we take a road trip out to see her, I figured it would be a great chance to get the red tinge back on my pasty white Canadian skin.  I also looked forward to a game of left-handed wiffle ball which was our beach tradition.  Leaving Columbus, I never imagined that Paul could teach me road trip skills that I hadn’t already learned from dad.  I was wrong.  The closer we got to the beach, the more anxious Paul seemed to be reunited with his love.  When we started to get into beach traffic about twenty miles out, Paul taught me that you could easily shave thirteen minutes off of an eight hour trip by driving sixty miles an hour on the right-hand berm.

We made several other college road trips, but the most infamous was the trip we made to Virginia for the wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Steve Shreves.  As you may remember from other bedtime stories I’ve told, Steve was the person who vacated the house at Rotunda Court in order to make room for Thor and I. I made the ten hour trip partly out of obligation for his sacrifice, and partly due to the fact that his home was only an hour from Virginia Beach, and I thought there may be a chance to bake my pasty white skin in the sun and play some left-handed wiffle ball on the beach.

Curley had just purchased a 1980 Cutlass, so Buzz and I convinced him to chauffeur us all the way to Virginia even though he had never known Mr. Shreves.  Brian Myers was in the National Guard and stationed in New Jersey. The plan was for him to come down the coast and meet us in Virginia in time for the wedding.

The day of the big trip, we loaded up the Curl mobile after our morning classes and left for Virginia.  Since I had worked third shift the night before, I decided to crawl into the back seat.  It wasn’t long before I was in a state of suspended animation.  The sweet smell of fried chicken awakened me from the coma after about seven hours of ugly sleep.  It may have been because I hadn’t eaten all day but this was the best chicken I had ever smelled.  Its aroma was much better than KFC, Churches or any other chicken that was served in Ohio. I was hungrier than a bear after a long hibernation. 

Buzz and Curl didn’t immediately offer up any chicken, but I Noticed three boxes and assumed one was for me.  They were a little hesitant, but eventually handed back one of the bright yellow and red boxes with the words Bojangles Chicken and Biscuits.  In all of my travels, I had never experienced a Bojangles restaurant.  My normal road trip fare was a slice of cold bologna on stale bread, so I was starting to get really excited about this meal.  I took the box from Buzz.  Compared to the KFC boxes I was used to from Ohio, it felt a little light.

When I opened the box, I was shocked to see one shriveled, cold wing and some biscuit crumbs.   I inquired about the rest of the five-piece meal box and they explained that they held out as long as they could.  The more they tried to justify and make excuses, the angrier I became.  When I asked for the drink that came with the meal, Buzz sheepishly explained that my biscuit was a little dry, so he had to drink my soda to wash it down.  That was all I could take.  I said some things that I shouldn’t have said.  Buzz returned angry words, and things escalated until we found ourselves grabbing each other by the collars ready to throw punches.  We came to our senses before that happened, but didn’t speak much until late that night when we pulled in to a roadside rest to get some sleep.

I have no idea how he found us, but around 1:00 AM, Brian Myers, came tapping on our window.  We were sleeping pretty well and were not happy to wake up.  His intentions were good.  He explained there was a hotel room with soft beds down the road.  We followed him there, only to find out that there was no vacancy.  Finally, around 3:00 AM, Steve arranged for a bed at his Aunt’s house.  Buzz was really excited to get back to sleep.  He ran across the room and did a Superman dive onto the bed.  Launching several feet into the air he came down with a thud on top of the bed which quickly collapsed.  Now we not only had to apologize for waking everybody up, but we had to apologize for breaking their bed.  Could this trip get any worse?

I don’t remember much of the actual wedding.  I wanted to get home as quickly as possible and forget the whole trip.  While we were packing up the car, Brian told Buzz and I that Curl agreed to drop him off in New Jersey.  While Buzz and I were discussing it, Brian went to Curl and said that Buzz and I agreed to drop him off in New Jersey.  Curl, not realizing what was going on, or how far out of the way it would be said that if Buzz and I agreed, it must be fine.  With the detour to drop Brian off, the return trip would be about a sixteen-hour drive.  Nobody talked the entire trip home.  Curl drove the whole way tapping his finger on his angry red temple.  I slipped back into a long hibernation and Buzz stared out the window looking for Bojangles.

The book of Mathew in the bible has a lot to say about forgiveness. In chapter six Matthew says that if we don’t forgive people who have sinned against us, God cannot forgive us.  Later in chapter eighteen, Jesus tells a story to Peter about a man who was not willing to forgive somebody who had done him wrong.  That man became tormented because he did not have forgiveness in his heart.

By the end of the road trip, I had forgiven Buzz and Curl for eating my chicken. Steve’s Aunt forgave us for breaking her bed.  We all forgave Brian for waking us up in the middle of the night as well as tricking us for a ride back to the army base.  Choosing forgiveness over torment that weekend led to relationships that have lasted a lifetime.

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Chimney Top


Duniskwalguni is a Cherokee Indian word that means “forked antlers”.   It is the name that they gave to the Chimney Tops mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains.  My college buddies and I hiked to the top of the Duniskwalguni on a sweltering Summer day in 1992.

Brian Myers was the outdoorsman of the group.  Brian was a husky young man.  He was the type of boy that was always picked first for backyard football games.  He enjoyed fishing, camping, starting forest fires, sinking boats and other such fun activities.  I’ll write more about those adventures with Brian in other childhood stories.

Arron Crailie aka Curley got his nickname from grandma Isabel.  The first time they met, grandma couldn’t pronounce Crailie, so she said Curley.   The name stuck.  From that time on, everybody at DeVry, and half of Columbus, Ohio knew him simply as Curley.  Curley was a fairly sizable young lad.  We rarely played football when both Curley and Brian.  I knew I couldn’t pick both of them for my team, and I didn’t want to risk being smushed.

We referred to Brian Green simply as Buzz.  We did this mainly because there was already a Brian in the group, and we needed a way to differentiate between the two.  I’m not sure where the name Buzz came from.  He already had the name when he moved from the Philidelphia slums to Columbus.

Greg Wine was known as the Weasel.  It wasn’t a very endearing name to call somebody, but we all felt comfortable using it since he gave it to himself.  The Weasel wasn’t as large as Curl and Brian, but compared to my 150-pound physique, he was a hulk.

This trip started much like many of the other getaways.  Our very first vacation together in 1990 was to Toronto Canada.  That was not a Myers type vacation as the only thing he hated more than big cities was Canada.  Being half Canuck, I could have taken that as an offense, but I never did.   The next year, we went on a beach vacation to Bar Harbor National Park in Maine where the water temperature was 55 degrees in the middle of Summer.  Being half Canuck, I didn’t find it too uncomfortable.  The other boys would have likely preferred the warmer waters of Virginia or some other Southern State.

At any rate, 1992 was Brian’s turn to plan the vacation.  Being the great outdoorsman that he was, he decided that we should have no beaches, no funny Canadian accents and no cities with a population larger than our school. This vacation would be all about tall trees, tents, campfires and cool Mountain streams.  The theme that stuck from the previous year was the return to a National Park.  After minutes of deliberation, Brian finalized our destination.  We were headed for the Great Smoky Mountains.

Being poor college kids, none of us owned a vehicle reliable enough or big enough to take four husky boys and a toothpick on the long drive from Ohio to Tennessee.  We saved up enough money to rent a Jeep Cherokee for the week.  Driving a Cherokee into Cherokee Indian country wasn’t intentionally planned, it just worked out since that was the cheapest vehicle we could get that would fit four colossal boys, a bean pole, and our bulky camping gear. With all our money spent on transportation, the rations for the trip consisted of frozen hot dogs, stale buns and a few ketchup packets that Buzz snagged from his job at Ponderosa.

It was my idea to leave camp early in the morning and head for the Chimney Tops.  My only hiking experience in the Smoky’s prior to this was twenty years earlier.   That’s when dad pulled me up the paved Clingmans Dome trail in a little red wagon.  I was now older and in much better shape, so I figured it couldn’t be too hard.  Despite the sign at the trailhead that described the strenuous nature of the hike, I was able to convince the others that I’ve hiked in these mountains before, and they are not nearly as formidable as the warnings make them out to be.  It didn’t hurt that Curley didn’t see the signs at the trailhead or read the pamphlets at the ranger station.

Curl was a city boy, and not as excited about a hike in the mountains as I was.  In fact, he wasn’t a big fan of hiking, camping, or frozen hot dogs on stale buns.  He just wanted to get the two-mile hike over with so he could return to the hot tent after a sweaty hike on a sweltering day.  What better comfort for a back and legs made sore from the trek could there be than a nice thin sleeping bag rolled out on the sharp Tennessee rocks where we had pitched our tents. Since it was a short two-mile hike, we didn’t bother bringing snacks or a lunch with us. The frozen hot dogs that awaited us back in the camp were all the nourishment we should need after a quick jaunt up the mountain.

After an hour of climbing, Curley stopped to catch his breath and threaten to throw me off the mountain.  We convinced him that the summit was just around the bend.  We failed to tell him which bend it was just around and we hiked upward.  The next hour brought more aches, pain, sweat, and threats, but by now Curley was too exhausted to actually pick me up and throw me off the mountain.  We were two hours into the hike and the rocky peaks which looked like forked antlers were within sight.  All of us including Aaron Curley got our second wind and would be standing on the top of the Chimney Peaks within a half hour.

There was no trail for the last fifty yards.  A hazard sign at the end of the marked trail suggested you not proceed onto the rocky cliffs to the summit.  The climb was much more difficult than the brochures and signs had described, but the view from the top made all of the aches and pains worthwhile. The view transformed Curley from the inside out.  His anger melted away as he stood there looking out over the valley below.

Mark 9 tells a story about when Jesus took his boys for a hike up a tall mountain.  The bible doesn’t describe the mountain or the difficulty of the hike, but I imagine it was not an easy walk.  The story focuses on the great reward the disciples had for following Jesus up the rocky trail.  What they saw on top of the mountain made all of the aches and pain of the hike so insignificant that it wasn’t even mentioned.  If you decide to follow Jesus, life will not always be easy. Times may get rocky along the way, but if you do follow him, the rewards will be so awesome that you will not even consider what you went through to get to the mountaintop.  Only He can transform your pain and suffering into joy and gladness.

Mark 9:2-4 The Message

Six days later, three of them did see it. Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain. His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. His clothes shimmered, glistening white, whiter than any bleach could make them. Elijah, along with Moses, came into view, in deep conversation with Jesus.

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