The irony of this sign we passed in Missouri told the tale of our trip to date. We may be having a five-year drought back in California, but we slogged and slopped our way through pouring rain from Nevada to Arkansas.
Each time we take to the road, it seems that we learn new lessons. From past adventures, for example, we learned to carry a case of bottled water, extra pairs of underwear, laundry supplies and a homemade first aid kit. You learn these lessons the hard way, by finding yourself without and cussing a lot.
Although we’re only three days into our month long odyssey, here are a few of the traveling lessons we’ve learned already. Let me tell you, the road can be a hard master!
- You can’t count on the weather to cooperate. This may seem like a no-brainer. However, when you reside in California, where the weather is pretty much the same from one day to the next year round, the violent manic depressive meteorological mood swings that prevail in most of the country can be rather startling. So far, we’ve driven through two torrential thunderstorms and a cute little interlude while ascending a mountain pass in eastern Utah (the temperature dropped 20 degrees in a matter of minutes, causing the road to ice up instantly). My wife (native Californian): “Is that snow?” Me (native New Yorker): “Uh, no, snow is silent.” (As our tires go crunch, crunch through the ice and I pray we don’t go sliding off Interstate 80 into a ditch.)
- Corollary to the above: Always check the long-range weather forecast before setting out on any long automobile trip. Then be prepared for exactly the opposite. That sound you hear is God laughing. Better check those windshield wipers.
- Second corollary: Never trust the Rocky Mountains. We barely made it out of Wyoming before a winter storm hit.
- Third corollary: If you stop at a convenience store in the middle of nowhere and the clerk is on his cell phone telling someone “The wind is out of the south, and I’ve never seen that before!” — run for your life! Get out of town as fast as you can. (Your gas gauge will show that you are down to an eighth of a tank and the shiny gas pump in front of the convenience store will sport a handwritten sign taped to the front: “Sorry, no gas.”)
- Fourth corollary: If you travel in May, it’s nearly summertime, so no need to carry tire chains. Hahahaha! Oh, my, are you in for a surprise!
- Some letters of the alphabet are better than others. For example, on your gas gauge, F is very good (unlike on a report card) and E represents disaster in the making. Apparently, perfectly sensible people who always keep their tanks full manage to lose track of things in the desire to make just a few more miles. Then the gas light comes on and panic sets in. When this happens, you will be in the most desolate country imaginable, with nary a sign of civilization in sight. You will pray a lot, and wonder whether Triple A will come out all the way from Laramie to rescue you.
- Pay attention to signs. If the sign says “move over or slow down for disabled or emergency vehicles,” the cops are not going to give you a break just because you come from California. Oh, and if the sign over the sink says “Do not drink the water!” (complete with a “Mr. Yuck” emoticon drawn by hand), they are not kidding.
- You will get lost. I realize that this seems close to impossible in this day and age. You will carry old fashioned road maps, an excellent nationwide road atlas, a GPS system and a smart phone with a mapping app. You will get lost anyway. Your GPS will tell you to turn on nonexistent roads and your mapping app will tell you that you are 18 hours away from a destination 20 minutes down the road. (I wish I were joking about this one.) You will swear a lot. You will make many U-turns. This will happen in the middle of the night. You will invent cuss words never uttered before by man or beast.
- Don’t deliberately go four hours out of your way just to cross another state off your life list. If you do, you will piss off your wife severely. It will pour buckets throughout your little detour. And you will get lost (see above). Then it will be her turn to cuss. Trust me on this one.
- Carry a plastic soap dish and a large bar of bath soap. Cheap motels are just that: Cheap. They will leave one tiny piece of individually wrapped face soap on your sink. You will unwrap it the first time you use the rest room and wash your hands. Later, you will find that there is no soap in the shower. Apparently, you are expected to use the same little piece of soap both for the sink and for your bath. This will seem most appealing after said little piece of soap has been sitting in a small puddle of water overnight, gathering bacteria. You will trek to the front desk to ask for another little piece of soap, but the office will be closed and dark.
- Pack your car carefully. But rest assured that whatever you need will be behind and underneath everything else, requiring you to unpack the entire vehicle to get to it. Suddenly, said item will not seem so important anymore. Also, regardless of which suitcase you lug into your hotel room, the one item you most need will be in the other suitcase. You know, the suitcase out in the car. And it will be pouring buckets out. The item you so desperately need will be your umbrella.
- You will get sick of your music. You will have 350 of your favorite tunes on your iPod, but by the time you’ve traveled 2,000 miles, they will each have come up on Shuffle about 12 times and you will never want to hear them again. Your radio will be your best friend. Anything will be preferable to hearing that Alanis Morissette song even one more time. Commercials, televangelists, static, anything! (Come to think of it, those three are pretty much the same thing.) Then the local DJ will play that Alanis Morissette song.
- You’re not as young as you used to be, pilgrim. It is said that getting old is not for sissies, and I suppose the same may be said for being a road warrior. I’m just not too sure that the two go together. While the fine folks at AARP will likely disagree, I have discovered that 16 hours a day in the car can cause your feet to go numb and your legs to develop painful cramps. By the way, it is really hard to take a shower at your discount motel when you can’t lift your leg high enough to get it over the edge of the tub. Oh, and bring prune juice. Don’t look at me like that! Just do it.