As much as I don’t like traffic and interstates, I do get excited about a road trip. Really I think I get more excited about the idea of the trip than the actual traveling part. We put hundreds of thousands of miles on minivans traveling with our kids. Even though it took me at least two weeks to recover after a trip, it was worth it. Since I’ve not traveled with three kids lately, that’s easy to say.
The adventure possibilities on a road trip are endless and intriguing. We’ve been caught in a whiteout blizzard, stopped by a herd of mule deer and have changed flat tires on a hillside. One year a woman named Madge served us Christmas dinner at, I’m sure, one of the country’s finest truck stops.
Jim’s older brother, Joe, and his wife, Karen, made ridiculously long trips from south Texas to Wisconsin with their sons. If I had traveled that far in a car, it would have been either the kids or me taking Benadryl. A lot of it.
They liked to drive during the night, especially in the summer. It was cooler, the kids slept, and they took turns driving, so it worked. Years ago, on a summer trip back to Texas, around 4:00am Joe needed a pit stop. Karen and the boys were sound asleep in the station wagon, so he hated to pull in to a gas station with blaring lights. He found a roadside rest stop where he probably wouldn’t have stopped, even in the daylight, but he was the only one getting out. He left the car running, locked it and took the door key with him. He got back in the station wagon, proud of himself for not waking anyone up, and took off.
About an hour later when the sun was coming up, Jonathan woke up: “Umm, Dad.”
“Hey buddy. You’re up,” Joe whispered. “You want to sneak up here and ride with me?”
“Shhh! Don’t wake up Mom and Steven.”
“Dad! Where is Mom? She’s not in the way back seat!” Jonathan said waking up Steven who instantly started crying, “Mom’s gone! Dad, how could you lose Mom?”
The tire marks are probably still on a stretch of highway in the middle of nowhere Texas. After the car came to a stop, Joe made a U-turn and gunned it back to the not-so-safe-looking rest stop. He went 90 miles an hour hoping a state trooper would stop him. No luck. Trying to calm down the kids, he assured them he would find Mom while he drove like Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and prayed. I’m not sure if he was praying more for Karen’s safety or his own when he got back to the rest stop.
When the wagon skidded to a stop, there was barefooted Karen sitting on a picnic table where she had been for an hour. After realizing she had been left, she hid in a bathroom stall for the first hour until the sun came up. She didn’t want to wake the boys so she hadn’t bothered to dig around for shoes before she got out of the car.
None of us ever got full details of what happened next. One thing I do know; after a stop on road trips, Joe never again failed to check the back seat.