On the Road Again

I feel as if I am the only person in the world who is not at Bouchercon this week. I had planned to attend, but a music law seminar in New Orleans which I need to attend to keep my continuing legal education hours current and which has traditionally held in August was inexplicably switched to September, butt-up against Bouchercon. So it is that as you read this I will be in my car, somewhere between Ohio and Louisiana.

I have not flown commercially since 1997. I never liked flying to begin with — when you get down to it, I have control issues — and between the hassles of transporting an unloaded firearm in checked luggage and the thought of a jihadist with a LAWS rocket in hand staring longingly at the silver undercarriage of my plane I made the decision to drive everywhere I need to go. I have never regretted it. I probably will never get to Europe, and getting to the West Coast to serenade Michelle Gagnon with “Happy Birthday” in person will take some planning, but folks who fly everywhere miss a lot. It takes me fourteen hours to drive from my front door to the French Quarter, and that’s with stops for gas, coffee, and draining the crankcase. Westerville to Cincinnati — I can see the house my father where my father was born in from I-71, just after I cross the bridge into Kentucky — to Louisville where I switch over to I-65. The next big crossroads is Nashville, with its amazing intersection of interstate highways right in the middle of the downtown. You best be paying attention to where you are going or you might find yourself heading to Memphis, Chattanooga, or, if you’ve really cocked yourself up, back toward Louisville. I figure that if I can traverse it successfully then Alzheimer’s Disease remains at bay. Less than three hours later I am in Birmingham. With luck and good fortune I stop for lunch with Michael Garrett, with whom I have been friends for a half-century and who was the first editor for a bespeckled, quirky-looking guy named Stephen King. After lunch or otherwise I dog leg down to I-59; south of Tuscaloosa, the state of Alabama slowly melts into Mississippi, which after three hours or so becomes Louisiana. Or so the signs say. Once the swamp starts it is hard to tell the difference. And strange things happen. On a number of occasions, mostly late at night or very early in the morning, a pack of wild black dogs will run onto the freeway south of Picayune, Mississippi and chase my car for a few hundred feet. I almost wrecked the first time it happened; now I toss Milk Bones at them. Eventually, however, the swamps and the dogs gradually give way. I take the entrance ramp to I-10 west and isn’t too long at all before New Orleans rises to the south like a fever dream, as close to a foreign country as you will find within the borders of the United States.

Each trip is much the same, and each trip is a little different. I’ve actually made friends with gas station attendants and waitresses along the way who know the names of my wife and children, even though I see them infrequently (the gas station attendants and waitresses, that is). I would have missed a lot if I had flown, and not just with respect to traveling to and from New Orleans. I’ve gotten speeding tickets in Liberty Hill, South Carolina, been propositioned in a Baton Rouge hotel parking lot at 5:00 AM by a prostitute in a cheerleading outfit, and crammed a Pulp Fiction week’s worth of adventures a few years ago during a road trip to Phoenix with Marcus Wynne driving with a trunk load of machine guns, knives, hand grenades, and other assorted and sundry weapons. For demonstration purposes only, mind you. When the country is passing underneath you at 500 miles an hour, you can miss a lot; on the ground, every mile holds a potential story.

10 thoughts on “On the Road Again

  1. Joe, your road trip sounds fantastic. I’ve journeyed to many of those great places. I love Nashville, and was born outside of Birmingham. Been to Chattanooga to see Rock City many times. And stepped outside on a January morning in New Orleans when it was so cold, I thought I was in the Arctic Circle. I love taking the long way by car rather than the fast track by air. Glad to hear someone else feels that way, too.

    Unfortunately, I missed Bouchercon this year, as well. Now if they would just bring it to Miami!

  2. I’m with ya on this, Joe. Given the choice, I’ll drive rather than fly. Factoring the usual delays & aggravatuion, flying from Florida to Pennsylvania to visit the grandkids MIGHT save me 2 or 3 hours but then there’s the cost of renting a vehicle ($600+) at the other end. I will say I-95 is pretty boring, not a great source for story ideas but JaxPop likes to travel locked & loaded – so there’s that to consider.

  3. I don’t like flying much either and with the new naked body scanners and the full body groping- heck, they ought to pay you to fly.

    I like to one-up-you though…given a choice I prefer to travel on my motorcycle. I’ve been cross-country, up-n-down country and all over. Wind in my face (sometimes rain, sleet, hail, snow, sand, and other options as well). Road trips give you the chance to experience much more country, many more interesting people, and well, just plain more experience, like you mentioned.

  4. Another lawyer? Cool! I agree 100%. If I can work it out, I drive rather than fly. One of my fav road trips was in law school in Tulsa when I got the craving for an omelette.

    The best omelet I had ever had was in a little joint on Route 66. So, after class I was off and arrived in Santa Rita New Mexico in time to check into a little flea bag and have a Spanish omelette at the Silver Moon Cafe. It took me a week to get home. Hey, I must have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque.

    Long live the road trip!

  5. I just checked into a La Quinta in Baton Rouge. It’s fine — $30 on priceline — and it reminds me of that X song, “Fourth of July.” cats running around, Mexican kids setting off fireworks and an unhappy woman, brooding on the stairwell.

    Joe, if Bouchercon is ever in Miami I’ll make that trip.

    David I took I-95 from Florida to Ohio a couple of decades ago. The route is full of story ideas; all you need is plenty of alcohol, a manic depressive travelling companion, the maniacal ex-boyfriend of the traveling companion in hot pursuit, and just enough money to get you within 100 miles of your destination, but no further. I don’t recommend doing it that way, but it’s a great story.

    Chaco, a bud of mine — age 65 — does the trip on a bike, and loves it, except for occasionally blanking on where he is. Old age is not for sissies.

    Terri, it’s a long way to drive for an omelet, but it sounds wonderful. And worth it! Someday…

    Philip, I describe myself as a boring guy who has an interesting life. Quiz next week.

    And James…Happy Birthday. I’ll meet you half way.

    Thanks to everyone!

  6. I’ve driven everywhere the state of Alaska has a road south of the Yukon River. It is 8 hours from Anchorage (the biggest city) to Fairbanks, ( the second biggest city). There are only a handful of small towns along the way. Likewise it is 8 hours to Valdez,or twelve hours to the Canadian border. I’ve also drivrn all up & down I-95 from Baltimore to Patrick AFB and LA to Tijuana on the other side of the US. There were pretty spots, but nothimg as grand as Alaska.
    The one exveption to that beauty was in October 1996 when I drove the Alaska-Canada highway on a trip from Ohio back home to Fairbanks. It was the most amazing trip I’ve ever made. Driving up from the Midwest of the US through most of Canada watching the rapid profession from early autumn to full on winter, seeing the colour of the leaves in Wisconsin & Minnesota. Crossing the praries of Saskatchewan & Alberta. Climbing the Rockies in northen British Columbia. My eyes still carry reflections of those images, the beauty burned into my synapses.
    Yeah, I like driving.

  7. Joe-Seppi, you are in Wikipedia under Boon Companion, Road Trips…I have great memories of that trip: best sound track ever, mystic revelations as the sun came up over the desert, ammo checks and radiation detectors, many bouts of manic laughter, and of course, the unerring nose of Marcus in sniffing out the very best of eateries in the strangest corners of the off beat. Let’s do it again! cheers, m

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