On the Road Again, Road Trip Part 2

We did it, we went on the road again, road trip part 2! Let me explain. Back in July 2016, my youngest daughter (then 21) and I took a 30-day, 7600-mile, cross-country road trip around the US. We took the southern route from Virginia to California, drove up the California coast, and took the northern route home. It was a blast, and we even based our co-written medical murder mystery, Murder by Road Trip, on the stops we made along the way. On the Road Again

My daughter loves to travel. She must get it from her mother because I’m generally a stay-at-home kind of guy. For example, I remember on our trip in 2016 I started out with a toothache. By the time we reached Shreveport, LA, the pain was unbearable. I ended up having a root canal in Shreveport. I’ll never forget her compassionate words to me when I suggested that I was in pain and perhaps we should turn around and abandon the road trip. On the Road Again

She said, “Get in the car, Old Man, and suck it up. This is the trip of a lifetime, and we’re not quitting now. You’ll be fine. Just put this bag of ice on your jaw, and I’ll drive.” At the time I was shocked and dismayed. But in her defense, that trip turned out to be the best thing I’ve ever done. So, thanks for the tough love, Daughter. On the Road Again

Anyhow, her bucket list includes visiting all 50 states. We missed a few states in the middle of the county back in 2016. So, this time she planned a four-day trip to cover Arkansas and Oklahoma. The good news, my teeth felt fine. My wife and I drove to Memphis, picked our daughter up at the airport, and we continued to Eureka Springs, AK. From there we visited Oklahoma City, OK, Atoka, OK, Hot Springs, AR, and back to Memphis where she caught her plane to New York. On the Road Again

The trip was not uneventful. This is a great way to see America up close and personal, but you need to be prepared for a surprise or two along the way. And more importantly, my wife likes to travel as much as my daughter. I didn’t dare suggest turning back, or I might have ended up in the trunk. On the Road Again

The night before we left, my wife and I attended a Reba McIntyre concert in Jacksonville, FL. So, we were tired the next morning when we hit the road. Our first surprise came while traveling from St. Augustine, FL to Marianna, FL. We’re cruising along I-10 just west of Tallahassee when our cell phones lit up with a severe storm warning. The warning included golf ball size hail and a tornado in the immediate area. It rained and hailed so hard even the truckers started pulling over, not a good sign. On the Road Again

We left the main highway and pulled off the road under an overpass to protect the SUV from golf-ball sized dents. The wind was fierce, and the sky filled with one of those storm walls of dark clouds that can sprout a funnel cloud. The tornado passed north of us. To my credit, I didn’t mention turning back. Although I did think about it when I remembered that Oklahoma is in the tornado belt, and we hadn’t even gotten there yet. Perhaps I should have thought about that before agreeing to the trip. But I’m just one of those guys who can only think about one thing at a time. And I was focused on how much fun we had on our first trip. On the Road Again

We survived our first challenge, and stayed in Birmingham, AL the next night. Birmingham turned out to be a busy city. We discovered that the NCAA basketball Rounds 1 and 2 were going to be there on our way back. So, we changed our plans for the return trip. We eventually made it to Memphis, where we picked up our daughter at the airport. On the Road Again

Our next surprise occurred while driving on Route 40 between Memphis and Eureka Springs, AR. I was driving at the time. I saw something bright yellow in the sky off to my right. Whatever it was appeared to be heading for the roof of our SUV. Seconds later, a crop duster flew directly overhead. It sprayed us with something that smelled nasty, most likely organophosphates. This was somewhat disconcerting because organophosphates are pesticides that act as neurotoxins in humans. I told my wife and daughter that we needed to keep an eye on each other for the rest of the trip. If any of us started twitching the others should dial 911. At least we weren’t bored. On the Road Again

When we reached Eureka Springs, I drove us through town. The town had been constructed on a very steep hill and included historic brick and stone buildings and narrow streets. Driving was tedious, parking was hard to find, and walking was straight up and down. We finally parked in a tiny lot and walked to a local café/record shop. On the Road Again

We entered the record shop, where we ordered lunch that was prepared and served in the back. I felt somewhat disoriented by this strange setup, but my wife and daughter appeared to take it in stride. Again, a man, I can only focus on one thing at a time. What’s it gonna be, lunch or vinyl records? Make up your freaking mind. I noticed the back room was filled with photos from the ‘60’s, as is sex, drugs, and rock and roll. That explained a lot. On the Road Again

Then my daughter announced that this was to be our shopping day. I hate shopping and mentioned that I was unaware the trip included a shopping day. My daughter pointed out that she had presented me with a detailed plan of the trip. I had nodded my head to the affirmative and agreed to the entire plan. On the Road Again

My wife helpfully offered that perhaps this was one of the times when I should have listened instead of nodding my head while thinking about something else. I thought about arguing. But when I saw the look in wife and daughter’s eyes, I just nodded my head. I was thinking about something else, riding in the back with the luggage. We went shopping. On the Road Again

I feel the need to provide a bit of background for the next part. When I was a little boy, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, my mother took us to Gatlinburg, Tennessee every summer for vacation. She was a shopaholic, and we spent hours as a family roaming the streets in search of bargains. My mother especially loved knickknacks, and handmade baskets. So, as a child I spent days on end following her around shopping for handmade baskets, bored out of my mind. On the Road Again

Apparently, my daughter has inherited Grandma’s shopping gene. I followed her and my wife down the steep hill that is downtown Eureka Springs, and into a shop full of knickknacks. They left me standing near the door. When I turned and saw the display of handmade baskets, I started to twitch. Later they tried to convince me it was the organophosphates, but I’m convinced it was some form of basket PTSD. I didn’t like Eureka Springs very much. On the Road Again  

 We stayed overnight at a nice little boutique motel in Eureka Springs, and next morning we drove to the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Rescue preserve nearby. This turned out to be a massive compound where they had rescued all types of large cats (lions, tigers, leopards) and a couple of bears. We took the open tram tour, and the temperature was south of forty degrees. We had heavy coats, and I still started turning blue by the end. However, this place was very impressive. On the Road Again

According to the tour guide, there are more lions and tigers in people’s backyards than there are in the wild at this point. According to her, it’s a good idea to get to know your neighbors. You never know which ones have a lion for a pet. My favorite parts of the tour included Tigger and hearing the lions talk to each other. Tigger was a very large white tiger, something that no longer exists in the wild. He kept following his cage mate around, tormenting him, until the other tiger finally turned around and swatted him one. Tigger retreated with great haste. Turns out he was a bit of a cowardly tiger. On the Road Again

At one point several of the lions started bellowing at each other from across the compound. I’ve heard lions growl, but never anything like this deep bellowing. The tour guide said that one of the lions saw the tram full of people, and the lion pride was discussing how best to capture us for food. First a storm, then pesticides, and now possible lion lunch. This really was an exciting road trip. Made me feel even better when my wife and daughter pointed out that they could both outrun me with my bad knees. On the Road Again

The lions did not, in fact, have me for lunch. We got back into the SUV, my daughter fired up the heat, and we thawed out on our way to Oklahoma City. The rest of the drive through Arkansas was less eventful, although the Ozark Mountains felt very isolated and ominous. On two separate occasions we came upon groups of young men in large ATVs wearing camo gear and carrying what appeared to be military rifles. We weren’t sure whether this might be local militia, but we chose not to stop and ask. The storm, organophosphates, and big cats provided enough excitement for one trip. On the Road Again

Another notable stop included Weber’s Super Root Beer Restaurant in Tulsa, OK. This turned out to be a tiny place with mainly outdoor dining (a couple of picnic tables), and the best locally made root beer I have ever tasted. The food was also excellent. After filling up on burgers, fries, and massive quantities of root beer, we filled the back of the SUV up with extra root beer for the trip. Then we traveled on to Oklahoma City, where we spent the night in the Marriott Oklahoma City Downtown. We had a few more pit stops than usual on this leg of the trip. That root beer was VERY good. On the Road Again

That night we went in search of dinner. While walking around downtown, we passed a fried chicken place. I really like fried chicken. However, just around the corner we stumbled upon Mickey Mantle’s Steakhouse. My daughter really, really likes steak. In the ensuing discussion, my wife and daughter pointed out that the fried chicken was advertised as mild, medium, and five alarm fire. My elderly GI tract does not do well with hot and spicy anymore, so off we went to Mickey Mantle’s. As it turned out, the steak was the best I’ve ever had. So, thank you to my elderly GI tract. On the Road Again

Next morning, the plan included a visit to the Oklahoma City Natural History Museum. My daughter enjoys learning about dinosaurs. If she hadn’t gone into marketing, she might have been a paleontologist. Anyhow, more background. On our earlier road trip in 2016, we stopped in Bozeman, Montana to visit a Natural History Museum located on the university campus there. Ironically, I had eaten spicy Popeye’s chicken the night before and had considerable GI distress the morning of the scheduled trip to the museum. I told my daughter I wouldn’t be able to go and hinted that she might stay in the room with me in case my plight worsened. Again with the tough love, she handed me a glass of ice water and said, “You’ll be fine. Just drink this, and I’ll see you around noon.” And off she went. On the Road Again

This time my guts felt fine thanks to the steak, and off we went to the Oklahoma City Natural History Museum. I was finally going to get my shot at seeing dinosaur bones. As it turned out, this museum was designed mainly for children and hands on participation. The museum in Montana had included multiple rooms of fully constructed dinosaur bones from several different periods in history, a very serious paleontological exhibit. However, I did get to see a few dinosaur bones and a couple of fully constructed dinosaurs. At 6’7” tall I was a little taller than the elementary school students in attendance, so I had no trouble seeing the exhibits. Also, a nice lady let me hold a dinosaur digit. So, it was not a complete loss. On the Road Again

We stayed overnight in Oklahoma City again, and next morning we visited the Oklahoma 45th Division Museum. This was definitely one of my favorite spots. The grounds around the museum building were filled with tanks, planes, helicopters, artillery, troupe carriers, and even a mobile rocket launcher. The museum contained sections covering the various wars from Spanish American War through WWII and beyond, complete with authentic weapons collections from each. It was an amazing place. They even had Hitler’s original copy of Mein Kampf and one of his full-length black capes, taken from his quarters by the 45th Division. My wife and daughter had to pry my out the door. I’d drive back to Oklahoma City just to visit that museum again. On the Road Again     

Once they pried me out the door and buckled me into the SUV, my daughter drove us to Atoka, OK. Why Atoka, OK you ask? Well, this is where Reba McEntire, my favorite country western singer, recently opened her new restaurant. She grew up on a ranch near Atoka and opened a restaurant there in a fifty-fifty partnership with the local Choctaw Nation. Their reservation includes Atoka. As I mentioned earlier, my wife and I started this road trip by attending a Reba concert in Jacksonville. So, in a small way this trip was also kind of a Reba tribute tour. This was my second most favorite part of the trip. On the Road Again

We parked, went into the restaurant, and discovered there was an hour-and-a-half wait. We gave them our name and looked for something to do until our turn. I chose to take a walk up and down the main street of Atoka. The place reminded me a lot of the small midwestern town that I grew up in. It came complete with a local old time barber shop, hardware store, and a couple of bars. It took me all of five minutes to complete the tour of downtown, and I went to the SUV for a nap. On the Road Again

Meanwhile, my wife and daughter found another activity. Reba’s Place had several stories, the top one of which included a store chocked full of Reba souvenirs, clothing, and knickknacks. So, when my wife and daughter returned to the SUV with several bags full of stuff, I found out they had been shopping…again. They assured me there were no baskets, so I agreed to eat lunch there despite the store. I never actually checked for baskets myself. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss. On the Road Again

The inside of Reba’s Place was awesome, with her platinum record trophies on the walls, and many of her costumes from previous performances on display. The food was excellent, the service very good, and everyone was very friendly. I was sad when Reba did not join us for lunch. I guess she’s got better things to do. What with making movies, TV shows, and touring all the time, I’m thinking she probably needed a nap. I know I did by that point in our road trip. On the Road Again

While sitting in the SUV waiting for the text telling us our table was ready, my wife had looked at the local weather on her cell phone. There was a heavy storm front between us and our final destination for the evening, Hot Springs, AR. This was perhaps the most exciting part of our road trip. We left Reba’s Place around three o’clock and ran into an extremely heavy rainstorm that included lots of lightning, thunder, and wind. On the Road Again

My daughter was driving at the time. It started to get dark, and I’m a little night blind, so it’s good she was at the wheel. I asked her a couple of times if she wanted me to take over, because it was a very stressful drive. She told me that she was fine, with the exception that our AWD SUV kept hydroplaning in the heavy rain. That’s when I decided to take a nap. She got us to Hot Springs alive (thank you, Daughter), and I was well-rested. She was apparently not. The good news, we did not get crop dusted this time through Arkansas. And hopefully all the rain washed the organophosphates off the SUV. On the Road Again

Next day, we drove back to Memphis Airport and dropped our daughter off for her flight to New York. Then my wife and I took three days to drive back to St. Augustine, FL. By this time, we had been on the road for seven days and were a little bit punchy. All Marriott Hotels begin to look alike after a while. We kept getting confused and going to the wrong room number, the one from the previous day. A fella can hurt himself sticking the electronic key in the wrong door and trying to walk through. On the Road Again

We weren’t bored. The NCAA tournament was happening during this time. So, we filled out our brackets, and watched lots and lots of basketball. We also ate lots and lots of pizza and chick wings. All my teams lost in the first round. I played and watched basketball for most of my life. Yet my wife picks teams based on their mascots and the color of their uniforms, and she usually picks more winners than I do. Go figure. But we finally got back home safe and sound.  On the Road Again

So, my daughter and I have added Arkansas and Oklahoma to our list of states visited. We still have a few more fly-over states, but we’re almost there. At one point we lived in Connecticut, so we already covered the states up north a while ago. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and am blessed to have been able to spend this time with my wife and daughter. These types of adventures are rare and precious. Thank you, Daughter, for planning this trip and doing it with your old dad. And thanks for getting us to Hot Springs alive. On the Road Again

We had a big storm here in Florida this afternoon with blinding rain, and I started thinking about our trip and hydroplaning. What do you do when your car starts to hydroplane? Take your foot off the gas, and the front wheels regain traction. Good thing to know. We haven’t started twitching yet, but there’s now something upsetting about the color bright yellow, the color of that darned crop duster. When I see a bright yellow car, I get the urge to flee. And I clearly need to go on a diet to lose the extra pounds from all that basketball food. Unfortunately, the Final Four is next weekend, so there’s that. Next road trip, Colorado! Hopefully I can lose the weight by then. On the Road Again

If you liked this blog post, you’ll also enjoy my medical murder mysteries, Pleasuria: Take as Directed, Murder by Road Trip, and The Realtor’s Curse. Go to johnjjessop.com for links to buy the books. Dr. Jason Longfellow, the dysfunctional detective, will keep you laughing until the end.