Day 15 – The Great American Road Trip (GART)

As usual, I was late getting away for a long trip.

And, as is becoming the usual, the pecan tree out front dropped a limb on the yard for me to clean up.

It did this the last time I tried to take off on a trip. Overnight, and with no storm or heavy wind as a cause, it just decided to drop a perfectly good green limb.

I do not know what its motivation is. I do not know why it cares that I am leaving—I don’t really do anything to it, good or bad. I don’t think I’ve even eaten a pecan in the past year.

Regardless of reason, it is obviously much more intelligent than I had given it credit for.

I had a farewell breakfast/brunch with my friend John. Our waitress was, apparently, the Devil. Guess it must be Halloween. Throughout the day, I ran into such things a lot—the Marine Sergeant at a gas station, crying to his homeless bum of a mom, who is busy giving her credit card to the witch behind the counter.

After breakfast, John told me that the guys had gotten together and bought me a going-away gift. Wow, that was a surprise. The gift was a new tent, so I would no longer have to continuously borrow my brother’s. Thanks, guys.

There seems to be something wholly Americana about the random road trip.

The no-plan, no-money, cross-country trek, often caused by nothing more than an offhand comment by your college roommate. It is part of our common culture. For example, just think about all of the movies that are about road trips: Rain Man, Vacation, Smokey and the Bandit, The Blues Brothers, Tommy Boy, Dumb and Dumber, RV, Little Miss Sunshine, etc. We get our kicks on Route 66 and just can’t wait to get on the road again. Even in our history books: are Lewis and Clark really worth half a chapter?

Our predecessors talked about manifest destiny and believed that this land really should be our land, from sea to shining sea. Americans have been wheeling across the country since the Oregon Trail, and even before; Eisenhower’s interstate system simply made it quicker. The road trip is one of our most basic expressions of freedom: that I can go wherever I want, whenever I want, with no restrictions and no questions asked. I can, and therefore I will; it is our version of a modern manifest destiny.

When I decided to take off on my own extended expression of freedom, I realized that there was only one proper way to start off: flip a coin.

Ah. Interstate 20 it is.

I hope to stay off of Interstates most of the time, but my first goal was to just get out of Texas, and quickly. Not because of any particular distaste for the state, but because I knew I could visit the areas nearby at any time, on any given Saturday. My one goal on this long trip is to visit those places that I have to have a long trip to reach.

My only set destination is Baltimore, MD, and I have to be there at a certain time: 6:38 p.m. on Friday evening. I have to be there at that time, because I have a plane ticket from there to a wedding I need to go to this weekend. I’ll then fly back to Baltimore, and have time to visit the far Northeast or Midwest or whatever.

So, I set off, late, down Interstate 20 toward Shreveport. Just myself, my iPod singing on the radio, and a quick-reflexed housefly that I have started to refer to as Jerry. Jerry and I have an interesting relationship. Basically, I try constantly to kill him, any chance I get, and—well, I guess that is about the extent of it right now. It is not exactly a healthy relationship.

I used to think that every time I killed a fly, I was doing the world some huge favor: getting rid of the pest for all time, and perhaps preventing millions of descendents. As a kid, when the flyswatter was handy and hunting was good, I would sometimes spend 30 minutes or an hour just killing dozens of flies, mostly outside the house. Then, at some point, I heard that the average housefly lives for only 2 days. I guess that severely limits the good I was actually doing for the world.

Still, I don’t want to hang out with Jerry for even 2 days. Or even 2 hours. He doesn’t necessarily have to keel over, but I would appreciate it if he would just leave.

Sorry, Jerry. It’s not you, it’s me. We need to spend less time together. I just think you’re moving too fast. I do miss you, and that’s the problem. If you would hold still for just a…wait…dang, I missed him again.

Best town name of the day: Homer, LA.

sign at the edge of town says “Thank you for visiting Homer”. You know, because he gets lonely sometimes.

I wanted to make it to Mississippi before stopping for the night. I figured that was about 1/4 of the way to Baltimore.

It was dark by the time I reached southeast Arkansas. I saw various signs of Halloween activity, including costumed kids riding around in the beds of pickups, but my attention was drawn to the show in the sky.

A huge bank of clouds towered overhead, illuminated by frequent flashes of lightning. It was God’s own trick-or-treat: I love watching thunderstorms, and admiring their power. But, I didn’t particularly want to drive through one, and I definitely did not want to set up a tent in the rain.

Though I skirted the storm for hours, I luckily did not have to drive through much of it. And when I finally came to my camping spot, it was wet, but not raining.

The campground I picked was at Great River Road State Park, along the Mississippi river. There were a couple of campgrounds listed on my map near the part of Mississippi I was driving through, and they seemed to be about equal distance away. I ended up choosing the Great River Road park partly because it was on the Mississippi, and mostly because it was the only one that did not list “alligators” as one of the attractions.

I spent the night in my very nice, new, alligator-free tent.

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