Wednesday, June 19, 2013
We were 20 when we took our first vacation together; only a few months into our marriage and with what felt like the weight of the world on our shoulders. We were trying to juggle new jobs, the new experience of living with someone, rent, car payments… all so much to deal with at such a young age, but we lived in expectancy just knowing that everything would work out fine. So when my cousin came to visit my folks and suggested that Tommy and I vacation in Florida and stay a week with her, we didn’t hesitate.
A few weeks later we packed my little Plymouth Sundance with enough snacks and clothing to keep us going for weeks and more CDs than the local music store. The plan was to leave early Saturday morning. But at 20 you have the energy to work an 8-hour day, commute, clean the house, pack a car and then drive all night long. It wasn’t till the 16th hour that Tommy asked me to take over the last four. The sun was rising and his body had had enough. Me, well, I wanted to sleep too, but I’d napped a few hours here and there so I really had no excuse. Navigating a straight shot from Texas to Florida wasn’t all that hard.
When we arrived we had no plans. We knew we wanted to visit Disney World and the beaches, but beyond that we were open to just about anything. My cousin suggested Universal Studios, Dayton Speedway and St. Augustine to see the lighthouse. We enjoyed all the tourist attractions and amusement parks but the best part was the two days just walking the many beaches collecting shells and taking pictures.
After a fun but exhausting week we still had a 20-hour drive ahead of us. We repacked the car, loaded up the newly acquired souvenirs and headed west. As we drove we took our time. With an extra day to travel and no theme parks or tourist attractions planned we took a few back roads and stop at a local diner. We drove along the Gulf taking in the sights and during low tide… the smells.
We realized on that ride home that the best part of the trip wasn’t the amusement parks or even the beach, but the drive itself. With our jobs and stress of the everyday life we stopped making the time like we did while dating to just talk. That silly, nonsense, “Why do I like this kind of music” or “What made this movie so awesome” talk.
On the road we could either ride in silence taking in the scenery or talk about those things we’d set aside for a time when we had a captured audience. When trapped in a car no subject seems off limit. It was freeing. So when Monday rolled around and we headed back to work, we were renewed. We felt closer and began to make more time for each other and the bottling of emotions seemed pointless. If we could survive a week in the car with each other; there was no need to hide anything.
So the first decade of our marriage, one week a year, Tommy and I would pack a much smaller bag, fill up the tank of our Ford Explorer, grab a map and pick a hand full of places we wanted to see. With no idea where we’d stay each night or which routes we’d take, just a stack of CDs and we were set. During that time we traveled to the 48 contiguous states, 47 of them in that Explorer.
We watched the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean and year’s later watched it set over the Pacific. We saw mountain ranges, wheat fields, stars that stretched over us like a dome. We visited the Great Lakes, played in amusement parks and hiked many of the state parks. We even drove large portions of what’s left of Route 66 and had our windows down while coasting along Hwy 1.
We saw the major attractions like Niagara Falls, Mount Rushmore, and the Grand Canyon. As well as a few lesser known places like Mesa Verde, Crazy Horse memorial and Meteor Crater. We chased rainstorms and avoided a few. We saw dirt devils and water spouts. And we made a point of playing music to ‘fit’ each destination. On trips that took us through Amarillo we’d play George Strait. While in Winslow, Arizona we listened to the Eagles. And no road trip across America is complete without a bit of Bob Seger.
Some of the more emotional moments were watching the changing of the guards at Arlington National Cemetery. I remember standing between two WWII vets. The three of us with our hands over our hearts, tears falling unchecked while soldiers did their duty; an everyday thing for them, a few minutes in my life I’ll never forget. And another memory that didn’t hit me till 3-months after our vacation, when seeing the World Trade Center’s fall. We took a ferry to see The Statue of Liberty and took a dozen shots of the New York skyline. Not knowing how different that skyline would look so soon after.
My aunt and uncle once asked, while sitting around a camp fire in the middle of nowhere Texas, why Tommy and I decided to drive the United States instead of taking cruises to exotic beaches like many of our friends. For a second I hesitated, not because I didn’t know the whys but I wasn’t sure how to explain it. You see, when it started it was just fun. Then it became a way to rejuvenate our marriage but by the end, when we had the chance to cross the Canadian border but didn’t we realized that now it was a mission. We didn’t want to see anything else till we had seen all 50-states.
It’s not that we don’t want to travel outside of the states. Heaven knows I have a long wish list of places I’d love to see in foreign countries. But as I looked at my uncle, a retired Command Sergeant Major, and highly decorated Vietnam Vet I answered truthfully, “Men and women still die trying to escape to this country. And many others fight every day to keep it free. The least I can do is see what they’re fighting for.”
My aunt and uncle died before they were able to celebrate their 50th anniversary, less than a year apart from each other. They’d be the first to tell you that marriage is tough but worth fighting for. They had a land yacht they loved to travel in. One night, while we stayed in that big rig of theirs my aunt and uncle went on and on about their travels; they loved it. I teased that in marriage you sometimes have to run away, it’s just more productive if you drag the other one with you.