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800 MILES: Part 3

July 1, 2010

Featured Article, Words

Francis Francis machines rock

“800 MILES (or Parenthood is not for Wusses)”

Part 1 | Part 2 | PART 3 | Part  4 | Part 5 | Part 6

There is no proper way to prepare for 800 straight miles of driving in one day except to get good rest the night before and to wake the next morning and make a triple cappuccino. I freely admit it: I am a cappuccino-aholic. The turbo-charged triple kind I make on special occasions with my beloved powder-blue Francis Francis Italian espresso machine are not for the faint of heart. Actually, heart palpitations have been known to occur. (Youngsters, don’t try this at home without adult — preferably, Italian — supervision.)

Which is to say, I was already wired by the time I opened the door about 8 a.m. that Friday to the big old brute of a white Ford truck I’d rented that morning from a U-Haul in Huntington, W.Va., to go rescue my son’s dead Honda Civic in a wrecker yard in the Chattanooga hinterlands. You know, Chattanooga is a really fun word to say. Try saying it right now — Chattanooga. Chatta. NOO-gah. This would be about the total amount of fun I would be having this day, I reckoned.

NOTE  No. 1 TO U-Haul CEO Edward J. Shoen: You guys charge people extra if we do not return your vehicles uber-clean and washed down with a full tank of gas. So, how is it that when I opened the door to my freshly rented Ford, an impressive puddle of coffee sat in one of the cup holders? And the cabin stunk of the heap of cigarette ash clumped on the driver’s side carpet? Just saying, Ed. Can I call you Ed?

I was too eager to hit the road and be done with the day’s arduous mission to head back into the U-Haul office and complain to the otherwise helpful young gentlemen behind the counter. I mopped up the coffee with paper towels, opened the windows to air out the cabin and headed south.

Note No. 2 to U-Haul CEO Edward “Ed” J. Shoen: Dear Ed, listen, I know times are tough and all. I know you need to cut costs. And I know U-Haul has a relative monopoly on human beings renting things with wheels to go get other things with wheels that no longer work. So you have nearly absolutely no reason to consider the following plaintive cry. But Ed, this 2010 Ford truck? It had hand-cranked windows and no cruise control. Now, I am not being a dilettante here but this is straight out of 1977. First, do you know how wide a Ford truck cabin is? You cannot just lean over and hand-crank down the passenger side window to, say, air out the stinky cigarette smell from the truck you just rented from the company that, for instance, pays the salary that puts you behind the seat of that Lexus you’ll be driving home tonight to your gated community, Ed. By the way, does your Lex have automatic windows? You don’t need to answer that, Ed.

More importantly — and in all seriousness, just between us — no cruise control? Isn’t the point of U-Haul to, like, haul stuff long distances? Why would you buy a fleet of trucks without that function, which the good folks at Consumer Reports remind us is not just a convenience but a safety feature for long-haul driving. Can you bring this up with somebody there?

I am five miles down the road, adjusting to the notion I will have to pull over and park to roll up or down the passenger side window to freshen the cabin’s aroma and that my right foot is going to be very tired 800 miles later that day, when I look down and realize my new rental has no CD player, either.

Note No. 3 to U-Haul CEO Edward “Ed” J. Shoen: Oh, Edward.

Fortunately, I have my iPhone and a set of ear buds. I dial up “Stop Making Sense” by Talking Heads and soon have dialed down my crankiness as the Rev. David Byrne and his funky bandmates lift my spirits with what could be the soundtrack to this roadtrip: “What a Day That Was.”

“I’m dreaming of a city
It was my own invention
I put the wheels in motion
A time for big decisions …’

My decisions for the next few hundred miles are small,  straightforward ones. What to listen to next on the iPhone. (Frank Sinatra, Luka Bloom, The Decemberists, The Pretenders.) When to stop and “make water,” as a Moroccan pal used to say in his  imperfect English. Whether to eat the egg sandwich I’ve brought in one gulp or portion it out as I cross over into each new state. And whether to pull off at exit 130-something on I-75 to check out what a billboard assures is “The South’s largest adult store.”

Well, now, that would be something to see, no? Shouldn’t I take a respite, a break from this gargantuan undertaking a hundred miles down the road? I mean, that’s a significant tourist attraction. We should all see the world before we dance off this mortal coil, yeah? The largest adult emporium in the South must be quite a sight. Aren’t I stressed? I might need to sit down and rest in a bit.

Finally, there’s exit 130-something. I pull off. Been driving for awhile. I see nothing. Corn fields. A truck repair shop. I really don’t have the time to visit the South’s largest adult emporium. I have miles to go before I sleep. I am a Man on a Parental Mission. Plus, who needs the distracting, potentially negative karma of some depressing warehouse of frantic male desire. WWED? (What would Ed do?)

I re-fill the U-Haul’s yawning tank — man, this thing is a thirsty monster — which turns out to be my real mission for pulling off at exit 130-something. Plus, one ice-cold Red Bull. I need to top off my caffeination edge. I am a road warrior. I am U-Haul man, hear me shift. I will go to my grave, or at least my bed tonight, without ever having seen the South’s largest adult emporium.

Instead, now that I am back on the road, I start seeing all these new billboards: ‘See Ruby Falls.’ I’m down with that. It has been decades since I’ve seen a ‘Ruby Falls’ sign. They cheer me up, it’s a  pure hit of Americana. I have never actually seen Ruby Falls or even know where it is. And who was Ruby? Pondering such imponderables, I don my yellow sunglasses which turn everything the color of sunflowers. I roll down the window (but not the passenger side window) and crank the volume on Colin Meloy of The Decemberists belting the ineffable “The Wanting Comes in Waves.”

You can see for miles and miles from the high perch of a Ford truck cabin when you top the mountains, heading into the high heat of summer Down South. I begin to feel like Toby Keith. Minus the 12-gallon hat. And the support for Sarah Palin. | To Be Continued

From this Flickr page.

Part 1 | Part 2 | PART 3 | Part  4 | Part 5 | Part 6

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