Tag Archives: Road Trips

D.C. Road Trip – Peanuts and Whiskey

21 Jul

Last week, my family left on the grand Washington, D.C. adventure that we had been planning for a long time. I wanted to go on a road trip like the ones my family took when I was a kid. My wife did not want to go too far because she and my stepdaughter had never done anything like that before.

Originally, we were driving to D.C. before going north to Pennsylvania to visit some of their family. As it turned out, they were going to Washington for a conference, and we all decided to meet there. With that change, my wife and I decided to skip Pennsylvania and go to Virginia Beach. That way, we could spend some time in the sun before heading home. Oh yeah, Williamsburg and Jamestown are close by, as well.

During the days leading up to the trip, I was nervous about a couple of things.

First, I did not know much about the area. Driving west, I know the distances, the things to see and, generally, how to plan an efficient and easy trip. While I have been to Virginia, it was not to see something. Basically, I was not sure where we were headed.

Second, I had never spent three days sightseeing in a major city. Most of the road trips in my past avoided major cities and focused on the smaller places in the country. We booked a room downtown because we thought walking to some places would be the best option.

Third, I wanted my family to have a good time. Growing up, I loved these kinds of trips because they felt like an adventure. I knew that they had never done anything like this, and I wanted them to have a good experience.

We left Tuesday morning and hit Interstate 40. Everything was great. My stepdaughter was reading and listening to music. My wife was looking at Facebook. I was cruising down the road. We had packed some snacks to eat along the way. It was fun. We made fun of my wife because she had to stop to pee every few miles. It came a flood in Knoxville, but that was the only downer.

When we got close to the Tennessee/Virginia border, we decided to stop for lunch, and that is when we saw the first cool sight of the trip.image-7

Seriously, how often do you see the Peanut-Mobile. This is one of the reasons I like road trips. If we had flown to D.C., then we would have never seen the big peanut. That may sound dumb, but it represents a lot of stuff. Flying from city to city means that you miss the landscape of the nation. It means that you miss the laughs along the way.

After lunch, we made our way into Virginia and to our destination for the night – Lynchburg. I chose this town for a couple of reasons. First, it set us up for our first stop the next day. Second, it got us off the interstate. The worst thing anyone can do is stay on the interstate the entire time. It is designed to get vehicles from place to place quickly. It is not designed as a sightseeing road. If you want to see real America, then you have to get off the interstates. Every exit looks the same.

We got off the interstate and drove toward Lynchburg. At some point, we had the following conversation.

Me: What is Lynchburg famous for?

My Wife: I know! Whiskey!

Me: That is Lynchburg, Tennessee.

We laughed about that for the rest of the trip. Actually, Lynchburg, Virginia is famous for being home to Jerry Falwell and Liberty University, the school that he created. Believe me, the university dominates the town. I do not know what the people in Lynchburg think of Falwell, but they had better be glad he put the school there.

When we checked into the hotel, we asked about a good place for dinner. My stepdaughter decided to stay in the room, but my wife and I needed to find a good place to eat and relax. We were told to go to a place downtown. It turned out to be a casual place that specialized in burgers. It was a great place for college students to hang out, and, surprisingly for summer, there were a lot of them hanging out.

They struck me as students who are into the arts – both Fine Arts and Liberal Arts. That may sound like profiling, but, after all these years, I am pretty good at determining who majors in what. Anyway, they were eating, talking and drinking. That made me think about Jerry Falwell. He was famous as a televangelist and the leader of the Moral Majority. I wonder what he would think about students at his university sitting around drinking in a bar.

After dinner, we drove through downtown and found a cool little city. They had done a great job with historic preservation, and there were shops and restaurants scattered out. There was also a children’s playhouse and other cool stuff. That is one of the other good things about going on a road trip. You get to discover towns like Lynchburg – both this one and the one that makes whiskey.

On Twitter, I asked a Lynchburg trivia question that no one answered. What movie moved our nation’s capital from Washington, D.C. to Lynchburg, Virginia? Does anyone know?

Cancun – Dispelling My Ignorance

15 Jan

When my wife came up with the idea for this vacation, she had a certain vision in her mind. It was a vision of lying by the pool with the sunshine overhead. On our last full day in Cancun, this vision was fulfilled.Cancun - Poolside

We had a prime spot by the pool and basked in the sun as a waitress brought drinks to us. We read magazines and listened to music. My stepdaughter played volleyball in the water and on the beach. It was a day that vacations are made of.

After the day by the pool, we went back to the room to rest and get ready for dinner. We got cleaned up and went the steakhouse that we had visited on the first night. The place where they called me Ricardo. We had a good meal with a few drinks. Overall, it was a relaxing experience.

It was also one of the first times I have ever done anything like that. I try to learn something new as often as I can, and I learned something in Cancun. I learned the difference between a vacation and a trip.

When I was growing up, my family went on trips. We packed up the car and drove across the country. Along the way, we didn’t do much relaxing. We stayed in roadside hotels, and, each morning, we hopped in the car to drive. My dad used to refer to a late start as “burning daylight.” We saw all kinds of sights, and I am lucky enough to have visited each of the 50 states.

I wouldn’t trade those trips and those experiences for anything. However, I have missed out on the experience of a vacation. I can count on one hand the times I have gone to a beach town and stayed in one spot. That’s one of the reasons I enjoyed this vacation. It was a new experience, and I am all about new experiences.

It was interesting to see what people do on a vacation, and everyone at the resort seemed to do the same thing. They played by the pool during the day. They went to the room and dressed up. Then, they went out to dinner. There were probably a few variations to that theme, but they weren’t noticeable.

I am not sure where I am headed with this stream of thought, but there are a few things that I know. I am glad that we went on this vacation, and I hope there are more in our future. I am also glad that I have experienced road trips because there are a lot of interesting things out there to see.

I used to look down on vacations as a waste of time because I was ignorant to what they are really about. They are about getting away from the daily grind and recharging your personal battery. That is not a waste.

I am sure other people have thought that avoiding the beach to go on road trips is just as wasteful. They are just as ignorant as I was. Trips take you to different parts of the world and help you understand what the world is all about.

Ultimately, there is room in life for both. Vacations and trips can coexist. Some time can be spent relaxing, and some time can be spent exploring. Both can be fulfilling and fun. We just have to open our minds and realize it. That’s what I learned in Cancun.

Childhood Memories – Road Trips

14 Dec

I am amazed at what my friends call a vacation. They talk about going to the beach; staying in a condo; eating seafood; and, generally, lying around for several days. They talk about how great it is to relax in the sun and read books. I know that many people think this is the perfect idea of fun and frivolity. I think it is hell on earth. It’s hot. It’s sweaty. Sand gets everywhere. Seafood is not meant to be eaten for a solid week. But most of all, sitting around all of that time is mind-destroying. I need to see something besides the same waves coming in from the same horizon before eating the same crab legs while wearing the same lobster bib. And I know whose fault it is that I think this way…

My dad dreamed of being a truck driver when he was a kid. He did not reach his dream but did become successful in the business world. With his dream of being a trucker dashed, my dad made sure that he ventured on that endless black ribbon by taking his family on road trips every summer. Other families went to the beach. We picked a cardinal direction, usually west, and headed out for a couple of weeks of constant changes in hotels and landscapes. My dad’s motto was “never burn daylight”, so we went from daylight to dark touring the country and checking out the scene. My mom even packed a cooler with sandwich stuff and drinks, so we could eat on the move. We were the real Griswold’s, and nothing from a movie can come close to what we experienced.

Because of my dad, I had visited all 50 states by the time I was 24. I developed a love for history from visiting the places where history happened. Some of my greatest memories are from the road, but it wasn’t all pleasant. Spending that much time in a cramped vehicle led to funny events that weren’t very funny at the time.

1. The Great Winnebago Trip – One year my dad got the bright idea to rent a motor home to drive cross-country. It started out good enough with my dad driving while the rest of us whooped it up in back. However, problems soon arose. The Winnebago broke down. And it broke down again. And it broke down again. In fact, it broke down all the way to California and back. It ended up with three fuel pumps that my brother had to hose down every time we stopped. The trip is legendary in these circles and can’t be accurately depicted here, but a few things stand out.

On a Saturday night, we broke down in Amarillo while heading west. The next Saturday night we broke down in Amarillo on the way east. The same mechanic worked on it both times. My mom took his picture. In between those two stops, we broke down in the middle of the Los Angeles freeway. We also broke down in a blasting zone. There was also the time we broke down in Needles and watched them fry eggs on the sidewalk. That was the last motor home.

2. The “My Mom Lost Her Mind” Trip – We spent the night west of the Colorado/Kansas border with the plan to drive to St. Louis the next day. Road trips are a loop, and the turn home was always seen as the home stretch. My mom was driving as we neared St. Louis in a rain storm. It was then that we discovered no rooms at the inns. St. Louis, big city that it is, was completely booked. My mom drove on. And drove on. And drove on. We tried to get her to stop, but she held a death grip on the wheel and wouldn’t listen. Her eyes got wide as she focused on the road. Ignoring the pleas of myself and my dad, she drove all the way home. We drove from Colorado to Tennessee in one day.

3. The “Speed of Sound” Trip – In junior high, my teacher asked us to write an essay about our summer. I wrote about our road trip, and she gave me an F for making it up. My mom had to call her and explain that it was all true. Simply, we drove to Virginia and toured the sights around Washington. We saw Mt. Vernon, Monticello, Arlington Cemetery and the Smithsonian. We then drove to Philadelphia and saw the history made there. Next, came New York (which I will discuss in more detail in #4), and a drive up to Niagara Falls. After the falls, we went into Canada and reentered the United States at Detroit. There we toured the Ford Museum. All of that took five days.

4. The “Tour of New York” Trip – Technically, this is the “Speed of Sound” Trip, but it deserves its own number. By this time, I was the official navigator and map-reader, and this was my job as my dad drove through the streets of New York City. He wanted to see Central Park, so I got him there. As we went through the park, I set the map to the side and looked around. When we came out of the park, we began to notice a degradation of our surroundings. Cars were on blocks. Windows were smashed out of buildings. It looked like a war zone. I picked up the map and told my dad not to stop at any cost. Don’t stop at red lights. Don’t stop if someone walks in front of us. My dad was driving his Cadillac down the street that separated Harlem and the Bronx. His orders were to drive to Yankee Stadium as fast as possible and get on the interstate.

5. The “That’s A Big Hole” Trip – Like a lot of people, my dad always wanted to see the Grand Canyon, and he made sure to stop the first chance he got. We parked the car and walked to the edge. As we stood there my dad declared, “That’s an awfully big hole.” We replied that it was. Then, he asked, “Ready to go?” In unison, we said, “Yes.”

Everyone should see the Grand Canyon once. It’s one of those things that makes the American landscape what it is. But, I’m not impressed with it. I think that it may be too big to appreciate, but it is not my favorite natural wonder. My nephew camped in the bottom last year and said it was great. That may be true. Riding the mules or flying over in a helicopter may be great too. However, I would rather see a lot of things than stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon and look into a big hole.

I know. All of this sounds terrible, and you are thinking that we would have been better off at the beach. However, these bad experiences were few and far between and gave us great stories to tell at family gatherings. The road trips were great bonding experiences and gave me the opportunity to see things that many people do not. For that, I am eternally grateful. Therefore, I am going to end this post on a positive note and list my favorite historic sites and natural wonders. I owe my parents for the love I have for these places.

My Favorite Historic Sites

1. The Little Big Horn Battlefield – I have mentioned this several times in other posts and will not go into great detail here. Just know that this is the one place where I can mentally take myself back in time.

2. Alcatraz – The first time I saw it the prison wasn’t open for tours. The second time it was and proved to be an amazing experience. You haven’t done anything until you have stood in Al Capone’s cell.

3. Biltmore Estate – This is the largest privately owned home in the United States. Built by an heir to the Vanderbilt fortune, it is the perfect example of Guilded Age decadence. No castle in Europe has anything on this.

4. The OK Corral – Tombstone, Arizona is the quintessential tourism laden ghost town. It looks kind of hokey today, but it held an important place in Old West history as the location of America’s most famous gunfight. As a bonus, Ben Traywick, who is from my home county, is the unofficial Tombstone historian.

5. Pearl Harbor – Technically, I did not see this on a road trip. Even my dad couldn’t drive to Hawaii. However, this is a historic site that everyone should see. Walking onto the Arizona Memorial is a spiritual experience.

My Favorite Natural Wonders

1. Monument Valley – The banner at the top of this blog is a photo I took at Monument Valley. Those buttes have been shown in countless movies and have long been symbols of the American West. It sits in the Navajo Nation and serves as a reminder of what they lost in the United States’ drive toward Manifest Destiny.

2. Yellowstone National Park – There is so much in the park that it is indescribable. Therefore, I will boil it down to my favorite thing. There is nothing like waking up in the Old Faithful Lodge; walking onto the porch; and, seeing buffalo walk through the steam of the geysers.

3. Sequoia National Park – Imagine trees sold old that they started growing when Jesus supposedly walked the earth and so large that they look as if they had been constructed. That is the best way I can describe this park. I will leave out the time I got lost in it when I was two.

4. Bryce Canyon – This is a canyon filled with rock formations called “hoodoos”. They fill the landscape and make you feel that you have landed in another world.

5. Denali National Park – We did not drive to Alaska, but Mt. McKinley is the most amazing thing I have ever seen. We were lucky enough to view it on a clear day and see the peak. I have no idea how big the mountain is, but I know that it filled the landscape from miles away.

There you have it. My road trip adventures. Isn’t that better than a beach?