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Friday, July 16, 2010  

Road Trip Day 1: Bethany (Getting Missouri?)

The last hour or two before we leave on a long trip is always crazy and hectic. So two weeks in advance, I sat down and started making to-do lists, to-pack lists, and lists of which lists to pack (which is normally what Trash does, and I'm happy to leave it to her, because it turns out that job sucks). I thought if I could simply prepare compulsively enough, we'd leave the house without that rushed, panicked sense of come-on-let's-go-what-are-we-forgetting-oh-screw-it-let's-just-get-out-of-here.

It turns out that no matter how complete this list is, and how efficiently divided between tasks to do ASAP, and then to do the last week, the day before departure, the night before departure, and then the last day, the last hour, and the last second, the hecticness simply cannot be processed out.

In hindsight, I think the main factor behind that is fitting everything in. Like, the list of stuff that went in the back seat of the pickup was more than I could fit in there, at least with any degree of organization, unless one of the things we left out was M. Edium. And he would have protested strenuously.

And there's the question of fitting everything in time-wise. There are a lot of tasks you can't really do until one minute before you leave. The problem is that it takes an hour to do them all. This results in, you guessed it, crazy hecticness.

But even though I didn't engineer a smooth departure, I did accomplish one thing: a greater appreciation for one of the parts of the process I normally leave to Trash. I think we'll go back to that for next time.

As for Trash's rush to get on the road ASAP, though -- as in, an hour earlier than originally planned -- it turned out she was right. We were about 40 miles north of the Iowa state line when traffic on the freeway just…stopped. And if you know that part of Minnesota, you know that exits aren't all that close together down there. You can go 20 minutes at the speed limit without ever having a chance to get off the interstate. It gets significantly longer if you're going slower, like zero miles per hour.

Eventually things got moving again to the speed of a slow walk, and after about ten minutes of that we got to a place where I could jump the median and backtrack to the previous exit. The great thing about a GPS is not just how you can find your way to a place; it's how you can find another way to a place when the main way is backed up like an airplane toilet on a transatlantic flight full of competitive eaters.

So I guess once we factored in the traffic jam and the detour, it was more like we'd left on time anyway. It's like she knew.

Anyway, the worst part of any road trip is the first part, where you're on roads you've been on millions of times before and you're not seeing anything new. The second worst part is when you're on roads you've never been on before and not sure where you're going. That's when you figure out how to get the big picture from a GPS screen that's the size of a credit card.

* * *

That wasn't the longest delay on our drive into Iowa, though. The longest delay was actually self-inflicted.

Near Story City, IA, which is about 45 minutes north of Des Moines, M. Edium announced that he was hungry. I didn't see how this could be possible, since we'd all picnicked on giant sandwiches in the truck about an hour before. Obviously Trash and I were trying to avoid McDonald's as much as possible on this trip, but a) we were trying to get to Trash's grandma's house some kind of meaningful interval before some version of M. Edium's bedtime and b) okay, you just try and get him to not notice the Golden Arches. I suggested the adjacent Happy Chef. Trash objected, "We don't have time."

I don't know why I didn't point out the obvious, which is that the Story City McDonald's is the slowest McDonald's in the world. We've been through the drive-thru a few times on previous trips to Des Moines, and it never fails to add a half hour to the travel time.

This time we saw the line of cars stretching back from the menu board, and decided to go in, because we thought it would be "quicker." And then M. Edium and I waited about a half hour for Trash to come back from the counter with our food. I guess the people at the Story City McDonald's like to make sure nobody leaves without a story.

* * *

On the way to Trash's grandma's house, we marveled over one of the oddities of Iowa geography: everything is at least an hour away from everything else.

The plan had been to spend the night in Osceola, which looks close to Grandma's house on the map, but as the last hour of watery daylight is fading away in the rearview mirror, and you're realizing you're going to have to come back here after the visit, you discover something about this plan: it is stupid.

So while Trash visited with her relatives, I scrolled through hotels on the GPS looking for one that was on the way to where we were headed the following day. I've driven through Bethany, Missouri more times than I can count, and the only sight I can recall dates back before the freeway went through there: a blinking yellow light over an intersection. It's a little more built up now, so we were able to locate a hotel with an available room. And we only got there two hours after M. Edium's normal bedtime.

It was while I was retrieving the night's necessities from the truck (always a multi-trip process, no matter what) that I had my first moment of panic: the suitcase holding all of M. Edium's clothes wasn't in the truck.

While my wife and child waited upstairs with increasing puzzlement, not to say impatience, I ransacked the passenger space Trash had so ingeniously organized. No mini-suitcase. What now? Sure, I could see a Wal-Mart from the hotel parking lot, but I didn't want to have to go in and tell them M. Edium was going to have to sleep in his clothes the first night and we'd have to spend the next morning shopping for his all-new travel wardrobe.

But then, see above regarding everything not fitting in the backseat. Turns out I'd put his suitcase in the truck bed.

So disaster averted, and Trash never knew how close I'd come to making a rookie foul-up on the very first day. Until now, that is.

posted by M. Giant 7:58 PM 0 comments


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