This is a guest post by Kim Bagby, Steve and Mimi’s daughter-in-law. At Mimi’s invitation, she and her husband, Joe, are sharing a “2 Roads Diverged” view of their recently completed trip:
Las Vegas, NV
Baton Rouge, LA
Dauphin Island, AL
Fort Walton Beach, FL
“What are we doing? We’re really doing this??” is the sentiment as we roll out of Las Vegas. It’s late in the day, way later than we should be leaving. We’ve frantically thrown the finishing touches on the car. I run through the house picking up. “Please universe, don’t let us get into an accident. If we roll the stupid car, someone else will have to clean this disaster of a house. How mortifying.” My anxiety levels might be a little high.
Our neighbor, Chicago, has been watching days of our rushed planning and building from the comfort of his garage. As he stands in our driveway and agrees to keep an eye on the house, I tell him we will be home in a month or maybe 3 days – could go either way. I mean these words. He shrugs.
Back to “What are we doing?” You may not be familiar with that moment where your big-talking, sass-ass catches up with you…I, eternally the loud mouth, most certainly am. That moment and I are long, fast friends. That moment is where I live (although I also now live in my car). There’s a bit of warm fear in the pit of my stomach, followed by one of two things: backing down or following through. I’m not one to back down, and I’ve been talking about living in my car for weeks. The moment is here. I won’t lie – I’m in disbelief. We’ve been doing all of this work, yet my brain struggles to wrap itself around the concept. I’m actually supposed to live in my car now?
It’s snowing in the Grand Canyon. Thirteen years in Las Vegas and neither of us has ever seen it. We confirm the weather; our Grand Canyon-less streak continues. Plan A is out the window. We don’t know where we’re going. We don’t know where we’ll stay. Trying to avoid snow, we rule out Sedona or anywhere closer to Las Vegas. Holbrook. What’s Holbrook? Has literally even one person ever heard of it? Well, it’s a city near a National Park where the temps are supposed to be above freezing. There’s at least one Walmart where we can probably park. Sounds like our first stop.
We roll out of town, past Lake Mead, and across the Colorado River. The wind is fierce. I’m driving a square with a Thule on top (that is now officially our home) across the country in winds strong enough to toss around semi-trucks. We’re all cool here, no big deal. Right?
After a short while, we reach a scenic overlook of the Colorado River. Should we stop? Sure, why not. It starts to set in that we can do whatever we want. Whatever we want. Yes, we are hours behind schedule. Who cares? The sun is low and the river is winding through some valley I should know the name of. The dogs are wild and the wind is crazy and everything is really, really pretty (except for a pair of tourists who are overly aggressive in their scenic-overlook-make-out-session. Get a car house, already).
We roll on. My anxiety calms down a bit, giving more space to my excitement. Day turns to night and it dawns on us that we aren’t going to get anywhere near Holbrook. I watch the temperature gauge on the dash sink, my heart a long with it. It’s foggy, drizzling, and there’s snow on the ground. It’s late at night now and the roads are wet. They’re not yet icy but promise that outcome. Well. I guess we’re going to stay in Flagstaff, where the low is 28°. I’ve camped one night in my life, as a child in a neighbor’s pop up. It was summer. My violently purchased (when at an REI Garage Sale, do as the violent hippies do…) sleeping bag is rated for 45°. Um, Joe? How cold are we going to be? Like kinda cold or dying cold? He doesn’t know. Google (yes, I do actually try to Google this) proves useless.
Maybe I should have legitimately camped just once before this trip. What a newb. What a mess. The needle moves on the anxiety-excitement spectrum.
Walmart, an establishment I visit as infrequently as possible, is often the choice of RVs in need of overnight parking. We locate one near the interstate and circle the lot. It seems as if Walmart allows overnight parking…unless you’re in Flagstaff, Arizona. Signs are posted everywhere that we will be towed. It’s midnight, so Covert Walmart Parking Ops it is. We walk the dogs down the street, return, and somehow convert our car without opening any doors. We never intended that to be possible, nor practiced it. High five, Buttry.
Immediately, a chill runs through the car. We burrow into our sleeping bags. I’m not sure who’s idea it is, but one of us grabs a dog. The dogs, not usually allowed to sleep on our bed, are THRILLED. Or maybe they’re cold, who knows. We all end up surprisingly warm. If you’ve read our “process” post, you know that at some point in the night I wake up sick to my stomach and tear up all our chemical-laden blackout panels. So much work went into them, and so little time is taken to determine they are unusable. I fall back asleep and awake the next morning warm, comfortable, un-towed.
SUCCESS. You guys – am I a legitimate camper now??! I am, right?! Just watch, I’ll be hiking the Appalachian Trail in no time.* Do I feel gross brushing my teeth in a Walmart bathroom? Absolutely. But hey, it looks like I might actually be able to do this. I’d almost describe myself as giddy. Dirty, and almost giddy.
We chat with another couple that parked in the night. They are clearly professionals, they pull out their camp grill, eat, and clean up in what seems to be 5 minutes. Must be nice to be the Walmart parking lot cool kids.
We pack up and move on. Woefully behind schedule at this point, we have a lot to see and a lot of miles to cover.
But we made it through our first night and it wasn’t even hard.
The next several stops are a blur. We see crater holes (totally underwhelming), a calmer night at a casino truck stop (legitimately delightful), farmer’s markets (delicious), and a giant blue swimming hole (worth it in Santa Rosa). We hop on Route 66, and off, and back on again. We stop and stand on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and we see Santa Fe. We make dinner and clean up at midnight in an Amarillo campground, to the dismay of our neighbors. We begin the exhausting cycle of finding fast, cheap, gluten free to-go meals when we need to cover more miles quickly.
We encounter the threat of tornadoes in Oklahoma and decide to go south through Texas. The threat turns to reality for several unfortunate Oklahomans. We opt for a hotel in Dallas when hail threatens, and luckily watch the storm amount to nothing more than lightning and rain. We wake the next morning in Dallas bored with our options for stops. We decide to go further south to Baton Rouge. We invite ourselves to Joe’s mothers house.
Our car skills are building, and we’re more than willing to sleep in the car in Baton Rouge. Mimi offers us the guest bed, a shower, and the kindest travelers gift of all – wifi. Showers are few and far between, wifi is desperately needed. We take over her home. Leeeroy and Harry meet their Uncle Duffy, resulting in an unholy cacophony of barking at the slightest neighborly sound. Three small dogs have never protected a home so well, or so loudly.
The next day, Joe’s mother is off to the airport for her own journey and we’re off to the Gulf. We’ve spent every night of the past week in a different location and promised ourselves a few easy days on the water. We didn’t anticipate how difficult it can be to secure a campsite on the Gulf. Our idea was far from original.
After extensive research and numerous fruitless phone calls, I locate an RV park in Alabama (now doesn’t that sound like something two youngish, liberal adults are dying to experience?). It has space for one van. If we leave immediately, we might make it before they close for the night. Cue the mad dash for the Deep South.
Oh, the Southern United States. Where life moves slower, people are more talkative in the grocery store, and then they blow by you in a shit-kickin’ pickup with a Confederate Flag or a “This is My Peace Sign” (crosshairs of a rifle) bumper sticker.
I don’t know about this, Joe.
I don’t know about this, Harry and Leeeroy.
I’m already uncomfortable with the overly friendly strangers and proud display of Confederate flags Alabama brings. To assist with the emotional discomfort, the universe layers on the potential for physical distress.
Are you aware that Alabama is one of the top five worst states for fleas? Coming from Southern Nevada, where fleas don’t exist, I certainly was not. My first day in the state of Alabama includes educating myself on dog fleas via spotty cell service. Unlike the moments of fear facing whether we would freeze to death in our car in Arizona like dumbasses, Google proves quite helpful with fleas. Now aware of Alabama’s flea rank (#3, according to Banfield), our second day in this fine state is largely occupied with locating preventative treatment. And this is how I find myself gloved, spraying down two agitated Yorkshire Terriers, in the dirt, with presumably highly toxic pesticide, behind an RV park in Alabama.
Dauphin Island is a slow, sleepy town of small shops and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. It was cut in half by Hurricane Katrina. A structure built to offer protection from the BP oil spill helped re-deposit sand and make it whole again. We select the area because it’s home to one of the few dog-friendly Gulf beaches. The beach is wide, thanks to the new sand deposits, pristine, and almost deserted. The dogs are confused by the noise of the ocean and respond by biting at the waves. They withdraw with mouths full of seawater and sand. We stay for two nights. Joe cooks amazing meals, we politely but very briefly interact with our RV neighbors. Everyone is “Southern Nice” but it’s obvious we don’t fit in here. It could be our age, it could be how we vote. It could be that we’re sleeping in a car with trashy Reflectix window panels instead of a behemoth luxury RV complete with actual window coverings and portable flower beds. Who knows.
We pack and politely leave after our last night. The eastern/southernmost point of our journey is Destin, added specifically so Joe could cross Florida off his list. The drive there brings torrential rain.
Just as I’m not interested in a flea infestation, I’m not interested in wet dogs sleeping in my car. We Hotwire a hotel, one of the few still available. The drive is short. We arrive anxious to stretch out, do laundry, and visit the beach. I check in, look at the room, and return to the car where Joe and the dogs await.
“This place is kind of a dump, dude. I don’t know if we should stay here…” I can tell he thinks I’m being a princess.
“Also, Hotwire didn’t mention they charge fifty dollars each night for the dogs…” Joe is not swayed, thinking we can sneak them in.
“Fine. Give me a dog. It’s room 131, I’ll text you when I’m in and then you can sneak in your other son.”
I sneak in undetected and text Joe that he’s free to begin his own dog smuggle. Although he has the room number, I ensure he knows that he can stop at the giant hole in the hallway ceiling – our room is the one right underneath it. His mind begins to change before I open the door. The smoke detector is wrapped tightly in a bag, someone has been smoking (Cigarettes? Meth? Both?). There is heavy spatter of something(s) on all of the chairs. The beds are full of hair and the dogs keep finding floor mysteries to snack on (the dogs are still alive, if you’re wondering). A woman in the next room is screaming expletives about a swimming suit.
We check out.
We wind up the coast in the rain, seeking a dog friendly hotel anywhere. Our standards are low – no ceiling holes, no mystery spatter, hopefully in Florida. Traffic snarls, the sun sets. Reviews on TripAdvisor guide us to a Fort Walton Beach La Quinta using adjectives like “beautiful” and “superb.” I roll my eyes and book it. I’m tired, I’m hungry. Yes, let’s go see how superbly beauuuuutiful a last-minute Floridian La Quinta can be.
The manager is quiet and seems kind. You can tell he is proud of his property. We’re already 10 steps ahead of the last place. I open our room to find wood (ok, wood laminate) flooring and vaulted ceilings. There’s a giant, comfortable, hair-free bed. The décor is more up-to-date than my own home. Our wet dogs cost nothing and are not the worst behaved in the building. It’s win/win/win/win, and I’ve learned my lesson. I’ll never roll my eyes at a La Quinta again as long as I shall live, so help me God.
We’ve done nothing but drive, eat, and socialize for days. How are we exhausted? We drag in our bags, we drag in our dogs. We sleep well, leave the dogs at dog daycare, and lounge on pristine, sugar-sand Florida beaches. The temperature is perfect but the wind is brutal. No swimming allowed today. I watch the waves roll in; I listen to them crash on top of one another, crash onto the shore. At ease, at peace in a beautiful place. I wonder if we could have driven to California instead and saved ourselves about 2,000 miles.
We do a deep clean of the car. Laundry, coffee, car wash, coffee. We pick up the dogs and sleep well again. We find ourselves at the end of the first leg of our trip.
The dogs are tired and surprisingly well behaved. They’ve taken to the car better than we ever thought they would. Neither Joe nor I have threatened divorce yet. It dawns on me that this trip will be the longest amount of time we’ve spent together since meeting 14 short years ago. I look forward to the next few weeks with my favorite person as navigator. He possesses a razor-sharp talent for finding exits that bear both gas and gluten free menus. He remembers to clean the windshield at least 75% of the time. His Texas highway ad-libbed rendition of Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend” is sublime.
Oh Bagggbyyy you, you have a disseeeeaase…
They call it Cel-i-ac, they call it Cel-i-ac
And Bagggbyyyyy youuu, you can’t eat wheeeeeaaat…
Cuz you’ve got Cel-i-ac, you’ve got Cel-i-ac
He excels at repeating the Google Maps Navigation for his mildly hard-of-hearing driver. His patience rivals that of the great Steve Buttry himself. The more kind words and memories I hear about Steve, the more I see Steve in Joe. Strange that it’s taken so long to see how the father shapes the son.
So it’s been a week and a half. It’s been freeing, it’s been exhausting. Tomorrow we head to Baton Rouge for the first of the memorials. The time moves quickly and slowly, slowly and quickly. I’m both eager to move on, and loathe to leave each place.
* I will literally never, ever, ever hike the Appalachian Trail. It’s unlikely I will ever even lay eyes on it.