This is a guest post by Joe Buttry, Steve and Mimi’s middle son. At Mimi’s invitation, he and his wife, Kim, are sharing a “2 Roads Diverged” view of their recently completed trip:
When we finally left it seemed underwhelming. We kinda just got in the car and went. Like we were going to the store, but with the dogs. We didn’t even make it all the way down the block before we realized that I had not locked the door. I don’t know what I expected, but that was not it.
I guess that part of it is that we don’t really take road trips anymore. We take the occasional weekend drive down to the ocean, but anything more than that involves a trip to the airport. That has a much more involved send off. There was no TSA for this. The magnitude of this trip did not match what we had to do to actually leave. Maybe there should have been someone there to ask “Are you sure that you want to do this? Do you know how many miles 6,000 is? That little rescue dog is not great at riding in a car. Do you know how hard your father would roll his eyes at the prospect of having a dog on his lap for 6,000 miles?”
I have always been prone to impulsive ideas. As a child they were kept in check by my parents and the fact that impulsive ideas usually require some money and I spent my allowance on baseball cards as soon as I got it. College was nothing but a series of impulsive ideas. Even the act of going to college was a snap decision. I never lived up to my potential in school. I had no real plan for what I would do after High School. I had taken the ACTs and done well, but that was mostly to get my parents and teachers off of my back. I remember sitting on the couch as Dad walked through the room. I stopped him in the middle of something and his mind was clearly elsewhere. I said “Hey, I think I am going to go to college. What do I need to do to apply?” My father was a pretty unshakeable man. It is one of the few times I saw him totally at a loss. He stammered out something about getting me all the stuff that I would need and that he was so happy that I had made this decision. I’m fairly certain that if asked him to give me a piggyback ride down to the registrar’s office he would have done it.
Without a doubt, the impulsive idea that has had the greatest impact on my life was moving to Las Vegas to be with a girl that I had been dating for a little over a year. I knew then that this was one of those crazy ideas. I knew that it could end poorly and if it did it probably wouldn’t end just a little poorly. But this girl was unlike anyone I had ever met (and is still unlike anyone I have ever met). If you had told me that it was going to end in a year, I would have gone to have that year. Just like this trip, as I pulled out of Omaha there was no one telling me I was being crazy. There was no one encouraging me to stay and work a 9-5. I don’t know if it is just that my parents have always been that supportive, or if they knew I wouldn’t have listened and they were saving their breath. They did get married at 19. They could teach me a thing or two about crazy.
But back to our current insanity. We both had our reservations. Messes stress Kim out, but they seem to follow me around. We would be sharing a 36-square foot space. Could we really do this for a month?
Harry, our rescue dog, has never been good in a car. He no longer gets sick, but he always wants to be on the driver’s lap. For long drives (like halfway across town long, not road trip long), he will eventually settle for the passenger’s lap, but this drive would be much longer than any he has ever been on. We took him with us to the beach once and tried a sedative, but it never seemed to really calm him down. He was tired but still managed to whine a lot of the way. And a whining dog gets on both of our nerves.
We changed plans before we crossed the state line. There was snow in the Grand Canyon. I always think of Arizona as just a desert. Hot when Vegas is hot. Less hot when Vegas is less hot. That is not the case. In late March, when the snow has melted from the mountains around Vegas, there is still plenty of snow in northern Arizona. (Thanks, public school) We chose Flagstaff to stop for the night. The low overnight was a little below 30 degrees. We found a Walmart just off the interstate and claimed our spot among the RVs. Why ease into hotelement life? I have always felt like if my life goes off the rails and I end up an addict or homeless that my rock bottom would happen inside a Walmart. Good thing we were in the parking lot. We switched over from car mode to sleep mode and settled in. It was quite comfortable, but in the middle of the night Kim had to pull the fabric off of the window coverings because they smelled strongly of fire retardant (something we didn’t notice in the expanse of our normal house, but was pretty overwhelming in our car house). Between the construction of the bed platform keeping us up off of the floor of the car, sleeping bags and the two dogs that we shoved inside of them, we stayed perfectly warm. The next morning, we pulled up stakes, said a quick hi to our fellow car camping neighbors, and took off. First night was a win. The only downside is I can no longer say that I have not brushed my teeth in a Walmart bathroom.
We stopped off at a privately-owned meteor crater. It’s a tourist trap and no dogs are allowed inside the crater. Kim ran inside and reported back that it was better in pictures, so we hit the road quickly. We caught a little stretch of Route 66 through Winslow, AZ (Cause if we are doing tourist shit why not?) and I took a Big Lebowski themed version of the picture everyone else was there to take. Fortunately, a street corner in Winslow, Arizona is boring for kids so all of them were more focused on their phones than my questionable sign.
We stopped down the street for a nice lunch on the tailgate of the Element and got back on the road toward New Mexico. Kim looked up parks along the drive and picked out Petrified Forest National Park as a good place to hike with the dogs. It sits along the edge of the Arizona/New Mexico border. The hike we chose winds along fallen petrified logs. There was beautiful scenery and the dogs loved the exercise. We even optimistically bought a year park pass with intentions of hitting more on the trip and when we take the dogs out to parks close to Vegas when we got home.
We passed into New Mexico and headed to Albuquerque. Our plan was to hit farmer’s markets along the way and at least try to eat healthyish for a little while. I googled for a bit and found that the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market is better than Albuquerque, so we adjusted the plan to go through Santa Fe the next morning.
We struggled to locate food in Albuquerque (Why doesn’t everywhere stay open as late as Las Vegas? It is one of the few things this town gets right.) and settled for some BJ’s Brewhouse. Then we rolled up the road toward Santa Fe and struggled for a little bit to find a place to stay (The Santa Fe Walmart does not allow overnight parking). Eventually, we found a nice truck stop/ casino and set up for the night. We learned something important on that night; Truck stops beat the shit out of Walmart. It becomes easy to find the nice ones (Love’s are consistently nicer than all of the others). They know that people plan on sleeping there. It’s not weird to brush your teeth in the sink. Also, it has the distinct advantage of not being Walmart. For real though, Walmart sucks.
We drove to the farmer’s market and parked with relatively little trouble. I went in and got eggs, tomatoes, and chicken sausage while Kim dealt with the dogs. Harry found a nice spot with heavy traffic on one side and people eating on the other and took a giant shit. Then I found a unicorn restaurant. A place with a dog friendly patio and gluten free options. Kim decided she didn’t want to go in though so I grabbed order to go. It was great. We made a quick stop at the Santa Rosa Blue Hole, because Kim loves swimming so much that she will stop just to look at a place where people like to swim.
We learned our lesson from the night before and made a new rule; We should figure out where we are sleeping before we need to sleep (not a bad rule for life). We planned our stopping point ahead of time this time and decided to try a campground (read: we stink and need to shower). I booked a tent site at the KOA in Amarillo, TX. They didn’t even bat an eye when I asked if we could sleep in our car instead of a tent.
I feel like we were in an unusual situation. The people who were there to camp probably looked down on us for not bringing a tent and drum like the rest of the hippies. The RV people might have looked down on us for not having a real RV. Is the sizeist nature of the RV community just something I made up? Do the little old people in the GIANT RVs look down on the RVs that don’t require a special class of driver’s license? Do the ones towed by giant trucks look down on the vans we looked at renting? Am I never going to be a part of that culture if I don’t tow a car behind my RV? Does all of this just exist in my head and these people are just happy to be out on the road?
What I do know is that my father, who loved a well packed vehicle, would be immensely proud of how much shit I fit in that car. Everything had a place. For the first leg of our journey we had a little extra space, but once we picked up the guitar everything had to be in its place in order for us to close the doors. The Thule storage box on top was the only place to add cargo, unlike the behemoth Semi truck sized RVs that we parked next to. That space was very limited.
We got to the camp site just before dark. I whipped up a quick meal of chicken tacos. It was my first time cooking on a camp stove and I did it mostly in the dark. It didn’t go too poorly. Sadly, washing the dishes in the dark went much less smoothly, and after a battle with a stubborn cheap dog poop bag Kim was ready to have some car wine and go to bed.
The next morning, we discovered that we are headed into some rough weather. We decided that the best plan of action was to head south to Dallas and find a hotel. This got us off of the interstate and onto a state highway which made the drive through Texas much more bearable. It was still Texas, but a better version than what the interstate shows. We found a La Quinta in Arlington and head there. La Quintas allow dogs and have Wi-Fi, and this one was in a good area allowing us to get out of town the next morning without experiencing much morning rush hour. It also had nearby food, so Kim ran some errands and grabbed us some Mexican takeout. The storms we were dodging (and the hail we were worried they may bring) barely missed us.
The next day we got up and started to plan for the day. Our planned path took us through northern Louisiana on Interstate 20, but when we looked at what a good stopping point would be there were few options. The best course of action was to drive a little longer today and head to Baton Rouge. My mother, always a good sport for my flights of fancy, told us she would love to have us. She pointed out that she wouldn’t even have to wash the sheets because we would be there soon anyway. A longer drive also gave us the chance to get the dogs more accustomed to the marathon drives that were ahead.
It is great to see my mom. We invaded her house like something out of Christmas Vacation, unloading the contents of our hotelelment into her pristine house, slightly bleary eyed from a long few days of driving. The dogs introduce themselves to their uncle dog, Duffy. Leeroy promptly dumped all of Duffy’s toys on the floor, found his favorite then immediately eschewed it for his new favorite until all toys had a turn, then began over, repeating the process until it was time for bed. Harry, always quick to spot a sucker who will let him on the couch, made himself at home cuddling with my mom.
I made sure that the guitar fit in the space I had allotted (it did, but a second far less nice guitar did not, so there is still a guitar of mine at my mom’s house) and ran a load of laundry. It was a nice visit, but very quick. My mom was getting ready to travel to see my aunt and cousin, and we were getting ready to travel…… somewhere on the gulf coast. We retired early.
The next morning, I got up early to send Mom off to the airport. We took our time getting loaded up and started to work on a plan for the day. We researched some campground options near the beach and discovered that many are farther from the water than they may let on in promotional materials. We originally wanted to go to Destin Florida for a few days, but decided that a better plan was to start by car camping on Dauphin Island, Alabama and continue on to Destin. The only problem was that to make it to the campground we had to leave. That second. We left like it was a scene from the movie Twister, only instead of life saving weather research, we had to get our car/house to an RV park before it closes. Also, there are dogs.
The drive was short because we did a long day getting to Louisiana. It was also interesting. We were in the no bullshit south. The drive to Dauphin Island took us through a rural area south of Mobile. The last recorded lynching in America occurred in this area in 1981. Confederate flags became more and more noticeable. Looking back, that rural area seemed to have a darkness to it. As if it was trying to work off a karmic debt that it had only recently started making payments on. The kind woman who ran the RV park was a little unsure of the long-haired van dweller she was now confronted with. Fortunately, I didn’t want to discuss Satan, I just wanted a soda and a bag of ice.
For all of the darkness and mixed feelings, Dauphin Island is kinda cute. For the first time in our trip we had more than one day in the same place. We got there in time and headed for a quick walk on the beach, but it is getting dark so we cut our walk short so we (I) can get our dinner cooked. I made a stew with purple potatoes from the Santa Fe farmer’s market, chicken, pinto beans and some bone broth I stole from my Mom’s freezer. It was really friggin good.
We spent the next day running some errands (It turns out that we needed to get some flea treatment for our dogs before they caught fleas and infested our car/house. Something that I never considered living in the desert) and hitting up a local store called “Ship and Shore Supplies” for some food and a little liquor. Kim got a swim suit (because she forgot hers, even though swimming is her most favorite thing ever) and headed to the beach for a while. I sat and read and watched the dogs. It was a nice quiet day. I’m sure that Kim would have liked to spend more time at the beach, but I enjoyed a little time doing nothing.
The next day we moved on to Florida. The drive was not too bad, but we had to drive around the bay of Mobile, so it was twice as long as it could have been. The forecast called for rain and lots of it so Kim booked a hotel, whose name I will withhold to save them embarrassment (Extended Stay America. 4615 Opa Locka Lane, Destin, Florida 32541. Oops.) We arrived around 3pm. Kim checked in while I stayed with the dogs. She came back out to the car and told me that the room wasn’t quite up to her standards in the “the last person’s hair has been cleaned up” department. She grabbed Harry and headed in while I took Leeroy to go to the bathroom. I texted her and ask the room number and she response was “131. Stop at the giant hole in the ceiling.” Her directions, while unusual, were completely accurate.
I found our room under a large hole in the ceiling. I’m talking about a hole that looks like a man has fallen through the ceiling. Maybe while carrying something. Like a truck tire. Comically large. I went inside and I was a little surprised. I typically have a lower standard when it comes to hotels than Kim. But this place was gross. The smoke detector was wrapped in a plastic bag, because the last people in here were smoking. And it didn’t smell like cigarettes. Or weed. More like old batteries dipped in Windex. I am a generally hairy person, and, as a man in my mid-thirties, some of that hair stays behind once I have left. My shedding ass was stunned by how much hair is in the beds. (Extended Stay America. 4615 Opa Locka Lane, Destin, Florida 32541) The chair (which was a basic black office chair, pushed up to a rickety dining table, none of them real furniture) looked like it had been used to beat the makeup off of a sad clown. It was so gross I sat on the bed. For a second. Then I stood. For an hour while we tried to find a new place. We could hear every word of our neighbor’s conversation. It was colorful. And Loud. And Angry. With no promise of stopping anytime soon. Even the dogs didn’t want to sit down. I may be anthropomorphizing here, but they looked at me as if to say “I know that twice a day you have to yank on my leash to stop me from sticking my head into my dog brothers stream of urine. I know that every time I vomit I try to eat it, then while you are stopping me my brother does eat it. But please don’t make us stay here.” We looked over our options and found a La Quinta down the road a few miles in Fort Walton Beach. We booked it. On the way, out a man who was visibly a drug addict told me he likes my dogs. Both of them growled. I considered doing the same.
In the time that we were in the murder hotel (For clarity, the Extended Stay America. 4615 Opa Locka Lane, Destin, Florida 32541. Look it up on trip advisor.) a storm rolled in. Kim shot a quick boomerang of the rain through the windshield to put up on Instagram. The drive to our new hotel took a while, but it was quite nice. It had a nice clean bed, and laminate floors, and an area to walk the dogs with poop bags and a trash can. But we were really just happy to be out of the Extended Stay America (4615 Opa Locka Lane, Destin, Florida 32541). I looked up a place where we could get some gluten free food and ran out and grabbed some tacos and something to drink. I thought about burning my clothes just to be safe. I didn’t, but I kind of wish I had.
I brought the food and drinks back to the hotel and we had a nice little meal. We planned a trip to the laundromat and to clean the car/house for the morning then some beach time in the afternoon. We went to sleep with no concerns of what living creatures might be sharing our bed with us.
The next day we got our plan rolling. We dropped the dogs off at a daycare, because freedom. We parked at a public beach and walked down to a resort’s chairs. An attendant informed us that we could rent them and we do. I sat in the shade and read while Kim walked the beach and pined to get in the water, but there were high winds so she could only watch the waves. We hit the laundromat and I stayed with the clothes while Kim went to a car wash. We met back up and headed for the beach with clean clothes, linens and some of the bugs washed off the grill of the car. We grabbed the dogs and loaded them up into our clean car/house. I got more tacos from the same place (what? They were good. You find a different place with gluten free options every night. It’s a pain in the ass.) and settle in to our bed where the only hair was mine. Gross.