Good road trips require a bit of planning- perhaps even a bit of math. Road trips with small children require a LOT of planning and a bit of algebra; there are a lot of variables and unnecessary “y”s thrown in. (Y= Why?). Road trip math is a lot like sports math. It should make more sense, but there is always something thrown in within the constraints that make one yell, stand up, and wish for blooper replays. This was one of those trips. The requirements for success were met, but oh, the variables. Boy, Howdy.
When I began planning a drive across the country with my sons, I pictured a well-organized car, several toys and educational movies to play, and healthy snacks at the ready. Then I realized the reality was visions of this:
End up like this on when traveling:
It began with a little GPS problem. I recently moved, so leaving my home and getting on the highway requires going through a bit of construction. It also is very easy- unless the GPS is on. My GPS is going through a midlife crisis. It calls each road by a different name each time, requires multiple U-turns, and prefers the ‘road less traveled’ when it isn’t necessary. After three unnecessary detours, my mother and I were yelling and declaring that we had to go home and just not drive. 7 minutes into the drive. Yep. After looking at the map and realizing that the GPS needed a good old fashioned shut-down furlough for a state or two, I turned it off. Then I named my GPS Hal. I am pretty sure the GPS sulked for an hour after I turned it off.
Our first stop was three hours later, at a McDonald’s in South Carolina. My poor child was playing nicely in the Playscape when the ground started to shake. A stampede of children three feet taller than my group-shy kiddo ran, screaming and engulfed him.
He very quietly moved out of the way, continued playing for a short while, and then we began that ‘we have to go sit in a car for a few more hours’ exit. It was ugly. Meanwhile, Mom and I changed diapers and took our own stops in round-robin fashion. Fun fact: In South Carolina, a woman opening a door to a bathroom is code for ‘Please rush in past the woman behind you carrying a car seat and holding the hand of a toddler who would rather be playing outside than being rushed into a bathroom.’ More than one woman rushed past and did just that. Charming.
On the way out the gentleman who also followed the ‘code’ and then stood in the doorway as I carried BOTH kids out then turned to me and said, “Boy, that looks heavy!” I looked at him, raised an eyebrow, and said, “Yes. It is. Pardon us.”
As the last seatbelt clicked and we prepared for the next two hours of driving, Mom said, “I’m really not impressed with the people in South Carolina.” Little did we know that by the next leg we would actually miss that bathroom.
As we pressed on toward Georgia, both boys fell asleep right at the time for a refill. These sleep-or-scream/life-or-death decisions are common to parents on road trips. We pressed on until we were down to 1/8 of a tank. At that point we needed food and gas, but were in the stretch of Georgia that has nothing on it for 30 miles at a time. We FINALLY found a stop that had a blue sign indicating FOOD. However, there were no restaurants listed on that sign. So, food but no food. It was the equivalent of an empty buffet with a sign saying, “Sorry, the boys beat you to it. Enjoy your diet.”
We rolled into the BP parking lot and Momma greeted a woman in her 40s who appeared to live like she was still in her 20s. Dark roots sprouted from her scalp and descended into blonde curls, covering the leathering of skin that comes from smoking. Her eyes that had probably seen too much glanced up to greet my mother, who smiled kindly. “Hello! We are looking for a place to eat. We saw the food sign but wondered if there actually was anywhere to eat.”
The woman’s head tipped to better allow sarcasm to escape her pursed lips. “Did you see that there wasn’t anything on that food sign? There isn’t any food.”
With the deep breath that comes from years of mothering, that brave woman continued smiling. “Yes, exactly. That is why I thought I would come in and ask YOU where the nearest place to eat is.” Apparently not all people are more helpful than confused signage. I strongly suggest that those who once did road signage now program my car’s GPS. Directed only to a local BBQ dive, we moved on to the next pressing matter—a restroom.
The local BP girl’s well-manicured pink nails pointed us to the out-building. Clearly those nails had never grasped a toilet wand or any other cleaning item in that area, based upon the horror we encountered next.
Much like a car-wreck attracts on-lookers, something at the out-building gathered wary on-lookers. Six women of varied age and appearance, along with a few men, were doing an apprehensive dance around the doors. They took turns moving in and out of the door, calling back to their driving partners with the cautious fear of a teenager parallel parking downtown for the first time. I observed this interesting dance of bees at a hive as my mother took her purse (now armed with diaper changing necessities) and charged in while I passed out snacks to Firstborn. A few minutes later my mother walked briskly out of the restroom with her head down and eyes wide, stunned at whatever she had just encountered.
By now my passenger door was open and I was inventing new dance moves. I curiously looked at my mother with furrowed brow as she raised her eyes to mine, as if blessing me as I charged into battle. She thrust a full, green container of wipes into my hands and said, “Here. There’s no toilet paper. Do NOT wash your hands.” I stared at her blankly. She shuddered. “I feel like I’ve just been through Deliverance.”
Knowing that laughing at that comment as it deserved would warrant new pants, I decided to postpone. Another young girl who had walked three steps into the bathroom came out shaking her head, adamant that she would NOT be entering that restroom. She followed her husband into the men’s side. He was flaring his nostrils like Judd Nelson.
Apparently I needed a guardian angel for whatever I was about to encounter. I turned around to actually see an angel…well, a Hell’s Angel anyway. A woman of 50 dressed in leather and denim was behind me, looking questioningly at the large rock that propped open the dingy bathroom door.
The sweet girl emerged from the men’s room looking flustered, apparently still holding it. “I’m going to tell that girl that there is no toilet paper.” Bless her heart. I turned bravely toward the door and declared, “I’m goin’ in.” I could NOT wait to see if there was actually restroom another 18 miles down the road or not. People say, “It isn’t the destination; it’s the journey.” That is true…unless you really need a restroom.
I charged past the broken door to see more broken doors. Three dirty stalls stood wearily, holding each other up. On two of the doors large sings scrawled in magic markers said, “Out of Order. Do not try to use.”
Pieces of wood also barred the door. I looked into the stall and saw streaks of brown porcelain that dream of earlier days of being white–not unlike the teeth I have often encountered in that area of Georgia when I was a resident of the state. (Tacky comment? Yes. True? Yes.)
I clutched my wipes and patted myself on the back for adding extra squats into my exercise routine. After flushing with my elbow, I remembered the counter-intuitive advice not to try to wash my hands. The water was dripping out a deep molasses color, the soap dispenser had not been refilled since the Nixon years, and a paper towel would have been as foreign to the area as a successful ban on ammo sales.
As I exited I saw that my Hell’s Angel apparently decided against ‘Deliverance’ and took flight. I looked at the door again and noticed this sign. It should have read, “Abandon all hope ye who enter.”
I had to satisfy my curiosity; I glanced into the men’s restroom. For the first time in my life, I saw a cleaner men’s restroom that women’s restroom. They both smelled like hogs had been slaughtered on the floor, but that is not surprising.
We peeled out of the BP parking lot like the men of Duck Dynasty on the first day of Open Season. Mild bouts of laughter punctuated our head shaking and lurching. Needless to say we did NOT stop for food. We amused ourselves considering various letters we could write to BP in regard to their facilities . It wasn’t until 34 miles down the road that we were able to stop for another chance to change diapers. We drove until Alabama before eating. Of course, that meant driving 55 on the highway, which did not feel fast enough to escape the morning. Little did we know what awaited us.