What a long, strange trip it was

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 14, 2001

Last week on Wednesday I was busily preparing to embark on Thursday's planned road trip with the parents to Huntsville.

We'd spend the night at my sister's house in the Rocket City', then journey on Friday morning to the lovely hamlet of Gordonsville in middle Tennessee to visit with family members before the Wood reunion on Sunday.

Well, that's what we planned anyway.

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Let me just say I'm extremely pleased there are such things as cell phones and 24-hour roadside assistance.

We left as planned early Wednesday afternoon.

The CD changer was filled with an eclectic collection of my favorite southern gospel and 70s soft rock and pop and the trunk carefully packed with all our doo-dads with room to spare for Sis's stuff .

The sun was shining and all was right with the world.

Until, that is, some sinister piece of road flak flew up and crashed into the underside of my little Focus somewhere between Honoraville and the back roads to Montgomery.

I heard the nasty &uot;ping&uot; but saw nothing and the car continued to drive fine.

Then the loud roaring started on Montgomery's southern bypass.

&uot;Odd,&uot; I thought.

&uot;I don't remember that part in Abba's Waterloo'. . .&uot;

Red flags started flashing before my eyes

so to speak

and I steered my car off the busy highway and onto the roadside as traffic streamed by. The right front tire had blown and sad black strips of rubber decorated the hot summer pavement.

My father immediately offered to change the tire.

Now, Daddy is 80 years old without the best of balance and I really didn't want him to become a roadside casualty.

It was hot as blazes and we had to either yell to be heard over the traffic noise or sit and suffocate in the stuffy car.

My cell phone kept cutting off when I tried to call hubby (who coincidentally was in Montgomery with his dad for a doctor's appointment) and my best laid plans were pretty much blowing out like that darned old tire.

But we were all OK (even if my almost brand-new, shiny red apple-of-my- eye chariot was NOT.)

And some good Samaritan types

a pair of city roadside clean-up workers

came to the rescue with a working phone.

&uot;Use the number on the yellow card if you have trouble,&uot; Benny had told me before we left.

Well, trouble I was having, so I called for roadside help, got in touch with my hubby and even managed to get my own phone working again.

Forty-five minutes later, a cheerful young fellow named Jamie arrived with a wrecker and proceeded to fill out an astonishing amount of paperwork.

&uot;Hey, it won't take me any time to change the tire compared to all this stuff,&uot; he grinned. He was right.

Of course, my spare is one of those temporary ones intended for short distances, certainly not something to travel on nearly 400 miles one-way.

So, we met hubby at Baptist Tower and he went and had Firestone replace the tire. By the time he returned it was after five o clock and we were still 200 miles away from Huntsville, and I had a headache threatening to blow my poor old skull open.

We went home, unpacked what we needed, and started again the next morning.

Day Two was going very nicely until we hit the Verbena area on I-65.

There was the terrible roaring sound. . . what was that expression poor Charlie Brown used to use when Lucy snatched away the football?

&uot;Aargh,&uot; I mumured in a strangled voice as I steered yet once again to the roadside.

Not an actual blow-out this time, but the (brand-new) left front tire was certainly going as flat as a pancake.

&uot;I think wecan make it over to that next exit and Stuckey's,&uot; I chirped with an enthusiasm I did not wholly feel.

Well, we did make it to Stuckey's, that veritable oasis of air conditioning, cute and kitschy souvenirs, bathrooms and Dairy Queen food.


Better to be stuck at Stuckey's than on the steaming pavement with ugly rain clouds threatening overhead.

With a strong sense of deja-vu, I went through the whole rigamarole again.

An hour or so later, a very familiar face comes through the door. &uot;Y'all had trouble with that same tire again, hunh ?&uot;

Jamie had fortunately saved his mass quantities of paperwork from the day before so he was able to get right on to changing the tire.

&uot;Ya know, it looks like that wheel rim is bentI bet they put the new tire on that bent rim and it just leaked down.&uot;

Jamie shook his head.

&uot;You'd think they'da noticed that at the Firestone place in Montgomery, wouldn'tcha?&uot;

Standing in the drizzle, feeling my hair go into spasms of frizz, I responded through clenched teeth, &uot;Why, YES, you'd think they would have. . .&uot;

About five hours, a lot of waiting around and one rental car later, it was good-bye, power locks, keyless entry, CD player, cruise control and European street' styling and hello to one almost bare-bones, boring competitor's model.

It did, at least, have air conditioning and four good tires and rims.

And, hey, we were still all OKjust way off target for our ETA.

We finally made it to Huntspatch' by 7 p.m. that evening (much to everyone's relief , including my long-suffering hubby's.)

It was a long, strange trip—but we ultimately arrived alive (if not exactly kicking) in beautiful Tennessee on Friday.

More about the reunion next time.

The long and short of it is—try to keep your spirits up and your sense of humor intact, cause you never know when you're gonna need them.

(Cell phone's mighty handy, too.)