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Lessons of the Road Trip From Hell

30 Jul

I used to travel to exotic places, act spontaneously and take risks.  Now, adventure is a hibachi dinner at Benihana.  An epic adventure is the chef’s trick shrimp toss into his pocket that drops down my blouse by mistake.

So when my husband Chris informed me that I’d have to drive my sixteen-year-old daughter Heather and her friends to summer camp in the Poconos by myself because he’d be on a Las Vegas business trip (an oxymoron if I ever heard one), I worried.

“You’ll be fine, you can do this,” he said.

“But I’ll have to cross the border!” I cried.

“Into Pennsylvania, not Afghanistan.”

“Still, I’ll have to pump my own gas.”

“It’s okay.  You can ask for help.  They speak English in Pennsylvania.”

I had grown accustomed to a quiet suburban life.  I didn’t enjoy leaving home anymore, especially to enter the wilderness where I might face dangerous wildlife like snakes, bears, and suburban campers.

But I wanted to expand my comfort zone and show my kids that each time we face our fears, we gain strength, courage and confidence.  So I piled the car with sleeping bags, suitcases, and teenage girl camping essentials:  curling irons, laptop computers and lip gloss.  Then I spent the next two and a half hours driving in the rain and nagging my daughter to turn down the rap music blasting from the radio.

We’d barely left New Jersey when I spotted an unusual highway sign with a dotted image that resembled the children’s game connect the dots.  The sign said, Keep Min One Space Apart.  A series of equally spaced elliptical white dots marked the center of the road in front of me.  I sped over them, not sure what to make of the painted ovals.   It looked like a giant game of Road Twister for bored travelers.  I was waiting for the next signs to say, Left Tire, Green and Right Fender, Red.

“Did you girls see that unusual highway sign?”  I asked.  “Girls!” I shouted.  Heather grunted and turned down the radio for a while, which allowed me to remove my fingers from my ears and steer without using my knees.  It also gave me the chance to listen in on their conversation.

“I hope my counselor isn’t Sarah,” friend Amelia said.  “She talks in her sleep all night.”

“I know,” answered Mary.  “Then she complains the next morning that we kept her up late chatting.”

“Look at the river!” Amelia exclaimed.  “It’s so beauti…….eeewwwwwww!  Road kill!”

We looked across the divide to see a freshly struck deer on the side of the highway.   Vultures circled above.

“AHHHHHH!” the girls screamed.

It was horrible.   All we needed was a pack of hyenas feeding on a young gazelle to complete the “Animal Planet” nightmare.

I was equally traumatized, but tried to make the best of the situation by using the experience as a teaching moment.  I lectured them at length about urban sprawl displacing deer from their natural environment.  “And that’s why we have to pay attention to our surroundings while driving,” I said.  “Right girls?”

Nobody responded, so I glanced in the rearview mirror and noticed they had all donned headphones.  I sighed, and turned on the news.

We finally pulled up to camp—in a downpour.  By the time I unloaded the car my clothes were completely soaked.  I gave my daughter a wet hug and raced home, eager for this adventure to end.

I strained to hear NPR at full volume over the rain as I daydreamed about full-serve gas pumps and one less person to do laundry for.  I was trying to ignore the distracting dots when a police siren sounded behind me.  I pulled over.

“Mam, can you turn down your radio?”

“Sorry, officer.”

“Do you know why I pulled you over?”

“No, officer,” I answered, holding back my real guess: “Wet T-shirt.”

“You were tail-gaiting.”  He handed me a ticket.  “Next time, keep a minimum of one space apart—that’s what the white dots are for.”

Lesson learned:  When we face our fears we gain strength, courage, confidence, and in some cases, a moving violation.

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47 Responses to “Lessons of the Road Trip From Hell”

  1. jotsfromasmallapt July 30, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    White dots…..hmmmm…who knew?

  2. The Laughing Mom July 30, 2012 at 9:49 am #

    That’s bizarre! If you hadn’t been cranking that rowdy NPR, maybe you could have payed more attention to the road.

  3. Don't Quote Lily July 30, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    So weird, I wouldn’t have known what that sign/dots meant either! Lesson learned. 😉

    • Main Street Musings Blog July 30, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

      I think it might be wiser if they simply posted a sign that says “Don’t tailgate”

      • Don't Quote Lily July 30, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

        Good point! Nice and simple. They’re so dumb. 😉

  4. Honie Briggs July 30, 2012 at 10:07 am #

    I drove a U-Haul through the Poconos from Charlotte, NC to Rochester, NY a couple of summers ago. Construction – one lane -at night. It was terrifying at some points. Tailgating was almost impossible not to do, while trying not to use the brakes too much so I could maintain enough speed to make it up the next hill. UUHHHGGG! 🙂

  5. earthriderjudyberman July 30, 2012 at 10:12 am #

    I can relate to your dread about driving great distances into the unknown. BTW, I was born in Pennsylvania and can attest to what your hubby said, they do speak English there. Great lines and story, Lisa.
    As for the ‘one space min,” my policy is to be able to see the rear tires of the vehicle ahead of me. I hate it when I see someone behind me who is so close that I can’t even see their headlights. If I had to stop suddenly, that driver would slam into the trunk of my car.

    • Main Street Musings Blog July 30, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

      Thanks, Judy. I remember that “see the rear tires” trick from driver’s ed and still use it today!

      • earthriderjudyberman July 30, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

        Great! Then, I’ll feel quite comfortable should I ever see your smiling face in my rear view mirror.

  6. Carol R Craley July 30, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    Too bad the deer didn’t use the white dots. I know the Poconos, but I’ve never seen them. My memory of camp in the Poconos was as a school administrator and a 3 day camping trip for 402 sixth graders. Two of the charter bus drivers didn’t speak English, got lost coming out of NYC, had no cell phones and couldn’t ask for directions. Being abandoned in the Poconos with sixty eleven year olds with no means to get home after 3 days communing with Mother Nature was my “Lack of Road Trip from Hell!”

    • Main Street Musings Blog July 30, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

      What a story! I’m still cracking up from your first line. It’s comments like yours that make blogging so much fun.

  7. Natalie Hartford July 30, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    ROFL! You can get a ticket for tailgating?!?! Who knew…great post!

    • Main Street Musings Blog July 30, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

      I probably would have been wise to follow the white dot rule. Or, to wear a white t-shirt. 😉

  8. Paprika Furstenburg July 30, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    I want to go on a road trip now to see those dots. I’ve not seen them when I cross the border on my way to Philly. I wonder if it is a regional specialty of the Poconos.

    The one upside to this is that you had already dropped off your daughter and her friends. You would have never heard the end of it if they were in the car with you.

    • Main Street Musings Blog July 30, 2012 at 6:01 pm #

      You’re right, I’d never hear the end of it. A friend of mine was recently pulled over for using her cellphone. I saw her get the ticket and mentioned it to her daughter the next day. It turns out she was trying to keep it a secret from her daughter and I spilled the beans. Now I’m the one not hearing the end of it!

  9. char July 30, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

    So funny! I’m glad I found your blog. Your writing is great. Hope he didn’t make it an expensive violation.

  10. The Bumble Files July 30, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    Oh, such a bummer!! And, you finally were enjoying some quiet listening to NPR. That’s too bad. I bet your daughter would have loved to see you get pulled over. At least you were alone. I’ve never seen a sign like that. I guess now I know. Thanks! 🙂

  11. morristownmemos by Ronnie Hammer July 30, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

    I think those Pennsylvania treasury people put up those white dots to catch unsuspecting New Jersey drivers on their way to or from summer camps.

  12. Audubon Ron July 30, 2012 at 10:58 pm #

    Count yourself lucky you didn’t get tased. I am so disappointed to learn you’re a tailgater. Everyday I got some WOMAN on my rear with her grille up my trailer hitch on the cell phone while applying makeup.

    Other than that, I think you’re okay.

    • Main Street Musings Blog July 31, 2012 at 6:21 am #

      “grille up my trailer hitch” Too funny, Ron. I live in the suburbs. I don’t even know anyone with a trailer hitch.

  13. sdunnebacke July 30, 2012 at 11:08 pm #

    Oh my GOSH I wish you could get ticketed for that in Michigan. Tailgating, I mean, not wet t-shirts or listening to NPR.

  14. Perfecting Motherhood July 31, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

    Oh, I’ve seen similar signs before but I didn’t realize this meant the cops are sitting around, waiting to nail drivers. Good to know. I bet your husband won’t ever hear the end of this one, for him leaving you in the wild to fend for yourself!

  15. Main Street Musings Blog July 31, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

    I really have to learn to interpret the signs. (A metaphor for life).

  16. samesides August 1, 2012 at 1:32 am #

    This blog post was right on time for me. The Universe is good and I needed to read this.

    I’m about to embark on an adventure with my three kids, alone, without a man around, this weekend. By choice.

    I need to do this for myself. Being a single mom now, it’s about time I leave suburbia and gain a little independence.

    And so I’m choosing to go tent camping out in the wilderness to bond with the bears. Yes, I’m crazy, but if I can make it through without my damn Facebook, hairdryer and 3 showers per day, I can do anything.

    I will be sure to wear a white t-shirt and wet myself down before I take off in my rock star minivan. A girl’s gotta do whatever she can to get out of a ticket.

    If my kids ask me what the hell I’m doing that for, I’ll just tell ’em that I’m attempting to increase my chances at winning the 2012 Mom-of-the-Year award.

    Thanks for your great writing,
    Emily Reese

    • Main Street Musings Blog August 1, 2012 at 9:00 am #

      Wow, you’re right, that post was timely for you! I admire your spirit! It’s good to break out of status quo sometimes and push your limits. I bet it will be a memorable trip for all of you. Good luck on your daring, Facebook-free adventure!

  17. Dawn@LightenUp! August 1, 2012 at 5:52 am #

    Hahaha! Hey, didn’t you know? Pennsylvania=Afghanistan.
    Lol’d at your fear of road kill. Can’t say anything, though I’m a country girl, the feelings you describe are those I felt the first time I drove into my job in downtown Columbus.

    • Main Street Musings Blog August 1, 2012 at 9:09 am #

      On our recent trip to Arkansas my kids were intrigued by the new and unfamiliar roadkill, armadillo — looked like dead rats wearing armor. ewww.

  18. funnyortragic August 2, 2012 at 1:38 am #

    Never seen those dots before. But I do know that I hate the way most states have highway signs–some exits just have a number, some only a name, some highway splits don’t say which way is which…

  19. nursemommylaughs August 2, 2012 at 10:57 am #

    Highway Twister…great analogy! I’m sure he let you off with a warning because of the the wet t-shirt, right?! 🙂 Very funny

    • Main Street Musings Blog August 2, 2012 at 11:46 am #

      Doesn’t it bring back childhood memories when you think of twister? (the game, not the kind that takes off roof tops . . .)

  20. Huffygirl August 4, 2012 at 9:18 pm #

    I’ve traveled in many states and I’ve never seen the dots on the highway before. And I definitely would have missed the significance as I too was grooving to NPR.

    As far as the roadkill -it’s a daily site here. Sometimes out of boredom I count the dead deer I’ve seen on long trips. (record so far is 9)
    And when I’m out on my bike – I get to see all of it right up close. See what you miss by living in the city?

    • Main Street Musings Blog August 5, 2012 at 6:20 am #

      Sounds like when you ride your bike you have to look out for more than cars and pedestrians!

  21. mj monaghan August 5, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

    I always loved that Beach Boys song, “Poconos.”

    What?? Oh, sorry, maybe it’s “Kokomo”.

    I’m with you on the “Don’t Tailgate!” sign. So much easier to understand.

  22. dilipnaidu August 8, 2012 at 12:02 am #

    My first visit and delighted. You write so well – enjoyed your adventure spiced with humor.
    Cheers 🙂

  23. hollybernabe August 29, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

    As soon as you mentioned the white dots, I knew what you were talking about. I was a long haul trucker for a few years and have been to all of the 48 contiguous states except for the five most northeastern ones. I remember those dots well!

    I find driving and travel relaxing and enjoyable, unless I’m in a car full of teenagers with the radio cranked up. And even with all my driving experience, I still don’t care to steer with my knees, so color me impressed.

    Perhaps, though, to reassure the drivers of passing semis going three thousand miles an hour (because if they can, they do) you might consider investing in earplugs? See, when truck drivers see car drivers doing “dangerous” things (forget that driving three thousand miles an hour might be considered dangerous), first thing they do is get on the CB radio and start gossiping, er, warning the other drivers of the “idiot driving with her knees” in the car. Then the other truck drivers know to run you down, er, avoid you like the plague.

    • Main Street Musings Blog August 30, 2012 at 8:10 am #

      Or I could get a CB radio and they can tell me I’m an idiot directly.

      • hollybernabe August 30, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

        LOL! Yeah, they just might. Then again, most of those drivers are male and lonely–a woman with a CB is just an invitation…for what, I couldn’t say, but an invitation. 😉

    • Main Street Musings Blog August 31, 2012 at 7:58 am #

      Holly, I would love to hear more about your job as a long haul trucker. You must have some wild stories. Have you written anything about it?

      • hollybernabe August 31, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

        Not too much. I keep telling myself that I will someday. But I never get around to it. I really need to!

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