Editors note: This is the third installment of a multi-part series on our summer road trip to NJ. They are not in sequential order. Some of this will be akin to eye wateringly boring home movies. Anyway, you’ve been warned.
Here is a long one for a rainy Saturday in Knoxville.
Well we have come to the actual trip of the road trip. I’ve avoided these next few posts for some reason. Might be all the emotional scars that develop when spending 26+ hours in the Starship Frankerprise with this cast of characters:
The navigator. Sort of.
The sleeper cell.
The tail gunner. AKA Grammy.
It really wasn’t as bad as I’m about to make it sound. At least that’s what my therapist says. And if you haven’t guessed, I was not authorized to use what was deemed an unflattering car picture of the Navigator, also known as Mrs. Frank’s Place. I mean let’s just be honest here, I’m retired, she pays the bills up in this joint. So, hello great looking beach shot. We at Frank’s Place aim to please.
Anyway, that’s the crew I hit the road with. To Jersey and back or bust…or something like that.
Except for stopping 1.5 hours into the trip for a potty break at the Virginia welcome center, a scant 12 hours from Jersey, we were rolling. Ahh the Virginia welcome center, where I used the ladies room without knowing it, with my mother-in-law in the next stall.
The sequester must have hit Va. hard because they apparently can’t even find budget money to label the bathroom doors properly. No matter. The only other issue on the trip to New Jersey was having to stay overnight about 2 hours from the promise land. Go two posts back and read Night of the Alligator for a more in depth look at our night in Maryland.
No, it was the ride back to Knoxville that was fraught with adventure.
It started out so well. Did I mention it was Labor Day weekend?
Cargo hold of the SS Frankerprise
Had the cargo hold of the Frankerprise all loaded and secured for the voyage. Besides the people there are a few items missing, but for the most part that is the bulk of our “stuff”. Peep that picture folks. That’s some grade-A arranging. Even had a center aisle all the way to the front for easy movement about the cabin. There are some churches in town that don’t have a center aisle that nice.
Ok stop looking. We hit the road at 7:30 in the am. Perfect time if you’re planning to make the whole 660 miles in one shot.
We got out of Jersey as fast as I think we ever have. On Saturday of Labor Day weekend at the shore that’s huge. Everyone is settled in and I’m thinking this might go smoothly. I’m a dreamer of dreams, sue me.
The dream didn’t turn to a nightmare until we hit I-81 in the northern part of Virginia. The little McDonald’s has the dubious distinction of being a great stop and a very bad stop all in one.
It was a great stop because it was our first stop, almost 5hrs into the trip back to Rocky Top. At this point I have no doubt we will be in our own beds that night.
It was also great because in the parking lot of the McDonald’s stood Eli, a guy who was probably in his mid fifties but looked like he was 750 years old. Eli apparently was having a dispute with his wife or his brother. Maybe his brother’s wife. His vocabulary choices didn’t allow me to narrow it down any further. Eli was not a student of discretion because he was speaking at the top of what was left of his Marlboro smoke-filled lungs, or lung maybe. It was pretty awesome. I love listening to southerners use the F-bomb. A good Yankee will conjugate the F-bomb into every possible form and fit it all in one sentence; Johnny Reb, not so much. But oh how I love to listen to them try. Made my morning.
It was an incredibly bad stop because the Navigator had dialed up that particular establishment on the inter-webs and it was billed as having a playground. It didn’t of course. It did have a great big field next to it where Sleeper Cell and the Hoarder could run around and stay clear of Eli as he brought down all the saints (ask a Yankee).
After the Navigator recovers from her thinly veiled invective filled rant about what lying turds McDonald’s is, we do a manual waste dump, off load some ballast, (you’re welcome McDonald’s with no playground), and get back on the road.
In a flash we’re lost.
The exit to get back on I-81 had magically vanished. Signs pointed to it but it wasn’t there. This is what I was getting from the Navigator:
No clue bro.
Both me and the Tail Gunner are in agreement that the exit was there but now was not. Remnants of some construction became visible on our 2nd pass. The Navigator spots a makeshift, and I do mean makeshift, sign pointing to the possibility of a new on-ramp to 81. Had I not been conjugating F-bombs I would have taken a picture of it.
So after that ten minutes of trail blazing we were off and running below the Mason Dixon.
We hit Roanoke and now we are 4 maybe 4.5 hours from Knoxville. Yes I was bending a few laws. But in Roanoke we hit a wall of water. It was Ten Commandments, parting the Red Sea wall of water. Now my eyesight is ok at best. It’s almost non-existent in the dark when it’s raining. It wasn’t dark yet, but it wasn’t sunny either, and unlike Knoxville these folks on 81 don’t slow down just because there’s a measly inch or two of water on the road.
So we’re hurtling down the highways at about 75 mph in what is now a book of Revelation type downpour. I’m lookin for the Four Horsemen, now on jet skis, to come up behind me at any moment. But it’s an interstate right, should drive through it any minute, right. Yes true enough, if any minute means 3 hours later, than yes we drove through it.
We bust out into sunshine in Bristol. We will make it home. Dinner at the Chick Fil-A, with a playground, was uneventful and we’re back in the Frankerprise making warp speed to Knoxvegas. And we’re back in the rain. Not Armageddon type but still some serious rain. And Sleeper Cell decides now is the perfect time for an attack.
For whatever reason she is out of her mind, bat-crap crazy. Tail gunner is practically standing on her head while singing to keep the kid entertained. We are but 90 minutes from home. I am not stopping. In the entire van from front to back, packed with metric tons of stuff, the only thing that will keep Sleeper Cell happy is my wallet. She played with that thing for 40 minutes. I was still finding things like credit cards, my Kroger card etc.. on the lawn the next morning. That is clearly a look into the future when she becomes a teen-ager.
The rain tapers off as we near Knoxville and the Navigator brings up a very important point in the form of a question. She’s the Alex Trebek of navigators. What is “Are we going to hit game traffic?”
Well crap, it’s opening day of college football and the Vols had a home game that might let out as we pass through downtown. I’m now dropping F-bombs in my head faster than might be humanly possible. Took every bit of Jedi mind power to keep them in my head and not release them into the pressurized atmosphere of the Frankerprise.
Navigator dials up the game on the radio and it appears the game will not let out for several minutes after we pass by. Bullet dodged, because that stadium holds about 105,000 people. Probably only 98,000 at the game, but either way I-40 in Knoxville literally becomes a parking lot for an hour or so after the game is done.
But we missed it and it then occurred to me we hit not one traffic jam the whole way from Jersey to Knoxville. No accidents, no jams at the myriad of toll booths you have to go through to leave the northern part of the country, nothing. Well there was one small incident involving a traffic cone at the merger between 70 and 81. Look for that in a post called The Power of the Cone.
But all in all it was a smooth trip as far as the stopping and going went.
As for all the rain, well lets just say this is what I looked like when we started out for home…
The world at my feet.
…and this is what I looked like when we finally pulled in our driveway.
Thou shalt be driven from the north by torrents of rain
Great trip, but man that drive is a killer… almost.