This is the second installment of a series recounting a recent road trip I took with my two sons. To read the first installment, click here.
I knew exactly what I was hearing the second it pierced my subconscious. It wasn’t loud, but since I’d been dreading it from the moment I’d allowed my finger to press the SET button on my phone the night before, it didn’t take much for the soft sonar-like dinging of my alarm to cut through the haze of my horrified brain and bring me to full consciousness.
And yet I still didn’t open my eyes. I couldn’t. It would just be too painful.
I mean, who in their right mind would voluntarily open their eyes at 3 o’clock in the morning? Now admittedly, there might be the occasional (or with each passing year, more than occasional) late night/early morning trip to the bathroom, or the living nightmare that accompanies the soft whisper from your small child, “Daddy, I puked,” but this was different. I was making a conscious choice here to wake up on my own. It felt like I was violating nature at its very core.
Finally, as the gentle pulsing started to increase in volume and insistence, I cracked an eyelid and reached down to shut the phone off.
Crap! I was awake…and I was doing this.
I got up, slipped into a tee shirt and basketball shorts that I had designated as my official traveling clothes and slipped quietly through my dark house to wake up my boys. We’d packed and said goodbye to our other family members the night before so it didn’t take long before we were all firmly seated in our family mini-van and ready to go. Following a quick stop at a convenience store where I picked up a Diet Dr. Pepper and multiple packages of mini-donuts that would serve as our pre-breakfast snack, we were officially on our way by 3:25 in the morning. Unofficially, we kicked off our, “Don’t you dare tell your mother how crappy I’m feeding you” portion of the adventure as well.
As we left the lights of Safford behind, I encouraged both boys to try and get some sleep while it was still dark. We’ve all driven the road to Duncan before and I assured them it wasn’t going to get any more interesting this time around just because we’d decided to leave at a time even Downton Abbey housemaids would consider aggregious. In response, Braden plugged in his iPad and started a tradition that would play out every time we pulled back onto the road following a stop. He played Willie Nelson’s On The Road Again. Let me be clear. After Every Stop! EVERY SINGLE ONE!!!
We all sang along.
Unfortunately, that didn’t get us very far so we had to have something else. I had downloaded a couple of books on tape and I had my iPod for music, but to begin with, we opted to try a podcast suggested by a friend called This American Life. Each episode is an hour long and focuses on a topic specific to that episode. It was a life saver. All three of us were instantly mesmerized by the stories being told and it really did make the time fly.
A story about a progressive socialist fighting against the Democratic machine in an effort to get on the primary Congressional ballot in New York got us to Lordsburg. The story of a Somali refugee in Kenya trying to get to America after winning our country’s visa lottery carried us to Las Cruces. Somewhere just outside of Deming, NM, the sun broke over the hills just as we were about to learn the fate of Abdi, the Somali refugee. In the moment, it kinda felt symbolic. Anyway, for me, it was totally cool. We were almost to Texas and neither one of my boys had retreated to their headphones or earbuds to escape the prevaling activity of the car. We were legitimately enjoying a guys road trip together.
(As an aside, throughout most of my youth and early adult years, I had always believed Lordsburg to be, without doubt, the most depressing place in the entire United States. Having seen it again after more than a decade or two, I realize now that I was right.)
About 8 a.m. (we’d been on the road for about 3 1/2 hours, but we’d already lost one additional hour to that cursed Daylight Savings Time when we crossed into New Mexico) we hit the outskirts of El Paso and pulled off for gas and a proper breakfast at McDonalds, or to be quite frank, a different kind of gas. Just 20 minutes later (a Rapier family record for a gas tank fill-up and a meal, such as it is) we were back on the road. Braden started up On The Road Aga…no wait, we hit a traffic jam and so he turned it off. It just didn’t quite feel right to be singing On The Road Again while not actually moving. Instead, I made them listen to the classic Marty Robbins’ song El Paso. Losing about half an hour in stand still traffic with approximately 9 hours of driving still in front of us, it seemed only fitting that we listen to a song about a guy bleeding out in his lover’s arms due to a mess of his own making.
Finally, we made it through the traffic snag, got our Willie Nelson fix and continued down the road. Suddenly, off to our right we saw a vast number of buildings painted in colors you just don’t see…anywhere. And that’s when we realized we were right next to the Mexican border and what we were seeing was Juarez. It was humbling. That we could see such a stark difference in the way people lived just a couple hundred yards away from our freeway overpass was extremely sobering. And what had those of us in our little van done to earn such a clear advantage in life over those just down the way? We happened to get born on the right side of a meandering little river that looked significantly more like a stream. We talked about it. I hope my boys appreciate what they’ve been blessed with. I hope I do. Because in that moment, “blessed” hardly seemed an adequate description.
The night before left, Braden (our family’s personal map and weather guru) had printed up an itinerary that broke our trip up into digestible pieces. The first day’s trek consisted of eight legs. The first four were designed to make us really feel like we were making progress. Safford to Lordsburg, 90 miles. Lordsburg to Deming, 60 miles. (I should point out for Braden’s sake that I am rounding/estimating on the distances while his itinerary did not. It was very specific. I’m just too lazy to do the same research he did, for a blog entry.) Deming to Las Cruces, 60 miles. Las Cruces to El Paso, 40 miles. See how you could get caught up in how quickly the trip is going. I mean, there are only eight legs and we’ve knocked out four of them in three and a half hours. Then came leg 5…El Paso to Van Horn.
It’s not like Braden was going out of his way to throw our distance expectations into shock, it’s just that…well, West Texas is not proportionally populated in comparison to the rest of the world. Antarctica? Maybe. But anywhere else? Not even close. Nevertheless, we were men on a mission and we met the challenge head on. Two and a half hours after leaving El Paso, we finally happened upon civilization once again in the form of Van Horn, TX. And by the way, I believe Van Horn is the Texan translation for Lordsburg.
As we came upon the first exit to Van Horn we made several decisions. We each decided we were men. And as men, we decided we each had bladders of steel. And finally, we each decided that too much of Willie Nelson is not a good thing. I pressed on the gas and we kept on driving.
One hundred and twenty miles or so later, we descended on a poor unsuspecting convenience store bathroom in Ft. Stockton, TX like it was a fire hydrant accidentally placed in the middle of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Of course, after using the bathroom, I bought a Diet Dr. Pepper and we continued on our way, Mr. Nelson providing our theme music as we picked up speed.
In Ft. Stockton, I forced my boys to switch seats. Now my younger son, Logan was up front with me and Braden was relegated to the back. Logan had finally reached his limit on continuous podcasts and asked if we could listen to a book. I agreed. He chose an Agatha Christie novel. We started it up and I immediately realized this was going to be rough. The reader had a pretty strong English accent that didn’t mix well with the hum of our tires rolling along at 80 mph. At best I was catching every third word and if you’re trying to solve a murder mystery, being partially deaf is not ideal. Apparently Logan was having the same struggles because rather than try to decipher the silly natterings of Ms. Abigail Chatterly Smythe, or whatever the main woman’s name was, he fell asleep. A few more miles later, I gave up.
I switched over to the other book I had downloaded which, coincidentally, also had a male reader with a British accent (although much more understandable to an American ear). One of my favorite memories of the entire trip was seeing Logan wake up, tune back into the story, and then sit silently with a seriously confused look on his face as he tried to figure out how an American businessman ripping off four English blokes to the tune of $1 million played into the story he’d been listening to earlier about a murder of a wealthy English noblewoman. He gave it his best effort for about 10 minutes before he finally gave up and asked me what the heck he’d missed. It was awesome!
One more stop in Ozona, TX for lunch at a Subway, one more rendition of On The Road Again, several more uneventful hours of driving and suddenly we were in the outskirts of San Antonio. I’m not certain if my butt had ever been happier. Thanks to almost flawless navigation by my elder son, we pulled into our hotel near downtown and practically leapt from our van in anticipation of our trip’s first official adventure. What met us was an oppressive curtain of humidity that stopped us almost dead in our tracks. And that’s when it hit us. We, a bunch of “it’s a dry heat” Arizona boys had headed toward the Gulf of Mexico in the dead of summer. Maybe it was possible we hadn’t completely thought this adventure of ours all the way through.
Look for the next installment of The Rapier Guys Road Trip to be posted later this week.