You Can't Get There From Here

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My soon-to-be husband and I had packed up two households, one kid, two dogs and an old, beat-up truck into one giant U-Haul and headed out for parts unknown. At least, they were parts unknown to us.

© Sasha Gray

We were moving from North Carolina to Arkansas—to the future of a new job and life and far away from our past of ex-spouses, drama and turmoil. We left in late April, and I could hardly wait for my parents to visit as soon as summer vacation rolled around.

I dutifully took notes as we drove along I-40, marking the places on the map where the road was under construction, or where they should take the bypass instead of driving through town. And when we got to Hot Springs, I wrote down every single turn, the miles between each road and what to do when they got to the end of our road. (Stop. The answer is to stop.)

Then I mailed them the notes, carefully underlining the most important parts and even pointing out good places to eat along the way. I included a map (because you certainly couldn’t buy one of those in North Carolina, could you?), highlighting the route they should take and making notes in the margins, with giant arrows pointing to the places I referenced. I certainly couldn’t call and tell them all this vital information, because only local calls were free and those landline long-distance calls really added up.

© Sasha Gray

This was before GPS, cell phones and social media. No one had the Internet and phone booths were on every corner and in front of every gas station. When you traveled, you relied on maps and memories, counting on getting lost at least once, and hoping you’d get to where you were going eventually. There was “no estimated time of arrival” or “miles to destination” to glance at as you drove along, waiting for “Susan” or “Mark” to tell you “right turn ahead in two miles.”

It’s important to note that my parents had traveled all over the United States, both before I was born and after. They had gypsy in their souls, and wanderlust gathered in their hearts every few years. I had ridden in the back of the camper, with a hole cut out and leathered over into the front of the pickup truck so I could see out the windshield as we spent six weeks going from one coast to the other in an attempt to decide where we would move next. (I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t be allowed today, but to a 6-year-old seeing new parts of the United States for the first time, it was amazing!) We spent nights in grocery store parking lots and in rest areas, experiencing the traveling life with bathroom stops on the side of the road and watermelon for lunch at roadside picnic tables. We saw the Grand Canyon, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and acres and acres of wildflowers. Every state line we crossed meant a stop and a picture beside a “Welcome to” sign. It was, without a doubt, the most adventure I’ve ever had.

© Sasha Gray

So, when my parents received their detailed map, notes, suggestions (that’s putting it mildly. It was more like: STOP HERE!) and travel plans, they didn’t call to laugh at me. They didn’t pick up the phone (not with those long-distance rates) and say, “Dear, we’ve actually driven across the United States and lived in so many states we’ve lost count, so we’re pretty sure we can get from North Carolina to Arkansas.”

No, they just sent a quick note back that said, “Thanks, we’ll see you in two weeks.”

And when they pulled into my driveway, all I could think was “I sure did a good job on those directions.”

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