July 15, 2008

Traveling With Bob, Day One

When I secured the last lock on the moving truck we said goodbye to Shreveport. The temperature was 97 and the sweat made our shirts hang from our bodies like weights. We had been cleaning and, sorry, watching other people pack our things for six hours. For the final two, we stood in the sun watching the men tuck the last of our things into four gray, plastic cubes like a giant puzzle of our lives. It was time to set the air conditioning to 4, hit the recycle button, and put some miles between us and the South.

I was happy to have a partner for the coming three days’ drive and even happier that it was my father. It’s funny, over the last 32 years I have lived under his roof for more than 20 of them and never have I spent even one full day alone with him, let alone three. I was looking forward to sharing some quality time and getting to know him again.

When I was younger, I thought his quiet nature and reserved attitude was tough and cool. Now, however, I was faced with 72 hours with just him and an iPod. I had a feeling I would get more out of the iPod. My goal was to get him talking about, well, anything. I didn’t expect him to tell me his life story or to reveal some mystery to me about my family’s origins, but I was hoping that he would unload some of the burden that he carries with him every day.

We didn’t get on the road until 2:45, so day one would be short. Our goal—Memphis. The miles—360. The time—hopefully less than six hours. There was one thing waiting for me there that I had been thinking about for weeks. Some true Memphis barbecue would be the perfect end to our first day on the road. That’s my kind of motivation.

The beginning of the drive through Arkansas rewards you with your first views of rolling hills and, for my dad, the first views of oil derricks in his life. This was just one of a few times on this trip where I realized how old he is getting. I don’t know why seeing those wells made me think of this, perhaps because it made me think of the differences between our views of the world. I love to live in new places and see new things; he loves to be close to home and enjoy the things he has. Now, at 62, he was seeing an oil field for the first time and I found myself wondering what else he hasn’t seen, and whether or not this made him sad.

After a few hours of steady cruising on my part, it was time for my dad to take his first shift. The speed limit in much of the south is 70 miles per hour and I am comfortable breaking that by, don’t laugh, exactly 8 miles per hour. I set the cruise to 78 and assume that I am bending the rules enough to satisfy my need to get where I’m going without getting a ticket. My dad though, is pretty much a speed limit guy and I knew that this was going to wear on me before long.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t considered the implications of our timing until we entered the city limits of Memphis and, unlike in Shreveport, people started driving like they were in a rush. It was dark and our windows were a little dirty, so my dad had some trouble seeing. We were only a few miles from our hotel and I laughed the whole time because my dad wasn’t afraid of not being able to see the street signs or of the lights “blinding” him. He was just pissed that I hadn’t cleaned the windows. My stomach hurt because I knew that we were both at fault—I should have thought about the windows and his 62 year old eyes—and yet we were both yelling at each other as the “city drivers” hurtled past.

Once we were safely in our La Quinta—a hotel my dad was convinced was going to be a dive, because he never heard of it—we asked the clerk at the front desk where we could get some authentic, slow-cooked meat. Fortunately, there was a place nearby that served big ol’ plates of dry rubbed ribs, pulled pork, and catfish. After a few minutes of what I refer to as “The Dad Show,” in which he told two women, in the most exaggerated manner possible, how I almost got him killed by not cleaning the windows of the car, we left for Corky’s. I will elaborate more on “The Dad Show” later in the week, because it relates to something that my wife has always said about me.

Corky’s definitely didn’t disappoint. We went back to our very nice La Quinta with our bellies stuffed full of the best barbecue I have ever tasted, a couple of house-brewed amber beers, and a secret pact. We had been through a long day of packing and driving, and though true to my fears, we didn’t talk much, we had bonded. We bonded over time spent sweating, and working, and the monotony of the road. We bonded over a near accident that we were both too stubborn to admit fault in. And we had bonded over meat. We bonded.


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