by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
July 19, 2005
RUBBER TO THE ROAD
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- According to what I read in the papers, gasoline is now $2.35 a gallon but nobody seems to care. Vacations go on as planned, "Are we there yet?" is still the joke of the day and watching reports of long lines at airports gives a sense of satisfaction.
This month I had a chance to see firsthand how it felt to fly to Omaha, one stop three-hour layover, and then drive (one stop, overnight) back to Georgia. No doubt about it, the drive was far more relaxing, pleasurable, really, than the flight.
The plan was for me to fly there, hop in the car with my daughter, her three young children and a puppy, and drive back to Georgia for their week's vacation at the beach. Her husband couldn't make the trip but he said she needed me to ride "shotgun."20
It was a glorious day in Omaha. Lunch at the Spaghetti Factory certainly prepared us to drive out of town with no stops except to walk the dog - and us, too, of course. No taking off, no landing, no security guards, nor identification papers, no moving sidewalks to terminals on the other side of the airport, no waiting interminably on lines to assure the attendants we carried no (shhhhh, bombs).
After buckling ourselves in and settling the puppy, O'Henry by name, in his crate, we hit the road - so to speak.
Jake, the young baseball fan, said, "Well, MeMe, I guess you're in the Cat Bird seat."
"Oh, no, not this time, Jake. I'm not going to drive at all. I'm just riding shotgun."
There was some silence as the children worked that out in their minds.
Finally, Kelsey said, "Where's the shotgun?"
I thought someone might ask me the meaning rather than look around for the actual gun.
"Well, Kelsey, it's just an expression. I'm keeping the driver from being distracted on the road."
I always like to see how much the children can glean from an expression just by the way it's said but this time they were in the dark.
"Once upon a time," I began, "before we had automobiles, we had stagecoaches for transportation."
"With horses, like in 'Little House on the Prairie?" asked Kelsey.
"Exactly," I answered. "They also used stagecoaches to go from one town to another or to transport the mail or money from one bank to another; they were used for everything. Remember, no automobiles, no airplanes, no motorcycles. Nothing but men and horses and wheels."
"They were also robbed," I said with a little terror in my voice.
"Robbed?" the said in unison, wide-eyed.
"Yes, robbed. So, they started hiring men to ride next to the driver, loaded shotgun across his lap, eyes free to see the entire countryside, thus protecting passengers and cargo from any and all distractions on the road. The stagecoach could make the journey safely whenever someone rode "shotgun."
"Can I ride shotgun, MeMe?" asked four-year-old Tyler, who had silently been taking it all in until now.
"No, Tyler," I said. "you have to be in the front seat next to the driver, and your car-seat isn't allowed in the front. It's a law."
Jake said next that we weren't in any danger of highway robbers coming out of the woods.
"No, but all sorts of distractions could put us at risk if your Mom has to handle a problem and drive carefully at the same time. That's what I'm here for. I'm an extra set of eyes and ears."
I'm not sure they fully grasped my role but a lively game of "People, Places and Things" made us all glad I was just where I was. The "car" was as different to me as the Stagecoach sounded to them. The 2005 Ford SUV was like a motel on wheels.
There was a television screen in the back and the three children had headsets. The only squabbling, and it was minimal, was over which DVD to slide into the automatic door opening and who would put the ejecting one away. There were cup holders, storage pockets for their gear, room for O'Henry to sleep and no distractions for the driver.
I compared this trip to the ones I took across dirt roads in the 1930s. My only entertainment then was holding my hand out the window and feeling the breeze against it. Every once in a while we'd pass Burma Shave signs - the commercials of the day. I tried to remember some but only recalled: Ben met Anna ... made a hit ... neglected beard ... Ben-Anna split. Burma Shave.
Flying may seem like a faster way to get to your grandchildren but it doesn't compare to being together on the road, biding time, sharing stories. Appreciation for each other is not the half of what's out there on the highways and byways of America. My "extra eyes" were used to spot the Rest Stops at prescribed intervals. And, if a "can't wait" situation arose, I eyed the Golden Arches for such emergencies where the facilities usually came second to McNuggets.20
There were times when Rest Stop was followed by "no facilities," Holding on, literally, for another 20 miles was no more inconvenient than waiting on line at the back of a swaying aircraft for the rest room, 30,000 miles aloft, only to squeeze into the small stainless steel commode just after a young boy had his way with the soap dispenser and the chemical flush.
Three times we filled the tank, arriving with half a tank left over. Each fill up was about $37.00 and we went door-to-door with all our gear, no hassle. Compared to what it would have cost to duplicate the trip using aircraft instead of automobiles, we definitely came out ahead. If the price of gas had kept us from this trip then we would have missed one priceless journey.20
We stopped overnight at a Hampton in Kansas City, Mo. O'Henry trotted ahead of us as only a five-month-old West Highland White Terrier can trot, we unlocked the door and as he entered haughtily, he started barking as if the devil himself were attacking him. We cautiously stepped in behind him only to see a floor to ceiling mirror to the left - and O'Henry was in it. He was barking at himself and thought "that dog" was barking at him.
The last laugh goes to O'Henry.