Our plan this month was to drive to Branson, Missouri. I wasn’t interested in going, but my wife’s eagerness to visit the place forced my hand. Country singer Taylor Hicks was performing and she wanted to hear him.
Research showed there are several automotive salvage yards in the immediate Branson area worth investigating. Having that information at hand made the round trip of 2,784 miles somewhat palatable.
When Covid-19 came along this idea was dropped like a hot potato. At that point I was bummed even more than Joleen. I’d planned on writing about our experience for a travel magazine. That would place a few extra bucks into my always thin wallet.
Joleen suggested I go online and read about all the neat places we’d visit had we been able to go. She called it a virtual road trip. She mentioned further that I could still write about our imaginary exploits. With nothing better to do than eat, sleep, and breathe, it seemed like a great idea.
I calculated the imaginary journey would take us a total of 10 days. Six of them would be travel days, with the remaining four for entertainment purposes. My calculations are not always precise and this trip proved it. I decided to take virtual notes along the way, and then compile them into a story once we reached home.
I thoughtfully prepped in advance for our Branson trip by loading the car with sufficient snacks and beverages. Diet Pepsi and Pop-Tarts were at at the top of the list. A new Yeti cooler took up most of the cargo area in our tiny 2009 Chevrolet HHR. There was still plenty of room for, “Simon.” As long as he had a soft place to rest his Pekingese body, our canine child was fine.
Wanting to purchase a new supercharged Dodge Charger to make things a bit more comfortable, including faster, the idea was quickly nixed by my two-legged partner.
Hoping to get an early start and make it all the way to Albuquerque, New Mexico by dark., we finally left the house at 11:35 a.m. Being a bit slow is not unusual for us when traveling.
Fifty-five minutes out of Lake Havasu City, on Interstate 40 close to Kingman, a neighbor called Joleen mentioning that our garage door was wide open. Folks were slowly driving by and gawking. The house alarm was going off as well. There was nothing to do but turn around.
Two hours later we were once again on our way. It shouldn’t have taken that long, but a judgmental mistake on my part by picking up the house phone delayed things. A long-winded pal wanted to know if we’d stop by his place. We weren’t even going to Alabama. It took an hour of chitchatting to finally shake him loose.
Seeing that Albuquerque was near impossible to reach at this point, we decided to bed down in Kingman. Our trip odometer showed 183 miles, yet we were only 55 miles from home. To me, it was like taking one step forward and three steps back. On a positive note, we dined at Five Guys Burgers that evening. They offered free salted peanuts and I grabbed my share, placing them in a brown paper bag.
Joleen and Simon turned in early that night. I stayed up late watching a rerun of The Blues Brothers before tucking in. That turned out to be a big no no.
I couldn’t get out of bed until 9:30. Joleen and Simon were ready to go. They’d already ate thanks to a free continental breakfast provided by La Quinta Inn. By the time I stuck my head in the dining area the kitchen was closed. With a couple of tasty Egg McMuffin sandwiches sitting in my lap from a nearby McDonald’s, we were once again ready to sail.
Somewhere near Williams, Arizona – Joleen gasped out loud,
I looked over just in time to see a trucker watering a bush. With rest stops far and few between, this was a common sight for Arizona travelers. Had she yelled sooner I would’ve honked and waved.
Williams is a neat little town. Nestled in a valley with spruce trees and greenery all around, it’s the gateway to The Grand Canyon. We saw a couple of small deer grazing along the highway. For their protection, a fence had been erected to keep them from becoming road kill.
We always stop at Williams to get a double-scoop cone and an iced tea. Wheeling up to the drive-thru speaker, a McDonald’s attendant informed me that their ice cream machine was down. I’d predicted such before even stopping. It seems McDonald’s can never keep those things working. Bummed over not getting my treat, Joleen was quite happy with her drink.
Stopping for gas at Flagstaff, I was able to score a chocolate and vanilla ‘Eskimo Pie’ from a Terrible Herbst convenience store. Five bucks seemed a bit high, but when you’re on the road who cares about such. I was more than happy to share the vanilla part with Simon. Chocolate is bad for animals.
The rest of our cruise to Albuquerque was uneventful other than a front tire exploded. It happened on a curve at the bottom of a steep grade with a line of semi’s behind us. Because I still possessed youth-like-reflexes, I was able to safely guide us off the highway into a ditch. In my younger days, I would’ve had the old tire off and new one on in less than five minutes. I was Olympic quick back then, maybe faster. Because of a bad back, knees, and other ailments, it took an hour and a half this go-around.
I was never more elated to hit the sack that night. Thankfully, there was a Burger King located next door to the Comfort Inn. Joleen walked over and ordered our dinner. A fish sandwich and Diet Pepsi hit the spot before I dozed off. A green Dodge Charger appeared in my dreams. I was driving it.
Sometime during the early morning hours, the cod or whatever it was came back to life. I spent several hours waiting for things to surface. Thinking that perhaps it was going to dive, the fish came out topside instead.
I elected not to eat breakfast for obvious reasons. Joleen and Simon scored another free meal. As I lay in bed wondering when or if I’d feel better, a thought suddenly crossed my mind. Why do motels and hotels call their breakfasts, continental?
After a hot shower and some Pepto-Bismol I felt good enough to resume travel. Joleen said she’d take over, but I’m hesitant on allowing anyone but me to slide behind the wheel. I cannot relax not being in almost full control of a vehicle.
Our destination was Oklahoma City; a distance of 543 miles. Averaging just over 80 mph, I calculated we’d be there in eight hours or less. This ill conceived calculation allowed for fuel and potty stops. Simon needs to whiz like clockwork every hour on the hour, but only when traveling. At home he can go for quite some time.
On the outskirts of Amarillo, Texas Joleen once again shrieked,
This time I immediately honked before looking. Expecting to see another trucker, it was a suicidal skunk in the road instead. I swerved to avoid hitting the creature but nailed it smack-dead-center. There must’ve been plenty of juice in its tank because the liquid coated our Chevrolet like stink on a kitchen sink.
We transported this nose-wrinkling-smell all the way to Oklahoma. It was so bad that Simon refused to exit the car. I ran the Chevy through a car wash in Oklahoma City hoping to get rid of the odor. An employee pulled the skunk’s black and white tail out of our grill and handed it to me. Gingerly placing it in a Safeway grocery bag, I knotted the top for odor sake. Back in the day it would’ve been cool for some guys to hang the thing from a car antenna; not that I would’ve done such.
Holiday Inn Express was our place of residence that night. They always provide a clean room with plenty of free goodies to take with you. Their tiny bottles of shampoo and conditioner are top notch.
The next morning I was able to load two plates with food, gingerly bringing them back to our room while also balancing two cups of dripping coffee. Getting into the room door with electronic key took some doing.
The main entree was biscuits and gravy. There was something about the biscuits that didn’t seem right. Little did I know they’d plug up our plumbing for two days straight.
We were only 324 miles from Branson. In my mind there’d be no problem getting there early. I was looking forward to taking a dip in a warm swimming pool, along with a hot shower or bath. Joleen wanted to do some shopping. Simon was always eager to explore, sniff, then mark his turf.
Walking to the car I tried to start it, hearing only a click. Turns out the battery was dead. I’d intended on changing it before we left town but forgot. I wasn’t sure what to do? Calling a cab meant twenty bucks or more for a jump. There was a beat up Ford truck parked next to us. A disheveled looking man walked up and I assumed it was his.
“Excuse me sir, is this your pickup?“
Nodding, which I took as a definite yes, I asked the gentleman if he’d give me a jump? Pulling twenty dollars from my wallet persuaded him to quickly climb inside his vehicle and pop the hood.
I had jumper cables of my own and had them connected in seconds. Thankfully, the HHR roared to life without trouble. Closing the Ford’s hood, I thanked the stranger for his act of kindness.
As he rapidly disappeared from sight, a rough looking character sporting a Don’t Mess With Texas tattoo on his right arm burst out of an adjoining room. He wanted to know, using harsh language, exactly what I was doing messing with his %#$@* truck? When I told him my story he didn’t buy it.
I gingerly removed the last twenty from my wallet and handed it to him. The fellow grabbed the bill, grunted, and then stormed back to his room. I’d just dodged a potential bullet. It was time to get out of Dodge, and I’m not talking Charger!
Stopping at a gas station before leaving town, Joleen paid a long-haired mechanic $200.00 to install a new Interstate battery in our ride. Her and Simon went for a walk while the work was performed. I hung around to watch. Automotive technicians love customers looking over their shoulder.
The name on the fellows coveralls was, “Sparky.” He told me he’d been a herbal doctor in Colorado before switching professions. When I asked why, the slow talker had a strange reply,
“The oil man, the oil!”
I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant and didn’t press things further. Gut feeling told me it might’ve had something to do with reefer oil. These days it’s proclaimed to cure anything.
The man told me that he’d been an Herb Doctor in Denver. He went on to claim that musicians were some of his biggest clients. This I could believe. I seriously thought he’d ingested way too much of his product, and that it severely fried his brain.
When Joleen returned to the car I whispered to her that the guy was a definite stoner. Unfortunately, because the shop air-compressor stopped running at that time, he heard me.
Leaving Oklahoma and entering scenic Missouri, multi-colored dairy cows could be seen standing in the fields. They slowly looked up whenever I tooted the horn. I wondered what they thought. Did they have a hankering to hit the open road like us, or were they satisfied staying home and chewing their cuds? Something told me it was the latter. Simon loved watching the cows. On occasion he’d bark just to let them know he was boss.
We didn’t make Branson that afternoon as planned. A broken fan belt in Springfield had us spending the night there. There was no belt in town to fit our car, so they ordered one from Kansas City. The mechanic said it appeared the rubber had been intentionally cut with a knife. I wasn’t sure how that happened?
We stayed in a place called Dogwood Park Inn. The rates were cheap and it was close to the garage. They didn’t offer a free continental breakfast yet they did have several vending machines. Our room was next door to the ice machine. All evening long including into the morning hours people filled up buckets. What do folks do with ice so late at night?
By ten-o’clock, we were high-tailing it to Branson on Highway 65, trying to make up for lost time. We’d skipped breakfast, dining on Pop-Tarts and M&M’s instead. I hadn’t been driving very long when red and blue lights appeared in the rear view mirror. Under her breath I heard Joleen mutter,
She wasn’t upset with the cop for pulling me over. She was disgusted that I hadn’t slowed down when she asked me to.
I attempted to talk my way out of a ticket by telling the officer we were out of state. When I explained that I didn’t realize the speed limit in rural areas is lower than those elsewhere, I evidently ticked him off. Perhaps he was already having a bad day? The patrolman hit me with a $300.00 fine for doing 80 in a 45. I know for sure I was only doing 78 but didn’t argue the point.
When we entered Branson I expected to see longs lines of traffic like friends warned me about. Instead, the streets were near void of any vehicles. Checking in at the ‘Hilton Promenade at Branson Landing’, a desk clerk informed me we’d come to Branson during the off season. All of the big name acts were now on the road or taking sabbaticals. When I inquired about Taylor Hicks, she told me he’d left town last week for Florida. I knew Joleen would be upset.
Asking the lady if any shows in town were worth attending, she recommended buying tickets to one called, “Don Luigi and the Lucky Herders.” The woman said they were a band out of Kimmswick, Missouri. She went on to say,
“Don and his group fill in whenever the big guns are away. These guys play mainly at county fairs throughout Missouri and Kansas. Don does a great rendition of Freddy Fender and Johnny Cash. When they’re not making music, the boys raise sheep and goats for a living.”
One bit of good news she tossed me was that automotive recycling yards in the vicinity were still open for business. She gave me names to a couple of places having old car parts.
I slept like a log in our fancy hotel room. Staying in a Hilton was something I’d always dreamed about. Now I was living the dream. Just as I figured, Joleen was not pleased about not getting to see Taylor Hicks. She had zero interest in listening to a rancher, as she called him, do lame impersonations. I thought it was a bit harsh but kept my mouth shut. Joleen threw one last dagger my direction in saying,
“This trip is turning into that Freddy Fender song, ‘Wasted Days and Wasted Nights’.”
We ate in complete silence. The Hilton Promenade did not offer a free continental breakfast. As a matter of fact, they didn’t offer breakfast at all. The desk clerk suggested a swank restaurant up the street where prices were not to my liking. Good thing being, there was a McDonald’s close by. Egg McMuffin’s always taste good no matter where you buy them.
We spent the day walking around town and sightseeing. Joleen purchased a few knickknacks from Kringle’s Christmas Shop, including some sewing supplies from Quilts & Quilts The Fabric Shoppe. Simon and I stayed outside both establishments. Unfortunately on his part dogs weren’t welcome. Joleen browsed for over an hour in Dickens Craft Shoppe. I couldn’t understand how someone could stay so long in one tiny store?
I was more than happy in not having to drive that day. Simon chased ducks by the water and we took pictures of different species of wildlife, including a strange bearded man wearing red, white, and blue pajamas.. Eventually a park employee walked up pointing to a sign saying no dogs allowed. Joleen apologized for not seeing it. I wanted to tell him that Simon was family and not a dog, but decided to not press my luck. We moseyed along.
Branson seemed like a laid back kind of town compared to other tourist traps. I liked it! Overall, it was nice being there even without Taylor Hicks.
I talked my wife into riding with me to Blue Springs, Missouri. A business called Davis Auto Wrecking was located there, and I wanted to see if they had parts for my old Plymouth.
She was hesitant at first, knowing that I can spend hours in such places. I assured her I’d be in and out within minutes.
Mr. Davis was an interesting fellow. We chatted for hours about how things used to be in the parts business. He’d been at this same location since 1957. I was only three years old then. The man was a walking computer of sorts where automotive knowledge is concerned. He was a genius in my mind!
I spent five hours walking the grounds jotting down the location of various parts that I needed. Mr. Davis agreed to ship them to me as we had limited space in our car. Joleen and Simon spent their time taking walks and snoozing. Pretty much the whole morning and afternoon had been ruined for them. I planned on making up for such, by camping out in our hotel the following day and letting my wife shop ’til her heart’s content.
We extended our stay in the Hilton one additional night to allow for her shopping extravaganza. Because the town was basically deserted, we had no problem doing so.
Joleen abandoned us as soon as the stores opened. She planned on eating a decent breakfast at that nice restaurant regardless of the cost. Pop-tarts were fine with me, and besides, I’d brought so many that I hated to haul them back.
Simon and I took numerous walks around the hotel grounds and practically nothing else. Lucky for guests and their shoes the hotel provided poop bags. I was able to take a dunk in the pool for a bit, but when unruly kids showed up I picked up my things and left. There’s something about small kids in public swimming pools. How many times have you seen them get out of the water to tinkle?
“Gun Smoke” reruns were on television and I eagerly tuned in. The front desk recommended Rocco’s Pizza as having the best pizza and pasta in Branson. I ordered an 18″ Canadian bacon and pineapple for lunch. Simon was allowed a few pieces of bacon and he totally enjoyed it. I saved a few slices for the marathon drive back home.
We regretfully left Branson and their upscale Hilton Hotel minutes before the noon checkout. Plans were to stay in Independence once again at the lowly Dogwood Park Inn before heading home. I suggested that we eat at Texas Roadhouse that evening. It’s one of Joleen’s favorites.
I made sure to order extra burgers to go for our road trip home. A couple of their freshly made buns with honey butter went into the cooler as well.
So far, the Yeti held up as advertised because we were still on the same two bags of ice. It did a wonderful job in keeping our food and drinks cold. We went to bed early that evening in anticipation of the long ride ahead.
I was able to jet back to Arizona in under 24-hours without getting a ticket. It seemed like the proper thing to do although Joleen objected. She was afraid I’d fall asleep at the wheel. During the return leg I hit another suicidal skunk, with those two sleeping through the collision. I doubt the poor critter ever knew what hit him!
I was tired of being on the road. Sleeping in strange beds was getting old and I was overly cranky. The way I saw it, we were extremely fortunate in not picking up fleas along the way, especially at the Dogwood Inn. There was just something about that place not to my liking. Perhaps it was the name?
Pulling into our driveway, sun-bleached newspapers greeted us at the front door like uninvited thugs. Kicking them out of the way, I then realized that Joleen had forgot to do something before we left. Walking inside, the phone began to ring as if it automatically knew we were home. I begrudgingly grabbed the thing realizing at the last second that I’d made a big mistake.
It was a telemarketer offering fantastic deals on life insurance. Gazing around the room as he rambled on, every appliance and clock in our kitchen was blinking. Evidently power had been off at one time; perhaps even more than once. I decided not to open the refrigerator door.
Turning on the TV, a news channel showed the same old Democrats arguing about Republicans, and the same old Republicans arguing about Democrats.
Some clown across the street set off a couple of illegal fireworks nearly scaring poor Simon to death. I yelled at him. A loud motorcycle raced up and down the street. Overhead, a thumping helicopter slowly flew by.
Yes, we were definitely back in the ‘hood.
As Joleen ambled over to see what I was up to, I said to her,
“Pack some more clothes honey, ’cause we’re taking another virtual road trip…. to Florida. You can catch Taylor Hicks and I’ll attend that big automotive swap meet in Tallahassee. Make sure this time to cancel the newspaper before we leave!”