I woke at 5am. My plan was to go to Walgreens—conveniently located at the end of the block—which opened at 7am. I would buy all the auto fluids they had and pour them into the car in hopes it would make it to New Orleans.
I dressed and slunk out the door to the nearby coffee shop. When I returned, David our innkeeper greeted me and started recounting his early days in Chicago. I had time to kill, so I sat back and enjoyed my coffee and David’s stories.
He had come to Chicago from Kentucky to attend college in 1977. So David and I were the same age. He seemed older, like he’d weathered some pretty tough times.
Anyway, his arrival coincided with the Tutankhamen exhibit at the Field Museum of Natural History. I remembered “Tut Mania” well. My mother had driven to Chicago with some friends to see the exhibit and came back with T-shirts with images of scarabs and Egyptian cats and—of course—King Tut.
David was taking a class from a professor who was a world expert on Tut, and who was leading the logistics for the exhibit.
“The train from Egypt was escorted by armed guards with shoot-to-kill orders,” he said. “They packed everything in Styrofoam so if the ship sank, all those priceless antiquities would bob back up to the top.” He explained that Tut had been a very minor king who was only famous because his tomb “wasn’t very ornate,” and thus hadn’t attract the attention of tomb robbers.
Talking about King Tut and his college days, David grew animated and could have passed for an archaeology professor himself.
Have you ever heard of magical thinking? That was me as I started the car up after a 36-hour rest. Somehow, the engine light wouldn’t come on, right? Wrong.
But there was no going back—we were gonna make New Orleans by Wednesday! Back at the inn Lynn was enjoying breakfast and another of David’s soliloquies. He was talking about Kentucky again. “Most people think it’s like Deliverance,” he said. I gave Lynn a blank look that said, “He’s right.”
Travel does not equal adventure, or vice versa. Adventures can be delightful but more often, at least for me, they involve dealing with something strange, stressful, or slightly scary.
Once again, the car was fine above 75 miles per hour but shook if I slowed down.
“I wonder if I got a bad tank of gas at the Cranberry Discovery Center.” This would be the first of many hair-brained theories about the car.
“Maybe it’s the spark plugs,” Lynn suggested. Then, sheepishly, “Does it have spark plugs?”
“I don’t know!” The Mini’s engine was sealed inside a sleek black box. It was just like BMW to make something stylish that prevented access or even viewing.
“Maybe when I get a new tank of gas it’ll fix itself. I’ll stick to gas stations near the freeway that sell a lot of gas, to make sure I get a fresh tank.” More magical thinking.
The landscape slowly changed, from flat and sere to lush, green, and hilly. The car struggled up the hills. But maybe if I just kept driving… we drove from 9 to 3:30 with two five-minute pit stops.
Finally, starving, we stopped in Charleston, Missouri. The “downtown” was deadsville. The only place open was a thrift store. I asked if there was a place to eat in town. The response I got from the woman at the register sounded like this:
“Ya’ll gawla rawla dayown aray-owna Mexican raistrawnt gonna donna lowna haw-way.” Lynn beat it out the door. I fought the urge to follow her while my brain worked to make sense of what she’d said.
A customer stepped forward and said, slowly, “She said there’s a Mexican place out by the interstate.” I thanked him and we drove out of town, pausing only to take a photo of this poor old theater.
We found Las Brisas and ordered iced teas, which were served in pitcher-sized plastic cups. Listening to the accents around us, we felt like we were in a foreign country, but it wasn’t Mexico.