Then and Now

This continues a series of posts about a road trip to New Orleans that starts here.

We pulled out of Memphis and began our third 400-mile drive.

This was the most scenic part of the trip.  The rolling hills continued, one long ascent followed by a long descent, followed by another and another and another.  There were woods on both sides punctuated by blooming Magnolias and occasionally something that appeared to be bougainvillea blanketing a full-grown tree.  That was spectacular.  Most of the drive was through Mississippi, which does not have a motto.  It does have a coat of arms which includes the phrase Virtute et Armis (by valor and arms).

And here I must correct what I wrote about Minnesota.  “Land of 10,000 Lakes” is what’s on our license plates, but our official motto is L’étoile du Nord (Star of the North, or in Latin, “I long to see what is beyond.”)

That could explain a lot about me.

Once again, Lynn and I postulated about what could be wrong with the car.

“Maybe it’s overheated,” she said.

“But why?” I asked.  “We’ve only driven 50 miles.”

I had driven many cars that were in much more alarming shape than this one.  When Vince was a baby I had a Buick LeSabre that was so old it didn’t have seat belts.  I would stick Vince in a banana box and put him on the back seat.


There was the 1964 Chrysler Imperial with push button gears on the dashboard.  Now it’s a very cool collector’s car, but in 1978 it was just a “winter beater,” as we called cars that were expected to just barely get us through the winter.


There was the car whose driver’s side door had to be held shut by…my arm.  There was one that never ran.  Never even started.  I bought it from a neighbor for $125.  He pushed it down the alley into my backyard after assuring me that all it needed was a carburetor.

I went to a junkyard and bought a carburetor out of wrecked car for $50.  My brother and his friend Hans came over to install it.  The result was Hans running down the alley with his hair on fire, waving his arms trying to put it out.  My brother tackled him and rolled him in the dirt before any serious harm was done beyond a temporary bald spot.  I had to pay $75 to have the car towed to the same junkyard where I’d bought the carburetor.

So why was I so worried now?

But then a second, bigger engine light came on with a loud DING DING.  I pulled off in the nearest town, Canton, Mississippi, and parked in front of a liquor store, where I called AAA while Lynn read the manual.  I had forgotten there was a manual.

The AAA representative had such a heavy southern accent I was forced to admit, “I’m sorry, but I can’t understand what you’re saying.”  She repeated herself slowly.  “We can come and tow your car, and you’ll have to find a motel in Canton for the night.”

Just then a monster truck roared into the parking lot. An enormous black man got out and came storming toward us—Lynn literally leaned away from him as he loomed into her window, while I fumbled to lock the doors.

“Ya’ll okay?” he asked.  “Ah didn’t mean ta scare ya!  Ah seen yur car and it don’t look ya’ll from ‘round here and ah thought ya might need help.”

Lynn and I laughed with relief and assured him we were fine.  When he was out of earshot, we analyzed our reaction and agreed we’d been scared because he was a huge, aggressive man and we were in a strange town, not because he was black.

Lynn read from the manual, “If the engine light is red, you should pull over immediately and call for help.  If it’s orange, you may continue driving but have the car looked at your earliest opportunity.”

The lights were orange.  Surely, another 200 miles couldn’t do any harm.  On to New Orleans!

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