Ahhh, okay, here goes. We'll start on Monday, 1/12. Keep in mind, the intention was to drive there on Monday, then do our business and drive back on Tuesday, and I was supposed to be back at work on Wednesday.
Got up, got packed, got all our stuff ready to go. Went to the bank at 2PM to pick up the all-important check. Bounced out to my parents house in Augusta to pick up the 2-way radios and we were off!
Stopped in KC to eat dinner at Applebee's. KC traffic at rush hour is not that much fun.
We had hoped to maybe make it all the way to Nashville so we could crash with zerogenius and save the money on a hotel room, but as we drove we realized it was going to be really late and we probably wouldn't make it that far. Nashville is another two hours farther than Paducah. So I had to call Travis and let him know we wouldn't be making it. :-(
Hit the road again and decided to take a pit stop in St Louis. Tandra really wanted to go to the Ameristar Casino, and I'd never been to one, so I figured ok, what the hell. It's midnight on a Monday night, but who cares? So that's what we did. It was a casino, pretty much like they look on TV. Tandra lost all the money she bet which NEVER happens to her (she's unnaturally lucky on the slot machines). She was bummed. So to make us feel better, we decided to look at the ghetto neighborhoods in St Louis.
And let me tell you, St Louis is just one big freakin ghetto. Seriously. They have all these brightly lit main streets, but you turn one block off of any of them, and you're amongst abandoned buildings, boarded up or broken out windows, no street lights, neighborhoods with one way in and one way out. Creepy sh*t.
I'm angry at St Louis. There wasn't a neighborhood where I felt comfortable enough to get a night shot of the arch, which would have been a spectacular photo. Damn St Louis, piece of sh*t town.
The St Louis Ghetto Story
or, How We Almost Died
At one point she said, "Here, I'll show you the scariest ghetto I found last time I was here. Go that way." So I went that way. We went through an industrial area along the river, then just sort of an empty desolate area. Then we passed three stop signs - each of them had roads where you could only turn left, and each of those roads were the one way in and out of a neighborhood that was obviously projects. Yeah, we went straight. But then we saw up ahead, another neighborhood. There were no street lights, but there were lights on the far side of the block. So we couldn't really see what was in the neighborhood, but we could see the black silhouettes of the cars parked on the sides of the street and stuff.
As we approached, no less than five guys in big heavy coats sauntered out into the middle of the street and just stood there. We weren't close enough to see them in the headlights, but we could see their silhouettes against the lights beyond.
My thought was, 'if I get up there, I'm going to have to stop in order to not hit them. If I'm close enough to stop in order to not hit them, I'm close enough to get jacked.' So we pulled a real fast U-turn and blew the three stop signs.
So we finally left town around 1 AM. We took some interstate into Illinois which then curved south, I think it was I-24. We took that and kept looking for places to stay, but they were all more than we wanted to spend, so we kept going. Finally we stopped at a hotel on the outskirts of Paducah and crashed. We finally got to sleep at about 3:30 in the morning. Total time since we left Wichita - 12 hours.
We didn't leave the hotel until about 11 AM. Considering we have a car to buy, this doesn't bode well for making the return trip today. I should mention though that the shower at this hotel was the most excellent shower I've ever had the pleasure of taking. The shower head was very nice, distributing the water nicely, the water temperature was easy to adjust and nice and hot, and the best part - the water pressure was FANTASTIC. So nice. And there was more than enough hot water for Tandra and I both - we didn't want to get out.
We went to Bob Evans for breakfast since we don't have them here. I found it interesting that although we had basically gone due East, we had somehow entered the South and everyone had a southern accent. It was hard for me not to assume that everyone was just a stupid redneck, since only stupid rednecks sound like that in Wichita. On the other hand, our waitress called us "honey" and "sugar" and "darlin'" the whole time. It was great. And, the biscuits and sausage gravy was AWESOME. The juice was horrid though - tasted musty, like dust. I complained to Scott, the manager, and he said it was the water in Paducah. Interesting.
At breakfast we realized there was no way we were going to make it back to Wichita that night. I called my boss and left him a voice mail that we'd be taking an additional day. Not a great development, since I thought I was out of PTO time and thought I would not be getting paid for any of these days off. Salaried, not hourly, my ass.
Anyway, after breakfast we took the 15-minute drive to Calvert City where the Miata was. Pulled up, saw the car, took a look at it, kicked the tires and whatnot, and decided to take it for a test drive.
The short wheelbase cars with stiff suspension are to be taken seriously storySo before buying the car, I made the guy pay to get new tires put on the rear. (The fronts were fine.) He also threw in a Clutchmasters clutch, so that's kewl.
or, How We Almost Died
See, I have this thing I got from Miah where, when I test drive a car, I like to crank the wheel left and then right again real hard, to see how well the back end follows the front, how much body roll the car has, etc.
Yeah, you can probably already see where this is going.
So I'm driving along on this empty stretch of road at about 50 and I look over at Tandra and say "are you ready?" And she says "sure", so I crank the wheel left.
The car seems to be behaving pretty well, despite a little bit of tire screeching, but not too much, so I go ahead and crank it back right again.
See, I'm used to cars that have bouncy, floaty suspension, and I'm used to cars that don't have a real tight steering ratio. Right.
Yeah, so the back end of the car totally decided to just say "fsck it" and let go entirely. Lots of tire screeching as the back end of the car swings way out to the left. I steer into the skid to compensate, but since I'm accustomed to a car with much looser steering, I overcompensate. We fishtail and the back end swings way out to the right side of the road and actually hangs off onto the gravel shoulder. We're traveling 90 degrees to the road, and the car sits so low that with the front wheels on the road and the back wheels off, the ridge where the side of the road is is going BANG! BANG! BANG! against the undercarriage of the car. At this point there's nothing I can do as we're totally out of control and I'm hoping like hell the car doesn't roll. Finally as the car continues to rotate counterclockwise, she comes back up onto the road and we wind up facing almost 180 degrees, and in the oncoming traffic lane. So we come to a stop in the other lane, facing the other way. There are big long twisty skid marks down the middle of the highway.
Scared the sh*t out of me, but even more than that, made me feel like a complete and total fscking idiot.
I should have played with the car a little bit first. I should have tried that move at about 25 first. I should have done a lot of things differently. I pride myself on my driving ability, and I should have known better than to push an unfamiliar car to its limits like that.
We got out and examined the car. Miraculously we could find no signs of damage, and still haven't.
We did however discover that the rear tires were almost completely bald.
We decided that this was the car's way of saying "RESPECT MY AUTHORITAY!"
Upon deciding that we weren't going to be able to make it back to Wichita that day, I again called zerogenius to see if he had any objection to us crashing at his place Tuesday night, instead of Monday. We drove the two hours to Nashville and found our way to his place. Hung out until his gf got off work and then I took us all to dinner at Joe's Crab Shack. The food was pretty decent, but the breading on the crab cakes had milk in it (even though the waiter told us it didn't) and it made Tandra sick, so we had to call it an early night, which was probably a good thing since we were all exhausted. Travis and his gf were totally gracious and very cool hosts, we had fun hanging out even though it was a work night.
Wednesday morning we got up and got ready to hit the road. It was 11 AM by the time we got ready to leave, and we hadn't eaten. Our way home took us through Clarksville, where zerogenius works, so we called and asked if he wanted to have breakfast with us on his lunch break. He accepted and we went to IHOP.
After that we took off. I followed Tandra most of the way home since she had cruise control.
We decided to take a different way to get back to Wichita than the way we came. Partially because we hoped it would be faster, and partially for the adventure of it. The way we took to get to Nashville took us a couple hours north, took I-70 to St Louis, and then a couple hours back south again. I decided to try to find highways that would take us directly back west without having to swing up north.
The lost in the middle of the night on Missouri hill country back roads storyWe made it to Springfield, MO, but we were freaking exhausted and once again came to the realization that YET AGAIN I was going to have to call my boss and take YET ANOTHER day off work, since we wouldn't be back in time. I made the call, and we decided to push on just a little further into the rural area outside Springfield in the hopes of finding a cheaper hotel (our funds were running a bit short by this point).
or, How We Almost Died
Our route out of Clarksville took us to the place where the Ohio river dumps into the Missouri River. We crossed three huge, tall bridges one right after the other.
It was really cool to see barges and stuff, to see people actually doing commerce and business on the river. We don't have that here.
Our route took us into southern Missouri after that, into just the fringes of the Ozarks. Soon it got dark, and we were winding our way down twisty hill roads. At one point we realized we'd made a wrong turn about ten miles back, so we had to turn around. I took us on what I thought would be a shortcut to get back to the highway we needed to be on. Turned out it almost killed us. At least, if you've ever watched a horror movie, it almost killed us. This damn "shortcut" took us on PITCH BLACK twisty two-lane hill roads through the DEEP, THICK FOREST. Even with our brights on we couldn't go much over 40 mph because at every turn, the road either turned off or dropped down into pitch blackness or crested a hill and you could never see what was coming. It TOTALLY looked like the kind of place where some psycho with a chain saw could come busting out of the forest at any minute and kill you. To top that off, I had to stop at these rural gas stations in towns that were nothing more than a few buildings around the intersection of two state roads to ask directions. Not once, but TWICE. Scary.
Finally we found our way back to the main highway, and there was a decently large truck stop. Tandra and I were getting tired at this point, so we decided to get out and walk around some and fill up our gas tanks.
This is the creepiest damn truck stop you can think of. As we pulled up, it appeared that they were burning something in the ditches along the highway - there were three or four reasonably large fires going. It looked like trees to me, but Tandra had a good point when she mentioned that it was probably the bodies of out-of-towners who had gotten lost. So we pull up to this truck stop, and the wind is blowing the smoke through the parking area and all around this glorified gas station like some eerie twilight zone episode, or Silent Hill. To finish off the effect, the place had at least twenty HUGE wind chimes hanging up, the wind blowing them, and they were all singing out of tune with one another, making creepy dissonant chords like the sound of glass breaking in slow motion.
We walk in, and for the first few feet, it looks like a gas station. After that though, there is what appears to be a big open area with not much in it except a broken standing type video game and a bunch of handmade woodcrafted items like rocking horses, garden gnomes, that sort of useless crafty knick-knacky sh*t. In this setting it also was creepy. They also had the kind of bench/table units you see at gas stations sometimes - you know, the two benches facing a common table but all bolted together as one unit kind of thing. They were all lined up between the snack aisles and the strange open empty area. The locals were all staring at us.
The lady running the cash registers was a freaking zombie, I'm sure of it. She looked like she'd had more plastic surgery than Cher, and she had this creepy insincere half-smile plastered to her face like she'd had too much Botox for breakfast. She was also STUPID AS ALL F*CK. I had to run inside and outside no less than three times, each time almost yelling at her dumb ass, before I could finally get both gas pumps turned on to fuel up the cars. I thought for sure she was going to kill me and eat me and then throw my bones onto the big bonfire across the street.
Tandra and I picked up a couple snack items and drove out of that scary, smoky place.
The Trucker Experience storyThe rest of the trip was relatively uneventful. We talked on the two-way radios and made it back into Wichita around 5 PM. All in all it was quite the entertaining adventure. I particularly got a kick out of the whole Truck Stop experience. It was great.
or, The One Adventure That Didn't Almost Kill Us
We came upon a truck stop that appeared to have a reasonably inexpensive hotel and a 24-hour diner attached to it. We got a room at the hotel for $35. The room was completely covered in dark wood paneling and had carpet and other decor to match. It was great.
The sink drained REALLY REALLY slowly.
(I totally dig that shot - kudos to Tandra)
We checked in and drove over to the diner. Seriously, the haggled and messy looking waitress who looked to be about 35 or 40 and had too-bleached blonde hair came over to us with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. "I see y'all helped yourselves to menus. What can I git for ya?" We had BLTs. There were a few other people in the diner, obviously truckers. Good ole boys with trucker hats (real ones, not the stupid trendy ones). One guy was old, maybe 60, with white hair and skin like leather. He wore blue overalls and had calloused hands. I mentioned to Tandra that I bet he had stories for days, I bet he'd seen all kinds of things. He looked interesting. We headed back to the hotel room and flipped on the TV. There was NOT SH*T on, but we landed on some show that appeared to be a low-budget wannabe 700 Club or something. The gospel/praise band was an absolute riot. Finally we fell asleep.
We woke up late as usual, barely made the checkout time of 11 AM, and headed back over to the diner for breakfast. This time a different waitress helped us and there were more truckers. I had the "Hobo Breakfast" and Tandra had the "Trucker's special" which I found amusing since she's such a trucker and all.