NOLA Road Trip From Hell

In May 2010, my husband, his mother, and I took a road trip to New Orleans, Louisiana (called “NOLA” by natives). My daughter was graduating from Tulane Law School. We would attend her graduation ceremony, then help her move her belongings back to Kansas City until she rented a place in Olympia, Washington, where she would start work in August.

The contents of her one-bedroom apartment in NOLA had to get to our basement in Kansas City. And her Ford Escape also needed to make the trip. We knew we would need a do-it-yourself moving truck. We’d used a Penske truck to move her to NOLA three years earlier and dreaded the repeat trip in a vehicle without cruise control.

The original plan was for my husband, his mother, and me to fly from Kansas City to New Orleans. After graduation, we would drive the truck and our daughter’s car back to Kansas City. Four drivers and two vehicles seemed a reasonable ratio.

Then my mother-in-law decided she didn’t want to fly. We had to drive. That would mean three vehicles to drive back from New Orleans—the car we drove to NOLA, our daughter’s Escape, and the moving truck. It was still doable, though not ideal.

I volunteered my car—a 2009 Mazda 5 that could seat six people and had less than 10,000 miles on it. There would be a total of seven people in our party, because my parents and my son were also joining us in NOLA for the festivities (although not for the packing and moving adventure). I figured the Mazda and my daughter’s Escape would give us plenty of room.

We headed south from Kansas City on Wednesday. On Thursday, around Jackson, Mississippi, just as the Southern humidity grew rank, the air conditioning in the Mazda went out. The car’s fan stopped fanning. We wilted, but tried to keep our tempers cool.

As we approached New Orleans, I called my daughter to ask her to find us a Mazda dealer in the area. I didn’t yet have a smartphone with Internet access. She gave us an address in the suburb of Metairie, and we went directly there.

We described the air-conditioning problem to the dealer’s service representative. He said there was a recall on the vehicle also and he could take care of both problems.

“Can you have the car ready tomorrow?” we asked. “We’ve got people to transport to graduation activities.”

He shook his head. “It’ll be at least Friday.”

We managed with public transportation and our daughter’s Escape on Thursday. We put seven adults in the Escape for one brief ride. It made for a close-knit family gathering.

On Friday, the dealer said, “We need a replacement part that’s not in stock. It’ll be Monday before we’re done.”

“We’re leaving Monday,” we said. “We absolutely have to have the car then.”

“No problem.”

“And what about transportation through the weekend? We really need another car.”

“There’s an Enterprise rental next door to us,” the dealer said.

We rented a dinky little sedan. So much for the six seats in my Mazda, but we made do with the rented sedan and the Escape.


A blurry picture of our daughter at graduation

The New Orleans weather was either swelteringly hot or pouring rain. Mostly both at the same time. We squished through puddles from the parking lot to the law school, the downpour overwhelming our Midwestern umbrellas. But we got our daughter graduated on Saturday.

On Sunday morning the three grandparents, my husband, my son, and I sat in our hotel downtown for a final breakfast before sending my son off to his flight. Our daughter was at her apartment, allegedly packing. We hadn’t seen much evidence of packing earlier in the weekend.

As we ate, we noticed a commotion in the hotel lobby. The street outside had flooded, and water oozed into the lobby. In the street the muddy sludge stood at least a foot deep.

“I’ll never get a cab to the airport,” my son groaned.

“Maybe your flight has been canceled,” I said.

He checked. The flight was on time.

So he put on his flip-flops, rolled up his jeans, and waded outside, balancing his suitcase on his head. He didn’t come back.

After a couple of hours, the flood waters receded, and we went on a plantation tour.

On Monday, our tasks included renting the truck, returning the dinky sedan, and retrieving our Mazda. As well as loading the truck and starting the drive back to Missouri.

The Penske truck

The Penske truck

First the truck. We arrived at the Penske office at 9:30am to pick up a truck promised for 9:00. No truck. We ran errands, then returned. The truck was finally available at 10:30. Off to our daughter’s apartment to load up.

As I walked toward my daughter’s apartment, I slipped in the mud, twisting my left foot. Immediate pain like I hadn’t felt since I broke that same foot in 1995. I hobbled into the apartment and examined it. “I think I broke my foot,” I said.

“You’re kidding,” my husband said, his usual sympathetic self.

“Great timing, Mom,” my daughter said. She takes after her father.

My daughter's apartment kitchen. You can see my ice bag in the sink.

My daughter’s apartment kitchen on move-out day. You can see my ice bag in the sink.

I limped to the kitchen and perched on the counter. “Do you have any ice?” I ran cold water over my foot while my daughter went to buy ice.

I stayed on the counter while my husband and daughter moved furniture. I was able to clean the stove while icing my foot in the sink. After a couple of hours, I vacuumed, moving my leg as little as possible, while they loaded the last of the boxes into the truck.

By 2:00pm, we were done. My daughter and I went downtown to get my mother-in-law. We’d left her at the hotel, afraid she would hurt herself lifting things. (Hah! I was the weakling in the bunch.)

My husband returned the rental car and picked up our Mazda. We all met back at our daughter’s apartment for a fast-food meal before our trek.

“They didn’t do anything on the air-conditioning,” my husband reported. “They couldn’t find anything wrong.”

“What do you mean they couldn’t find anything wrong?” I said.

“They said it works fine.”

“But you know it didn’t work on the way here.”

He shrugged. “They fixed the recall problem.”

So we were about to leave on a two-day drive in 100% humidity with unreliable air-conditioning. And a mother-in-law. We decided she and I would take my daughter’s Escape, leaving my husband and daughter to manage the truck and faulty Mazda between them.

At 3:30pm, as rush hour started, our caravan left NOLA. My mother-in-law driving the Escape, with me as a passenger (left foot propped on the dash), my daughter driving the Mazda, and my husband driving the Penske truck (sans cruise control).

My boot

My boot

And that’s pretty much how we proceeded for the next two days. I did insist on relieving my mother-in-law at the wheel for a brief spell, to be sure I could make the last 90 minutes from her house to mine by myself.

X-rays the day after we got home revealed my metatarsal bone was broken. I wore a boot for the next two months.

But our daughter had air-conditioning in the Mazda all the way home. We never found out what gremlins attacked it on the trip down.

What trips have you taken that turned into disasters?

Posted in Family.


  1. My weekend in hell was a group float trip on a river somewhere in northwest Arkansas. I didn’t canoe – we took our kids, one still a baby, the other a preschooler, and the plan was for the women-folk and kids – ours, another mom with preschool children, my pregnant sister-in-law and her equally pregnant friend – would have a fun camping adventure while the everyone else rode the river.

    Only trouble was, the campground was in the middle of nowhere – no services, vending machines, etc,; the temperature was 60 bazillion utterly breezeless humid degrees; and the various children grew tired of each other after the first hour. My daughter was (and still is) terrified of bugs, which were everywhere, so she spent much of the weekend screaming and/or whimpering. Everybody shrieked at the thought of entering the campground outhouses and none of the kids would eat the camping food items we’d brought.

    Any time I see the word “misery” it takes me straight to the memory of that awful weekend. But at least nobody broke any bones, so that’s something.

  2. What a story, Theresa. I’m glad you at least got your daughter graduated.
    I experienced the trip from #@*$ when I went to a “luxury” resort off the coast of Venezuela. I’ll sum it up…they lied when they used the word “luxury.” I’m thankful I came back alive. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Broken Bones: Which Ones Were They? | Theresa Hupp, Author

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