I wrote about one road trip from hell—a 2007 trip to New Orleans for my daughter’s law school graduation that involved Southern heat without air conditioning, floods, and a broken bone (mine). Over New Year’s weekend from 2009 crossing over to 2010, I took another road trip from hell—this one to Houston.
The planning began a few weeks earlier, when we learned that the University of Missouri football team would be playing Navy on December 31, 2009, in the Texas Bowl in Houston. Wouldn’t it be great, someone suggested, if my husband and I took his mother to see the game? She is an avid Mizzou fan, and my husband is an alum of the Naval Academy. It seemed to others that these alliances would lead to a good time being had by all.
Well, it might have been a good time, if either my husband or I liked football. I grew up watching football games on television with my father and brothers—that was all there was to do on weekends during my childhood. I understand the rudiments of the game. One team of big, burly men tries to get the slippery, odd-shaped ball across the goal line while the other team of big, burly men tries to stop them. The players fall down a lot. Flags on the field are bad, unless they are timed strategically to magically transform fifteen minutes into an hour.
One problem with football is that it is played when the weather is cold. I managed to never attend a football game during high school, and only passed through the stands briefly during one game at college. I don’t like being outside in the cold—at least hockey is played inside.
My husband was forced to attend football games when he was a student at the Naval Academy. In uniform. And often marching. He didn’t mind marching, but he didn’t care about the football games themselves, and he did not follow his alma mater’s standings after he graduated. People would ask him about the Army/Navy game, and he had no clue when it was or who had won.
Nevertheless, on December 30, 2009, we found ourselves on I-35 South driving from Kansas City to Houston. I was retired by then, but my husband was still practicing law, and he wanted to make a quick trip of it. So we planned to make the drive in one day.
The three of us—husband, his mother, and me—left our house in her car at 8:00 am. We arrived in Houston at 11:00 pm. Fifteen hours on the road, which alone made it a trip from hell. My husband and I don’t do well on long car trips together, not when there is any time pressure involved. He stops too frequently and drives too slowly for my taste. And his mother travels faster than I do.
I had anticipated we would arrive at our hotel around 9:00 pm, but by Oklahoma City it was clear we wouldn’t make that. We ate dinner somewhere around Dallas (which we reached during rush hour) and still had hours to go. But we got there and went straight to bed.
The Texas Bowl itself was on December 31, 2009, which was a cold day for Houston. As a Navy alum, my husband had tickets to a Navy tailgate party where we ate lunch, then we found our seats in the stadium. It was colder than I had anticipated, and I spent quite a bit of time in the concession area where I could warm up.
Surprisingly, once the game started, my husband got interested and rooted for Navy. His mother, of course, rooted for Mizzou. Navy won decisively—35 to 13. The Mizzou players seemed as uninvolved in the game as I was, while Navy displayed a solid, workmanlike approach to scoring. However pleased my husband was by the result, his mother was about twice as disappointed. Since the trip was a present for her, it would have been nice if she had seen her team win.
On New Year’s Day, we played tourist at the Johnson Space Center, the U.S.S. Texas, and the San Jacinto Memorial. I enjoyed learning something of Texas history, but wished I had brought a heavier coat as I shivered in the wind.
We ended the day at a pizza joint somewhere near our hotel—the only restaurant we could find open on the holiday. That’s when the trip turned to hell. As with the New Orleans trip, I seemed to be the weak link in our family chain.
I became deathly ill that night—upset stomach, shakes and chills. Whether it was the pizza or a virus, I have no idea. I didn’t care then, and I don’t care now. I just know I felt bad. Too sick to eat, too sick to drive, too sick to do anything but moan.
Regardless how I felt, I had to endure a fifteen-hour car ride back home on January 2, 2010. I curled up in the back seat and tried to ignore everything—the conversation, the terrain, the world. All I ate that day was hot tea and a couple of saltines.
About Wichita, we hit a snowstorm. We had heavy snow all the way from Wichita to Kansas City—a three- hour drive in the dark. Every time a truck went by it threw snow across our windshield.
Once again, our travels ended about 11:00 pm, when we arrived at our house. At least by then I was feeling better.
And I’m happy to report that this was the last road trip from hell I’ve made. There was the time in 2013 that I drove my daughter from Vancouver, B.C., to Seattle after she broke her leg. But that was a shorter trip, and I wasn’t the one suffering.
When was your last road trip from hell?