If you know me, and odds are you do or you wouldn’t be reading this yet, I’m sure that you’ve already assumed that this journey started late. Not late as in “I should be leaving soon, so I should hurry.” But classically late. Christmas Eve late. I should have been 2 states South of here 3 days ago late. And in was in that familiar state of mind that I piled too many of my earthly possessions into the 1992 Jeep Wrangler known to many as “DIE TAN” and headed across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. The weather was perfect. The Bay was slick calm under a beautiful sunset, and the Jeep seemed to purr a little as we rose up over the high rise and took in the scene that surrounded us. Of course that purr was actually more of a throat clearing which was followed by a couple of coughs and the spitting out of some clutch fluid and 8 ounces of oil. And so the journey began with a cough, a wheeze, and a quick pit stop 24 miles South of Cape Charles to reload the clutch fluid (this will be a commonly recurring theme) and put on some much warmer clothes (hopefully not so common). After bundling myself up like Ralphie’s little brother in “A Christmas Story”, I hopped back on 264 and tried to patch together the sweet sounds of Steely Dan through my ski cap as they rocked out of my 89 cent headphones and Michael Jackson era Discman. I often refer to highway 58 between Emporia and the Virginia Beach / Norfolk sprawl as the longest 100 miles of highway in Virginia. I know that 29 from Danville to Charlottesville is a close second, and the last 100 miles between you and your girlfriend’s house probably rank up there pretty high as well. But on Christmas Eve 2006, Santa brought me the ability to truly enjoy this stretch of highway for a change. As I rolled into Emporia with the wind blowing in my hair, and Donald Fagen whispering in my ear, I was greeted by the warm neon glow of the Applebee’s sign. Sweet, no fast food for me on Christmas Eve! I parked the Jeep in front of a window by the bar and could already smell the Jack Daniel’s Chicken sizzling on the grill. Once inside I was greeted by the 2 words everyone expects to hear at 8:02 on Christmas Eve… “We’re Closed”. Shit. I hauled ass over to Hardees… Closed. Taco Bell… Closed. McDonalds??? Open. That’s right. You can always count on the big creepy clown. After a gourmet meal that I hope my mother will never find out about (She doesn’t really do this whole internet thing.) I was refueled and ready to bid a fond farewell to Virginia for a while. North Carolina was generally uneventful. Except for the fact that I discovered that the Jeep was leaking a fair amount of oil out of the front end. Every once in a while I’d notice the oil pressure gauge drop out to nothing and have to pull over. 8-12 ounces later I was re-pressurized and ready to roll. This is yet another reason for me to only drive in the day time. You see, there are no interior lights in the Jeep. And I don’t mean that’s it’s hard to read a book. It’s hard to read the gauges. With no dashboard lights you need a car to pass you at just the right angle to catch their headlights on the faded white of the needles. Either that, or you need to remember to put the flashlight in the “bring” pile as you prepare to leave. I’m pretty sure that Mom and Sarah (my sister) called every 18 minutes between 7:30 and 10:00pm as I sputtered and putted through the Tar Heel state. My brother Chris should be at home keeping them occupied with tales of life in the mountains of Colorado. Chris is an avid outdoorsman, and loves to talk about the adventures he has going out to find and kill things for dinner. Unfortunately he is stuck in the latest “Storm of the Century” that is piling up 3-4 feet of snow at the Denver airport and thus is not nearly as fun to call as I apparently am. By 10:45 Mom has given up on seeing me before Santa arrives and turns in for the night. I am still in North Carolina. By midnight I realize that 300 more miles of ass numbing highway are not in the cards for this weary traveler. It’s time to call on an old friend. He’s been taunting me for hours “Just 165 more miles” “You’re always a Weiner” “You’ll be tickled Pink!” I’ve been fighting the urge, but sometimes you just gotta “Fill Your Trunk with Pedro’s Junk”. What the heck it is Chili Today. Maybe it’ll be Hot Tamale. I’m spending Christmas with Pedro. Shockingly enough, I was not the only traveler looking for a manger at South of the Border on Christmas Eve. The parking lot held at least 6 other vehicles, mostly SUV’s with car top carriers. I opted for the $5 upgrade for the king sized bed and after unpacking anything portable and valuable from the car there were soon visions of sugar-plums dancing in my head. “Merry Christmas. It’s 5:45.” This wake up call is revenge for the 6 or 8 Christmas mornings that I woke Mom and Dad up well before sunrise; I just know it. The rain outside my window however is some kind of cruel joke that I can’t possibly dream of any justification for. Hot Tamale my ass. I’m going to need more than a Mexican Whoopee Cushion to keep my buns warm today Amigo. Fortunately I have enough dry-bags for all of my electronic gadgets (Thank you to the wonderful geniuses at Watershed) and my “Suite” on the Kings Court has enough trash bags to keep a change of clothes merely damp. I reload the Jeep and hit the road by 7:00. One of the early tragedies of this trip is that it was way too wet for me to take a picture of my Jeep driving between Pedro’s legs on Christmas morning. Maybe I’ll draw it for you and scan it in somewhere along the drive. For now you’ll just have to trust me that it was a perfect combination of pitiful and poetic. Oh yeah, and wet. Definitely wet. As I continued South I was struck several times by the fact that in an open air vehicle you are truly one with your surroundings. This was seldom more evident that the several times I was struck by the deluge of water coming off the tires of a passing semi. By Noon I was pulling up to Mom’s house. Dripping wet, but smiling. Mom greeted me with a huge smile, a hug, and a mug of hot chocolate. I think the hot chocolate had rum in it. Yes, she is perfect. My brother Chris and his wife Emily finally arrived around 4:00 or so. I’m pretty sure that this is the first time in our lives he was more late than I was. It’s finally beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.
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