Karen Discovers is honored to post this week’s article by guest author, Kit Black, who writes about her adventures from a recent road trip to Florida. She is part of a mother/daughter author/artist team, and their work reflects a variety of interests, from the very serious to the outrageously funny . . . “Most of which is uncool.” Follow them on Instagram, blackcat_whiterabbit_h2yk.
by Kit Black
Few things are as exciting as the words “Road Trip”, though when they are surrounded by other words, like “conference” and “required to attend” , it tends to take the wind out of the sails. Still, any seasoned traveler knows how to make the best of a bad situation and turn dull into delightful.
The goal is Naples, Florida. The reason is a software conference. The fun part is bringing a guest. I chose to bring my seasoned navigator and secretary – my daughter Bunny. Bunny’s job is to monitor road conditions, check traffic and travel time, and respond to the frantic texts and phone calls regarding all that tech stuff. She also is tasked with creating the all-important driving mix of songs and providing general company and thought-provoking conversation. Little did Bunny know that she was about to be tasked with an all important new job, one that may have saved our lives.
We live twenty hours from Naples by car, and we don’t fly. Driving is so much more rewarding as we can bring whatever we like, take our time, and really see parts of the country you don’t see from the air. There is ultimate freedom in driving – one can choose to detour, sight-see, or take the road less traveled. Twenty hours is nothing to seasoned travelers such as ourselves, so we decided to take three days to get there in order to afford side trips and ease of travel. We had to be in Naples by Wednesday at 5 pm. We left Sunday morning.
Picture this: a bright, sunny day, an open road, and sweet little red car with a boss stereo belting out choice music. We made our way to 75 South and towards our goal for the first night – Knoxville, TN. Bunny and I spent our time discussing the plot of a TV Series that is just absolutely horrible – picking apart the plot holes, and fixing it so it actually held together and made logical sense. Then we moved on to our second favorite topic – the plot to our favorite video game. The road was easy, and the scenery through Kentucky was breathtaking.
As we approached the Tennessee boarder, the elevation increased and the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains overwhelmed us. We knew we’d reach Knoxville in an easy time, and discussed the possibility of things we’d like to do with our evening. What kind of games would a Gamestop in Knoxville have? Any Toys-R-Us around? Any rare treasure Geek stores? Since we allowed ourselves plenty of time, we made no solid plans as to what hotel we would stay at. Sometimes, spur-of-the-moment is the only way to travel. And then, traffic.
Ah, traffic! The joy you are a part of and the bane of any traveler! In this case, traffic served to slow our travel time and turn what should have been an easy six hours into a grueling eight. In writing, we would call this foreshadowing, or a harbinger of things to come. In life, we call this hindsight. The difference being, in writing you know the outcome because you can control it. In life – not so much. Needless to say, by the time we got to Knoxville, we were tired. Road signs for hotels were well hidden (or, I suspect, non-existent), and our only warning that a nice bed awaited was the neon sign of the hotel as we passed the exit. Finally, we managed to spot one prior to an exit, and hopped off of the 75.
It was a Budget Inn. Nothing fancy since all that was really needed was a place to get about six hours of sleep. The desk clerk was friendly, the room rate reasonable, and the area had plenty of gas stations and restaurants. We were on the 2nd floor, outside entrance – no elevator. As we stood, both of us looking at the two flights of rickety black-and-rust iron steps, we noticed the live baited raccoon trap in what passed for landscaping. Then we noticed the 2nd trap. Both were empty, but one starts to wonder what other kind of critters they might be having trouble with. Up the stairs and down the outside veranda to our room. Ah yes, our room.
Room is the best way to describe it. It had two double beds, a small vanity with sink, a toilet and shower, the usual dresser and a TV. It was clean-ish. To be fair, the only way you’d get some of those stains out of the carpet was to replace the carpet. Imagine what a room would look like after the crime scene investigation was done and they had come in and cleaned up the best they could without hiring professionals and you pretty much have our room – complete with the ghostly outline on the wall where one of the headboards to the bed used to be nailed. It looked like the kind of place where if you didn’t check in hourly at the front desk they’d send the police round for a wellness check. The toilet, it is worth adding, ran constantly, and the pipes would emit a high-pitched scream that was solved by simply shutting off the water on the tank.
We made the phone calls to let everyone back home know we had stopped for the night and where we were staying, then decided that the best plan would be to make our stay a minimum, and leave as early in the morning as possible. We’d bring up only the essentials (everything you can get in one trip and costs too much to replace) and leave the majority of our stuff locked in the car (clothes. You can replace clothes cheaply). We’d go grab a bite to eat, then get some sleep.
We decided on Wendys, since it was partnered with a gas station. Filled the tank, then went inside to order food. The first thing we noticed was the car parked beside us. It was an older model sedan, nothing fancy, and looked a bit well-worn. The most remarkable thing about it was that the owner had used posterboard and duct tape and put handwritten posters on every inch of space that wasn’t a window. These were not school spirit posters – oh no. These were paranoid ramblings of a person who – we realized – was most likely in the gas station. These posters had things written on them about how the FBI had kidnapped him and held him captive for six months, how they claimed his family on their tax returns, and how they married his wife when she was still married to him and kidnapped his children. And many other increasingly weirder ramblings peppered with f-bombs for flavor. We got gas, food, and went back to the hotel trying our best to not be seen.
OK, so Knoxville so far had not made a good impression on us, but hey, it’s like all cities, right? You got your good guys, your bad guys, your psychopaths, but they are all just people, right? In accordance with our positive outlook, we decided that the best way to make the best out of a bad situation was to get some sleep and get the hell out as quickly as possible. Once back at the room we turned on the weather channel to check to see what the travel conditions were going to be like tomorrow. Our plan was to stop near the GA-FL boarder and spend some time in GA. It can’t be as bad as Knoxville. It just can’t.
And that’s when things got worse. Georgia was in the path of what was expected to be a major tornado outbreak, with Atlanta having a 70% chance of tornados on Monday. We carefully looked at the timing of the oncoming storms and discussed our possibilities. We had an extra travel day. We could stay in Knoxville (at another hotel) and wait for the storms to pass. We could get as far as Adel and find a place to shelter down. Or we could push through to Florida. Timing was going to be critical – getting caught in a tornadic storm on a freeway where I am unfamiliar with the surrounding area is dangerous. So we studied the maps, the travel time, and the timing of the arrival of the severe weather, and determined that the best thing to do was to start out at 4 in the morning and try to stay ahead of the storms.
And this, my friends, is where things started to get worse.
To be continued……