Road Trip Dad - Road Trip (to see my) Dad
Dan Witmer | October 12, 2020
On Wednesday morning I jumped in my car and took two days to drive some 1300+ miles – spanning most of eight states – to Florida so I could help my parents get through some tough times. It’s the second-longest two-day trip I’ve ever completed (Oswego to Denver was 1600+ miles), but I made that trip with my son Eric.

This time it was just me, my Nissan Altima, some provisions, and XM Radio.

This week’s blog has very little (or maybe nothing) to do with lacrosse, but it does tell you a little more about the guy you thought you knew pretty well (or, if this site is relatively new to you, maybe this is how you get to know me).

Either way, sit back, put your feet up, and come along for a ride…

My 93-year old Dad took a fall about a month ago, which resulted in a hairline fracture of his femur, pain meds, and rest. When the prescription for the meds ran out, the pain got worse, and more drugs were ordered. That led to digestive discomfort, which led to a hospital visit on Friday, October 2. Anxiety, the strangeness of a hospital room, and more meds led to hallucinations.

So when my Mom called to fill me in on all the latest a week ago Saturday, Dad’s prognosis was pretty unclear. He was still in the hospital, and he probably wouldn’t be released to go home; time in a rehab facility would be necessary….

By Monday it became clear that Mom was pretty stressed, so I started thinking about going down there to offer my help and support. I really didn’t want to fly, but I checked into the cheap Frontier flights like the ones I took last winter, but they weren’t available. Then I searched a little more and found a $300 round trip offer for Thursday.

Still, I wasn’t looking forward to booking flights and going through airports; I’m just not quite ready for that. So I got out the atlas and hit the Google machine. I’d never driven south of Virginia Beach before, so this was going to be an adventure…

As much as I wanted to avoid airports and planes, I also wanted to avoid hotels/motels, so I got my camping game-face on and asked Eric about the free campsites he’s found in his Denver-to-Oswego-and back journeys. I told him that it looked like Rocky Mount, NC was approximately halfway to Lakeland, so I told him to see what he could find for me in that area.

Long story short, he hooked me up with a great host who was both very welcoming and generous. I left my driveway at 7:30 AM Wednesday morning and got to my host in Robersonville at just about sundown. I set up my tent, ate my pre-packed dinner, played on the phone for a while, and hit the hay.

I got on the road again at 7:45 the next morning, and didn’t stop until I hit Santee, Georgia around 12 or 1 PM. From there it was Jacksonville around 4 PM, Orlando around 5 (where I faced the worst traffic of the entire two-day trek), and then the Lakeland Chick-fil-A just before 7. I got to my Mom’s house just in time for Jeopardy, as promised.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t know if I could have done it without XM Radio and, more specifically, Channel 20 – E Street Radio. Since March or April, Bruce Springsteen has recorded semi-weekly DJ sessions, in which he talks, plays obscure and often-unexpected theme-related music, and manages to slip a few of his own songs in there as well. Because I’ve spent so little time in the car these past six months, I’ve only managed to hear bits and pieces of the 12 previous “From My House To Yours” broadcasts – but Wednesday was the debut of broadcast #13 – fittingly entitled “My Kingdom for a Car.” When I heard the theme I knew I was making the right decision by driving down to Florida. Talk about good karma!

The set list started with “Theme from Route 66,” by Nelson Riddle and his Orchestra. Lasting 90 minutes (not nearly long enough for my 12-hour drive!), the broadcast featured 26 songs, readings from On the Road (Jack Kerouac), and more. Highlights included “Running on Empty” (Jackson Browne), “Route 66” (Depeche Mode), “No Particular Place to Go” (Chuck Berry), “Ballad of Thunder Road” (Robert Mitchum), “From a Buick 6” (Bob Dylan), and “Silver Thunderbird” (Jo Dee Messina).

Maybe the most entertaining selection was “My Hooptie” by Sir Mix-a-Lot. The song was nothing special, but the narrative defining a Hooptie was something I think we can all relate to:

A "hooptie" is any car that meets the following:
a. Driver must enter car through passenger side 
b. Three different brands and size tires, three of them missing hubcaps
c. Exhaust pipe is held up by half a wire clothes hanger; the other half of said hanger replaces the antenna 
d. Backfires every three blocks, the loudest backfire being when car is turned off 
e. Must open door at drive-thru window, as the windows do not roll down 
f. You only get one AM station, and the 1970s tape deck eats all tapes inserted 
g. You must manually move the blinker lever up and down as it no longer blinks on its own
h. Has had the same temporary registration sticker in the window for past 18 months 
i. Despite all the above, still has $200 professional tint job

With senses on alert at all times, I enjoyed taking in the scenery. There were the billboards, of course – South of the Border signs starting in Virginia (the popular tourist trap is in South Carolina), the injury lawyer signs (“Call the 7s – 777-7777,” and the catchy “Accident? Don’t Scream – Call Akim!”), gubernatorial campaign signs for Dan Forest in NC (“Run, Forest, Run!”), and the sign for the three-acre dog park in Benson, NC that caught my eye – “Gotta Go!” There was another billboard that read “Don’t even think about looking at the next sign!” Of course, you are then certain to look at the next billboard, which is what they want you to do!

But the overall winner goes to a sign right here in Lakeland, which reads, “We ordered a chicken and an egg from Amazon. We’ll let you know.” Think about that for a bit if you don’t get it at first.

A fan of both geography and history, I found myself asking questions like “Why is there a North and South Carolina, a Virginia and a West Virginia, and where exactly is the Mason-Dixon Line?” I Googled answers once I finished my trip, so now I know, but I’ll let you do your own research.

I passed the Tar River in North Carolina, which has something to do with the Tar Heels of UNC, and in South Carolina, I crossed over the Great Pee Dee River. I Googled that one, too. I was kind of hoping for something risqué, but was almost disappointed to learn the area was once the homeland of the Pee Dee Indian tribe.

My Altima has a great adaptive cruise control that adjusts with the speed of the vehicles directly in front of me. That made for a lot of smooth driving. I also gained a new level of appreciation for the drivers of the big rig 18-wheelers. Without exception, they constantly made room for passing, changed lanes safely, and obeyed the speed limits. Thanks, truckers!

Another observation was the fact that three out of every four cars, pick-ups, and SUVs were white. Don’t recall ever seeing so many white cars in Upstate or CNY. I also noticed a lot of “muscle cars” – Chargers, Challengers, Camaros, and Mustangs – and they were usually black or dark blue. Just things that made me go, “Hmm…”

Anyway, my Mom and I visited my Dad in the hospital on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and yesterday he was discharged and moved into the rehab center at my parents’ senior community. So things are better now than they were when I left home on Wednesday.

All in all, it made for a pretty nice 93rd birthday for my Mom, especially the family Zoom session we had last night that included Eric in Denver and Brian in Prague.

Not sure how long I’ll be operating from here in Florida; one of the nice things about driving down here is that I can stay as long as I want and leave whenever I choose.

But one thing is for sure – the trip was worth making. Happy Birthday, Mom, and welcome back “home,” Dad.

Please drive carefully, everyone – and stay safe, stay smart, and stay kind.

- Dan Witmer daniel.witmer@oswego.edu

Dan Witmer is the author of two books.  The Best of Road Trip Dad – the Laker Lacrosse Collection  is an accumulation of 45 articles written for JustLacrosseUpstate between the years 2012 and 2018, about the history and traditions, the people, and the stories of the Oswego State men’s lacrosse program. The book is available on Amazon.com, and at the river’s end bookstore in Oswego, the SUNY Oswego College Store in the Marano Campus Center, The Sports Outfit on West Genesee Street in Fairmount, and Geared 2 Sports in Cortland.  ...and piles to go before I sleep - The Book of Wit  is his memoir describing his 33 year career teaching HS English and coaching at Hannibal Central School. It is available on Amazon.com and at the river's end bookstore.