White Lightning Wanderings

Map Quest says the trip can be done in 90 minutes. En route? For me, double that...at least. In my family, we call that: The Wander Factor...

As a kid, my dad would load us into the family car and drive. Destination: Anywhere. On an old school version of Twitter, the CB radio chattered most of the way. My dad would jump on the CB and ask for advice: Where to eat? Points of interest along the way? Inevitably the trucking community would heed the call, providing us with the regional highlights.

Growing up, my dad and I were on opposite ends of the spectrum. His handle was "White Lightning," a moniker earned by a love of speed and his giant white convertible with red leather seats. I, on the other hand, leaned toward a slower pace, observing countless details along the way. From my earliest memory, I was dubbed "Penelope Pit Stop."

Destination Anywhere trips were the best. We'd pull off for lunch at a roadside stand or truck stop. Dawdler that I am, I was always fascinated by the comforts of home in the middle of a semi-truck oasis: showers, phones, music and apple pie.

Sliding into a booth at the diner, my brother and I were endlessly amused by tableside jukeboxes and wooden peg games. My ritual order: a juicy patty melt, no fries, and a rootbeer with a side of cream. Those squat amber glasses were perfect for "black cows" ...a poor man's version of a rootbeer float.

Although White Lightning and Penelope Pit Stop rarely saw eye-to-eye, we both developed a love of exploring. Driving through the Midwest farmland, we'd pack a stash of sugar-glazed carrots. I'd spy a horse farm and if the timing was right, dad would slow, and pull up the gravel drive. He'd say a few words to the farmer, then call me out of the car with the "all clear" signal. I'd step up to the fence and lure horses with those sweetened carrots. Laying my palm flat, the first cautious horse would approach, and eventually muzzle the carrot from my hand. As a horse nut, this was my idea of heaven!

Over the years, my brother and I have collected hundreds of similar stories. This was a classic experience: On a trip to Disney World, my dad befriended a trucker (via CB radio). Before long, we both approached a designated mile-marker and pulled off the road. I watched, incredulously, as my brother was lifted into the cab of an 18-wheeler. Following the truck for several miles, we chatted with my brother on the CB, Smokey and the Bandit-style. We passed the truck and gave the classic tug gesture, laughing in surprise as the horn blared "Dixie."

Heading out on one of my dad's classic road trips, and the kids would cry, "Where are we g-o-i-n-g?"

Dad would respond, nonchalantly, "To see what we can see..."

Highways, back roads...roads to nowhere, getting lost was half the fun. Dad was quick to reassure us, "You're never really lost, as long as you've got gas."

It was always an adventure.

The other day, I was at a roadside diner. I bumped into a man sporting a lady's sun hat. Fastened 'round the brim were fresh flowers and series of buttons. I commented on his hat. He paused for a moment, and then began describing the significance of each pin. "This is for my son who is serving in Iraq. Next to it, is my pin. I'm a Vietnam Vet. And this...Save Our Farmlands." He plucked a purple-grey rose from his hat and offered it to me.

Friends of mine are astonished by the random people I meet. But if you knew my dad? That's just par for the course....and it's a tradition I'm happy to carry on.

White Lightning? Thanks for instilling my love of wandering.

Penelope Pit Stop