In the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college, I took an “internship” with a book publisher. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Well, this “internship” involved selling educational books door-to-door, in a place thousands of miles from home. It made future jobs like telemarketing and selling life insurance seem fun.
My three roommates and I were assigned to hawk our wares in the the suburbs of Minneapolis – although nothing prevented us from going anywhere we wanted. We arrived with no place to stay. Luckily, we were charmed by a 19 year-old Pizza Hut waitress who let us sleep on the floor of her one-bedroom apartment. What? You find it odd that a young woman (with a Prince tattoo on her breast) would let 4 guys sleep on her floor five minutes after meeting them? Yeah. It was an odd summer. I only tell this story because about seven weeks into this great experiment, I couldn’t knock on another door and pointed my 1986 Ford Tempo toward Florida and drove 17 hours, through nine states to get to Tallahassee, where I spent the rest of the summer couch surfing and taking a summer class.
Fast forward twenty-four years – our drive home offered me a chance to retrace much of this journey, although our final destination was Lake Keowee in South Carolina. After leaving Wind Cave National Park, we drove to Sioux Falls. The next day we passed through Minnesota, into Wisconsin where Monica visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, Taliesin. That night we had a delicious meal at an Italian Restaurant in Rockford, Illinois. The next day, we made the longest single-day drive of our trip – from 90 miles east of Chicago, to South Carolina. (Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina.) 12 hours. I wore my compression socks – and we made frequent stops (I had a DVT a couple years ago.)
Left to right: From Minnesota to Indiana, they have a wide variety of flat farm land and flatter farm land. I took the kids to a bookstore/coffee shop in Spring Green, Wisconsin, while Monica toured the Frank Lloyd Wright home. GPS took us on some back roads as we made our way back to Interstate 90.
In South Carolina we were greeted by my in-laws’ annual summer rite, a week together in a rented house on a refreshing lake. Real beds. A separate room for the kids. Cousins for them to play with. Hot showers. Home cooked meals. And a stack of books to read. It was a fine finish to our trip. A chance to decompress before getting home.
I lived in Indiana for three years after college. All that time, no one ever informed me that the state’s signature food was the fried pork tenderloin sandwich. We happened upon a farm-to-table restaurant (let’s just cut out the middle-man) where I cursed every Hoosier who kept the knowledge of this tasty sandwich from me. I now understand Indiana’s state motto: Always fry the pork.
On Lake Keowee there’s a lot of boating, swimming, boating, and swimming.
Mixed with a little fishing, reading and baking. Our daughter pulled in a huge catfish on one of her first casts – and became irate when we threw it back. She wanted to eat it. Monica whipped up a chess pie, that didn’t last long. Bikini Baking – it’s a new thing.
There are many options. Fast boat, slow boat. No boat.
We spent a week in our bathing suits before finishing off with an eight-hour trip home. There was a point on this trip where I honestly couldn’t imagine ever getting home again. It seemed so far off when we were first pitching our tent in the Smokies.
An added bonus was that we were having the downstairs of our house remodeled. See, one of the previous owners of our house fancied himself a carpenter. With a combination of cheap pine, compressed wood, and formica, he made it look like a high school wood-shop class tried to put a Hooters restaurant in the hull of a ship.
Top left: loading up for the last time. Top right: crossing Tampa Bay, almost home. Bottom: Monica marvels at the renovation (before / after).
I haven’t been home long enough to think of something profound to say about this trip. The highs were higher than I expected. The lows were exactly what we predicted and honestly, I’m already reaching the point where I only remember the good stuff (a phenomenon explained recently in the New York Times). I’ve never been as exasperated as I was on our fourth night in a Santa Fe Hotel, or as hot as I was in Death Valley. The Smokies, Ghost Ranch, and Tuolomne Meadow were some of the best camping I’ve ever done. The drive through Ten Sleep Canyon over Powder River Pass is as fun as I ever had behind the wheel of a vehicle.
For two months I was able to put Vascular Ehlers-Danlos in the back of my mind, and be overwhelmed by my surroundings and immersed in our journey. I’ve come away with a feeling of gratitude. I’m lucky to be alive. Lucky to have great kids. Most of all I’m lucky to have Monica to walk through this craziness with. She’s beautiful and brilliant, and she carries a heavy load. I couldn’t – and wouldn’t want to – do it without her.
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“Don’t make me turn this van around” is written by Jonathan Kile, and approved by Monica Kile. Check out Jon’s periodic column, “So How’s That New Book Coming?” at Creative Loafing – Tampa. His 2014 thriller, The Grandfather Clock, is available free for Kindle on Amazon.com and other eReaders at Smashwords. Reach him at email@example.com. Monica is a freelance grant writer, non-profit consultant, tour guide, and connoisseur of 70s rock lyrics.