Jessica and I have decided to take a road trip to Dallas, not quite 500 miles from where we live. I pick her up from her father’s house, tell her I’ve already packed her suitcase, and we hop in the car and buckle up.
“Road trip!” I say. “We’re heading down I-35 South and we’re not hitting the brakes till we get to Dallas!”
“We’ll need to get gas,” she points out. “And I will need lunch. And you will have to stop five times to use the bathroom. Also, we are spending the night in Oklahoma City.”
“You seriously do not have the proper road trip spirit.”
“Like wind in your hair! Feet on the dashboard!”
“That sounds uncomfortable.”
“Road trip!” she says. “We’re not stopping till Emporia!”
We’re out of range of our favorite radio station and Jessica changes the dial, finding a hip-hop station.
“Seriously?” I say.
“I love this music!” she says.
“You only hear country music at my house,” I say. “And all your dad listens to is Adele. How can you even know what hip-hop is?”
“I love this music!” she says, and gives me her inscrutable smile.
“What are all the posts along the side of the road?” Jessica asks.
I’m appalled at this gap in her education. “Have I never told you about mile markers?!” I exclaim. Mile markers were the story of my youth. We drove eight hundred and fifty-seven miles each way to visit my grandparents every year, and my father only ever stopped for gas. So I counted a lot of mile markers.
“What do they do?”
“They tell you what mile of interstate you’re on. On north-south routes, the markers starts at 0 on the south state line and go up as you head north. On east-west routes, they start at 0 on the west border. So you always know what direction you’re going. And if you get stuck, you tell the tow truck driver, ‘I’m near mile marker 57.’ Exit numbers are usually based on the mile marker, so you know exit 57 will be near mile marker 57. And the posts in between mark off fractions of a mile, like eighths of a mile or tenths of a mile. Beltways work a little differently; they usually go clockwise.”
I know more about mile markers than anyone who does not drive a truck for a living should.
“So that is mile marker 107.”
“Right. We’re heading south, so that means we’re 107 miles from the Kansas-Oklahoma border.”
“Sure. The next marker will be 106.”
And indeed it is.
“So,” says Jessica, “the next one will be 105.”
And it is. And for the next two hours, Jessica reads off every single mile marker we encounter.
“Mile marker 10!” she crows. “Just ten more miles to Oklahoma!”
“Thank you,” I say, regretting with every fiber of my being my mile marker lecture. I could have said I have no idea.
“Just letting you know,” she says, beaming. “Oh, look! Here’s number 9!”
Oklahoma drivers are the most aggressive drivers in the universe while at the same time not exceeding the speed limit. If there’s eighteen inches of clearance between you and the car in front of you, they’ll cut you off with their F-150, hauling a motor home and a pontoon on a trailer, but they won’t go over 70. Because that would be against the law.
We’re leaving Oklahoma, nearing the Texas border. The car starts to slow down, even though I’m driving the way I always do.
“What’s wrong?” Jessica asks.
I can’t figure it out at first. “It’s … I’m not sure ….” Then I realize what it is and smile. “Wow, it’s just something I’m not used to.”
“It’s a hill. We don’t have these in Kansas. Let me think. We probably covered this in driver’s ed but that was thirty years ago. Wait, I know! To get up a hill, you probably have to accelerate.”
We crest the hill, then go barreling down the other side.
Jess: “I think you stop accelerating now.”
We’re in Dallas, and I’m poolside with Jessica, and a blonde young man approaches. He’s wearing a nametag that says his name is Alex and shows he hails from one of those places that formed the USSR back when there was a USSR.
“I will be taking care of you today,” he says, and I’m a little confused at first until I realize that he’s a cabana boy. I have a cabana boy. The fact makes me very, very happy. “Can I get you something?”
“She’ll have a Diet Coke. I’ll have a margarita.”
“We have skinny ritas –”
I shudder. “What kind of abomination is that?”
“So you’ll have the regular?” he says and goes off to get our drinks.
Jess stares after him. “They don’t have an Alex at the public pool.”
The hot sun bakes down and I settle into the chaise. In a few hours I will realize I forgot to put on sunscreen, and I will deeply regret this afternoon, but right now, there is the sun shining, and a margarita on the way, and a pool in front of me where there is no splashing allowed, and I am thinking that every road trip ought to end just like this one.
Jessica picks up the menu Alex has thoughtfully left behind. “Will Alex bring us lunch?”
“I think he’ll bring us anything we want,” I say, and feel very very rich.