I love road trips. I love everything about being in a car on the open road. The scenery. The music on the radio. The time to visit with each other without having a million interruptions. But road trips make me nervous. I usually have the nagging worry at the back of my head that something is going to go wrong. Because it always does.
The very first road trip that Jeanne and I ever took together should have been a sign. We always end up having adventures when we travel. Over the years, we have had some crazy things happen. One time we had to sleep in the car when we couldn’t find a single vacant hotel room for 400 miles. Another time, we were caught in a hailstorm that left dents on the hood of the car. And there was that time we had rented a car for the trip. We had mechanical trouble before we even got to our destination, had to trade the car in, and then were rear-ended on the way home, so ended up in a 3rd vehicle before the trip was over. But the first trip – the one we’ll never forget – is the story we still tell when we get talking about weird travel stories.
My mother had won 3 nights at a hotel in Nashville, and knowing we both loved Country music, offered the certificate to Jeanne and me. She even offered to let us use her car for the trip, but mine got better gas mileage, so we didn’t take her up on it. That was our first mistake!
I was teaching in Northern Virginia at the time, so we hit the road during my spring break. Our first stop was Atlanta to visit a cousin of mine; from there, we made our way towards Nashville, by way of Chattanooga and a couple of famous distilleries (to take a tour and see how the whiskey was made). After visiting these tourist stops, we got back on the interstate headed for Music City. All of a sudden, we heard a popping noise, and then smoke started billowing out of my engine. We pulled over, knowing something was terribly wrong. Not having any idea what we were looking at, we raised the hood and decided we had better see what we could do about getting some help.
Keep in mind, this was long before either of us owned a cell phone! Fortunately the next exit was within view and at the top of the ramp, we could see a service station. We locked the car and started walking.
When we got to the gas station, the mechanic asked what he could do for us. We pointed down to the side of the highway and said – see that car? We need to get it towed up here because something is wrong. He didn’t have a tow truck but he did have a phone for us to call AAA and arrange for one to come. The closest one was located 20 miles north of where we were, had to drive past where the car was to get to the next exit and turn around, and then could tow the steaming car about ¼ of a mile up the exit ramp. When it finally got delivered to the mechanic, he told us the water pump had blown, that he would have to get a part from another town and that he couldn’t have the car ready until noon the next day.
He then directed us to a motel down the road – the only one within walking distance. The Smoke House was more than just a motel. It was a restaurant, gift shop, motel … and wedding chapel! Over the course of the next 24 hours, we took advantage of all of these – except the wedding chapel, of course. We had only been dating about 3 months at that point!
I googled the Smoke House recently. The motel is still there – it is now a Best Western, and I don’t see the wedding chapel mentioned on their website, but the restaurant and gift shop look exactly the same. The rooms, though, have been updated.
19 years ago, when we walked into our room, the first thing we noticed was a floor to ceiling mural on the wall in front of us. Larger than life, it depicted a bottle of Jack Daniels next to a glass of whiskey on the rocks. The rest of the room décor also seemed to remind us of our earlier stops. For one thing, the bedside table was a whiskey barrel!
There wasn’t much to do, since we were without transportation, so we spent a lot of time in the gift shop and restaurant. Once we had looked at every knickknack on sale and eaten lunch, dinner, and breakfast the next day in the one restaurant, we still had some time to kill before the car would be ready, so we decided to walk across the street to the local winery. Their sign advertised tours of their operation – we have always enjoyed learning about the manufacturing process, whether it is the CocaCola museum in Atlanta, the Budweiser brewery in St. Louis, or in this case, the Monteagle winery in Tennessee.
The tour cost the lively sum of $3, which we figured was a bargain for something to do that day. We were hoping it would help the time pass quickly and that we could get on our way soon. We waited with a few other “tourists” by the head of a flight of stairs. When the employee opened the gate that was blocking the way, he indicated it was a self-guided tour and we should just proceed down the steps.
We reached the landing at the bottom and quickly realized that we had overpaid for this particular “tour”. Standing on a landing with windows on either side, we were facing a handwritten sign on the wall in front of us that told us to look to the left to see the pressing process and look to the right to see the bottling process, and “thank you for touring the Monteagle Winery”. The only saving grace was that we were given a free wine tasting when we got back upstairs.
Whenever we get ready to go on a road trip these days, we always know there will be an adventure awaiting us along the way. Some good, some not-so-good. But if nothing else, we know we will get a story out of it!
Some day, I’ll tell you about the year I went looking for a new job and had a story to tell after each interview. It would be almost enough to fill a book!