Sometimes the best stories are the unexpected ones. Having a plan is all fine and dandy but life always has a way of putting you in your place.
A trip to Nashville was planned and I was excited to get away from home for the weekend. The night before, I did the necessary car maintenance and stayed up late on tinychat talking to friends (it’s where all the cool kids hang out). After a few hours of sleep I woke up and did the necessary pre trip preparation. Shower. Check! Packed. Check! Washed dishes? Check! Don’t forget the phone charger! Check! “Oh crap did I lose my mustache wax again?!?” Check! It was shaping up to be an awesome time.
As usual I said a prayer before hitting the road and for a while there everything seemed to be going smoothly. The sky was overcast and there was a nice fall breeze in the air. The driver side window on my 98 Pontiac Grand AM doesn’t work well anymore so it rattled occasionally, reminding me that it was still there and questioning why I don’t love it anymore. I do love it still, but it’s being such a brat lately….but that’s another tale. So I head north on the famous Highway 61 towards Memphis. I filled up my gas tank the night before and my goal was to get to my destination as soon as I can.
On the radio I have Janelle Monae’s ‘The Archandroid” playing and life is good. I always face a dilemma on these drives on when to pass an 18 wheeler or not. For a while I just kept behind this van that was going the perfect speed in front of me and I just passed them when they did. I figured after a while that they probably thought I was being a creeper, when it actuality they probably thought I was being a creeper. The landscape went from mostly brown to white the further north I went. In my town and the surrounding areas they used to grow lots of cotton and I think in recent years they’ve switched to corn. Cotton is still being grown about an hour north of me it seems and seeing the sea of white was like seeing an old childhood friend. Nice but not nice enough for me to stare too long because….you know….driving and stuff.
As I enter Tunica I stop at a gas station because I remembered the last time I left Nashville my car decided to overheat and I didn’t want that problem again. I had about half a bottle of antifreeze in my trunk but another bottle couldn’t hurt. I pull over into the first gas station I see and walk in to look for the coolant. As I walked in I noticed that there is an Indian guy working (India Indian not American Indian Indian) and a lunch buffet to the right of his cash register. My eyes couldn’t help but focus on all the fried goodness that was on display. I tried to break the spell before things got out of hand and turned to look for the antifreeze.
After I found what I needed I walked to the front and noticed that next to the buffet was a cooler full of some delicious looking salad. Have I eaten today? I forgot about that in my pre vacation checklist and decided I should get some food here. The salads look great, I may get one……wait is that mac and cheese?!? Immediately my battle with the food demons was lost. Mash potatoes, fried chicken, pork steak, macaroni and cheese, fried okra, fried catfish and various breads were all on display and I couldn’t look away. Mac and Cheese is probably one of my favorite foods and also one of the greatest disappointments in life. It’s never as good as it looks. EVER. I think I’m spoiled and only eat my mom’s but I swear I always think, “Maybe this time it will be different.” You think I’d learned my lesson after 29 years.
I scan the menu board they have off in the corner and notice that the price for the buffet was conveniently not displayed. The lady working the buffet was a black lady in her early 40’s and she was gossiping about some guy. I don’t know, I wasn’t paying attention cause FOOD! She asked if I was ready and I told her I’d get the 1 meat and 2 sides meal. I got a catfish (cause I try to be different and not get fried chicken everywhere I go), mac and cheese (of course) and mashed potatoes because carbs love me and won’t let me go. They tell me I get a free pop (or soda for all you weirdo’s in other states) and I go back to my car to continue my journey.
The food was bland and I immediately regretted my decision. I don’t even like fried catfish that much. What was I thinking? The mac and cheese and potatoes were meh and as I drove I couldn’t help but wonder how different my life would’ve been if I chose the salad instead. Don’t make my mistake people.
So I enter into Walls, Ms which is the last little town before you hit Memphis, TN. Something was nudging me to stop at this last gas station and pick up more things because the taxes in TN suck and I didn’t really want to stop again until I get to Nashville. So I pull into the gas station and was greeted by an Indian lady (northern Mississippi has a lot of Indian’s apparently), grabbed a few items and paid in cash (I’m a baller you see). I walk outside, sit in my car and turn the ignition.
“Hmmmm that’s weird.”
“Seriously car….what are you doing?”
My car wouldn’t start. It had never done this in the 11 years I’ve had it and I started laughing. Seriously. I laughed. Life is funny and when things like this happen that’s all you can do. Well….I guess you could go on a rampage and slaughter every ant in the general vicinity but that seemed a little extreme and besides what did the ants do to me? I kept trying to get my car to start and it wasn’t budging. I checked the clock and it was around noon now. My dad doesn’t get off of work until 1 ish and my mom happened to text me at this exact moment to see if I was okay. I asked plenty of people who came to the station if they knew anything about cars and got mostly no’s. I’ve never seen so many men who knew nothing about cars. What’s really going on northern Mississippi?! I went inside and told the lady there that I would be out front for a while, she didn’t seem to care all that much, and I hung around the gas station reflecting.
The good news is the view was awesome. Northern Ms has more hills then down in the delta where I live. The weather was still really nice and so I decided to just sit on the side of the building and relax. There were a few ants doing their daily thing and I was glad I didn’t go on a rampage to kill them all. They were nice company. There were a few grey clouds in the sky but they held off on crying on me for a while. It was really nice and I was thankful for the time. I was trying to decide what to do if I were to get my car fixed. At that moment I, of course, said I’d go back home but the other side of me (we’ll call him George) reminded me that this was a bump in the road and that all great trips have a few hiccups in them. George only shows up in these times, he’s not very good me.
I got in touch with my dad and after a while he got me in contact with some people he knew up in Memphis. I called and told them my location. Sweet! Help was on the way. I went inside and browsed the store a bit trying not to looking suspicious. I went to the restroom to see phone numbers of people who would give strangers a “good time” and after doing what guys do in bathrooms, I washed my hands and ….no paper towels….ok…..oh there’s a hand blow dryer thing….that doesn’t work. My pants will have to do. I walk out and grab some popcorn and a tea, purchase them and proceed to walk outside to wait for my help.
As I walked towards the door this skinny black man walked in, looked around, and yelled my name. I said that it was me and from here on out my vacation got a little strange. If the snorting of mucus wasn’t off putting, then the digging in ones nose with their finger, coughing, mumbling, and yelling would make someone take notice. The first thing I thought was “Who did my dad just send to help me?” I walk outside and I see that he came in a pickup truck and that he was joined by two other characters. We’ll name him Mumbles, the lady we will call the secretary (they legitimately called her this by the way) and the other man we will call Pops.
So Mumbles started mumbling and it took me a short moment to realize to just smile and nod. I’ve become an expert at the smile and nod and I used it quite a bit on this trip. Pops asked for my key and tried to turn the ignition.
“It’s the fuel,” Pop’s said in his gruff voice. “Did you fill it up?”
“Why yes I did that last night sir,” I said as he shook his head and told Mumbles what it was.
They decided to pull my truck to their shop and Mumbles and Pops got into a bit of an argument (or maybe this is how they always talk to each other) on who would maneuver the car back to the shop. I was fine doing it but as Mumbles said “HE FROM SHAW, HE DUN KNOW HOW TO DRIVE IN MEMPHIS” so Pops took the reigns. His biggest complaint was that he couldn’t see over the steering wheel so I offered up my luggage, which he gladly (?) accepted. I went to get on the passenger side of my car and Pops quickly pointed at the pick up truck and told me to ride with the others.
As I got into the pickup truck I thanked them for coming to get me and they just kind of glared at me and started talking in their own language. As we turned back onto Highway 61 I knew that my entire trip was now on a different level and I put my seat belt on for the ride.
“YOU UGLY JUST LIKE YOUR DADDY….BUT YOU GOT YOUR MOM’S SKIN COLOR,” Mumbles yelled at me with a laugh. He then proceeded to go on and on about how he knew my entire family and had just seen my dad the following weekend during Homecoming. I slowly nibbled on the popcorn that I had bought as he went from yelling stuff at me to saying things to The Secretary. She did say to me at one point, “If you don’t understand what he’s saying just ask me cause he’s a damn fool.” Mumbles asked me if I drank and I said sometimes and he takes out a bottle of moonshine, takes a swig (yeah he’s still driving) and hands it over to me. I started to mouth ‘No thank you’ but he shot me a look and I just took a sip, said thank you, and passed it back to him.
I go to close my bag of popcorn and Mumbles reaches over and snatches the bag out of my hand. “Oh NO YOU DON’T!” he yelled as he started eating my popcorn. “YOU AIN’T GON’ EAT THIS WHOLE BAG TO YA SELF!”
He starts devouring those poor kernels and spitting bits out the window. We tried to have small talk as we entered Memphis and made our way to their car lot. It was about a 15-20 min drive from where I was stranded and I was thankful that I had people helping me at least. As we rounded the corner I saw this old shack surrounded by a fence and to the left of it was a bigger shed full of cars. As we parked and I got out of the car I saw that on the ground were plenty of beer cans of the Bud Lite variety. Mumbles told the secretary to get my information and he disappeared yelling about something or another. The secretary was a nice lady. They all were…nice…just rough around the edges. They lived the life of chasing paper. I could tell when I first met them and I hoped by the end that they wouldn’t try and take too much of my money. I didn’t care though, fix my car and let me go!
They figured that it was my gas filter that was giving me a problem. Pops put starter fluid in my car and it ran again but he said he’d still have to change the filters. During this time another gentleman walked up and introduced himself and immediately I felt 100 % more safe. He was very well spoken and he went to high school with my parents and seemed to be the calm in the storm of this place. It was great to talk to him only for a second before he left and I hung out with Pops for the majority of this portion of my vacation. Mumbles had rode off in his truck to some unknown destination and the secretary had disappeared in the barn full of cars.
“You got money?” Pops asked me with a glare in his eyes.
“I…yeah…I have it on my card. I take it you guys don’t take the card?….No…well I’ll have to go to an ATM,” I said and Pops gave a slight nod and walked off.
He called a few places looking for the part and found that there was an auto shop right around the corner that had exactly what we needed. He told me to drive my car there and it was nice to be behind the wheel of my car again. I drove to the shop and paid $8 for the part. Pops thought the Walgreens on the corner had an ATM but we found out it didn’t. He told me to take him back to the shop so he can get started and he’d tell the secretary to take me to one and that’s precisely what happened.
Once we found the secretary we got in a truck and she took me to a gas station to get some cash. On the way we talked about how all of her kids were grown now, that the 10th of October was her son’s birthday (this was the day all of this happened), and that she just changed the password to her phone and couldn’t remember what it was. I enjoyed the talks with her, not only because I could understand her, but she seemed like a genuinely decent human being. After I got the cash we headed back to the shop where I learned that the secretary didn’t like chicken and we shared a laugh on doing things against stereotypes. I said thank you as we parked and she said “Uh huh.”…then paused and said “You’re welcome” That was the last I would see of her.
Pops didn’t start working on the car until I got back with the money. He replaced the gas filters and then proceeded to take off the cover of my engine to check the spark plugs. He told me I needed to get my air filter replaced and the spark plugs probably needed to be changed in about a month. Watching him was interesting because he knew what he was doing. It looked like he did to me at least, I don’t know car (I’m a part of the problem Mississippi, we gotta do better!). He told me that it would be $75 plus the $45 it cost to tow my car. He did say “Plus tax” which made me chuckle on the inside. It was the way he said it….I guess you had to be there. Mumbles showed up after he was done and it was with him that I was to pay the money.
They tried looking for the secretary but she wasn’t to be found. Pops went and wrote out the price and tore off my receipt. I paid Mumbles. The price was 130.86 (after tax) and I paid 140.86. At first Mumbles accused me of not having enough money. He yelled over to Pops and pops told him that I bought the gas filters with my own money and Mumbles looked at the price again and realized I’d paid the right amount.
“Aight, thanks mane” Mumbles said putting the money in his pocket.
There was a moment there when I actually considered asking for my change and decided against it. I just jumped in my car and high tailed it out of there. The last thing I heard was Pops yelling “I’M THE ONE WHO FIXED THE CAR, I BETTER GET SOME OF THAT MONEY!” I turned the corner and let out a sigh of relief. My car was back on the road! I pulled into the Walgreens and called my parents and they asked me what my plan of action was. At first I said I was just going to come home but ole George showed up again and said “You came this far…why not just go to Nashville?!”
“I came this far…why not just go to Nashville?!” I said over the receiver and my mom just said alright and wished me luck.
I planned on stopping and getting some food but I decided the quicker I got to Nashville the better so I got back on the highway and I was on my way again. This time however, I felt a little uneasy. I tried to turn on music but it was more distracting than calming. Traffic is usually pretty bad in Memphis and I noticed that my headlights weren’t working.
“Maybe I should just go home,” I thought.
“Nah, all good trips have bumps in the road remember. Keep going,” George whispered in my ear and I was too tired to fight him.
I continued to drive and drive. I’d hit the no man land between Memphis and Nashville. If you never traveled that route there is pretty much nothing there for long stretches of time. You have the town of Jackson, TN which is about halfway between the two but otherwise it was just you, the trees, and lots of 18 wheelers.
I happened to glance at the temperature gauge in my car and noticed that it was running a little hotter than normal. Usually when it gets to that point I’ll turn the heat on in my car so I went to turn it on. Nothing. I’m used to the air not working in the car but the heat has always been fine. I couldn’t understand what was going on and the temp just kept rising and rising. It was dark out by now and my temp was almost in the red. I decided to pull off at the next exit and put more antifreeze in my car. I pulled off into the darkest exit I have ever been on.
As I pulled my car to the side I was nervous to turn my car off. I had to do it however if I wanted to not only take the water cap off but put some more stuff in it. So I turned off my car and stepped out of the car. The darkness consumed me. There were no lights to be seen on this road except for the passing cars down by the highway. I hear the sounds of insects buzzing in the distance and I sigh as I pop the hood to my car. I grab a towel and proceed to take the cap off of the home of my coolant. I dump the entire bottle into the car and check to see if there are any leaks. I don’t see anything but at this point I decided I’m just going to go home.
“Dude but you’re so close!”
“Shut up George, it’s late and I’d rather be stranded closer to Mississippi than Nashville,” I yelled.
“Oh come on…..”
“Enough George, I’m going home!”
George stormed off into the back corner of my mind and I turn the ignition to my car.
My heart dropped.
“No no no no….please no.” I muttered as I went to turn the ignition again.
The car was on and I let out a sigh of relief. I drove north and then turned west to head back south on the interstate and I noticed that my car was still very much overheated. I stopped my car and decided to let it cool off a bit before I got on the highway. I called my mom and told them I was heading home and that I was just a “little bit” north of Memphis. After about 10 mins I took a deep breath, started my car, and heading towards the interstate.
The rest of the tale involves my very long drive back home. I had to constantly stop my car to let it cool off. I barely drove over 40 mph. I drove on the shoulder most of the way down with my emergency lights on and I had to put my lights on bright because of the lights not working all of a sudden. It was a humbling time in my life. I soon figured out that going up hill my car went crazy but if I put my car in neutral while going downhill it would cool off a bit. This up and down went on for about an hour or so until I came to the next exit. I slowly turned off and and pulled into a gas station. I decided to rest my car a bit and try to charge my phone since my car charger decided to stop working as well.
If you have never charged your phone in the men’s restroom at a weird gas station, I don’t recommend it. I felt dirty but I had to do what I had to do. Found out later they had a restaurant in the back and in the back room (with no light) was an outlet I could use. I’m sure I looked like the creeper sitting there but I needed some juice on my phone. This is where I lost service, which looking back is a good thing, and I prayed that I would just make it home.
“If I get to Memphis I’m good….I can call people I know there. If we make it to Memphis okay then we will try to make it to Highway 61. That’s even better, easier to find me. Once we hit 61 lets see how far down we can go. The closer I get to home the better.”
I’ve had my car for 11 years now and it has been the most loyal thing in my life. If you saw me talking and petting my car during this drive you would probably think I’m nuts, but we go way back ya know? As weird as it was it calmed me to talk my car and myself through this ordeal.
“Ah we did another mile…good job babe. We got this! Let’s try to get over this next hill. Oops let me put you in neutral. Good job. So proud of you. Another mile! We’re doing it!”
It took me about 3 hours to get back to Memphis. I stopped once more at another gas station and after that my car ran remarkably well. Once we hit the city my car once again came through and showed me why I’ve loved it for so long. This thing had been across the country with me and knew me better than most and it was gonna get me home. I knew it and I thanked God every second of the way.
Memphis was rough to get through because I still wasn’t going over 40 MPH for a while. I’m sure there were plenty of threats and words thrown my way but once you hit the city there is no shoulder to ride on so I tried my best to just get through it. My car almost heated a few times there but it always went back down. I don’t know what was going on but I was thankful for it. I finally made it to 61 and as I crossed over into Mississippi I sighed and yelled ‘THANK YOU!” Even though I was still 2 hours away from home, I was closer than before.
All of a sudden I’m in a midst of the biggest thunderstorm I have seen in Mississippi in a while. Of course, right? Luckily I was driving slow anyways as I hit hydro plane after hydro plane without losing control of my car. I could barely see in front of me and that drivers side window I mentioned earlier? Yeah I had a good time trying to get that up. The positive of this however was that the rain hitting my face kept me awake. I wasn’t going to stop however and I continued to slowly drive south towards home.
When I finally made it through the worse of the storm I made a few phone calls because I just needed to hear another voice. I was pretty shaken and no one answered.
“It’s all good I’ll just play some musi……where the face of my radio face go?!?!” I had no time to think about it. I turned some tunes on my phone and let the jams carry me through my final stretch.
Pulling into my driveway was the best feeling I have felt in a long time. Not only had I made it home but I had this amazing tale to tell as well. I sat in my car a second after I parked, rain still pouring all around me, and just thanked God for what I had gone through. It wasn’t the vacation I had planned, but it was definitely exciting and scary. It’s crazy how much you start to reflect on life when you’re in those kind of situations. I started noticing all the things I could’ve done differently and how trusting my first gut is a pretty important thing.
I walked inside and entered my bedroom. I let out a sigh and went to the internet to see if anyone was online. They were and I got to talk to friends and laugh about the day I just had. I realized that no matter what happens in life, it’s always nice to have someone to laugh about it all at the end of the day.