The Best Trip Ever

JAMES CARD, Post Office Box 6631, Salinas, CA 93912 -- Phone (408) 442-0815 -- CompuServe 73270,1444

CAST OF CHARACTERS
The Travelers:

James - the leader of the expedition
Carol - James' wife, the star of the show
Karen - Carol's 4-year-old alternate
Billy - Carol's 10-year-old alternate
Johnny - Carol's 9-year-old alternate
Valerie - Carol's adult alternate who played mean tricks on Karen
Debbie - James and Carol's oldest child (16)
Jamie - James and Carol's other child (14)
Adam - the elder nephew, son of Doug (9)
Brian - the younger nephew, Doug's son (7)

The Visited:

Robert C. and Betty Allen - Carol's parents
Glen and Joanne Reed - Carol's sister and brother-in-law
Dawn - Joanne's daughter (19)
John and Yvonne Jackson - Carol's sister and brother-in-law
Allan and Kim Card - James' brother and sister-in-law
Kenna Card - Allan and Kim's daughter (2)
James and Dana Shipman - Adam and Brian's stepfather and mother
Robert L. and Carol Allen - Carol's brother (AKA "Bobby") and sister-in-law
Kristine - Robert and Carol's daughter (15)
Phillip - Robert and Carol's younger son (12)

The Supporting Cast:

Dora Wolf - James' maternal grandmother
William F. and Lavella Card - James' parents

In the summer of 1991 my family took a trip. My youngest brother had his sons here for the summer. When it was time to take the two boys back to their mother in Missouri we were asked if we would like to make the trip. Thus my wife and I, our two daughters, and my nephews borrowed my grandmother's custom van (you know, with the "We're Spending Our Kids' Inheritance" bumper sticker) and started east.

We left on a Thursday morning, and with plans to travel nearly 5,000 miles in two weeks, we knew that we would have to keep the pace up. This first morning we crossed California's central valley and headed up into the Sierra Nevada mountains. We stopped near the entrance to Yosemite National Park for some ice cream. Unfortunately it wasn't quite 11:00 in the morning yet and the ice cream wasn't quite frozen yet. After a tour of their rest room facilities and a cup of coffee for the driver we climbed back into the custom van (you know, with the "If You're Rich, I'm Single" bumper sticker) and drove through Yosemite.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the splendor and beauty of these places. It seems that most of our crew thought that their primary assignment was to catch up on the sleep I was missing while I was driving, and that the others were assigned to take naps for me. That worked pretty well, they napped until I determined that it was time for a mandatory (almost) Sight-Seeing period. Then I turned on the radio (nobody else likes my radio stations) or started singing (nobody else... well, you get the picture) and announced loudly that it was time to Look-At-That.

I tried a few Look-At-That's as we drove past The Rocks on US 101 north of Prunedale and along highway 156 and 152 near Hollister and then again in the Sierra Nevada foothills, but I never did get anyone to say "Ooh-Ah". Oh well, I think they are pretty places. But when we got to Yosemite the crew actually opened one eye and mumbled something which resembled appreciation when I said Look-At-That. We ate our picnic-to-go lunch while we were driving through Yosemite. We stopped for ice cream in Lee Vining as we left the east side of Yosemite, and this time the crew didn't threaten mutiny because this place really had ice cream.

Next came the "roller coaster road." Highway 120 between Lee Vining and Benton has enough small hills and dips in it that the effect at 55 miles-per-hour is similar to a roller coaster ride. The scenery is nice and overall it is quite a pleasant ride.

From Benton to Tonopah and on to Carol's parents place in Lund is nearly a full day's drive in itself, and the terrain is nothing to get excited about (unless the desert excites you). A nice dinner in Tonopah was the highlight of this part of our first day.

We were able to stay two nights and one sunny-but-not-too-warm day in Lund with Carol's parents and sister and brother-in-law. If you have never visited Lund it is probably best described as a sleepy little town in eastern Nevada's high desert country. The highway through town carries lots of truck traffic from Idaho and western Montana headed for Las Vegas or Los Angeles or some other concentration of lost souls. The highway also serves a few tourists (probably either crazy or lost) and the local ranchers. There seem to be only two or three industries which support the somewhat less than a thousand people who live here: ranching seems to be number one, then support services for the truck traffic, and probably the next most important activity is gossip. The neighbors are friendly and most folks seem to be pretty decent.

The boys enjoyed a horseback ride courtesy of the neighbors across the street. I suspect that Adam liked the neighbor girl who took him riding even more than he enjoyed the horse.

Karen got to meet with Joanne and introduce her to the Blue Teddy Bear collection. Karen's comments about the visit will be shared a little later.

Our visit included all the things we have come to expect and enjoy: a game or two of cards, time to talk and catch up on all the significant events in everyone's lives, an opportunity to admire (and taste) the vegetable garden, and my favorite part - sharing some of our favorite meals. It also included a time to say goodbye, and we climbed back into the custom van (you know, with the Watch My Rear End bumper sticker on the back) on Saturday morning to start the next portion of our journey. Glen helped us tighten down the bolts on one of the passenger seats so it was less like sitting in a rocking chair and we were on our way.

We hurried right along and got all the way to Ely (35 miles) before we stopped to get some cash. What did we ever do before banks had ATM's? We spent a little while at the train museum with Billy. And of course Carol wanted to put a few coins in the one-armed bandits, so we spent nearly an hour at Hotel Nevada trying to get rid of a roll of nickels. Finally we gave up and took our bucket of nickels to the cashier and exchanged it for $11.00 dollars in currency. Carol didn't want to leave with the two nickels which were left over so she dropped them into a machine on the way out - 10 minutes later I convinced her to give up and I escorted her and her double fistful of nickels out to the custom van (you know, with the TV and sink and ice-chest built in behind the driver's seat) so we could leave.

Here is Karen's version of it. I let Carol go in cause her is a old lady [little girls aren't allowed to gamble] and then I put the nickels in the machine. I fooled them. And a lot of nickels came out. And then one time I put in two nickels and I pulled the handle and I got a [jack] pot and that means that I got five dollars in nickels. And then Carol gave my nickels to the lady and her gave us green moneys back. That was fun. That was good, right?

U.S. highway 50 is promoted as the "Loneliest Highway in America" and that can't be far from the truth. From Ely to Delta it seemed we didn't see more than a dozen other cars. The desert scenery tended toward the drab, there weren't many Look-At-That's here.

Lunch in Delta was followed by a trip to a rock shop for Jamie and a romp through the sprinklers in the park for Carol and the boys. Carol took a turn behind the wheel as we left Salina and drove until we reached a rest area on Interstate 70. This is one of my favorite drives of the various places we have seen throughout the western states. From Salina to Green River offers some spectacular views of canyons and rock formations and forest lands. Adam seemed to especially enjoy the panoramic view of miles and miles of canyonlands and rock formations from the viewpoint at the rest area where I started driving again. This was great, at least here my Look-At-That's drew a response from nearly everyone. I was beginning to think maybe I could become a tour guide or something.

As we left the rest area Karen was trying to decide what to do to pass the time. We looked at the scenery and tried to describe what things looked like - "Oh, that rock looks like a train!" etc. Then Karen decided that this was a good time for her to use the tape recorder and tell us her version of this story. These are her first comments about our trip: I am travelling. Everybody decided to get in the car and be hot and not do anything, but the rocks look like stuff. And I got to see Carol's mother and Carol's father and I got to see Joanne. Her was fun. Her liked me, her was not scared of Karen, and her is really good to Karen and Carol. I like Joanne! And I like her mother. Look-it, that one looks like an ice cream cone! I have a new, blue bunny. Jamie bought him for me and I named her Joanne, cause I got him when I was with Joanne. It is blue and it thinks it's a teddy bear so he like to join my collection. We're not going tell him he really isn't a bear cause we don't want to make him cry. We don't believe in hurting others. Cause the Man-Up-In-The-Sky is teaching me that loving is all right.

Then Karen remembered our visit to Mono Lake on Thursday: It was beautiful, the lake was just beautiful! It was white and blue, and it was just beautiful. I like it. And sometimes we see the clouds and the clouds are like rocks, [be]cause you look at them and then you think you see something [else]. I see my bunny taking his nap up there, and I see my doggy taking his nap up there, and I see my teddy bear taking his nap up there; like in my [good] night book.

The rest of our travels that day were basically uneventful. We arrived in Grand Junction about 7:00 p.m. and stopped at Mesa Mall for another tour (of the rest room facilities) and to call Carol's sister, Yvonne. Yvonne had planned a late dinner because she knew we would be arriving late, so we didn't eat in Grand Junction but drove to her house instead.

Yvonne's family was there and we all had a nice dinner together. She served a delicious casserole-type something which had a wonderful Mexican style and flavor, especially the variety I selected which included jalapeño peppers. It must have been one of those Old Secret Family Recipes - this one is so secret she couldn't even tell us what it is called. Oh well, perhaps she will serve it again on one of our future visits.

All the "kids" (if you can still call them that, since they are having kids of their own now) gave up about midnight or so and went to bed. Cammy couldn't find one of Kyle's socks when she got ready to leave, so she used one of Deanna's socks instead - Karen thought it was quite a sight. Carol and I didn't have that much sense, we kept our hosts up until after 3:00 a.m. talking and sharing. It was a very good time, if only it didn't have to be so rushed.

Yvonne was not yet ready to meet Karen so it was just Carol who visited this time. Karen's comments about our visit: At Yvonne's house there was a cute baby. But her did not want to see Karen, so I not know much.

We were up bright and early - well OK, 9:00 isn't early - and enjoyed breakfast with John and Yvonne. We had planned to leave early enough for them to get to church on time, but I suspect that they were a few minutes late. It was so difficult to say goodbye after such a brief visit.

It had been too many years since we had traveled highway 50 through Gunnison, past Blue Mesa Lake, and over Monarch pass. I had almost forgotten how many Look-At-That's there are. Perhaps someday we will return to the Western Slope of Colorado to live for a while. It is among the half-dozen or so places around the west that I find appealing as a place to live for more than a few years at a time.

We stopped at McDonald's in Cañon City for a tour (of the rest room facilities, had you forgotten our plan?) and to get the cup of coffee I thought I deserved. Carol instructed the rest of the crew: we are not buying anything but coffee at this stop, just stretch your legs and relax for a few minutes. Karen, however, saw someone else eating ice cream and convinced our tour guide that this would be a wonderful time for us to share that supreme delight. So our stop here included the planned tour, one cup of coffee, five ice cream cones, and a romp through playland for the youngest members of the crew.

On we drove, right through Pueblo - my how that town has grown! - and across the prairie lands of southeastern Colorado. The sights were less majestic here, there were not nearly enough Look-At-That's to keep folks from thinking they ought to catch up on the sleep I missed. Billy saw some trains, in fact from Pueblo east it seemed that were always railroad tracks running alongside the highway. Dinner was in La Junta, where the dining room hostess could not have been much more than nine years old but was very professional. Once again Adam seemed to take notice of the girl much more than the dinner.

Our plan had been to drive to Dodge City before stopping for the day. Debbie was not feeling very well and it was getting pretty late so we stopped in Garden City and found a motel for the night. The two adjoining rooms were quite comfortable and met our needs very nicely - we rested well that night.

Karen liked our accomodations for this night: Oh, we had a room and there was no door on the bathroom so Valerie couldn't trick me, I liked that. And I got to play with my tub bears there, when I had my bath.

Monday was not particularly eventful. This was all new territory for us, none of us had ever visited this part of the country before. There are many feed lots, wheat, corn, and milo fields, natural gas compressor plants, and more small farms than we are accustomed to. We stopped in Wichita for lunch, and called to let the boys' mother know what time we would be arriving. Dana had not yet heard when we were arriving and was surprised to hear that we would be there a day or two sooner than she had anticipated. Allan was also a little surprised, but everyone was quite gracious and was ready to welcome us when we finally arrived in Monett about 10:00 that night.

We dropped the boys off at their house. They were delighted to be home again. We drove down the block to Allan's house. Once again we were up later than we should have been, but the time was well spent catching up on all the important events of each other's lives. Had it really been 12 years since the last time we visited?

The next morning Allan got to go to work, and we got to go to the laundromat. It was nice to have a relaxed day with Kim. Adam and Brian spent most of the day with us as well. Tuesday evening provided more time to talk, it takes a while to catch up after such a long absence. Another good night's rest and we were ready for the next part of our journey. As we got into the custom van (you know, ...) to leave Kenna decided that she should go along and climbed into the van with us. So we drove her around the block and then returned her to her mother; she seemed satisfied.

Allan and Kim met Karen, and Allan thought she deserved some ice cream so he made sure she had a very generous serving. Karen made these comments the morning we left Missouri: Last night I got up to play, after James went to sleep, and Kenna got up to play, and we played together. And we played and played and played, but then Kenna layed down and went to sleep by her dad again. And so I thought "I better go lay down", and I went in and I laid down and in a couple minutes the clock went BUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU and I thought "Oh, I just want to sleep". So I got in the car; oh, we got to take Kenna for a ride in the car. Then we left, and I got three pancakes with no egg on top for breakfast at Donnie's [McDonalds]. And then I went to sleep and I woke up and we were in Arkansas. And now we's here in Arkansas and I don't get to see Bobby tonight. But we are going to stay someplace; but we are not halfway there yet and I am very tired. I am getting tired of just driving, I should have brought my crayons. But then, thats all right.

The drive through the Ozarks of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas was lovely, our now-diminished crew slept through most of it. I had heard much about Eureka Srings and the area seemed so attractive that I decided to take the "Scenic Loop" through town. It is an interesting place to visit, it reminds me of Carmel, California. I'm glad the crew was napping, after almost half an hour of winding through the narrow back streets of town the "Scenic Loop" brought us back to the highway - at the same place we had turned off (isn't that what "loop" means?), not on the other side of town as I had expected! I stopped at a Christian book store to stretch my legs and found a cassette tape that I decided was worth spending some money for.

We stopped in Harrison for gas and Carol was awake and ready to drive. She had been driving for about 15 minutes when we came upon three Arkansas highway patrol cars which had set up a roadblock on the highway and were stopping all the traffic in both directions. Carol told everyone to make sure their seat belts were fastened suspecting this might be a check for seat-belt-law compliance. The trooper walked up to the custom van and asked Carol for her drivers license. He glanced at it and said "Boy, you're from a sorry part of the country." Immediately a sense of panic struck, we thought of the stereotypical image of a good-old-boy red-neck trooper like you see in the movies. We were certain that we would be spending the next couple of weeks in one of those "labor camps" because he found the remains of, not one - but three, Arkansas state insects splattered on our windshield. We held our breath as he continued and explained that he had been a police officer in Modesto, California for several years and had decided to return to Arkansas when California's violence began striking too close to home. We could breathe again when he said "Have a nice day" and we were on our way.

And now we're going to go get some lunch cause everyone is hungry.

A stop in Salem, Arkansas for lunch was refreshing. After lunch we browsed through a local variety store and found some incredible bargains. Salem was our first encounter with what we learned later is a fairly typical small southern town. The courthouse was a magnificent brick or stone building in the center of the town square. All the downtown businesses surrounded and faced the courthouse. Quite a lovely arrangement. Perhaps I have lived in large cities too long, it sounds as if I am longing for the simplicity of small-town life again.

Well, we were on this trip see. And we went to the store, see. I found me another Blue Teddy Bear. He was really cute. He had a 'fish' on his clothes, and he had a big black nose. And we named him "Squeaky", Debbie said to name him Squeaky, cause he is squeaky. So this Squeaky was looking out the window and he was trying to make James leave for Bobby's house. Cause he want to go see Bobby! And James just kept saying "We have to get gas, we have to get gas", and so now we're getting gas. Squeaky says that is very, very good cause he does not want to lose gas. Squeaky is saying that he is glad that Blue Teddy Bears do not sweat. Cause I am sweating a lot, cause it is terrible hot here, it is really, really hot. And Princess says her glad that her not sweat either. Jamie told me that that was "perspire"; well, we're not going to perspire either, Blue Teddy Bears not perspire.

We drove on. Memphis arrived about dinner-time so we stopped there for a tour and a meal. Then on to Tupelo, Mississipi where we stopped for the night. Karen helped pass the time (when the crew wasn't dozing) by singing: I love Boo-Boo, I love Boo-Boo, the Man-In-The-Sky loves Boo-Boo too. The end. Thursday morning we were up and on our way. Birmingham for lunch, Montgomery, Troy, and finally we reached Enterprise, home of Robert and Carol.

This was the first time in our adult lives that we had been able to visit Robert's family. We had only shared a day or two at a time together during family reunions in Colorado or Nevada. It was so good to have the opportunity to visit in this more personal way.

Robert had been able to arrange a couple days off work so that after Kristine and Philip went to school we were able to spend the whole day together. Robert started Friday morning with blueberry pancakes (he said they were "crepes" but Karen knows a pancake when she sees one). Karen enjoyed them so much that she asked if he would save one for her to eat later. He did.

Then we drove over to see the Army Aviation Museum at Fort Rucker. This is quite a collection of aircraft of various sizes and shapes - it was interesting for all of us, but it fascinated Billy and Johnny. After several more delicious meals together, a trip to see the Enterprise Boll Weevil monument, and a visit to the Bible book store, we stopped at Wal-Mart to do a little shopping. Karen (and all the rest of us) looked and looked and looked, and finally found a Blue Teddy Bear to add to her collection as a reminder of our visit here. Robert, the loving big brother, bought the bear, which was promptly named Bobby Bear and duly introduced (with proper ceremony and hugs for all) to the other members of the Blue Teddy Bear collection as soon as we got back from the store.

The time we shared with Robert and Carol's family was very good and very important to us. Unfortunately it was also very short, even after we decided to extend it an extra day. Sunday morning came and we all climbed into the custom van reluctantly; knowing that the next few days would be long ones, that it would be a long time before we would be able to visit so many important people again, that we had learned much about who we were and are, and that we had much to discuss on our trip home. We said goodbye and began the longest and saddest part of our trip.

Alright, this is Karen, her going to tell Carol a story. Carol, first I tell you that I was very, very happy you took me to see Bobby's house and I thank you for sharing Bobby with me. I know I took a lot of your time with Bobby. But you let me. And that was very, very special to Karen. And I heard Bobby say he loves Karen, but I heard Bobby say he loves very, very much Carol. And so now Carol, I want us to make something special for Bobby, together. And James said we could do that! He said that maybe you could make a apron for him to wear when he cooks and I could color it. That would be fun.

Karen wants to sing a song for Carol: Oh, the Man-In-The-Sky loves Karen and Bobby, The Man-In-The-Sky love Bobby and Karen, The Man-In-The-Sky loves us both, And lets us be together sometimes. The End.

I think I need to sing a song to Bobby. Could I do that? Could I sing to Bobby on a tape and send it to him? [Yes] I would like that, I would like that very, very, very, very, very, very, very, VEERRY MUCH! And to Carol, I like Carol! I just get too confused, there are too many Carols. I have to keep an eye on her, that her not take Debbie and Jamie away from me. Her would not let us have Philip, it would have been fun to bring Philip home with us. [But Carol would miss Philip.] You sure that Carol would miss Philip? He bother her a lot. But I think that her love him and her would miss him.

The first day on the way back we drove through Mississipi and Louisiana to Tyler, Texas. The lush vegetation of the bayous and the variety of crops provided a good supply of Look-At-That's. If the weather weren't so oppressive (temperature and humidity both in the 80's and 90's) this might be a nice place to spend some time. Thankfully, it was late and getting dark about the time we got to Texas.

The second day going home was spent trying to get out of Texas. One of the first signs we saw as we entered the Republic of Texas (someone told me that Texas was the only foreign country we visited on this trip) was a big anti-littering sign which said "Don't Mess With Texas". Take their advice, don't mess with Texas, don't bother to go anywhere near there! I didn't see anything in Texas that would make me want to go back there. The smog in Dallas was far worse than any I have ever seen in Los Angeles or San Francisco. The roads were desolate, uninteresting, and never-ending; even the deserts of Nevada were more appealing. We were certainly happy to arrive in Tucumcari, New Mexico that night.

The third day was much better. We stopped in Albuquerque for lunch (and a tour) and drove through Old Town Albuquerque before we left. It was quite interesting, the next time we are in the area we will try to spend a little more time there. Another stop at an Indian trading post on a reservation near the Arizona border gave us an opportunity to stretch and move around a bit. I looked at all of the trinkets they offered to tourists, the rest of crew selected some which they were willing to trade Yankee dollars for. Eventually we arrived in Flagstaff, where we decided that the comforts of the custom van could not compare to those of a motel. Karen and Debbie and Jamie enjoyed a dip in the pool, until a train rumbled down the tracks which were across the street. The train startled them, and Billy counted the cars as it passed.

While we were in Flagstaff we decided to visit the places where Carol had lived for several years when she was young. She remembered the school she attended even though they have added a new section to the building. We looked through the neighborhood in Flagstaff where she had lived, but the thirty-year-old memories of a small child did not allow us to identify the specific house where she had lived.

We also drove the 30+ miles out to Happy Jack where her family had lived. Thirty years ago there had been a logging camp there - now there is nothing but trees and the cattle that nearby ranchers have grazing there. We assume that the Forest Service required the logging company to restore the site to its original condition when the logging operations were completed. The only indications that anything had ever been there is a stone-masonry chimney from the fireplace which still stands where the camp's community hall had been, a concrete slab which had been the floor of a shop or garage, and a few pipes which poke their rusted ends out of the ground here and there.

Visiting childhood memories always seems to be a bittersweet experience - nothing is the same, and yet so much is familiar. The joys of friends playing and growing together are gone except for our memories of them, but the same is true of our childhood fears and anxieties. Our best friend is no longer here, but neither is the neighborhood bully. We left a memorial between the two trees which had been in Carol's back yard, said goodbye once again, and began our journey home.

The white cross we left at Happy Jack as a memorial.
Dedicated to
those lost to
the evil one.
"Because the Lord is my shepherd…
I will fear no evil."
He who is
in us is
greater
than he
who is in
the
world.

This was the most intensely emotional experience of our trip. Carol has written about it in greater detail elsewhere.

We drove only as far as Kingman that night. The visit to Happy Jack and the old neighborhood had exhausted much of the day and had been an emotional time - we were ready to rest. The next day we headed across the desert again, knowing that this night we would sleep in our own beds. We stopped for gas and a tour in Barstow and noticed that the front tires on the custom van had given their all. You could'nt quite see the air in them yet, but they were getting pretty thin. We went and had lunch while they put new tires on. With a new sense of sure-footed security we continued across the desert, over the hills and through the central valley, over more hills and finally into our own Salinas Valley.

After 14 days, 5,000 miles, and several hundred dollars we were happy to be home. There was a boxfull of unopened mail and unread newspapers waiting for us, as well as family and friends who welcomed us back. We were not brave explorers returning from conquering new and dangerous territories - and yet, perhaps every venture away from the familiar is exactly that.

THANK YOU! to all of our family and friends who helped us make this trip the best among the many we have made. Thank you, Grandma, for loaning us the custom van (you know, with the... ). Thank you, Mom and Dad, for assisting with the financial arrangements which were necessary. And especially, THANK YOU to all of the people we visited, for taking time out of your busy lives to share with us, for letting us invade your house during the time we were there, for delicious meals shared together, and most of all for spending hours talking and remembering and rebuilding the bonds which hold us together. Thank you all for making this The Best Trip Ever.

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