It's 1100.7 miles from my front door to the Region 4 Education Service Center in Houston, Texas -- or 1771.4 kilometers in your un-American metric system. You need to know this to understand why I know about gas station casinos, Whataburger traffic jams and the Great Signage War between the Athiests and Puritans. I guess I could tell you about these things without telling you that I traveled 1100.7 from my front door to the Region 4 Education Service Center in Houston, Texas—but, I spent 17.5 hours driving a Honda CRV on Tuesday and 17.5 hours driving back on Friday—so, I feel like these insignificant points are relevant.
Here are the ten (10) things I learned on the trip:
1. Louisiana has gas station casinos: Yeah, get me $20 on pump 7, a Blue Frost Gatorade, this package of Ho-Ho snack cakes, and let it ride on 35 Black. Every gas station had a gambling parlor, from large truck stops to Mom-and-Pop two pumpers. They had names like "Little Mame's" and "Jumping Frogs" and reeked of cigarettes and broken dreams. Finally, I can feed my gambling addiction performing routine errands!
2. There's a suspicious lack of graffiti in the men's bathroom: Where else will I find who to call for a good time? I have no idea what sub-group sucks. I can't even remember what the male genitalia looks like. It's like people don't poop with pens anymore. I blame technology.
3. I ran the gamut of emotions with a GEICO radio spot: There's a fifteen second radio ad that features a talking glue stick espousing the wonders of GEICO car insurance. At first I chuckled at the novelty of a talking school supply -- what a novel approach. Then the ad played again...and again...and again...and again...and again 364 times over, and I started loathing this stick. What the hell gave her the right to lecture me on car insurance? She can't even drive. The most she could do is mildly paste a construction paper mosaic of a car together, or at least until the weather got too hot or too cold or too moist or too weathery. Screw her and her thrifty sensibilities!
Then on the 365th listen, I became more philosophical about the ad, wondering how the glue stick became sentient. Was she always able to talk, or did a wizard bring her to life? Perhaps a genie tricked a young master into wishing she was a glue stick. She could have spent eternity yearning for love and friendship, only to be ferreted away to the bottom of a backpack next to a half-eaten Nature Valley granola bar. Wiping away a tear, I vowed to be more accepting of my own office supplies. And while I don't own a glue stick, there's a Swingline stapler I've been neglecting.
On a totally unrelated note, I do feel better saving 15% on my car insurance.
4. Every seafood restaurant from Alabama to Texas was voted #1: Evidently, there is a lot of good fish in the South. I also saw billboards spouting "Voted #1" burgers, steaks, pasta, beer and gumbo. Never Chinese food. I wonder why?
5. There's a weird signage war between Atheists and Evangelicals: I'm used to the Christian billboards, letting me know that Hell is indeed real and that Jesus is on the move. But I'm not used to seeing the alternative viewpoint. Dotted along Interstate 59 and throughout the South, the two opposing sides commence in an expensive war of words. Who knew that such a desperate battle for my soul would be waged through place-based advertising?
6. A Whataburger event will completely shut down an interstate: On the way home from the Region 4 Educational Service Center, I was stopped on Interstate 10 in between Houston and Lake Charles for 25 minutes. When I pulled off for gas and a cup of coffee, I was told that the back-up was because a Whataburger was giving away free hamburgers for a year to one "lucky" person. I assume that comes with their own personal defibrillator. One person was so excited that he ran into the back of a sheriff's car, which is what caused the slowdown. He didn't win the free food.
7. I rock Disney-themed music: Between Birmingham, Alabama, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, Amazon music inadvertently loaded a playlist of Disney songs. Usually I play this when my daughters get a little edgy in the car. Since I wasn't in the presence of any princesses, I started the mad fumbling for my phone so I could change the music to the Rolling Stones, Gun 'n' Roses, or something else that smelled of testosterone.
Fortunately, I spied a police officer that was driving like she would just love to pull over someone who was fumbling on a cell phone instead of observing the many possible traffic hazards. And the Disney playlist stayed on. Two hours later and I was wiping away the tears generated from a heartfelt rendition of Let it Go. I wonder if they already cast Elsa in the Broadway rendition of Frozen.
8. Houston is now officially labeled "The Worst City for Driving": Roads have no rhyme or reason, they just appear at random times going any which direction they damn well please. It's the only place that I have ever seen that has an interstate surrounded on each side by an expressway. I can just imagine the conversation between the mayor and the city planner:
Planner: I don't think the Interstate is “express" enough. How about an expressway flanking each side?
Mayor: I don't know. Local businesses won't like having two non-stops out of town.
Planner: Don't worry, we'll put stoplights on the expressway.
Mayor: So, it'll be like a local street.
Planner: No, we'll have those, too.
Mayor: I'm sure nothing will go wrong. Just build it all in a flood plain.
Planner: Of course!
9. The "What's That Smell" game is not as much fun when you are alone: Mostly because it becomes the "I hope that smell isn't me" game. The game where everyone is a loser.
10. After you drive 1100.7 miles, it's hard to walk: When I finally reached my destination in Houston, I opened the car door (like you do) and fell flat on my face. My legs had silently cramped, and when the brain said that they should start walking, the legs told it to go straight to hell. It's hard to remain professional when you’re lying prone in the parking lot. I saved face by pretending that I was looking for change under the driver's side wheel.
When I finally did get up, I believed I could actually feel the Earth rotating under me. I walked as if I was navigating a bouncy house that was rapidly losing air. If you ever rode a roller coaster 21 times without disembarking, you know the feeling. Don’t worry, after a few beers, the Earth leveled out.
Was driving from my front door to the Region 4 Educational Service Center in Houston, Texas, and back worth the trip? (That's 1100.7 miles one way, 2201.4 miles round trip -- just in case you forgotten). I don't know. At that distance, I forgot why I went.
Jack Grubb writes an incredible blog, Losing the Internets, which is read by at least 37 people and over 2,100 Russian SPAM bots. In his spare time he helps small companies find their marketing voice. Jack currently lives deliberately in Appalachia, Kentucky with his wife, two daughters, Jack Russell and a Lego collection beyond compare.