October 5, 2013: Driving Day

The long drive from Texas to Connecticut was almost all taking place today.  I really only did about an hour of driving last night leaving nearly everything for today with little to no chance of not having a bit of it tomorrow morning too.

My night took an interesting turn when I stopped in Interstate 30 near Paris, Texas to grab a drink or something simple.  I can’t remember exactly what I was getting as I know that I had fueled up very recently.  I must have had a need to get something basic that I had forgotten at my last stop which was, at most, just one hour before when I stopped and had that extended discussion with the local folks getting pizza.

As I was leaving the gas station there near Paris a couple (a bit older than me) who had been sitting outside on the curb right in front asked if I was going towards Little Rock.  I told them that I was and going on through and they explained that they were desperately trying to get to Buffalo, New York.  That shocked me, not something you hear from a middle aged couple in rural Texas with obvious Texan accents.  I said that I was from Buffalo and asked where exactly they needed to go.  They explained that they were actually trying to get to Rome, NY but that no one had heard of that so their family up there had instructed them to say Buffalo instead so that people in Texas would know where they meant (that makes no sense as no one in Texas knows where New York is at all and anyone who gets them to Buffalo would be getting them so far away that it would be useless.)  Yes…. they were trying to get from Paris to Rome.  Ha ha.

I actually had space in the little Spark so that they would fit with all of their belongings (two small bags) which is a miracle in and of itself.  That they need to go from such a bizarre spot in the middle of nowhere to Rome, New York – a place that likely I am almost the only person in all of north Texas that knows where it is and has actually been there and would know how to get them there – is crazy.  They had been sitting out there for twelve hours trying to find anyone to take them in that direction at all.  Most of they day they were asking about Buffalo, based on the bad information that I mentioned above, and had just decided to try Little Rock instead based on the hope that at least they would start moving in the right direction.

What happened is that they had given up their jobs in San Antonio and moved up to Paris to take care of her sister who had cancer.  They have been there for a year and a half.  While they were there they sent their teenage daughter up to Rome to live with her other sister who had a home up there so that she would be taken care of while they took care of the family in Texas.  The sister in Texas was not doing well and sort of turned them out on the street with just the clothes on their backs, essentially.  So they walked down to the gas station on the highway after buying backpacks to hold what little they had with them and hoped to find a ride up to Rome where they had been offered a place to stay and where they could see their daughter for the first time in a year and a half!  That’s where I found them, just six dollars left between them and twelve hours of sitting in the hot Texas sun (long since down at this point) hoping that someone could at least move them in the right direction.  Neither of them had ever seen the north at all and they had absolutely no idea what New York might be like nor where it was (they suspected that it was about eight hours away making it still within Arkansas not too far from the western bank of the Mississippi River!)

It was clear that the Lord had arranged all of this.  The sheer chances that I would have stopped here, been delayed so, known exactly where they needed to go, actually had the room to fit them in that tiny Spark and was alone so that I could consider it was astronomic.  And the distance that they were attempting to cover was completely unreasonable – they could easily have spent weeks on the road trying to work their way to a state that they knew not where it was and to a city in the state that they knew far less about.  They continuously would confuse Rome (in the middle of the state) with New York City (in the south) or Buffalo (in the west.)  Even showing them maps did nothing to help them understand the immense distance between the locations nor did explaining that Rome was a little town in rural farm country make them understand that it was not in the middle of Manhattan.  It is amazing that people from a city of four million people think that a town of fifty thousand must be bigger than where they are from.

As someone who does risk analysis for businesses all of the time I knew that, in reality, having random passengers of their profile with their background on a trip of this nature was more likely to improve my safety (by keeping me alert) than to lower it.  To a casual reader who wasn’t there first hand it may sound crazy to pick people up in Texas to deliver them to New York but it is not nearly as dangerous as it sounds, not in the least, especially when you consider that I am much bigger than either of them and was driving a very small, inexpensive car filled with nothing of particular value.  The biggest risk was something minor being potentially stolen but there was almost nothing to steal in the car anyway unless someone wanted to make off with my socks.  The car had nothing but clothes in it and if they were going to try to steal the car that was a risk I was comfortable with.  Everyone freaks out thinking that all hitchhikers are serial killers but that isn’t reasonable at all.  The hitchhikers themselves are the ones at the big risk, they are in the least control.  I am the driver and control the trip over an insane distance.  I doubt that any serial killer has ever used hitchhiking as a means of finding people and if they did, it is just as random as any other human encounter.  Being in a car with a stranger, while intimate, is not particularly more dangerous than going into a nearly empty store or restaurant.  Especially as we would be on major highways the whole time and the gas station people had seen all of us.  It just sounds much worse than it is.  Hitchhiking is a normal thing that is quite safe.  Maybe not the safest thing, but it is not the scary activity that people make it sound like it is and, until recently, it was considered normal and safe.

So we checked out to see if they would fit into the little car with me and, somehow, they did.  Luckily they had almost nothing with them and they had offered to leave their stuff behind as they were so desperate, for obvious reasons, to make it anywhere close to New York.

We loaded up and made a decent run of it through the night.  It was already so late and it did not take long before I was exhausted.  There was no way, given that I had only a short night last night and did not get on the road until eleven tonight, that I was going to be able to drive all of the way through, not even with people to talk to – and they were pretty tired themselves so they were not particularly talkative after the first few hours.

An hour or two past Little Rock I decided that I had to give up for the night.  All along I had only been trying to make it to Forrest City, Arkansas but that was nearly an hour away still, but given that I started late and had some delays, this wasn’t too bad.  I tracked down an Econolodge and put them up in one room and got my own.  It was probably six in the morning when I got into the room, showered and was in bed around seven.

I pulled off a four hour nap.  I would sleep in the car if it was not for the CPAP.  Because of that I have to have a hotel if I am going to attempt sleeping.  The real bed, CPAP and shower did wonders though.  I can’t complain.  Four hours of sleep plus at least an hour of relaxing did the trick and I felt pretty decent.  So at just after eleven we were back on the road.  They had really not slept at all, maybe forty five minutes.  I think that they were nervous that I was going to take off and leave them there and now that they had a feel for how far it was (we were already as far as they thought that New York was and were still a couple of hours from Tennessee) they were beginning to realize what a massive undertaking they had in front of them.

The drive was uneventful for the next several hours, as Tennessee always is.  The long, never ending trek along Interstate 40.  It is exhausting.  Then comes the hills of Virginia which we did not enter until it was dark.  Tennessee got all of the daylight driving.  By Virginia I was already feeling pretty tired.

In Virginia, pretty early on, we stopped and grabbed a quick bite at Taco Bell but were back on the road.

From time to time my passengers would drop off so I would listen to Audible.  I am still working my way through The Third Chimpanzee.

Virginia, like Tennessee and Arkansas, just goes on forever.   Those three states are just so long.  It is daunting trying to drive through them.

In northern Virginia I switched books and started listing to The Last Founding Father, a biography of James Monroe.  Monroe is probably the founding father that I have studied the least and I was hoping that some early American history would serve well to keep me awake and I was correct.  That was the last really exhausted that I felt for the remainder of the drive.  It was very, very late and nearly midnight when I switched books.

It was really cool listening to the book talk about the very area that we were driving through.  That alone helped quite a lot.

Tons more driving to do tomorrow.  Over half of the states that we need to drive through are still in front of us.

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