"AL 2 AZ < 30 Hrs"    [ 03 ]   
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Apr 2015
Jet Set Baby — [ ROLLOVER ]
 Sophie chillin'
 Florida or Mississippi

This is Sopheria, who is good-natured and always up for most anything .. but beginning to wonder, I think, if she will ever get out of this car seat...

She is such a GREAT baby chicklette, but still seems unwilling to commit to overnight stays in hotels. So her mother [my eldest daughter] and I decided to drive 1,800 miles across the southern side of America in one straight shot and not bother with, you know, sleep...

Danielle's [super-excellent] husband is a sergeant in the Air Force, and has just been deployed to the Middle East for half a year. Before he left, they asked if Danielle and Sophie could come and live with us during his absence — Are you kidding me?!  I hopped on a plane and flew to Montgomery, Alabama, to assist Danielle in driving her and Sophie back to the Sunny Southwest. Besides, she wanted her car available here during their stay: a white 2011 Mazda 3 they call "Yuki" after the feline princess in "The Cat Returns". And it is about as small.. also with no cruise control, I soon discovered.

Danielle picked me up from the airport in Montgomery close to midnight. This is important to note, because the drive was conducted on merely 5 hours of sleep. That's right, up at 5:00am Saturday morning, when she fed Sophie and I finished cramming her last-minute treasures into Yuki. We scored a quick on-the-road breakfast at a McD's drive-thru and we left town proper right around 7:00am — 29½ hours later, we would pull into my driveway in Phoenix. Here is how it went down . . .

First things first: I brought along nearly 30 CD's which filled a good third of my backpack, mainly nostalgic home-mixed collections of our favorite tunes we rocked out to during countless road trips when all three of my daughters were growing up under my roof. And Sophie really did travel well on this adventure, especially given how she could not understand why life was suddenly constrained to a car seat in a packed-out little Mazda. I drove to begin with. This freed up Danielle to tend to Sophie in the back. And we just kept on this way down I·65, skirting past Mobile, Alabama, and into Mississippi. You really can't single out a lot of detail sailing at 80 mph through southern forest highways, so I snapped only a few pix along the way, mostly of state line signs. It seems so strange, living in the southwest most of my life, to glide under freeway signs offering right or left off-ramp choices to such exotic destinations as FLORIDA or MISSISSIPPI ...

Another thing I simply could not get used to was the hundreds of miles of highway balanced some 30 to 40 feet over endless murky bayou water and slipshod shorelines, supported occasionally by dismal-looking cement pylons. We crossed innumerable rivers, but those bayous with their wastelands of craggy trees and overall 'Dead Marsh' feel succeeded in creeping me out a bit. Of course, Sophie was A-OK with it all. And Danielle either dozed in the back or played with her baby, so we survived the bayous well enough.

 AL-to-AZ road trip map
A stands for Alabama . . .
B Bummin' because time prevented us from scoring any real food in the Big Easy . . .
C stands for Chama Gaúcha in either Houston or San Antonio where we hoped to have dinner
G Our Goal after driving through the night: El Paso & victory breakfast at the Las Cruces IHOP
X Our destination: X marks the spot . . and there's an 'X' in Phoenix

Louisiana, the land of voodoo and Mardi Gras, jambalaya and zydeco gumbo, the 'Big Easy' where food is King! I have never had the opportunity to visit, so I was really looking forward to this! And there's a crazy-huge lake called 'Pontchartrain' just north of New Orleans, with a bridge spanning it for 24 miles! It's called the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, was built by the Louisiana Bridge Company in 1955-1956, expanded in 1969. [Now you know] I was pretty stoked to see this .. but our course did not take us that way. And on this day Lake Pontchartrain was nothing but a choppy endless expanse of brown water... very grim looking, and cold. .. huh..

Ok, but there was New Orleans to check out, right?  :-)  Finally!  Mardi Gras beads hung from virtually every rearview mirror in every vehicle around us, and houses built up on stilts overlooked the myriad waterways .. . I could not wait to check out what New Orleans must be like! . .. We saw it from a hazy distance as our route (cutting across on the 610) took us a few miles north of the downtown area. And that was that. ~ Well, perhaps we would see some of the charming Spanish/American architecture when we pulled off the freeway to score lunch — lunch in New Orleans! — In the interest of time, I asked Danielle where she would like to eat. One of her favorite spots is Panera Bread. So that's where we went... in a neighborhood that looked like it was lifted straight from an urban corner of Phoenix. Even the kid behind the counter apologized after learning we were driving cross-country and had landed here for lunch .. in New Orleans ... . Well, it took me only three or four decades to finally travel this'a'way .. better luck next time...?  :-\

You just never know what New & Excellent Places you may discover by taking the road less traveled.. unless it looks almost exactly like a rundown block from Phoenix. For the record, Baton Rouge is even worse, or at least what we saw of it. Nearly got sideswiped off the road by an SUV with Indiana license plate around then. More Good Times in Louisiana! And a little further down the road, a woman yakkin' on her cell phone, completely oblivious to the crowds of cars around her, nearly creamed us [all] in her TX-plated Scion. So unthoughtful of all of us to be on her highway like this .. .

But the most exciting bit (for now) came in the form of a bouncing oil pan that had dropped from a work truck or something. It came tumbling and whirling between swerving cars and wheels to impact us low just in the front, all but destroying the skirting under the front fender. I had to pull off and slice away the most poking bits shrieking against the highway windstream at 80 mph, and/or the shards pointing ominously toward our tires. Again, Sophie didn't mind. Just took this opportunity for another bottle and a diaper change.  :-]

Welcome to Mississippi
 Welcome to Mississippi
Miles and miles of elevated WATERWAY highways  ≈  weird !
 waterway highway
Welcome to Louisiana
 Welcome to Louisiana
  . . . New Orleans in the distance . . .
 New Orleans in the distance

All personnel in the Air Force attend basic training in San Antonio, Texas. This is important to note because this is how we discovered Chama Gaúcha, and is another reason we chose a most southerly route. There are four in the entire nation, one in Chicago, a new one in Atlanta, and hey, one in Houston! So we opted to stop for dinner at the one in Houston (for well over $100.. didn't quite count on that..)

Soon enough, we were driving into the sunset west of Houston. It was around then when we obliterated a skunk. It rolled out from beneath the truck just ahead of us. I spotted it quickly enough to realize it had missed their tires as it scrambled into a run.. directly into our tires. Mazda 1, skunk 0. We smelled richly of skunk for a good 50 miles or so .. .

Late night found us skirting the long way around San Antonio on highway 1604. Danielle continued to doze when not tending to Sophie. And look, I would have pulled off for gas in Junction, TX, but odd traffic abated my intentions until, too late, I realized that we had driven clear past any remaining outposts in the night... Halfway to the next town the 'low fuel' indicator light flickered on. And outside, it was nothing but BLACK in the great expanse of the desert. We quietly urged Yuki onward, praying under our breath, ticking off the mile markers as we made it from one to the next. Finally, after some 40 miles of this, a turn-off appeared for some little town called Sonora. Our relief was short-lived. After climbing up the off-ramp and crossing over the highway, a dark sign indicated that town was another 4 miles away! No other options were available, so we took this road only to find in the last mile an unbelievably steep uphill climb! Out in the middle of nowhere -- there aren't hills like this in Texas! Seriously, what's the deal, here ? ? ?

Thank God for 'Stripes' gas stations! We found one atop the hill and pulled in just after midnight like it was all part of our Driving Plan.  :-]  We thanked God for stretching our 'on empty' miles to such great lengths. I dunno, perhaps Mazda's are famous for indicating you're on empty when there are really 50 more miles of gas left in your tank. Whatever. I just know we did not get stranded in the middle of friggin' NOWHERE with a baby in the heart of the Texas desert at midnight ~ and I thank God for that.

A little further down the road, we made a stop at 24-hour convenience store to freshen up my coffee -- and that's where Sophie finally lost it! Mommy had run inside for some personal business, leaving me cooing and playing up to Sophie with her little stuffy toys. But there were a LOT of Loud People around the Stripes convenience store that night, revving choppery motorcycle engines and whooping across the parking lot. Sophie decided that this was NOT OK, and finally gave in to a few good wails of her own, the poor thing. But to her credit, she cooled out almost immediately and, I think, began to realize that I maybe was not as unreliable in her little baby world as she may have thought . .. By the time Mommy returned, we were getting along very well and everything was fine.  :-)

I continued driving on through the silvery, moon-shrouded night from there, playing music low in the dark while my girls snoozed, keeping myself awake for 500 long miles by biting my knuckles and sipping the dregs of my coffee... We snaked through El Paso before sunrise, Danielle stirring and hungry for breakfast. El Paso is HUGE, by the way, much larger than I ever would have suspected. Or perhaps it is the Mexico side that is so massive and sprawling, clearly visible just to the left of the I-10 we drove now seeking an IHOP once we made Las Cruces.

I think we finally arrived at our breakfast destination around 5:30 or 6:00 am ~ I was getting pretty foggy now after driving for virtually 24 hours and clocking off something like 1,450 miles ('A' through 'G' in the map above) with only 5 hours of sleep beforehand .. . We took turns feeding Sophie in our IHOP booth while awaiting our breakfasts.

Back on the road, Danielle took the wheel for the first time allowing me about an hour of lean-against-the-window snooze time before I stirred awake while stopping for gas somewhere in New Mexico. Unbelievably, I could not sleep afterward, but stayed up with Danielle chatting with her to keep her alert into Arizona, through Tucson, and for the final stretch to Phoenix.

We pulled into my driveway at 12:30pm Sunday, to be greeted by my father who had stayed at home not feeling so hot while everyone else had gone to church. I had just caught a Super Shuttle out this door not 48 hours earlier -- so very surreal to have driven back so quickly . .. not something I'm likely to repeat any time soon, I can tell you!

  MGM to New Orleans (300 mi) 4½ hrs   1,810 miles (2,912 km) in 29½ hours
  New Orleans to Houston (350 mi) 5 hrs   Actual drive time = 25 hours
  Houston to San Antonio (200 mi) 3 hrs    -1 hr for lunch in New Orleans
  San Antonio to El Paso (540 mi) 8 hrs    -1 hr for dinner in Houston
  El Paso to Tucson (320 mi) 4½ hrs    -1½ hrs for feeding/changing Sophie,
        auto gas (and minor repairs)
  Tucson to Phoenix (100 mi) 2 hrs  
Sophie & Grandpa — [ ROLLOVER]
 Sophie & Grandpa
~     Mommy & Baby    ~
 Mommy & Baby
  Ann & Sophie: Total BFF's!
~     Auntie 'Cricket'    ~
 Auntie Cricket
My 3½ chicklettes!  ( Sophie / Ann / Jessica / Danielle )
 3½ chicklettes
~     Chillin' with Grandpa    ~
 Mommy & Baby  Baby Rug  Sophie chair  Happy Baby

(2015)  04