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Road Trippin' 

"Hey kids, do you know why no one living in this town can be buried in that cemetery?"

"They have to be dead first!"

We were hardly out of Austin before Adam had recited this timeworn joke, the one his father always told on road trips, that he told me on our first trip together sixteen years ago, and that our children can already recite with him (the fact that we were on our way to a funeral this time didn't dampen our enthusiasm one jot).

Like Christmas traditions, road trip rituals are handed down from parents to children and can require painstaking negotiation between husbands and wives.  My family opens gifts on Christmas Eve and on the road, prefers to take the fastest, most direct route with as few stops as possible.  Perhaps this is because we traveled so much; when we arrived home, Mom always sighed happily and said, "Home again, home again, jiggity jog."  Adam's family is a staunch defender of Christmas morning and of a more meandering mode of travel, with plenty of stops at ramshackle BBQ stands and local attractions.  Adam and I are still figuring out how to synthesize the two approaches.

To get to Adam's grandfather's funeral, we drove I35 to Dallas, and then took I20 to Atlanta.  I could do this drive in my sleep, and in fact, I probably have a time or two.  Although we traveled all over the United States and Canada when I was a small child, since I was thirteen, most of my road trips have been circumscribed by the rough rectangle of I20 to the north, I10 to the south, I35 to the west, and I65 to the east; back and forth across the mighty Mississippi to visit family, and south to the beaches on the Gulf of Mexico -- I've done these trips more times than I can count.

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For east/west travel, Adam prefers the southern route, along I10, which wanders along the Gulf Coast through Cajun country and beaches and guarantees lots of good seafood.  There's a common Creole culture that pervades those coastal towns, something recognizable in Galveston and New Orleans and Mobile and Pensacola, although the scenery changes abruptly from swamps to white sanded beaches.  The changes are more gradual, though no less dramatic, on I20.  The parched, flat landscape scattered with spreading live oaks and scrubby mesquite trees progressively gets greener and hillier; by the time you hit Alabama, the trees are one undifferentiated green mass knit together by kudzu, honeysuckle and Virginia creeper.  The embankments change from limestone to granite, and the houses glimpsed from the highway are straight from /Gone With the Wind/ -- white columns and manicured lawns, dotted with azaleas and dogwoods.

Adam willingly sacrificed what he believes is a more interesting route for speed this time, since we were doing a quick turn-around trip (two days drive there, one day for the funeral, and two days to get home).  He may want to visit a few low-rent herpetariums and dine at Cajun restaurants that look like they couldn't pass a health inspection with three weeks' warning and 100 gallons of bleach, but he understands when time is of the essence, unlike my high school boyfriend's family, the Martins.  My trip with them to Disney World was a lesson in diversity.  I was used to getting in the car and driving until everyone's bladders were nearly bursting, comfortably ensconced with my book and the radio.  In my family, drinks were rationed so as to limit stops, and we often ate in the car (my dad and his brothers can't get together without comparing drive times for their usual routes and bragging about shortcuts they've found.  It's a family obsession).  The Martins had to stop at every Stuckey's and outlet mall between Birmingham and Orlando. Twenty years later, the thought of a Pecan Log Roll still makes queasy.  They took every excuse for a detour, including a side trip to Valdosta, because I mentioned that I was born there.  I know, I know, "It's the journey, not the destination," but I wanted to get to Disney World, not cruise Silver Springs in a glass-bottomed boat.

For this trip, I also made a few concessions.  For the kid's sake, I agreed to a quick visit to the battleground at Vicksburg, where (as our family tradition dictates) Adam drove, and I read from the guidebook, and we took lots of pictures of memorials and monuments that we won't be able to identify if I ever get around to putting them in a photo album.  And I unwound sufficiently to allow dinner stops at actual sit-down restaurants (if you count the ubiquitous Waffle House as "sit-down"), instead of insisting on fast food and urging everyone to chew faster.

Luckily, our kids are good travelers, and by the grace of the portable dvd player, they were relatively well behaved most of the trip.  Still, it was a long way to go, in a short amount of time, and we were all cranky, cramped, and tired of fried food by the time we got back to Austin.  The last stretch of I35 seemed to take forever, between inexplicable traffic jams and construction, and it began to feel like we were in a Twilight Zone episode, driving on forever, never reaching our destination.  Finally, we rounded the bend in our street and saw our house, the porch light glowing softly in the darkness.  Adam sighed contentedly and said, "Home again, home again, jiggity jog."

About the Author:  
Melissa Lipscomb
lives in Austin with her children Drew, Franny, Alec and husband Adam. Some days she feels like she's figuring out, and others she's just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Visit her blog.



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