Thursday, March 10, 2016

Longer Miles

     The fog clung to the hollows and shrouded the cannons.  The monuments hid within the trees and the statues stood stoic against the grey morning sky.  It all seemed fitting as we sidetracked through the old Civil War battlefield.  The more history engulfed us the darker the sky became.  Vicksburg will forever hold the key to the Mississippi River and will forever keep the battlefield memories of a young country in turmoil.  Within the national park that preserves the battle ground, beneath a giant tent, next to a small museum housing salvaged relics, stands the USS Cairo, a Civil War gunboat resurrected from the river waters just beyond the battlefield's impoundments.  The gunboat resides partially intact bearing the scars of its service, a gaping hole from the mine that took her down.  The sky opened and the rain poured and the thunder echoed through the valleys and across the hilltops.  The battlefield was sprawling and humbling.  We met the highway quietly behind schedule.
     West Monroe, Louisiana was not far as the highway and the landscape began to flatten.  It was strange to physically see the stores and shops of a television show brought to life.  My daughters begged for this route, cried for this pit stop, and I could not deny them.  The exit was somewhat disappointing.  The stores and donut shop and others were there but the area was the same as most places that we had left behind.  The scene, the highway jug handle, could have been any in NJ, a strip mall oasis.  Yet amongst the mundane sat a squat warehouse with a gravel parking lot set back a short distance from the main road.  A modest sign bearing "Buck Commander Duck Commander" adorns the building.  The children giggled and skipped through the rain to gain entry to the store that has been set up in a portion of the warehouse.  They took pictures with the world's largest duck call and picked up small road trip gifts for Grandma and Grandpa.  While the wife and kids stood in the cashier line I took to the cooling rain outside, as the small store began to fill with duck tourists.  My oldest daughter happily joined me so that she may take pictures of the warehouse sign.  The commotion was a quiet hum.  My daughter glanced through the exit door to see her sister scamper from the line to meet John Godwin, one of the famous Duckmen, a TV character come to life.  Her legs could not move fast enough as my oldest darted to gain reentry to the store.  Her current camo fashion statement did well to gain her favor with this celebrity and made for a fun photo opportunity. In the end, it was refreshing to meet a TV personality that was so genuine and so willing to share a few moments with each person in the room, making each feel so welcome.
     So much to take in before lunch even touched our lips and before the road truly stretched its reach.  Texas was in our sights but the distance would be long and flat.  The cruise control was set at 80 as the southern speed limits rose steadily the farther we traveled.  The miles rolled by, more than 200 before Dallas poked up from the horizon.  It shimmered in the heat of the horizon some 30 miles distant.  The frigid temperature of our Northeast home had been replaced by the welcoming February warmth of Texas.  The car's outside thermometer nearly matched the speedometer as Dallas continued to grow in our windshield.  These extra 300 miles were another side trip to bring a smile to the backseat passengers.  My youngest wanted with all her heart to see AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, and visit the pro shop for a camo Cowboy hat and some pictures.  Her enthusiasm is hard to dissuade.
     Dallas dreams gave way to a truly spectacular sunset that transformed the clouds and sky into a pallete of pinks and purples.  The clouds were aglow with colors sung about in historic songs and the highway seemed to lead right into them.  I drove until the colors faded and the clouds were awash in darkness and the black of the road matched that of the night.  I drove on a highway that seemed to never reach its destination.  I drove until my mind could no longer remember the words to songs coming from the back, until the trivia questions became so obscure they seemed crafted by hermit scholars who studied only 70's TV.  I drove until the signs read "Welcome to Houston" and then drove for another hour through this sprawling city.  With all those miles behind us, I would not, could not, stop driving until the parking lot of our hotel that would be our base for the next two days.  After three days bursting with experiences and waypoints, we had reached our destination.  Some of the miles had been longer than others, while others had passed slower than some, but we had arrived on time, happy, fulfilled, and quite tired.

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