The commitment to head home for the holidays, and spend time with our loved ones and friends, was unquestioned. Our hairy six-year-old preventing us from hopping on a plane on December 20 or so for the brief three-hour ride, and forcing us to load up the wagons and take the endless trek up the Eastern seaboard over three long days, is proof of the commitment. Interstate 95 has to be one of the worst major thoroughfares in the country. We were not looking forward to it.
We left sunny and warm Bonita Springs on Monday morning at 8 am with one wing sticking out on our fifth wheel. This is the reason we were dropping it off in Tampa to have that slide out repaired and to have our defective refrigerator replaced. We dropped it off at Tampa RV around 10:30 and continued North. No one was tracking our trip like they track Santa’s progress on Christmas Eve.
The goal on day one was Savannah, Ga. 480 miles from Bonita Springs. After a very long day on the road, just avoiding a major closure of I-4 in Orlando thanks to GPS, we arrived at the La Quinta in Savannah. We had decided to stay at La Quinta Inns due to their liberal pet policy. We were less than pleased with the room. It was clearly a room for dogs. The décor was vintage 1987 and there had obviously been no update to the room – ever. The was not exactly clean either. Stains on the wall, the origin of which, we did not want to know, made us less than comfortable. We were tired and sick of being in the truck. It would have to do.
I went about the shift of baggage. We had so much coming home and needed space for Murphy in the back seat creating the need to carry two bins and three bags that had to be stowed in the back of the truck when on the road. Upon arrival I had to take the bags we needed from the back seat and move the bins and bags from the bed of the truck to the back seat to secure them for the night.
We found a Cracker Barrel nearby and ordered take out. Enough said. Murphy was the smart one. With his trip anxiety in full gear, he refused to eat anything the entire first day. We should have joined him in that hunger strike.
In the morning, we both had to admit that it was the best night’s sleep we had in a while. We are still not sure if it was the exhausting trip or good mattresses. We did not care. We needed a good night’s sleep. We were looking at a 470-mile trip from Savannah to Richmond, Va.
We decided to stop at Pedro’s South of the Border to get the kids some tee shirts. We were somewhat surprised to find it desolate. I was fully expecting to see a wad of tumble weed to blow through. I am not sure if it is the season or the weather, but Pedro was lonesome.
“Where eez everybody?”
The trip from Savannah to Richmond was much more uneventful that Sherman’s but we were ready to surrender like Lee when we arrived. It was clear that there was a significant change in the weather. The wind was more pronounced and it was starting to get cold. We settled into our room at the La Quinta -Richmond. A big difference between Richmond and Savannah. Richmond was clean and updated. The breakfast room was spacious and modern. The lobby was inviting and someplace you might want to hang if you had not just driven 500 miles.
We were hungry so we decided to order a pizza. I googled pizza places near us that delivered. We decided to try Papa John’s and went to the website to look at choices. There was an advertisement for any large pizza for ten dollars. At this point I tried to order on line but it would not take the address of the hotel. I went back to the internet and found the number for the local Papa John’s. I called and ordered our pizza and some dessert. When the girl told me it was twenty-seven dollars I reminded her that any large pizza was ten dollars. She told me only online. I was trying to tell her that the online site would not take the address when a commercial came on TV for Papa John’s touting any large pizza for ten dollars and in bold letters it said go online or call. That is when I hung up and found a local pizza place to order from. When in doubt always go with mom and pop. To hell with corporate pizza.
I checked the weather forecast for the remainder of our trip and was a bit taken aback when I found out that we were driving right into the teeth of the cold spell out of Canada which would provide temperatures in the teens with wind chill temps near zero. We briefly contemplated a turnaround, but decided as life-long New Englanders not to be wimps.
We were up and ready by 6:00 am for the longest leg of our trip. I detest the New Jersey Turnpike and the George Washington bridge and try to avoid them at all costs. We decided to take the circuitous Rte. 64 through the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley. Scenic bit very long.
I performed the luggage shift in the dark and cold. We then had the breakfast bar to ourselves and woofed down some eggs and sausage. Murphy, who had refused to eat since we left Bonita Springs, either as a hunger strike, or more likely due to his massive anxiety for all things different, broke down and had a couple of sausage links. I am sure they were not meant for the canine guests, but we were alone and a guy has to eat after all. Besides, La Quinta owed us one for Savannah.
We were on the road by 6:30. When we made our first stop on 64 we knew we were no longer in Kansas – I mean Florida. Strong winds and cold temperatures even had Murphy deciding whether he should go or not.
The next several hours were a combination of enjoying the scenery on a nice sunny (albeit cold) day in the Blue Ridge Mountains, while also playing traffic hopscotch with the hundreds of tractor trailers on the highway.
We finally reached Rte. 81 in Pennsylvania and started the long climb to I-84 and the final stretch home. We decided to stop in Hazelton and get gas and some lunch. Even understanding that it was cold, we were not ready for the kind of cold we encountered when we exited the truck. Winds gusting to 20 -25 miles per hour making it feel like below zero. We did everything very quickly to limit time outside the vehicle and left.
When we finally made it to I-84 outside Scranton, I had to cede the driver’s seat to Eileen. I was crispy. We knew we had made it home when we hit bumper-to-bumper traffic in Waterbury and in Hartford. We made the mistake of getting there around rush hour. For the non-Connecticut readers, I-84 in Waterbury, CT is affectionately referred to as the “mix-master” as it moves from two lanes to three lanes and back to two lanes in a four-five mile distance. Do the math. And the I-84/I-91 interchange in Hartford was designated as one of the twenty most dangerous highways in America. That’s not even at rush hour. Welcome home.
The whole ordeal was worth it when we arrived at our “second home” in East Hartford and we were able to reconnect with our family. We were early enough to beat Declan’s bed time and spent some time with him and Maura. I was able to get some better laughs out of him in person. Sometimes FaceTime doesn’t cut it. The house was decorated for Xmas and we felt like we were home.
In the morning we were welcomed by a couple inches of snow and school delays. As a person who used to have to deal with that every winter, calling TV and radio stations and getting the phone tree started, I was happy I could just sit and enjoy a cup of coffee and watch the news.
Later that morning we decided to surprise Mason by picking him up from school and taking him to lunch and shopping for his mom and dad and others. When we stopped at his house to get the car seat, brother Cooper looked a little stunned as we walked in. He had gotten used to us being the people that he saw on FaceTime each night. He wasn’t sure what to do with us in his kitchen. He recovered though and was very proud to show us his Christmas tree.
When Mason saw us waiting for him in the lobby a big smile flashed on his face. Needless to say, he was excited to see us. As we were walking to the parking lot, and I told him we were going to get some lunch, he said, “I need a drink Grandpa, snow makes me thirsty”. I agree. It makes me thirsty too.
Mason did a good job shopping, picking out some nice gifts. He managed as usual to pick one out for himself as well. Grandma and Grandpa are suckers. Oh, well. It is sort of our duty to spoil the grand kids. I believe it is in the Grandparent’s Manifesto.
“OK. Where’s the toy section?”
Despite the horrible weather, and the long drive, it is great to be home for Christmas.